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International News Safety Institute launched

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is an IFJ media release:

After 1,100 Killings in Ten Years and Heavy Toll in Iraq, Launch of International News Safety Institute

The International News Safety Institute, a new global body campaigning for safety in journalism, was launched today to mark World Press Freedom Day, May 3rd 2003.

The Institute, which represents a coalition of more than 100 of the world's leading media organisations, journalists' associations and press freedom groups, is launched only days after the ending of the War in Iraq, "one of the bloodiest events in the history of journalism," according to the Institute founders.

More than 1,100 journalists and media staff have been killed in the past ten years and 16 died or are missing and presumed dead during a three-week spell of the war in Iraq.

The new Institute, which will be based at the International Press Centre, Residence Palace, in Brussels, was launched at a special ceremony in Brussels. Simultaneous events marking the launch were being held in London and Jamaica, where UNESCO is leading the United Nations celebrations for World Press Freedom Day.

The launch was marked by a strong call for new international war crime trials to penalize attacks on journalists and media staff. The meeting also said that negligence in the protection of journalists should be a war crime.

"The Institute marks a new chapter in the history of news media," said Chris Cramer, Head of International Networks at CNN and the Honorary President of the Institute. "After years of neglect in the face of increasing violence against media staff, we are putting security and safety on the top of the news agenda."

He said the Institute will promote safety training and awareness programmes in all regions of the world, particularly those where media staff face human rights abuses on a routine and daily basis.

At the launch, media leaders from the BBC, Reuters, Al-Jazeera and numerous other newspapers and international media joined the International Federation of Journalists, the International Press Institute and human rights campaigners to pledge support for the Institute. The Institute was also
welcomed by Pat Cox, President of the European Parliament and a former journalist in Ireland.

There was a detailed discussion on recent events in Iraq, where arguments rage over whether "friendly fire" incidents and the failure to protect journalists and media staff were acts of criminal negligence and whether international law and the Geneva Conventions need to be revised to give journalists and media staff more protection.

A subscription web-site, the production of safety manuals and a co-ordinated programme of practical assistance for media in addressing safety issues will be part of the Institute's working programme, which will be endorsed at the first annual meeting, to be held in Budapest later this year.

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