Tech dialogues to improve safety of journalists

IMS recently co-organised a multi-stakeholder consultation that brought together some of the world’s biggest tech companies, civil society and media organisations to discuss how to ensure the safety of journalists in the digital age

This fall, the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity (UNPA) commemorates its 10th anniversary. In the last decade, online threats have increased immensely, along with technological, political and media developments, which raises the question: How should the UNPA address digital safety? 

Today, the digital sphere has become the new frontline for attacks against journalists and media content producers – even independent journalism itself – around the world. There are highly worrying examples of online attacks spilling into offline violence, and even when the attacks only take place online, the documented consequences for journalists are grave: PTSD, depression, suicide, self-censorship, loss of income and leaving the profession, to name just a few. Though media workers of all genders and positions experience attacks, journalists who are women, non-binary and/or belong to a minority are particularly targeted. 

IMS was invited to co-host and provide inputs to the consultation along with UNESCO, the Danish Tech Ambassador and the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs’s Tech for Democracy initiative and the UNESCO Danish National Commission. In a hybrid, Copenhagen-based setup, a broad group of stakeholders was brought together: journalists, tech company representatives, digital safety experts and civil society representatives, all invited to provide their perspectives, ideas and solutions. The main topics of the day were internet transparency and a risk assessment framework on the safety of journalists in the digital age – topics that are complex but crucial to media workers and human right defenders’ safety online. The event took place under Chatham House rule to encourage open and candid conversations.   

The event was part of a series of consultations taking place to take stock, share experiences and define future goals and collaborations under the umbrella of the UNPA; it was one step in the line of many needed to counter the increased threats that media workers are facing in their profession. While the main conference to reaffirm, recommit and reposition the plan will be held in Vienna, Austria, in November, thematic consultations like the tech consultation in Copenhagen and regional consultations which IMS has supported constitute a core part of the preparations. 

The Danish Tech Ambassador Anne Marie Engtoft Larsen said at the event: “The consultation today feeds into a critical process of global stocktaking of how states, civil society and media organisations and companies have worked in the last ten years to enhance the safety of journalists. So today is also a critical moment for identifying areas where we are lagging behind, and what needs to be done to accelerate actions that counter the spread of disinformation and online attacks on journalists.” 

IMS is increasing its support and engagement in actions that will counter disinformation and heighten digital safety of media workers. Yet safety, collaboration and local anchoring are nothing new to IMS, and this approach continues in IMS’ work related to the digital sphere.  

“If there is one thing we have learned at IMS through 20 years of safety work, it is that no project and no risk assessment are successful without local context understanding, local anchoring, and buy-in from multiple stakeholders. IMS remains committed to support and further collaborations and solutions that will increase journalists’ safety,” IMS Director Jesper Højberg said in his opening speech on the day.  

Raman Dawan, Director General of long-term IMS partner ARIJ (Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism), who attended the consultation in Copenhagen agrees: “For investigative journalists in MENA, safety is a top priority, and ARIJ was glad to be part of the conversations taking place here today to bring up of the issues and needs that the journalists experience. We want to contribute because safety cannot be done on your own – you need a multi-stakeholder approach to truly achieve safety of journalists.” 

IMS has also been involved in several other regional consultations in related to the 10-year of the Plan of Action as well as been instrumental in the implementation of the Plan of Action in countries like Sudan, Nepal, Pakistan and the Philippines. IMS will bring these and more experiences from countries in crisis to the ongoing conversation at the marking of the UN Plan of Action anniversary in Vienna, 3-4 November 2022.