May 4, 2018
It’s worth reflecting that this week, the week that celebrates Press Freedom Day, 10 journalists were killed in two suicide bombings on a singe day in Kabul.
These killings bring the total number of journalist deaths in 2018 to 32, according to the Inrternational Federation of Journalists (IFJ). But overall numbers killed are not an accurate indication of what’s happening. For example, in 2017, there were fewer deaths of journalists – 82 – than in any other year in the last decade.
According to BBC News, this reduced number is because fewer news organizations are sending correspondents into danger zones after high profile kidnappings and beheadings of foreign journalists from 2012 onwards.
Yet the reasons why journalists are being killed today is perhaps more sinister. Most of those killed in 2017 were murdered for their investigations into politicial corruption and organized crime. According to the deputy executive director of the Committee to Protect Journaists, the countries of high risk to journalists include the Philippines, Russia and Mexico. None of these countries are officially at war.
According to the International Federation of Journalists, only 1 out of 10 killings of journalists is investigated.
In some cases, leaders even deliberately encourage a climate of violence against newsworkers. For example, Rodrigo Duterte, as the newy elected Philippine President, when he was asked about protectiing press freedom after a journalist was murdered in Malila, raged against reporters: “Just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination, if you’re a son of a bitch.”
Not surprisingly, the International Federation of Journalists lists the Philippines as second in the world for the highest number of journalist and media staff deaths between 1990-2017. Iraq is at the top of the list, with Mexico, Pakistan and Russia ranking next highest after the Philippines.
And, at the elite levels, even the United Nations has backed away from its earlier support of Press Freedom Day by postponing this year’s panel discussion on international media freedom and fake news. This has sparked accusations of censorship. Also, the UN group involved in the controversy has admitted asking a participant to alter a video presentation that had singled out countries with heavy restrictions on news media.
Russia is another country in which the murder of journalists is common. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that 58 journalists have been killed in Russia since 1992.
An American commentator raises questions about the most recent Russian attacks on journalists:
It appears that windows and balconies in Russia are very dangerous places. Polygraph.info reports that windows and balconies are where those disliked by the government frequently fall to their deaths, after which they are declared to have committed suicide or to have died accidentally.
According to Russian investigative journalist Orkhan Jemal, as quoted by Polygraph.info, “We’ve had cases in which suspects managed to jump out of completely sealed, barred wiindows, and,” he added sarcastically “even cases in which the suspects suffered multiple lethal injuries from falling out of first floor windows.”
There have been surprisingly many recent suspicious deaths in Russia involving falling from windows, listed by Pooygraph.iinfo.
The time-honored method of silencing journalists is to shoot them. Other common techniques include beatings, imprisonment, threats and exploding bombs.
The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that a record number of journalists – 262 – were imprisoned in 2017.
Every attack on every journalists is of personal concern to me. I’m a journalist by profession, and four of my journalist friends have been killed while on assignment. Three were murdered to silence them. and only one was killed in crossfire in a war zone – Iraq.
The father of the journalist killed in Iraq is also a friend, John Little. John was himself a former Vietnam War correspondent. He said in the dedication to his book, The Man Who Saw Too Much, “I am comforted by the certain knowledge that Jeremy (Little) was pursuing a noble calling, helping to shed light on a dark chapter of history. It is because the Jeremys of this world are prepared to risk their lives that we, in our safe world, are informed.”
The Washington Post has a new slogan on its home page – ‘Democracy dies in darkness‘. But the reverse is also true – that despots and demagogues thrive best when they silence journalists.