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Amal Clooney To Lead Special Envoy on Growing Attacks on Media

Amal Clooney, 2017 (Photo: UK Mission to the UN/Lisa Englehart)
Amal Clooney, 2017 (Photo: UK Mission to the UN/Lisa Englehart)

“More and more democratically-elected leaders no longer see the media as part of democracy’s essential underpinning, but as an adversary to which they openly display their aversion.”

Amal Clooney, international rights lawyer and the wife of Hollywood actor George Clooney, was appointed to lead a U.K. special envoy on media freedom after an alarming increase in media hostility in 2018.

U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt appointed Clooney saying that the international lawyer would be assigned to protect journalists around the world and raised concern that violence against journalists had reached an “alarming level globally.”

“There is no escaping the fact that draconian and outdated laws around the world are being used to restrict the ability of the media to report the truth,” Hunt told reporters.

2018 was one of the worst years for journalists in modern history. According to data from the U.K. Foreign Secretary, 99 journalists were killed, 348 detained and 80 held hostage by non-state organizations.

In a high profile case, Clooney represented two Reuters journalists in Myanmar who were accused of obtaining confidential government documents. Both journalists were investigating the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men in Rakhine state where the Myanmar military launched an operation in August 2017, forcing 700,000 Rohingyas to seek refuge in Bangladesh.

In a press conference, Clooney said was familiar with the way reporters are being silenced and targeted around the world and she felt honored to lead the new task force.

“Through my legal work defending journalists I have seen first-hand the ways in which reporters are being targeted and imprisoned in an effort to silence them and prevent a free media,” Clooney stated.

Press freedom still remains a global problem

According to Reporters Without Border’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index, threats to journalists are no longer limited to authoritarian countries like North Korea, whose press freedom index was recorded the world’s worst.

“More and more democratically-elected leaders no longer see the media as part of democracy’s essential underpinning, but as an adversary to which they openly display their aversion,” the index stated.

Europe experienced the biggest drop in press freedom according to the index which showed eastern countries exhibiting a range between “problematic” and “bad.” As the report states, four of 2018’s five biggest falls in the Index are those of European countries: Malta (down 18 at 65th), Czech Republic (down 11 at 34th), Serbia (down 10 at 76th) and Slovakia (down 10 at 27th).

However, Europe also has some of the best rankings for press freedom. Norway ranked as the country with the best press freedom climate in the world, followed by Sweden, Holland, Finland and Switzerland. Laws in Norway prohibit media groups from controlling more than one-third of the shares in newspapers, TV stations and radio stations.

Countries in Africa, plus China and Syria, received ratings of “very bad.” The five worst countries were ranked as North Korea, Eritrea, Turkmenistan, Syria and China.

The U.S. was ranked 45th, down two spots from 2017 when it came in at 43.

Eight Journalists Lost in Recent Years

Jamal Khashoggi

Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey in October 2018 when the Saudi Arabian author was applying for a marriage license. Turkey accused Saudi’s crown prince Mohamed bin Salman (MBS) of masterminding the murder, as Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post, was once a palace insider before becoming one of the royal’s most outspoken critics.

Despite bipartisan outcry from Congress, the White House refused to condemn Saudi Arabia. President Trump maintained his belief in MBS’ innocence while the Central Intelligence Agency and Turkish intelligence reported they believed the crown prince played a role in the attack.

The Washington Post also reported on March 31 that some of the killers received intelligence training in the U.S. The White House did not provide any comment regarding the allegation.

The United Nations (U.N.) sent a team to Turkey to investigate the Khashoggi case, yet his murder remains a mystery. Some reports said Khashoggi was mutilated, but his body was never found.

Jan Kuciak

In February 2018, Slovakian reporter Jan Kuciak and his fiancee were shot to death in Velca Maca, east of the capital Bratislava. It was believed that the killing was related to his work as a journalist for the online media site aktuality.sk. where Kuciak wrote about tax fraud cases.

His most recent work had focused on a businessman who allegedly sold apartment units to his own company to avoid taxes.

Kuciak’s killing prompted the largest demonstrations in the country in almost 29 years since the Velvet Revolution (when Slovakia separated itself from the Czech Republic). The case also forced the resignation of Slovakia’s Deputy Prime Minister.

Slovakians urged its newly-elected president Zuzana Caputova – the country’s first female leader – to protect press freedom and uphold justice for Kuciak whose murderers are awaiting their first trial.

Daphne Caruana Galizia

Galizia was a veteran journalist who uncovered corruption cases in Malta. The woman dubbed a “one-woman Wikileaks” died in October 2017 when her car exploded in the country’s capital of Valetta.

It is still unknown who masterminded Galizia’s murder even though three alleged perpetrators were accused of detonating the bomb. The journalist’s eldest son, Matthew, was certain that his mother’s murderer has links to the Maltese government.

“It’s been almost a year-and-a-half since her murder and we still have no idea who was behind it. And the police don’t know either. From where we are standing, it doesn’t look as though anyone’s making much effort to find out either,” he said to El Pais:

Viktoria Marinova

The barbaric rape and murder of Viktoria Marinova did not garner the media exposure of Jamal Khashoggi despite it happening only a few days after Khashoggi’s death. Marinova, a reporter and a host for a small private TV station, was in the middle of investigating an alleged fraud case involving European Union funds linked to high-profile politicians and entrepreneurs.

Marinova hosted the talk show program Detektor. In the program’s re-launch, the first episode, which aired on September 30, broadcast her interview with two investigative journalists, Dimitar Stoyanov from situs Bivol.bg and Attila Biro from the Romanian Rise Project.

Anak Agung Prabangsa

Indonesian journalist Anak Agung Prabangsa from was picked up by a mysterious man in Bali in 2009, later his body was found dumped at sea. Many believe that his murder was linked to his coverage for the daily news outlet Radar Bali on corruption in an education agency.

The police announced nine suspects and named Nyoman Susrama as the mastermind of the murder. Susrama faced a life sentence but to much public outrage, the Indonesian government commuted Susrama’s life sentence to 20 years in imprisonment. The decision enraged Indonesians and the country’s press organizations.

The outrage prompted Indonesian president Joko Widodo to reverse the decision to commute Susram’s sentence.

Carlos Dominguez

Veteran Mexican columnist Carlos Dominguez was killed when two men approached his vehicle and stabbed him 21 times in early 2018 while driving with his family in the state of Tamaulipas. Dominguez was a frequent critic of the local mayor and had accused him of corruption in recent columns.

In the six months leading up to the July 1, 2018 election six journalists and vloggers were killed. Mexico is one of the deadliest countries for journalists along with Syria, Afghanistan, and North Korea. Since the early 2000s, more than 100 journalists have been killed in Mexico and 90 percent of the cases have not been solved.

Sandeep Sharma

Indian journalist Sandeep Sharma was hit and killed by a truck on April 2018. He was known for his reports on illegal sand mining in India’s Madhya Pradesh. Before his death, he asked for protection from the local police as he felt that he was in danger.

Christian Poveda

In September 2009, a French journalist named Christian Poveda was killed a week before he released his documentary titled “La Vida Loca” on criminal gangs in El Salvador.

Poveda, who covered El Salvador’s civil war from 1980 to 1992, was shot to death near his motorcycle in San Salvador. Two years after the murder, the country’s court charged ten gang members and a former police officer with the assassination.

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