Media Murder

Survey documents a high number of unprosecuted killings of journalists in some unexpected places

Houston Chronicle
May 5, 2008, 9:56PM

The Committee to Protect Journalists is waging a campaign against what Executive Director Joel Simon calls “the ultimate form of censorship,” the murder of those who work for the world’s news media. The group has issued an “impunity index” measuring which countries have the highest rates of unsolved killings of news gatherers.

Some of the offenders are predictable. Leading the dishonor role is Iraq, where 79 journalists, mostly Iraqi, have been murdered since the 2003 U.S. invasion without apprehension of the perpetrators. Other nations destabilized by internal conflicts such as Somalia, Afghanistan and Nepal also rank in the top 13 on the list of unsolved killings of journalists per 1 million inhabitants.

More disturbing is the presence on the Impunity Index of relatively well-governed democracies such as India, the Philippines and Mexico, where numerous slayings of media members have gone unpunished, despite functioning law enforcement agencies and court systems.

In Mexico, a major cause of the violence is official corruption and the drug trade, linked to the murders of seven journalists, most local reporters. Despite its reputation for tolerating a free press, India has yet to solve the murders of five investigative reporters.

Russia, a fledgling democracy that has moved back toward authoritarianism under President Vladimir Putin, remains one of the most dangerous countries in which to work in the media. Since 1998, 14 journalists have been killed, and no charges have been brought against their assailants. The most prominent case is that of reporter Anna Politkovskaya, gunned down in Moscow two years ago. Her penetrating coverage of the Chechen conflict had earned the enmity of government officials.

According to CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour, the bullets that felled Politkovskaya were aimed at a bigger target. “Her murder was designed to send a message to all those who dared challenge the system,” wrote Amanpour in the preface to the committee’s report on violence against the media last year. She described impunity for the killers of journalists as the most serious threat facing the press today.

A free press is essential to a functioning democratic system. A government that allows journalists to be murdered and the killers to go unpunished is a democracy in name only.

Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle