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Taking journalists out of the line of fire

December 4, 2018

In the United States journalists are under fire, besieged by a volley of words — starting from the top with President Donald Trump, who refers to reporters as “enemies of the people” and refers to their work as “fake news.” Such attacks lessen confidence in the press and creates an atmosphere where actual violence can occur.

Around the world, though, journalists can face lethal danger on a daily basis.

Their lives can be at stake, whether covering news in war zones or writing in countries where dictators silence them through threats or force.

Even life in exile can be deadly, as Saudi journalist and American resident Jamal Khashoggi found. He was killed earlier this year in the Saudi Arabian embassy in Turkey, reportedly on the orders of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. Khashoggi is far from alone. Reporters face prison, even torture, simply for attempting to cover the news of their nations.

It doesn’t have to be this way. And it should not be.

For four days this week in Santa Fe, journalists from around the world are in town to discuss the threats facing journalism in a conference called, fittingly, “Journalism Under Fire.” The idea is to look to solutions that make journalists safer, with conference speakers discussing their personal experiences facing threats.

Presented by the Santa Fe Council on International Relations, the conference is part of a national tour put together by the U.S. State Department. Starting on Tuesday, each day will feature a theme. Friday will include local journalists discussing issues here (The Santa Fe New Mexican is one of several sponsors of the conference).

The gathering is not only for journalists; anyone interested in public policy and current events may` find the discussions interesting. Panelists include journalists who have covered Iran, Ukraine, Russia and Kosovo, as well as New York Times reporter Simon Romero, a New Mexico native based in Albuquerque who spent years covering Latin America.

The idea is to find solutions, so that reporters can do their work without fear of ridicule or harm. In the United States, improving the atmosphere is fairly straightforward. The president and his supporters could quit attacking the press. At a local and state level, governments and officials could be more forthcoming with information and be open about the public’s business, not just when challenged but always. For countries were dictators rule, assuring the safety of reporters — and their journalistic independence — can be more difficult.

All over the globe, the bottom line remains this: Without a free press, without reporters who tell the story straight, people of the world will have difficulty processing all that is happening. In a complex, rapidly changing world, a free flow of information remains essential. For that, we need reporters, now more than ever.

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