And the freedom beat goes on

It’s Day Two of IFEX’s Strategy Conference and the first session delved into a heavy topic: the murder of journalists.

The session, “Stopping the Killers Before They Strike,” focused on CPJ’s fourth annual Impunity Index that listed 13 countries where journalists were killed and their murderers left to wander off.

Tragically, Iraq, the highest ranked in terms of unsolved murders (92), is in the Arab world.

According to the report called “Getting Away With Murder,” Russia and Mexico, “two of the world’s most murderous countries for the press, are heading in different directions in combating deadly anti-press violence,” but other countries in the last year weren’t so lucky, and impunity remained a major issue. It’s a must read.

Although Lebanon has, fortunately, not witnessed any more murders of its journalists since Samir Kassir and Gebran Tueni were brutally blown up in their cars in 2005, their killers have also managed to escape prosecution.

The discussion moderated by CPJ’s Joel Simon zeroed in on how journalists’ murderers should be brought to justice and how countries that fail the impunity test should be shamed.

Speakers Owais Aslam Ali, Peter Bouckaert, Farnaz Fassihi and Andrés Morales agreed that quite often reporting incidents of death threats or harassment to the police or other security authorities was an exercise in futility since such agents would not come to the journalists’ rescue, or would, in fact, be among the tormentors. Journalists in Iran, for example, fear the different layers of security, Fassihi said.

I was particularly attracted to a second session — a seminar — entitled “Keeping the Faith: Ethical Journalism in a World of Conflict and Crisis.”

Having organized several international media ethics conferences in Beirut, and making sure that media ethics are hammered into every workshop I conduct or course I teach, it’s a subject that will continue to present challenges to practitioners across all platforms.

A speaker I once hosted at a conference said: “You can’t do ethics in 250th of a second,” the presumed time it takes to shoot a picture.

Naturally, photography speeds differ, but the idea was that shooting a provocative or gory photo, or dwelling on gut-wrenching footage may make the front pages and top the newscasts, but is there always value added to the story, or is it pure voyeurism?

A common thread woven by Georges Sadaka of Lebanon and co-speaker Khady Cisse of Senegal was that journalists in developing countries are woefully underpaid and easy marks for bribery or pressure from political or business-related (often one and the same) groups.

In Lebanon, Sadaka added, journalists are also beholden to politicians in a highly sectarian environment, which adds to the lethal mix.

Moreover, journalists exercise self-censorship to avoid retribution, or to appease benefactors and bosses. “Most Lebanese media belong to politicians, so journalists become propagandists,” Sadaka said.

While moderator Aidan White urged participants to pursue ethical standards and strive for a community of informed journalists, it’s important to provide those poor oppressed reporters with alternatives.

Bribes, gifts and junkets may be anathema, but if poorly paid journalists need to put food on the table, educate their children, and pay the rent, how does one persuade them not to follow their fat cat bosses’ example?

I’m often asked that question by well-intentioned journalists who would like to abide by codes of conduct but who find themselves in untenable situations.

Media transparency comes with a hefty price tag in countries not accustomed to accountability. Much work needs to be done to instill such values in journalists and, more importantly, their superiors.

Before leaving for the day, I checked in at the “Skills Exchange: Digital Security and Privacy” Marketplace to learn more about staying secure online. To say that it’s an endless quest would be understating matters.

Journalists, bloggers and activists must constantly look over their cyber shoulders and the “Security-in-a-box” kit I got was chock-full of helpful hints on staying safe and survival in the digital age.

 

Posted on June 2, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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