2013 World Radio Day Speech at SOAS


Tim Williams' speech marking World Radio Day 2013

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I would like to introduce you to Elisabeth Blanche Olofio who was killed about a month ago - on 8th January 2013 - during the looting of the Be Oko community radio station in Bambari in Central African Republic.
Elisabeth’s death is part of an increasing global trend of targeted attacks on women journalists.
 
Elisabeth was killed by the
Seleka - a coalition of dissident rebel factions from several politico-military movements, who took up arms in December - some say to demand the respect of several peace agreements between the government and rebels.

The city of Bambari, where Elisabeth lived, is in the center of the country and had been under rebel control since late December. 



According to the Central African Community Radio Association 'The media, were paying a heavy price in the Seleka rebellion.' 


Because of low literacy levels in CAR, community radio stations, are a major source of news for much of the population. But these radio stations have been particularly affected by the insecurity. Eight community radio stations have had equipment stolen, which has interrupted their broadcasts.

wrd 2013
 

For example, Radio Magbadja, which was recently established in the southern city of Alindao by the staff of Radio France Internationale, was also ransacked by members of the Seleka rebel coalition, who took all of its equipment.

These attacks in CAR illustrate how limitations on press freedom and access to information can directly impact on peace and development.

This problem is not limited to CAR. Last year was recorded as the deadliest for journalists with 88 killings observed in 2012.  The majority were local reporters covering issues such as corruption, drug trafficking or illegal logging in their home towns. 

Attacks on journalists include not only murder, but also abduction, hostage-taking, harassment, intimidation, and illegal arrest and detention.

Sexual attacks are also becoming increasingly common as a weapon for silencing female journalists.

Such attacks and killings undermine good governance practice and promote lawlessness and repression. 
 
But what is equally worrying is the issue of impunity related to the death of media workers such as Elisabeth.

Between 2006 and 2009 nine out of ten of these crimes have NOT led to a conviction[1].  

I shall repeat that statistic:

Between 2006 and 2009 nine out of ten of these crimes have NOT led to a conviction. soas

This low level of conviction is because some UNESCO member states are either unable to undertake - or obstruct - the process of investigation and justice for murdered journalists.

This lack of duty of care by states towards their civilian population sends out a clear signal that the media - such as radio - are fair game to those who want to restrict information.

This situation has to stop because radio facilitates global conversations as much as it accommodates local forums.  It is a pro-poor establishment that provides a voice for the voiceless – particularly of minority groups, women and young people.

Radio is an outstanding medium because it offers many options for people of all ages to express their opinions, views and experiences.

For this reason World Radio Day was proclaimed by UNESCO in November 2011 and it was endorsed by the 67th session of the UN General Assembly in December 2012.

The objective of World Radio Day is to raise greater awareness about the importance of radio among the public and the media but also to enhance networking and international cooperation among broadcasters. 

The day is expected to encourage decision-makers and those who work in all forms of radio broadcasting to provide inclusive and diversified content and information access for the benefit and in the interest of all citizens regardless of age and gender.

UNESCO has a long-standing commitment to contributing to an environment conducive to the safe exercise of freedom of expression and press freedom.
 
UNESCO’s Constitution, says it’s mission is “to promote the free flow of ideas by word and image”.  This is why the safety of journalists and the fight against impunity are also among UNESCO’s top priorities.

Therefore

on 15th January 2013, the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, condemned the killing of radio journalist Elisabeth Blanche Olofio.

This UNESCO statement triggers a process, by which member states, like Central African Republic, are given 12 months to report to the Director-General of UNESCO, on a voluntary basis, of the actions taken to prevent the impunity of the perpetrators and to notify UNESCO of the status of the judicial inquiries conducted on each of the killings condemned by UNESCO.

Back in Central African Republic - By January the government and the Seleka signed a peace agreement and on 5th February formed a national unity government. In this new government structure the Seleka will head the Communication ministry.
 
The UK is currently one of several nations pushing for member states to allow UNESCO to publish all of those nations that fail to comply with submitting the report to the Director general, so that the international media can then publicise nations that fail to investigate the killings of their media workers.

While this process alone may not stop the continued killing of journalists, it does set a minimum international standard that member states are expected to comply with. It does allow people to highlight crimes at both  policy level and at events such as this and put these crimes into context at a global level. It does allow the international community to compare the performance of member states and make judgments on a wide range of separate issues such as international aid, and commercial investment.

 Therefore,

this year,

UNESCO has championed within the UN system, a comprehensive strategy aimed at both preventing violence and fighting impunity for crimes against journalists, in particular through the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.

So, how did the UN Plan of Action come about?

My organization – the UK National Commission for UNESCO - is a national cooperating body required by the UNESCO Constitution to provide the UK government with a link to civil society.

Our role is:

  • To provide advice to government
  • Support the UK government’s reform agenda at UNESCO and
  • Advise UK organisations seeking UNESCO accreditation

As part of that role we provide leading experts to volunteer as UK delegates on various UNESCO specialist bodies. One of these bodies supports the work of the International Programme for the Development of Communication - or IPDC. The UK is one of 39 countries represented on IPDC.

The UN Plan of Action is the result of a process that IPDC began in 2010.

The UK delegate on this body proposed - and the IPDC subsequently requested - the Director-General of UNESCO to consult with Member States on the feasibility of convening a meeting between the relevant UN agencies “with a view to formulating a comprehensive, coherent, and action-oriented approach to the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity”.

The first Meeting took place in September last year and resulted in the elaboration of the UN Action Plan.

  • The UN Plan defines how a coordinated UN can handle issues related to the safety of journalists.
  • It encourages the incorporation of journalists’ safety into the strategies of inter-governmental organizations.
  • The plan also includes assisting countries to implement existing international rules and principles that support freedom of expression and information legislation.

Then in November last year UNESCO convened a 2nd UN Inter-Agency Meeting in order to develop a strategy for implementing the UN Plan.

The meeting pinpointed four initial countries where the UN plan will be implemented in a concerted manner.  They are: Iraq, Nepal, Pakistan and South Sudan.

Work in Latin America will also take place. 

And the Plan will be advanced in other countries where governments and stakeholders are interested in its potential to help end threats and killings to journalists.

One of the major outcomes of the second meeting is a detailed Implementation Strategy and Workplan. These documents set out processes and actions to be put in place this year and next.

The Implementation Strategy encourages UN bodies, States, regional bodies, media actors and civil society to work in the following four fields:

  • (One)   strengthening and harmonizing UN coordination;
  • (Two) advising Member States on the implementation of existing international standards at national level and on sharing good practices;
  • (Three) collaborating with intergovernmental organizations, professional associations, media, academia and NGOs so that their work can be harmonized with the UN Plan;
  • (Four) increasing the public’s awareness of the importance of the safety of journalists and combating impunity.

The UN Plan, the Implementation Strategy, and the meetings and consultations that UNESCO convenes, are the continuation of its long-standing commitment to the promotion and protection of freedom of expression and press freedom.

By doing all of this and more, UNESCO is ensuring that freedom of expression and press freedom remain a high priority issue within the Organization, as well as amongst the Member States and that killings of people like Elisabeth are recorded, monitored and resolved

 until,

hopefully, 

one day,

they stop.

Thank you



[1]Based on the cases (that happened from 2006-2009) and which information were received from Member States and published in the 2012 UNESCO Director-General Report on the Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity.

 


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