Efforts to demonize the media have taken place for as long as there have been organized forms of governance. Monarchs, dictators, cartels, corporations, religions, syndicates, and governments of all sorts do not like to have their ill-deeds exposed to public scrutiny.
Those of us who have spent much of our lives as media workers or journalists learned this lesson early and often. Those of us in freer societies often forget how dangerous telling the truth is. Journalists in various nations are threatened with detention, violence, and death because of the work they do.
Tragically, “security forces”, police, military, and armed insurrectionists not only censor and arrest journalists and media workers, but commit violence against them. Mayhem and murder of journalists is a common method of silencing them. In too many instances, the people who harm and kill members of the media do so with impunity.
What is impunity? My Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines it as “exemption from punishment”. That is, the person or persons who commit illegal acts can do so without fear of retribution.
So, what is the “Day to End Impunity”? November 23rd is the anniversary of the 2009 Maguindanao Massacre or Ampatuan Massacre in the Philippines. On that day, 58 people were murdered, including 32 journalists and media workers.
The victims were en route to file candidacy documents for Esmael Mangudadatu, the vice-mayor of the town of Buluan on Mindanao Island in the Philippines. Mangudadatu hoped to defeat the incumbent mayor, Andal Ampatuan, Jr. in the upcoming 2010 national elections. The victims included Mangudadatu’s wife, his two sisters, aides, lawyers, journalists, and chance witnesses. The massacre is the deadliest attack against journalists, in one incident, to have taken place.
Today’s commemoration was organized by IFEX (International Freedom of Exchange), a major global non-governmental organization that defends and promotes free expression. The event is intended to raise our awareness about what causes and sustains cultures of impunity. The ultimate goal is to protect journalists, media workers, and others who work to expose corruption at all levels.
If we simply scan this year’s headlines, we can note many acts of violence against journalists, worldwide. The incidents happen in such places as Hungary, where police regularly harrass the media. There are ongoing incidents in Afghanistan, Nepal, Russia, several African nations, and close to home in Mexico and much of Latin America.
Recent violence against the media is not limited to actions committed by tyrannical governmental regimes. Terrorists are major perpetrators of such crimes, too. The world community witnessed the killings at the Paris offices of the magazine Charlie Hebdo. The mass murders happened in the wake of the publication of satirical cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed by the magazine. The threat of further violence has placed a chilling atmosphere of self-censorship among the mainstream media.
One of the main reasons that the Day to End Impunity needs to be widely commemorated is because all of humanity is greatly harmed because of impunity. The types of information the public needs are the types of information that regularly gets censored and silenced. Access to reliable, accurate information is the foundation of effective institutions, governanace, and democracy. All people are entitled to accurate, objective information about political, economic, and social issues. The journalists and media workers deserve protection. The forces of censorship and violence should not enjoy impunity from their crimes.