Has Journalism Become the Deadliest Profession?

Still from
Daphne: A Pen Too Sharp
Frederikke Kreutzberg
November 10, 2023

On average, a journalist is killed every 4 days. Protecting journalists worldwide should be important to all of us. While there are – and always have been – risks associated with covering the news, in recent years those risks have escalated. The UN regards journalism as one of the most dangerous professions in the world. Violence against journalists has reached unprecedented, critical levels.

Politicians, governments, and the public should consider any attacks on journalists, an attack on the free flow of accurate information that is required for a functional democracy. Without the dedicated work of journalists, who would report on global issues, condemn transgressions, social inequalities, and unpunished crimes?

THE WHY’s 2018 documentary film, ‘Daphne: A Pen Too Sharp,’ analyses these potential dangers through the case of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia who was killed in a car bombing on October 16, 2017, outside of her home. Daphne was known for her personal blog Running Commentary, where she reported on Maltese political life, attracting more than 300,000 views per day – more than all of the country’s newspapers combined. Through interviews with her family and friends, as well as secretly-filmed meetings with high-level government officials, this documentary seeks to come closer to the truth about what really happened.

The Assassination of Daphne

During her 20-year career, Daphne faced several long-faced libel suits, with her focus on investigatively reporting everything from abuse of power and ethical failures to money laundering, corruption at the highest-state level, and infamously the Azerbaijani government's influence on Maltese politics.

Daphne also faced relentless harassment and threats of physical harm because of her work. From the killing of her dogs to arson attacks, Daphne lived under constant threat. Her son, Paul Caruana Galizia, said, “it was relentless. Any opportunity to threaten, harass, demean, our mother was taken.” Her final blog post prior to her death ended with an eerie sentence that read:

“There are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate.”

Authorities arrested 10 people in connection with her assassination, three of whom have since been charged with her murder. However, there is speculation regarding the motive behind the murder, many believing those charged were contracted to do so. Daphne’s eldest son, Matthew Caruana Galizia, believes this is the case, stating, “my mother had never written about them. She didn’t report on organised crime of the kind that they were involved in. So, they had no bone to pick with her.” But whoever ordered the contract killing remains unknown.

Forbidden Stories

The film also follows the efforts by the Forbidden Stories network as they start the ‘Daphne Project,’ gathering 45 reporters from 18 news organisation and 15 countries. With this project, the network hopes to bring her stories to light, those already published and those she was unable to finish, as well as investigate who stood behind her murder.

The network aims to protect, pursue, and publish the work of other journalists facing threats, prison, or murder. They ensure that journalists under threat can secure their information through one of their secure communications channels.

Daphne testified in front of the Council of Europe as part of an inquiry into threats made to journalists just 10 days before her assassination. In the audio from her testimony, Daphne says:

“[there’s] constant propaganda against me. I got used to it. But my biggest concern is that, because people see what’s happened to me, they don’t want to do it. It’s scared others off. People are afraid of consequences.”

The Deadliest Time in History

Journalists are at risk of being captured, detained, or murdered as punishment for criticising a political regime or religious ideology. Additionally, journalists face an increasingly hostile digital environment, often tolerating intimidation, threats of physical and sexual harm and abuse, and ‘doxing’ – having their private information published online. These dangers disproportionately fall on female journalists and journalists of colour.

While there are resolutions in place condemning the attacks of journalists, both the nature of war and media have changed drastically in recent years. Therefore, these resolutions require updating as they no longer address the increasingly dangerous challenges facing journalists. The severity of the situation, and growing tension between Israel and Hamas, has led to the deadliest period for journalists covering conflict since 1992, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Each country is solely responsible for investigating and prosecuting those who harm or kill journalists. Unfortunately, not every country has the means or capability to investigate these crimes to the necessary extent and therefore only 10% of journalists’ killers are ever prosecuted.

Every year, the CPJ publishes their Global Impunity Index, which highlights countries where members of the press are murdered for reporting the news, and the perpetrators go free. No one has been held accountable in nearly 80% of journalist targeted murders during the last 10 years, and governments show little interest in tackling this issue. In their report, the CPJ highlighted 11 countries: Somalia, Syria, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Mexico, Philippines, Myanmar, Brazil, Pakistan, and India.

The growing challenges journalists’ face while on the job should be a global cause for concern. When independent media cannot provide first-hand, original reporting, freedom suffers. A free press is the cornerstone of democracy.

As part of THE WHY’s vision of providing free access to information, once a month we release one of our favourite documentaries onto our YouTube Channel, labelled as Film of the Month.

If you would like to suggest a WHY film that you would like to watch, or simply want more information about this month’s pick, then reach out at info@thewhy.dk

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