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The International Writers Magazine: Reporting the World

Under Fire
Marwan Asmar
‘For every reporter killed, there is a lost report, a lost dispatch and a lost message that may have been conveyed and now withers away with the lowering of the threshold of expression taking a downward trend while the right to know and the freedom to tell becomes less urgent subjected to technical factors.'

Every time a newspaper closes down it becomes another nail in the coffin of press freedom, a friend of mine once told me. Print serves as channel for expression, freedom of thought and the highlighting of different issues vital for the well-being of societies.

Newspapers represent a crucial part of the fourth estate, guarding the word, and its ability to wield expressions together. If newspapers are gagged and censored then that freedom becomes less and less, meaningless and without function.
It is journalists, reporters, media workers and writers who stand as pillars of newspaper freedoms since it is they who provide the content, seeking to report, convey and transmit messages that, for want of a better phrase, for the greater good of mankind.

Sadly also, it is simply for that reason they are constantly under fire and in the line of fire, with a tug-of-war between those who want to get the news out and freedom of expression and those who want to suppress it, between those who want to report, write about and broadcast news, and those who want to distort it, sensationalize it and even hide it.

And because of the developing nature of media and communications technology, today we have what is called is citizenship journalism through internet websites and blogs where individuals are trying their hand, and effectively, at expressing cogent, sometimes racist, opinions. They are increasingly coming under the eye of big brother, the state.
Mainstream journalism is still the ultimate form of expression and in trying to make a meaningful sense of it, journalists at times get killed. In 2007 for instance, 86 journalists around the world were killed in line of duty according to the French organization Reporters Sans Frontiers.

In helping journalists and reporters there are a whole battery of media assistants and technicians and also in 2007, 20 of them were killed. In carrying out their duty to report, journalists and reporters are invariably restricted; last year, 887 were arrested, and 1,511 were physically attacked or threatened and 67 journalists were kidnapped and 528 media outlets in the world were censored.

Journalism and journalists have much tell-tale stories not only about practicing their profession but about themselves and what happened to them. The kidnapping phenomenon has become widespread especially in Iraq with foreign journalists becoming easy targets as bargaining chips.

The year 2007 is arguably the worst year for journalism and journalists in the world. The hunting down of the printed word is today at its highest not only from governments but those who have axes to grind against those who seek to report, communicate messages.

The most dangerous place for journalists to operate in we are told was Iraq were 47 were killed in 2007. They were all Iraqis except one Russian reporter.

Reporters Sans Frontiers says: "No country has ever seen more journalists killed than Iraq, with at least 207 media workers dying there since the March 2003 US invasion– more than in the Vietnam War, the fighting in ex-Yugoslavia, the massacres in Algeria or the Rwanda genocide."

This becomes very depressing when one thinks back of these past horrifying situations, and how the world just looked on while reports were being made of these massacres, wars and deadly happenings that actually made little sense not least of all to the reporters who were sending their dispatches to newspapers in Paris, London, New York and elsewhere in the world.

It also means the situation in Iraq is another horrific continuation of what has been happening all along all over the globe. Violations or deaths have occurred in every region of the world in 2007, serving as a stable diet against press freedom with serious violations and deaths in countries like Pakistan, Somalia, Cuba, Pakistan, Iran, China and other parts of the universe to name but a few countries.

In 2007 Reporters Sans Frontiers further adds at least two journalists were arrested every day. That may not mean much when you are talking about the world, but for every reporter arrested there is a pencil that is broken, a pen that runs of ink, an expression that is stifled and a mouth gagged.

As of 1 January 2008 135 journalists were locked up in prison with the Reporters Sans Frontiers pointing out as soon as one is let out another is being put in. Other international organizations like the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists, and the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, similarly point to a grim picture and have their own figures. While the IFJ, which represents 600,000 journalists from 120 countries, puts the number at 134, the CPJ says the figure stood at only 64, but that’s because it uses a stricter criteria and definitions of what constitutes a journalist.

Nevertheless, the figures speak for themselves and definitely shown an upward trend as the Reporters Sans Frontiers points out, saying the figure was 25 in 2002, crept up since then but is yet to reach the high 103 journalist killed in 1994 at the time of the Ruwandan genocide.

While the present figures may not be very much if taken from a global perspective as hundreds of thousands are killed every year, the impact of the deaths of these journalists and media workers are frequently far-reaching.

For every reporter killed, there is a lost report, a lost dispatch and a lost message that may have been conveyed and now withers away with the lowering of the threshold of expression taking a downward trend while the right to know and the freedom to tell becomes less urgent subjected to technical factors beyond the control of the reporter.

While journalists are not saints, they are frequently in that unique position to report, inform and highlight; their reports, stories and features provide an invaluable opportunity and a platform to influence and crystallize opinion and ultimately may stop.

But what is at stake in the move against journalists and reporters is the conscious willingness to suppress and gag information and move against freedom of speech from different governments, people and interest groups around the world with the security apparatuses acting as pillars of the state.

Of course there are degrees of openness and repression and elasticity of laws around the world with western countries included but the worst violations tend to be in developing countries.

Today also the suppression of the right to express and to know is being made through the Internet as signaled by Reporters Sans Frontiers pointing out that 2,600 websites, blogs and discussion forums were shut down around the world in 2007 with some of the worst violators being China, and maybe Syria with the former shutting down 2,500 and the latter blocking access to more than 100 sites.

This idea of Internet suppression might still be knew but means that it is likely to grow in the coming years as governments and states become more familiar with the power of the word through cyberspace.

But here again, and leaving aside government control, there is cultural dimensions that are being realized. Through popular surveys people in the West increasing see the expression of one’s point of view should be total, and that there should be no restriction on what is being said and broadcasted.

Such a view may not be totally receptive to people in say the Arab world, in Jordan or in developing countries. Veteran journalist, editor and Ad Dustour daily Arabic newspaper owner, the late Mahmood Al Sherif would always argue newspaper reporting had to be always responsible and the idea that a ‘free-for-all’ journalism is to be rejected because it goes against the traditions and mores of society.

There needs to be checks and balances in society with journalism monitored, however, he was always weary of government control and was very keen on establishing a press council similar to the ones that exist in different countries of the West.

This was always a novel idea in Jordan and the Arab world that never really got off the ground, but if it did the journalistic industry would have produced the self-regulation necessary for its protection of journalists and reporters. It is argued such councils, self-regulations and the establishment of organizations for journalists would surely lower the threat against journalists and reporters in different corners of the globe and organizations like Reporters Sans Frontiers might start painting increasing better pictures of the state of journalism and reporting in the world.

© Marwan Asmar Jan 6th 2007

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