The title of this article summarizes the irony reflected by the event. The United Nations (UN) set aside November 2, every year as a day dedicated to raising awareness on the need to end impunity of crimes against journalists. But when you look at cases of brutality and harassment against journalists, including hate speech capable of instigating the public against journalists, it is not difficult to see a pattern suggesting that the modern World seems to be designed to attack journalists.Today, even the best of democracies have leaders who see journalists as enemy of the public. Of course, one name immediately comes to mind, President Donald Trump of the United States of America. Right from his first day in office he has consistently seen the press as the enemy of the American people, describing media houses and journalists in terms capable of getting the public to deride them. If the number one citizen of the most powerful democracy in the world behaves this way, what will leaders in autocratic states do? Take a look at crimes against journalists and see whether it is actually not becoming normal to have reporters in jailed, harassed or killed. Look at these statistics and analysis below as provided by Thomas Hughes in an article posted on Al Jazeera;
The murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is extraordinary, not because of the brutal way he was killed, nor because those who did it are unlikely to be held to account. It is extraordinary because it has become international news in a world where violence against journalists is increasingly the norm.
In 2017 alone, 78 journalists were murdered, and thousands more assaulted or imprisoned for their work. On average, only one in 10 of those who commit violence against journalists are convicted of their crimes. In countries like Mexico, where 12 journalists were murdered in 2017, virtually no perpetrators are convicted.
Even in Europe, a supposedly safe place for journalists to work, there are worrying cases of murders of journalists. The family of Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia are still waiting for justice, one year after she was killed by a car bomb.
Friday, November 2, was the Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists when civil society rallied round to urge governments to take action and bring to justice those who are guilty of killing journalists such as Khashoggi and Galizia.
But these violent acts do not occur in isolation, nor are they the only threat facing journalists today.
Among the international leaders who have condemned Khashoggi’s murder is Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who without apparent irony said: “From the person who gave the order, to the person who carried it out, they must all be brought to account.”
Since the attempted coup in 2016, Erdogan’s government has systematically destroyed the independent media in Turkey. Currently, 174 journalists are in prison, including Ahmet Altan and five other media workers whose life sentences were upheld by a Turkish court a few weeks ago, calling into question the fairness of these trials.
Trump and Verbal Impunity Against The Press
This is another form of press harassment and intimidation which creates an atmosphere of hate around the media. President Donald Trump indulges in verbal impunity against the press, describing them in terms likely to instigate the public against them. Here is how Thomas Hughes captures the contributions of Trump to insecure atmosphere around the press in the analysis below;
…The US president chose to celebrate violence towards journalists, when he expressed support for Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte, who was found guilty of assaulting a Guardian journalist in 2017. He told a rally in Montana: “Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my kind of… he’s my guy.”
Since announcing his campaign for presidency, Trump’s vilification of the press has been relentless whether at rallies, White House press conferences or through more than 1,000 critical tweets. He has repeatedly dismissed criticism as “fake news”, called the press “the enemy of the people” and even mocked a reporter’s disability. Trump’s response to a bombing campaign that targeted CNN, George Soros and the Clintons, was to blame the media.
Verbal attacks are not the same as violent attacks, but they contribute to a hostile environment that makes being a journalist in 2018 such a dangerous job. The US media have some of the best protections in the world, yet there has been a decline in press freedom in recent years, and this has a global effect.
Trump’s embrace of “fake news” as a defence has been adopted by other leaders to deflect criticism. Aung San Suu Kyi’s government used it to rebuff accusations of ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people in Myanmar. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used it to dismiss an Amnesty International report into the torture and execution of thousands of detainees. In Bahrain, the head of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Nabeel Rajab, was even sentenced to two years in prison for broadcasting “fake news”.
From the facts contained in the piece above by Thomas Hughes it is clear that the world is not yet serious with respect for freedom of the press. Democracies are creating an atmosphere of hate against the press. Yet such countries survive on the performance of the media, based on checks and balances, including cutting-edge watch dog reporting. The world does not actually need a separate day to be reminded that freedom of the press should be respected. This is something that the society should naturally embrace because of the crucial role of the press in nation-building.
In Africa, journalists suffer both physical and psychological brutality from people in power and media owners. Apart from the physical attacks on reporters, poor salary is a major torture experience faced by journalists. In Nigeria for instance, some media houses owe journalists for several months and even a number of organisations that pay salaries only pay peanuts when compared to what obtains in other sectors of the country. President of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Comrade Chris Isiguzo, condemned the poor remuneration of journalists, describing it as a form of impunity against the press. He said this on Friday, November 2, while on a Radio Nigeria network programme to mark the international day to end impunity of crimes against journalists.
Having examined anti-press activities around the world, it is clear that governments need to do more to protect journalists so that their freedom to practice their profession is not jeopardized. It is in line with ensuring press freedom and protection of journalists that the UN Human Rights Council adopted a new resolution on the safety of journalists in September 2018. The resolution called, among other things, for an end to the denigration of journalists by politicians and public officials. As …. observes, the UN resolution “acknowledges that these attacks undermine the public’s trust in the independent media and puts all those who work in this field at risk. In addition to specific calls to protect women journalists, the resolution calls for states to adopt national strategies to combat the appalling rates of impunity that exist today.”
Governments should wake up to their duties by ensuring that freedom of the press is not compromised. Verbal attacks against journalists create an atmosphere of attack against journalists. Just as … put it, “The fight to end impunity for crimes against journalists begins with an end to the rhetoric that dehumanises media workers and their role in civil society.”
The fact that a special day is needed to create awareness on something such as the need to stop crimes against journalists shows how bad the situation has become. It is hoped that this special day goes a long way in achieving the goal for which it was set, which is to remind leaders like Donald Trump and his anti-press allies that a society without the press cannot even be imagined.