There are two fundamental ways of thinking about the state of journalism across the globe. The first is reflected in headlines and stories describing violence against journalists in Mexico, Russia, Iran, China, Zimbabwe, Colombia, and a long list of other countries. This tragic trend is typically found in countries that have little or no tradition of democracy and, consequently, no appreciation for the watchdog role of a vigorous press. The second view finds newspapers remaining a thriving industry, growing in some regions and shrinking in others, although less dramatically than newspapers in the United States.
Whether newspapers are growing or shrinking in a given country, the impact of the digital era is widely evident. Independent online news organizations have been established to cover local news, international news, and politics, and to produce investigative journalism in the public interest. In countries where the mainstream press is restricted, citizen journalism increasingly is having an impact. Modern technologies, especially mobile smart-phones, are enabling individuals to report and transmit news from their communities to global audiences, often overcoming official constraints of repressive regimes. For independent journalists, the risks increase; they have no institutional support and limited experience in dealing with intimidation, harassment, or imprisonment.
In this article, I will examine these two types of journalistic environments individually, empirically accounting for recent developments and, in particular, the current situations faced by journalists around the world.
Journalism as a Life of Danger
As Paul Steiger, chairman of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an organization based in New York that responds to attacks on the press worldwide, points out: last year, for the first time, the largest professional category on CPJ's annual census of imprisoned journalists worldwide were Internet journalists. These included bloggers, online editors, and web-based reporters, who together comprised 45 percent of all imprisonments, a truly chilling statistic.
CPJ's reports have revealed threats to the press in supposedly liberal democracies such as Mexico. Twenty-two journalists have been murdered since President Felipe Calderon Hinojosa took office in December 2006 and began a campaign of decisive action against the drug cartels. CPJ's analysis identified systemic failures that if not addressed immediately will seriously curtail freedom of expression and even the rule of law. Its report called for the federal government to intervene to protect the rights of journalists. However, the report noted that journalists themselves are far from blameless, with many in the pay of the same drug cartels that have influenced politics. The political polarization of Mexico's media has not helped either.
In many countries where freedom of expression is constitutionally guaranteed, brutal censorship abounds while journalists are targets of government repression. In the Russian Federation, for example, the Constitution, adopted in 1993 after the fall of the Soviet Union, states that "Everyone shall be guaranteed freedom of thought and speech ... Censorship shall be prohibited." Although Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has said that justice in the murder of journalists is important, the killings continue; 19 journalists have been murdered since 2000, including three in 2009. Others have been beaten for investigating corruption. Arrests are few, and the deep disappointment over the unsolved 2006 murder of Anna Politkovskaya, a correspondent for Novaya Gazeta, remains a bitter symbol of Russia's record of injustice.
In late 2009, after her year as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, Fatima Tlisova, who had worked as an independent journalist for a decade in the North Caucasus region of Russia, returned to her country, driven by the belief that she needed to draw attention to the risks faced by journalists attempting to report independently in the Caucasus. …