Global Media and Peril: Deconstructing the Hazards of International Journalism By M. McKenzie Wurtz
War, political disruption, crime, and poverty are all part of the chaos that makes up this vast world we know. The public would not be aware of the Syrian crises, nor would we know about the riots persisting in Egypt without the proper documentation made accessible to the common good. The journalists that cover world affairs are the voices of the Syrian refugees, the faces of the Pakistanis that have lost their loved ones to war, and the children suffering from ailments unknown to the United States; they are the eyes and ears of our country. Because of the bravery of their actions, journalists have experienced the worst of tribulations including captivity and gruesome death. As a nation, we neglect to acknowledge how much crime and censorship these correspondents stationed in foreign areas are often subject to. The hazards for international journalists are becoming gradually more prevalent, and-- as a result-- the numbers of those working in the field are diminishing rapidly.
Since 1992, there have been more than thousands of these writers and reporters slaughtered for their work (“71 Journalists Were Killed in 2013”). James Foley, a well-respected and widely known reporter was decapitated for his job as an investigative journalist in 2014 (Bach). Additionally, there are around two-hundred journalists still in captivity in hazardous areas. In more recent observations, 787 journalists have been killed since 2005 (See Appendix, Fig. 1). These crimes against reporters and writers often go unpunished, which further encourages acts of capturing and torturing innocent journalists. Along with impunity, the perils can be sourced back to a multitude of reasons including high political disruption, police brutality, and suspicious views on the media. From the aforementioned threats, lifelong mental effects such as PTSD and depression ensue, and there ultimately blossoms a fear toward the occupation of global journalism altogether.
The problem at hand is that innocent lives are being endangered for the sake of upholding common journalistic principles. A vast majority of crimes against journalists go unpunished. International media allows us to prosper as a country and to understand what is happening in the neighboring provinces. As cases of kidnappings and murders arise, such as the Foley and Rohde cases, young journalists begin to stray away from the global journalism industry. This has directly resulted in a sharp decrease in the current amount of active press. In 2014, ninety-two media associates were murdered, reportedly two-thirds of which were due to their occupations (Ahmed). At least 178 journalists are currently being held in captivity ("71 Journalists Were Killed in 2013."). So, what does this mean for the international journalism industry? It means there is a lack of media professionals to fill these critical positions.
Journalists, particularly those working in close proximity to war zones, are often said to “face high levels of depression or anxiety that can impair their judgement and put them at additional risk” (Ahmed). This is often true for those stationed in Syria which is one of the top five most dangerous countries for journalists (see Appendix, Fig. 3). The same goes for those in Egypt, where conditions for the captives are described in horrific detail. Shawkwan, an Egyptian photojournalist, was taken captive for over 600 days for taking pictures of a violent protest (“The Dangers of Being a Journalist in 2015”). In this article, Shawkwan remarks the circumstances as “psychologically unbearable”. The underlying fear of being thrown into prison or murdered while working in high risk areas is a major deterrent for journalists. Nevertheless, we are reliant on the intuition and information these journalists provide; it is necessary to send them into foreign areas.
In order to understand any possible solution for the injustice that persists, the cause of the matter must be understood. As expressed in Reporters Without Borders, all crimes against foreign journalists are subjective, with individual purposes and motives. Political unrest is one of the key issues that has led to a series of killings in the past. Reports in Guinea claim that, not only have the journalists been subject to threats from local protesters during political disruption, but government officials have equally expressed violent reprimand actions towards reporters (Reporters Without Borders). Craig Allen, a professor for the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, has experienced the stress behind the political unrest in the world of international media. When he was coming back from his first journalism job across the world around the time of 1984 to 1985, it was right after a series of terrorist attacks on America. “Once the plane landed, everyone (on the plane) cheered,” Craig explained, “because we didn’t know if we’d get home safely.” Based on the political circumstances at the time, those coming back from other countries felt that their security was compromised. In this case, anyone traveling at the time was in fact, at risk for attacks. Today, political distress is prominent throughout our world, which further jeopardizes the workers sent into foreign places. We see this in the various unstable countries in which journalists are often positioned.
A weak government additionally serves as a cause for attacks on global media workers. China’s distrust of media and secure hold over the internet altogether negates the image of journalism. Censoring has been quite prominent, particularly in totalitarian countries, like China. While the constitution of this country supposedly “affords its citizens freedom of speech and press” (Xu), in reality, the Chinese government is changing news stories, blocking resources, and impeding on the freedoms of Chinese citizens. As described by the Council of Foreign Relations, “social unrest” and overall distrust of the media by the Chinese government has led to widespread “internet sovereignty” for the country. Naturally, valuable news sources are changed and blocked from view, which invades the rights of not only the people living in China, but the reporters who have a responsibility there as well. It has been reported that, since December 2014, forty-four journalists have been held in prisons in China (Xu). One specific example is the case of Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese rights activist “sentenced to eleven years in prison for advocating democratic reforms and freedom of speech” (Xu). This in itself is a questionable accusation, as “democratic reforms and freedom speech” should be something we are promised, and not punished for. The imprisonment of Tan Zuoren is another case of unfair punishment. Zuoren was given five years time for allegedly “stealing, possessing, and leaking information” when he was simply reporting on the Sichuan earthquake that killed thousands of children ("China: Environmental Activist at Risk of Torture"). Prejudice against these people working as advocates for humanity has been injuring the future for global journalism. While China is not necessarily a hazard for kidnappings nor for murders, it is most definitely an area where the liberties of its citizens are undermined; this in itself is a danger.
Syria is another instance of governmental weakness killing broadcasters and writers. It can also be seen as a representation of political stability that leads to further attacks. The more power ISIS absorbs, the more vulnerable every other country in the world becomes. This entails the journalists countries send into Syria to produce stories on the persisting war crises. “Controlling information is a natural part of ISIS’s totalitarian nature” as claimed in Meservey’s “Why ISIS is Killing Journalists”. This statement directly reflects the circumstances of Syria and why death is so noteworthy. The article further claims that ISIS fears journalists, and “independent journalism complicates ISIS’s efforts to lure in recruits” (Meservey). The media exposes the truth behind ISIS’s propaganda and lies, which gives the group all the more reason to kill reporters. Not only does ISIS loathe journalism altogether, but they are, in Meservey’s words, “hunting down journalists” and trying to stifle their freedoms. In addition to ISIS, Syria in itself is a menacing location for all media workers. Syria stands alone as having the largest epidemic of journalist kidnappings (Rohde). Most kidnapping cases seen today occur not only under the hands of ISIS, but are also instigated by Syrian locals as demands for ransom, i.e., “bargaining chips for (the) future” (Rohde). Such high stakes can be linked to the political instability of the country as it is symptomatic of war, poverty, and tyranny. Syria has aggravated the problem in unbelievable dimensions due to its persistent dangers.