Something of enormous and lasting importance occurred quietly on a rainy day in Brussels last November.
For those of us in the news community, the event in the International Press Centre was, quite literally, a matter of life and death.
An unprecedented coalition of news media organisations, press freedom groups, unions and humanitarian campaigners agreed to establish the International News Safety Institute, an independent network dedicated to protecting journalists against a rising tide of violence.
The Institute launches formally in Brussels this very weekend.
More than 80 news organisations already have expressed their firm support, many agreeing to set aside normal competitive impulses when their journalists’ lives are at risk.
Why has this happened?
These are nightmare times for the news media in many parts of the world, too many.
More than 1,100 journalists and other media staff have been killed in the line of duty over the past 10 years – 65 last year alone.
Headlines usually focus on the intrepid war correspondents – 15 media staffers were killed in the Iraq war, a horrifying death toll of one news person almost every two days.
In at least three of the incidents that resulted in fatalities – tanks shelling the Palestine Hotel and Al Jazeera offices in Baghdad and the shooting up of ITN vehicles clearly marked as TV – US forces may have targeted journalists deliberately. Or the attacks may have been the result of great recklessness. Either is completely unacceptable.
Nor do we accept the harassment and intimidation of journalists of the kind that occurred on the Iraqi side both for many years before and even during the war.
Amid the storm of warfare, we must never forget that more than 90 percent of journalists who die violently are at home, far from international wars, simply doing their jobs in countries where they were born and brought up.
Journalists increasingly are being targeted by those who fear or simply dislike what they report. Too often these attacks occur with impunity – which simply encourages more of the same.
Local journalists are being persecuted in Colombia, Chechnya, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe as well as, of course, the Occupied Territories where a Palestinian television cameraman was shot in the head and killed only a few days ago whilst the attention of the world was elsewhere.
Many of us in the international news community have been greatly concerned for some time by Israeli forces beating and shooting at Palestinian cameramen. We have long feared a fatality and made many protests to the Israelis to try to stop this behaviour, sadly to no avail.
Like other governments, the Israelis appear indifferent to the fate of journalists “on the other side”, stubbornly refusing to accept that a Palestinian can be as honest a reporter as an Israeli.
Deaf, like so many other authorities, to the argument that you do not defend democracy by killing journalists.