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EDITORIAL: An end-of-year report by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which reveals that 1,668 journalists have been killed across the world in the last 20 years in pursuit of their duties, is a sobering reminder of the price of news even this far in the 21st century.

The darkest years were 2012 and 2013, with 144 and 142 journalists killed, respectively, mainly because of wars and conflicts in places like Syria and Iraq, but the average still comes to around 80 needless killings every year; when even the figure of one ought to be unacceptable.

It is unfortunate, though not at all surprising, that Pakistan is at number five (with 93 journalists killed) in the list even though no formal war was declared in the country in the time period under consideration.

This is a very severe indictment of successive administrations as well as law enforcement agencies and the judiciary because, as everybody knows, these killings were carried out by insurgent/terrorist groups and also the usual state actors which, without exception, continue to evade justice.

If anything, the recent horrific murder of journalist Arshad Sharif in Kenya goes to show that the long arms of these lawbreakers extend well beyond our borders and are able to successfully locate, harass and even murder media persons in other countries.

These were, of course, not just numbers that were struck off some lists but rather, as the RSF report put it, “behind these figures, there are the faces, personalities, talent and commitment of those who have paid for their lives for their information gathering, their search for the truth and their passion for journalism”.

The last part is especially important because in countries like Pakistan, at least, this is still a field that requires things like commitment and passion more than college or university degrees. But when so many peers have been forced into early graves for no bigger crime than hunting down the truth, that too for the benefit of others, it is only natural for eager, upcoming journalists to lose hope and take their talents elsewhere.

And the situation is made much worse when the law has neither the inclination nor seemingly the ability to deliver justice. That, in part, explains why so much journalism in suffering third world countries panders to the interest of pressure groups, etc.

The report presents a comprehensive, world-wide picture, of course, and makes it clear that not much has changed since the last two decades of the last century and countries from Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and Palestine to Mexico, Brazil, Columbia and Honduras still take the lead in terms of killing their own journalists. And, also like before, while the report has triggered strong condemnation of these killings from capitals all over the world, no country has said much about just how they plan to arrest this trend.

The only conclusion that can be safely drawn from it is that the first draft of history often comes at a very steep cost to its authors, and providing real-time news to audiences remains a very tricky and dangerous business.

One would have thought that technological advances and the rise of digital journalism and increased and improved surveillance would have made life easier, and safer, for journalists, but that is clearly not the case.

At the end of the day it is the job of governments of all countries to ensure that lives, rights and properties of all citizens, which includes journalists, are protected at all times.

If this latest, damning RSF report can get the ball rolling on reforms that would hold governments responsible for ensuring justice whenever journalists are targeted and/or killed, then it would do a great service for the entire community.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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