Yet another unacceptably dangerous year for journalists is winding down.
According to data compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 42 journalists worldwide were killed because of their work, and 262 journalists were jailed by governments hostile to a free press. Stateless actors held an additional 54 journalists, and two journalists are listed as missing, according to Reporters Without Borders, which like CPJ is a leading media-freedom organization.
“There is no way to sugar coat it — this has been a terrible year for press freedom around the world,” CPJ said in a statement accompanying the stark statistics.
The year seems even worse because of the moral void left by President Donald Trump, whose relentless excoriating of the news media reduces the role of the U.S. president as an advocate of worldwide press freedom and bolsters repressive regimes that target journalists.
On a bipartisan basis, U.S. presidents have recognized the nation’s unique role as a beacon for media freedom and used their office’s unrivaled leverage to press adversary and ally alike to protect journalists. But now another phenomenon is occurring: Repressive regimes are echoing — and often acting upon — Trump’s characterization of unflattering coverage as “fake news.”
In just one example, the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of China’s Communist Party, wrote: “If the president of the United States claims that his nation’s media outlets are a stain on America, then negative news about China and other countries should be taken with a grain of salt, since it is likely that bias and political agendas are distorting the real picture.”
Press repression doesn’t just happen in nations such as China, which imprisoned 41 journalists last year, according to CPJ, but also within the borders of allies such as Turkey, whose post-coup attempt at repression made it the world’s worst jailer of journalists this year after locking up 73. Egypt, another ostensible U.S. ally, is third, holding 20 journalists.
As for journalists killed for simply doing their jobs, CPJ reports that the deaths of 42 in 2017 is actually a slight improvement from last year’s total.
The seemingly endless spirals of violence in the Mideast made Iraq and Syria the deadliest countries for journalists in 2017. But the scourge hit close to home, too, with a record six journalists killed in Mexico, as that nation’s unending drug war spares no societal sector.
The world — especially the U.S. — must do a better job protecting journalists. For their sake, of course. But also because the free flow of information is the only way to accurately acknowledge and address global problems. Indeed, the absence of real reporting would spur fake news, a real phenomenon meant to discredit reputable institutions and individuals and obscure abuses by disreputable regimes. Advocates have begun to rally the weight of the United Nations, but the U.S., starting with Trump, must lead on this vital issue.