Editorials, Opinion

It’s becoming more dangerous to be a journalist

Good reporting depends on the bravery of good journalists who are willing to venture into unsafe places in order to get real and real-time information. War zones have always been a dangerous place for journalists, but the battle between the Israeli government and Hamas has been a particularly bloody one for reporters.

As of this writing, the Committee to Protect Journalists reports 42 journalists and media workers have died in Gaza and the surrounding region since Oct. 7. Of those killed, 37 were Palestinian, four were Israeli and one was Lebanese. Most of the Israeli journalists were killed in the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks. Eleven of the Palestinian journalists were killed in Israeli airstrikes on their homes that also killed family and friends and several were killed when Israel bombed an area housing multiple media outlets. That so many media workers seem to have been deliberately targeted is cause for alarm.

Journalists in conflict zones are too often the targets of censorship, intimidation and physical attacks. But without them, we would not have a clear picture of what is happening on the ground. Instead, we would be forced to rely entirely on statements provided by the warring parties, which are more likely to resemble propaganda than news.

Powerful groups — especially governments — know this. Reporters and other members of the media have long been targeted because of their work revealing corruption or shedding light on dark deeds. According to the CPJ, since 1992, more than 2,200 journalists and media workers have been killed and more than 2,100 have been imprisoned worldwide, with high concentrations in Latin America, Africa, south Asia and the Middle East. 

While journalist and media worker deaths have largely declined (until this year), imprisonments have increased, especially in China and Russia (which just implemented more press restrictions), but also in Belarus and Turkey — places with strong-man governments that don’t take well to unflattering coverage.   

Even the U.S. isn’t innocent of abuses against the press. We mustn’t forget the five journalists killed in the 2018 attack on the Capital Gazette in Maryland. According to U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, 2020 saw almost 150 journalists arrested and more than 600 assaulted. Another 60 were arrested and 147 assaulted in 2021. Fortunately, those numbers have come down in the last couple years. However, some of the attacks on the press this year have been egregious, such as the raid on a Kansas newspaper this summer for reporting what was already public record.

Public trust in media has steadily declined over the years, and powerful groups and individuals are happy to fuel that distrust. Such people fear exposure and the accountability exposure may bring. But if they delegitimize the press — or incarcerate or kill journalists — then they are less likely to face repercussions, either as public backlash or legal consequences.

When someone stokes distrust in “the media” or attacks journalists (literally and metaphorically), ask what that person or entity gains by the repression of a free press.