Currently 162 journalists, 131 citizen journalists and 19 media assistants are imprisoned around the world. These figures from Reporters Without Borders also show that 40 journalists have already been killed in 2018, with at least 780 journalists and media workers having lost their life since 2006, all for the mere purpose to prevent the right to information of citizens all over the world.
Most publicly, four journalists and a sales assistant were killed as a result of yet another shooting in the United States of America on June 28th of this year. This time, the victims were going about their daily job at a local Maryland newspaper, The Capital Gazette. The senseless deaths of these five people is just another stark reminder of the current gun crisis facing America, but it also provides a very real account into the sensitive nature of media freedom.
The victims, identified as Rob Hiaasen, 59, an assistant editor at the paper, Gerald Fischman, 61, also an editor, John McNamara, 56, a 20-year veteran staff writer at the Gazette, Wendi Winters, 65, an editor and community reporter at the newspaper, and Rebecca Smith, 34, a sales assistant, were five individuals who all shared the belief of reporting the news, by speaking for those who couldn’t, and by questioning authority. Their lives are just a tragic reminder that people will go to extreme lengths to conceal information.
The alleged killer, Jarrod W. Ramos, is said to have filed a defamation suit against the paper back in 2012 after an article published by the newspaper in 2011 highlighted his conviction in a criminal harassment case. That particular case was dismissed, with the judge explaining that nothing in the Gazette’s article was false. Holding a grudge against the newspaper, this killer had a vengeance against the media.
Journalists are often tarnished with a negative reputation, and with the attacks on the “fake news media” by President Donald Trump, the credibility of journalism is being tested all over the world. Whilst there are definitely instances of dodgy journalism and unethical practices, the concept of ‘good’ journalism is absolutely crucial to any thriving society. Trump immediately condemned the Capital Gazette killings by claiming that journalists should be ‘free from the fear of being violently attacked while doing their job,’ but the President’s statement has bizarrely contradicted his previous claims that journalists are ‘enemies of the people’. This damaging phrase completely disregards and undermines the practice and potential of journalism. Journalists aren’t and should never be the enemy. As explained by the American Press Institute, the “principles and purpose of journalism are defined by something more basic; the function news plays in the lives of people.”
Informing citizens of the events and issues occurring in the world helps to assist in manufacturing decisions that affect not only the individual, but also the lives of those all over the world. The role of a journalist is a privilege, and one that should be treated with utmost respect and caution, as all over the world journalists are risking their lives and fighting for media freedom to tell the stories of those who aren’t able to speak for themselves, whilst holding disgraced people to account for their actions.
Reporters Without Borders is an independent NGO which aims to defend and promote freedom of information. Their 2018 World Freedom Index measures the level of media freedom available to journalists which is based on a number of factors including the independence of the media, quality of legislative framework and the overall safety of journalists in the particular country. Australia currently sits at 19th on the index with the three Scandinavian countries, Norway, Sweden and Finland compiling the top four list. On the other end, North Korea is the most dangerous country for journalists, with China, Vietnam and Syria also being regarded as lacking any media freedom.
With powerful figures like Trump expressing their hatred for the media, and those who oppose democracy, the practice of journalism and free press will only continue to be tested. Freedom of both expression and information is vital in any democracy, and with nearly half of the world’s population not being able to access freely-reported news, atrocities around the world will only continue to be hidden under the cover of dark. The tireless work of journalists and media professionals enables basic human rights by drawing attention to abhorrent situations around the world and denouncing abuse and inequalities. It’s time to protect journalists and seize the stories being told.