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Ministry Statements and Speeches 2013

United Nations Security Council - Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: Protection of Journalists

New Zealand Statement: HE Jim McLay, New Zealand Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York - 17 July 2013

Madam President -

We welcome the United States Presidency’s initiative in bringing relevant and innovative briefers to the Security Council.  Journalists reporting on situations of armed conflict, like the briefers we ‘ve heard today, deserve credit for bringing to this UN Headquarters the grim reality of armed conflict – highlighting, yet again, that we must be united in combatting such conflict.   

Together with the UN’s own reporting, news media form part of the international community’s decision-making matrix (not least, in respect of the decisions made by this Security Council).    Media can also help transform and resolve conflicts, as the work of professional and citizen journalists disperses information, discloses wrongdoing and sheds light on atrocities as they are happening.

Indeed, the presence of independent media is essential to stress-test other reports of what is happening in conflict areas, and is an important check on the so-called "official line", whether that be from host governments, interested external stakeholders, even the UN itself.   The flow of information, and exposés of war crimes, are crucial mechanisms for combatting impunity across the entire spectrum of war crimes.

Many of the important points that might be raised in relation to this topic are also, more generally, relevant to the protection of civilians; for example the international community’s condemnation of deliberate attacks on civilians, and the importance of combating impunity for war crimes.   But today, Madam President, we choose to focus our remarks on those aspects which relate to the special characteristics of journalists.

On reviewing the list of media personnel killed in Syria over the past year, it is striking how many are not affiliated with traditional media organisations.  International Humanitarian Law protects new media such as the internet media, bloggers, the producers of online video and the other digital news sources which are now so ubiquitous in this digital age. But this ‘democratisation of content’ also means that unlike traditional media, new media journalists, and other practitioners, may not have the same level of awareness of and training on their rights, or of the practical, protective actions they might take in conflict zones; and so, we commend initiatives by the ICRC and NGOs like Reporters Without Borders to fill that knowledge-gap.

Madam President –

Media deaths do not correspond to the intensity of combat.  The large numbers of deaths in Syria and Somalia, compared to other conflict zones, emphasises that different conflicts require tailored responses to protect journalists. 

This thematic issue now needs to be addressed by the Security Council at the country-specific level; so we would encourage the inclusion of specific language in relevant Security Council mandates.  It is not sufficient that this issue be addressed only through a now six-and-a-half-year-old resolution – it must be operationalised in the field; allowing journalists both access to their sources and protection from harm. 

Above all, Madame President, journalists play an important role in conflict prevention, horizon scanning and early warning.  In the absence of peacekeeping or observer operations or political missions, the international community relies on media to inform and alert it to situations that are at risk of deteriorating into armed conflict; which can be particularly helpful for this Security Council’s elected members.  We must all support media as important actors to enable the United Nations and this Security Council to act in “preventative mode”. 


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Page last updated: Wednesday, 18 September 2013 15:31 NZST