Maintaining Optimism in the Face of Reality. Occasional observations on the state of the world, society, business and politics. Usually anchored by facts, always augmented by opinion.

Would You Die for the Truth?  | e-mail post

It seems so often when I contemplate the media and am assailed by human interest stories masquerading as news, or see news debased to being a human interest story or series of them, I long for more genuinely investigative reporting, more incisive commentary, simply more commitment by journalists (or the media ownership and leadership) to telling the stories that shape our world .

But sometimes events occur that remind me that their are people willing to die in the name of reporting. On July 9th, Paul Klebnikov, the editor of Forbes Russia was murdered, gunned down as he left work. Klebnikov was extremely active in revealing the membership and activities of the Russian oligarchy, and the strong presumption is that he was killed for exactly that reason, especially as it comes just a couple of months after he published a list of the 100 richest people in Russia, and identified the ill-gotten or dubious sources of the wealth of many of them. Some rich people don't like quite so much attention paid to them, it would appear.

Of course, Klebnikov is hardly alone, last year Cate Blanchett portrayed Veronica Guerin in the movie by the same name, directed by Joel Schumacher. Guerin's story is that of a reporter for Dublin's Sunday Independent who was so taken with the tragedy of urban drug abuse that she relentlessly investigated the issue, probing into the Irish drug trade's highest eschelons even after having repeated clear indications that such investigation actively put her in harm's way.
(Completists may want to know that Joan Allen did her turn as a lightly fictionalized Guerin in When the Sky Falls a few years back.) Northern Ireland saw another of its press corps fall to murder in 2001, when Martin O'Hagan was shot dead by Protestant loyalists.

Of course, death has met many reporters from around the world in the course of war coverage over the past year. While any death represents an equally tragic and unfortunate loss of life, it somehow seems these deaths are more related to the proximity to battle than to the actual reporting being done by these individuals, per se. Wrong place, wrong time, so to speak.

The Inter American Press Association has found the murder of journalists in Central and South America to be so frequent as to develop an "Unpunished Crimes Against Journalists" project, and even has a rapid response unit to investigate murders of journalists to determine if their deaths were related to their work as journalists. The IAPA also then works with the relevant governments to investigate these crimes. Of course, sometimes the crimes themselves may be linked to the ruling elites, and sometimes investigations may be cursory because the police might feel it is just safer for them that way. In any case, though, over 50 journalists have been murdered in Central and South America since 1993.

Even today, the murder of Canadian-Iranian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi seems to be getting a good whitewash in Tehran. And just a few weeks ago in June, a Bangladeshi editor was killed by two bombs thrown at him outside his home.

The global Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) indicates that 28 journalists have been killed thus far in 2004. They also maintain a list of 347 journalists killed from 1993-2004. Only 55 of these individuals were "caught in the crossfire," while 264 were actually "hunted down and murdered, often in direct reprisal for their reporting," in the words of the CPJ. By the way, Amercian journalists are pretty safe. Despite the fact that we put people in almost every trouble spot and have a very high profile (and aren't we hated, too?), American journalists make up only 11 of the 347.

Here in the United States, it's easy to feel like anytime a reporter does any more than retype a press release they have been given or actually verifies a claim made by a news source, they are pushing the limits of what we expect in investigative reporting. We see the local news "investigative" stories during sweeps week: tales of being ripped off by auto mechanics or similar "is this news?" kind of reporting. Maybe that's our lot because that's what the American news consumer wants or because American journalists aren't motivated to dig deeper, or maybe even because things are really that good here in the U.S., and don't demand the kind of reporting for which people are willing to kill or die.

Whatever the case, I think we should all take pause and reflect on the men and women who actively choose to put themselves in mortal danger to bring the truth to light. It is bravery of which I suspect many of us, myself included, may not be capable; and I am humbled, proud and hopeful that I live in a world where such impassioned individuals seek to report the truth, to make their worlds and thus our whole world better, despite such daunting risks.

You can donate to the CPJ.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  |  | Monday, July 19, 2004
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