Murdered Journalists Are True Heroes
Last week, in a different context (criticism of newspapers for printing "bad news"), I mentioned "the old tendency to kill the bearer of unwelcome tidings."
I was speaking figuratively. But as Thursday's gunning-down of a newspaper photographer in Juarez, Mexico, reminded us, the danger to journalists trying to do their job is all too literal and immediate in too many parts of the world.
Fifty-two journalists lost their lives in the line of duty during the first eight months of 2010, according to the International Press Institute. Those are sobering statistics, helping restore a sense of perspective to those of us in relatively tranquil places like Moore County who sometimes complain about the stress of our jobs. Comparatively speaking, we don't have a thing to worry about, do we?
At least that's the case so far - though I find little comfort in the increasingly virulent attacks on the "MSM" ("mainstream media") on the political fringes, occasionally spiced up with expressions of longing for things like "Second Amendment remedies" to troublesome political trends.
Around the globe, "journalists continue to systematically lose their lives to conflict, militants, paid thugs, governments, drug dealers, corrupt politicians, unscrupulous security officers and others," IPI's interim director, Alison Bethel McKenzie, said at a recent meeting of the group in Vienna.
These casualties gave their lives in defense of one of our most treasured and important liberties - freedom of the press. In most cases, they died because they were pursuing truths for the public good - truths that others didn't want the public to know about. That makes them heroes in my book.
I worked closely with some journalistic heroes during my media-assistance years in Russia and Eastern Europe in the mid-1990s, just before coming here. One of my best friends, Aleksei Nevinitsyn, editor of a paper called Zolotoye Koltso (Golden Ring) in the lovely Volga River city of Yaroslavl, later wound up in the hospital after being brutally beaten for publishing a series of articles documenting corruption in the local administration.
In 2004, Paul Klebnikov, the brother of an American colleague of mine at the Russian-American Press Center in Moscow, was murdered on the street for sticking his nose into places where powerful forces didn't want him poking around. Another hero.
Since then, things have heated up considerably on our side of the pond. So far this year, according to the IPI report, the Americas have proven "the most dangerous region for reporters." Mexico led the so-called Death Watch with 10 fatalities, followed by Honduras with nine.
Elsewhere in the world, there were six such media deaths in Pakistan, three in the Philippines and two in Afghanistan. As of Aug. 31, "only" one had been reported in Russia, where the director of a TV station in the Dagastan region was machine-gunned on his way to repair equipment damaged by militants out to silence him.
As for the shooting last Thursday in Juarez, it now appears that it may have been a case of mistaken identity. The Nissan in which victim Luis Carlos Santiago, 21, and a coworker were attacked belonged to a human-rights activist who may have been the intended target.
But that's a distinction without much of a difference. With savage wars constantly raging among Mexico's drug cartels, journalists trying to do their job often get caught in the middle, with lethal effects. Santiago was El Diario's second staff member killed within the past couple of years.
Most discouragingly, the latest death caused the embattled publisher of the paper to signal publicly that he and his reporters were willing to restrict their coverage of the narco wars if that's what it took. In a front-page editorial appeal headlined "What Do They Want From Us?" and directed to the leaders of "the different organizations that are fighting for control of Ciudad Juarez," the paper said: "We ask you to explain what you want from us, what we should try to publish or not publish, so we know what to expect."
I find that virtual capitulation to organized terror unspeakably sad and alarming, especially happening in a town just across the border from U.S. soil. But that's easy for me to say, sitting in my safe and comfortable office in Southern Pines with very few bullets flying our way.
Steve Bouser is editor of The Pilot. Contact him at (910) 693-2470 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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