The World Press Freedom Day was marked by speeches and reports which maintain the status quo and, on substance, generally ignore the causes of the real dangers faced by journalists. Journalists have been arrested, imprisoned, attacked and assassinated. They have become a constant, albeit undeclared, target in battles, wars and political conflicts. Despite the blackout imposed on this harsh reality, and the vague language used as a cover for killing and persecution, small countries are usually pinpointed when mentioning the persecution of journalism, while big countries, particularly militarily dominant ones, are not mentioned.
But one can conclude that the war on Iraq and the situation in Palestine have pushed up the indicator of deliberate targeting of journalists in an unprecedented way. China Today published a report which said that “In a 14 month period, during occupation, more reporters were killed in Iraq than during the entire Vietnam War and most of them are independents”. On April 8, 2003, American intelligence services killed Al-Jazeera journalist Tariq Ayoub who had just arrived in Iraq from Jordan. On the same day, American troops shelled the Palestine Hotel which was accommodating over a hundred journalists. It was known to all that the hotel was a hub for foreign journalists and reporters. In that incident, Jose Cuso, the cameraman for the Spanish television and Tautus Prodzuk, a veteran Reuters cameraman, were killed. It was very clear that tens of reporters and cameramen were killed in Iraq in an unprecedented escalation against war correspondents and photographers who refused to be false witnesses to the American army and to publish only its stories and the photographs and footage given to them by commanders of American military units.
In Pakistan, a large number of journalists are being killed, according to Owais Aslam Ali, Secretary-General of the Pakistan Press Foundation in a speech he delivered at the “Immunity Summit: Solidarity against the Killing of Journalists”. Speakers at the summit said that more than 88 journalists have been killed during the last ten years in Iraq.
In occupied Palestine, Israel continues to assassinate tens of Arab and foreign journalists, particularly those who went there to document Israeli crimes against the people and children of Palestine. Probably the most famous among them was British journalist James Miller, who was making a documentary about Israel’s crimes against children.
Looking into the names and works of the journalists killed by the Americans and Israelis in Iraq and Palestine, it will be found that all of them were seeking the truth and were brave and honest in their endeavors to pass that truth to readers and viewers all over the world. The UNESCO report published on March 10, 2010, under the title “UNESCO raises flag on rising number of murdered journalists” confirms this fact. It says that “At least 80 per cent of the 125 murders in 2008-2009 were due to attacks specifically targeting the victims by those who do not wish journalists to investigate and reveal information of public interest”. The report adds: “Needless to say this represents a severe threat to freedom of expression and to our ability to seek the truth”.
There is no doubt that this serious threat to the lives of journalists has struck a blow to investigative journalism which is going through an unprecedented crisis. Foreign correspondents recall how they used to drive their cars from Jerusalem to different villages and towns in the West Bank talking to Palestinians and reporting their suffering to the whole world.
That was in the 1980s, while today reporters are banned from the scenes of events. Even international supporters of Palestinian rights, who go there to demonstrate against the racial segregation wall and other crimes are routinely beaten up, humiliated, arrested and sometimes killed by Israeli troops and security officers. That was the fate of the young American woman Rachel Corrie who was deliberately run over by an Israeli bulldozer.
Despite all this, the UN Secretary General avoided in his speech about targeting journalists to mention this deliberate killing of journalists by American and Israeli troops in Iraq and Palestine. He only talked about journalists who uncovered cases of violations of the law or corruption cases, which is important in itself, provided that he does not ignore the wider and more dangerous case of having security and intelligence forces of governments like the United States and Israel targeting journalists in Iraq, Palestine, Pakistan and Afghanistan. This is of course intended to discourage reporters from going there and avoid the scandals when the public know of the crimes committed against innocent people in these countries. There have been numerous massacres in Afghanistan. In the news, we hear about killing mujahedeen, only to discover later that the victims were women and children.
In an age of neo-colonialism where objectives are achieved by claiming to be spreading democracy, freedom and human rights, while the reality is that natural resources are ransacked and the native populations oppressed and displaced, controlling the media machine has become an instrument in strengthening the hegemony of the colonizers and covering up their crimes and greed.
Had there been real immunity for journalists and reporters, the world would not have taken years to discover that the occupation of Iraq was built on a huge lie; and that the real objective of this occupation was to rob Iraq of its oil, wealth, civilization and history and eliminate its important role in its Arab world. The world would have discovered the brutality and destruction used and the enormity of human suffering inflicted on an innocent population in order to achieve that objective.
Had there been real freedom of movement for journalists in occupied Palestine, settlers would not have been able to kill and terrorize the native population on a daily basis without their crimes being exposed to the world.
It seems that an effective mechanism for occupiers to cover their crimes and the suffering they cause to their victims is to kill the free voices who refuse to be ‘embedded’ with their troops. Those journalists were true to their vocation and their conscience; and that is why they paid with their blood and life the price of their integrity.
On the World Press Freedom Day, the least international organizations, which claim concern for human rights and freedom of expression, could have done was highlight the seriousness of these crimes and name those who stand behind them, whoever they are, instead of taking part in muzzling the truth.