In a clear critique of the state of press freedom around the world, Time magazine has named “the Guardians” — a group of killed, imprisoned, or targeted journalists — as its 2018 Person of the Year.
According to Time, the Person of the Year “recogniz[es] the person or group of people who most influenced the news and the world — for better or for worse — during the past year.”
This year, the publication chose slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Filipina journalist Maria Ressa, imprisoned Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and the staff of the Capital Gazette of Annapolis, Maryland.
“Like all human gifts, courage comes to us at varying levels and at varying moments. This year we are recognizing four journalists and one news organization who have paid a terrible price to seize the challenge of this moment,” Time editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal wrote in an essay about the decision, listing off the names of those who had been selected. “They are representative of a broader fight by countless others around the world—as of Dec. 10, at least 52 journalists have been murdered in 2018—who risk all to tell the story of our time,” he added.
Time also provided a broader explanation of the reasons behind its decision, focusing on the risks to journalists both in the US and all over the globe — and, unsurprisingly, made mention of US President Donald Trump. The world “is led, in some ways, by a US president whose embrace of despots and attacks on the press has set a troubling tone,” Time’s Karl Vick wrote.
Trump, who was Time’s 2016 Person of the Year and complained about not getting the title in 2017, has not yet responded, though he did take a swipe at the “fake news” on Twitter on Tuesday.
Here’s a more in-depth look at Time’s “Guardians.”
Khashoggi, a Saudi national and dissident who had fled his country for the US because he feared arrest, was murdered at the hands of a covert team of Saudi officials on October 2 during a routine trip to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
The journalist’s murder reverberated around the world partly because he was a prominent and well-respected columnist for the Washington Post, and partly because the horrific details of his murder indicated a shocking level of audacity and brutality on the part of the Saudi government.
The journalist had been outspoken about the crackdown on free speech and human rights in his country after Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler (often referred to as MBS), ascended to power in 2017.
Multiple reports indicate that MBS, who had been heralded as a liberalizing force in the country and praised by Western leaders and media, authorized a team to go to Istanbul to murder the journalist inside the consulate and dismember his body.
Khashoggi’s high-profile disappearance and murder shined a spotlight on the lack of respect for human rights and freedom of speech within Saudi Arabia, and the country’s bloody, reprehensible war on Yemen that has left tens of thousands dead.
It also prompted many to turn a critical eye on the Trump administration’s close relationship with the Gulf monarchy. Trump has expressed his unwillingness to respond to the journalist and US resident’s brutal murder because, he said, there are lucrative arms deals at stake.
Ressa, 55, is a Filipina journalist and former CNN bureau chief who in 2012 started online news site Rappler. From that perch, she’s been critical of the Philippines’ government and President Rodrigo Duterte. Rappler has covered Duterte’s violent drug war and extrajudicial killings that, according to Human Rights Watch, has led to more than 12,000 deaths.
Its coverage hasn’t come without cost.
In January, the Philippines’ Securities and Exchange Commission revoked Rappler’s registration, and in February, Duterte banned Rappler reporters from the presidential palace, declaring the publication “fake news.”
In November, Ressa and Rappler were charged with tax fraud, and a warrant was subsequently issued for Ressa’s arrest. Ressa has said that the charges are an attempt to “harass and intimidate” her news organization.
“We need to hold the government to account, and part of the reason I’m here is precisely that,” she said outside of a courthouse after posting bail, according to the Guardian. “I’m not a criminal, but I’ve been fingerprinted like a criminal. We feel that we did not get due process.”
Ressa, who was honored at Committee to Protect Journalists’ International Press Freedom Awards in 2018, spoke with Time about the effect social media has had on the news and information environment in the Philippines. Duterte’s administration has used social media to try to influence public opinion and spread misinformation.
“Technology has no morals and no values,” she said. “And the group that actually figured out how to use it and weaponized it are the authoritarian style leaders.”
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are Reuters journalists who had uncovered a mass killing in Myanmar when authorities arrested them on December 12, 2017, claiming they had illegally obtained state secrets.
The pair were investigating the deaths of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys in a village in Myanmar’s Rakhine state when they were detained by plainclothes police officers. In September, a court in Myanmar sentenced them to seven years in prison, claiming they had violated a law called the Official Secrets Act. They’re scheduled for an appeal hearing on December 24.
Myanmar is currently experiencing a crackdown on press freedom within the wider context of the military’s campaign against the country’s Muslim minority. As Sarah Wildman wrote for Vox, the group is so persecuted that even the word “Rohingya” is considered taboo. The country’s leaders don’t use it, and the Rohingya are not an officially recognized ethnic minority. Instead, they are referred to as “Bengalis” to support a disputed narrative about how the Rohingya are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Since Myanmar’s military instituted a targeted campaign of violence and brutality against the Rohingya in August of last year, more than 700,000 people from the country’s Muslim minority population have fled to neighboring Bangladesh. The military has reportedly burned entire villages, massacred men, women, and children, and engaged in systematic rape.
Kyaw Soe Oo’s wife, Chit Su Win, spoke to Time about her husband’s fate nearly a year after he had been imprisoned. “Where is the justice to sentencing two journalists to seven years in prison just for doing their jobs?” she said.
In June, a gunman opened fire at the Capital Gazette’s newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland, killing five people — four journalists and a sales associate. The newspaper was the only group named to Time’s Person of the Year list in 2018.
The shooting at the Capital Gazette, perpetrated by a gunman who had been angry for years over an article the paper published in 2011 about him harassing a woman, rattled many in US media, especially since anti-press rhetoric is on the rise in America.
The shooting ignited discussions about the potential real-world implications of Trump’s anti-press rhetoric (though there was no evidence that the gunman had been directly influenced by Trump) and broader criticism of journalists and the work they do. But the Capital Gazette story was also one of resiliency: the Capital Gazette put out a paper the day after the shooting.
Rick Hutzell, editor of the Capital Gazette, spoke with Time for his first sit-down interview since the day after the shooting. “I hate being the story,” he said.
The victims of the shooting were Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith, and Wendi Winters.
Last week, Joshua McKerrow, a photojournalist at the Capital Gazette, in a moving tweet thread described doing an annual story on holiday decorations at the governor’s mansion in Maryland. He used to work on the story with one of the victims, Wendi.
“I miss her very much. I’m comforted that in a way she’s still with me, when I do the work that she loved to do. Journalism. Patriotic, truth telling, American. We’ll keep on doing the work,” he wrote. “And if we die for it, someone else will pick up the threads, and report on the holiday decorations at the Governor’s house. It’s what we do.”