Reporters Sans Frontières has published its 2018 report of abusive treatment and deadly violence against journalists around the world. According to the report a total of 80 journalists were killed this year, 348 are currently in prison, and 60 are being held hostage, writes James Wilson.
Figures have risen in all categories. Murders, imprisonment, hostage-taking and enforced disappearances have all increased. The statistics show an unprecedented level of hostility towards media personnel. Three of the most shocking murders reported were the Saudi Reporter for the Washington Post Jamal Khashoggi, the young Slovak journalist Ján Kuciak and the Maltese blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia. These heinous murders chillingly illustrate the lengths to which enemies of press freedom are prepared to go. More than half of the journalists killed in 2018 were deliberately targeted.
“Violence against journalists has reached unprecedented levels this year, and the situation is now critical,” RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire said. “The hatred of journalists that is voiced, and sometimes very openly proclaimed, by unscrupulous politicians, religious leaders and businessmen has tragic consequences on the ground, and has been reflected in this disturbing increase in violations against journalists.
“Amplified by social networks, which bear heavy responsibility in this regard, these expressions of hatred legitimise violence, thereby undermining journalism, and democracy itself, a bit more every day.”
Afghanistan was the world’s deadliest country for journalists in 2018, with 15 killed. It was followed by Syria, with 11 killed, and Mexico, the deadliest country outside a conflict zone, with nine journalists murdered in 2018. The fatal shooting of five employees of the Capital Gazette newspaper in June brought the United States into the ranks of the deadliest countries.
The number of journalists detained worldwide at the end of the year – 348 – is up from 326 at this time last year. As in 2017, more than half of the world’s imprisoned journalists are being held in just five countries: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey. China remains the world’s biggest jailer of journalists with 60 currently held, of whom three quarters are non-professional journalists.
Compiled annually since 1995, the annual RSF round-up of abusive treatment and deadly violence against journalists is based on precise data. But it is probably only the tip of the iceberg, and the real figures are likely to be much higher.
Journalists have a crucial role in our society to deliver the facts and truthful reporting to enable us to make informed choices about how to exercise our democratic rights. We are all experiencing unprecedented levels of manipulation of social media to conceal outright lies by politicians, and to influence public opinion by propaganda. Professional journalism plays a crucial role in the defence of democracy by delivering fact-based truthful reporting that the public can believe and rely on. As the strapline to the Washington Post states “Democracy dies in Darkness” – but the corollary to that is that it flourishes in the light.
Lies are not an alternative point of view. They are deliberate deceit designed to cause harm. As a society, we need to honour more and respect the principles of our journalists to strive for media freedom, and make greater efforts to protect them from the dictators, bullies and business moguls who seek to silence them.
The Author, James Wilson, is the Editor of EU Political Report