In Box

Targeting the Press

For all the attention given to the 12 journalists who died this spring covering the war in Iraq, only 60 of the 366 journalists killed this decade were wartime casualties. According to surveys conducted annually by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the majority of those killed — a shocking 277, or 76 percent — ...

For all the attention given to the 12 journalists who died this spring covering the war in Iraq, only 60 of the 366 journalists killed this decade were wartime casualties. According to surveys conducted annually by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the majority of those killed — a shocking 277, or 76 percent — were murdered in direct retaliation for their reporting, in other words, assassinated. With the exception of Daniel Pearl of the Wall Street Journal, most of them won’t be familiar to you, since they cover local beats for local papers.

Pearl’s death was unusual not only because of the media attention it generated but also because four people — out of an alleged gang of more than a dozen — have been tried and convicted of his murder. Since 1993, CPI has recorded only 21 cases in which those responsible for the murder of a journalist were arrested and prosecuted. The prevalence of impunity can be attributed to many factors, including weak judicial systems, overburdened local police, a lack of political will — both domestic and international — to back the investigations, and scarce statewide media attention. The prosecution of such crimes often brings to light a more sinister explanation for inaction: government complicity. A recent example is the killing of Mozambican journalist Carlos Cardoso, in which the eldest son of Mozambique’s president has been accused.

In an attempt to bring the guilty to book, media advocacy organizations such as the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) and Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) recently added investigative arms to gather information on crimes against journalists and push for prosecution. IAPA’s Rapid Response Unit has succeeded in reopening the murder cases of several journalists after independent inquiries turned up irregularities in the official investigations. RSF’s Damocles Network is also exploring alternative legal recourses for victims, including the International Criminal Court, when local police and legal officials fail to pursue their cases. Recent revelations about journalistic malpractice at the New York Times are a reminder that journalists aren’t necessarily saints. But they shouldn’t be martyrs, either.

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