International Writers Magazine: Reporting the
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
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
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 thats 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
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
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 ones point of view should
be total, and that there should be no restriction on what is being said
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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