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Murder and Impunity

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

The issues of journalism and a free press come to mind these days. With a significant number of journalists attacked in, among other countries, Russia, just in the past few months, we clearly see the dependence of the media system on the political environment in a country. Journalism training is the major form of media development - how to use new technologies, how to write a good feature, how to sniff out a corruption scandal - but is anyone thinking about what happens to reporters in countries where the rule of law is weak? This year alone, 16 journalists have been killed in the line of duty, as the Committee  to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports. Last year: 71. Since 1992, more than 800 journalists have been murdered as a direct consequence of their reporting. Iraq, the Philippines, Algeria, and Russia are the four deadliest countries for journalists.

In Iraq, the Philippines, Algeria, Colombia, and Russia, many journalist killers get away with murder. CPJ calculates an Impunity Index, ranking all countries according to the number of unsolved murders in relation to the country's population size. Since 2000, 88 cases have gone unsolved in Iraq with a population of roughly 31.5 million. Among about 90 million Filipinos, 55 journalists lost their lives without anyone being held responsible for their deaths.

Journalism training seems to be the most common form of media development support. But what's a good journalist in an environment where good journalism may well be rewarded with violence? Donors must look at the enabling environment for a free press as much as the abilities of journalists to provide critical and politically independent reporting, a cornerstone of good governance and citizen empowerment. This is where support to the media sector is tied to governance reform: reforming the justice sector, for instance, benefits citizens as well as the media system. One more reason why media sector reform is a part of governance reform.

Governance reform is about the big picture. If the public sector doesn't work, why should the legal system? If the legal system doesn't work, why should the media? Without an independent judiciary that treats all citizens equal, including inconvenient journalists, there will be no independent media system to provide checks and balances on government. Without citizens being able to check on their government and hold it accountable, chances for the abuse of power are high. Well trained journalists alone will hardly make a difference in this mess. Media development needs a holistic approach beyond journalism. It also relies on judicial and public sector reform and other efforts to strengthen the rule of law in a country in order to create an enabling environment for a free press on a large scale. Otherwise - a good journalist may well be a dead journalist.

Picture: Flickr user esc.ape(d)

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