ACCORDING to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 54 journalists were killed across the globe in 2018. Some were covering war zones and were accidentally caught in the crossfire, or on dangerous assignments, such as reporting on civil unrest. These are well-known hazards of the profession.
But 34–more than half–were murdered in reprisal for their reporting. That’s a shocking and alarming statistic, especially since some of the murders were close to home.
The victims include Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was lured to the Saudi consulate in Instanbul on Oct. 2, 2018, and then tortured, murdered, and dismembered on orders of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, according to the CIA.
They also include the Maryland Capital Gazette’s editorial page editor Gerald Fischman, columnist Rob Hiassen, sports writer John McNamara, sales assistant Rebecca Smith, and community correspondent Wendi Winters, who were killed on June 28, 2018, in what police called “a targeted attack,” allegedly by a gunman who held a grudge against the paper for reporting his guilty plea in a sexual harassment case back in 2011.
Five more journalists have been killed so far in 2019, and many others have been beaten, detained, received death threats, or even jailed in various countries around the world just for doing their jobs.
According to the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders’ 2019 World Press Freedom Index, only 8 percent of the 180 countries it follows have a “good” media climate. The rest range from “problematic” to “very serious,” due in part to an increasing number of online threats aimed at journalists. The five Gazette killings dropped the United States’ press freedom ranking from 45th to 48th place, and was the first time the group characterized our media climate as “problematic.”
The deaths of 13 journalists in Afghanistan made it the most dangerous place for members of the media last year, followed by Syria and India. The old norms dictated that war correspondents were off-limits as targets in armed conflicts. But that started to change in the 1990s during the war in Bosnia.
Now, as communication technologies allow unfiltered and real-time coverage of world events, it is increasingly becoming open season on journalists, in addition to unarmed civilians, humanitarian aid workers, and religious groups.
Such attacks–whether they come from governments, radicalized groups, or individuals–should be universally condemned for what they are: a cowardly assault on civilized societies where killing the messenger is verboten, and a crime against humanity. The perpetrators of violence against journalists must be held accountable for their despicable actions.
On this World Press Freedom Day, we salute the brave journalists at home and abroad who increasingly risk their lives to bring you the news, and mourn all those who died in its pursuit.