Global Investigative Journalism Network, in Wikimedia Commons
Journalism is viewed by some as a glamorous profession. Watch how Hollywood movies tend to depict scribes as muckrakers on a hero’s journey to expose the truth, insidiously obscured by the corrupt rich and powerful. In real life, journalists—particularly those who have reached an elevated status—often rub shoulders with the establishment figures they write about. Yet there are journalists who remain true to their calling, invariably serving as their society’s public intellectuals—an oft-ignored conscience. Journalism can be good for the heart as well as the ego.
But take a peek at what the media has more recently reported, whether on dead wood or on pixels, and a much more somber view of the profession emerges. Far away from the glamor is the downside of being a true and honest reporter. Records abound of harassment, intimidation, and attacks on journalists, which in some ways, adds to the romanticism of journalism. Over the past few years, more and more journalists have died in holding the powers that be to account with little recourse to justice. As populist firebrands rise to power in both developing and developed countries, the impunity simply magnifies.
As we commemorate November 2 as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, our first Spotlight article—by WAN-IFRA press freedom director Andrew Heslop—presents a brief update of this increasingly global problem. In his piece, Mr. Heslop underlines a worsening climate for journalists, even in countries presumed to have rigorous safeguards for journalists, such as the United States and Malta. These two countries, Mr. Heslop charges, now join Saudi Arabia in failing to rectify a bloody campaign of lies and corruption.
Unfortunately, the situation has not improved much for journalists in countries that initially aroused the November 2 commemoration. In Southeast Asia, Myanmar journalists languish in prison merely for doing their work, while the Cambodian government cracks down on its independent media. The situation is no less severe in allegedly more democratic countries of the region. Around a dozen cases of murdered journalists have gone unresolved for decades in Indonesia. With Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s open hostility to the free press, we devote the second article to a timely and cautionary reflection by Philippine Daily Inquirer editor John Nery on the state of press freedom in his country.