Deadly profession

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You might get killed for doing this sort of thing in other parts of the world..!

After 23 years with the BBC, and 38 years in journalism (when he was trained to use clear and simple language, avoiding jargon), here our Editor Phil Parry looks with horror at the suppression of an independent media in Russia and elsewhere, as well as how more details have now come to light of people being murdered for pursuing his craft. 

Earlier he described how he was assisted in breaking into the South Wales Echo office car when he was a cub reporter, recalled his early career as a journalist, the importance of experience in the job, and making clear that the‘calls’ to emergency services as well as court cases are central to any media operation.

Phil, here on BBC Cymru Wales Today in 1988, always knew how important it was to talk to people, but it might not be possible in other countries

He has also explored how poorly paid most journalism is when trainee reporters had to live in squalid flats, the vital role of expenses, and about one of his most important stories on the now-scrapped 53 year-old BBC Wales TV Current Affairs series, Week In Week Out (WIWO), which won an award even after it was axed, long after his career really took off

Phil has explained too how crucial it is actually to speak to people, the virtue of speed as well as accuracy, why knowledge of ‘history’ is vital, how certain material was removed from TV Current Affairs programmes when secret cameras had to be used, and some of those he has interviewed.

‘COME OUT BUT DON’T SHOOT!’

He has disclosed as well why investigative journalism is needed now more than ever although others have different opinions, how the current coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown is playing havoc with media schedules, and the importance of the hugely lower average age of some political leaders compared with when he started reporting.

 

Just as the war in Ukraine has exposed the suppression of an independent media to report the truth about it in Russia, it is also sad to note that there have been MORE murders of journalists around the world who have tried to record facts.

A woman posts photos of murdered journalists during a national protest in Mexico City on 25 January

The appalling abuse I suffer online is as nothing compared to what is endured by the poor people of Ukraine, and those reporters around the world.

It is also worrying to see that since the unprovoked invasion by Russia, the west’s criticism has gone quiet about the suppression of a free media in, for example, Turkey, as well as how independent journalists are being killed across the globe.

Two wrongs DO NOT make a right!

Roberto Toledo was shot dead

It has now emerged that a video journalist called Eduardo/Roberto Toledo died of his wounds in Mexico, after being shot by three armed men on his arrival at the office

He was the FOURTH journalist to be murdered in the country in just ONE month!

He was killed in the city of Zitácuaro, where he reported for a local news outlet, Monitor Michoacán, and the region is rife with violence, as drug cartels and criminal groups fight to control illegal logging.

In Belarus where the media is state-controlled, protests about behaviour by the authorities are met with force

The media freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders have said that 47 journalists were killed over the past five years in Mexico (the same number as in Afghanistan), but even more than that ghastly figure is those missing (presumed kidnapped), and reporters who are forced to wear bullet-proof vests while they do their jobs.

However, this level of protection didn’t save one journalist in Mexico. Lourdes Maldonado who was shot dead in Tijuana this year.

In Belarus the situation is also awful. At least 16 journalists are behind bars in the country, and riot police are singling out reporters for arrests and beatings at protests as the media is intimidated.

At least eight protesters have been killed in Belarus

On May 23 the embattled dictator Alexander Lukashenko, forced a Ryanair passenger plane to make an unscheduled stop in his capital in order to arrest the editor of an internet channel, NEXTA, that has been reporting on his crackdown.

Roman Protasevich, aged 26, was taken off the plane, which was flying from Athens to Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital. Citing what it said was ‘evidence’ that there were explosives on board, the authorities forced the aircraft to land in Minsk as it passed through Belarusian airspace on its way to neighbouring Lithuania, sending a MiG fighter plane to escort the Ryanair jet down. The state news agency later reported that no explosives had been found, and it seems certain that the incident was invented purely as a way of arresting the journalist.

Roman Protasevich, the Editor of an internet channel, was arrested

The worrying news came after Marina Zolotova, the editor of Tut.by, an independent news website in the country, said: “Blue press jackets and press badges have become targets. When journalists go to cover a protest they cannot be sure that they will come home. This is a real war by the authorities against independent journalism and their own people.” It is clear that Mr Lukashenko is waging a war against journalists who have dared to report on his regime’s brutal crackdown against peaceful protesters.

Marina Zolotova – ‘journalists have become targets’

At least eight protesters have been killed and hundreds more have alleged torture and rape, in police custody, and journalists are at risk of arrest (or worse) if they report this awful news.

Among the most high-profile of those in prison is Yekaterina Bakhvalova, who was arrested on November 15 as she filmed riot police firing stun grenades into a crowd demonstrating against the death in police custody of a fellow protesters.

Yekaterina Bakhvalova was arrested for doing her job

In many countries it appears to be becoming worse for media freedom and investigative journalists like me – while dumbed-down ‘news’ is the order of the day.

In total the US Press Freedom Tracker, a non-profit project, says it is examining more than 100 “press freedom violations” at protests. About 90 cases involve attacks.

