Morse: Curbing violence against journalists

October 16, 2018

Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi columnist critical of his government, went missing in early October and is assumed dead.


Viktoria Marinova, an investigative journalist in Bulgaria, was recently found murdered. The police report described blows to the head, suffocation and rape.

And just months ago, five employees at the Capital Gazette Newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland were shot dead in their office.


This recent violence materializes a culture of distrust toward established reporters - one pushed by influential right-wing pundits and world leaders - and underscores the importance of a free and protected press.


In reference to what is transpiring between Saudi Arabia and the U.S., as one Atlantic staff writer recently wrote, “Khashoggi’s fate reflects a larger pattern of violence inflicted on journalists around the world this year. Year after year, reporters are detained, abducted and, with some frequency, killed.”


Arch Puddington, distinguished fellow for democracy studies at Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world, cast a portion of the blame on America’s leader.


He spoke in a phone call interview with the Independent Collegian.


“President Trump’s many favorable words about dictators and authoritarian leaders has sent an unfortunate message that [these leaders] can get way with pretty much anything that they want as long as they don’t seem to be challenging the interest of the United States.”  


But, correlation does not equal causation. “Other instances have nothing to do with Trump,” Puddington said.


“The fact that a Slovakian journalist was murdered, or even the Bulgarian journalist, I think these have to do with local conditions.”


He pointed to the dangers in unearthing government corruption.


Whatever the cause, case or exacerbating factor may be, violence and oppression toward a free press is harmful to democracy.


The Committee to Protect Journalists converted the violence into a comprehensive chart: Below a bold faced headline stating the killing of over 1,000 journalists between 1992 and 2018 (with a confirmed motive), red bars jut up and down.


The shifting heights reflect a larger point; violence against journalists is nothing new, rather it is a malicious trend that continues and shifts, another statistic drowned out in the 24-hour news cycle.


One way to stop the violence, end the oppression and clear the chart of even a single red bar is for the public to reframe the way it sees the press and demonstrate a willingness to protect it as an institution.


Subscribe to a local newspaper.


Share articles online with words of praise or constructive criticism.


Recognize the face behind the byline. Understand journalists are humans.


Decry misinformation.


Condemn violence against journalists. Push governing bodies to enact measures of punishment and accountability toward perpetrators.


Encourage the watchdog function of journalism, rather than crying “fake news.” Support well-reported facts even if it casts a negative light on personal interests.


Benjamin Morse is a third-year communication major. 


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