attacks against media

Dialogue needed to mitigate attacks on journalists by law enforcement in elections 

Gelo Gonzales

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Dialogue needed to mitigate attacks on journalists by law enforcement in elections 

IMPUNITY. UNESCO releases a new report on the observance of International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, on November 2, 2023.

UNESCO report

Between January 2019 and June 2022, at least 759 journalists and media professionals were attacked in elections globally, a UNESCO report finds

MANILA, Philippines – A UNESCO report published on International Day to Eliminate Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists highlighted the attacks that journalists suffer during elections and protests, with a significant percentage caused by law enforcement agents. 

The United Nations agency found that between January 2019 and June 2022, at least 759 journalists and media professionals were attacked during election periods in 70 countries around the world. 

A total of 338 media workers were physically assaulted, including 9 murdered; 167 were detained arbitrarily; 128 were obstructed in their work, and 131 faced threats and intimidation. 

Of the 320 journalists who were attacked within the time period, 42% were initiated by law enforcement agents. Twenty-nine percent or 218 journalists attacked were women. 

“A majority of the attacks have been committed by police and security forces. Police use of non-lethal ammunition ranging from rubber bullets to pepper balls, has injured dozens of journalists, and many other journalists have been arrested, beaten and in a few cases humiliated,” the report said. 

In the Philippines, the 2022 campaign of eventual president Bongbong Marcos had a notorious reputation for roughing up reporters or preventing access to the Marcos, which included security detail from the Presidential Security Group in at least two sorties – an assignment not allowed in PSG rules.

Globally, 129 media outlets were attacked, ranging from threats and censorship to raids, arsons, suspensions, and forced closures. 

Dialogue needed

The UNESCO reiterated the role of journalists to provide reports especially on key democratic events such as elections. 

“As a result, journalists often find themselves in the midst of competing interests and information throughout the electioneering period and can become targets of threats and physical attacks by political activists simply for doing their jobs,” the report said. 

Law enforcement’s role in this case is to “avoid different political interests by maintaining a neutral approach throughout.” 

The UNESCO said that the current actions by law enforcement documented in the report highlight the need for more “public dialogue on the intersection between freedom of expression… and the need for public order.” 

This can be addressed by training law enforcement to better understand the role of the press in society, the agency said.

It also published a “Global Toolkit for Law Enforcement Agents: Freedom of Expression, Access to Information and Safety of Journalists” in 2022 that aside from highlighting the importance of freedom of expression also “discusses the importance of promoting transparency, facilitating relations between security forces and the media, and strengthening safety of journalists.”

It also advised law enforcement to cultivate a working relationship with journalists and news groups, so they may also be able to talk about their roles in such situations. 

Journalists should be given as much access as possible in events of national interests, while maintaining safety. Law enforcement “should not use any form of obstruction, force or pressure against journalists.”

In the event of a dispersal for example, journalists should be allowed to continue their work “as long as they position themselves in such a way that they cannot be confused with the demonstrators and do not obstruct the action of the police.”

A video journalist quoted by the report said, “When trouble kicks off, the press show up. However, so often we find the LEAs are not trained enough and don’t know what the law allows. They are thinking they are doing the right thing – but they are not.” – Rappler.com

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Gelo Gonzales

Gelo Gonzales is Rappler’s technology editor. He covers consumer electronics, social media, emerging tech, and video games.