In Russia the independent media is now very small, but an example of it is a special website which is devoted to the numbers that have been killed. Sometimes the persecution has official backing. Vladimir Putin recently signed a law that will allow Russia to declare journalists and bloggers as “foreign agents” in a move that critics say will allow the Kremlin to target government critics.

‘I’M TELLING YOU JOURNALISTS – STOP BEING SO NOSEY!’

Under the vaguely worded law, Russians and foreigners who work with the media or distribute their content and receive money from abroad would be declared ‘foreign agents’, potentially exposing journalists, their sources, or even those who share material on social networks to foreign agent status.

This terrible situation is set against a very worrying backdrop, where media freedom itself is under threat.

Slovenian television came under attack

After Slovenia seceded from Yugoslavia in 1991, it gave Radio Television of Slovenia (RTV-SLO) a mandate to report independently, unlike the state propaganda that passed for news under communism. But the Government there is now refusing to pay RTV-SLO’s budget, and wants to pass a new media law that will make it easier to control.

In Latvia, the chief risk is the legal and financing structure. The country’s new public-media law fails to include a set-aside tax, like the television licence fee that funds the BBC (which could now be cut after the Martin Bashir affair, or scrapped altogether if the UK Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries is to be believed) and that leaves it vulnerable to political pressure. It is not clear that the new ‘supervisory’ board will be protected from political appointments.

Is it REALLY?

The prime example, of course, is Russia, where RT (Russia Today) is accused of being a mouthpiece for Mr Putin. By the mid-2000s Russian news shows’ agendas were being set at government-led meetings.

When Viktor Orban won power in Hungary in 2010 he adapted Mr Putin’s blueprint, transforming the state media agency MTVA into a propaganda organ. The group was restructured into a shell company in a fashion that exempts it from the law governing public media, and during the European Parliament elections in 2019, editors at MTVA were recorded instructing reporters to favour Mr Orban’s Fidesz party.

Poland’s Law and Justice party does NOT wave the flag for media freedom

Poland’s Law and Justice (PLS) party followed Mr Orban’s example when it won power in 2015, and quickly turned TVP, the public television network, into a bullhorn for the party. The network championed campaigns against gay rights and demonised the opposition mayor of Gdansk. After he was assassinated by an extremist in 2019, a court told TVP to pay damages, but it has not complied.

It’s claimed the Hong Kong protests are foreign influenced – another reason to have a free media

People in Hong Kong have been subjected to a particularly savage suppression of media freedom, and they have protested about it there, as well as in the UK after they moved here under new legislation rushed through Parliament to help them.

Between January and September last year 80,000 Hong Kongers applied to move to the UK using the British National (Overseas) visa system.

Huge crowds supported the Hong Kong protesters

10 demonstrations took place in Britain on January 16, calling for media freedom in their home country and allowing it to be taught as in the west. The protest in London attracted an enormous crowd.

Even in the (relatively) stable UK there is cause for alarm.

‘Celebrity’ ‘journalism’, and low-quality, dumbed-down, ‘reports’ seem to prevail, which are light years away from the work I do (where I work in a free media environment).

Amy Fenton – a local journalist put under police protection

The Chief Reporter for the Mail, the local newspaper at Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria, Amy Fenton, was forced to flee her home after receiving a torrent of insults and threats when she reported a local court case. Police said there was a ‘credible risk to her life and that of her child’.

Privacy laws are starting to rival libel rules (which are known for their ferocity around the world) in hampering free journalistic inquiry.

The Supreme Court effectively ruled that individual rights trump media freedom

The UK’s Supreme Court has just confirmed an award of £25,000 in damages against the media giant Bloomberg because (it was claimed) an individual’s privacy had been invaded by publication of details from a criminal inquiry into the activities of an American businessman.

In doing so the court has tilted UK law further away from freedom of the media, and towards privacy rights.

The rise, too, of social media, has allowed to grow stronger the shrill abuse of the kind of investigative journalism I undertake.

In the past I have been called online (wrongly), a “bastard”, a “liar”, a “misogynist”, a “little git”, and (accurately), a “troublemaker”, a “nuisance”“irritating”, as well as “annoying”.

Book posterThese things are important, although they pale into insignificance compared with what is happening now in Ukraine, and elsewhere across the world, where reporters are being shot for doing their jobs and telling the truth…

 

 

Tomorrow – how the controversial pundit Jonathan ‘Jiffy’ Davies has been publicly condemned as “annoying as fuck” by a former professional rugby player who has just been named as a new coach for a top Welsh team, while a writer has been forced to apologise.

The memories of Phil’s extraordinary decades long award-winning career in journalism (when he could operate in a free environment) as he was gripped by the rare neurological disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major book ‘A Good Story’. Order it now. The picture doubles as a cut-and-paste poster,

Another book, though, has not been published, because it was to have included names.