(pictures by Bruno Mariani)
On the 24th of May, the World Solidarity Forum had to pleasure to host its event on defending journalists and protecting their rights to do their job without being harassed, threatened or even harmed or killed. We believe that also means protecting our rights to be informed and yo know what is happening in our society and abroad, to make sure we can fight against human rights violation not matter when and where they happen.
The event took the form of a lunch time debate happening at the Brussels Press Club. Following a networking session, the event begun with the keynote speech of MEP Stelios Kouloglou, Vice-Chair of the Committee on Development and Member of Committee on Foreign Affairs at the European Parliament and a journalist with a career spanning decades. Mr Kouloglou focused his speech on the many enemies journalists have to face when they want to do their job, with criminal organisation and extremists on the tops spots, but followed closely by organisations using intimidation and threats of legal actions. He explained that there are many actions being discussed at the UN and at EU level to contain these dangers. However journalists really still need to feel the support of the people to fight against the most insidious enemy, self-censorship. Only when they really are supported, they are truly free to express themselves.
Following the keynote speech, the conference moved to a panel debate presenting national cases of oppression against journalists and international responses that could help. Our first panellist was Mr Inder Bugarin, European Affairs Correspondent for El Universal. Mr Bugarin is from Mexico, a country which shows extremely high statistics for the death of media professionals. He explained how journalists are often targeted just for doing their job: some are killed without warning or threats while others are beaten up for reporting on minor issues, such as the performance of a football team. Nonetheless there are very few legislations to protect them and they are hardly ever applied, making impunity the norm.
Our next speaker was Mr Adel Attiah of the Embassy of Palestine to Belgium. His remarks focused on the suffering of journalists who are trying to cover the recent conflict in the Gaza strip. They are often targeted with purposeful violence, sometimes leaving them with permanent disabilities, their equipment is destroyed and they are refused access to certain areas. He argued that it is very important that journalists can do their job so the truth about what is happening can be shown but that actors on the ground do not wish for that to happen as they are afraid of the consequences.
The floor was then given to Mr Khalid Hameed Farooqi, Senior Journalist and Correspondent for the EU for GEO TV who broadened the picture by discussing the possible solutions to the oppression of reporters. Originally from Pakistan, he went back to the concept of the self-censorship that often journalists have to do. He argued that, for this to stop, journalists must feel safe. This safety can only be guaranteed by engaging with the government and demanding protection via the law and the public forces, and not, as it often happens, with training and advice.
The event then concluded with a lively discussion with the audience, which raised such issues as how to interact with governments when they are the problem, the role of social media as both a further instrument of oppression but also a tool for protecting and supporting journalists and the way press agencies work with political actors in conflicts situations.