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Editorial: Shining the light in dark places

At the end of each year, a look back at notable happenings are published by media outlets, including today’s Local Review 2015 that was compiled by Chronicle staff.

The reports from media outlets around the globe range from celebratory to criminal. What drew our attention this week was the release of grim statistics that brought home the danger of being a watchdog in the dark places of the world, and sometimes those more civilized.

In 2015, a total of 110 journalists were killed while on the job. Sixty-seven died in the line of duty, with 21 fatalities in war-torn Iraq and Syria.

Another 199 journalists were imprisoned for their work, a quarter by China, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

The Communist Party-run country under President Zi Jinping put 49 journalists behind bars, the highest number for China since CPJ began its annual survey in 1990.

Egypt was second on the list with 23 journalists in prison, up from a dozen a year ago and zero in 2012.

The growing threat of terrorism also brought death to reporters covering news in supposedly peaceful countries.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a Paris-based organization, listed eight deaths during the Jan. 7, 2015, massacre at the magazine office of Charlie Hebdo in Paris by two jihadists from al-Qaeda.

The attacks followed publication of a cartoon of Muhammad, whose depiction is forbidden in some interpretations of Islam. A further 43 journalists died in countries around the world in circumstances that were unclear and 27 non-professional “citizen-journalists” and seven other media were also killed, RSF said.

The organization said the high toll in 2015 was “largely attributable to deliberate violence against journalists.” Citing a failure of initiatives to protect media personnel from jihadists and other hostiles, RSF has called upon the United Nations to take action.

The trend pointed out by RSF is troubling given that two-thirds of journalists killed in 2014 were in war zones, the exact opposite of 2015.

“Non-state groups perpetuate targeted atrocities while too many governments do not comply with their obligations under international law,” RSF Secretary General Christophe Deloire said.

The 67 deaths brings to 787 the total number of journalists who have been knowingly targeted or killed in the course of their work since 2005. In 2014, there were 66 such fatalities.

CPJ said 40 percent of the 67 journalists killed for reports aired in 2015 were at the hands of Islamic militants.

The deaths of at least 26 other reporters are being investigated by CPJ to determine if they were also killed because of stories they had aired.

India has emerged as the deadliest Asian country for journalists, with nine murdered since the start of 2015. Some of these deaths followed reports on organized crime and its links with politicians.

In Bangladesh, four secularist bloggers were killed in acts claimed by local jihadists.

The new CPJ report calls the east African country of Eritrea “the world’s worst abuse of due process” with 17 journalists detained but never publicly charged with a crime.

Turkey has emerged as another country on the CPJ watch list, with the number of jailed journalists doubling over the past year to 14.

The report says other countries with several journalists behind bars in 2015 include Azerbaijan with eight, Saudi Arabia and Syria with seven each, Vietnam with six, and Bahrain, Bangladesh and Myanmar with five apiece.

CPJ said its report does not include journalists held by extremist groups, such as the Islamic State. The organization estimates that at least 40 journalists are missing in the Middle East and North Africa, with many thought to be held by militants.

Charlie Hebdo’s journalists and employees have been living under close protection ever since the shooting that left 11 dead and 11 injured, according to RSF.

Reporters play a vital role in revealing the secret agendas of tyrannical governments and exposing atrocities committed against citizens.

The men and women who go into dangerous places are the unsung heroes of society.

By focusing the public eye on the horrors and traumas being inflicted on the innocent, journalists affect change.

Kings are toppled and despots brought to justice when citizens are informed about corruption and choose to take action.

The stories of the desperate struggle for an oppressed people to be free, as seen in Syria’s civil war, keep those of us in the “First World” from becoming too complacent.

Locally, Chronicle reporters work in the safety and security of a town where the people are well protected by three different law enforcement agencies.

Today, we take time to honor journalists who have chosen to go into harm’s way around the globe to keep us all better informed. We cannot match their sacrifices, we just vow to carry their torch and tell the stories of our own community and fulfill our watchdog role.

— The Chronicle staff


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