Why the murder of Jamal Khashoggi must not mean the death of free press

BY ELLIE LONGMAN-ROOD, North America Editor

On the 2nd October, journalist and critic of the Saudi regime Jamal Khashoggi walked into the country’s consulate in Istanbul, with the intention to gain official documentation certifying his divorce from his ex-wife in order to marry his fiancé. He never left the building again.

It is of no surprise that Saudi Arabia is a uniquely different country with its own culture and value system. So, why were gasps heard across the world at the death of Mr Khashoggi? There is, indeed, good reason for this. When we observe this in its most basic form the reality is this; a journalist was murdered for expressing opinions displeasing to the leader of the government. This is eerily familiar to historical cases that have left nations in dangerous waters.

This episode leaves countless questions, of which many will likely never be answered. Yet, the most practical one to approach immediately is this; how should the world respond? It is time for a breakaway from the traditional form of response of sanctions or restricting arms sales. As Canada’s Former Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, David Chatterson, has made clear, occupying the moral high ground and using traditional tactics “would do nothing to influence the Crown Prince’s views or behaviour”. To levy sanctions or refuse the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia is simply a waste of time. If not for logical reasons, then for ones of self-respect. The definition of insanity is when one repeats the same actions over and over again, expecting a different result. This appears to be the approach with the Middle East, let alone with Saudi Arabia. It is of the utmost importance that we do not fall into this trap again, if for no other reason than our taxpayers deserve more than this from our politicians.

If we were to react how we have historically done so, it opens the door to further concerns. Sadly, Saudi Arabia’s treatment of Mr Khashoggi is not an exception in global behaviour. Russia, China and Turkey to name a few, have all been known to silence their opposition recently. Yet, realistically, the chance that actions will be taken against these nations is incredibly slim.

Realistically, will anything change after this tragedy? Whether this is the desired state of affairs or not, when an event such as this occurs, the world tends to turn to the US to see how they react. While acknowledging the sadness of the death of the journalist, President Trump explained how “at the same time we do have an ally and I want to stick with an ally that in many ways has been very good”. Ironically, in a piece concerning the importance of words, this leaves one rather lost for them.

It is time for us to step down from the moral high ground we have positioned ourselves on. The only way to make sense of this tragedy must be a real and unilateral push toward freedom of the press globally. Initiating this response will be by no means be an easy task, nor will it happen overnight.   Almost immediately there will be claims that countries are trying to westernise the Middle East. Ultimately, this accusation will be a price worth paying. Every nation across the globe is uniquely different, this is not groundbreaking political news. Yet, a consistency across each nation must be a protection of freedom of the press.

As Chatterson has said “it is unlikely we will ever know the full extent of Mr Khashoggi’s murder”. What must be certain, however, is that this incident cannot, and must not be in vain. Despite what we may have been seeing from current politics, words do matter and they must be expressed freely without fear of prosecution. The media has come under fire as of late, with President Trump flinging the term “fake news” around carelessly. He may indeed be right, in that the quality of our news outlets may have decreased, arguably the biggest culprit being Fox News. Yet, this is merely the consequence of a modern pluralist society. With the increased development of technology, there is a demand to read the latest news at a faster pace from the mere click of a button on our handheld devices. Loss of quality can occasionally become the price of this development. As investors push new media businesses, it is only natural that some are not so well expressed, or based on unsound reasoning. This does not mean that we should get caught in this slippery slope of censoring such opinions. “Well, of course not” many would say. But, ignoring the death of Mr Khashoggi implies that we start down this path. Journalists, such as Mr Khashoggi, put themselves on the front line in order to let us read, hear or watch a more diverse range of facts, knowledge and opinions. It is time governments hold themselves more accountable and consider the protection of these individuals as an incredibly important political issue. The first step we can take in ensuring this security is to push for a more globally accepted form of free press.

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