Why do state authorities murder journalists?

New paper by Anita Gohdes and Sabine Carey, accepted for publication at the Journal of Politics, shows that journalists working at the local state level are particularly vulnerable.

In a research paper, “Understanding journalist killings”, accepted for publication at the Journal of Politics, Hertie School Professor of International and Cyber Security Anita Gohdes and Sabine Carey from the University of Mannheim argue that more journalists are murdered by state actors in democracies than in non-democracies.

“In democracies, journalists will most likely be targeted by local state authorities that have limited options to generally restrict press freedom,” the authors say. “Where local governments are elected, negative reporting could mean that local politicians lose power and influence, especially if they are involved in corrupt practices.”

Elements of local-level democracy, they add, carry a risk for journalists that is often not mitigated by democratic institutions at the national level. Based on data drawn from multiple global sources, the authors identify three key areas that lead to an increased risk of journalist killings in a democracy: elected local state authorities who fear damage to their public image and a loss of power; politicians engaging in corrupt practices; and a lack of attention in politically remote areas with high impunity.

“When members of the press have to pay with their lives for working in this profession, it raises fundamental questions about the workings of democracy,” they conclude.

Freedom of press is often referred to as the “fourth pillar” of a democracy. Accordingly, democracies have a responsibility to ensure a safe and independent environment for the media, including protecting a journalist’s physical integrity.

Read the full paper here.

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