Concerns Grow as Violence Against Journalists Continues to Escalate

Local news stations monitored the situation on 1 May 2007 in Los Angeles’ MacArthur Park.  A peaceful May Day demonstration had moved into the park, and police had failed to correctly guide participants and marchers, and with a higher than anticipated volume of people began to lose control of the situation. 

The news caught the police response in real time, including the use of non-lethal force against journalists covering the demonstration.

The treatment of some members of the media raised questions about the training, discipline and understanding of the role of the media on the part of some of the officers in MacArthur Park that day. Some officers did not adhere to the guidelines required pursuant to agreements between the Department and the media…

…in the move to clear the park, some officers pushed and struck some members of the media to move them from the area, rather than allowing the media to move safely into a designated media viewing area. (From Final Report on MacArthur Park Incident, LAPD)

While shocking to the people of Los Angeles, with full media coverage the police simply could not ignore the outrage of a community which relies on police to provide for the safety of citizens, and enforce those laws determined by elected representatives of the people of Los Angeles, California, and the United States.

The Role of Journalists

Journalists document events, and present those events to the community as an informational message, or as a permanent  historical record.  Without journalists documenting events, the history of an event may be lost within a generation.

Journalists, when not used as a tool for misinformation or propaganda, record and present facts.  Those facts may later be used in independent or expert analysis of an event, but the raw record remains untouched.

Citizen journalism supplements traditional journalism with the purity of untouched records of events using modern technology available to a very high percentage of the global community, including cameras, mobile phones, and other common recording media.

This is all good, if the intention of journalism is to ensure events are recorded for immediate analysis, and future generations will have access to evidence needed to better understand how historical events have influenced the present.

So why are we constantly faced with news stories telling us of violence committed against journalists in both developed and developing countries?  What is it about creating a record of history that drives some governments and people to assault, kill, or prevent journalists from doing their jobs?

The Desire for Power and Illegal Activities

There are several groups sharing a common hatred of journalists.  The police, criminals, and repressive governments.  All have historically been the perpetrators of either human rights violations, or have a desire to ensure facts about events or incidents are never recorded or made available to the public.  In short, those organizations that need to maintain secrecy to prevent the public from being aware of their behavior or actions.

Not all police are bad, and not all governments are bad.  To protect operations, a high level of secrecy is often critical to the safety and success of a mission.  And there is certainly adequate justification for the protection of certain classifications of state secrets.

On the other hand, those immoral and unethical elements of our global community who bring themselves to power or success through illegal activities or use of brutality against those they strive to control public knowledge of their activities, as exposure will in most case bring swift retaliation or condemnation.

Oppressive regimes such as Iran, North Korea, Angola, and Kyrgyzstan exercise strict control over what can be recorded to reported mainly due to the reality their actions against the people are at a level of violence that the civilized world finds horrifying and repulsive.  And the result is international condemnation and economic sanctions against the regime.

Luanda – The Union of Angolan Journalists said it was worried about the recent rise in violence against reporters. One journalist was murdered and two others attacked over the past three months. No arrests have been made in any of a series of recent attacks against journalists in Angola, the oil-rich country that was recently ranked the 10th most corrupt in the world by watchdog Transparency International.

The Committee to Protect Journalists called on Kyrgyz authorities to immediately release independent journalists Ulugbek Abdusalomov and Azimjon Askarov, and to ensure the safety of other journalists working in southern Kyrgyzstan, which has been engulfed by interethnic violence since early June.

Concern is rising over attacks on the press in Iraq, following the recent deaths of journalists and media workers in a particularly bloody week for the profession, which raises questions of press freedom in the region. With reporters and media workers falling victim to both insurgents and US military action, and the interim government planning “stringent controls” on the media through a newly-created Higher Media Council, it has been asked whether it is possible to have a free press in Iraq.

The escalating violence against journalists in Mexico prompted an unprecedented demonstration of more than 1,000 people in ten cities, demanding an end to murders, kidnappings and disappearances

Journalist Amy Miller of the Alternative Media Centre was arrested over the weekend at the G20 protests in Toronto. She was held for 13 hours, during which time she saw multiple women strip-searched and was repeatedly threatened with rape.

An article in the police support site “Police One” expresses mixed feelings from a veteran officer discussing the use of police cameras – and citizen journalism on the behavior of police. 

While expressing concern that video of police behaving badly may only represent a snippet of a larger situation, there is still an acknowledgement that videos are helping hold police accountable. “My own view is that YouTube has done more to expose the reality of police abuse than all the blue-ribbon commissions combined,” said University of Chicago law professor Craig Futterman, who has studied police brutality.

The LAPD incident during the 2007 May day rally in Los Angeles caught both overly aggressive police using force to break up a crowd, as well as the same level of force being used against journalists who were recording the action.

NOTE:  This is not an anti-COP blog.  While I have personally seen, and experienced completely unjustified violence and abuse committed by “bad cops,” I can also say that my own “home town” police in Long Beach (California) are among the finest law enforcement professionals in the world. If you look at the LA County Sheriff’s website, and count the number of violent incidents managed by deputies every day, it is clear they are under a tremendous amount of stress, and are doing absolutely the best possible job.

On the other hand, the Rodney King beatings, 2007 May Day Demonstration, and hundreds of other incidents do expose a level of abuse that simply cannot be allowed to exist in a free, democratic society.

The Long Term Impact of Technology and Citizen Journalism

If you live in a city, there are very few public locations left without some level of surveillance or video monitoring.  Nearly every mobile phone sold today has a camera embedded in the device, and even homes are now using video security.

This record of our lives is good and bad.  Bad in the context of losing nearly every last shred of privacy and anonymity, good in the respect incidents of crime and violence are much more likely to be recorded for review, evaluation, and use.

As in the recent elections in Iran, where citizen journalists caught abuses by the police and government on their mobile phones, and then transmitted the images at near real time to social media and file sharing sites around the world – governments and police will now have to look at not only the threat card-carrying journalists bring to their antics, but also will need to look at every person on the street, mounted security cameras, and the Internet as their enemy.

Journalists will also have access to much more public and private resource provided by technology and citizen journalists.  The true value in professional journalism will be reinforced as the ability to interpret raw facts and apply contextual relations and value to those facts – a skill most citizen journalists lack.

Those maintaining their positions of authority and power may not fall soon, but at least now there is a greater chance their abuses will surface and face the global judgment.

About johnsavageau
Another telecom junkie who has been bouncing around the international communications community for most of the past 35 years.

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