Posted in Industry Insights

Defending journalism, defending society

, by Lauren Easton

“Cold-blooded killing of journalists by powerful individuals and governments to achieve their political and economic aims, or by individuals driven by private grievances or propaganda-fueled hate, have threatened and in too many cases cut down journalists over the past year,” AP Vice President for Standards John Daniszewski said at the United Nations Office at Geneva on Tuesday. “For no crime other than their work to reveal facts, and for their stubborn unwillingness to surrender to intimidation.”

Speaking to representatives of 17 member delegations, editors, journalists and others at an event organized by the International Press Institute, Daniszewski addressed assaults on journalists worldwide.

He cited three recent examples: the attack on the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland, that left five people dead; the killing of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the country's consulate in Istanbul; and the murders of Slovak investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova:

In each of these cases, and dozens of others in recent years, the journalists were targeted because of their work, even as they reported in countries not necessarily known for violence, places that should have been safe. It is no less tragic than when a journalist is killed while covering war and conflict, such as the Libyan freelance photographer Mohamed Ben Khalifa who was hit by artillery while on an assignment for The Associated Press this year. But the rise in targeted murders and assassinations of journalists is not a consequence of war. It is a product of something else -- the impunity and heartlessness and pure evil of some governments and some factions to try to deal with uncomfortable reporting by silencing the messenger.
AP Vice President for Standards John Daniszewski, second from left, speaks at an International Press Club panel at the United Nations Office at Geneva, March 19, 2019. (Courtesy IPI)

He continued:

Many attacks on journalists have been against those who dare to stand against this tide. Those who report factually about special interests, or the treatment of minorities, or the poor state of democracy, or the mistreatment of the environment. In this atmosphere, we journalists must unite with institutions and governments who are willing to defend the role of journalism and the importance and validity of factual reporting. Because many “illiberal” political leaders have also declared their opposition to the press, calling it “the enemy of the people.” At IPI, we understand that the opposite is true. Journalists are not the enemies of the people. They instead defend the people -- their freedom to know the facts of their world, their freedom to know the truth about the forces that shape their life, and their freedom to be liberated from lies and propaganda in order to better guide their own fates.

Daniszewski acknowledged that AP’s 173-year-old values of fair, accurate and unbiased reporting have come at a steep price, with 35 AP journalists dying in pursuit of the facts.

He outlined what can be done to face the wider scourge of attacks on journalists:

We need to get angry. We need to raise up our voices in protest whenever a journalist is harassed, threatened or murdered for her reporting. We also need governments to name and shame and isolate and exert diplomatic pressure on those governments who condone and facilitate attacks on freedom of information. We need social media platforms to be far more rigorous than they have been to date in rooting out fraudulent reports posing as real news on their platforms, doctored videos and images, and websites that actively promote hatred and bigotry with false information that can have real world consequences. We need to rally around those who gather and present facts with a commitment to accuracy and fairness. We need to articulate these values and defend them against people who say all reporting is subjective, facts are fungible and there is no truth, or the truth is whatever I say it is. Ultimately, the fight to protect honest journalists and journalism is not just about the journalist and journalism. It is about the kind of society we wish to have, where facts and reason can lead to civilized debate and a search for solutions. So, in other words, in defending journalism, countries and societies are defending themselves.

Andrew Caruana Galizia, son of murdered Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, Giles Trendle, managing director of Al Jazeera English, and Barbara Trionfi, executive director of the International Press Institute, also spoke at the IPI event.