Martin Roxas, a journalist for radio station DYVR, in Roxas City, the Philippines, was shot in the back and killed last year as he left work on his motorcycle. He had recently completed a series of reports on a dispute between two local politicians.
Two days later, in General Santos City, Philippines, Dennis Cuesta, a program director and anchor for radio station DXMD, was shot in the head and killed as he walked in the city with a companion. Cuesta had just finished reporting on land disputes in the city.
Earlier this year, Lasantha Wickramatunga, editor-in-chief of the weekly Sunday Leader, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, was on his way to work when his car was surrounded by eight helmeted men on four motorcycles who shot and killed him. Wickramatunga had produced numerous reports critical of the Sri Lankan government.
During the spring 2009 post-election disturbances in Iran, foreign journalists were restricted by the government to their offices or hotels, and local journalists-some using unconventional means of getting out their reports, such as Twitter and cell phones-were frequently attacked. Some died.
Around the globe, journalists are increasingly being slaughtered. Moreover, they are killed with relative impunity and their deaths are met with relative silence by the U.S. press. Although such attacks on reporters have been rare in the United States, they have happened. U.S. journalists, and those who care about journalism, can not wordlessly watch as others die for the sake of their profession.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) estimates that 109 journalists and media workers were killed in the line of duty last year and more than 1,100 over the last 12 years. Perhaps 500 of them were targeted and murdered because of their work.
More troubling: They die without justice. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) estimates that less than 15% of the murders of journalists are solved or prosecuted.
It is the ultimate form of censorship. The voice of the journalist is forever silenced. The intimidating message chills newsrooms far and wide. And no one pays a price.
What can journalists-and those who wish to protect journalists-do to protect and defend the world's endangered watchdogs?
For decades, journalists were most at physical risk due to their profession in war zones. Now, the entire world can be a war zone. In this age of globalization, numerous forces compete for wealth and power, within and across borders, including governments, state militias, paramilitary groups, political parties, drug cartels, religious organizations, insurgents, corporations, terrorists and others. All of these groups can be threatened by the work of a crusading reporter. All have targeted reporters. The global village is a harrowing place for journalists.
It may be, however, that the globalization of journalist intimidation is best fought locally-region by region, country by country, in focused campaigns.
In the early 1990s, Latin American journalists were being murdered regularly by government militias, paramilitary groups, political insurgents and drug lords. In 1993, the Inter American Press Association launched a campaign against this seeming impunity for the murder of journalists.
The group publicized each murder of a Latin American journalist, investigated the crimes, and pressured authorities to prosecute. Over the rest of the decade, the organization found that the number of jail sentences for crimes against journalists in the area more than doubled and the murders decreased.
Some are looking to resurrect that model. Both CPJ and IFJ are targeting Russia and the Philippines as especially deadly places for journalists-and places where the killers of journalists most often get away with murder. The groups have attempted to highlight the increasingly brazen murder of reporters, asked other governments and organizations to press for reform and prosecutions, and monitored trials and police investigations.
Their efforts on behalf of journalists, however, are met with cold indifference by U. S. journalists. The murder of journalists worldwide and the campaigns to protect journalists are too often ignored. The silence is shameful.
U.S. newspapers and magazines do regularly run hand-wringing reports of the "threats" faced by the American press. The threats, of course, are primarily economic- involving cutbacks in staffs and the loss of newspapers in the face of a withering economic climate. Those threats are real, but they take on a different perspective when viewed in the context of the violence and intimidation faced every day by journalists around the globe.
I don't suggest cutting back on the reporting of the economic threats facing U.S. journalism, indeed, global journalism. But I am suggesting that such reporting can be augmented with stories on the sacrifice of journalists and the campaigns to protect journalists.
The reporting should be done for ethical reasons. The killing of journalists is an important story in itself and also connects directly to economic, social and political tensions in nations worldwide.
And the reporting should also be done for self-centered reasons. Journalism is held in increasingly low regard in the United States. All journalists should be interested in building support for journalism. Highlighting the courage and sacrifice of journalists around the globe perhaps could build such support.
An easy way to start would be to support the campaigns already underway by CPJ and IFJ. More pressure, from the public and private sectors, can be brought to bear. News media can encourage governments, universities, tourists and businesses at work in Russia and the Philippines, Mexico and Iran, and far too many other countries to join the campaigns. The message should be clear: There can be no license to kill journalists.