UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (WAM photo)

NEW YORK – When journalists are targeted, "societies as a whole pay a price", the UN chief said on Monday, on the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.

"If we do not protect journalists, our ability to remain informed and make evidence-based decisions is severely hampered," Secretary-General Antonio Guterres spelled out in his message for the day.

And when they cannot safely do their jobs, "we lose an important defense against the pandemic of misinformation and disinformation that has spread online," he added.

There were at least 21 attacks on journalists covering protests in the first half of 2020 – equal to the number of such attacks in the whole of 2017, Guterres said.

As the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted new perils for journalists and media workers, the UN chief reiterated his call for a "free press that can play its essential role in peace, justice, sustainable development and human rights."

"Fact-based news and analysis depend on the protection and safety of journalists conducting independent reporting, rooted in the fundamental tenet: ‘journalism without fear or favor,’' he said.

In her message, Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO, maintained that through accurate reporting, journalists "bring truth to light."

However, she noted that for too many "telling the truth comes at a price."

Between 2010 and 2019, close to 900 journalists were killed while doing their job, according Azoulay -- more than 150 in the last two years alone. And death is not the only risk journalists are facing.

"Attacks on the press can take the form of threats, kidnappings, arrests, imprisonments or offline and online harassment with women being targeted in particular," the UNESCO chief elaborated.

UNESCO commemorates the day annually on November 2 to raise awareness and highlight some of the specific risks that journalists face in their quest to uncover the truth.

"On this day, I call on all Member States and international and non-governmental organizations to join forces to guarantee the safety of journalists and root out impunity," said the UNESCO chief. "Only by investigating and prosecuting crimes against media professionals can we guarantee access to information and freedom of expression." (WAM)