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What’s The Price Of Being A Journalist Today?
Journalists help to discover truth and inform the public. But imprisonment, discrimination, a trolled reputation and even death threats is what they face regularly
Watergate, the Washington Post investigation into political corruption, not only changed the course of American history but also marked the birth of a new form of journalism. A profession dedicated to reporting cold hard facts instead became a source of inspiration to young journalists who, for the first time, realised they could uncover hidden truths, challenge authority figures and disseminate information into the public domain for the greater good.
Rima Amin is Manager at IPF, a platform which empowers young journalists to tell stories that have not been reported in the conventional media. She said: “Journalists are key in challenging areas where work needs to be done. Through their interviews, they are potentially connecting the people to decision makers. They expose stories that aren’t in the mainstream already and I also would say that journalists’ work can be used to create changes in society which can be led by activists. A lot of our collaborators say to us that the people are very grateful that we are covering their causes.”
But the exposure of untold facts and the potential for social change is not seen positively by some. For example, earlier this year Donald Trump called the media the “enemy” of the people and reporters of “fake news” with the aim of belittling the journalism profession and undermining the public trust in the mainstream media. Trump’s actions also inspired some organisations to launch a news site to track press freedom violations in the United States, after he denied access to news briefings to organisations such as the BBC, CNN and The Guardian newspaper, while allowing access to conservative publications.
Whilst putting in a great deal of effort to ensure that important facts are not left out, journalists often face challenges and objections- even from their own governments. Those who work in places with limited freedom of expression such as China and Iran, can even risk their lives to tell the full story if it offends the wrong political party. Despite Western press organisations being known for their media freedom, there is still a significant amount of gender and ethnic inequality within the workplace which affects the representation of both women and minority voices within the UK.
Global Freedom Under Pressure
Only 40% of the worldwide population lives in a country with freedom of expression. For the rest of the people the right of being informed and heard is often denied. Just this month a BBC crew was blocked and forced to delete footage content of an interview with a villager in China who explains that her father was murdered during a land dispute with authorities.
In 2016, nine journalists were killed and a total of 1,387 threats and violations to press freedom were registered, according to a report which maps 42 countries, including those in Europe. Turkey, Russia and Ukraine had the highest number of assaults. Last year journalists were also banned from accessing sources like local meetings and courtrooms 299 times, with authorities defining sources as ‘informational destabilisation’ because by revealing them revolutions can be promoted.
Rachael Jolley, BSME Specialist Editor of the year and the editor of her magazine, Index on Censorship, a publication that for over 43 years has supported free expression publishing work of distinguished writers, giving space to stories which were banned in other countries and providing an international record of censorship, said:
“Where there is resistance, journalists play a key role in covering facts. Governments attack journalists for what they are trying to report, and they would rather the public not to hear.”
She also explained that government propaganda is on the rise. “It is easy to put out words, ideas and myths that they would like us to use and believe. There are people who write for us who face incredible pressure to not do the journalism that they are doing. Those people are incredibly brave.”
This year, the Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression award went to journalist and Iranian refugee Behrouz Boochani, 34. Behrouz had co-founded a cultural and heritage magazine which was raided by the Iranian police in 2013, leading to the arrest of 11 of his colleagues.
He travelled on a boat to Australia where he wanted to claim asylum, but was relocated to a refugee processing centre in Papua New Guinea less than one month after arriving. Writing under a pseudonym, he has been documenting the horror of life in detention since then, and has been recognised as a human rights defender by the UN for his contribution towards reporting human rights abuses happening in the centre.
Gender inequality and The lack of diversity in the UK
Gender inequality came under scrutiny last month when 94 men and 20 women were shortlisted for the British Press Awards. If you are a journalist from a minority ethnic group or religion and/or a woman, the price you pay can be high. Only 6% of the British journalism industry is non-white, 45% female and 14% none university-educated, according to a survey conducted by City University of London last year. Percentages are not much different in American journalism, 22% at The New York Times and only 17% at the Boston Globe are non-white journalists, to mention two well-known publications.
Yes, Female journalists are on the increase, but their salaries are not. With 65% more women joining the profession in the last three years, nearly half of female journalists earn £2,400 or less a month compared with just a third of male journalists. Journalists are also discriminated against for their religion, researchers have shown that just o.4% of British journalists are Muslim, compared to nearly 5% of the UK population being Muslim.
But even after they have climbed the corporate ladder, life does not become much easier. The Guardian commissioned research into 70 million readers’ comments left on its site since 2006, which revealed that among the 10 most verbally abused journalists, eight were women (four white and four non-white, one Muslim and one Jewish) and two are black, despite the majority of Guardian writers being white men. And feminism and rape were among the topics that attracted the most abusive comments.
India Doris, Project Coordinator at the Media Trust charity, which along with Weber Shandiwick have launched an internship programme to foster diversity in the creative industry, said:
“People from minority ethnic and religious backgrounds have trouble breaking into the journalism industry. What we are trying to do is to push diversity and encourage organisations to pick from this pool of young talent from all diverse backgrounds and try to change the way the industry hires. It seems very sad to encourage organisations to think diversely, because the world is diverse and we should not need to push organisations to do that.”
If we seek social change we cannot forget those whose everyday fight is to discover the truth and inform the public about what needs to be changed in the world.