ALMOST 50 journalists were murdered because of their work last year.
Eight died in France at the hands of religious zealots in the Paris Charlie Hebdo massacre. Six were murdered in Brazil, five in each of three countries — South Sudan, Bangladesh, and Iraq. These are just the official death figures and it’s safe to assume that more have been murdered and many, many more have been dissuaded from important work by threats of violence from those they would expose.
A society where a journalist can be murdered or threatened to prevent them highlighting anti-social wrongdoing is in the grip of anarchy and the kind of criminal terrorism that defines failed states, states where the rule of law is absent.
It is a society where criminals — or terrorists — believe they can act with impunity, a society where a gangland boss or a Kremlin dictator imagines himself, and very often is, judge, jury, and executioner. It is a state where the ground rules that shape and protect modern, liberal democracies are cast aside with disdain. They are countries where that priceless cornerstone of democracy — free speech — is denied and those who would exercise it for the good of all are trampled into the ground. All too often the citizens of those broken countries — Heart of Darkness states like Libya, Syria or Russia — usually pay an extraordinarily high price.
The gangland scum who threatened reporters at Independent News and Media — it was suggested by gardaí yesterday that two of them leave their homes — must imagine that they can add Ireland to that list of countries where fear and anarchy rule. They must imagine this society’s principles of liberty and the fundamental right — obligation really — to challenge evil can be treated with contempt. They must be shown they are wrong and that their predations will not be tolerated.
They should remember too that a far greater threat than anything they might muster even in their wildest, Scarface fantasies — the Provos’ 30-year campaign of murder — unified and strengthened this island rather than weakened it. They should remember too that the criminals who almost 20 years ago murdered Independent journalist Veronica Guerin spent the majority of the intervening years behind bars and had to flee this country when they were finally released.
They should remember too that rather than dismantling the non-jury Special Criminal Court, as Gerry Adams and Sinn Féin would have us do, it is being extended to strengthen the State’s response to crime and terror.
The threats are a reminder too that despite operating with greatly reduced resources, newspapers — motivated by a high sense of public duty — remain a positive, relevant force in a world where cynicism and frivolity conspire to eviscerate serious, worthwhile journalism. Apart from tightened security arrangements the only thing these threats will achieve is a renewed determination to expose those who kill at will and utterly corrupt the communities they prey on. Nevertheless, these intolerable threats must be seen as a brazen challenge to our society. Those who made them must feel the full weight of our justice system and the odium of anyone who cares for this society. Time to take the gloves off.
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