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An Echo Press Editorial: Attacks on journalists paint a chilling picture

By the Echo Press Editorial Board

EP Echo Press Editorial
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Journalists around the globe don’t receive a lot of support from the public. Sometimes it’s warranted – when there is sloppy reporting, sensationalism or deliberate distortions of the truth, they should be held accountable.

Journalists also expect to take some heat for what they write. Not every story they do will please everyone.

But arresting journalists for simply doing their jobs? Or assaulting them? Or killing them?

Unfortunately, it happens way too often. Michael Castengera, a contributor with the Radio Television Digital News Association wrote this chilling column of the risks journalists face:

“The last year may well go down as one of the worst years ever recorded for journalists around the world," Castengera said. “And while 2021 was not as bad for journalists in America, there should be some concern for what the future holds, based on recent history. Here are some of the key facts:

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  • The number of journalists jailed for their work hit a global record in 2021.
  • More female journalists were arrested globally in 2021 than ever recorded.
  • Journalists ‘detained for their work’ globally in 2021 is the highest on record.
  • A journalist was killed nearly every week around the world last year.

“Those are just some of the facts that came out in the annual reports by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF), looking at the worldwide picture,” Castengera wrote. “In America, 2021 was not good, but it was not as bad as the rest of the world and, more critically, not nearly as bad as the previous 2020 – election – year, according to the U.S. Freedom Tracker site.
“More than 400 journalists were assaulted, and more than 140 journalists were arrested in 2020. On the surface at least, last year’s 2021 numbers would appear to be an improvement. There were ‘only’ 142 assaults on journalists and ‘only’ 59 arrests of journalists," Castengera noted.

“Many believe that President Trump’s attacks on the news media as the ‘enemy of the people’ spurred the attacks on the journalists. And while the numbers dropped from 2020 to 2021, they’re still frightening. There were as many assaults in 2021 as all three previous years (2017, 2018, 2019) combined, and as many arrests as all three of those years combined.

“That raises the frightening implication for some that such attacks may become the ‘new norm’ for reporters in the United States,” Castengera concluded.

It’s horrific to see so much hate and anger being directed at journalists and media outlets. During the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the nation’s Capitol, it reached a fever pitch. Someone scratched “murder the media” into a door. Reporters who were trying to report from the streets were threatened and surrounded. Other media members inside the Capitol were forced to shelter in secure locations for hours.

Video from that day shows a crowd outside the Capitol building advancing on a camera crew, yelling, “Get out of here,” and smashing equipment. Someone from the angry mob fashioned a noose out of a camera cord and hung it from a tree. More rioters chanted, “CNN sucks” as they stomped on cameras belonging to the Associated Press.

There were at least nine physical assaults against journalists covering the insurrection, according to U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. At least five journalists were arrested. At least four had their equipment damaged. Those numbers do not include incidents of harassment and intimidation.

Media-bashing has long been a favorite activity for some but the violence is escalating and the fallout is chilling. The United Nations addressed the topic during International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists. “Threats of violence and attacks against journalists in particular create a climate of fear for media professionals, impeding the free circulation of information, opinions and ideas for all citizens,” the U.N. said.

Journalism is under attack. It’s time for reporters – and everyone who believes in the First Amendment – to push back against the violence and hate, and to remind others of the vital role the media plays in our democracy.

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