A Struggle for Credible Journalism

November 2, 2018 Opinion , OPINION/NEWS

Reuters photo



Zeeshan A. Shah



The International Day to End impunity for Crimes against Journalists is observed every year on Nov 2nd by the United Nations, its purpose the recognition of and a remembrance day for journalists around the world killed in the line of duty. This happens each year but what must be done ‘beyond’ is becoming a serious debate globally as more and more people are killed for simply doing their jobs.


More vital today is the absolute need to ensure that the conviction rate drastically improves on violent crimes of murder and slaughter. In the past twelve years (2006-2017) close to 1010 journalists have been killed for reporting the news and bringing information to the public. In nine out of ten cases the killers go unpunished. Impunity leads to more killings and is often a symptom of worsening conflict and the breakdown of law and judicial systems. In 2013, two French journalists were assassinated in Mali, leading to the action by the UN to commemorate Nov 2nd as historic.


This year has been one of reckoning as we witness one of the most brutal murders of all time, the world community rising as one singular voice of reason and justice against the brutal murder of the acclaimed journalist in Istanbul. Red October, as I would call it today, will go down in history as the bloodiest month of the year as the story unfolds – the horrifying story of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.


On October 2nd, a well-respected journalist and a US national with Saudi origins was asked to visit the Saudi Embassy in Turkey, where he was apparently trapped, choked, drugged and then interrogated before being killed in cold blood inside the official government building. He was never seen alive after that day. This incident has created a worldwide storm of condemnation by countries, social networks, media, government and society at large, exposing the ugly reality that remains a fact: “brutal killings of journalist by the hands of the elite powers that rule those nations.”


The Jamal Khashoggi murder is another stark reminder of the continued atrocities committed against journalists to silence the truth and undermine true justice, eliminating those who stand to criticize the actions of rogue elements hidden behind the faces of the power brokers running governments today.


According to the UNESCO annual report published every two years, the findings submitted to the Intergovernmental Council of the IPDC-International program for the development of communication for the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity, over the years there were serious crimes reported and a series of killings of those who reported them.


In 2014, there were dangerous crimes reported against for Journalists around the globe with record numbers killed or sent to exile as per the recent report by the US-based CPJ- Committee to Protect Journalists, whether it was war crimes in Syria, drug trafficking in Mexico, militancy in Pakistan or corruption in India.


The 10 deadliest countries in the world faced a daunting task, as human rights bodies fail to address this matter with the law enforcement agencies. Over 50 killings in Syria, 50 in Somalia, 45 in Algeria, 73 in the Philippines, 56 in Russia, 30 in India and over 53 killings were reported in Pakistan. Shocking news as it is, over 80% of the cases remained unresolved as murderers were not brought to justice. The highest death counts were reported amongst journalists covering politics while 36% were war correspondents.


These were serious numbers in an increasingly unsafe environment building up as freedom of expression came under threat. While actual crimes were underreported by law enforcement agencies, most journalists were under attack, covering protests, corruption and investigating war crimes. Where we ensure that the voice is heard, there was absolute struggle for protection and no laws to govern punishment for such crimes due to poor conviction rates in most countries when addressing crimes against journalists.


In terms of regional background, over 36% of the killings took place in the Middle East, due to conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen. The latest on this list is Saudi Arabia where a severe crackdown on journalists has exposed the rogue elements within the political and social fabric, leading many journalists to flee the country – one such case being that of Jamal Khashoggi.


Moreover, these countries also endured a one-man rule under fake democracies and dismal records on human rights, gender discrimination, economic wars and poor governance. This ‘Might is Right’ syndrome practiced by government encouraged disaster, leading to a non-consultative approach towards political management, social welfare, health, education and governance. In such countries, the transparency system has failed to hold any senior government officer bearer accountable by law, with no constitutional, legal and ethical management justification.


In 2015, there was a rise in the number of online journalists with most of them covering the war in Syria, compared to 2014 and 2013 where the majority of journalists killed were from television and print media respectively. Freelance journalists were found to be the most vulnerable group in the media sector with over 19% of the total. Most killings took place in conflict zones.


2018 has highlighted another rising trend. As the war on corruption escalates globally, so has the risk of death and injury to most journalists covering corruption and financial crimes. The mysterious car bombing in Malta resulting in the death of the female journalist who was covering the Panama Paper leaks has been widely ignored despite being a serious case that remains unsolved.


The morally intolerant countries of today need a much closer watch as they are being run by the corrupt and patronized by external elements with little resistance except by the journalist community, struggling to seek support by the State. Sooner rather than later the State has to enforce laws that are already in place under the constitution whereby the rights of every citizen of the country must be protected and safeguarded against brutal acts of crime and violence.


Until a brutal crime is matched by brutal punishment, we will suffer at the hands of violence. A punishment under Islamic Law must be enforced for the benefit of the innocents whose families have faced desolation and danger. Lawmakers have to take responsive measures holding administrations accountable for failures that lead outside proxy to come and play their dirty games across state boundaries. The killing of Jamal Khashoggi is the most high profile murder case in recent history that can make or break the fate of nations like Turkey, USA and Saudi Arabia, sparking diplomatic tensions worldwide.


Key findings indicate that addressing impunity becomes critical every day.


In Asia Pacific region, there were 210 killings from 2006-2015 out of which 197 cases were unresolved. Compared to that, 287 cases were reported in the Arab States out of which 283 killings went unsolved with no justice provided to the families of the dead. Little has changed today.


Crimes against journalists must be punishable by law in its fullest as it becomes binding for the government to safeguard the journalistic community. Similarly, proxy journalists found guilty of yellow journalism must be publicly shamed and exposed when they violate the oath and end up protecting corrupt elements through bribes and kickbacks instead of protecting innocent civilians.


The killings are rampant and so is the corruption inside these countries. Corruption is not the lack of money – it is the abundance of it without accountability. Sooner or later, states must act in the manner best applied in safeguarding journalists as the beacon of hope and freedom.


Pakistan is one country today that has taken a stand against corruption and exposed its true self by enforcing legal authority, justice through courts and robust law enforcement as leaders offer themselves for accountability. Other countries must learn from it and follow. From being labeled as one of the ten deadliest countries for journalists, today we are safeguarding the true power of a free media by rejecting unjustified laws and amendments and by ensuring protection to journalists in risky times.


As we look beyond, the killing fields continue to harvest as the world seeks absolute justice.





Zeeshan A. Shah

The writer is a Director at CNNA Pakistan – a leading advocacy institute and is an expert on International Relations and Education Policy.

With over 150 publications in major local and global social media & newspapers, he has been instrumental in producing over 5000 radio broadcasts aired globally.

A thought leader, environmental journalist, media broadcaster and a change maker with an acute focus on development affairs & education for Pakistan.

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