In 1993, the UN declared May 3 as World Press Freedom Day, an annual date to evaluate the state of media in each country – and to honour journalists who lost their lives in the line of duty. "On World Press Freedom Day 2018, I call on governments to strengthen press freedom, and to protect journalists. Promoting a free press is standing up for our right to truth." — António Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General.
A May report card indicated that in the previous 16 months, more than 100 journalists and media staff were murdered or killed around the world. Many died in war zones such as Afghanistan or Syria. Many others, such as in Russia, did not. The number of journalists arrested in that same period number in the hundreds, with Turkey, China and Egypt among the worst offenders.
Following Thursday’s carnage in an Annapolis, Md. newspaper, the message by the UN’s secretary general has added relevance in newsrooms across the U.S. and Canada. Add five more journalists and media staff to the list of dead after a man went on a shooting rampage at the Capital Gazette.
A Maryland man faces five counts of first degree murder after he shot his way into the newsroom where he "looked for his victims." He gunned down the editorial page editor, an assistant editor, a features writer, a reporter and a sales assistant. The suspect has a long history of harassing journalists after the Gazette reported on his criminal harassment conviction. The man filed a defamation lawsuit against the newspaper, but it was dismissed because a judge ruled the man hadn't shown "anything that was published about you is, in fact, false."
We often hear about police, firefighters, emergency personnel and first responders killed in the line of duty - as reported by journalists. But in North America, we rarely hear about reporters or other media staff being gunned down. Newsrooms today must wonder if they are vulnerable. We hope there are no copycat killers; and that this incident won’t spawn more attacks.
Journalists cover shootings at schools, malls, theatres, casinos and nightclubs; and now they are targets for reporting the news. The danger level has clearly risen. The media is under attack in America, subjected to daily ridicule by President Donald Trump and his allegations of fake news – which is any reporting he doesn’t like. As one Gazette staffer tweeted after the shooting, "I'm going to need more than 'thoughts and prayers"' offered by the White House.
Friday, the Opinion page of the Gazette was mostly empty, except for a brief message: "Today, we are speechless. This page is intentionally left blank today to commemorate victims of Thursday's shootings at our office." It listed the five victims. "Tomorrow this page will return to its steady purpose of offering our readers informed opinion about the world around them, that they might be better citizens."
Journalists everywhere are in solidarity with the Gazette and its staff; especially with the defiant tweet posted Thursday: "Yes, we're putting out a damn paper tomorrow."