In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Violence against Journalists

  • Introduction
  • General Works
  • Organizations and Resources
  • Personal Violence
  • Violence against Ideas
  • Labor-Related Violence
  • Violence against Groups
  • Violence against an Institution
  • Conflict-Zone Violence
  • Violence against Journalists as a Contemporary Global Phenomenon
  • Gendered Violence
  • Virtual Violence

Communication Violence against Journalists
John Nerone
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 September 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 September 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0266


News has always been a sphere of conflict, and one finds violence at every point in the history of news. Although violence in general has been omnipresent, the forms that violence takes come and go, corresponding to rising and falling levels of general violence within and between societies (with war being the classic example), as well as changes in the social and political roles of the news media and developing norms for journalism. In periods of partisan journalism, for instance, attacks intensify with political conflict and aim to silence opinion writers; in periods of professionalized journalism supported by strong news organizations, attacks are often attempts to “hack” the news system so that it includes non-mainstream positions. In other words, violence is always meaningful, and usually strategic, even though it might seem like random irrational noise. Sometimes violence has been an extension of state media control; this is particularly the case in authoritarian systems, where violence supplements other forms of censorship. On the other hand, often it’s a way of contesting state authority, and it can be especially pronounced in post-authoritarian systems with a limited capacity for state protection of independent journalism. In other cases it involves conflicts that are not political in nature: in every period, violence has been a way of reacting to perceived slights on honor or reputation. Because it is such a diverse and shifting set of phenomena, it is useful to distinguish various common forms of violence against journalists.

General Works

Any scholarly work on news media or journalism is likely to include mentions of violent attacks, but general works on violence against journalists are relatively rare. Brambila and Hughes 2019, Carlsson and Pöyhtäri 2017, and Cottle, et al. 2016 survey the field in general, while Nerone 1994 offers a survey of anti-press violence in the United States, and Waisbord 2002 analyzes more recent violence with a special focus on Latin America. The author of Simon 2014 draws on his experience with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). On the other hand, attention to current violence against journalists is well organized, and a number of international organizations monitor the situation, especially the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters without Borders, Freedom House, and the Center for Media at Risk (all cited under Organizations and Resources).

  • Brambila, Julieta Alejandra, and Sallie Hughes. 2019. Violence against journalists. In The international encyclopedia of journalism studies. Edited by Tim P. Vos and Folker Hanusch, 1–9. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.

    Brambila and Hughes survey scholarship on violence against journalists, including both historical and international perspectives. They broaden the scope of violence to include structural, cultural, and symbolic violence, forms of what they call “indirect violence,” which tend to affect female, sexual and ethnic minority, and opposition journalists more strongly.

  • Carlsson, Ulla, and Reeta Pöyhtäri, eds. 2017. The assault on journalism: Building knowledge to protect freedom of expression. Gothenburg, Sweden: Nordicom.

    This edited volume contains the proceedings of a 2016 conference commemorating World Press Freedom Day in Gothenburg, Sweden. The contents include theoretical and normative arguments about the importance of freedom and security for journalists as well as empirical reports on violence against journalists around the world. Produced in coordination with UNESCO, the volume is informed by a human-rights-centered approach to the problem of violence and impunity; it sees the prevalence of violence and the impunity it enjoys as a fundamental assault on the human right to be informed.

  • Cottle, Simon, Richard Sambrook, and Nick Mosdell. 2016. Reporting dangerously: Journalist killings, intimidation and security. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Surveying violence against journalists as a historical and global phenomenon, Cottle et al. summarize statistics on the prevalence of violence and explore its development through changing technologies of both media and warfare; they also take deep dives into specific cases through both documentary research and interviews. They argue for the importance of journalism to achieving civil society in uncivil circumstances and make a powerful case for stronger protections for working journalists.

  • Nerone, John. 1994. Violence against the press: Policing the public sphere in US history. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    A survey of the varieties of anti-press violence in US history, Nerone’s book identifies four basic patterns: violence between individuals, like editors dueling or celebrities attacking photographers; violence against ideas, like abolitionism or socialism; violence against groups, especially African Americans; and violence against an institution, which can take the form of “inclusionary violence,” designed to force something into the news sphere. The book argues that violence is a good tool for exploring the “culture of the press,” the often conflicting ideas and values shaping the role of the media.

  • Simon, Joel. 2014. The new censorship: Inside the global battle for media freedom. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231160643.001.0001

    Simon draws on his experience as executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists to examine the impact of digital technologies on the news ecosystem. He argues that the interaction of the digital infrastructure (Twitter, for example) with traditional media creates new opportunities for states and other actors to suppress the flow of information by censoring legacy media and threatening even more vulnerable independent bloggers and freelance reporters. He advocates a “robust international framework that recognizes the crucial role that information plays in the new global order and provides redress” (p. 9).

  • Waisbord, Silvio. 2002. Antipress violence and the crisis of the state. Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics 7.3: 90–109.

    DOI: 10.1177/1081180X0200700306

    Noting the waning of anti-press violence in the modern West, Waisbord discusses its continued vitality in the South, especially in Latin America, and attributes it to structural factors, particularly the weakness of political institutions. He sees a particular trajectory in the violent repression of critical journalism, which was prevalent as state-sponsored violence during periods of autocracy, but has since been “privatized.”

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