Brazilian journalists and international journalism organizations are dismayed that Brazil, along with Cuba, Venezuela, India and Pakistan, decided to block a U.N. plan that would have promoted journalists' safety and helped curb impunity in crimes against journalists, reported the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). During UNESCO's 28th biennial session held during the end of March in Paris, Brazil, part of the UNESCO International Program for the Development of Communication Council (IPDC), refused to endorse the U.N. Draft Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.
"At least 900 journalists have been killed on duty in the past two decades. More than 600 of them were murdered, and most of the cases remain unsolved," said CPJ Director of Advocacy and Communications Gypsy Guillén Kaiser in a statement. "We are appalled that this historic opportunity for the international community to take concrete action has been thwarted."
According to the newspaper Folha de São Paulo, the Brazilian government believed it did not have enough say in the plan. Further, the Ministry of Foreign Relations said, "One can not discuss violence against journalists in Brazil without having in mind (...) that the vast majority of cases observed in Brazil are not directly related to the exercise of the activity" -- a claim that Folha noted was flat-out "wrong."
The plan for journalists' safety, which had been in the works for two years and was expected to receive a formal go-ahead, according to the BBC's College of Journalism, included measures that would have:
With CPJ documenting 909 journalists killed worldwide since 1992, and 90 percent of those crimes going unpunished, the organization was hopeful for the plan's passage because it would have meant "that the UN and member states would have come to terms with the significance of press freedom for its work in many different areas," Guillén Kaiser told the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.
Brazil, India, and Pakistan are countries with some of the worse rates of impunity and violence against journalists. For example, at least 21 journalists have been killed for their work in Brazil since 1992, according to CPJ, and as many as eight others are under investigation for possible links to their work as journalists. Already this year, the Knight Center for the Journalism in the Americas has documented the killings of five Brazilian journalists -- Laércio de Souza, Mario Randolfo Marques Lopes, Paulo Roberto Cardoso Rodrigues, Onei de Moura, and Divino Aparecido Carvalho -- although as investigations are ongoing, not all of those are necessarily connected to their journalistic endeavors.
Marcelo Moreira, president of the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (ABRAJI) and director of the Latin American office of the International News Safety Institute (INSI) in Brazil, noted that Brazil is one of the most dangerous countries in Latin America to be a journalist. "To ensure a minimum level of safety, newsrooms are required to invest in planning, training and safety equipment, " he said. "But that culture is not widespread in all newsrooms. And that's what needs to be invested in -- the expansion of a culture of safety." For example, he cited safety programs in Rio de Janeiro -- an area particularly at risk because of confrontations between police and gangs in the favelas, or slums -- and São Paulo, but most of the country lacks such programs.
Moreira said that from what he understands, Brazil blocked the plan because of lack of information and discussion about it, rather than some bad intention. "But the fact is, this decision was negative because it impedes the creation of projects that can invest in anti-violence against journalists programs in Brazil," Moreira told the Knight Center. What's more, he said, neither INSI nor ABRAJI was consulted about the decision.
"The responses by Brazil and other states of the IPDC council that did not endorse the plan of action, means on practical level that the plan, already two years in the making, will now face great delays in moving forward, and the process will be fraught with debate. Given the urgency of the situation this is deeply troubling," Elisabeth Witchel, CPJ Impunity Campaign Consultant who attended the UN meeting, told the Knight Center.
Noting that it is just speculation about why Brazil did not endorse the Plan, Guillén Kaiser suggested that "it is likely that the country’s rising economic and political clout is still finding its place. In this instance, that new-found muscle is not serving press freedom. Brazilian authorities won several convictions in cases of journalist killings in recent years, but the country still sees persistent anti-press violence."
Guillén Kaiser also pointed out that Brazil's decision is all the more bewildering considering that Brazil, along with the United States, is co-leading the Open Government Partnership which advocates for transparency worldwide. "The government clearly understands the value of information in societies and has worked towards mainstreaming technology for public accountability. Journalists’ role as watchdogs is a crucial part of that constellation but this role is undermined if journalists are getting killed for their reporting. It is a puzzle why Brazil would support systems of open accountability and take a position at UNESCO that counters the very levers of that openness," Guillén Kaiser said.
Moreira said he believes the plan is not dead, but just delayed. "What is needed is to clarify with Brazilian authorities the importance of it being implemented," he said. "It's an important tool in the implementation of a culture of safety. Brazilian journalists have to be united in this mission, so that this plan can still be approved."
Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.