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Dangerous business

Jon Williams Jon Williams | 09:33 UK time, Friday, 2 May 2008

Tomorrow, 3 May, the United Nations marks World Press Freedom Day. Granted, it's not in the same league as World Aids Day, or as widely supported as flag days for Cancer Research or the hospice movement. But I hope you'll forgive me if I take the opportunity to reflect that journalism is a dangerous business - and getting more so.

In Zimbabwe in recent weeks, we've seen the dangers faced by reporters, arrested for simply trying to tell the world what's going on inside that country. And in many places, journalists face far worse. This week, the Committee to Protect Journalists - a US based campaign group - published what it calls an Impunity Index, a name-and-shame list of countries where governments have consistently failed to solve the murders of the journalists.

The war in Iraq makes Baghdad the most dangerous place on the planet for reporters. But most journalists who've died there were killed not in combat, but rather, were targeted for professional reasons and murdered. The vast majority are Iraqis - 79 deaths remain unsolved.

While Iraq tops the Impunity Index, followed by other war-torn countries such as Sierra Leone and Somalia, the most sobering statistic us that the majority of the 13 nations named are established, peacetime democracies.

This week I was in Mexico. There, reporters regularly investigate drug trafficking, organised crime and official corruption. Too many pay a heavy price. The families of seven reporters murdered in Mexico are still seeking justice. Also among those named-and-shamed are India, and its South Asian neighbours, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Protestor holds a picture of Alisher Saipov outside Kyrgyzstan's Interior MinistryI confess a personal as well as professional interest. Last October, a young journalist, Alisher Saipov, was shot dead in the city of Osh, Kyrgyzstan. The politics of Central Asia are murky and dangerous. Osh is on the border with Uzbekistan - a country where dissent about the regime of President Islom Karimov is not tolerated.

Alisher had worked for the BBC and other international news organisations - he was also the editor of an opposition Uzbek newspaper. He had just finished working on a film for Newsnight when he was gunned down as he left his office. His family and friends believe he was killed by an Uzbek gunman, hired to silence him. Alisher was 26 years old. His wife has just given birth to their first child.

Six months on, no-one has been brought to justice in Kyrgyzstan for Alisher Saipov's murder. Indeed, the investigation into his death has twice been suspended, despite assurances to the BBC by the Kyrgyz authorities that they would spare no effort in hunting his killer.

Journalists don't deserve special treatment - but the friends, families and colleagues of those who die doing their job, do deserve answers.


  • Comment number 1.

    Dear mr williams;
    dangerous business is a very informative article.
    may i add that what you mention of a " name and shame " list is not enough.
    i think we should lobby for more.
    many countries around the world don't kill journalists. yet they are the most oppressive against them to the point that they don't allow journalist into them at all.
    if they do, it is only to allow journalist what the dictatorships of those contries want to hear or see.
    Such countries , your list of shame couud never touch.
    how about countries which jail its own journalists on false pretexts.
    how abount contries which deport foreign journalists for passing news that are true but the officials of t hat country don't like to make public?

    I think the list of shame should not remain a list of shame period.
    It should become an action list.
    what can we do?
    I think there is a lot we can acheive by exerting some concerted effort.

    first we can pervail on our governments to prevent journalists with government links in their own journalism oppressed countries and if possible officials from such contries to even visit our contries.
    if they do manage to get visas and visit our contries , we should take the opportunity to tell these semi official jounalists in no uncertain terms that their countries are not welcome as friends of our countries.

    second we should try to extract from other contries , agreements of free journalism.
    I mean agreements which impose free access of free world journalists to countries that suppress journalism like zimbabwe and like.

    third , we should engage our politicians in campaigns against diplomats from these countries and make them understand that we beleive journalism to be a very refined art of putting the world to facts.
    not facts that are distorted by them but facts as they are.taken firsthand by our journalists and put clearly in front of readers, watchers and listeners.

    The name and shame list is good, but very often countries like Iraq are at loss as to what to do about protecting journalists. that doesnt exempt them from responsibility though , but they have diffculty sometimes protecting their own citizents.

    it is countries that are in full control that i beleive should be put in fron of their full responsiblities.

    protect journalists
    allow them free access to the countriy
    allow them free access to information
    dont prevent them from reporting the truth.

    thank you
    walid addas

  • Comment number 2.

    i feel such symapthy for the families of journalists who have been killed and please
    accept my condolences....


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