Even far from war zones and conflict areas, in many countries, there are numerous and serious attacks on journalists and other media workers carried out for the purpose of preventing the gathering and circulation of news of public interest and obstructing the expression of legitimate opinions. As UNESCO has documented, most of these attacks go unpunished, and this impunity encourages further violence and has a chilling effect on freedom of information. Year after year, the threats, retaliation, and abuse have become more and more numerous and have spread to even the freest European countries, as the widely documented Italian case shows. These acts of violence, these abuses, if not countered, will cause our civilization to take a step backward, will impose, as in part it already does, a new form of censorship. This phenomenon, which weakens democracy and reduces citizen participation, is largely outside the scope of observation and intervention of institutions. This is unacceptable. Governments have a duty to intervene with active, concrete, urgent measures. The NGOs “Oxygen for Information” and “South East European Media Organization” (SEEMO), together, call on national authorities to set up appropriate monitoring instruments in each country designed as independent public agencies, autonomous from power, capable of operating in conjunction with NGOs with the task of observing and documenting attacks on freedom of information and promptly intervening to protect and assist the victims of these attacks, so that full respect for the right of expression, speech and the press prevails, and to make known in a timely manner what is happening and thus enable appropriate remedies to be identified with reason. Oxygen for Information and South East European Media Organization find it alarming to note that so far no concrete steps have been taken in this direction, despite the fact that the highest international organizations have been calling on governments to do so for some time. Oxygen for Information and SEEMO recall that the creation of these observation and emergency response centers was most recently urged on April 13, 2016, by the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers in a Recommendations document addressed to the governments of the 47 member countries. Oxygen and SEEMO also recall that similar calls were most recently made on September 19, 2016, by the UN Human Rights Council to national governments in Resolution A/HRC/27/L.7 on the safety of journalists, passed in Geneva with the support of more than 90 states, and recall that the UN has passed other similar Resolutions in the past four years. It is not enough to raise alarms and sign documents condemning attacks on journalists. Action must be taken to protect the right to inform and receive information. It is necessary to make citizens and authorities aware of the situation. It is necessary to do this by speaking the language of facts, that is, by keeping an eye on what is happening, as the NGO Ossigeno does in Italy with a pilot project that anticipated the creation of these public agencies. This project, in ten years, has made public the names of more than three thousand journalists affected by these attacks and serious abuses of laws and procedures.
I would like to take this opportunity to wish you well in your Bari and Lecce initiative. With my warmest regards!