Journalists’ lives matter

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Sahar Zeki, an activist and a friend of slain Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi, holds a picture of him, as she talks to members of the media near Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul. Saudi officials murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi in their Istanbul consulate after plotting his death for days, Turkey’s president said, contradicting Saudi Arabia’s explanation that the writer was accidentally killed. He demanded that the kingdom reveal the identities of all involved, regardless of rank. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)


It’s as if by staggering, weak and helpless, and with a bullet in the chest, a journalist is given that one chance at reporting the grandest of all stories: his own murder.

This image of a corpse, sprawled and brutalized out of shape while lying along a dark, dank curb, pen in his bloody hand, has turned the journalism profession into an erotic fantasy among many a tyrant—a macabre sort of wet dream.

In an age much too dark and portentous, to cast light is a crime. To silence the messenger: that’s the goal. To continue with the status quo of corruption: that’s the solemn pledge.

There can be no two ways to the blitzkrieg: either these dictators wipe out their nemesis—the journalist—or they face a lifetime of just deserts.

Yet it is only now that we, journalists, are beginning to understand the jam we are in.

Who, by the way, listens to journalists nowadays? The rich who’d probably do well to merely take stock of the Stock Market grapevine than browse the morning papers? Or the poor and the middleclass who wouldn’t know a fake news website even if it slapped them in the face?

With the advent of smart-shaming, to say little of lies masquerading as the truth, reality is being pulled out like a rug from under our feet.

The handful who could tell between the counterfeit and the genuine may not have the stamina to keep on with the fight. Some journalists have stumbled into the flea pit of being either lazy or irresponsible, what with other problems plaguing the country’s newsrooms.

Let’s not even go to where salaries don’t even come on time, and publishers, mostly businessmen, commandeering pages for what stories ought to see print. Some editors put more premium on being the paper’s ‘poster boy’ than a story’s context, risking credibility for celebrity status.

And what of the lowly reporter and photojournalist, the layout artist who had spent a lifetime in her chair? They soldier on regardless of meager benefits and survival wages, if at all. Many journalists in the provinces are not as lucky.

The axiom, “Journalists are not the story,” has moved past the point of irony. Finally, I believe, our stories, too, ought to be told. In this age of the impostor and the hypocrite, we must tell the world of who we are and what the job entails.

The public’s ignorance has put the journalist in that all-too-perilous position of being treated as an abstract, a mere précis in a world of other abstracts.

“It’s not easy to be moved by abstract things,” the Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa once wrote.

Journalists’ lives matter. They should not be barbed within the limitations of a byline and available column inches. They are not mere pixels in a computer screen. Journalists are human in all its unaltered complexity, subject to the varied paradoxes, errors and obstacles of their day.

They, too, have families they’re obligated to support. They, too, suffer from an isolation and a measure of dispossession the likes of which could debilitate the faint of heart.

They, too, after a day’s work, get tired.

Journalism is not an oasis marked by strobe lights and the red carpet, mind you. Unless one is extremely and deplorably corrupt and insensitive, it is neither an opportunity for wealth and pop idol prestige.

If by any chance prestige were to be had in this profession, for journalists worth their salt, it’s the kind that puts a bullet between the eyes.

We are easily silenced, I believe, because for the most part, we, too, have been silent—about who we are and what goes on in our daily lives. We are strangers to the public. Our being relegated into bylines and pixels, at once intangible as a synopsis, had put our very lives at risk of being snuffed.

We have informed people about the goings on in society and the world at large, but there is yet a universe which needs elucidating: our own. The carnage and corruption, the swindling and treason, the lies and slaughter we witness each day: we bring these images home to our loved ones, and we do this not without consequence.

These gruesome, inhuman images are not easy to carry around. They weigh journalists down. Some are turned into a raging horde. Others simply give up the fight and search for other, more lucrative, ‘safe’ endeavors. While others, sensing the impossibility of reforms, join the fascist bandwagon.

And there are those who search for answers in a bottle for want of better solutions.

There are the journalists who put up a good fight despite fearing the worst, those who live in and for the struggle. Not only do these journalists soldier on, but they endure, words in hand. Day after day they try to beat the system, expose the shenanigans of the corrupt and the blood thirsty, even go out of their way to spell out the more complex procedures that breed exploitation.

They seem tireless in their efforts. But the truth is, much of the energy in their labors is sourced from years of experience. The stubbornness had somehow paid off, and had put them in a place where resolve is the only choice left for them to make. What have they got to lose? One way or the other, aren’t we all going to die anyway?

I believe the hour has arrived where journalists should tell their individual stories. Not for fame or pop idol prestige, but because we are human and our lives matter.

Prior to the disappearance and murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, thousands more of our colleagues had been killed across the globe. Not to make light of Khashoggi’s death, why are people only reacting to this one?

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, roughly 1,322 had been killed from 1992 to 2018. From where I’m sitting, this seems like a very conservative estimate.

It is the core of exemplary journalism for the journalist to be left out of the picture. However, that axiom has come and gone. The world is leaning towards totalitarianism and this, more than anything, should give journalists serious pause.

Are we going to settle for being treated as abstracts, as pixels on a screen, or are we going to live to share our tales, our exploits, or better yet, the stories that make up who and what we are as professionals and as part of the humanity we are trying to protect?

To take one look at a journalist’s life and tell it like it is: this could be our greatest weapon yet against the slaughter. G





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