I was a writer for my high school newspaper in 2014 when news broke of the violent execution of American journalist James Foley at the hands of the infamous terrorist group ISIS. In our newspaper class, we took the time to talk about the risks of reporting in unstable parts of the world or on dangerous people.
Foley knowingly risked his life to report on the important details of the Syrian civil war. To many journalists, he is a hero. His reporting exemplifies the goal of the free press, which is to provide accurate and timely information to the public despite the dangers involved.
There are a lot of privileges in being a journalist in the United States, as freedom of the press is guaranteed by the constitution. Unfortunately, not everyone in the world is as lucky as we are. In some countries, speech deemed critical of the government is outlawed and the ones usually persecuted under those laws are journalists.
Journalists in democracy starved countries are threatened with arrests, beatings, torture and murders for fulfilling their purpose of fact finding and surveillance.
According to Reporters Without Borders, a total of 326 journalists are detained in the world as of Dec. 1, 2017. Not only that, The Committee To Protect Journalists states that 1,337 journalists have been murdered since 1992.
The greatest offense committed by these journalists is delivering the public the truth – an act oppressive governments believe is treason against the state. By detaining journalists, governments aim to silence critics and distill fear into others in order to solidify their power.
Recently there have been many high profile cases of detained or murdered journalists. A recent example is of American journalist Jamal Khashoggi, supposedly murdered by the Saudi Arabian government over his critical reporting of the crown prince, Mohammed Bin Salman. The imprisonment of Chinese-born governmental dissident Yang Hengjun over his articles opposing the Chinese regime have made international headlines as well for the blatant tyrannical tactic that it is.
Even when the violent treatment of journalists occur, we don’t hear enough about it to understand the severity of the situation. It’s also not widely known what we can do to help reporters in these situations.
We don’t have to resign ourselves to the fact that there’s nothing that can be done. We have to take steps to promote the democratic free press and to denounce violent, unlawful treatment of journalists across the globe.
Eliminating the silence surrounding the issue is key to fixing it. It’s not enough to allow our government and other countries to decry these human rights abuses; there must be some vocal intolerance by the public against countries with oppressive laws making the free press illegal. We should take action by holding accountable certain companies like Google and Apple that allow their services and devices be compatible with strict laws in countries that criminalize dissent against the government. We should encourage our lawmakers in our own country to be more progressive in creating legislation that makes government more transparent, to set an example of what a democratic free press looks like. Moreover, we should use our privilege of free speech to raise awareness of the people locked up in countries for reporting on issues that governments disapprove of.
Use the hashtags #ProtectJournalists, #FreeThePress, #DefendPressFreedom or #JusticeForJamal to show support and raise awareness of detained journalists and attacks against free speech across the globe. Many organizations aimed at protecting the democratic free press allow donations to be made on their websites, like the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders. There are many things the average person can do to help stop this global crisis of suppressing dissent and abuse of power, which if one day undone, could result in the safety and peace of millions.