Our country’s founders safeguarded freedom of the press by anchoring protection of journalists in the Constitution’s First Amendment. But in much of the world, regimes and criminal elements show little restraint in assaulting journalists if their reporting uncovers injustice or corruption.
This year, hostile regimes imprisoned at least 250 journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. That general total has held steady for four consecutive years. In addition, at least 25 journalists were killed this year. In three cases from recent years, journalists were outright murdered, with continuing repercussions:
» In Malta, several arrests have been made and the prime minister has said he will resign amid ongoing public protests over the car-bomb murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, an investigative journalist looking into wide-ranging government corruption.
» In Slovakia, large public protests pressed for government action in the wake of the shooting death of journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée. Kuciak was investigating government corruption and connections to organized crime. The prime minister and interior minister resigned, and four people have been indicted in the case.
» The court system in Saudi Arabia has rightly been condemned internationally for its failure to bring to justice the top figures in the murder and dismemberment of exiled Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.
Many governments, meanwhile, continue harassment and jailing of journalists when reporting displeases top officials or threatens to expose corruption. The worst offenders for jailing journalists are China, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Eritrea, Vietnam and Iran.
China has jailed reporters looking into the government’s horrendous large-scale abuse of the Uighurs, Muslim residents in an area of western China. Arrests of Chinese journalists have “increased steadily” as the country’s president, Xi Jinping, asserts increased control through the Community Party, the Committee to Protect Journalists says.
Turkey has engaged in mass arrests of journalists for years under its authoritarian President Recep Yayyip Erdogan, often charging reporters and editors preposterously with terroristic offenses. Erdogan’s government has shut down dozens of news operations in an effort to stifle independent news gathering.
A growing number of governments resort to transparently flimsy charges as pretexts to jail reporters. Chinese authorities have jailed journalists for “picking quarrels and causing trouble,” which the government labels a serious offense. Regimes jailed 30 journalists this year for “fake news,” with the Egyptian government the worst offender. In Saudi Arabia, “authorities barely make any pretense of due process,” the Committee to Protect Journalists reports.
One of the main checks against governmental abuse is a robust and free press. The abuses that so many governments carry out against reporters underscore that vital point.