Radio host Alberto Chakussanga was shot at home in Angola, dying the day his youngest child was born in 2010. Newscaster Abdiaziz Aden was killed in a suicide bomb attack in Somalia in 2011. Reporter Marie Colvin lost her eye to shrapnel in Sri Lanka and her life in a shelling in Syria in 2012.
“Journalism is becoming an increasingly dangerous profession,” said Courtney Radsch of the Committee to Protect Journalists, after videos of ISIL’s beheadings of reporters were disseminated across social media.
The organization claims that since 1992, more than 1,000 journalists have been killed, most of whom were covering politics, war, or corruption. And most were local journalists writing about problems in their very own streets.
Other journalists watch their lives pass by behind bars in prisons. Some are forced out of a country where they work — which happened to Radsch after she wrote a public safety article in the United Arab Emirates. Radsch says that for every 10 journalists killed, only one death results in a prosecution.
A shifting perception of journalists
The desire to bear witness has long taken journalists to the front lines. But where years ago they were often seen as impartial observers with notepads, today they may be accused of being spies or enemy combatants, and they wear flak jackets to protect against bullets and knives.
With the Internet, people can build an audience across the world in a matter of seconds, and parties to conflict no longer need journalists to be their mouthpieces. And the Internet allows citizen journalists and free speech to thrive.
So why do journalists around the globe keep risking their lives to expose stories? To make a difference.
Lisa Chedekel and Matthew Kauffman of the Hartford Courant reported on the suicides of American soldiers, triggering congressional and military action to address mental health problems among U.S. troops.
Ruben Vives and Jeff Gottlieb of the Los Angeles Times wrote about the high salaries of government officials in Bell, California, resulting in fraud trials and a turnover in city government. Staff at Newsday covered the shootings, falsifying of records and other misconduct of police officers in Long Island, New York, leading to the convening of a grand jury, charges against an officer, and plans for a new deadly-force policy.
Journalists expose corruption, change laws, reform business practices, and improve lives.
The human element
“I really care about the people I’m covering,” said war photographer Lynsey Addario, who has documented strife across the globe. In the process of photographing fallen soldiers, rape victims, malnourished children, and cramped refugees, she has been abducted, blindfolded, and bound for six days. But it hasn’t stopped her from traveling with her camera. “This isn’t about me, it’s about them,” Addario said.
In response to the murder of reporter James Foley, his mother, Diane Foley, wrote on Facebook: “We have never been prouder of our son Jim. He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people.”
The story is written
Inside a museum in Washington, names of fallen journalists are engraved on frosted glass from floor to ceiling. They date to the 1800s and represent journalists from all beats, media, and countries.
“When I come into this room, I’m reminded of the tremendous number of people who have sacrificed their lives,” said Newseum executive Gene Policinski.
Recently, a committee started choosing the next batch of names to be inscribed from among journalists who died so far in 2014. The list is growing all too fast. One day, the room will need to be redesigned to accommodate new names.
How can you advocate for a free press?
Follow world press freedom news and encourage your friends to do the same. If you’re a citizen or professional journalist, take advantage of resources such as the Committee to Protect Journalists’ free security guides, the International Center for Journalists’ worldwide programs and the State Department’s program for journalists, which brings young media professionals from around the world to the U.S. Learn from CNN’s Lila King about citizen journalism, a way for anyone to create awareness about what’s happening in his or her part of the world.