Attacks on the Press in 2006: Preface

By Anderson Cooper

Silence. When a journalist is killed, more often than not, there is silence. In Russia, someone followed Anna Politkovskaya home and quietly shot her to death in her apartment building. The killer muffled the sound of the gun with a silencer. Her murder made headlines around the world in October, but from the Kremlin there was nothing. No statement. No condolences. Silence.

When Vladimir Putin was finally asked by reporters about the murder of one of his nation’s most prominent investigative journalists, he said Politkovskaya’s influence in Russia was “insignificant.” Anna Politkovskaya was anything but insignificant. Her reporting on human rights abuses in Chechnya had upset many powerful people. Threats against her life were nothing new. She was an award-winning writer for Novaya Gazeta and had been named by CPJ as one of the most prominent defenders of press freedom in its 25-year history. She deserved more than silence.

According to CPJ, Politkovskaya was the 13th journalist killed in Russia in a gangland-style hit since Putin became president in 2000. Guess how many of the people responsible have been brought to justice? None.

Silence. As CPJ documents in this important book, all too often, attacks on journalists go unsolved. Authorities either refuse to investigate, or refuse to acknowledge the possible link to the reporter’s work. When a bomb exploded outside Yelena Tregubova’s Moscow apartment in 2004, police said it was an act of hooliganism–nothing to do with her reporting.

In Turkmenistan, there is silence surrounding the death of Ogulsapar Muradova, a radio reporter arrested in June 2006. Branded a traitor by Turkmenistan’s president, she was imprisoned for more than two months and wasn’t allowed contact with anyone. Then she was put on trial. It lasted all of a few minutes. She was sentenced to six years in prison, and three weeks later she was dead. Authorities refused to say what happened when they handed her body to her family on September 14. They would not allow an autopsy or an investigation. Silence.

In the United States, we worry about access, objectivity, and the legal consequences of protecting confidential sources; for most of us, however, security fears are not a daily concern. Reading this book, you will be reminded just how lucky we are. This past year, I’ve reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Israel, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in each of these war-ravaged lands I’ve met local journalists who encounter conditions every day that many of us in the West simply cannot imagine. They face threats not only against their own lives but against the lives of their spouses, their children.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, many Western reporters now travel with Kevlar vests and private security guards, or they embed with U.S. and British militaries. Few local journalists, however, have such protections. Afghan reporters face threats from Taliban insurgents, al-Qaeda operatives, warlords, corrupt officials, drug traffickers, nervous soldiers, and security services. All too often, their sacrifices go unnoticed.

In Pakistan, especially in the tribal areas along the Afghan border, journalists are under constant threat. While Pakistani authorities made arrests in the 2002 killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, investigators have produced nothing in the slayings of seven journalists since. Silence.

Iraq, of course, remains the most dangerous place for journalists, but as you will read in the following pages, there are many countries where editors and writers, correspondents and photographers risk their lives daily to report the truth. In Ethiopia, more than 20 journalists are in jail. Only China and Cuba imprison more members of the press.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, massive corruption and a complete lack of judicial protection allow gunmen to operate with impunity. Tens of thousands of women have been raped, and rarely are the attackers arrested. Journalists are killed or threatened, and there is no investigation, no justice. Silence.

It would be easy to pretend that all these attacks on journalists do not have an impact, do not stop reporters from pursuing important stories. But, of course, they do. In the former Soviet Union, CPJ notes that attacks on the press have a “chilling effect on media coverage of the sensitive issues of corruption, organized crime, human rights violations, and abuse of power.” In countries around the world, the effect is the same.

That is why this book and CPJ’s work are so important. They serve as witness. They give voice to those who have been silenced. They speak. Too many others no longer can.

Anderson Cooper is a CNN correspondent and anchor of the primetime weeknight news show “Anderson Cooper 360°.” A contributor to CBS News’ “60 Minutes,” he is also author of the 2006 best-seller Dispatches from the Edge, which recounts his coverage of the South Asia tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, and other major news events.