Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, 53, was assassinated last October in a car bomb. Swedish Kim Wall, 30, was murdered and her body decapitated last August. Slovakian Jan Kuciack, 27, and his girlfriend were shot dead in their house earlier this year. This month, Bulgarian Victoria Marinova, 30, was just found murdered.
With little justice served so far in the brutal murders of these journalists, targeted for their work, by those in power be it government-linked members, organised crime groups or other individuals.
But one new case finally turned things upside down, bringing global attention to a gruesome act committed against a journalist and topping the global agenda for weeks.
Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi, 59, was killed earlier this October inside his consulate in Istanbul. His case has shaken things at the highest command level of the kingdom’s ruling family.
As the world watched, King Bin Salman Abdul Aziz had to sack intelligence officers and an advisor to the court. Saud Arabia is yet to completely put out the fire out of this one after a series of official Khashoggi scenarios failed one after the other.
Media pressure pushed world leaders, even US President Donald Trump who sees media as enemies and whom Khashoggi was critical of, and Saudi Arabia to seek accountability.
Despite accusations to the media of biased coverage or misleading reports, what the media established about the fate of Khashoggi winded up being correct: he had disappeared after last being seen entering the consulate but never coming out and he has been killed inside, although the details of what happened to remain subject of investigations.
Since his disappearance on 2 October, media raised concerns. More than two weeks later, media reported his murder citing unnamed Turkish officials, casting doubt on the Saudi government.
Media painted the large picture. Khashoggi, living in self-exile in the US and criticising some policies adopted by Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman, had been lured into the consulate– killed and his body put out of sight.
Khashoggi had first visited the consulate on 28 September, willingly, to finalise divorce documents in order to marry his Turkish fiancée and was asked to come back on 2 October.
By that time, a plan to deal with him would be set up, as Saudi Arabia later confirmed, arresting 15 suspects reported to have flown to Istanbul to meet Khashoggi.
While most Arab media contents politicised the case to attack or support the kingdom, with Saudi and pro-Saudi media focusing on slamming Qatari and Turkish media, the Western media, particularly American newspapers and TV led the quest for truth in the case.
The Washington Post on the hunt for contributor fate
The situation for the Post was different from that of other media as the case concerned one of its own, putting out the first information on Khashoggi on 3 October.
“A Saudi journalist who has written Washington Post columns critical of the kingdom’s assertive crown prince has gone missing after visiting the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, the newspaper and his supporters said Wednesday, raising concerns over his safety,” it said. Two days later, it printed an empty column by the writer.
Columnist David Ignatius, Khashoggi’s longtime friend, and Karen Attiah, Khashoggi’s editor at the Post talked about the missing Post contributor and his work. According to Ignatius, Khashoggi was very positive during the Arab Spring but Attiah said years later he was worried about the degree of oppression.
“As far as for the Post, we’re not gonna let this go, we shouldn’t let this go and his words aren’t gone,” Attiah said.
Jamal starting writing for the Post in 2017 when he left Saudi Arabia to the US as censorship on him increased back home. The Post often published an Arabic version of his articles too. They published his last article on 17 October, saying they had received it from his translator after his disappearance.
Media, one step ahead, imposes truth revelation
Western media quickly picked up the Post’s first reports of their missing journalist. Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancée, was the main source, as she accompanied him to the consulate and waited outside for him to come out, in vain. Thus, media began searching to solve the mystery.
Relying on Turkish officials leaks, media reported that Khashoggi has been intentionally killed inside the consulate and his body feared mutilated. The media published a load of details, although unofficially confirmed, but enough to spark global scepticism to Saudis response that he had left the consulate intact and that they had no information on his whereabouts.
As media continued analysing the impact of the case had it been confirmed that the Saudi government was linked to the murder, possibly jeopardising Saudi-US relations, the kingdom tried to put up a more plausible story and arrested Saudi officials and nationals.
Going form an investigation gone wrong to a fistfight, Saudi officials may now be on their way to fully admit this was a premeditated murder and that somebody must be held accountable for it.
Leaks to Turkish media kept the story in the headlines, according to New York Times Megan Specia who wrote in a Wednesday column that Turkish authorities strategically began leaking information to pro-government news outlets, offering descriptions of audio recordings revealing how the body has been dismembered.
“The leaks, some of which were confirmed by President Erdogan in a speech on Tuesday, put pressure on the Saudi government to offer an explanation on Mr. Khashoggi’s whereabouts,” Specia wrote.
“WHERE is Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi? We are watching and we need answers. A valued colleague for decades, his courageous reporting is vital for any informed citizenry,” CNN Chief International Anchor Christiane Amanpour tweeted as news of his disappearance emerged.
By the second week of Khashoggi’s disappearance, international media companies began pulling out of Riyadh’s economic conference as sponsors of the event.
CNN, CNBC, the Financial Times, the New York Times and Japanese media company Nikkei all withdrew.
Finola McDonnell, chief communications and marketing officer at the Financial Times tweeted on 12 October: “The Financial Times will not be partnering with the FII conference in Riyadh while the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi remains unexplained.”
New York Times columnist and editor Andrew Ross Sorkin tweeted: “I’m terribly distressed by the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and reports of his murder. I will no longer be participating in the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh.”
According to CNN, Zanny Minton Beddoes, the editor-in-chief of The Economist, and Los Angeles Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong have also cancelled plans to speak. Eventually, Fox Business Network was the last sponsor to pull out a few days ahead of the conference.
According to Reporters Without Borders, between 25 and 30 professional and non-professional journalists are currently detained in Saudi Arabia, which is ranked 169th out of 180 countries in 2018 World Press Freedom Index.