Recently, a question by a Tunisian journalist and a good friend left me confused. He asked me what could be done to support journalists and other media professionals in Lebanon given the current lack of security in the country and the recent attacks against them.
The answer, I am afraid, is not as evident as it first seems. The problem is not exclusive to Lebanese journalists; their situation resembles that of journalists in Iraq, the Occupied Territories, and elsewhere. How can members of the media working in Iraq protect themselves when dozens have died so far and more are likely to do so as the insurgency continues?
How are journalists in Libya, Egypt, and Syria to feel safe about their future when, in each of these countries, killing, imprisonment, and disappearance do not conjure a reaction?
How can journalists around the Arab world guarantee their safety and ensure they will not be targeted if they express their views, in writing or otherwise, but do not concur with politicians, security officers, or religious figures, in their countries or elsewhere in the region?
News circulating about Lebanese journalists taking extra precautions is a ploy aimed at convincing the public that simple awareness to their surroundings and extra attention will save journalists from being targeted. In fact, everyone is well aware that when the intention to harm a journalist exists, it is not difficult to realize it, in a county with complex security bodies, which are not hampered by any ethical or humanitarian considerations.
A number of countries in the Middle East scored very low on an index of press freedom for 2004, according to an annual report published in Paris by the watchdog Reporters Without Borders. It is no secret that Iraq is amongst the most dangerous environments for journalists today. The Iraqi war has also emboldened a number of Arab regimes, where the public is opposed to the war, to tightening their grip on the press.
Libya, Syria, and Tunisia lack an independent media and journalists are monitored and censored on a daily basis. In 2004, the media suffered in Algeria as journalists were persecuted in the run up to the presidential elections. Journalists in Morocco were detained or expelled while working conditions for Palestinian journalists deteriorated further in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip not to mention the threat from violence by the Israeli army.
To return to my Tunisian colleague”s question, moral support is of course needed. More importantly, we ought to uncover the truths which we hesitated to do for so long. This is the only shield that will protect journalists and members of the public who live in a region in crisis. Those who murder fear the truth.
The truth will set us free goes the saying, wisely.