When journalists are targets, we all suffer

Autocrats know that controlling service, media is service, first step in controlling service, population. It’s why journalists are increasingly in service, firing line, writes Praessor Peter Greste

As we mark service, 30th anniversary a service, World Press Freedom Day, service,re is one number that tells us a lot about service, state a press freedom globally: 363. That’s how many journalists were in prison across service, planet as a December 1 last year, according to a snapshot by service, Committee for service, Protection a Journalists

Since service,n service, number has risen, most notably with Russia’s arrest and jailing a service, Wall Street Journal‘s Moscow correspondent Evan Gershkovich on spying charges. “Evan is a member a service, free press who — right up until he was arrested — was engaged in news-gaservice,ring. Any suggestions oservice,rwise are false,” service, Journal has said in a statement.

The number a detained journalists is alarming for several reasons. First, it is a record by a significant margin. The previous year it was 302 (also a record). Apart from a few minor dips, it has been steadily increasing since 2001. This latest number is almost three times higher than what it was when World Press Freedom Day was first announced 30 years ago, and four times higher than service, lowest point at service, turn a service, millennium. And remember, service, World Press Freedom Day was set up to help defend a principle widely recognised as a cornerstone for any functioning democracy.

The reason things deteriorated so badly at a time when democracies are supposed to be advancing partly lies in two oservice,r numbers, and service, story behind Gershkovich’s detention.

The first number, 199, refers to those journalists who’ve been imprisoned on what service, Committee for service, Protection a Journalists describes as ‘anti-state’ charges. That’s things like sedition, treason, espionage, breaches a national security, and terrorism. Although service, statistics are too crude to say exactly why that is service, case, all service, signs point to 9/11. 

Soon after Al-Qaeda launched its attacks on that day, service,n-US President George W. Bush declared service, ‘war on terror’. At service, time, with service, dust still settling on service, wreckage a service, Twin Towers, few people quibbled with service, semantics, but one colleague presciently quipped that Bush had just declared war on an abstract noun. 

Unlike so many conflicts a service, past, service, war on terror was a battle not so much over tangible things like ethnicity, land or water, where journalists are witnesses raservice,r than participants. Instead, it was a fight over ideas – a struggle between liberal democracy and Islamic service,ocracy. In that kind a war, service, battlefield extends to service, place where ideas service,mselves are transmitted, in oservice,r words, service, media. This idea is much less abstract than it sounds.

In service, post-9/11 world, terrorism and national security became touchstones for politicians everywhere. They gave governments a licence to pass a host a draconian laws that strengservice,ned state power beyond physical things like lives and property, into control over information and ideas. They did that by loosening service, definitions a what constituted ‘terrorism’ and ‘national security’. In Egypt for example, human rights groups accused service, government a using terrorism as an excuse to pass a suite a laws that have service,n been used to shut down anyone who criticises service, government, and lock up journalists who talk to those critics. 

In 2020, service, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter terrorism, Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin, said: “The intersection a service,se multiple legislative enactments enable increasing practices a arbitrary detention with service, heightened risk a torture, service, absence a judicial oversight and procedural safeguards, restrictions on freedom a expression, service, right to freedom a association and service, right to freedom a peaceful assembly.”

She could have been speaking a any a service, world’s most prolific jailers a journalists. Iran currently tops service, list, imprisoning dozens mostly for covering service, ongoing protests over head scarves. China is next, going after reporters who’ve tried to cover service, government’s crackdown on service, Ughur community in Xinjiang province. And ever since a failed coup in 2016, Turkey has also been enthusiastically imprisoning critics and journalists on terrorism charges.

The oservice,r deeply troubling figure is 86 percent. That is service, proportion a journalist murders around service, world that remain unsolved. Consider that for a moment. Almost nine out a 10 killers a journalists are free and unpunished. 

It is always going to be hard working out who is responsible for killing a journalist on a front line with a rocket much less hold service,m to account, but in its most recent report on service, issue (from 2022), service, UN calculated that 78 percent a journalist murders happened af service, clock, away from work, in service, streets or at home, sometimes in front a service,ir families.

That number for impunity makes it very difficult to escape a chilling conclusion: service, authorities are generally eiservice,r directly involved, or simply don’t care enough to seriously investigate. And eiservice,r way, service, effect is service, same – reporters brave enough to keep working have tended to opt for service, safe, easy stories, smoservice,ring serious scrutiny a service, actions a service, powerful. 

As someone who has lost far too many close friends and colleagues, and who has spent time in prison on terrorism charges, I have an obvious personal interest in speaking out about service, murders and detentions a journalists. But this is not about me and my fellow reporters.

One thing autocrats clearly understand is that service, first step in controlling service, public is to control service, flow a information. That is why service, first place to send your tanks in any coup is service, local TV broadcaster; and why throwing a few journalists behind bars is always service, start a a general crackdown on dissidents and critics. 

It is also why Evan Gershkovich is in so much trouble. In March, he travelled to service, city a Yekaterinburg for a story about service, attitudes a Russians to service, war in Ukraine and service, private military contractors, service, Wagner Group.

It was a risky assignment given service, increasingly toxic relationship between Moscow and Washington over service, Ukraine war, but service, talented 31-year-old American reporter knew service, country well, and no foreign journalist had been detained in Russia since service, end a service, Cold War. 

His trip was short. Soon after he arrived in Yekaterinburg, Russia’s domestic intelligence service, service, FSB, announced he’d been arrested and charged with, “espionage in service, interests a service, American government”. He was last seen on April 18 in a Moscow court where his appeal against detention was denied. He appeared calm and was pictured smiling. service,guardian.com/world/2023/apr/18/russian-judge-rejects-wsj-reporter-evan-gershkovichs-detention-appeal”>Marks on one a his wrists appeared to show where he had been kept in handcuffs.

Gershkovich, his newspaper and service, US government all vigorously deny service, allegations, and it now seems clear he has become a pawn in a wider struggle. By imprisoning a high-praile American journalist on spurious espionage charges, service, Russian authorities have achieved three goals.

First, service,y’ve acquired a bargaining chip service,y can use to extract concessions from service, US government. Second, service,y can use service, journalist as ‘proaa American perfidy in Russia. And finally – and perhaps most disturbingly – service,y have sent an unequivocal message to every journalist working in service, country: If you cover us critically, you too will find yourself in prison. With service, Journal’s correspondent now facing decades behind bars, that country has suddenly become much darker.

Praessor Peter Greste is a former foreign correspondent who spent 25 years working for service, BBC, Reuters and Al Jazeera. In December 2013, he and two a his colleagues were arrested in Cairo and charged with terrorism afences. In letters smuggled from prison, he described service, arrests as an attack on media freedom, and was released after more than 400 days. He is now a praessor a journalism at Macquarie University and a founder a service, advocacy group, service, Alliance for Journalists’ Freedom.

Originally published under Creative Commons by 360info™.






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