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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Journalists’ protection is vital in getting to the truth

On the 25th World Press Freedom Day, let’s honour those who put their lives on the line for justice

Shah Mari, a father of six who chronicled Afghanistan for 20 years as a photojournalist, was killed in an explosion in Kabul on Monday. Ben Sheppard / AFP
Shah Mari, a father of six who chronicled Afghanistan for 20 years as a photojournalist, was killed in an explosion in Kabul on Monday. Ben Sheppard / AFP

It wasn’t long ago that wearing a flak jacket bearing the word "press" granted a measure of protection in conflict zones. From the Balkans to Baghdad, from Sierra Leone to Sri Lanka, journalists covering warzones were respected as transmitters of truth. Their freedom to report from the frontline was a reminder of the fourth estate’s indispensability in performing a public service. Yet those guarantees are being shattered around the globe as it marks World Press Freedom Day tomorrow. Journalists are now not only being killed with impunity in the line of duty but are being actively targeted.

In the latest incident, nine journalists reporting from the site of a bomb blast in Kabul were blown up by a suicide bomber disguised as a photographer; another journalist was shot dead by gunmen in Khost Province. Among the dead was the photographer Shah Marai, who chronicled Afghanistan for 20 years and rose to become AFP's chief photographer in Kabul. The father-of-six rejected repeated pleas by his family to migrate to Europe because he believed he was serving his community and country. Marai’s courage and selflessness are also what motivated Marie Colvin, the Sunday Times journalist killed in 2012 by the Syrian regime as she covered the siege of Homs and Yaser Murtaja, targeted and killed by Israeli soldiers as he photographed protests at the Gazan border.

An increasingly hostile atmosphere also meets journalists away from conflict zones. Last year, the Maltese investigative reporter Daphne Caruana Galizia, who worked on the Panama Papers expose, was killed in a car bomb. Hundreds of journalists have been hacked to death, intimidated or thrown into jails in Pakistan and India. Turkey remains the worst of all offenders; its jails host a record number of journalists. Myanmar continues to imprison two Reuters journalists for uncovering the government's barbaric treatment of the Rohingya. Even in the US, reporters face growing antagonism from a president unwilling to have its actions scrutinised or questioned. The intimidation of reporters, however, only amplifies the importance of honest journalism in an age where truth and fake news are increasingly hard to disentangle. If journalists are not protected, the loss is not simply to their news outlets but to society as a whole.