Global Freedom of Expression

UNESCO Issue Brief: Safety of Journalists Covering Protests

Key Details

  • Region
  • Themes
    Freedom of Association and Assembly / Protests

Safety of Journalists Covering Protests: Preserving Freedom of the Press During Times of Protest

This brief comes as part of the UNESCO series World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development. It examines turmoil and issues of safety for journalists worldwide over the past four and a half years, from 1 January 2015 through 30 June 2020. The brief is designed to serve as a reference for UNESCO Member States, media organizations, NGOs, academia and internet companies. The content was developed by Frank Smyth and UNESCO acknowledges the contributions by the Ethical Journalism Network, in particular its Director Hannah Storm, and the International News Safety Institute.

Specifically, author Frank Smyth identifies the following trends concerning press freedom at protests:

  • Harassment, arrests and physical violence against journalists, mostly by government security forces and sometimes by protestors, have risen in recent years.
  • Press freedom and freedom of expression has been impacted in many countries by these attacks.
  • A range of attacks have been identified by UNESCO in 65 countries since 2015 for this report.
  • At least ten journalists have been killed since 2015 while covering protests, according to UNESCO’s Observatory of Killed Journalists.
  • Tactics used against journalists have violated international laws and norms that have been long agreed upon under the umbrella of multilateral institutions.

A PDF of the full brief is included below in English. It is also available online in English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Russian, and Chinese


Frank Smyth

is an independent journalist, and a specialist in journalist security and press freedom. He has testified before the U.S. Congress and the Member States of the Organization of American States, the UN Human Rights Council, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Frank is founder and CEO of GJS, a leading hostile environments training firm.