Doing journalism can be as dangerous as it is honorable.
Especially for those who dare to dissent, like Jamal Khashoggi, the progressive Saudi journalist who was openly critical of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Khashoggi, as you no doubt have heard, is missing in what is now being referred to an “apparent assassination.”
He is one of more than 1,000 journalists who have been the victims of targeted killings since 2006. And more have been killed in the first nine months of 2018 than all of last year, according to data compiled by both The Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders. While their numbers vary slightly, the agencies are in agreement that this has been a deadly year for journalists, even in the U.S. and Western Europe, where press freedom is a considered hallmark of society. This year in the U.S. alone, five journalists were gunned down in June at the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland.
“There is an increase in attacks on journalists and journalism as an institution that is important to democracy and to the foundation of human rights,” Dr. Courtney Radsch, the advocacy director for CPJ told the New York Times this week. “And we see that this is being undermined around the world.”
Radsch cautioned that rhetoric characterizing the press is as the “enemy of the people” can escalate the unsafe conditions for reporters. In fact on Thursday, President Donald Trump, who routinely denigrates the news media, praised Montana Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte for physically assaulting a reporter.
The CPJ and RWB statistics also bear out another alarming fact: nine out of 10 of these killers are never apprehended, much less charged or punished.
This leads to more murders and cover-ups of human rights abuses, according to The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. To that end UNESCO is proclaiming Nov. 2 as “International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.” The resolution is intended encourage member states to devise measures to counter the lack of accountability. It’s also intended to shed light on these crimes, which – unlike the Kashoggi case – often surface only momentarily in the news cycle.
For example, it’s likely you’ve never heard about:
- Mexican journalist and satirist Pamela Montenegro, who was shot point blank in the face and stomach while dining at a restaurant with her husband in February.
- Indian freelancers Sandeep Sharma, Navin Nischal and Vijay Singh, who were run down by an SUV outside of a tobacco shop in March.
- Libyan reporter Musa Abdul Kareem, who was abducted, tortured and shot 13 times in July.
Why aren’t all these slayings met with the same furor and press coverage as that of Khashoggi’s?
As Suzanne Nossel laments in this L.A. Times opinion piece, they deserve the same outrage as the “chorus of disgust” elicited by Khashoggi’s disappearance after he walked into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Tuesday, Oct. 2, and never walked out.
Certainly the fact that Khashoggi is a contributor to The Washington Post elevates the news value of the case here in America. But as OU Political Science Professor Peter Trumbore said during an interview on WJR this week, the news has also “shaken” the foundation of Saudi Arabia’s relationship with some important global partners.
And that tends to generate headlines.
There’s also the allure of gruesome spectacle of the widely accepted allegation that Khashoggi was lured into the consulate, murdered and dismembered.
As Trumbore said on WJR, “It’s pretty clear the Saudi government had Jamal Kashoggi killed.” Whether they had that intention from the beginning, or “botched his kidnapping and interrogation and just happened to have a specialist with a bone saw handy later on.”
“As horrible as it is,” Trumbore said, the case “is ultimately going to be allowed to blow over.”
While the story is still treading water in the news cycle, if evidence doesn’t implicate a suspect soon, Kashoggi’s death is likely to become just one more data point in a very bleak set of statistics.
See the full United Nations resolution for the safety for journalists here. And watch our blog and social media for updates and calls to action.