According to the United Nations, a reporter is killed every week for reporting the news or having an opinion. Since 1992 1074 journalists have been murdered because of their profession. Shockingly only 1 in 10 cases result in a conviction for those responsible. Why is this happening?
Blasphemy of freedom
In theocratic countries, blasphemy laws are justified by state religion, and with it come the silencing of free speech. And yet religious dogma is often really a way to censor political criticism. In such ideologies, a culture of fear and intimidation felt and practised by both society and government, impinges on journalistic rights to pursue the truth. Blasphemy is codified by the state; while it may rely on religious leaders to teach it, ultimately the government is responsible for legislation. Take the case of Raif Badawi in Saudi Arabia who for founding the Saudi Liberal Network was sentenced to 1000 lashes and 10 years imprisonment. Or Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed, sentenced to death in Mauritinia for writing an article critical of the country’s caste system. All too often religious fundamentalism infiltrates both assembly and judiciary to mete out punishment, but it is also often a cover used to avoid the real issues of human rights abuses, corruption, and totalitarianism.
The Thought Police
Reporters are now facing unprecedented threats. Due to advances in transport and technology, it is now all too easy to see life refracted through the lens — and yet for those on the other side of the camera, the hazardous nature of the job is all too real. It is in the chaotic scenes of disaster zones, battle lines, or civilian uprising that journalists are placed most at risk. Often attacks go unrecorded because they are carried out by the country’s police force. When the ‘Occupy’ demonstrations hit Hong Kong, it was widely reported photographers faced violence and even sexual assualt from state authorities. Likewise during Brazil’s World Cup, when reporters tried to document the riots taking place in Rio, they were threatened beaten or detained. In such volatile atmosphere police aggression is perhaps understandable, if not acceptable; however, all too often the police are following orders from high up.
Right now there are some regions of the world where both official and independent broadcasters have ceased transmission. In places like Aleppo in Syria, or Raqqa in Iraq, freedom of speech has been altogether wiped out.The most obvious reason why, is the black flag of ISIL. However, the government army of Assad, rebel factions like the Free Syrian Army and the Islamic Front, have all played a part in eradicating free press. It is not just in war-zones that breed warlords and guerrilla fighters, in many parts of the world international crime syndicates and gangs use blackmail, threats, intimidation, extortion, ransom and reprisals, as a way to stop journalists pursuing the truth. What interest do criminals have in opposing freedom of the press? In 2014 Reporters Without Borders published the press freedom index: It was no coincidence that many of the lowest rated countries in the list, also appear as the highest on the International corruption index. This is why the Philippines local radio journalist Nilo Baculo Sr, known for his exposes on crime and government was murdered in a drive-by shooting in 2014, and why in Mexico journalists like María del Rosario Fuentes Rubio are kidnapped and executed by cartels, when they have published stories on the link between trafficking and local authorities.
the Cacophony of Voices
Globalism has rapidly risen in line with technology, and the advent of social media has meant free speech has quite literally gone viral. In this cacophony of voices it is not only traditional news outlets that are threatened it is the establishment itself. After all why do governments crack down on journalists, along with police officers and criminals? The answer lies in the power of the media to destabilise monopolies of power. Taken to its logical end we have states like North Korea, but there are pockets of censorship in every society around the globe. Today’s world is ever more fragmentary and journalists are now employed in a dangerous task of reporting the truth in an unstable world. Because they are getting hurt, and perpetrators have apparent impunity, the wider public have little choice but to stay silent. Free press is at the cornerstone of sustainable development. Journalism doesn’t just keep us free from Orwellian nightmares of Big Brother; it promotes economic investment, universal education, and work productivity. Countries ranked high on the international development index, are also rated high in press freedom, and high on transparancy. This because diverse opinion, creates a vibrant culture of ideas which can only lead to growth and cohesion. So rather than being drowned out by the noise, it is better to stand up be counted, and be heard.