Analysis Politics News Politics

Journalists continue to risk life and limb

An increasingly risky career which has never been more needed

Image: UNClimateChange

THE THREAT FACED by journalists globally was highlighted on 2 October last year with the suspected murder of Washington Post columnist, Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi had been living in exile in the USA and had been a staunch critic of the Saudi regime. He was strangled and dismembered, allegedly by Saudi agents after visiting the Saudi embassy in Istanbul . Khashoggi’s death brought the issue of the safety of the press to the world stage, but there have undoubtedly been prevailing attitudes of anti-press sentiment in some of the highest areas of government, with Donald Trump referring to some of America’s leading media outlets, such as CBS and the New York Times, as “enemies of the American People”, in a February 2017 tweet. Even this, however, did not prevent Western governments demanding that the Saudi government make the circumstances surrounding Khashoggi’s death public and calling for broader debate around the safety of the press.

The Khashoggi case is just one of the 54 documented killings of journalists in 2018 in a report from the US-based organisation Committee to Protect Journalists (PJ). As well as showing an in-crease in violence towards journalists compared to 2017, the report has highlighted a worrying trend of journalists being killed as reprisals for opposing regimes or specific individuals. In October 2017, the Maltese anti-corruption journalist, Daphne Caruana, was killed by a car-bomb reportedly after years of violence used against her and her family as a form of intimidation. A killing carried out with apparently similar motives also occurred in February 2017 in Slovakia when the journalist, Jan Kuciak, and his fiancée, Martina Kusnirova were gunned down in their bedroom. Kuciak had been investigating links between state officials and organised crime at the time of his death and the uproar following his murder would trigger the resignation of the serving Slovakian Prime Minister. Even the US has seen assaults on the press on home soil with the murder of four journalists on 28 June 2018 at the offices of the Maryland news-paper Capital Gazette. The killings were carried out by a gunman who had previously sent threatening messages to the paper’s office, voicing his discontent. It was this incident that meant that, for the first time ever, the US made the top five list of most dangerous countries for journalists, according to a report by the media-freedom group Re-porters without Borders. 

In addition to these deaths, many journalists face lengthy imprisonment for their work. The most notable example of this in 2018 was the journalist and found-er of the news organisation Rappler Maria Ressa, who currently faces up to 10 years in prison following charges for tax evasion brought against her by the government of the Philippines. Ressa has claimed these charges were invented by the government, which she had strongly criticised via Rappler. The reason for the increase in journalist deaths seems to vary between regions, but a report published by the CPJ has suggested it is partly due to the rise in social me-dia technology and connectivity; journalists are no longer essential for political parties and groups to spread their rhetoric. The role of journalists has be-come more precarious, at a time when their freedom to investigate is also under threat. These are worrying trends, particularly in countries where we would not expect them, including within the European Union. Ultimately, the trend makes journalists less able to hold elected governments to account. Furthermore, it discourages bright young talent from entering the industry. The quality of journalism overall is likely to suffer.

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