The figures are bad, any way you slice them. 50 journalists killed last year, the toll since 1990 stands at more than 2,600 dead. Hundreds more than the number of U.S. soldiers killed in the whole Afghanistan débacle. Not even in Europe are reporters safe. Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered by a car bomb in Malta in 2017 for her exposés of corruption.
The killings have become less random, too, and more targeted. Four women media workers in Afghanistan have been murdered this year alone. Horrific and public deaths, and the many threats made against media personnel, have resulted in talent exiting the profession at an alarming rate.
The destruction in Gaza City of more than a dozen media facilities by Israeli bombs, including those of the Associated Press and Al Jazeera, would have been unconscionable just a few decades ago, though not to the U.S.A., as we’ll see. People got out, but notes, equipment, hard drives, family photos were crushed in the rubble of war. Lost in the dust is any remaining sense of personal security for the dedicated reporters there.
Recent decades have plumbed new depths, from Islamic State beheadings in Syria through Mexican drug cartel wet work, to the bullet-riddled body of much-loved former TOLO news anchor Nemat Rawan in Kandahar a few days ago.
Impunity and lack of accountability is a salient feature of the murder of journalists. UNESCO says more than 90 per cent of cases remain ‘unresolved’. For families, and the societies in which they live, there is no justice. Anthony Bellanger, the general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, summed it up best in a report on a quarter of a century of media murders: ‘First, the levels of violence on journalists have dramatically increased to reach record levels in recent years. Second, the single biggest contributing factor to violence in journalism remains the impunity enjoyed by those who attack and kill journalists and other media personnel.’
The United States, where police love nothing more than to crack some P.C. media heads, kicked off the current trend towards systematic silencing back in April 2003 with a missile attack on Al Jazeera’s Baghdad office, killing a journalist. George W. Bush wanted to go even further and bomb the channel’s Doha HQ, according to a leaked transcript of a phone conversation with then U.K. prime minister Tony Blair. Two civil servants were indicted for the leak, while the official British response was that Bush’s threat was ‘humourous, not serious’ (unlikely, given the tone of the conversation, but if true, a truly evil truth: the world’s ‘defenders of democracy’ spend their time kidding around about bombing a news organization. What wholesome fun.)
What’s the deal with journalists, you may ask, when so many civilians are slaughtered each year in conflict?
When you murder reporters, you’re purposely silencing the voices of a nation, shutting down vectors of truth that allow citizens to form fact-based judgments about the world around them. We are all injured by this.