Forget the Bad Press - Some Journalists are Risking Everything to Tell the Story

23/11/2011 10:13 GMT | Updated 22/01/2012 10:12 GMT

Journalists, in the UK at least, have been getting a bad press recently.

Because of the unfolding phone-hacking scandal, a large part of the British public seems to have decided that few, if any, journalists are trustworthy. Rogue reporters aside, it is important to remember the purpose of decent journalism: to report the facts.

Today is the inaugural International Day to End Impunity. To those who don't work in press freedom organisations, 'impunity' if often little more than an obscure word on a 'thing to look up in Google?' list.

Impunity is the exemption from punishment - and the rising number of unsolved media-worker murders shows that killing the messenger to silence them is a very real threat. According to the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) - a global network of organisations working to promote freedom of expression - more than 500 journalists have been killed with complete impunity in the past 10 years. In nine out of 10 cases, the murder has not been investigated and the killer remains unfound. These journalists, mostly unknown local reporters in far-flung corners of the world, were killed for exposing corruption, critiquing authorities, and reporting what they believe to be true - basically, exercising their right for freedom of expression.

In response to this, IFEX and other press freedom organisations have named today, 23 November, the inaugural International Day to End Impunity, on the second anniversary of the Maguindanao massacre - the single deadliest attack on journalists in recent history, where 32 journalists were kidnapped and killed in the Philippines.

Despite attempts to provide safety training to media workers and raise the profile of this issue, journalists around the world continue to be silenced, with little repercussion for their persecutors. This is not to mention the countless incidents of journalists being threatened, detained and attacked for daring to have a voice and make their opinions heard - even in the western world, as an increasing number of reports say that journalists are being attacked both by protesters and the police while trying to cover the Occupy movement in the US.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Pakistan and Mexico have the highest impunity rates this year, with five unsolved murders in Pakistan and three in Mexico. And these figures are likely to both increase and become increasingly difficult to document, as the lines blur between what constitutes a journalist, citizen journalist, a blogger and an activist. With blogging and social networking on the rise, the very definition of 'journalist' is brought into question.

In Mexico, where many newspapers are practicing self-censorship for fear of reprisal from covering drug cartels, blogs and social networking websites are taking on the task of covering crime and corruption instead. Recently, the consequences of practicing this citizen journalism have been dire - as a spate of threats and even killings has come about. Earlier this month, the decapitated body of the alleged moderator of 'Nuevo Laredo Vivo' - an anti-crime website - was found alongside a note saying: "This happened to me for not understanding that I shouldn't report on the social networks." The corpse was found in the exact place where another blogger's decapitated body was found less than two months before.

The world of media is changing. But with cutbacks, the increasing need for fast-paced, 24-hour, 7-day-a-week news coverage, and the power of social media, citizen journalism is a part of that change and should be embraced. From the Arab uprisings all the way through to the London riots and the Occupy Wall Street movement, citizen journalists have been joining the throng and helping cover the story - often putting themselves at greater risk because of their lack of training, accreditation and oftentimes, credibility.

For a day at least, we should stop and think of the reporters - whether working for an international news organisation, a local paper, or simply blogging - who are risking their lives every day to ask the difficult questions, lend a voice to the voiceless and get the story. Because increasingly, shouting 'I'm a journalist!' won't always save you from an attack - it can make you an easy target.