As the world observes the World Day of Social Justice it's important for journalists to reflect on their role in the fight for human dignity.
How far have we come 13 years after the declaration of World Day of Social Justice? The 20th of February is observed throughout the world to promote social justice and ongoing endeavours by people and social justice organisations that work towards curbing injustice across the world.
According to the United Nations (UN), social justice is an underlying principle for peaceful and prosperous coexistence within and among nations. We uphold the principles of social justice when we promote gender equality or the rights of indigenous peoples and migrants.
We advance social justice when we remove barriers that people face because of gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion, culture, disability or the imposition upon them of deliberate ignorance.
Social justice is also the advocacy for human rights as injustices occur, when people are excluded from enjoying these rights or when their inalienable access to them is abused. Social justice and human rights are inseparable.
Society depends on the powers that be to operate with open-ness when they handle matters which affect them. The reluctance that they often show for accountability makes it important for communities to have avenues they can trust to protect their right to stay informed. It is to fulfil this important public role that robust and fearless journalism should be nurtured and protected.
Tim Knight, an international journalism trainer, says it is important that through their training journalists are made to understand that information, as the currency of democracy, is power. Most often than not, authorities are waiting at every turn to thwart what according to them is an increasingly questioning and impertinent media.
By reflecting on social justice we should once again remind ourselves what can be said in the 21st century in the name of justice. Thus far the fight has been sustained through voices that have not allowed themselves to die down. Advocacy for specific issues such as gender issues, environmental rights and the safety and dignity of all people, has kept the wind blowing on the sails of many causes across the world.
Activists, through their hard-to-ignore din, keep ensuring that governments, corporations and other agents stop treating people with disdain.
While serving as the secretary general of the United Nations, Ghanaian diplomat Kofi Annan said in his report to the Commission on Human Rights, “Humanity will not enjoy security without development, it will not enjoy development without security, and it will not enjoy either without respect for human rights.”
It is this fight for the respect for human rights that leads many journalists to fall out of favor with those who exercise social power. In many countries they risk harassment, imprisonment and sometimes pay the ultimate price for speaking up to power. It is also only through their dogged persistence that we see important changes in society, particularly reforms that improve the lot of many whose rights were cruelly undermined.
Because - to rephrase Rango, the path to the truth is fraught with consequence for journalists reporting on social justice, support from initiatives like Reporters Without Borders does shield reporters from the real dangers they face. Journalists also need to respond to their unique personal circumstances and can find out about the added protection that taking out industry specific insurance could offer if they perceive themselves to be in extreme danger.
The nature of reporting on human rights and social justice is such that journalists need to appreciate the context and pay additional attention to conflicting social interests so they avoid fanning fires in highly volatile situations. The Ethical Journalism Network’s five-point test of speech can help reporters return ethics into how they approach complex stories. Such tools, coupled with resources that help them understand processes of peace and justice, are an important addition to the arsenal of a journalist who understands the value of being conscientious in their work.
An awareness of resolutions made by the UN general assembly on social justice is invaluable. These include commitments to eradicate poverty, provide clean affordable energy, promote peaceful and inclusive societies and implement nationally appropriate social protection systems for all, including social protection floors. Although those resolutions are warranted by the UN to be executed by governments, journalists as citizens also do have a duty to step in to hold governments accountable. They should complement other forms of social activism aimed at holding governments answerable for sinister acts, corruption or when organisations fighting for social justice to take legal action against individuals for their wrongdoing.
Over the past year South Africa has witnessed numerous disturbing acts of violence against women and children, even though crime statistics state that crime in the country has not increased in anyway but is merely more publicised in the media. This is very little consolation to the women and children who undoubtedly still walk around in fear of being kidnapped, trafficked, raped or even being murdered on their way to ordinary places like school or work.
The few perpetrators caught should never become a smoke-screen to hide the many that silently stalk their next victims. Although gender-based violence organisations rise to counteract these heinous crimes, the country needs law enforcement and government to rise to the epidemic. Without bold action SA will continue being one of the most violent countries not involved in armed conflict. Government should do more to resolve this social injustice and end the unnecessary grief suffered by so many families.
To heal communities, to stand up for humanity’s inherent dignity and to stand against those who wield disproportionate social power is an undertaking that should be ongoing. This involves the the necessary financial and human resources that need to be mobilised to keep the embers burning. This perhaps is what it is to be eternally vigilant.