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Violence against journalists is universal, found everywhere there is journalism. But the level and type of violence vary according to a series of factors, involving the general level of violence in a society or political system, the level of professionalism in the news media, and the extent to which violent action is useful in representing public opinion. Violence against journalists almost always includes a symbolic dimension; in some cases, the violence is primarily symbolic.
Several organizations track violence against journalists worldwide. These organizations note that, especially in conflict zones, journalists are increasingly subject to violent attack. Wartime and social upheaval have always produced violence against journalists. Autocracies use violence to stifle criticism, and crime reporting can also be glamorously dangerous. In China, for instance, a rapidly expanding media system at the beginning of the twenty-first century produced a wave of exposus of local corruption, and the targets of the exposus frequently became violent.
Violence operates at the boundaries of the public sphere and can be a form of policing. In any political system, the media are involved in the representation of public opinion. Historically, political forces attempt to capture the representation of public opinion through various means: making news, exerting political or economic pressure, winning elections. When peaceful means fail, violence becomes useful. Violence has been used to try to exclude ideas and groups from public discussion. Such exclusionary violence often appears to be a surrogate for government censorship.
Violence against the press is a common feature in many countries with diverse populations. Communal media in India, for instance, have experienced violence similar to that visited upon African-Americans in the US south at the end of the nineteenth century. Such actions often look like spontaneous popular outbursts; they are usually carefully scripted to do so. The line between public and private has also been a site of violence. The subjects of personal criticism in the press, whether private or public figures, have often struck back. Also, the publicists for labor movements have been targets of violence as labor activists have targeted anti-labor newspapers. Further, movements that feel themselves neglected by the news media will sometimes commit acts of spectacular violence to claim coverage for themselves.
- Committee to Protect Journalists (2006). Attacks on the press in 2006. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.
- Nerone, J. (1994). Violence against the press: Policing the public sphere in U.S. history. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Reporters without
- Borders (2011). Annual reports. At http://en.rsf.org/safety-of-journalists.html, accessed August 28, 2014.