Dr Carmen Draghici is supporting the protection of journalists and media personalities and encouraging new legislation to ensure safety across their professional careers.

The public relies on factual and impartial reporting as a credible source of news. This often requires uncovering uncomfortable truths, which can in turn compromise the safety and freedoms of reporters.

The last decade alone has seen a staggering 700 journalists killed worldwide for reporting the news, with many further cases of violence and harassment going unpunished. In a polarised world of political factions and information discourse stirred by social media, journalist wellbeing is becoming increasingly precarious – to the point where reliable reporting risks dire consequences.

Recent UNESCO statistics also show that in as many as 90 per cent of these killings and cases of violence, those responsible remain unpunished. This apparent immunity against people carrying out attacks and acts of intimidation on journalists sets a worrying trend and often leads to oppression in reporting.

Plugging the gaps in protection

Dr Carmen Draghici, Reader in Law at City, University of London carried out research on violence towards reporters in 2010 and found alarming gaps in international standards of protection. Most tellingly, there was no existing binding legislation specifically protecting the safety of journalists across the world. Indeed, the only protections of note were the generic human rights bills for freedom of speech, which does not go far towards taking into account the risks that are presented to journalists when exercising this freedom every day in their professional lives.

As a result of this glaring omission, there is no internationally-recognised law preventing harassment or violence against journalists. Dr Draghici’s work aims to make a global case for the implementation of such legislation.

Elevating research into international convention

Dr Draghici, along with her colleague Professor Lorna Woods established a scholarly article looking into the legal protections and safety of journalists with key recommendations.

The article gained positive reviews from within the industry, not least from the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), who promptly commissioned Dr Draghici to provide the draft text for a treaty and proposed international convention on the safety and independence of media professionals. The IFJ had long advocated for improvements in journalist rights and protections but had lacked the credibility and traction to make its voice heard globally. With formal documentation and a framework in place, it was hoped that more people would sit up and take notice.

“The convention campaign set out to turn a consensus on actions that need to be taken into international law,” Dr Draghici explains. “Without this vital link, governments are not legally or technically bound to comply with standards.”

Dr Draghici set about creating this by exploring non-binding legal instruments at several levels to build on existing practices, while recognising the need to strike a balance between journalistic free speech and acknowledgement of defensible restrictions placed upon reporters in the interests of national security.

The resulting documentation provided a legal framework with both recommendations and an enforcement mechanism that is unique and specific to the media profession. In doing so, it brought together regulations relating to the protection of journalist rights into one place for consumption by government and local law enforcement officials, who might be less familiar with international case law.

It also incorporates two other challenges faced by Dr Draghici. In establishing the draft text, it was important to correctly define a journalist and distinguish them from other individuals and organisations that may share news or opinions.

A second challenge with putting together such a rigorous document surrounded enforcement and the monitoring of compliance. While the framework needed to remain independent of individual states’ national interests, it also had to be both attractive and achievable to each.

In order to enforce the rights outlined in the treaty, Dr Draghici proposed the establishment of an independent international committee.

“A dedicated enforcement body will be able to uphold the highest standards among those and incorporate the convention into their legal frameworks,” Dr Draghici explains. “This means any offences against journalists are more likely to be punished.”

The convention was finally launched in 2018, with both Dr Draghici and the IFJ gaining significant praise and support for their work.

Wider impact of the convention

As a result of her mission to shine a light on fundamental flaws in the protection of journalist rights, Dr Draghici’s work has been globally celebrated. The issues raised in the convention and by her research have been lauded by media NGOs and welcomed at meetings of the UN Human Rights Council. Several member states are actively looking to enshrine the recommendations into their national laws.

Historically it takes many years for conventions to filter through into international law, but the IFJ is determined to carry on campaigning for its adoption. Dr Draghici said the passing into law of these standards across the world would mark a significant milestone for the protection of journalists and free speech.

“If this convention passes into international law, it would increase pressure on states to allow more freedom for journalistic activity and restraints on interference. Not only would this make journalists and media reporters unquestionably safer, but also allow for higher quality, uninhibited journalism that could in turn begin to restore trust in the media.

“If it is adopted, I have no doubt about the significant impact it will have on journalists and media professionals around the world.”