Oct 27, 2018 Volume 392 Number 10157 p1487-1598
Doctors and scientists must defend a free press
Nov 2 marks the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists. UNESCO has recorded 1010 killings of journalists in the past 12 years. In 90% of cases, the killers went unpunished. The work of journalists worldwide offers a vital platform to discuss and debate the health and wellbeing of populations whose plight might otherwise never come to international attention.
Death is not the only way journalists are silenced—they are regularly intimidated and detained as well. Already this year, The Lancet has condemned Shahidul Alam’s detention for highlighting the Government of Bangaldesh’s failure to ensure road safety for its citizens. 2018 has also seen Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo of Reuters convicted after reporting on the alleged killings of ten Rohingya at the hands of soldiers and Buddhist villagers in Myanmar. Journalists risk their personal safety because highlighting health and human rights atrocities is so important.
Press freedom around the world is currently at its lowest ebb for 13 years. 2017 saw 73,000 people classify themselves as journalists or editors, down from 84,000 just 1 year previously. Only 13% of the world’s population currently has a free press. Free press and free expression are inextricably linked to the struggle to advance health for individuals and populations. As we can see from the recent scrambles by Russia and Saudi Arabia to invent narratives to explain their illegal actions, it is only wider attention that can bring sufficient pressure on governments to act within the law and respect the health and human rights of its citizens. Journalists offer a key avenue for applying this pressure.
Let Nov 2, this year, mark a change in the way we think of journalists. It is not just the job of press colleagues, lawyers, and governments to defend the rights of journalists worldwide—health professionals and scientists must stand up for a free press too. If we hope for the better health of people worldwide, we must defend the rights of the most objective international monitoring mechanism we have—a free press.