The United Nations Association Greater Philadelphia Chapter (UNA-GP) condemns the vicious and outrageous murders of journalists and police in Paris. UNA-GP (https://una-gp.org) recognizes the strong link between press freedom and the basic rights of free expression and democracy — no press freedom, no democracy!
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon strongly condemned the appalling and “cold-blooded crime” committed by terrorists who attacked the office of Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine. “I am appalled and deeply shocked by the attack against Charlie Hebdo in Paris”, Mr. Ban said. “This act of violence can in no way be justified. This is an attack against freedom of expression and freedom of the press — the two pillars of democracy.”
On December 10, 2014, UNA-GP focused on the risks to a free press in our annual celebration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Our panel was keynoted by Courtney Radsch, Advocacy Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Michael Matza, staff writer from the Philadelphia Inquirer and Signe Wilkinson, editorial cartoonist from the Philadelphia Daily News and Inquirer served as responders.
According to CPJ (https://www.cpj.org), 61 journalists were killed in 2014 and over 1,100 since 1992. The victims in Paris now jumpstart the 2015 death toll. In 2013, 211 journalists were jailed, while over 450 have been exiled from their countries since 2008 just for trying to do their jobs. In the United States, reporters’ phone logs have been secretly subpoenaed and seized by the Justice Department, a New York Times reporter, James Risen, faces the threat of jail for not revealing a source and the shadow of the NSA hangs over journalists’ email and telephone communications.
In her talk, Ms. Radsch covered virtually every continent in describing the challenges to press freedom. She also made it clear that journalists using the Internet and Social Media are very much at risk. In addition, she emphasized that the vast majority of journalists killed, jailed and exiled are non-Western.
Mr. Matza spoke of his personal encounters with threats while working for 6 years in the Middle East and Ms. Wilkinson offered the important perspective of cartoonists. She gave examples of repression and threats to cartoonists whose work can quickly come under dictatorial fire since they are direct and usually easy to understand. As the murders in Paris make clear, cartoonists may be especially at risk.
The appalling crime in Paris is an effort to limit freedom of expression and an attack on those who celebrate free speech. A core element of the right to freedom of expression under human rights law is the right to express opinions that offend, shock, or disturb. The French authorities should continue to uphold and promote this freedom, and guard against backlash against French Muslims as the perpetrators of these murders are pursued.