The job of a press reporter or cameraman may not be as glamorous as one may tend to think.  The job may seem exciting and fascinating but it remains a risky one especially when you consider that every year a considerable number of professional journalists lose their lives around the world in the course of their work.  Here is a year-by-year list of journalists killed: 2006 – 84; 2007 – 66; 2008 –  46; 2009 – 77; 2010 – 65; 2011 – 62; 2012 – 124; 2013 – 90; 2014 – 98; 2015 – 115; 2016 – 100.

Suresh Ramphul

In its annual report, Reporters Without Frontiers (Reporters Sans Frontières) mentions that 65 media workers in the world have been killed (39 for reporting on political corruption or organised crime and 26 as a result of shelling and bomb attacks.)

Journalists on assignment in countries suffering from war or other crises are the most vulnerable.  They have no idea when they can, despite taking all the basic precautions, fall victim to explosives, air strikes or landmines.  As it often happens, journalists are kidnapped and held hostage by extremist groups. Journalists may be perceived as a real threat to those closely involved in drugs, human trafficking, child labour, corruption, women slavery or genocide.  They may detain sensitive information from investigations carried out; they are therefore eliminated for fear that such information is released worldwide, which would cause enormous harm to their illegal or immoral activities.

Journalists are not only killed but they also run the risk of being imprisoned in certain countries.  The Report says that “more than 300 media workers were currently in prison, with around half of those in five countries, namely Turkey, China, Syria, Iran, and Vietnam.” We learn that Syria remains the most dangerous country in the world for journalists, with 12 reporters killed. It is followed by Mexico where 11 were killed.  The most prominent jailers of journalists are Syria (24), Iran (23), and Vietnam (19).

It might be interesting to take note of the other major grounds on which journalists are either assassinated or put in prison: “Criticising the government, working for a ‘suspect’ media outlet, contacting a sensitive source or even just using an encrypted messaging service all constitute grounds for jailing journalists.”  Setting an example may be another reason to detain journalists.  Authoritarian or dictatorial regimes use the detainees to “terrorize and silence their colleagues or serve as leverage in conflicts that do not directly concern them.”  Armed groups may find it advantageous to hold a journalist as hostage in order to obtain a ransom to fund the war.

 Persecution

Journalists are victimized on charges of spreading false news or belonging to some terrorist organisations.  Persecution against detainees may take several forms:  threats, intimidation, bullying, torture, not being given food on time, sleep deprivation, isolation, being confined to the limited space of a cell.  Keeping them away from their families and making them feel anxious and sad or keeping them uncertain about their fate for a long period of time may be other ways of harassing them.

In China 52 journalists are languishing in jail.  The Report highlights the point that the Chinese government “no longer sentences its opponents to death but instead deliberately lets their health deteriorate in prison until they die”, while referring to the deaths of Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo and dissident Yang Tangyan, both of whom perished from cancer in prison. Killing a person slowly but wilfully is obviously one of the worst forms of cruelty.

On the other hand, a journalist covering a war-torn area may not be at peace because he knows that somewhere they are keeping an eye on him. He always has disturbing questions on his mind all throughout the day: Is my telephone tapped? Am I being stalked? Is my informer a reliable source?  Thus, he is constantly under tension.  He never knows when he can be the next victim of a sniper.

Journalists are often persecuted with recurrent warning signs.  The Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was crusading against corruption, lack of transparency, cronyism, money laundering, nepotism and other government scourges in Malta.  In 1995, the door of her house was doused in fuel and set on fire.  Next, they killed her pet.  Noticing that she was as determined as ever to carry on with her mission, the perpetrators planted a bomb in her car.  On 16 October 2017 the car and the reporter-activist were ripped apart in the explosion.

Journalists, whether they are targeted or not, die in brutal ways: being riddled with bullets, getting hit in the head by sniper fire, receiving a shot to the head or in the back, or an axe attack on the street. They may die in crossfire situations. Daniel Pearl was beheaded by a militant group in Pakistan after his disappearance in 2002.  Stephan Villeneuve and Véronique Robert, covering the war in Iraq for Envoyé Spécial, were killed this year with an improvised explosive device. Some journalists who are abducted are ultimately released. But others are kept in detention over years.   One can very well imagine their ordeal. Other reporters/correspondents simply go missing.  No trace of them is ever found and their families are left aggrieved for a lifetime.

This is just to say how hard and challenging it is for reporters to operate in a chaotic world.  Reporting may not be as glamorous as it seems. Let’s pay tribute to all those men and women all over the world who are risking their lives daily to bring us news as it is unfolding.

Suresh Ramphul

Source:  For Facts and Figures: Internet