2015 was a fatal year for journalists

The names etched in glass at the Newseum in Washington D.C. will stick with me for a long time. It is the memorial for fallen journalists and contains the names of those killed every year for doing their job.

Maybe that’s what this release from Rignam Wangkhang, the campaigns and advocacy officer for Canadian Journalists for Free Expression caught my attention.

The year 2015 was a fatal one for journalists and media workers, with at least 77 people dying. Here are the notable incidents and trends from that release (I have copied here from the original).

France, January 7, 2015: 2015 began with the tragic attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, where 12 people were brutally murdered, including nine magazine staff, in Paris on January 7. The attackers identified themselves as members of Al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen. Charlie Hebdo is known for its highly controversial satirical cartoons depicting contentious political and religious issues, including the Prophet Muhammad. The incident became a rallying point for free expression advocates around the world.

Yemen, April 20, 2015: Journalist and TV presenter Mohammed Shamsan and three other staff members of Sana’a-based television station Yemen Today were killed in an airstrike on April 20. This attack is part of a military campaign by a Saudi-led coalition of countries against Houthi rebels loyal to Ali Abdullah Saleh, the former Yemeni president who assumed control over much of the country earlier last year. It is reported that the station was deliberately targeted for its coverage that was favourable to the Houthi rebels.

Mexico, July 31, 2015: Photojournalist Rubén Espinosa was murdered on July 31 in Veracruz state, after fleeing Mexico City due to threats and harassment. He reported being followed after publishing a compromising photo of Veracruz governor Javier Duarte in 2014, and was found dead a year later in an apartment along with his friend, social activist Nadia Vera, two roommates and a housekeeper. A convicted rapist was arrested in relation to the killings; however, it is widely believed that this arrest was a sham in order to suppress public outcry. Officials stated that the motive for the murder was robbery and not related to the threats and attacks Espinosa had previously faced because of his work.

USA, August 26, 2015: TV reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward were murdered on August 26 during a live broadcast in Virginia. They were killed by a former colleague who later shot himself after during the ensuing police chase. The killer had publicized his crime on social media following the shooting. This incident marked a harrowing global trend in 2015­ of journalists being targeted to gain publicity.

BangladeshBlogger Hit List: Religious fundamentalism has grown in Bangladesh, and with it an increasingly disturbing trend of extremists killing secularist and humanist writers with impunity. Extremist groups are reported to be responsible for the brutal hacking deaths of four secular bloggers and a publisher in 2015. Ansar al-Islam (Ansarullah Bangla Team), a local affiliate of Al-Qaeda, published a global hit list that targets secularists in Bangladesh and abroad, and have claimed responsibility for some of the attacks on secularists in the past year. All five victims in 2015 had been named on the hit list prior to their murders.

BrazilExecution-Style Killings: A tragic trend of execution-style killings in Brazil in 2015 was punctuated in August by the on-air murder of radio journalist Gleydson Carvalho in the city of Camocim. Carvalho was known for being an outspoken critic of political corruption in the country. Four other journalists outside of major Brazilian cities were also killed in gruesome manners. In one case, Evany José Metzker, a political blogger investigating a child prostitution ring, was discovered decapitated just outside the town of Padre Paraíso. Press freedom in Brazil is heavily compromised by the economic and political interests of government bodies and powerful individiduals, and attacks on journalists are frequent. None of the five cases from 2015 have been resolved.

Middle EastKillings for Publicity: In Syria, seven journalists were killed in 2015. While this number is down from 18 in 2014, Syria remains one of the most dangerous and deadly countries in the world for journalists. The dangers and threats of extremism and war are increasingly prevalent, and a wide range of extremists are using journalists as a means to gain publicity and notoriety. This trend is occurring throughout the Middle East, particularly in Iraq and Yemen, where four and six journalists, respectively, were murdered in 2015.

PhilippinesImpunity for Killers: Four journalists were murdered in the Philippines in 2015 in an alarming trend of targeting journalists who speak out on corruption and human rights abuses in the country. In August, three were murdered in a span of just two weeks. These killings, as in previous years, have largely gone unpunished; a culture of impunity in the country has been permitted through the failure of officials to pursue those responsible for the crimes. The Philippines continues to be one of the world’s deadliest countries for journalists, with over 100 journalists and media workers killed in the past decade, and the vast majority of these will remain unpunished.

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TED Woman: Lee Mokobe

“And now, oncoming traffic is embracing more transgendered children than parents.”

I have never really appreciated the impact of slam poetry until I heard Lee Mokobe at TED Women in Monterey this May. I appreciate that slam poetry as an art form is about making a statement. It wasn’t until that statement was about social injustice, and not just any injustice but that experienced by the poet, that I really understood.

“And now, oncoming traffic is embracing more transgendered children than parents.”

I don’t care your religion, race, belief system, age … never let a child believe they are unloved because they don’t fit what you believe they should be.

