To mark that it has been ten years since Norwegian journalist Carsten Thomassen died in Kabul while on assignment for Dagbladet, the memorial fund set up in his name has decided to dissolve itself and donate all funds to International Media Support’s work on media safety and individual journalists at risk
Below IMS’ Director Jesper Højbergs speech given at an event in Oslo 29th May, 2018:
We are gathered here today to mark a special occasion:
This year it has been ten years since Carsten Thomassen died in Kabul, all too young, while on assignment for Dagbladet.
As most of you will know a foundation was later set up in his memory – The Carsten Thomassen Minnefond. For ten years this foundation and its board has worked to support both individuals and organisations working to improve journalists’ working conditions in conflict zones.
From Palestine to Russia you have extended a much needed helping hand to alleviate some of the many challenges that reporters and media organisations struggle with, notably on issues related to media safety.
Here at IMS we are extremely honored that a foundation which embodies the belief that journalism can and must thrive even in the most hostile corners of the world has chosen us to continue its good work.
We are proud that you have confidence in IMS and in our work and I can assure you that we will continue to uphold this belief and also thereby uphold the memory of Carsten Thomassen – he himself a stellar reporter with many a foreign assignment under his belt.
Because, as much as we would like it not to be the case, there is a need to strengthen media safety. Good, critical journalism may come at great cost to the individual journalist. Already now, 2018 is set to become a bloody year for journalists with multiple, targeted attacks on media workers in especially Afghanistan, but also other parts of Asia, the Middle East and South America.
When the individual journalist is silenced, it is not only the bereaved family and friends that suffers. Society and citizens suffer too. We see it in Mexico where entire cities are left uninformed about gang and drug related violence due to the self-censorship that all those unresolved murders on reporters have instilled amongst media workers.
We also observe how countries where press freedom and independent media are already in dire straits, now learn from each other and not only continue locking up journalists, but also block access to specific media and online services and make use of the tax authorities and laws on national security to contain and stifle critical reporting. This happens in countries like the Philippines, Russia, Egypt, Turkey and Azerbaijan.
A press corps that calls out government and other societal failures is fundamental to the functioning of all democracies. But populist leaders are intentionally denouncing critical media and their coverage as biased, and the factual information they report as “fake,” weakening their credibility and leaving citizens unsure of whom to believe.
The leaders then have more leeway to dictate their own narrative and divert attention from corruption and other abuses.
Fortunately, the courage of Carsten Thomassen and so many other brave men and women still exists. Journalists continue to do their work, despite the sometimes-harrowing conditions.
But we owe it to those brave reporters to strive for better individual safety. This work requires bullet proof vests and first aid training, but it also requires strengthening of national institutions who can monitor abuse and assist when journalists are at risk.
In a short while you will hear about one such national safety mechanism from Afghanistan, when my colleague Susanna Inkinnen will talk about how Afghan Journalists Safety Committee’s inclusive and collaborative work makes them a model for media safety work globally – a theme also covered in this black book.
The funding IMS receives from Carsten Thomassen’s Minnefond will boost this very important work of setting up national safety structures, just as it will boost our support to individual journalists at risk – work we do in close collaboration with the Danish Union of Journalists.
At IMS we are eager to continue to do our part to help strengthen the institutions necessary at both individual and national level.
But I will also underline the importance of strengthening the institutions of global cooperation that we are part of and which provide a global framework. Our push to boost the UNESCO-led UN Plan of Action for the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity through our Global Safety Programme and through an alliance of like-minded media freedom organisations is one such example.
The signing of our contract marks the dissolvement of the Carsten Thomassen Mindefond, but I also feel we mark the beginning of something new – hopefully a beautiful friendship between IMS and the members and institutions from the Carsten Thomassen Minnefond.