Murphy's Law: Why Die for a Headline?

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March 9, 2007: Media has become a weapon, more so than in the past. As a result, there are more casualties among journalists. Over the last ten years, about a thousand journalists have been killed because of their work. The media critics doing the killing had tried to get the victims to change the content of their victims reporting. When the victims refused to comply, they were killed. Sometimes there were an escalating series of warnings (threats, property damage, beatings, even kidnapping and torture). The trend is getting worse. There were 147 murdered journalists in 2005, and 167 last year. Most of the deaths are taking place in a few countries, mainly Iraq, Colombia, Russia and Mexico. In some cases the government appears to be involved. In many countries, journalists do not even try to report what the government does not want reported. In those cases, the government controls the editors and publication mechanisms (printing plants, and broadcasting facilities.) Those nations that have the most deaths have governments that encourage, or at least tolerate, press freedom. In those cases, there are large criminal organizations that feel they can commit these murders with impunity. The reporters also believe that they have a good chance of avoiding death.

Another reason for the growing number of journalists is the growing number of media outlets. There are simply more journalists out there. That produces intense competition, and a lot more opportunities for journalists to make their mark. Since the appearance of modern journalism over two centuries ago, it's been more typical for journalists to take a bribe from someone who wanted favorable coverage, or to respond to a threat by backing off. But journalists have become increasingly bold of late. Largely motivated by a desire to get the truth out there, most of the victims believe they are protected (by their publisher, or the government), or have not yet crossed the line that would get them killed.

Some journalists manage to avoid danger by publishing their work anonymously. This requires that you have a brave, and tight lipped, editor. Other journalists have sought safety via Internet anonymity. This has become popular in police states where there is no opportunity to publish normally. But even in nations with a free press, and a dangerous publishing environment, the Internet is seen as the only safe (for the reporter) outlet for some stories. The main limitation here is that the Internet does not have the large audience of the traditional print and broadcast media. That is becoming less the case, year after year, and is likely to be the only refuge for journalists reporting in a fatally hostile environment.

 


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