Pearl killing highlights trend to target reporters
PARIS- The killing in Pakistan of US reporter Daniel Pearl highlights a worrying trend towards targeting journalists not because of what they report, but because of where they are from.
Media rights groups and news organisations joined on Friday in voicing horror and alarm over the execution of Pearl, a journalist for the Wall Street Journal who was abducted last month while trying to contact extremist organisations.
Several said Pearl’s slaying showed journalists increasingly risked becoming what one international press freedom group, the Paris-based Reporters without Borders, called “scapegoats” for the policies of their governments.
“Daniel Pearl wasn’t representing a government or anything,” said Aidan White, general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) in Brussels.
“He was an honest reporter out there following a story, but he was targeted and killed because of who he is and where he came from,” White said.
“Up until a few years ago, this would have been largely unthinkable. Now it is a very worrying and unacceptable trend.”
Pearl, 38, disappeared in Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city, on January 23 while investigating possible links between alleged shoe bomber Richard Reid and the al Qaeda network of suspected September 11 mastermind Osama bin Laden.
The group claiming to hold Pearl, calling itself The National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty, accused him of being a spy – first for the CIA, then for Israel. It said it was protesting against US treatment of Taleban and al Qaeda prisoners.
RISING DEATH TOLL: According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 37 journalists were killed worldwide in 2001, up from 24 killed in 2000.
The CPJ tally, one of the more conservative among media watchdog groups, includes eight journalists killed covering the war in Afghanistan after the start in October of US air strikes to bomb the Taleban from power for harbouring bin Laden.
The threats to journalists’ safety come from a lengthening list of sources – ranging from repressive governments to unaccountable armed militias, drugs runners and mafia-style gangs, bandits and extremist political or religious groups.
“The risk for journalists is worse than ever before,” said Paolo Serventi Longhi, president of Italy’s national press federation. “It is not about soldiers, armies or countries any more. It has splintered into armed groups, groups of bandits who fight wars of assassination, kidnap and theft.”
The IFJ’s White also cited what he said was a tendency by combatants to target the media of the other side on grounds of “incitement”, as in Israel’s destruction of Palestinian broadcasting offices and Nato’s bombing of Serbian television facilities during the 1999 Kosovo campaign.
“There has to be, from all sides in the democratic community, a very clear message that journalists, media staff, are non-combatants and that their rights are protected under international law,” White said.
Joe Urschel, executive director of the Freedom Forum, a Washington-based foundation dedicated to a free press and free speech, said Western journalists had become more of a target in recent years.
“What has happened in recent conflicts which is different from the more recent past, is that journalists, particularly Western journalists, have been targeted by some of the warring factions versus being caught in the crossfire.”
This trend, he said, began to a serious degree in the Balkan conflicts when Western journalists were thought not to be sympathetic to the Serbs.
FOCUS ON SAFETY: News organisations have become increasingly sensitive to safety since the early 1990s, when a largely inexperienced media corps went off to the Balkans without protective equipment.
Many of them now make participation in hostile environment courses, which offer training in personal safety, risk assessment, first aid, munitions and how to behave if kidnapped, a condition for journalists who report from conflict zones.
Leading broadcasters, including Reuters Video News, APTN and the major US networks, have also established common security guidelines and regularly pool information on safety.
Several sources said the lessons of Pearl’s abduction and the potential pitfalls of investigative journalism would have to be rolled into future training programmes.
“I’m sure it would make everyone think hard about how they deal with contacts promising exclusives,” said British Broadcasting Corporation spokesman Mark Ogle.
Others noted that individual reporters and their employers constantly have to balance safety in potential dangerous places against the need to inform.
“We continually re-evaluate the deployment of correspondents in a rapidly-changing news situation but remain committed to covering the news for our readers,” said Toby Usnik, a spokesman for the New York Times.
Source: Business Recorder