When the chief of the United Nations (UN) has to make an appeal for standing by journalists the world over for protecting truth and justice, the slide in the working environment for the practitioners of this special profession can be realised. This year alone, no fewer than 88 journalists have been killed and several thousands more 'have been attacked, harassed or imprisoned on spurious charges, without due process'. The toll is more than a thousand over the past decade. This year one such nefarious killing took place in a consulate, in other words, embassy which enjoys diplomatic immunity, according to international law and practice. Of the arrests, the illegal detention of two BBC journalists in Myanmar on made-up charges has exposed how blatantly domestic and international laws are twisted in order to punish those whose mission it is to bring out the truth. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres rightly chose the occasion of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists to make the appeal in favour of media people across the globe.
The picture of journalism as a profession was bleak, now it is becoming bleaker even with the top leaders in some of the proven democracies embarking on a hate campaign against the media. The man in power in a country where a president in its earliest days announced his preference for 'newspapers without government' to 'government without newspapers' seems to have taken the lead in maligning the media. People become intolerant to newspapers or other media because they themselves have things to hide and the latter painstakingly bring those out. Sure enough, there is journalistic aberration involving infringement with privacy. But if private actions affect or otherwise adversely influence public interests or compromise national interests, it is incumbent of journalists to bring the matter out for public scrutiny.
Intolerance to the profession is growing because many governments have hidden agendas and they would not let those be known to the public. With rapid nationalistic feeling taking over international cooperation and mutual understanding, hawkish policies are now being favoured in large swathes of the planet. In an environment of rising intolerance and jingoism, journalists are becoming the prime target of attacks almost everywhere. On the other side of such direct physical attacks and annihilation, intimidation is so widespread that journalists have to recoil in their shell preferring self-censorship.
All this bodes ill of democracy. Culprits and excessive power wielders go about their unlawful business unrestrained. They feel they do not have to be accountable to anyone, not even to the people. The worst development that takes place in the process is that the perpetrators are protected instead of the victims and the culture extends up to the killing of or violence against journalists. The UN chief goes on record, saying that nine out of 10 such cases are left unresolved and no one is held accountable. Society and government of Bangladesh would not, hopefully, miss or ignore the message of the UN chief. It is time the culture of impunity were made a thing of the past and those responsible punished.
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