by Amr Bakkar
Journalism is a method to convey people’s voice and it is the monitoring entity that supervises and keeps an eye on government’s performance.
However, when totalitarian regimes and states exist, they do not want people’s voices to be heard nor do they want any supervision from any form of authority on them. They therefore consider journalism as their enemy, consequently journalism is feeble and speechless in countries where dictatorships thrive.
The Middle East is considered to be one of the most interesting regions to cover as a western journalist, due to the ongoing conflicts and challenges. Wars need reporters and correspondents to be on the ground to cover them. As a result, many journalists risk their lives attempting to cover and convey truthful news to audiences worldwide. For example, The Sunday Times reporter Marie Colvin who died while covering the siege of Baba Amr in the city Homs, Syria.
389 journalists and media workers have been arrested because of their work
Another danger that faces journalists in the Middle East, and other troubled regions, is that detentions and arrests can sometimes be without an exit ticket. According to “Reporters Without Borders”, 49 journalists were killed in 2019, which is the lowest figure in 16 years. But although there has been a fall in deaths, 389 journalists and media workers have been arrested because of their work. That is around 12% more than the previous year. Specifically, China, Syria, Egypt, and Vietnam are some of the countries with the most detained journalists.
I am from Syria and have been in opposition to the Syrian regime since the eruption of the revolution in 2011. I was 17 when it all started, and did not know that journalism was going to be my career until the atrocities by the Syrian security forces started to become apparent and the Syrian Army was deployed to curb demonstrations.
Since then, I made up my mind that the press is the career path for me, because people and the truth have to be heard no matter what the cost is. My passion of journalism is not because I like journalism, my passion comes from an urgent need to cover injustices, like those happening in Syria.
Unfortunately, I did not have the chance to do journalism in Syria itself as I left in 2012. However, this passion that was created in Syria, grew when I moved to Lebanon, and has thrived further in the United Kingdom.
When I was in Lebanon, I covered many events for a Syrian online agency. One of these events was the fourth anniversary of the Syrian revolution in Beirut. When I was taking photographs and filming the demonstration, a number of Hezbollah militia’s proponents (an ally of the Syrian regime) appeared and started to threaten demonstrators.
Fortunately, there were forces from the Lebanese security present who prevented the situation from escalating. It was, however, a frightening situation, as I was just a few steps away from them and felt that I might be in deep trouble. I knew many people who were kidnapped and mistreated by this militia.
Without press freedom journalists would be shackled and unable to investigate stories
A journalist friend of mine, Malek Abo Kheir told me: “When I was in Syria, the most important difficulties for journalists and reporters are the security monitoring on press and the limitation of subjects and aspects that can be talked about”.
With the World Press Freedom Day’s theme “Journalism without Fear or Favour”, we should remember all the mistreatment and brutality that is being carried out at this moment in Syria, Lebanon and other regions around the world. Without press freedom journalists would be shackled and unable to investigate these stories.
Our eyes are now importantly focused on China as many observers and experts are questioning the official Chinese deaths toll due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Chinese journalists are unable to access information and they are not allowed to broadcast what the Chinese government do not want them to. We will have to wait for the alternative stories and reports that are yet to be told by the Chinese journalists later on when this pandemic is over.