Jun 14, 2011

Khaleej Times: Journalists around the world are under fire

 Reprinted from the Khaleej Times
Blood on bylines
Allan Jacob (FINE PRINT)

14 June 2011, 7:19 PM
Shooting the messenger rings truer now than ever before with journalists making news by becoming easy targets on the street.
At close range, it is simple to pump bullets into their chests because they are without bullet-proof jackets and brandish no Smith & Wesson pistols in the line of duty.
They are less dangerous dead to many than in print or on television screens. The sound of gunshots don’t reverberate, the blood won’t curdle to stop the flow of life. Soon, they are a distant memory. The fallen soldiers of a so-called free Press.
Sunday’s murder in broad daylight of the investigations editor of an Indian tabloid has thrown more red on daily pages already filled with rivers of blood and gore. The man was a master at his craft with a yen for independent reporting, said tributes across the media. He covered crime, but in the end became one of its many victims.
The tabloid’s editor wrote glowingly about him, and we quote: ‘‘He was fearless (so fearless that his fearlessness often scared me); he was honest; his integrity was beyond reproach and just about everyone he worked with treated him as a friend, not a colleague.’’
‘‘Journalism is a frighteningly lonely profession. Journalists work in teams, but when it comes to taking responsibility for their work, they stand alone in the firing line,’’ said the tribute.
Standing alone. That’s the situation many newshounds find themselves in today. It’s a lonely profession digging up facts, stringing them together, facing the flak and soldiering on with only occasional bylines to show for the effort.
Little wonder then that many mainstream media hopefuls drop out, while those in the know thrive on handouts of every kind coming from every corner. There are gifts galore to be pocketed if you don’t ask uncomfortable questions. Only the most committed media practitioners stay clear of the filthy lucre. They are  fearless ones who break a story others would not have touched with a bargepole.
These brave, unheralded men and women often bite the dust in the killing fields of a ruthless system fed and nourished on wads of banknotes, political and business clout, and muscle power.
Two weeks ago, a Pakistani journalist was slain after being tortured. No one knows by who, and why, though rumours  swirl about the circumstances behind his death. In fact, he was missing for almost a week and had feared for his life, according to Human Rights Watch. He was dispensable, because he may have allegedly touched some raw nerve in the establishment.  International Press Institute statistics show the South Asian country was the most dangerous with 16 deaths last year.
According to the watchdog, 102 journalists were killed across the world in 2010. This was eight fewer than the previous year’s 110 media victims, which was the second bloodiest since 1997.
Asia was the most dangerous place with 40 killed in wars, crossfire and targeted murders like those of the Mumbai journalist. Latin America was next with 32 journalists meeting a similar fate.  Honduras, with 10 deaths, and Mexico, with 12, were the most deadly in that region. Some Mexican victims had their throats slit for reporting on the alleged nexus between drug cartels and politicians.
It’s normal to assume that war correspondents die in the frontlines of battle like Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. They are the popular bylines in death. World attention is on these theatres of war, while crimes against journalists in other countries are often ignored.
We claim we love the truth and the truth can set us free, but when reporters bring up the ugly truth, the muck can go around and someone’s carefully cultivated reputation can get smeared. It’s a visage of society we would rather not stare at for dear life. The feel good factor of living is more important than some shocking crime story which is a reflection of the violent ways of our times.
‘Family TV channels and newspapers’ do not cover rapes, murders, abuses, corruption and crimes of the most heinous kind, this writer was told recently by a holier-than- thou type.
Unsolved cases of murders against journalists have risen in the past decade with Iraq topping the list with 92. The Philippines has 56 unsolved cases, while Mexico has 13, Russia 16, Pakistan 14 and India 7.
The statistics are numbing, so is the spectacular silence of a society going with the flow, family values in tow.
It takes courage of conviction to stand up and be counted like these scribes with spine. May their tribe increase.
Allan Jacob is Chief Reporter of Khaleej Times. He can be reached at allan@khaleejtimes.com