At Amnesty International this has been followed with interest. Our work, like all NGOs, involves developing a good working relationship with journalists who use our research for stories that, often enough, involve criticism of governments and others in authority. Last year, in his opening remarks concerning the inquiry, Lord Justice Leveson, described the context of the inquiry as "supporting the integrity, freedom and independence of the press, while ensuring the highest ethical and professional standards".
I’ll leave it to others to determine the integrity and professionalism of British journalists (though I’m constantly impressed by the hard work of reporters who skilfully weave our findings into readable stories under great time pressure). But it’s important that we don’t lose sight of the other aspect in Leveson’s formulation - freedom and independence. Proprietorial influence is a big concern, but so too is political leverage, too-cosy relationships between power centres and news rooms.It’s important that we don’t lose sight of the other aspect in Leveson’s formulation - freedom and independenceTim Hancock
More worrying still is where journalists fear the law if they report sensitive stories, or in more extreme circumstances, situations in which they fear for their own lives. Mortal risks are obviously not typical of journalism in the UK and a tragic case like the Sunday World journalist Martin O’Hagan’s murder a decade ago is thankfully incredibly rare. But British-born journalists still risk their lives to bring back the news - witness Tim Hetherington’s death in Libya last year.
According to the Committee To Protect Journalists, last year 46 reporters around the world were killed whilst doing their work, including Hetherington in Misrata. Nearly a third of these (14) took place in the context of “Arab Spring” uprisings, 2011’s biggest story. Already this year five more journalists have been killed because of their work, with another four killed in unclear circumstances. Three of these deaths occurred in Syria which is shaping up to be particularly dangerous, even though the government there has mostly denied access to the world’s journalists.
The CPJ’s data across the last 20 years show that journalism is becoming more not less dangerous, with mortality rates substantially higher in the 2000s than they were in the mid-1990s (Iraq has had a lot to do with this). War correspondents and other media workers in combat zones are, unsurprisingly, most at risk. But non-conflict situations are also extremely dangerous, with places like Pakistan, Russia and the Philippines proving deadly in recent years. In Gambia, for instance, a journalist from the Daily Observer newspaper, Ebrima B Manneh, has been missing for five and half years after being arrested by plain-clothed police officers at his workplace. He has never been charged or tried and his whereabouts have never been revealed (Amnesty has a campaign on his behalf - see here).The CPJ’s data across the last 20 years show that journalism is becoming more not less dangerousTim Hancock
Elsewhere Azerbaijan has recently proven hostile to independent reporting, with a spate of cases involving the imprisonment of journalists on trumped-up charges. And just this month two journalists have been killed in Brazil after investigating corruption.
Each year Amnesty gives out awards for particularly good examples of journalism, some of which have been accomplished with real risks for the reporter; all have involved reporting on important and sometimes neglected human rights issues. What we see when judging these awards - in television news reports, documentaries, print articles, online pieces and numerous other categories - is the flip-side to the disreputable side of journalism being exposed by Leveson. There is a lot more to journalism in this country than tittle tattle, overheated opinion and paparazzi celeb shots.
- The deadline for entries to the 2012 Amnesty International UK media awards is 1 March. More information here.