For years, Time Magazine has featured the year’s most influential personality on its prestigious annual cover. In light of the extraordinary times that we are living in, this year, the publication went ahead with a tribute to late Saudi journalist and the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, whose premeditated murder in October exposed the constant threat that journalists and dissenters face around the world.
The US-based magazine named three other journalists and a newspaper on Tuesday as its 2018 Person of the Year for standing up for the truth in the face of persecution and violence. They included embattled Philippine journalist and CEO of Rappler Maria Ressa; Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo who have been unlawfully detained in Myanmar for nearly a year; and the newsdesk of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, where five people were shot and killed at the newspaper’s offices in June.
This is the first time the editors chose to select a deceased figure. Those chosen this year will appear in four different cover photos.
Time Person of the year is a multi-person tie:
“As we looked at the choices, it became clear that the manipulation and abuse of truth is really the common thread in so many of this year’s major stories.” @TIME Editor-in-Chief @efelsenthal says pic.twitter.com/SyYcnuHDpY
— Artemis Moshtaghian (@ArtemisChats) December 11, 2018
In tune with the subject of their cover, the magazine themed their choice around “Guardians of Truth” who were imprisoned, assassinated, or came under fire for honest reportage across the world. Time sought to recognise their efforts, “for taking great risks in pursuit of greater truths, for the imperfect but essential quest for facts that are central to civil discourse, for speaking up and speaking out,” the editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal announced on Tuesday.
Time has been doing this feature since 1927, not to confer a title or honour but to simply underscore the influence the person of the year has had on the news, for better or worse. While it is unprecedented in the magazine’s history to select a person of the year post-mortem, “it’s also very rare that a person’s influence grows so immensely in death,” Felsenthal said of Khashoggi.
The US-based journalist Khashoggi, who was brutally murdered and dismembered by a Saudi hit squad at their consulate in Istanbul, sparked a global controversy. “His murder has prompted a global reassessment of the Saudi crown prince and a really long-overdue look at the devastating war in Yemen,” Felsenthal explained.
In the aftermath of the grisly details that emerged, many countries have openly condemned Mohammed bin Salman, snubbed him at the G20 summit, and turned up the pressure on Saudi Arabia to call off the proxy war with Iran on Yemeni soil.
Meanwhile, Reesa’s award-winning reportage of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal war on drugs faced the wrath of the administration, which sued her online news website Rappler for tax evasion. A similar attack on the press occurred this year at Indian digital media house Quint‘s office which was raided by the IT department.
Reesa has called this politically motivated and claimed that the law had been weaponised to be used against journalists in Manila simply because her news portal has been very critical of Dutere’s policies.
“This year we can’t get away from the impunity and the brutal killing of Khashoggi, the jailing of the Reuters journalists and the challenges we face here [in the Philippines], what’s happening in the United States,” she said after her nomination from the Philippines, adding, “Journalists are under attack both online and in the real world and these real-world dangers are something we have to fight to just be able to do our jobs.”
In another Asian country facing international scrutiny for the alleged genocide on Rohingya Muslims, press freedom is also a myth. Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were put behind bars early this year for their investigation into the aforementioned massacre, that was later touted by the UN as one of the worst extrajudicial killings and human rights violations in recent history. They were charged with a draconian colonial-era state secrets law while reporting the murder, rape and exodus of Rohingya Muslims. The portraits of their wives adorn the Time cover this year.
— TIME (@TIME) December 12, 2018
In a similar culmination of events, celebrated Bangladeshi journalist/photographer Shahidul Alam was also arrested under the after he criticised the government in an interview with Al Jazeera, during the student-led Dhaka protests on road safety.
In the case of the Capital Gazette, the suspect who went on a gunfire rampage at their Maryland office, had a longstanding grudge against the newspaper. Authorities later confirmed that the assailant had indeed sued the newspaper after unsuccessfully suing it for defamation in 2012, after it reported on his guilty plea in a criminal harassment case. He targeted the paper in what is suspected to be a “coordinated attack”.
Despite the horror that unfolded in their workplace, the staff worked in the car park to put out an edition the next day.
A Time cover for a post-truth era
“They are representative of a broader fight by countless others around the world — as of December 10, at least 52 journalists have been murdered in 2018 — who risk all to tell the story of our time,” Felsenthal wrote in an essay titled The Guardians and the War on Truth, explaining the reasoning behind the choices.
Closer home, a fierce journalist and activist was assassinated at her doorstep for being a lifelong outspoken critic of Prime Minister Modi’s Hindu nationalist government. Gauri Lankesh, whose murder is now being linked to a hardline Hindu group affiliated to the ruling BJP party, categorically ascribed Modi’s political success to fake news campaigns in her last editorial.
More recently, noted activists, academics and journalists were unceremonially arrested, their homes raided, and their political affiliations questioned just because they organised a Dalit meeting on New Year’s Day. Some of them are still languishing in jail, fighting charges of elaborate conspiracy.
The fight against persecution of journalists and suppression of press freedom has grown more inscrutable in recent times with heads of state proclaiming journalists to be enemies of the people, denying press conferences to journalists, and attacking them with draconian laws for speaking out against bad governance. The Time covers this year serve as reminders of the strife for truth that lies ahead of the fourth estate.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius
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