I want to talk about the murder of journalists.
On April 18, rioting broke out in Derry, a border town in Northern Ireland. Since Brexit's announcement, tensions have been high in Northern Ireland over fears that a no-deal Brexit would result in the return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Neither side wants this, because the removal of that hard border was what helped end the Troubles during the Good Friday Agreement two decades ago.
When these riots broke out in a heavily Catholic area, Belfast investigative journalist Lyra McKee was on the scene, doing her job. She was not participating in the riots. She was witnessing them so that the world would know, and understand, the very real and very dangerous impact Brexit was having on the fragile peace in places like Derry.
Lyra McKee was shot and killed that night.
She is only the most recent example in a string of seemingly increased violence against journalists. Danger for journalists is nothing new. Another Irish journalist, Veronica Guerin, was murdered in 1996 while reporting on drug crime in Dublin.
In 2017, Maltese journalist Caruana Galizia was killed in Malta by a car bomb while leaving her home. More recently, in December 2018, The Guardian reported that 53 journalists died in 2018, 34 from retaliation killings.
One of the higher profile retaliation killings was the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who was working for The Washington Post when he was brutally murdered and dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is suspected of ordering the murder.
In the United States that summer, a gunman entered the Capital Gazette's newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland, and shot and killed five journalists and wounded two others. Months later, CNN received three explosive packages sent by a disgruntled right-wing extremist. Luckily, none of them detonated.
Other journalists across the world have complained about the rise in threats against their lives and families. Death threats aren’t anything new to the world of journalism, but they never felt like they were a common occurrence. Now, they feel almost commonplace.
World leaders adding to the anti-journalist rhetoric only exacerbates the problem. President Donald Trump has often spoken poorly of journalists and publications. He has tweeted gifs of a Trump lookalike body slamming a WWE wrestler with the CNN logo photoshopped over his head. He has constantly referred to respected publications as “fake news” and called The New York Times the “enemy of the American people.” He even has endorsed a candidate from Montana who body slammed a Guardian reporter. That candidate, Greg Gianforte, won the election and is now a sitting public official.
Even companies are complicit. Walmart was carrying t-shirts on the online store that advocated lynching journalists and only pulled them from their website after customers complained. They had been available for at least a year.
All this to say, enough is enough. As a current student journalist who would like to become a professional one, I understand that I am a signing up for a potentially dangerous job. I understand that I will not be popular. I will encounter people who dislike me and disrespect me because of my job. I may even be threatened.
But in what kind of world are all journalists seen as the enemy of the people and a target for violence and hate? Why should it be that the bringers of the truth are deserving of eradication, rather than those who are hiding and distorting the facts? More importantly, why has there been a shift in thinking about journalists' ability to tell the truth, and how can that shift be reversed?
Shouldn't we want to be informed about the wrongdoings in the world, and shouldn't we trust journalists to give us that information, so we and others can to act to correct such wrongdoings?
I also understand that not all journalists or publications are great. Some can be less reliable than others. But long-running and well respected institutions like The New York Times, The Washington Post, NBC and others do great reporting and do the public a great service often taken for granted.
Sometimes they make mistakes, and journalists sometimes practice bad reporting. But that is the price of being human. Their mistakes shouldn't be fuel to the fire of the rhetoric that is discrediting respectable journalists and calling for their harm. They shouldn’t have to die because of it. We shouldn’t have to die because of it.
As a journalist, I am willing to put my life on the line to get the truth out there. However, I shouldn’t need to. Maybe journalists are not heroes like soldiers or police officers or firefighters, but we defend and protect the public just as well. We are the defenders of truth, and as such are also the defenders of democracy.
But journalists need the help of everyday citizens to effectively do their job safely. This help can come in the form of support – by subscribing to responsible and ethical journalism, by verbally supporting reputable journalists, and by standing up against those who wish to discredit reputable journalists and wish for them harm. If those who support journalism were as loud as those who don't, journalists might be in a slightly safer environment.
As The Washington Post now likes to advertise on their papers and their website – Democracy dies in darkness. Journalists shouldn't die too.
Contact news writer Julia Raimondi at firstname.lastname@example.org.