I am going to tell you a story and like some stories, there is just two possible outcomes. People would rather I choose a happy ending, but unfortunately, this story falls into the opposite. For those who are protagonists of a story with a sad ending, society may make them heroes, putting them onto pedestals that don’t last for very long. We human beings have a short term memory…
This is the narrative of a Galician (northern Spain) video journalist killed by the US army in April 8, 2003 in Baghdad during the Iraq War initiated after the US invaded the country and left years later in December 18, 2011.
The name of the video journalist is José Couso Permuy
It is almost 20 years since the assassination of José Couso Permuy, and neither he nor his family have received justice . Inasmuch the case involved the global leader par excellence, facts got pressurized under thick layers of legalities that have not really come into fruition. The Spanish State has litigated from different angles to an extent without a definite outcome. That per se, despite acknowledging the privilege of at least being heard and having the possibility to clear up the truth, comes as the ultimate example of impunity.
José’s story is one among many others such as the US-American photojournalist James Foley in 2014, the Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana in 2017, or more recently the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. These three were killed in outrageous ways, as an attempt was made to silence their voices when unravelling Machiavellian governmental moves or conflicts of all sorts (follow the link #TruthNeverDies to hear about other stories).
November 2nd has been marked as International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists along with World Press Freedom Day on May 3 by the United Nations. These dates represent a hymn to freedom of information and speech. They remind us the importance of keeping up efforts to fortify our democracy through access to verifiable information sourced by trustworthy media with the ultimate goal to unpack reality, provide facts and voice people in liminality. As a sort of Guernica (Pablo Picasso, 1937), they too make us think about the absolute chaos of human conflict, caused by lack of understanding and misinformation. That is, the silenced right to knowledge.
Nowadays, mass media are taken for granted. Information is taken for granted. And so is the way it is gathered and analyzed for further reaching its audience. The latter has never had so many possibilities when in comes to accessing information. But, what kind of access are we being granted? In other words, could it be possible we have been fooled into thinking higher information flow leads to reflective, proactive and politically engaged societies? Or are we numbed by the intensity of that flow, therefore increasingly loosing sight amidst a post-truth environment where noise thrives over fact-checking?
Herein resides the importance of journalism embodied by committed professionals all over the world who are subject to wear ‘Don’t shoot, I am journalist‘ vests in order to grant themselves some figurative protection against deadly threads impeding the very development of their professional task. According to the UNESCO Observatory of Killed Journalists, over 1.400 communicators have been killed since 1993. In 2020 alone, the barometer by Reporters Without Borders estimates that 31 journalists have been killed, along with 381 imprisoned.
These are not solely terrifying figures that most probably do not provide the picture in its entirety (more in the following WCIA article: Democracy Under Attack – Violence and Repression). Rather, these figures represent an array of multicultural narratives being silenced in looking for facts for us to be informed from the comfort of our homes.
Therefore, being proactive and gathering information from reliable sources is not a petty matter. It enacts a conscious way to echo those voices that have been previously silenced, for they have the potential to reach a collectiveness that should be guided by principles of empathy, tolerance and honesty. If we want our democracies to be strong and progressive, citizens, politics and the zeitgeist must all come together at once to denounce shortfalls and the multiple violations to freedom of information and speech. Including despicable deaths, tortures and harassment.
After all, there is nothing more ostracizing, worrying and dangerous than taking commitment to the truth and our democracies for granted.
Written by Santi, our long term ESC Volunteer