Sunday, March 26, 2023
March 26, 2023

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In Our View: Journalists give lives, freedom for democracy

The Columbian

It’s an annual practice — and fittingly so — to pay tribute to law enforcement officers who’ve given their lives in the line of duty. The same goes for members of our armed forces, and even homeless people who’ve died on the streets. We think similar attention should be paid to journalists who have lost their lives or their freedom for reporting on the activities of those in power.

According to a recent report from the International Federation of Journalists, 67 media professionals have been killed on the job “in targeted attacks” so far in 2022, an increase of more than 40 percent over the 47 who died in 2021.

“The surge in the killings of journalists and other media workers is a grave cause of concern and yet another wake-up call for governments across the globe to take action in the defense of journalism, one of the key pillars of democracy,” IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said in a statement, the New York Daily News reported.

The organization cited Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, unrest in Haiti and the work of criminal groups in Mexico as key factors in the spike in journalist deaths.

But not all outrages occurred on foreign soil. One of the most chilling incidents took place in Las Vegas in September, when Jeff German, an investigative reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, was fatally stabbed outside of his house. Charged in German’s slaying is now-former Clark County Public Administrator Robert Telles, about whom German had written a series of stories documenting allegations of administrative bullying, favoritism and questions surrounding Telles’ relationship with a subordinate staffer. The stories ran in May, and Telles lost the Democratic primary to retain his job in June.

Covering a government official’s actions is a cornerstone of journalism. Taxpayers have a right to know how those whose salaries they pay are conducting the public’s business. Yet reporters increasingly find themselves the targets of attacks, both in person and via social media. This is especially true of women in the field.

NiemanLab’s Predictions for Journalism 2022 cited a UNESCO report that found 25 percent of women journalists surveyed said they’d been threatened with physical violence; 13 percent said they had received threats of violence against those close to them, including children and infants; and 20 percent “of survey respondents identifying as women said they had been attacked or abused offline in connection with online violence they had experienced.”

In addition, according to a Nov. 1 report by the Committee to Protect Journalists, in nearly 80 percent of the 263 cases of journalists slain for their work globally over the past decade, the perpetrators have faced no punishment.

The Committee to Protect Journalists also noted earlier this month that “It’s been another record-breaking year for the number of journalists jailed for practicing their profession.” The group’s annual prison census found that 363 reporters have been imprisoned as of Dec. 1, a global high that exceeds last year’s record by 20 percent.

Former President Donald Trump once referred to American journalists as “the enemy of the people.” But in fact it’s reporters who strive to protect the people by ensuring that those in power are held to account.

The Fourth Estate is the first — and sometimes last — line of defense in an open and free society. Speaking truth to power is too often a thankless and risky task, but those who do so are upholding a cornerstone of our democracy and are deserving of our respect.