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One More Sign That Journalism Is Under Attack All Around the World

Elidio Ramos Zárate had just written about protests turning violent in Oaxaca, Mexico, when he was shot in the head one afternoon. Pavel Sheremet covered corruption and crime for an independent news website in Ukraine when an explosive detonated in his car. Karun Misra had just reported on illegal mining in Uttar Pradesh, India, when three men on motorcycles gunned him down.

These are three of the 48 journalists who were murdered in 2016, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Twenty-eight other deaths are currently being investigated before the CPJ can say that their deaths were tied to their work.

“These journalists on the frontlines, bringing us the news, making sure citizens are informed to participate in public policy and make informed, educated opinions,” Courtney Radsch, Advocacy Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, told Global Citizen.

Read More: Remember the Journalists Who Risk Their Lives for Justice

This past year saw a surge in warzone-related deaths, suggesting that countries such as Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya are becoming increasingly hazardous for any reporter and that credible information may become even harder to come by, with observers only able to cobble together what’s happening by following social media. ISIS, in particular, has made the capture and slaughter of journalists a high priority.

Since 1992, CPJ has found that at least 1,222 journalists have been killed for their work and 86% of those killed never receive justice in the form of a criminal conviction.

“When we talk about murders, we have to talk about whether they are investigated or followed up and sadly in nine out of 10 cases there is no justice,” said Radsch.“[There’s] endemic impunity, a lack of political will, and a lack of organizational capacity to bring [criminals] to justice.”

Since 1992, the deadliest countries have been Iraq (178 killed), Syria (107), Philippines (77), Somalia (62), Algeria (60), Pakistan (59), and Russia (56).

Read More: 2015 Was the Deadliest Year for Environmentalists Ever

In a typical year, journalists are primarily murdered when their work confronts abuses of power. Most of the time, they’re killed for either being critical of government or trying to expose the links of corruption throughout society.  

All of the time, these deaths have a chilling effect on the press, darkly establishing the boundaries of what’s permissible, who and what can’t be crossed, the questions that can and can’t be asked, the information that must remain hidden.

“When crimes against journalists, of any kind, remain unpunished, it implies that media can continuously be harassed and attacked,” said Frank La Rue, UNESCO assistant director-general for communication and information. “Impunity slowly gags journalists and media, where fear of reprisal turns into self-censorship, depriving each and every one of us from vital information.”

In 2016, there was also a sharp rise the number of journalists imprisoned for their work.

The bulk of this rise came from Turkey, which is going through one of the largest purges of civil society in the 21st century. Since a failed coup in the summer of 2016, tens of thousands of public employees have been removed from their jobs and many have been imprisoned. More than 100 media outlets have been shut down by the president and many journalists have been charged with crimes against the state, including inciting terrorism. Simply accompanying a story with an unflattering picture of the president can result in imprisonment.   

Read More: Fake News in South Sudan Could Lead to Genocide

Egypt, too, is undergoing a massive crackdown on the press and, more broadly, human rights. In 2011, the Arab Spring held the promise of open societies. More than five years later, that hope has been thoroughly dashed.   

Once antagonism toward the press escalates to imprisonment and war, information and truth became flimsy concepts, easily undermined. Oftentimes, a strong press is the only thing that stands between a safe, effective state and a failed or highly corrupt state. And, oftentimes, the suppression of press is the first step toward authoritarianism.

This past year has seen an explosion in “fake news,” which has unfairly eroded faith in the institution of journalism.

And so far, in the first few days of his administration, US President Donald Trump has made it a goal to delegitimize the media. In his first event after inauguration, speaking at the CIA headquarters, he said, “I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth.”

If countries around the world are to stand up to the challenges of the 21st century — climate change, war, poverty, etc. — the role of journalism must be protected.

“Without CPJ, there would be no awareness of the individuals, who are killed for their work,” Radsch said.

“It’s not just about individuals, it's about the stories they were covering, corruption, environmental degradation, etc.,” she said.