Opinion

A brutal year for journalists keeps getting worse

  • Endangered species: Reuters journalists Kyaw Soe Oo, left, and  Wa Lone, are handcuffed as they are escorted by police out of the court on September 3, 2018, in Yangon, Burma. The court sentenced the two journalists to seven years in prison for illegal possession of official documents, a ruling that came amid international criticism over the military’s alleged human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims (Photograph by Thein Zaw/AP)

It has been a brutal year for journalists. Last week, prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi went to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to pick up some paperwork.

He never returned home, and unnamed Turkish officials have said that he was killed inside the consulate by a “murder squad” dispatched from the kingdom.

A few days later, the body of Bulgarian journalist Viktoria Marinova was found in Ruse, a city in the country’s north.

Preliminary investigations suggest Marinova, who spent the last year reporting on corruption involving money from the European Union, was raped and beaten, then strangled.

The country’s interior minister called the murder “exceptionally brutal”, although it is not yet clear whether her death was related to her work.

Marinova was the second journalist killed in Europe this year. In February, Slovakian investigative journalist Jan Kuciak was shot dead in his apartment along with his fiancée.

Kuciak covered tax evasion and fraud, and had been investigating the finances of people connected to the country’s governing party.

The head of Slovakia’s police said it was “likely” Kuciak’s death was connected to his work.

Taken together, this recent round of tragedies highlights how dangerous it has become to practise journalism.

At least 43 journalists have been killed for their work in 2018, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Fifteen other journalists have also been killed, although their deaths have not been officially linked to their work.

The most dangerous country in the world for journalists is Afghanistan, where 13 members of the press have been killed this year, many in terrorist attacks.

Reporters in Mexico are also particularly vulnerable. At least six have died this year, often in acts of grotesque violence perpetrated by drug cartels and corrupt government officials.

Additionally, at least 155 journalists around the world are imprisoned, along with 142 citizen journalists and 19 media assistants.

Turkey is one major culprit, imprisoning more than 250 reporters for their work and often accusing them of things such as “making propaganda for a terrorist organisation”.

Two Reuters photographers continue to languish in prison in Burma, where they have been charged under the obscure Official Secrets Act with “illegally acquiring information”.

The pair reported extensively on last year’s military campaign of violence and expulsion against the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority.

Journalism watchdog groups warn that these statistics display a worrying trend: journalists everywhere are facing more pressures and enjoy less safety.

“There are worrying developments,” Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said to The Washington Post at the beginning of this year.

Simon pointed to the way Donald Trump and other leaders, including Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hungary’s Viktor Orban, have vilified the media as a significant factor.

Trump and others have called journalists “enemies of the people”, and reporters have also been labelled as terrorists in some places and forced to comply with opaque and secret legal proceedings.

“The political cost of this sort of behaviour has diminished, and that tips the balance in the wrong direction,” Simon said.

Amanda Erickson writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. Previously, she worked as an editor for Outlook and PostEverything