To be globally aware, we depend on journalists around the world who risk their freedom and very lives to keep us informed.
A mural depicting slain Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh is drawn on part of Israel’s controversial separation barrier, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, 6 July 2022. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)
I once heard an electrifying speech by Chandra Muzaffar, a political scientist who co-founded Aliran, a group that pushed for equality and social justice in Malaysia. He said that more important than freedom of speech is freedom after speech. The government arrested him later that month.
He gave that speech a long time ago, but it has never been more relevant, especially when we talk about journalism and journalists. Imprisonment is an effective way of shutting up a reporter. It is difficult to speak truth to power from prison. Death is an even more effective gag.
Last year 363 journalists around the world were imprisoned for doing their jobs, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). This doesn’t include the 67 journalists killed last year or the countless numbers who have had to flee their countries to stay alive.
Another 13 journalists have been killed so far this year.
When I first entered the field of journalism — around the time I heard that speech by Muzaffar — I was under the naive idea that people and governments respected the neutrality of the press.
Maybe that was the privilege of being a reporter in the United States where, at least when I started out, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution largely protected truthful reporting. Then my biggest fears were getting fired, sued or exiled to cover community news and sports in Nowheresville County.
No news is not good news.
I wasn’t completely ignorant. Around that time, Associated Press reporter Terry Anderson had been imprisoned for more than six years, having been taken hostage in Lebanon. But that, I thought, was an aberration.
Few reporters are that naive today. In Ukraine and Mexico, reporting is a death-defying profession, accounting for almost half the journalists killed globally last year.
And it can be more dangerous for those journalists who work for established news organizations. In the past, credentials from the BBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal or other top news organizations gave reporters some protection.
WSJ credentials haven’t protected Evan Gershkov, for example, who has been sitting in a Russian jail since March. And Al Jazeera credentials didn’t protect Shireen Abu Akleh who was killed by a stray bullet during an Israeli offensive in May 2022.
Meanwhile Sudanese photojournalist Faiz Abubaker told the CPJ that he was freed after being shot and then imprisoned for three hours only when the Sudanese paramilitary group that was holding him determined that he wasn’t working for any established news organization. Abubaker had been filming clashes between the paramilitary group and the Sudanese military.
“When they searched my Facebook and found out that I am a freelance journalist who is not working for a specific outlet, they let me go.”
At News Decoder, we promote global awareness and global citizenship.
But it is difficult to be globally aware without the brave journalists throughout the world who risk their lives to report what is happening and help us understand, prevent and stop violence and exploitation.
Three questions to consider:
- Why are so many journalists around the world under attack?
- What, according to the article, are some countries where journalists have been imprisoned or killed?
- Why do you think journalists continue to report even when doing so is dangerous?
Marcy Burstiner is the educational news director for News Decoder. She is a graduate of the Columbia Journalism School and professor emeritus of journalism and mass communication at the California Polytechnic University, Humboldt in California. She is the author of the book Investigative Reporting: From premise to publication.