Journalism Is Risky Business In Many Nations

By: George Gedda, Associated Press Writer

(AP) Igor Aleksandrov was the director of an independent television company in eastern Ukraine. His program “Bez Retushi” ran investigative stories about organized crime and corruption in city government.

Last July 3, assailants attacked Aleksandrov as he entered his company’s offices. The station’s deputy director, Sergei Cherneta, heard blows and screams, then a moan.

“I ran downstairs … Our manager was lying in a pool of blood with his head cracked open. Two large baseball bats were left nearby,” Cherneta said.

A month after the killing, a suspect was arrested. The case, which is still pending, illustrates the abuses suffered by independent journalists worldwide, according to a report this week by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

Thirty-seven journalists were killed in 2001, attracting little notice from the outside world — in sharp contrast to the abduction and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan earlier this year.

That number was up from 24 a year earlier, and most of the increase resulted from the killing of seven journalists in two attacks last November during the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan.

Yet most of the 37 killed last year were not covering wars or other conflicts. Instead, they were murdered in reprisal for reporting on sensitive topics, including official crime and corruption, the group said.

Try being a hard-hitting reporter in Haiti, for example.

After President Jean-Bertrand Aristide announced in June a “zero tolerance” policy toward street criminals, an aide from Aristide’s party said the policy should be applied to Brignolle Lindor, the independent-minded news director of a radio station.

Lindor was subsequently hacked to death by a machete-wielding mob of ruling-party supporters, according to the report. Co-workers have said Lindor had received telephone death threats after interviewing opposition politicians on his talk show.

Attacks on Haitian journalists at year’s end forced at least 15 to leave the country. As many as 40 others went into hiding, the study said.

There was some good news, the report found. In particular, it highlighted growing press freedoms in Yugoslavia, Syria, and Sri Lanka.

China is the “leading jailer” of journalists, with 35 behind bars, the report found. In addition, officials there closed a prominent leftist monthly in China after it criticized the government’s call for capitalists to join the Communist Party.

Despite such problems, the Chinese press remains far more vibrant than the press in countries such as Burma, Laos, and North Korea, the study said.

In North Korea, the government’s efforts to control the media have helped ensure that its chronic food shortage is one of the most underreported disasters in the world.

Iran closed or suspended 20 newspapers and publications in 2001, the report said. It listed Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, as one of its 10 worst enemies of the press.

The other nine include Liberian President Charles Taylor, whom the group called “single-minded” in deterring press independence; Chinese President Jiang Zemin for demanding “ideological conformity;” Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe for his “all-out war on the independent media;” and Russian President Vladimir Putin for his “alarming assault on press freedom.”

The others on the list are Carlos Castano, leader of a Colombian rightist paramilitary group whom the group called “a ruthless enemy of the press;” Cuban President Fidel Castro for a “scorched-earth assault on independent journalists;” Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali for requiring almost total press “submission;” Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad for being “openly contemptuous of press freedom;” and Ukranian President Leonid Kuchma for his “habitual censorship.”

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