By Christine Beyleveldt, Editor-in-Chief
Viktoria Marinova, a 30-year-old Bulgarian journalist and TV reporter, was killed on Oct. 6, her body found in a public park in Ruse. She was the third victim of deadly attacks against journalists in the European Union so far this year, although there have been many more worldwide. It’s time we talk about how the press is treated around the world, and maybe as important, how the press treats the very people it is supposed to serve.
It’s supposed to be Halloween, but ghosts and ghouls are just a bit of fun. Censorship and attacks on journalists, which have increased at an alarming rate in recent years, are the real scary issues.
“Fake news” is a term brought up rather carelessly. I don’t believe the way people use the descriptor is always in the dismissive sense that they don’t trust the facts being reported so much as it is a call for a return to traditional reporting. By traditional reporting, I mean telling both sides to every story. That’s what I was taught the news was, and often it isn’t anymore. More often than ever I see the mainstream media peddling narratives to appeal to a demographic of consumers. When I hear “fake news” tossed around, generally it refers to a general lack of trust in the media. The numbers are looking better, but in 2016 overall trust in the press in the United States reached an all-time low of just six per cent.
Journalists walk a fine line, tottering on the edge of an abyss. We need the independent press. It’s fine and well to cry foul of the politicians who hurl accusations at journalists of spreading misinformation or who would bar them from press conferences, but the media also needs to do better. There is a reason overall trust in reporting fell so low just two years ago, and I hazard that it has something to do with letting our emotions trickle into our reporting. If we don’t provide the public with a reason to trust the information we give them, then what is our purpose? Just six companies – that’s only a handful of mega-corporations, each with their own agendas – own 90 per cent of the media organizations in the United States. Bell, Rogers, Shaw and Telus own 70 per cent of the Canadian media.
We’re accustomed to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada, and the freedom of expression laws enshrined in the First Amendment in the United States. These laws keep journalists safe. Not free from consequences, but safe.
On the flip side, there are those who put their lives on the line to expose the truth. In calling the public’s insurmountable lack of trust in the mainstream media an attack on the press at large, we’re undermining the risks independent journalists around the world take to expose the truth.
Police have only recently concluded that Marinova’s death wasn’t linked to her work, but speculation was rampant previously. Before her untimely death, Marinova was investigating corruption within the European Union. Before her, in February, Slovakian investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée were gunned down – Kuciak was investigating tax fraud in circles of wealthy businessmen in connection with top-level politicians at the time of his death. And recently again, Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, was brutally murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Bulgarian Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, reacted to the mere speculation that Marinova was killed in relation to her investigation by lashing out against critics, calling what he read about his country “monstrous“. Bulgaria ranks lowest on the World Press Freedom Index of any European Union nation.
Ultimately, one of the markers of a free society is a free and independent press. We’re not as free as we think we are, but in a perfect world, one without press censorship, journalists must remember that with great power comes great responsibility. We cannot let the public’s trust in faithful reporting erode. Let’s not let Marinova’s death, or Khashoggi’s, or any other brave individual’s quest for the truth, be in vain.