Journalism’s immune system has long been compromised. From declining advertising revenue to the rise of disinformation campaigns and thoughtless social media companies, the industry has borne the brunt of multiple blows over the years.
These have left us staggering.
Now we find ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic with no end in sight. For many publications, this has been the final pressure that forced printing presses to shut down and servers to power off. Fewer journalists are asking difficult questions of policymakers and holding those in power to account.
At the same time, we need to document an ever-more complicated world in which the stakes are high. Besides a pandemic, China is moving to cement its position in Hong Kong while everyone else is distracted by the economic and social effects of Covid-19. And everyone is pushing back decisive action to reduce global warming and the deadly effects of the climate crisis, guaranteeing a worse future.
In the United States, media are documenting how that country reckons with its “original sin” of being built on the backs of enslaved people, on stolen land. The white supremacists who used that country’s broken electoral system to seize power seem hellbent on taking advantage of the pandemic to ensure their control continues. Their foot soldiers are taking the signal from the top and using force against anyone who disagrees. Journalists are not being spared. In Minneapolis, CNN reporter Omar Jimenez and two members of his producing team were arrested for doing their jobs. Their arrests, which were captured in a live broadcast, came despite the police officers knowing they were members of the media.
“Put us back where you want us. We are getting out of your way, so just let us know,” Jimenez, who is black and Latino, is heard telling officers before he is handcuffed. “Wherever you want us, we will go. We’re just getting out of the way.”
As our American colleagues grapple with treatment that is so often reserved for “shithole countries” in the developing world, and as they discover the lengths their government will go to stop them from doing their jobs, we stand in solidarity.
In South Africa, we are used to the uneasy relationship between media and state. Our press now enjoys far more rights than most do elsewhere in the world. It is how we continue to document the brutality this government metes out — the unanswered assault and killing of black people for the crime of existing.
This country’s history is awash in blood. At times, the injustice was flagrant. Other equally ugly parts stayed hidden and were brought to light by the dogged refusal of people, and journalists, to accept injustice.
We too must challenge the status quo. It destroys too many people.