Struggle for Free Expression Comes with Deadly Price Tag

Monday, December 17, 2007
Although Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) celebrated small press freedom victories in Canada in 2007, on the world stage there was little to cheer about. So far this year, a horrifying 102 journalists have written their last word and broadcast their last report. They were killed, most of them targeted deliberately, in attempts to stop the media from doing its job. The only glimmer of good news in 2007: the media did not stop doing its job. A painful illustration of this was a defining image of 2007 - the shot of Japanese journalist Kenji Nagai as he lay dying on a street in Rangoon after being shot at point-blank range. His right hand holds his video camera aloft as if to protect it as he fell. According to his family, Nagai said "it was his job to go to places nobody else wanted to." CJFE has compiled its annual list of journalists killed around the world. We gathered reports and alerts from the 81 members of the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (www.ifex.org) - a global network with an information hub which is managed by CJFE and based in Toronto. Once again, Iraq was the world's deadliest country for journalists. At least 46 journalists were killed, many of them, like CJFE's 2007 International Press Freedom Award winner Sahar Al-Haideri, targeted in cold blood, not simply victims of crossfire. And the death toll continues to rise. One IFEX member, New York-based CPJ, reports about 125 journalists killed in Iraq; RSF puts the number at over 200. All agree that it is almost always Iraqis who are being killed. But, the profession is becoming deadlier even for journalists not based in war zones. The next three most deadly countries for media were Somalia with eight journalists killed, and Sri Lanka and Pakistan, both with six. All three of these countries share a common trait - unstable governments that pursue anti-free expression agendas in order to quash dissent. In such countries, journalists are portrayed as 'trouble-makers' who act against national interests. In one horrific case in Pakistan, three members of a family have been killed in three separate attacks. Hayat Ullah Khan's bullet-riddled body was found in June 2006. His 11 year-old brother was killed several months later. And on November 17, 2007, Khan's wife Mehr-un-Nisa was killed by a bomb planted near her home. The killings are believed to be an attempt to stop the family who have been trying to expose Khan's killers. Here in Canada, there was some good news. In June, investigative journalist Derek Finkle was victorious in his quest to quash the subpoena ordering him to hand over his research materials from his book about a murder trial. CJFE hopes that this decision sends a clear message that journalists cannot be enlisted as agents of the police. More recently, in October, we welcomed the definitive ruling from the Ontario Court of Appeal. The panel declared that carrying out responsible public-interest journalism should be a defence against libel and slander suits for the news media. It is likely that before the end of the year, the long list of journalists killed just for doing their work will have another name or two added to it. The landscape for journalists appears increasingly bleak and inhospitable. CJFE calls on all Canadians to work to protect the rights of journalists, particularly the right of journalists to work in safety. In Canada we recognise that "The liberty to criticize and express dissentient views has long been thought to be a safeguard against state tyranny and corruption." As Canadians we must not be complacent about press freedom. We must fight harder than ever to ensure these rights are recognised and protected by every nation. CJFE is an association of more than 300 journalists, editors, publishers, producers, students and others who work to promote and defend free expression and press freedom in Canada and around the world.

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