Last March, Brazilian journalists were disappointed by the refusal of their government to endorse an UN Plan of Action aimed at ensuring the safety of journalists and ending impunity related to crimes against media professionals.

Along with India, Pakistan, Cuba and Venezuela, Brazil’s stance blocked the document’s approval during the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) 28th session. Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs justified its disapproval by pointing to inaccuracies in the text and problems regarding the endorsement method.  

At that time, the Brazilian Association for Investigative Journalism (Abraji), a non-profit organisation focused on improving journalism practice, released a statement deploring its government’s decision. The Brazilian press covered the story extensively, echoing Abraji’s declarations countrywide. Brazil’s government was put on the defensive and changed its stance, declaring its support for the plan.

Abraji sees the Action Plan as appropriate and of great significance given the escalating violence against journalists worldwide - a fact supported by international organisations. In this context, the document’s alleged inaccuracies were minor, since a formal statement by the UN would raise awareness of the need to tackle attacks on human rights and freedom of expression. Moreover, the document would encourage governments to prosecute journalists’ killers and to further investigate if the crime was motivated by the journalist’s work.

The UN Plan was finally endorsed in April by the UN Chief Executive’s Board, the highest level coordination mechanism of the UN.

Violence against journalists is a grim matter of concern in Brazil. So far in 2012 alone, at least seven journalists have been killed, pulling Brazil from eighth up to fifth in the International News Safety Institute’s (INSI) ranking of the most dangerous countries for journalism practice. Brazil also has one of the highest levels of impunity related to journalist murders, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

This hideous situation is illustrated by a recent episode in which a reporter from Folha de S.Paulo, one of the major newspapers in the country’s richest city, had to leave his house and work remotely due to credible murder threats.

Last September, in an attempt to show commitment to journalists’ safety, Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs asked Abraji to contribute to the UN Plan of Action. After consulting journalists, professors and organisations alike, Abraji wrote a document with seven recommendations for the Plan.

One of Abraji’s suggestions is that the UN Plan should be more precise on countries’ responsibility for implementing safeguards for journalists’ protection. Furthermore, Abraji believes the document should include instruments to assess national programmes for the protection of defenders of human rights. Abraji also highlights the need to extend the awareness of this issue in society as a whole. Another recommendation is for Unesco to engage directly in monitoring the implementation of the UN Plan, establishing deadlines and reporting its development publicly.

Abraji monitors violations of freedom of expression in Brazil, urging authorities to investigate and punish those responsible. Abraji has also had a crucial role in the approval of the Brazilian Access to Information Act which came into force last May, granting the right of Brazilians to access government documents.

The struggle for freedom of expression has been one of Abraji’s main purposes since its creation in 2002 in the wake of the torture and murder of TV Globo’s award-winning journalist Tim Lopes. He was killed by drug dealers while conducting investigative reporting in a Rio de Janeiro slum.

Abraji has organised several training sessions aimed at promoting journalists’ safety. This month, Abraji and the INSI will lead an intensive course to train Brazilian journalists as safety trainers.

Front-line journalists and senior editors are meeting this week at the BBC College of Journalism to discuss journalist safety ahead of a UN meeting in November where the issue will be debated.

There's more about those meetings in a previous post by William Horsley.

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