U.S. News


Why Are Journalists Being Jailed At Historic Highs?

It's a unique job: exposing facts that some of the most powerful and violent people in the world want to keep quiet.
Posted at 9:38 PM, Jan 22, 2018

Most reporters don't expect, or even enjoy, public accolades. But they do want to stay alive and do their jobs. It's a unique job, exposing facts that some of the most powerful and violent people in the world want nothing more than to keep quiet.

That struggle led to the deaths of 44 reporters around the world in 2017, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. But the chilling effect goes further, the report finds.

Two hundred sixty-two journalists were imprisoned. Unsurprisingly, the political beat is the most dangerous, accounting for 87 percent of reporters behind bars. 

And it’s not all national news or huge papers: 97 percent of these journalists work at local outlets.

These are the biggest offenders. Turkey, a nominal democracy, was the worst, jailing 73 reporters in just one year as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan cracked down on dissent, squelched free speech and targeted the press.

China comes in second with 41 lock-ups. Human Rights Watch explains there's widespread "torture and ill-treatment of detainees in police-run facilities."

No. 3 is Egypt, where CPJ reports that President Abdel Fattah el-Asisi’s government "passed a draconian anti-terrorism law that furthered its crackdown on the press, among other things."

The U.S. isn't in the official imprisonment count, but American journalists aren't spared harassment or intimidation.

A few examples from the past few years: Jan. 20, 2017, Inauguration Day, violent protests filled D.C. streets. The New York Timeswrites: "Officers in riot gear from the Washington Metropolitan Police moved in and arrested 230 people — including nine journalists."

The Bismarck Tribune covered the trial of a videographer for The Guardian who was arrested while she reported on the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. A CBS News reporter, who can he heard on camera identifying himself as media holding press credentials, was slammed to the groundoutside an anti-President Donald Trump protest in Chicago.

In Virginia, a progressive reporter was handcuffed for tracking Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie. The Washington Examiner says he "was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, although the officers in the video claim he was being arrested for swearing."   

A central creed in most newsrooms is "Hold The Powerful Accountable." It might not be easy. It might not be popular. But it's the job of journalists. And as dangers mount, so does their steel.