By Lynda Bryant-Work
Freedom of the press is on the verge of collapse and with it goes liberty.
Around the world in 2017, a total of 65 media workers and journalists were killed, 326 imprisoned and 54 held hostage.
The deadliest countries for journalists are Syria, Mexico, Afghanistan, Iraq and the Philippines. Countries holding journalists hostage include Syria, Yemen, Iraq and the Ukraine. Countries detaining the most journalists include China, Turkey, Syria, Iran and Vietnam.
We’ve recently detailed how that Russian journalists who run afoul of the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin, meet their demise in murky circumstances that are covered up by Moscow authorities.
Various organizations, including Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), have said that freedom of expression and the press are at its lowest level in 12 years. This news comes as governments have become more repressive against those who voice an opinion on the ever-growing Internet in an attempt to silence criticism or block exposure of corruption, repression and other violations committed by powerful politicians and corporations.
Last year proved to be the most dangerous for journalists for being killed or imprisoned. Even in the West, including the United States, threats against the press are becoming common. It isn’t expected to change in the future.
Reporters Without Borders – alternately known as Reporters Sans Frontières, advocates for free press and monitors the treatment of journalists in 130 countries. In 2018, they recorded the death of two journalists in January and the imprisonment of 189. You can see how various nations are ranked according to press freedom, here.
In comments to The Washington Post, Joel Simon, executive director of the CPJ, said, “There are worrying developments, and they align with what we have seen in the last few years. The political cost of this sort of behavior has diminished, and that tips the balance in the wrong direction.”
Simon noted that President Donald Trump has met with leaders of all the countries currently jailing journalists in mass numbers, and there was no indication press freedom came up.
According to data from CPJ, of the 48 journalists killed worldwide in 2017, six took place in Mexico, as did the first of 2018.
Turkey has imprisoned more journalists than any other country in the past two years. Of the 262 who were jailed because of their work, 73 were incarcerated in Turkey.
On Jan. 23, four more journalists were arrested in Turkey for social media posts critical of the Turkish government’s invasion of northern Syria and charged with “making propaganda for a terrorist organization.”
Twelve of 20 journalist were imprisoned in Egypt and were not convicted or sentenced for any criminal offense, some behind bars for years.
Threats to journalist are extensive and include extra-judicial executions, hostage taking by both government and non-state actors, state-sanctioned surveillance, prosecution under obscure laws, public smear campaigns and more.
Reporters around the world have been accused of terrorism, targeted as enemies of the people, and subjected to opaque and sometimes-secret legal proceedings.
Governments are increasingly using the pretense that journalists are accomplices of foreign actors to justify imprisonments — often without providing due process or trial.
Of the journalists imprisoned last year, 194 — nearly three-quarters of the total — were being held on anti-state charges – which translates to reporting the truth about what the government is doing – something corrupt leaders do not want made public.
According to Simon who says the trend predates the Trump era, “The reframing of repression as anti-terror” is taking hold and “there is some evidence that governments are taking advantage of his rhetoric to justify arrests, even in countries where you don’t usually see this type of rhetoric or rationale.”
In Myanmar, two journalists, Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone, working for Reuters are being held under an obscure law called the Official Secrets Act for allegedly “illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media” as they reported on the Burmese military’s campaign in Rakhine state.
A Mexican journalist who sought asylum in the United States in 2008 is being held in the United States, although not for his work, after being arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials and is being threatened with deportation. He would face certain death if returned to Mexico.
With journalists under fire in the United States, state-sanctioned propaganda – which works by destroying media credibility while simultaneously disseminating lies – lurks in every corner of America and in the White House itself where the press secretary and administration offer demonstrably false statements as truth or “alternative facts.”
Tactics used by every oppressive government in the world are led by destruction of the free press, which Trump is actively pursuing in a blatantly hostile manner. While the media bears some of the responsibility, Trump has led the public to mistrust almost everything reported.
He and his advisers fomented Lugenpresse, or the concept of “lying press” made famous by the Nazi party in Germany to undermine journalists. The process has been accelerated by Facebook, Twitter and Google.
Social scientists long ago established a truth about history, unheeded, repeating itself. And it can happen in a single generation, as the United States witnesses the destruction of the free press, as is happening worldwide.
Just one generation away from Nazi Germany, the past is already forgotten. The U.S. is just one nuclear confrontation from becoming a nation where martial law and military-controlled mass surveillance will be viewed as relief.
Destroying journalists and the media’s credibility plays an important part in that scenario.