A dangerous profession
How many journalists must die for us to care?
There has been a lot of coverage on the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent journalist who was seen entering — but not exiting — the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul last week.
But I wonder why his fate seems to have generated more attention than so many other disappeared journalists.
Turkish officials say Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen and contributor to the Washington Post, was killed by Saudi assassins who cut him into pieces and spirited his remains out of the building. Khashoggi lived in the United States and was a vocal critic of the Saudi regime.
The alleged murder is particularly gruesome, but so were those of many other journalists killed for doing their jobs. After all, Viktoria Marinova was brutally murdered last week in Bulgaria. Daphne Caruana Galizia, a Maltese journalist, who, like Marinova, reported on corruption, was killed in a car bomb last year.
Indeed, I regularly document the untimely death of journalists in this space, as recently as last spring: a Russian reporter who was pushed or fell from his balcony; a reporter in Liberia whose body was tossed out of a vehicle in front of his house; a Pakistani editor shot dead in his car on the way home from work; in Slovakia, in Mexico, in Guatemala, in Brazil, in the last year alone.
UNESCO says more than 1,000 journalists have been killed in the last decade, and only 10 per cent of these cases are solved.
Meanwhile, the jails are filling up with journalists. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Turkey, which has been labelled a “dungeon” for journalists, had 73 imprisoned last year; China had 41, Egypt 20, Vietnam, 10, to name just a few. Myanmar tossed a few more journalists in jail this week.
It is getting more difficult for good journalists to do their jobs, and the situation is not helped by certain world leaders who label them “the enemy of the state,” which may incite others to follow suit — or worse. In August, for example, a California man repeated those words while threatening to kill journalists in Boston. He has since been charged.
Maybe the latest incident will create a persistent international uproar — as indeed it threatens to — and we’ll see some change. Perhaps the publicity is because of Saudi Arabia’s mysterious and alleged involvement, or perhaps because a Saudi citizen who lived in the U.S. was killed on foreign soil. Maybe because of the U.S. president’s business ties to that country.
Maybe it will be the last straw, the final insult, the thing that makes people wake up and demand better protection for journalists.
But I wouldn’t count on it. Every day, politicians and citizens assail the journalistic community for seeking the truth while choosing to ignore the fact that we work on behalf of the entire population, despite our many faults.
As corny as it may sound, the irony is that the bravest and most courageous journalists among us fight for freedom and justice for all but get none of it themselves.