How a Free Press Dies!

October 31, 2023

In his last column entitled ”What the Arab world needs most is free expression”, written for the Washington Post before his disappearance in Istanbul, the Arab journalist Jamal Khashoggi  discussed his friend, prominent Saudi writer Saleh al-Shehi, who is now serving an unwarranted 5-year prison sentence for supposed comments against the Saudi establishment. Four years ago, in 2014, The Egyptian government confiscated all copies of a major Cairo newspaper, Al-Masry Al-Youm, to censor an article.

“These actions no longer carry the consequence of a backlash from the international community. Instead, these actions may trigger condemnation quickly followed by silence. As a result, Arab governments have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate.”

These words by Mr Khashoggi were intended to be an alert to the international community that is keeping his head in the sand, but it is too late to save his life now.

Interestingly enough, the oppression of journalists and the violence against media is not happening only in the Arab world. In 2015, Sudan had one of the biggest crackdowns on the press and seized the print runs of 14 newspapers. Earlier this year, 30-year old Bulgarian investigative journalist Viktoria Marinova was raped and killed.

Again in 2018, a Slovakian journalist Jan Kuciak, 27, was found shot dead along with his partner in their house in Bratislava. Many speculate that the murder was organized by the Italian Mafia, as Kuciak was working on a special investigation against them.

A Maltese journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed using a remote-controlled car bomb, because she was reporting on corruption and money laundering in Malta, and published numerous articles based on the Panama Papers.

I was shocked when I heard about the Capital Gazette newsroom shooting in Annapolis, US several months ago. A man with a vendetta against a newspaper fired a shotgun through the newsroom’s glass doors and at its employees, killing five and injuring two other people.

Unfortunately, the stories only for 2017 and 2018 are so many, that we cannot name all of them. What makes the current situation worse is that the crimes against journalists often go unpunished. 90% of cases concerning the murders of journalists remain unpunished, according to information provided by Member States to UNESCO in 2017.

During the last 10 years, UNESCO condemned the killing of over 930 journalists. Of these, 102 were killed in 2016 alone.

And I haven’t even mentioned the huge number of journalists, who are being jailed every year in Turkey, China, Egypt and other countries, for just doing their job.

So, what does it mean for the freedom of speech in the world? Are we regressing faster than we were progressing during the last several decades?

On the one hand, global policies and legislation is intended to promote and sustain the freedom of expression and speech. On the other hand, the anti-media rhetoric used by political leaders of different countries is become ever more common, creating a hostile attitude towards journalists. Journalists are currently being accused of spreading fake news, being bribed by George Soros and labelled “public enemies”.

The situation is identic not only in the Eastern and Central European countries (including Hungary, Czech Republic, Serbia, Albania), but even in one of the most developed countries in the world: the USA.

It seems that the only countries in the world that keep away from anti-press propaganda are the Nordic countries. Norway has topped the RSF 2018 index for the second year running, followed by Sweden.

Even after realizing the seriousness of our condition, hardly anything changes, as public memory is short and people try to follow the ‘keep calm and carry on’ mantra.. The R.I.Ps will fill the Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds, people will ”mourn” the deaths and murders of journalists sitting on their couches, the world authorities will express their deepest condolences, and world leaders like Donald Trump will vow for ”severe punishments” for the crimes of the dictators.

But none of these punishments will actually happen; nobody will be jailed, sentenced, or punished for taking the lives of the innocent people.  Because there’s a universal truth that became the part of our reality: business is above all. This statement is so deeply sealed in our subconsciousness that nobody takes courage to stand up and speak against dictators and extremists, who are playing with people’s lives as if they’re playing dice.

This year marks the 12th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. So, World, doesn’t this mean that it’s time to stop pretending that everything is fine with the freedom of speech, variety of opinion and combat against the corruption? Can we handle the issue in a way that it deserves to be handled: by trying harder to punish the murderers, succeeding better in protecting the journalists and striving for the real freedom?

At least, we must do it in memory of those who have lost their lives on their way to the truth.

About the author:

Viktorya Muradyan is from Armenia. She is a columnist for Speak Freely Today and The Broad, the European platforms uniting bloggers and columnist all over the region to provide them with the opportunities to report on the ongoing social and political events. She also contributes to the Regional Post Caucasus Magazine, as well as to the European Youth Press Orange Magazine. With the vast international experience, she has collected while studying and working in the Eastern Partnership countries and Europe, she is going to publish a book on the youth participation and youth inclusion in the EaP states in 2019.

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