The killing of five journalists in their newsroom in Maryland, USA yesterday is a shocking attack on press freedom. The documented rise in attacks on journalists for carrying out their work represents a direct and severe threat to the right to freedom of expression, and the US government must ensure not only that the person responsible is brought to justice, but that it takes steps to create a safe and enabling environment for journalists across the country, including through its rhetoric.
On 28 June 2018, journalists and newspaper workers Wendi Winters, Rebecca Smith, Robert Hiaasen, Gerald Fischman and John McNamara were shot dead by a gunman who had previously filed a defamation lawsuit against their newspaper, The Capital Gazette, for its reporting on his conviction under harassment charges. The suit had been dismissed as the gunman and accuser, Jarrod Ramos, failed to show that any of the details reported were inaccurate.
Following the murders, police were posted to a number of major news outlets across the county. The murders come amid rising public hostility to journalists and the media, fuelled in part by the Trump administration’s long running verbal attacks on journalists and their reporting. In May 2018, ARTICLE 19 and a coalition of international freedom of expression organisations published a report following a press freedom mission to the US, which highlighted a number of concerning trends, including the increased abuse, harassment and threats of physical attacks against journalists. These violations have occurred in particular online, and are fuelled by divisive and disparaging rhetoric from the Trump administration against the media.
“This shocking attack is a worrying indicator of the threatening environment journalists in the US are increasingly facing,” said Thomas Hughes, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19. “We express our condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of those killed in this attack on the press. The government must see this as a wake up call, and urgently reverse its rhetoric on the media, and make sure the US’s free press is protected and able to carry out their important work in safety.”