Influence comes from courage and bravery, among other defining characteristics. For their annual Person of the Year issue, TIME magazine is recognizing four journalists and one news organization whose work has either landed them in prison or cost them their lives: Jamal Khashoggi, Maria Ressa, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and the Capital Gazette of Annapolis, Maryland, USA. These four individuals and the lone newspaper represent something bigger than themselves: the drive that powers journalists to seek the truth in spite of adversity.
In the case of Khashoggi, reporting on corruption in the Saudi Arabian government and Royal Family was allegedly one of the factors in his murder. The story itself has not gone away now that he is dead. If anything, Saudi Arabia now has the entire world watching their every move, with many news organizations looking to finish what Khashoggi started. With everyone involved spouting out different alibis, it will be a long time until concrete evidence appears. The same can be said for Ressa, along with Lone and Oo.
Lone and Oo were charged with breaching the Official Secrets Act, which criminalizes sharing information about the government. Basically, it gives the government permission to say that any evidence is an official secret, making it easier to hide corruption. The pair was investigating reports of military violence on Rohingya Muslims fleeing Rakhine state at the time of their arrest. December 10, 2018 marked one out of a seven-year sentence.
Similar circumstances are found in the indictment of Maria Ressa. CEO of Rappler, a media organization, Ressa made accusations directed towards the government of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, saying that they were using “brute force” and “intimidation tactics” against its outspoken critics. Duterte is known for his controversial campaigns. Upon becoming president, Duterte declared a “war on drugs,” encouraging police to use violent tactics against drug users and dealers alike. Approximately 5,000 lives have been lost in the two years Duterte has been in power. Ressa was charged with tax evasion, though no evidence has come forward validating the claims. If Ressa is found guilty, she could face up to ten years in jail.
Censoring the press and regurgitating age-old laws to enforce a weak point go hand in hand, especially when concerning topics such as gun control.
Lack of gun control was the cause of death for five journalists at the Capitol Gazette, located in Maryland. Allegedly, the cause for the incident was the newspaper publishing an article about the shooter being put on probation. This year, the United States joined the ranks of countries where it is unsafe to be a journalist. Despite significant progress, weapon regulation has a long was to go before every group is benefitted equally.
Journalists and media creators alike deserve to go to work without being in fear for their lives. They are designed to challenge thinking and push comfort zones. If media and journalism catered to what people wanted to hear, the world would never learn from past mistakes and grow from them. As the year has taught us, injuring or murdering journalists doesn’t make something disappear. If anything, it does the exact opposite. Actions like publicly honouring journalists are a small step towards achieving a safe publishing environment for all.