After the savage murder of Jamal Khashoggi, major organizations monitoring the freedom and safety of journalists worldwide are reporting, albeit coincidentally, that 2018 has been an exceptionally dangerous year everywhere. The deaths of journalists have risen sharply, to 53 from 47 in 2017, the Committee to Protect Journalists announced on Dec. 19.
“The recent uptick in killings follows two years of decline, but comes as the jailing of journalists hits a sustained high — adding up to a global crisis of press freedom,” wrote Elana Beiser, the author of the Committee to Protect Journalists special report.
The top 10 countries ranked in order of magnitude in journalists’ deaths in 2018 on the CPJ’s list were: Afghanistan, Syria, India, Mexico, the United States, the Central African Republic, Yemen, Brazil, Colombia and Israel/Occupied Palestinian territories.
The tallies were higher from Reporters Without Borders (a Paris-based organization, called Reporters sans frontières), which recorded 80 journalists killed, 348 detained, 60 held hostage and 3 missing in the last 12 months. Of the 80, the organization wrote in its 2018 worldwide roundup, 49 were murdered or deliberately targeted and 31 were killed while reporting.
Three women were among those murdered: Leslie Ann Pamela of El Sillión in Mexico, Maharram Durrani of Radio Azadi/Radio Free Europe in Afghanistan and Wendi Winters of the Capital Gazette, who died with colleagues in a newsroom attack in the American city of Annapolis, Md.
In a separate but related study involving women, released on Dec. 17, Amnesty International focused on the intense psychological pressures and abuse that female journalists and female politicians confront in using Twitter in the US and in Britain.
Amnesty said in its report that volunteers from its 6,500-member global “troll patrol” had sorted through 228,000 tweets sent to 778 women in the US and Britain in 2017. The study was conducted with the help of Element AI, the artificial intelligence company.
“We found that, although abuse is targeted at women across the political spectrum, women of colour were much more likely to be impacted, and black women are disproportionately targeted,” Milena Marin, Amnesty’s senior advisor for tactical research, said in a news release. “Twitter’s failure to crack down on this problem means it is contributing to the silencing of already marginalized voices,” she added.
Both international press-monitoring groups — the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders — drew attention to the targeting of journalists or commentators on social media who are often isolated and unprotected by large news organizations and vulnerable to threats and assassination. They often work with little or no pay in places where repression of the media exists to one degree or another.
All journalists, however, may be attacked by a variety of assailants: governments and their security forces, armed militant groups, police officers, criminal gangs seeking to silence investigative reporters and religious nationalist zealots.
Olof Skoog, the Swedish ambassador to the United Nations, thanked the media in his country’s last days as an elected member of the Security Council, saying journalists’ work is the “indispensable part of any democratic and rules-based organization.”
“We are aware how vulnerable many journalists are,” he added, saying he would begin early next year to create initiatives to reinforce protection of journalists “in a complicated world.”
In India in 2017, Gauri Lankesh one of India’s most prominent journalists, who was critical of Hindu nationalist followers of the government, was shot several times and died on the doorstep of her home in the southern city of Bangalore. Nine suspects were taken into custody, one of whom told investigators, “I had to kill someone to save my religion.”
In the year’s most sensational case, intelligence officials in the US and Turkey, where Jamal Khashoggi was killed in October, say they are convinced that his horrific death and dismemberment was approved or possibly planned in detail by Saudi Arabia and its crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. Khashoggi, a 59-year-old reporter and columnist for The Washington Post, had been lured into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain documents for his pending marriage, where he disappeared. His remains have not been found.
President Trump, ignoring the findings of his own intelligence agencies and influential members of the US Congress, has refused to acknowledge that the Saudi crown prince might have masterminded the murder of Khashoggi. The president also persists in calling the US media “the enemy of the people,” a phase more often heard from autocrats and dictators. Those governments no longer feel American pressure to protect the freedom of the press.
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Barbara Crossette is the senior consulting editor and writer for PassBlue and the United Nations correspondent for The Nation. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She has also contributed to the Oxford Handbook on the United Nations.
Previously, Crossette was the UN bureau chief for The New York Times from 1994 to 2001 and previously its chief correspondent in Southeast Asia and South Asia. She is the author of “So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas,” “The Great Hill Stations of Asia” and a Foreign Policy Association study, “India Changes Course,” in the Foreign Policy Association’s “Great Decisions 2015.”
Crossette won the George Polk award for her coverage in India of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and the 2010 Shorenstein Prize for her writing on Asia.