To mark World Press Freedom Day, I’ll be remembering the five journalists who died this year while simply doing their jobs.
On 18 April freelance journalist Lyra McKee became the fifth journalist to die this year. A month before her death, Leonardo Gabriel Hernández of Valle TV was murdered in Honduras. And in January, Ahmed Hussein-Suale Divela was killed in Ghana, Mohamed Ben Khalifa in Libya and Rafael Murúa Manríquez in Mexico.
Between 1992 and 2019, 1,340 journalists were killed. The highest number were killed and reported missing in the last five years. As human rights lawyer Amal Clooney told Reuters on 5 April: “It has never been more dangerous to report the news.”
Fewer safe countries
Nowhere seems safe from escalating violence towards the media. Over the last 27 years, journalists have died in places where you’d expect them to face danger, including war zones, countries with poor human rights and authoritarian regimes. One of the most high-profile last year was the premeditated murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, who the CIA say was killed in the Saudi consulate in Turkey.
But there were also many deaths in countries that you wouldn’t expect to be perilous for journalists. In France, eight cartoonists and journalists died in the Charlie Hebdo atrocity. Swedish freelancer Kim Wall was murdered by a submarine owner whose story she was covering. And in the United States, five journalists were shot to death in Maryland by a man with a grudge against the paper they worked for: the Capital Gazette.
Although these appalling statistics from the Committee to Project Journalists make grim reading, murder is only the half of it. Last year, 250 journalists were also imprisoned – often on ‘anti state’ charges but also for reporting ‘false news’.
Underlying all this is a worrying increase in hatred towards the media, with journalists operating in what Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls “an intense climate of fear”.
The tyranny of fake news
With his attacks on ‘fake news’, US President Donald Trump has done little to reduce the tension.
In the 2019 World Press Freedom Index, the United States has now fallen three places. What a sad state of affairs for the country that produced two of the most famous investigative journalists of all – Bernstein and Woodward, whose diligence uncovered the Watergate scandal.
Where does this lead us? Without journalists, who will uncover bribery and corruption? Who will shine a light on political chicanery and human rights abuses? To keep democracy safe, we need to defend media freedom rigorously and uphold the rights of journalists to do their job without fear.