Words are powerful. They seek to inspire, elicit emotions, and can emerge into making a positive change. All around the world there are many journalists that share with us stories that might often be forgotten or stories that we wouldn’t have been aware of, if not told. Journalists put their lives at risk to do so, reporting stories from dangerous conflicts zones or in some instances, by being targeted for uncovering hidden truths that reveal injustice across countries and communities.
According to UNESCO, current data shows that, since 1993, more than 1500 journalists around the world have been killed. Al Jazeera, an independent news organisation, has highlighted that a total of 12 of its own journalists have been killed whilst at work since the organisation had launched back in 1996. These violent attacks will not serve as a tactic to silent journalists but rather loudly echo to the world the change that must be done for their safety, so that they can continue to report the stories that we must all hear.
This is exactly what I would like to highlight in this blog.
Here on Inspire the Mind, we provide an opportunity to shed light on the news and the current global issues that are affecting mental health through societal impact — as shown by some of the topics that we have published previously. We thus feel we also are storytellers and journalists ourselves, even if we are just students and mental health researchers, and we want to speak up against the brutal attacks against journalists.
The commitment of journalists, ensuring that every story is told, greatly resonates with us all — and so does the need to support their safety, and to bring to justice those who attack them. As we acknowledge their courage and bravery, the journalists and writers who have fallen in their duties deserve to have justice, and their stories must be told.
One of the most recent such stories is the one of reporter Ivan Safronov, who in September this year has been sentenced to prison for 22 years, after the Russian authority have accused him of sharing confidential information, even if Ivan highlighted that the information shared was “open-source public information”. The sentencing of Ivan not only has been painful for his family, but also has pushed many Russian media outlets to urge for his release. In a statement by the independent media in Russia, they have highlighted that “We believe this decision is unjust and politically motivated. Journalism is not a crime.”
Just two months earlier, in June, British journalist Dom Phillips and Brazilian indigenous expert Bruno Pereira were tragically murdered. They were reported to have been missing when returning from the Javari Valley in the Amazon. Dom was previously a writer for the Guardian, and the focus of his trip was about writing his book and learning about the indigenous people that resided within the area. Sian Phillips (Dom’s Sister) now sadly grieving the loss of her brother, highlighted “He was killed because he tried to tell the world what was happening to the rainforest and its inhabitants”
The Editor in Chief of the Guardian, Katharine Viner, described Dom as “a brave, passionate journalist who died doing a thing he loved — seeking out and exposing wrongdoing.
Just one month before that, in May, journalists Yesina Mollinedo and her colleague Sheila Johana García were assassinated in front of a convenience store in Mexico. Prior to their attack, Yesina was receiving threats and had to change her contact details on multiple occasions.
And in the same month, Al — Jazeera journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh was killed whilst reporting from Jenin, a Palestinian city located in Northern West Bank. Although visibly identifiable as a journalist, indicated by a visible bullet proof vest and helmet both labelled with a clear sign PRESS, this did not deter a bullet leading to her tragic death. Her fellow journalist colleague Ali Al-Samudi, who was working as a Producer with Shireen, was also shot and left hospitalised. After four months from this tragedy, the Israeli military have issued a statement highlighting there was a “high probability” that Shireen was killed by an Israeli military.
One month before — we are only in April — and it is Alfonso Margarito Martínez Esquivel’s life that is lost. He was a photojournalist in Mexico, and another life sadly lost by these horrific killings. He used his camera lens to illustrate the criminal activity and violence that was happening in his country. His close friend and mentor Bibi Gutiérrez described him as “he was always smiling” and that he was “a sweetie to everyone”.
Six months, six journalists killed or imprisoned.
Sadly, these violent attacks on journalist are way too frequent.
According to a report from the newspaper Guardian, in 2021 around 62 journalists were found to have experienced physical attacks, and 7 have tragically lost their life because of their work in Mexico.
In 2021, Journalists Maria Ressa and Dmitry Andreyevich Muratov were awarded the Nobel Peace prize “for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace”. Their extensive contribution fully deserves this recognition, and Muratov highlights that in Russia many journalists, media outlets as well as human right activists are viewed as “enemies of the people”. Indeed, the award of a Nobel prize serves as symbol and a recognition to journalists, by acknowledging their amazing courage and the hard work that they do for everyone. Not only do the stories matter, but the people behind the stories, that work tirelessly, must matter too.
This year on World Press Freedom Day, celebrated on 3rd May 2022, the UN Secretary General António Guterres has spoken on the violence towards the press and journalists. In his speech, he highlights the rise of violence through online platforms, against female journalists in particular, and further emphasises that “without freedom of the press, there are no real democratic societies. Without freedom of the press, there is no freedom”.
Ten years ago the United Nations issued recommendations known as the UN plan of action on the safety of journalist and the issue of impunity, which describes the importance for journalists and media workers, and their freedom of expression, to be protected. Furthermore, the European Commission has highlighted some recommendations for protecting journalists, such as providing training for journalists on safety, working alongside authorities as well as encouraging female journalists and journalists belonging to minority groups to report on equality-related issues.
Yet they continue to die.
Reading the news articles of these violent attacks against journalists makes me feel confused and frustrated as to the continuation of these attacks, especially when we live in a society where we value knowledge, honesty, and most importantly the freedom of speech. Whilst it is said that actions speaks louder than words, I hope that we all shall remember and recognise the acts of bravery that these journalists have taken to speak against injustice.
Lastly, I wanted to share a quote that truly captures the importance of the notion that defending journalists’ safety is a duty for all of us:
Armando Linares, the director of Monitor Michoacán, commenting on the murder of Roberto Toledo in January 2022.