Upsurge in journalist killings coincides with World Press Freedom Day

By JERAA Executive

 

Australian journalism educators are deeply concerned that this year’s World Pres Freedom Day, marked annually on May 3, coincides with a recent upsurge in violence against journalists.

Professor Matthew Ricketson, president of the Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia (JERAA), the peak body for journalism academics, said 32 journalists and media staff had been killed already this year, International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) data showed.

Ten journalists were killed in Afghanistan on April 30, nine by a single suicide bomber, making it the deadliest day for media, according to the IFJ. This appalling loss of life was the result of a coordinated double suicide bombing in Kabul, in which the nine died while doing their job – reporting on the first blast. The tenth, a BBC Afghan service journalist, was shot in the country’s east.

“Earlier last month two Palestinian journalists were killed in Gaza during the Israel-Gaza protests – two more names on the list of the more than 1100 journalists who have died in the past 12 years while simply doing their job, according to the IFJ,” he said.

Imprisonment is also an occupational hazard for journalists. Two journalists are being held in jail in Myanmar for reporting for Reuters on the murder of Rohingya Muslims and the Committee to Protect Journalists says 262 journalists were imprisoned in 2017.

Prof Ricketson said 82 journalists and media staff were killed last year, leading the IFJ to call for a new international convention on the safety and independence of journalists.

“Journalists risk imprisonment, torture and even death, which shows how dangerous the activity of finding and telling the truth can be,” he said.

World Press Freedom Day has been held each year since being proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993. It aims to encourage initiatives supporting press freedom, yet this year’s celebration of those principles comes as efforts to clamp down on terrorism are leading to constraints on press freedom, including in Australia, he said.

“Proposed new Australian national security legislation is being opposed by journalists and media organisations because it would criminalise reporting done in the public interest.

“Staff cuts in Australian media organisations also impinge on press freedom. Thinly spread resources mean less time for journalism conducted in the public interest, whether that be covering the courts or digging into issues hidden far from public view. There are also fears for the erosion of the editorial independence of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation,” Prof Ricketson said.

The theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day is ‘Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and the Rule of Law’. This emphasises the importance of prosecuting crimes against journalists, even those that happened long ago, such as the killing of five Australian journalists at Balibo, in East Timor, in 1975 and the death of Australian journalist Roger East in East Timor a few months later. “No one has been prosecuted for those killings,” Prof Ricketson said.

The importance of an independent judiciary in ensuring legal guarantees for press freedom is also highlighted by this year’s theme.

Prof Ricketson said World Press Freedom Day comes just one week after the annual world press freedom index, compiled by Reporters without Borders, found that alongside the rise of “fake news” an increasing number of democratically elected leaders were fostering hostility towards the media in the past year.

“US president Donald Trump, in particular, continues to characterise the press as the enemy of the people, in dangerously inflammatory ways that go far beyond the normal, healthy tension between the news media and the White House,” he said.

“Such a climate of hostility is becoming an insidious threat to press freedom as it undermines the public trust that journalists need to continue doing their important, sometimes dangerous work.”

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