WASHINGTON: Violence against journalists has reached unprecedented levels in 2018 with hatred stirred by leaders playing a significant part, stated two leading media watchdogs on Tuesday.

Reporters Without Borders, better known by its French acronym RSF, said that 80 journalists were killed across the globe this year while 60 were being held hostage. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) noted that putting journalists behind the bars was now the “new normal”.

Both annual round-ups detected an unprecedented level of hostility towards media personnel across the globe.

“Violence against journalists has reached unprecedented levels this year, and the situation is now critical,” said RSF chief Christophe Deloire. “The hatred of journalists sometimes very openly proclaimed by unscrupulous politicians, religious leaders and businessmen ... has been reflected in this disturbing increase,” he said.

“For the third year in a row, 250 or more journalists are jailed around the world, suggesting the authoritarian approach to critical news coverage is more than a temporary spike,” observed CPJ.

While highlighting deadly violence against journalists — most notably the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, RSF also noted with 348 media personnel were jailed in 2018. Khashoggi’s murder at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October caused an international outcry and showed the extremes to which “some people will go to silence “troublesome’ journalists”, RSF said.

US, fifth deadliest for journalists

CPJ also highlighted the Trump administration’s attitude towards the media, noting how the White House suspended CNN reporter Jim Acosta’s press credentials early this winter and falsely accused him of manhandling an intern. The reports also noted how President Donald Trump’s derogatory remarks — “fake news” — against some media outlets was hurting media freedom in the US.

Noting that President Trump has declared the press an “enemy of the American people”, RSF observed that this attitude had fostered further decline in journalists’ right to report.

“The violent anti-press rhetoric from the highest level of the US government has been coupled with an increase in the number of press freedom violations at the local level as journalists run the risk of arrest for covering protests or simply attempting to ask public officials questions,” RSF warned.

The RSF report said that the US became the fifth deadliest country in the world for reporters in 2018 after the shooting of five people at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Maryland in June.

The report pointed out that “journalists and their devices continue to be searched at the US border, while some foreign journalists are still denied entry into the US”.

Pakistani media targeted by many

Pakistan was 139 on a list of 180 countries on RSF’s World Press Freedom Index for 2018.

The report noted while the Pakistani media were regarded as among the most vibrant in Asia, they were regularly “targeted by extremist groups, Islamist organisations and the feared intelligence agencies”.

RSF also noted that the central and regional governments and members of political and religious organisations in Pakistan were also “quick to harass, threaten, or physically attack journalists regarded as insufficiently sympathetic to their views”.

China, Turkey worst jailers

According to AFP, China continues to be the world’s top jailer of journalists, the RSF report said, with 60 behind bars, 46 of them non-professional bloggers, some of whom are held in “inhuman conditions for nothing more than a post on social networks”.

The RSF report also condemned “Turkey’s despotic regime” for the “Kafkaesque trials in which journalists are accused of terrorism on the basis of a single word or phone contact”. With 33 journalists behind bars, it has more professional reporters incarcerated than any other country despite a fall in the number in prison.

One bright spot

Egypt and Iran also made the blacklist of the worst offenders with 38 and 28 reporters and bloggers in prison respectively.

The RSF condemned Egypt for the opaqueness of its military justice system, saying 30 reporters in detention had not been tried and others are still held even after the courts ordered their release.

According to AP, a bright spot was Iraq, where no media deaths were reported so far in 2018, for the first time since 2003.

Published in Dawn, December 19th, 2018



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