How dangerous is it being a journalist?
Very. Let’s not get into clickbait headlines on such a dishearteningly serious subject. According to The Washington Post, 2017 was the most dangerous year ever to be a journalist. Jason Rezaian wrote that, last year, “Eighteen journalists were killed around the world in 2017, a record number were imprisoned and threats against the press seemingly have become common […] Don't expect that to change in 2018.”
His warning was depressingly prescient. According to Reporters without Borders, an international press freedom organisation, 63 journalists have been killed so far with a further 11 citizens journalists killed and 168 journalists currently imprisoned.
Rewind just a few weeks ago and the rhetoric put forward by US President Donald Trump that the media are “enemies of the people” has made its way to UK soil and has been seen by potentially millions as covered by the mainstream news. Tommy Robinson, far-right populist was currently referred to the Attorney General for contempt of court, was speaking to a small rally of supporters before pointing to the assembled journalists and repeating the now infamous Trump line.
Trump himself has been facing quite fair accusations of inciting violence as it became apparent that an unhinged Trump supporter had been sending pipe bombs in the post to prominent Trump critics as well as former President Barack Obama, Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, philanthropist and political activist George Soros, former Vice-President Joe Biden and prominent Trump critic Robert De Niro.
Cesar Sayoc, a Trump fanatic, has a long list of previous convictions including previously making bomb threats. According to The Guardian, he had several Twitter and Facebook accounts where he posted right-wing conspiracy theories, racist memes and abusive or threatening messages to those who did not share his political views. He also uploaded videos of himself wearing a red “Maga” hat and holding banners at Trump rallies.
This was after the horrific murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a well-known journalist and critic of the Saudi government. A previously prominent Saudi journalist, Khashoggi had been close to the Saudi royal family for decades, covering events such as the rise of Osama Bin Laden and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. For reasons that are still unclear he fell out of favour with the family and fled to the US where he was, until recently, writing a weekly column for the Washington Post which often criticised the Saudi royal family.
On the 2nd of October, Khashoggi entered the Saudi embassy in Istanbul to obtain paperwork to get married, but was never seen again. After the alarm was raised by his family and employers in Washington, the official story from Saudi Arabia and the royal family there has been nothing short of farcical.
For two weeks the government denied any and all knowledge of Khashoggi’s whereabouts, consistently saying they had no evidence to suggest he had even disappeared. Prince Mohammed told Bloomberg News that the journalist had left the consulate "after a few minutes or one hour".
"We have nothing to hide," he added.
As reported by the BBC, Prince Mohammed's brother and the Saudi ambassador to the US, Prince Khaled bin Salman, claimed all reports about his disappearance or death were "completely false and baseless".
However, as international outcry intensified and denouncement grew for the official Saudi line, it was then reported by state-owned news that the journalist had, in fact, died in a fight at the embassy. Just 18 days had passed.
The latest story, as floated by the Saudi ambassador, is that Khashoggi died from a chokehold after a rogue operation attempted to kidnap him and return him to the country, before being rolled up in a carpet and disposed of in acid. After his death a rogue operative apparently put on his clothes and left the embassy dressed as him to make it look as though he was fine.
Aside from the laughably poor attempts at covering up a state sponsored hit job, these are terrifying times for genuine journalists and supporters of the free press. Sadly, despite their shallow whining that free speech is repressed by liberals, the far-right and their new poster boys are consistently and unashamedly using coded language that lets people know its ok to use violence to suppress your political opponents and critics.
‘Enemies of the people’ as a phrase has its roots in Roman history, when the Roman Senate declared Emperor Nero an enemy of the people. It has had other uses throughout history but only came back into prominent political discourse when it was used by Goebbels to describe the Jews, and then most widely by Joseph Stalin, when using it to imprison and murder his political opponents.
It should go without saying that any healthy and functioning democracy requires, as its lifeblood, freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Your opinions over the ownership of large newspapers and media outlets aside, the internet has brought about an age where anybody who has access to the internet now has as much potential reach as any other media source. It really is unacceptable at any time, regardless of the subject matter, to imprison or execute journalists for seeking to tell the truth.