The Dangerous Six: Dangerous Topics for Journalists

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A number of topics pose particular risks for journalists, who can face threats, imprisonment, and even brutal violence for attempting to cover them. The dangers of reporting on national security and terrorism are well documented, but the following six topics also stand out.

  • Organized crime: From Central America to South Asia, journalists take their lives in their hands when they investigate organized crime, especially in areas with weak rule of law. In a shocking case in Mexico, the body of José Moisés Sánchez Cerezo, a journalist known for denouncing organized crime and the failure of local authorities to address it, was found dismembered and decapitated in Veracruz State in January 2015.
  • Corruption: Reporting on corruption in business or government places journalists at risk for harassment and violence in virtually every region of the world. Brazilian radio host Gleydson Carvalho, known for his commentary about corrupt local officials, was shot dead while on air in August 2015. Journalists covering high-level corruption in some countries, including Angola and Azerbaijan, faced harsh legal repercussions, including imprisonment on spurious charges.
  • Environment and land development: Investigating stories related to the environment, particularly when land acquisitions or extractive industries are involved, poses great danger to reporters. In India, two journalists who covered illegal mining and land grabs were killed in June 2015: Sandeep Kothari, whose body was found burned and heavily bruised after he was abducted by unknown assailants, and Jagendra Singh, who died from burns allegedly inflicted by local police. In many other countries, including Cambodia and the Philippines, environmental journalists are routinely subjected to harassment and threats in the field.
  • Religion: Coverage of sensitive religious topics can lead to retaliation by authorities or extremist groups. In January 2015, Saudi authorities began carrying out a sentence of 1,000 lashes against Raif Badawi, a blogger and activist charged with insulting Islam—an offense that is criminalized in many countries. In Bangladesh, several bloggers who wrote on religious issues and criticized fundamentalists were hacked to death in a series of attacks by militants, some of whom had ties to local terrorist groups.
  • Disputed sovereignty: When questions of autonomy and self-determination are in play, entire parts of the world can become off-limits for journalism. After a German newspaper quoted Moroccan journalist Ali Anouzla referring to Western Sahara as “occupied” in November 2015, Moroccan officials charged the journalist with “undermining national territorial integrity,” an offense for which he can be imprisoned for up to five years. Russian authorities are similarly quick to punish critical coverage of Crimea, while in China, genuine autonomy for Tibet and the rights of ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang remain forbidden topics.
  • Lèse-majesté and beyond: Laws against insulting the state or top officials exist in several countries, and some leaders do not hesitate to use them against critical voices. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, for example, have lengthy records of pursuing insult charges against journalists, bloggers, and social-media users. In 2015, Turkish authorities went so far as to prosecute a doctor who, in an image shared online, compared the president to the character Gollum from the film series The Lord of the Rings. In a similarly absurd case in Thailand, a man was arrested on lèse-majesté charges for posting a humorous comment about the king’s dog online.

The above information was posted on the Freedom House website.

HRNJ-UG Admin

Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) is a network of human rights journalists in Uganda working towards enhancing the promotion, protection and respect of human rights through defending and building the capacities of journalists, to effectively exercise their constitutional rights and fundamental freedoms for collective campaigning through the media.

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