Sunday, January 18, 2015

Journalism is not a crime

By Kristi Belcamino

Holly West's important post on the Charlie Hebdo attack inspired this one.

Like Holly, I worry I have nothing new to add to the discussion, but feel compelled, as a journalist to point out that sadly, the death of journalists for expressing freedom of speech is nothing new.

Yes, the Charlie Hebdo deaths were particularly heinous and shocking. And the outrage and protests are loud and powerful and heartwarming, and yet, I worry that nothing will change and that it is only getting worse.

The Committee to Protect Journalists says that 1,110 journalists have been killed across the world since 1992.

Journalists are going head-to-head with terrorists, corrupt governments and warlords to shed a light on atrocities every single day. We need them out there risking their lives so we can do our part in protecting the weak and helping the innocent. We need them to risk their lives to tell us the true story of events around the world in the hopes that by revealing these inhumane acts, someone will be motivated to do something to stop them or change them or send help to those who need it.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 70 journalists died in 2013.

Deaths were broken down by the "beat" the journalist covered.

I cover crime for my newspaper. A lot of people have told me I'm brave to do that, going out talking to serial killers and gang bangers, but guess what? Covering the crime beat wasn't even one of the top three most dangerous beats to cover.

If you covered war, you were most likely to die on the job. After that, journalists who covered politics and then those who covered human rights.

To me, that is the most depressing statistic — that so many journalists covering human rights were risking their lives to help others obtain the basic rights that any person on this earth deserves.

Last year in Tunisia a "death list" circulated naming writers and journalists who supposedly were antagonistic toward Islam. It's surely not the only place where this has happened.

In addition to journalists being killed around the world, it is worth noting that they are also being imprisoned to squash freedom of expression.

In a January 9th post on CPJ's website, the organizations's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, Sherif Mansour, said this: "Iran has started the new year as it ended the old: by arresting journalists."

While I find the Charlie Hebdo massacre terrifying, what I also find horrific is the idea that journalists will be too afraid to get out there and tell the truth for fear of death.

And what, you might ask, does this have to do with crime fiction writers?

It has everything to do with us.

Can you say Salman Rushdie?

We are no different. We are a different medium, but I believe many of us write crime fiction to expose atrocities that take place in our world. Are we going to be silenced, as well? Are we going to censor ourselves when the day comes that a fiction writer is not only the subject of a fatwa, but is slain for his or her writing?

Rushdie spoke out this week while giving a speech at the University of Vermont in Burlington.

"Both John F. Kennedy and Nelson Mandela use the same three-word phrase which in my mind says it all, which is 'Freedom is indivisible,'" he said. "You can't slice it up, otherwise it ceases to be freedom. You can dislike Charlie Hedbo. ... But the fact that you dislike them has nothing to do with their right to speak."


John McFetridge said...

Good post, thanks, Kristi. I have to admit I have been shocked but the number of articles I've read from people saying that I don't really understand and that what happened in France is complicated and Charlie Hebdo was in bad taste and.... Maybe I'm naive, but I think murder is murder.

Kristi said...

Truth. Murder is murder.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Everyone seems to forget that not only journalists were targeted during that week. The killers also massacared civilians that happened to be of a different religion. A school was the original target. And several terrorist attempts had been thwarted in the months previous to the massacres.

I too, believe that journalists will fear to expose. The illustrators of Charlie Hebdo believed in free speech, they are conisdered revolutionists and the stakes are high.

Salmon Rushdie said that it must be absolute. I agree. You are courageous to post this.

My friends call and ask how things are in Paris. I tell them in France we have freedom of speech, in the US people have the right to bear arms and think they have free speech. It may be easier to die by speaking ones mind over there.

The free world has suddenly gone ballistic over freedom of speech. It's not even a question in the majority of the countries where there is no freedom, escpecially for women.

Kristi said...

Thanks for bringing that up, Angie, that more than journalists were targeted.
Also, we are so damn lucky to have the freedoms we have ... another reason journalists need to be out there on the front lines in countries where there is no freedom for so many, including women.
I am grateful every day that I can raise my kids in an area that is safe, where they have access to good health care and a good education ...