At­tack on jour­nal­ists is no joke

The Community Connection - - OPINION - Gene Policin­ski Colum­nist Gene Policin­ski is pres­i­dent of the Free­dom Fo­rum In­sti­tute.

Ten jour­nal­ists were killed in a re­cent se­ries of at­tacks in Afghanistan. The week prior, 14 jour­nal­ists from Turkey’s lead­ing op­po­si­tion news­pa­per, Cumhuriyet, were given lengthy jail terms af­ter a show trial based on trumped-up charges. Nine Turk­ish jour­nal­ists who worked for Zaman, Turkey’s most widely-read news­pa­per un­til it was shut­tered by the gov­ern­ment, now face life sen­tences sim­ply for writ­ing col­umns crit­i­cal of the gov­ern­ment.

And al­ready this year, at least 26 jour­nal­ists world­wide have been killed — some in con­flict ar­eas but many tar­geted for mur­der — ac­cord­ing to tal­lies by the Com­mit­tee to Pro­tect Jour­nal­ists and Re­porters With­out Bor­ders.

For Amer­i­cans, that ought to bring sober­ing per­spec­tive — and a re­fo­cus­ing — af­ter the re­cent burst of me­dia and pres­i­den­tial hand­wring­ing over a barbed rou­tine by co­me­dian Michelle Wolf at the an­nual White House Cor­re­spon­dents Din­ner, where such re­marks are as pre­dictable as they are for­get­table.

Pres­i­dent Trump jumped to Twit­ter to de­cry Wolf’s jokes, call­ing her per­for­mance a “very big, bor­ing bust.” He had re­fused to at­tend the din­ner for the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive year.

In a tweet de­fend­ing Wolf, late-night TV host Jimmy Kim­mel did the best job of putting to rest the tem­pest in a D.C. teapot: “Dear ‘the me­dia’ — @michellei­sawolf was FUNNY. Hire a jug­gler next year.”

With the me­dia and White House’s at­ten­tion hov­er­ing on the flap over the White House Cor­re­spon­dents Din­ner, it was left to newly-minted Sec­re­tary of State Michael Pom­peo to re­spond to the deadly at­tack on jour­nal­ists in Afghanistan. He called the free press “the cor­ner­stone of democ­racy” and de­liv­ered a re­minder of threats to jour­nal­ists world­wide. He also said that the “vi­brant me­dia land­scape that has de­vel­oped in Afghanistan will en­dure, in large part due to those jour­nal­ists and me­dia pro­fes­sion­als who trag­i­cally died in to­day’s at­tack.”

Nine jour­nal­ists were killed and at least five more were wounded April 30 in sui­cide bomb­ings in Kabul, the cap­i­tal, and one was killed in a shoot­ing in a ru­ral prov­ince. Mul­ti­ple re­ports noted that the Kabul at­tack was the dead­li­est tar­get­ing jour­nal­ists since Jan­uary 2015, when ter­ror­ists opened fire at the Paris of­fices of satir­i­cal mag­a­zine Char­lie Hebdo, killing 12 peo­ple, eight of whom were staff mem­bers.

Less vis­i­ble to Amer­i­cans is the col­lapse of the free press in Turkey, fol­low­ing an at­tempted 2016 gov­ern­ment coup. A Turk­ish court on April 24 sen­tenced 14 staff mem­bers of Cumhuriyet to up to seven years in prison on vague and un­sup­ported charges of ter­ror­ism — a ver­dict that in­ter­na­tional press and hu­man rights ad­vo­cates de­cry as re­tal­i­a­tion for the pa­per’s on­go­ing crit­i­cism of Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan.

Turkey is ranked 157th out of 180 coun­tries in the Re­porters With­out Bor­der’s 2018 press free­dom in­dex, re­leased just weeks ago. The NATO mem­ber na­tion has now jailed more jour­nal­ists than any other coun­try in the world, ac­cord­ing to the Com­mit­tee to Pro­tect Jour­nal­ists.

Lest we for­get amidst the re­ports of car­nage and cor­rupted jus­tice sys­tems, the bat­tle for a free press also in­volves wide­spread ef­forts to pro­mul­gate “fake news” — ei­ther in a di­rect at­tempt to fool news con­sumers, or to dis­credit real jour­nal­ism. My col­leagues at New­se­umED of­fer les­son plans and tools to fight “flawed” news at www. new­se­umed.org, and on May 3, World Press Free­dom Day, they par­tic­i­pated in a panel on me­dia lit­er­acy hosted by the U.S. State Depart­ment.

On June 4, we in­vite you to join us — ei­ther in per­son or via live stream — for the an­nual reded­i­ca­tion of the New­seum’s Jour­nal­ists Me­mo­rial. This year, the names of 18 jour­nal­ists who died in 2017 in the pur­suit of news will be en­graved on a soar­ing glass-plated wall. They rep­re­sent more than 60 re­porters killed last year.

As the at­tacks in Afghanistan, and the mur­ders of jour­nal­ists from Mex­ico to Malta, In­dia to Iraq, and many more coun­tries around the world demon­strate all too well, jour­nal­ists con­tinue to be seen as a threat to po­lit­i­cal power and to con­trolled nar­ra­tives pro­mul­gated by dic­ta­tors, drug lords and ter­ror­ists.

Let’s spend much less time fret­ting about a few mo­ments of din­ner com­men­tary and more on con­demn­ing those who work re­lent­lessly to kill truth by mur­der­ing, jail­ing or pun­ish­ing the truth-tell­ers.

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