Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Bad guys target journalists

Peter Grieste is the Australian reporter sitting in an Egyptian jail cell since last December for the crime of journalism. He and two Al-Jazeera colleagues, Abdullah Elshamy and were found guilty of abetting terrorism (as well as “spreading false news”) by the Egyptian military regime based on the usual absurd evidence. Now serving a 7-year sentence, he composed a speech, for Britain’s Frontline Club awards ceremony, put together by friends and family based on conversations they had with him, and it’s pretty dramatic.

Grieste says he’s had time to think about what is going on today in the world of journalism given his own case and the appalling on-camera murders of two free-lancers in Syria. He is duly shocked by those crimes, and he also reminds us that demonizing reporters didn’t start with the Islamic State.

As much as we abhore and condemn the [ISIS] executions of James and Steven, it was George Bush who set the ground rules in the wake of 9/11 when he declared that you’re either with us or with the terrorists. That single statement made it impossible for reporters to hold to the principles of balance and fairness without being accused of acting as an agent for the enemy.

Al Jazeera learned that to its cost when the US hit its offices in Baghdad during the invasion to oust Saddam. And in Afghanistan one of its camermen, Sami al Haj, was arrested. He spent seven years in Guantanamo Bay before being released without charge.

Greste warns against enjoying a convenient episode of amnesia that would allow us to see the brutality in the jihadists’ treatment of reporters and forget certain precedents set by the invaders. He doesn’t mention, but could have, the act that impelled Chelsea Manning to release classified U.S. government documents to Wikileaks—the suppressed video of the American troops killing a news cameraman in Iraq.

Grieste puts the blame on the amorphous “war on terror.” He says that a conflict that “by its very nature is indefinable, with no clear physical or ideological boundaries, with a title that means everything and nothing,” creates the conditions for a “war against telling the truth and reporting facts.”

[I]n all of these battlegrounds, whether hot or cold, journalists are no longer on the front lines. We are the front lines. In this wider conflict, there is no such thing as a neutral, independent reporter. In the view of both sides, if you cross the lines in pursuit of our most fundamental principles of balance, fairness and accuracy, you effectively join the enemy.

Since the War on Terror began, all manner of abuse of journalists and attacks on human rights and press freedoms have been excused as necessary evils, and by governments across the globe. It almost feels like a kind of globalised McCarthyism, where simply invoking terrorism is enough, in some cases, to get away with murder.

Getting away with murder has been deemed essential to Keeping Us Safe. Now reporters are fair game for both sides.

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