Their Words, Our World, Colltalers
Another December, another end-of-the-year balance of the risks of news reporting around the globe. Spoiler’s alert: bringing the world to your doorstep has cost many reporters their freedom, at a price often paid with their own lives.
We’re not talking about those killed in one of the many ongoing wars. Or places where a free press is not a priority. Among the 20 deadliest countries of 2015, the Committee to Protect Journalists report names France, Brazil, and the U.S.
We’ll get back to that, but let’s first throw the spotlight on this month for two reasons: the 11th anniversary of Gary Webb’s strange death; and Donald Trump’s use of a Vladimir Putin’s endorsement to dismiss killing journalists as a serious crime.
There’s much to unpack here. To start, we’re weary of claims in defense of journalists coming from a politically right-wing TV pundit, even if Russia is indeed no reporter’s paradise. It’s actually downright bizarre having someone named Morning Joe playing a bastion of civil rights.
We’d also call it all part of Trump’s headline-grabbing strategy, including his doubling-down of the statement. Above all, it displeases us to no end having to mention their whole lot here.
As for Webb, who may’ve uncovered evidence of a CIA-Contra-crack epidemic link in the 1990s, and saw his career and character destroyed – the focus of a straight-to-cable movie released
last year – his fight for transparency is still relevant.
Take the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act which has been stealthily added by Congress to the government’s budget and sent for President Obama’s signature. It’s virtually the same bill derailed last year by consumer groups and major tech companies, such as Apple, Twitter, and Facebook, for allowing the surveillance of citizens without a warrant.
That it became known that FB for one, had supported it, even as publicly opposing it, is now a non-issue. The bill faced little opposition this time because no one had time to study it as it was included at the 11th hour in the overall legislation.
Going back to the CPJ report, it names 47 journalists murdered in 2015, while covering crimes such as corruption, human rights violations, and politics. The list includes those killed at the Charlie Hebdo newsroom, in Paris, and six Brazilians.
In the U.S., the inclusion of the brutal murder of two Virginia reporters caught on live television, by a killer with a personal score to settled with them, makes sense as they were performing their jobs and died mainly because of that fact.
The murder of journalist Evanir José Metzker tops a terrible year for Brazilian news professionals. Behind it, and of 19 others killed in the past two decades, there’s only one reason: the probing of big land owner dealings in the north of Brazil.
What’s shocking, apart from the human tragedy and what it means for the country’s democracy, is the impunity and consistency that they’ve been happening, which not even a government popular among the poor has been able to tackle.
Once too often we pick the execution of a Mexican journalist by a drug gang, for instance, over the horrendous routine of murders of professionals in Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan. From a humane standpoint, though, it’s all just as bad.
2015 has also brought the 500th day of imprisonment of journalist Jason Rezaian in Iran, and the continuous captivity of other 53 journalists around the world, according to Reporters Without Borders’ own report. That includes many held in Syrian and Iraqi, and let’s face it, those practically already sentenced to a horrible, possibly public execution by Daesh.
That realization being deeply disturbing as it is, however, should not distract us from the growing hostility U.S. authorities have been showing against reporters, even if for different reasons and with many obvious attenuating factors involved.
When new restrictions are issued to news professionals covering a notorious political detention center such as Guantanamo Bay, in Cuba, as it happened last week, we do have a serious problem that compromises every American’s right to know.
In its warning about risks facing the press in Turkey, the International Center for Journalists has also called attention to the violent confrontations between police and participants of rallies for racial justice, such as in Ferguson, for instance.
Race and politics have indeed been at the core of incidents of police brutality. But the aggravating factor here is that, unlike the countries mentioned, freedom of the press is a constitutional right in the U.S., assured by the First Amendment.
Laws and constitutions apart, however, the point here is not to make martyrs out of those caught at the wrong place and time,while in pursuit of a piece of information that may or may not make it to our daily media coverage consumption.
Their sacrifice is our gain as citizens, but society is only worth if we all have the right to ask questions, write what we see, and speak truth to power, with no fear of retaliation. We’re taking a short break. Greet with hope the New Year, we must. WC