The crazy part is with all of the other messages packed into Mokobe’s TED talk it’s hard to even catch this line. Many people around me didn’t, until I repeated it and repeated it again, and tweeted it.

Mokobe is from Cape Town, South Africa and when we talked after the session, he said the government doesn’t appreciate his work. I can understand that. I can understand how the truth of his words might cause discomfort for some, but that is entirely why we need to listen.

Please watch.

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James Nachtwey

James Nachtwey is, without a doubt, one of the most impressive people in the world. Not that he would ever accept that though.

The photographer has captured some of the most incredible images of war in our time. He was in South Africa in the early 90s, Rwanda, Kosovo, Israel, Chechnya, and New York on 9-11. He received the TED prize and has a focused effort in looking after people who are affected and infected by severe TB. However, he remains incredibly humble.

All he wants is to witness. “I have been a witness, and these pictures are my testimony. The events I have recorded should not be forgotten and must not be repeated.”

He showed his humility again, recently as he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society of Magazine Editors.

If you are in the media, watch it and be inspired. If you are curious about what drives most journalists, photographers and editors, watch it to gain a glimmer of insight.
Read or watch his acceptance speech here.

If you have an hour and a half, and want to see more of his life’s work. This is some of the 2001 documentary, the War Photographer.

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In Bruges

I didn’t know much about Bruges before arriving there. I mean I saw the movie – In Bruges (the 2008 flick with Colin Farrell playing a messed-up gun-for-hire), but Farrell’s character’s views weren’t that positive.

“I grew up in Dublin. I love Dublin. If I grew up on a farm … Bruges might impress me but I didn’t, so it doesn’t,” he said.

Among his list of problems with the city is how picturesque it is and how much chocolate is there – fortunately for me I had my camera and love chocolate.

Bruges is beautiful, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (since 2000), and great for walking. Don’t get me wrong, it’s packed full of tourists, but as soon as you step one street over from the one marked on the tourist map, you can feel like you are all on your own. The place isn’t that big, you can wander “lost” and find interesting spots along the way.

Or go and see the historical and cultural parts of the city – see Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child (the only of his sculptures to have left Italy in his lifetime) at the back of a cold cathedral, the Basilica of the Holy Blood (where a vial of the Holy Blood is on display), the Beguinage (a silent monastery for the Benedictine sisters), and the Old St. John’s Hospital.

Many tour books, including the one we had tucked in our bag recommended the Groeningmuseum. If you are really into art, and if you are really into Flemish art in particular, do it. Otherwise save the 8€ and see the galleries in Amsterdam and The Hague.

Or you could take the 8€ and go on a canal cruise. Yes, it is a boat packed full of other tourists, yes in the middle of winter it is cold, but it is a really interesting way to see the city, with the many churches and old, expensive architecture. When I say expensive, you too could purchase one of the buildings for sale along the canal for €2 million (then completely gut and renovate it).

BrugesIt’s not often that I say anything is a must see – because I think in travel the only must see is where you find yourself when you wander – but in Bruges, the must see is the view from the top of the belfry. It’s in the center of the city; between the bells and the view, it is worth the 366 steps. Keep in mind that these steps are not for the faint of heart. They are steep, and so narrow that if people are coming the other way you need to stuff yourself into whatever corner you can find to let them pass. Only 70 people are allowed in at any given time – the number seems arbitrary to me – the system counts it, one or two people out and another couple in.

The climb has a massive reward. As you gaze down from the top at the main square and it’s skinny, tall, colourful houses, you realize that one character from the movie, In Bruges, had it right … “It’s like a fucking fairytale or something.”

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Anne Frank House

Most young women will remember reading Anne Frank, the diary of a young girl, when we were in high school. It always struck me as so unfair, them being cooped up for so long, being caught after surviving for years, and then her dying a month before the concentration camp was liberated.

Visiting the house in Amsterdam was something I am glad I have done. It wasn’t as emotional or heartbreaking as I imagined it might be, but I think partially that’s because it is so busy, and not everyone is respectful, and the noise prevents you from getting lost in the experience.

The layout is tasteful; the original decorations were up in the rooms. Photographs show what the rooms look like when they are full, but they stand empty now, making room for the line of people to snake their way through.

After you leave the two floors where the eight people hid, and move into the rest of the museum, there is a presentation on what happened to them after they were caught, and a brief glimpse of Bergen-Belsen. Of the eight, Anne’s father, Otto Frank is the only one to survive.

The most poignant moment for me was the diary. Anne Frank’s diary is open, encased in protective glass and on display. When you read the book, you understand it is a diary, but it’s not until you see the pencil writing on the unlined pages, with the plaid cover, that it really hits home.

The museum is worth the visit.

On a cold winter night, we lined up for an hour in the wind to get into the museum. The understanding is that it closes at 7 p.m. with the last time you can get in at 6: 30 p.m. We made it through the door just before the cut off.

Turns out you can buy tickets online through the website to go in after 7 p.m. (and eliminate the wait).

Pro tip: check the website and book a specific time to go.

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