As press freedom continues to decline around the world, the threat to journalists’ safety has markedly increased. Reporters, photojournalists and other media professionals are routinely subjected to harassment, physical harm, imprisonment and even death.
Most worrying is that many perpetrators of these crimes go unpunished; governments act with impunity and non-state actors are never held accountable. Journalists who work for the five networks of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) are especially vulnerable.
Currently, three of our journalists are unjustly held in prison in Vietnam: one has not yet been charged, one is awaiting trial, and one is serving a seven-year sentence on a bogus charge. In Crimea, two of our journalists are being held by Russia-backed separatists. And the murderers of a majority of our colleagues who have been killed in the line of duty have never been brought to justice.
On November 2, we mark the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, a call we make every day of the year. Earlier this week, USAGM partnered with the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Group of Friends for the Protection of Journalists. The panel of seasoned journalists and media experts discussed the impact that rampant lenience and irresponsibility have on journalists and media environments worldwide and identified possible solutions.
At that event, CPJ detailed its latest “impunity index.” The report warns that thirteen countries account for more than three-quarters of all unsolved murders of journalists globally. USAGM journalists work in almost all of them.
Also this week, three of our brave journalists, whose lives were turned upside down by governments acting with complete disregard for human rights, detail their harrowing experiences. Yet, they are some of the lucky ones—they lived to tell their stories.
Journalists are not criminals, they provide a public good. Reporters expose corruption, provide life-saving information and uncover the truth when those in power try to hide it. High-quality journalism democratizes the world as much as it informs it.
Governments should do everything they can to protect journalists, and bring their killers to justice. Not just for journalists, but for us all.