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Moderated by David Broder
November 13, 2002
There were three separate attacks last November in Afghanistan that left eight foreign correspondents dead in the space of just 16 days. That was very sobering to all of us in the news business, because at that point we realized that journalists who were trying to cover the U.S. military action in Afghanistan, as Noreen has just described, the journalists were actually dying at a much faster rate than U.S. soldiers. Even more sobering of course was the horrific murder of Daniel Pearl earlier this year. After these deaths in Afghanistan and again after Danny Pearl's death, CPJ was asked repeatedly, "Are things getting worse? Are journalists more vulnerable than ever before?" I think in our guts we all felt that way, when we were watching these news stories. All of us who've ever worked as foreign correspondents probably could imagine ourselves, for example, in Danny Pearl's place. Just doing your job, trusting a source--thatıs what you have to do when you're out trying to cover foreign stories--and in the end paying a horrible price for it.
But there are some different ways of looking at this question, the question of, are things getting worse or more dangerous for journalists? What I'd like to do is give you several answers to that question, none of which are going to be a nice flat yes or no. One answer is that journalism, and particularly the job of being a war correspondent, has always been a dangerous business. The story of Elijah Lovejoy is evidence of that. So is the first death of an Associated Press war correspondent. That took place in the 19th century covering the battle of Little Big Horn. Ever since then journalists covering wars and conflicts have put themselves in the line of danger and many of them have died.
So, here is another answer to that question, are things getting worse? Statistically speaking, CPJ's research over the past decade suggests that the answer is no. The statistic I'm talking about is the number of journalists killed because of their work. In the first half of the 1990s, for example, during a bitter civil conflict in Algeria between the government and the Islamic Salvation Front, 60 journalists were killed. Sixty. Imagine that. They were all local journalists and their deaths did not become international incidents, but each one of them was a human tragedy and another sad example of how journalists are often singled out as particular targets. These were not crossfire killings in Algeria. These were assassinations of journalists.
Still, it is misleading to rely solely on statistics to answer that question, are things getting worse? Is it more dangerous for journalists? Sometimes one single death has an overwhelming impact. The Daniel Pearl case obviously is one such case. There are others that you may know much less about or maybe have never even heard of. Two years ago in Mozambique in southern Africa a single journalist was killed and the entire press corps in that country may never recover. Why? Because the target of that killing was Carlos Cardoso. He was Mozambique's best, most respected investigative journalist. He was gunned down in a mafia-style killing when he left the office one night, certainly in reprisal for his work, though Carlos uncovered so many nasty stories in his career that it's hard to know which one actually sealed his fate and as a result left the rest of the countryıs journalists so shaken that they openly tell us that they censor themselves all the time now before they write their stories.
Another example of the huge impact that one single killing can have, this one also two years ago. A lone journalist, Georgi Gongadze was killed in Ukraine-- grizzly, horrible murder. He was decapitated; his body left to molder in the woods and the entire press corps in Ukraine became very frightened. They today censor themselves as well, and who wouldn't after facing the prospect that if they write something that displeases someone they might meet the same fate.
So why, two years later, when we talk with journalists in Mozambique and Ukraine are they still frightened? It's because of one terrible fact and that is that when journalists are killed it's rare for their killers to be brought to justice. Our statistics show that over the past 10 years, since the beginning of 1992, 389 journalists were killed around the world while carrying out their work. Of that total 389, 62 were killed in crossfire, 16 percent of the deaths. Two hundred ninety-eight were murdered in direct reprisal for their reporting. Thatıs more than three quarters of the journalists who were killed. And out of all of those murders, 94 percent of the time the killers have never been brought to justice. I'm not talking about gunmen. There are cases where the gunmen are brought to justice, but the person behind the murder who hired them, that person is almost never brought to justice. Until that changes, unfortunately, journalism is going to remain a very dangerous business, particularly in Colombia or in Russia or the Philippines and other countries where journalists are murdered every year and every year their killers get away with it.
Let me go back to that question again that so many people have asked us over the past year. Is it more dangerous? This time let's ask it this way. Is journalism more dangerous now for American journalists, specifically for foreign correspondents like Danny Pearl covering events in which their country is a protagonist? Statistically, out of those 389 journalists killed over the past 10 years, 14 were Americans. That's not a huge percentage. But again, a statistic doesn't begin to give a full answer. American journalists covering conflicts today clearly feel in greater danger and their fears are well founded. Journalists tell us of situations where their American identity evokes hostility from a crowd or from people that theyıre trying to interview. Sometimes they end up telling people they're Canadian or European. News organizations are all wrestling now with questions that they didnıt have to look at so much before, questions about proper training and adequate health insurance for their correspondents in the field, or about what position they should take if one of their journalists should be captured and held hostage. News organizations that have invested tens of thousands of dollars in hostile environment training for their correspondents (Noreen was just telling us tonight that she recently went through one of these courses) but now they realize maybe thatıs not enough, because the threatened war with Iraq could pose yet a new danger of bio or chemical warfare. So, correspondents are back in training, learning what to do in case of those kinds of attacks.
Let me offer one final answer to this question of, are things getting more dangerous? And this time I want to talk about, are they getting more dangerous for the local journalists, the journalists in Zimbabwe or Somalia or Colombia? These are the journalists that my organization is working with every day. To this question of whether it's getting more dangerous for them, I would say emphatically, yes it is. I will add that one reason the danger has increased is because of the U.S. war on terrorism. U.S. rhetoric and U.S. restrictions on the media, here as well as in the field in Afghanistan, these restrictions and this rhetoric we believe are emboldening other leaders to clamp down even further on their media--in some cases like Zimbabwe even adopting the rhetoric of the war on terrorism to label journalists as terrorists. The United States still has the freest press in the world, thereıs no doubt about that, but the issues that we'll discuss here tonight are cause for concern and not just for American journalists because when these limitations are put on American journalists or by the U.S. military, for example during conflict in Afghanistan, we believe they set a terrible precedent. They are watched by other leaders, who use them as an excuse to clamp down on press freedom in their own countries. Thank you.
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