It is sad that in the second decade of the 21st Century, journalists whose duty is to disseminate information are still being hunted, victimised, harassed, jailed and killed. The Reporters Without Borders, (RSF.org.) the non-governmental organisation, which yearly reports on the fate of journalists worldwide, has revealed that at least 50 journalists were killed last year in the course of their duties. Even more disturbing was that two-thirds of the fatalities were recorded in countries that were at peace as opposed to those at war. Jailed were 387 journalists, one of whom was sentenced to four years imprisonment for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” for alerting the population of the coronavirus.
The report stated that reporters investigating organised crime, corruption, or environmental issues, were mostly the targets of the killers, and 84 per cent of the fatalities were “deliberately targeted” for their work, compared to 63 per cent in the year 2019. “For several years now, the RSF has noted that investigative journalists are really in crosshairs of states, or cartels,” said Pauline Ade-Mevel, RSF’s editor-in-chief. Mexico, with its heavily armed, violent drug cartels, was the deadliest country, where eight journalists were killed. The links between drug traffickers and politicians remain, and journalists who dare to cover these or related issues continue to be targets of barbaric murder,” said the report.
Five journalists were killed in war-torn Afghanistan, the report said, noting an increase in targeted attacks on media workers in recent months, even as peace talks between the government and the Taliban are ongoing. RSF highlighted the pathetic case of the Iranian journalist with opposition sympathies, Ruhollah Zam, who ran a popular social media channel that rallied opponents of the regime. He was tragically executed in December, thereby “confirming Iran’s record as a country that has officially put the highest number of journalists to death in the last 50 years.”
Ade-Mevel said the RSF had also noted the “developing” trend of violence on media workers covering protests, notably in the United States, especially, following the killing of George Floyd Jr., the African-American man who was murdered by the police in Minneapolis, which provoked a worldwide protest against police brutality. Indeed, it is beginning to look rather dangerous covering protests in America, such that last week, reporters covering the Trump-inspired insurrection in Capitol Hill wondered if “we should take off our press badges?” President Trump had branded journalists “enemy of the people.” The RSF recalled also the dangers facing journalists as they cover protests that arose from France’s new and controversial security law.
The total number of journalists killed in 2020 was lower than the 53 reported in 2019, but it needs to be said that much fewer journalists worked in the field in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, it became clear early in the pandemic that measures imposed by governments to fight the pandemic were sources of social conflict between governments and the populace in many countries and many places.
The RSF reported the historically high number of 387 journalists jailed in 2020, 14 of them had been arrested in connection with their coverage of the coronavirus crisis. A fortnight ago, Chinese citizen journalist, Zhang Zhan, who sent dispatches from Wuhan, the city where the coronavirus was first discovered, during the chaotic initial stages of the outbreak, was jailed four years for the fantastic charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.”
We commend the RSF for bringing the atrocities against journalists to the world’s attention. But we are saddened by the intolerance which informs the persecution and harassment of journalists all over the world. Even the ancient world later realised the futility of killing the messenger, a reaction which did very little about the bad news. The media is in great danger in Pakistan, Mexico, India, Afghanistan and Iraq. Mahmoud Hussein has been held without charge by the Egyptian despot, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
The record of the Nigerian government is equally depressing: 34 journalists were victims of assault in the year; 18 were also assaulted during the #EndSARS protests in October, 12 were arrested, six were released in a matter of days, six were charged to court for terrorism and cybercrime. Press repression has gone up a notch. Journalists have been detained for “abusing” political office holders, for innocuous comments, the worst offenders are state governors who act like little emperors. Some officials mimic President Trump and sing about “fake news” and “hate speech.”
Onerous fines were imposed on some broadcast stations some months ago. Indeed, many officials look for excuses to repress the press. The situation is such that the Regional Director of Article 19, West Africa, Fatou Jagne Senghore issued an appeal ‘…I would urge the African Union and the UN not to turn a blind eye on Nigeria. The climate in Nigeria is increasingly hostile for media and journalists that I am pleading with the international community to support Nigeria to end impunity, protect journalists and strengthen the legal framework governing the media. The complete impunity for crimes against journalists in Nigeria is suffocating the media…” Therefore, we call on governments the world over to ensure press freedom and give adequate protection to journalists.