Research on safety of journalists
Knowledge is key: the contribution of research to securing the safety of journalism
UNESCO and the UNESCO Chair at University of Gothenburg organised in collaboration with several partners, including IAMCR, a two-day research conference on the safety of journalists during the celebrations of World Press Freedom Day in Helsinki Finland, on 3 and 4 May 2016.
The international conference brought together more than 50 academics from six continents, and was held in partnership with the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR), the University of Sheffield (Centre for Freedom of the Media), University of Tampere and University of Helsinki.
Participants shared an understanding that journalists are severely threatened around the world, while an environment in which free and independent journalism can safely proceed is a necessary precondition to expose injustice, corruption and other non-civil processes.
In this context, there was widespread agreement that academic inquiry can contribute to the creation of such safe conditions.
Altogether 30 individual studies were presented during the conference, covering more than 20 countries in the world, and discussing a great variety of topics related to the safety of journalists. These included the threats journalists are facing in various conflict and non-conflict countries, online and offline, or when working for specific beats; in addition to the psychological and other consequences of the threats. The studies also analysed the protection frameworks in place for journalists.
A key-note speech, Journalist Killings and the Civil Sphere, by Professor Simon Cottle, University of Cardiff, highlighted a need to reconceptualise journalists as actors in the real-life ‘civil sphere’. This, he argued, could help understand why they carry on their work despite the harmful and dangerous circumstances, and why they must be able to work safely.
In addition, two panel discussions addressed the need for research-based knowledge in improving the safety of journalists, the future research areas as well as academic collaboration.
The conference underlined the need for both empirical, evidence-based knowledge and theoretically oriented, deep-going contextual understanding about the safety challenges and the underlying cause factors. This involves the creation of multi-disciplinary, transnational and critical research approaches.
The safety issues should be an inherent part of journalism education, it was argued. A call for more constructive research cooperation was also strongly expressed.
To advance such co-operation, the Centre for Freedom of the Media (CFOM) announced the launch of a research network on the safety of journalists with support of UNESCO. The network will be based on CFOM’s website, and will soon inviting scholars to sign in for future academic networking and collaboration in the area.
The conference was marked by energy, enthusiasm and strong interest in the development of this research field. A number of the participants asked for a continuation of this conference in connection with World Press Freedom Day.
The Helsinki conference outcomes will be published in 2017 in a conference book by the UNESCO Chair at the University of Gothenburg and UNESCO. The next research panel on the safety of journalists, continuing the discussions on the topic, will be organised by UNESCO in cooperation with IAMCR during the 2016 IAMCR conference taking place in Leicester, 27-31 July.
UNESCO contact: Reeta Pöyhtäri, Expert, Communication and Information Sector, UNESCO, Paris, r.poyhtari(at)unesco.org
For more information on the research network on safety of journalists please contact: Professor Jacqueline Harrison, CFOM, University of Sheffield, UK, j.harrison(at)sheffield.ac.uk