Irish Examiner view: Killing of journalists puts democracy under fire

Four female journalists were killed in the last week in Palestine’s West Bank, Chile, and Mexico — where they worked and reported 
Irish Examiner view: Killing of journalists puts democracy under fire

Shireen Abu Akleh, a journalist for Al Jazeera network, was shot and killed while covering an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank town of Jenin early Wednesday, May 11. Picture: Al Jazeera Media Network via AP

A desire to tell the truth and a belief that their work was necessary to bring that truth to the widest possible audience last week cost four journalists their lives.

This spasm of butchery is only a tiny detail in the growing gloom for media freedom in an increasingly authoritarian world. 

Fear among journalists who seek truth primarily and treat their safety with disdain can only cause further harm.

That harm lies in self-censorship, created when journalists have to stop doing their jobs because it is too dangerous for them to keep shining a light on the horrors around them.

The names of Shireen Abu Akleh, Francisca Sandoval, Yesenia Mollinedo, and Sheila Johana García Olivera — all female journalists — might not resonate much further than where they worked and reported on Palestine’s West Bank, Chile, and Mexico respectively, but they should because their deaths are a microcosm of a growing international problem.

From Russia to India, from the Philippines to the Middle East, and even democracies such as Hungary and Brazil, journalists are being targeted not just by criminal gangs (as was the case here in Ireland with the late Veronica Guerin) but also by governments who consider them a major irritant.

Most worrying is that journalists are being slain not only by authoritarian governments but after concerted and vicious online campaigns against them. 

International media observers have noted a recent trend whereby online attacks are the harbinger of physical — and often fatal — attacks.

Free speech and freedom of expression are dual standards of the democratic ideal, but journalists are no longer being caught in the crossfire — they are being deliberately killed because they fight for egalitarianism and truth in the face of relentless oppression to the idea that democracy can work.

The influential perpetrators of these increasingly numerous murders must be held accountable.

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