Turning inner space into outer space

August 29, 2015

Despite threat of death and imprisonment, journalists want their freedom

Mohammed Fahmy, left, talks to human rights lawyer Amal Clooney in Cairo.

It’s been a bad week for journalists — two shot dead and two sentenced to prison for three years.

On the surface, it may not seem that these to instances have much in common, but there are parallels.

A cameraman and a reporter were shot dead while they were broadcasting a live interview in Virginia. The killer was a disgruntled former employee who felt his grievances were best expressed by going out with a bang and taking two innocent people with him.

Those journalists were just doing their job like everyone else does their job. The difference from most jobs is that it involves putting yourself out there for the world to see.

Because these two were exposed, they became targets for someone with mental issues to create a splash with a big audience.

Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian journalist working for Al-Jazeera, along with colleague Baher Mohamed, was also just doing his job — reporting on events in Egypt. The government felt that his pieces were too sympathetic to a group it was trying to destroy (the Muslim Brotherhood), so they were hauled off to jail and convicted of supporting a terrorist group.

Fahmy’s work, of course, was also something for the world to see. In this case, the government decided — in its zeal to stamp out the main opposition — to go after Al-Jazeera in the most public way it could. The resulting show trial was a warning to the Qatar-based news agency that they should consider self-censorship when reporting about Egypt.

Even if Fahmy had been favouring the Muslim Brotherhood in his reports, don’t forget that he was merely an employee of Al-Jazeera, which could easily have told him to make changes. But Al-Jazeera is out of reach in Qatar, and besides, going after a journalist with a public face is so much more likely to catch people’s attention.

There are some who say that TV stations are doing too many live reports, and putting their journalists in harm’s way more of than necessary. The solution would be to cut back on them.

Yes, news agencies could also cut back on reports that might piss off the government. It would certainly make things safer for their employees.

While we’re at it, we could also decide to let mentally disturbed individuals and military dictators set the agenda for the news cycle.

Like anyone else, no journalist wants to be shot or imprisoned, but all the ones I’ve known would be hard-pressed to agree to any infringement on their freedom to serve the public as they see fit.

And when I say it’s been a bad week for journalists, that only tells a small part of the story. There is bad news pretty much every week for journalists.

The Committee to Protect Journalists estimates 41 journalists have been killed in 2015 and 221 imprisoned in 2014.