TIME Magazine released four covers honoring the journalists they named as Person of the Year. From left to right: Jamal Khashoggi; the Capital Gazette staff; Maria Ressa; Pan Ei Mon (Wa Lone’s wife) and Chit Su Win (Kyaw Soe Oo’s wife).
The TIME Person of the Year is not a person at all—rather it is a group of people who TIME refers to as the "Guardians." Today TIME released its person of the year honor, and decided to name not just an individual, but rather a group of journalists dedicated to pursuing the truth.
TIME announced: “For taking great risks in pursuit of greater truths, for the imperfect but essential quest for facts, for speaking up and for speaking out, the Guardians — Jamal Khashoggi, the Capital Gazette, Maria Ressa, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo — are TIME's Person of the Year.” The media organization honored four journalists as well as the Capital Gazette staff, which was the target of a June 28 shooting at its headquarters in Annapolis, Md.
An alleged gunman, Jarrod Ramos, entered the headquarters of the Capital Gazette and opened fire on its staff members. Five journalists were killed in the attack: Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, Rebecca Smith, Wendi Winters and John McNamara. The shooter had a grudge with the publication because of an article it had published regarding harassment charges against him, according to the Capital Gazette.
“Community journalists are the only ones who are going to go to your kid’s basketball game. They’re the only ones who are going to cover lifeguard training,” said Selene San Felice, a Capital Gazette reporter. These reporters at the local level play a direct role in their community’s ecosystem. Attacks on the press do not have to solely relate to state secrets or government dissent; attacks at the local level must be considered significant because an attack on any member of the press at any level is an attack on the press as a whole.
Jamal Khashoggi. Photo courtesy of the New York Post.
This year marks multiple firsts: this is the first year TIME has named other members of its own field as Person of the Year, and this is the first year TIME has named someone deceased as Person of the Year.
Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was killed Oct. 2 in the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul as part of a premeditated attack because of his criticism of the Saudi government and its crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. Khashoggi’s publicized death sparked international outcry that demanded Saudi Arabia be held accountable for its actions. Other countries that have turned a blind eye to these long-standing authoritarian tactics are now in turn held accountable by the international community, as they can no longer ignore Saudi Arabia’s ruthlessness towards dissenters.
Journalists Wa Lone and Kway Soe Oo. Photo courtesy of Reuters.
Journalists are committed above all to factually explaining the narrative, even and especially if that narrative is one that some may try to stifle. Two of the TIME named journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, sit in a prison in Myanmar, held captive for having exposed the Myanmar military for systemically persecuting Rohingya Muslims.
The two Reuters journalists broke the story about the military massacring villagers of the minority Muslim group in the Buddhist-majority country. The U.N. estimates approximately 730,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar because of persecution, many of them seeking refuge in neighboring Bangladesh.
The specific story that Soe Oo and Lone were following involved 10 Rohingya men who were killed on Sept. 2, 2017, with photographic evidence and eyewitness testimony corroborating the story. The two journalists were then arrested on Dec. 12 and subsequently convicted for violating the Official Secrets Act, a provision that dates back to British colonial rule. The two men were each sentenced to seven years in prison and await an appeals trial in late December.
TIME also named Philippine journalist Maria Ressa, CEO of an organization called Rappler, which has detailed the regime of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte. On her site, Ressa has covered Duterte’s excessive war on drugs, as well as extrajudicial and vigilante killings. The Philippines government charged Ressa with tax evasion and denies that the charges are politically motivated. She turned herself in and an arraignment is expected to take place in a few months.
From Jamal Khashoggi’s premeditated murder to the arrest of Burmese journalists for exposing systematic genocide, attacks against the freedom of information have increased. This animosity for the press has worsened to the point of violence; nevertheless, these issues have more prominently come to light because of journalism itself.
Reporters are the ones who report the news of other members of their profession being threatened, imprisoned and killed. The community built on telling the story that needs to be told is now telling the story of the demise of its own members. While this may seem gruesome and perhaps ironic, this serves to show the commitment of reporters worldwide to risking their careers and lives to explore the truth, but also how other journalists have shouldered the responsibility for telling the stories of how some of their fellow reporters have faced repercussions for doing so. It may be a role reversal for journalists themselves to be the story of the day, but in the age where they are persecuted and silenced for their craft, that is how their stories are heard.