A dan­ger­ous pro­fes­sion

How many jour­nal­ists must die for us to care?

The Hamilton Spectator - - Local - PAUL BER­TON Paul Ber­ton is ed­i­tor-in-chief of The Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor and thes­pec.com. You can reach him at 905-526-3482 or pber­ton@thes­pec.com

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.

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