On 6 October, the body of Bulgarian journalist Victoria Marinova was found in a park after she had been raped and brutally murdered. While there is no substantial evidence to establish motive for the killing, this event just so happens to coincide with her investigation of reports of corruption and the misuse of EU funds. Marinova is far from the first journalist to be murdered and unfortunately she is certainly not going to be the last. With yet another journalist murdered whilst trying to simply do their job the question must be asked: what are the trends in violence against journalists and why do these attacks occur?
The reasons for these attacks vary from country to country. In war torn countries, for example, a crew armed with cameras and wearing Kevlar can look very similar to enemy combatants from a distance. Other times the work of journalists simply places them in situations where they are more at risk, running the possibility of being injured or murdered with their attacker being completely oblivious to their profession. But the most obvious reason for these attacks is also the most common; silencing the voice of those who would report what some would rather remained hidden.
According to Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 1,322 journalists have been killed in situations where motive was confirmed.
We can see this kind of brutal censorship at play in Ireland too. The murder of Veronica Guerin in 1996 provides a chilling reminder that we are not immune to this either. Guerin was murdered whilst investigating a massive Irish cannabis-trafficking ring led by John Gilligan. Both Guerin and her son had their safety threatened should Guerin continue her investigation. This, of course, culminated with her assassination on the M7 by armed men riding alongside her car on a motorbike.
Another widely reported set of instances of violence against journalists are the ISIS beheadings in 2014. But with that having been four years ago and Guerin’s murder over a decade ago, are modern day journalists still at risk?
In spite of the high profile murders of numerous journalists since these initial statements, Trump has not at all toned back on his dehumanisation media personnel.
According to Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 1,322 journalists have been killed in situations where motive was confirmed. Of these, 848 were purposefully murdered for their profession. According to these same statistics, 43 journalists have been killed this year alone so far. Despite this seemingly high amount of journalists murdered, deaths are on a downward trend. If fewer than three journalists are killed before the end of this year, this trend will continue. For comparison, 73 journalists were killed in 2015, close to twice as many journalists as this year. With this trend of violence against journalists decreasing, is it safe to say that we are on the verge of some of the safest times ever for those in the journalistic profession?
Despite the positive downward trend in violence against journalists, rhetoric against them is on the rise. With US President Donald Trump, objectively one of the most influential people in the world, openly verbally degrading and attacking journalists for their work, there is a real risk of violence against journalists rising once more.
Trump has been critical of the media since he was first running for President. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this, the work of journalists can have a major impact on how the public form their views of the world and should be held to a high standard. However, the reasons Trump has for riling up crowds of supporters against journalists doesn’t appear to come from a place of concern for journalistic integrity. Instead, Trump merely advocates for punitive measures to be taken against journalists that may report on him in a negative light, or those responsible for what he deems ‘fake news’, without ever seeing the need to explain what is fake about such reports. During one of his rallies in Texas, he threatened to open up libel laws to allow him to financially attack any journalists or publications with dissenting opinion. His full statement was as follows:
“One of the things I’m going to do if I win, and I hope we do and we’re certainly leading. I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money. We’re going to open up those libel laws. So when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.” Trump has yet to deliver on his promise to open up these libel laws.
In spite of the high profile murders of numerous journalists since these initial statements, Trump has not at all toned back on his dehumanisation of media personnel. At one of his rallies in July of this very same year, Trump gestured to the media covering the event and referred to them as “fake news” and “bad people”. One has to wonder if he would say the same things about James Foley, the journalist beheaded by the terrorist organisation ISIS, the atrocities of which Trump has endlessly exploited as a means of enraging his supporters into a fervour.
As of right now, we have the potential to usher in some of the safest times for journalists to work in over a decade, but if verbal attacks portraying them as inhuman or ‘the other’ continue, their safety as a whole may be in jeopardy.