By: David Hanlon Seven-year-old French organization works to ensure fair treatment of journalists throughout the world sp.
"IF THE TRUTH isn't free, freedom isn't truth," said a French institution, poet Jacques Prevert. Another French institution, Reporter sans Frontiers (Reporters without Frontiers), is trying to ensure that if not the truth, at least the news is free. The news needs all the help it can get. For the first time, Europe has become the most deadly arena in the world for journalists trying to do their jobs, according to a 1993 report by the RSF. Nicole Du Roy, the new president of the seven-year-old association, put it plainly, "In Vietnam, 60 journalists died in 20 years of fighting. In just two years, over 30 journalists have been killed in the ex-Yugoslavia." Gen. Lewis McKenzie, former Canadian commander of U.N. forces in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, has noted, "The people most exposed to shots are journalists." And Milan Panic, former prime minister of Yugoslavia, referring to Serbian snipers, said, " . . . every time they kill a journalist, they are paid $500." Du Roy added, "People really don't want journalists doing their job." And not only in the Balkans. In Turkey, at least 12 journalists were killed in 1992. More than 100 journalists were sent to prison in that country during the same year, with 10 still incarcerated. In China, 30 journalists are imprisoned. One of the RSF's functions is to ensure that every time journalists are put on trial, they are defended properly. "Every time there is a trial against a journalist anywhere in the world and if the authorities will allow it, we send out a lawyer," Du Roy said. "We recently sent one to represent the Algerian newspaper El Watan." In that case, the paper's editor and five journalists were put in jail because they reported an attack on an isolated police station. The newspaper had its right to publish suspended. "We have an excellent legal team who master perfectly international press law, and they are volunteers," Du Roy said. When the legal route fails, the group tries to "sponsor" journalists. A magazine or television or radio station agrees to do stories about the plight of an imprisoned journalist as often as possible. "In 1992, there were 40 journalists sponsored by RSF and 13 were freed," she said. "That's great. It's completely concrete. We wouldn't pretend that it is due solely to our efforts, but accumulated pressure with associations like Amnesty International eventually makes a difference to governments who don't like to get negative press." Du Roy, a senior reporter at French cultural magazine Telerama, has sponsored three journalists. All were freed eventually. The RSF not only seeks to promote and protect press liberty in a legal sense but in a practical one as well. In Sarajevo, Osblodenje, or the "Daily Miracle" as it was nicknamed in Brit-ain, received a lot of support from the RSF. "We try to get as much support as possible for Osblodenje," Du Roy said. "We sent newsprint to them, bought typewriters, an amateur radio and a satellite telephone. We also got them bulletproof vests, something we felt was very important. All Western journalists in Sarajevo, even if it's for two days, are supplied with bulletproof vests, unlike the Osblodenje's reporters, who are there all the time. Five of its reporters have already been killed." Du Roy is no stranger to harassment and danger. "I was in Malawi four years ago with a photographer, and they stuck us with an officer from the Ministry of Information who never left us for a second. It was terrible. We had authorization to go into the camps, but he didn't want to allow it. He even locked us in our room. It became an enormous psychological stress." The RSF summarizes the state of press freedom throughout the world, a task that takes a year to complete. "Everyday, journalists check the Agence France Press wire and survey newspapers and reviews from throughout the world," Du Roy said. The group particularly noted a report by the Center for Public Integrity and its conclusion that restrictions placed on journalists in war zones were for political, not security, reasons. "In Europe, the biggest problem for newspapers is the economic censor," Du Roy said. "When an advertiser pulls his budget from a newspaper, the effects are very serious. You have to be very strong to withstand that. And that's the danger waiting for every newspaper that tries to be independent."
"Every time there is a trial against a journalist anywhere in the world and if the authorities will allow it, we send out a lawyer," Du Roy said. Hanlon is a free-lance writer.