Society must stand up for its voice
As we head into the final month of 2012, it’s important to reflect upon the year that has been.
Reflection is a time-honoured tradition in journalism. Tech magazines will run lists of the year’s top gadgets, big games, and best scientists. Contemporary affairs publications will list the year’s best politicians, biggest stories and finest photographs.
With my column, I want to look back on something very different.
Last Friday, Nov. 23, was International Day to End Impunity.
For those operating outside the media sphere, the International Day to End Impunity is an event organized by IFEX, an international watchdog for freedom of expression, intended to raise awareness of media persecution and encourage people to speak out against the murder, undue imprisonment, and general persecution of reporters at the hands of governments worldwide.
According to another press freedom watchdog, the International Press Institute (IPI), 2012 has been the bloodiest year for journalists in the almost two decades that the organization has been tracking media murders.
So far, the IPI has recorded 121 media deaths in 2012, already almost 20 more than in each of the past two years, and nearly double the amount of journalists killed globally in 2008.
While media oppression and violence targetting reporters may seem a distant concern for press operatives in North America, everyone — members of the media, and the populations we serve and represent — should note the deliberacy and brutality with which my peers are targeted in other regions of the world.
In Syria, 36 journalists have been murdered this year. Three were killed on June 27 in a bombing attack. Two more were killed while covering the revolts in Damascus in July. In Somalia, 16 journalists have been killed, with three killed in a suicide bombing of a cafe on Sept. 20.
Journalists have also been killed in Afghanistan, Angola, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Cambodia, Colombia, Ecuador, Eritrea, Haiti, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Mexico, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestine, Peru, Philippines, Tanzania, and Thailand.
For those keeping score, a journalist has been killed on average once every three days this year, and journalists have been killed in 26 countries worldwide.
Murder is a heinous crime regardless of the victim. It is almost universally forbidden by law and is condemned by every single major religion on the face of this planet.
But the murder of an individual whose interest is to relay the truth, and inform the general public about the injustices of a society, is particularly heinous because it lessens the knowledge that a society has of its own self — and enables that society to wander far astray of what is right, what is important, and what is just.
As a journalist, this column may seem oddly self-serving. But believe me, I’m not seeking praise for my work. I am fortunate to live within a society where I don’t have to constantly fear for my life in the practice of my trade.
But those societies do exist. Some of them are aforementioned, and many more — where the persecution of journalists is commonplace — will go unnamed by this column.
In today’s world, wracked as it is with misinformation, financial hardship, war, poverty, and routine violations of human rights, journalism — the dissemination of information about those lies and injustices — is an important facet of the system through which those crimes can be reduced and the criminals perpetrating them can be brought to justice.
As William Thomas Stead, widely regarded as the pioneer of investigative journalism, once asserted, “The press is at once the eye and the ear and the tongue of the people. It is the visible speech, if not the voice, of the democracy.”
Every single time a journalist is murdered for the practice of his team, the global community is robbed of some of its sight, some of its hearing, and some of its voice.
It’s time for society, as a whole, to rise up and serve notice to the powers that be in this nation, and in every nation, that the execution of media operatives will be tolerated no longer.
Society must demand for itself the right to have a voice, and it must hold those accountable who would seek to silence it.