As I’m watching the news of the murder and alleged disembodiment of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Turkey, I can’t fail to think about how scary it is to be a journalist in today’s world. Khashoggi’s crime: Advocating for freedom of speech in the Arab world.
I, too, have received a barrage of backlash, threats, and nonstop hacking attempts on my computer after reporting stories over the years. And I’m sure most other reporters will have similar tales.
In 2017, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released a special report detailing that the number of journalists imprisoned has reached a worldwide “historical high,” and that figure is not expected to decrease in 2018. It’s reported that half of those who are imprisoned for their work are mainly jailed in Turkey, Egypt, and China — countries where government censorship is especially high.
Imprisonment and kidnapping are not the only consequences journalists fear for exposing the truth in society. At least 82 journalists and media staff were killed in 2017 for simply doing their jobs, according to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). In January, Carlos Dominguez, a 77-year-old Mexican journalist, was attacked by three masked men at a traffic stop. He was stabbed 21 times in front of his grandchildren. Investigators stated that the attack was simply related to Dominguez being a journalist and covering sensitive topics.
Stories like these are all-too common.
The aim among the attackers is simple: To put fear into the journalists in an attempt to scare them into not reporting the truth. This could be politicians trying to sway an election, or officials attempting to keep their activities out of the news. If you can control the media, you can control the narrative—essentially, what the public think. And that’s why censorship is becoming so prevalent around the globe.
It’s not just journalists, either. In areas where media are regularly threatened, sources are just as at risk; if you speak to the media, you run the risk of being imprisoned or worse. There are even cases of people writing disapproving Facebook posts related to a government and spending years in jail for their “crime.” While we in the U.S. don’t face such drastic risks, censorship is most definitely on the rise—a worrying trend that affects all of us who rely on media for information we can trust.
I was destined to be a journalist as my first job out of college. During my first few months reporting, I was sent to Tampa for a story. An older white male approached me and started to yell xenophobic phrases and threats: “Go back to your country, you f***ing terrorist!”
I was shaken. That racist man did not want me to do my job as a journalist and enjoy the freedom that many of us take for granted in this country. But I did not let him stop me. I was given the freedom to report on many issues that ranged from fashion to hate crimes and more. But as I pitched stories to my editors, there’s no denying that the potential ramifications—especially as a Muslim woman—were constantly on my mind.
I remember thinking, ‘if I write about country X in the Middle East then I will not be allowed to enter that country in the future. And If I write about so-and-so’s king then their intelligence police will put me on that country’s no entry list’.
While these instances weren’t for a fear of jail time or anything that severe, they were basic, known threats that all media face on a daily basis. And as a journalist, we have a responsibility to continue in our pursuit of the truth, despite the various fears we may face. After all, those reading and relying on our content deserve it.
Right now, there are around 262 journalists in jail. And there are thousands upon thousands who fear for their lives each and every day, especially those reporters who cover stories in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
Regardless of where a reporter is located, hate mail, threats, hacking attempts, and more are a part of everyday life. With such risks and injustice online, I’ve long advocated for journalists to protect themselves and their sources by downloading Hotspot Shield. Being anonymous and safe online is something every reporter that covers sensitive topics must practice, and in fact Hotspot Shield offers its premium product for free to all journalists in an effort to reduce the number of victims in the media each year.
I urge journalists, reporters, and activists to be smart and vigilant online, as well as on the streets. Because what they’re doing, the stories they’re sharing, are vital to society and to humankind.