Sunday, June 03, 2007

Journalist Deaths Alarming in Iraq, Mexico

The war in Iraq continues to be extremely dangerous to journalists, with four reported killed in just the last week. The deaths continue, as is appropriate, to receive considerable coverage. Most exposed are Iraqis working for local news outlets, or assisting foreign reporters covering the war. But a number of American and other foreign journalists have also been injured or killed in Iraq, where the journalistic toll is approaching that of World War II.

Unlike some past wars, journalists seem not to be viewed as neutrals, but as the enemy, by the terrorists. They are as susceptible to being kidnapped, bombed, fired upon or murdered as armed units. On the American side, some mistakes have been made, resulting in journalist losses.

The overall picture is so serious that for reporters resident in Baghdad every venture outside their quarters, even close by in the city, is fraught with risk. Journalists, when they do go out, are often accompanied by guards. I'm told by a person stationed with the military in Anbar province that journalist visits there, owing to the risk, are comparatively rare, even if Baghdad is not all that distant.

Iraq, however, is not the only country where journalist lives are in peril in the fractious times in which we live.

The kidnapping of Alan Johnson, a BBC reporter resident in Gaza, by Palestinian terrorists is only the latest kidnapping there, although it has been the longest, and the perceived dangers are such that most Western reporters now stay out of Gaza altogether.

In the War on Terror, there have also been killings of journalists in Pakistan, the most notable of which was the beheading of the Wall Street Journal reporter, Daniel Pearl. Despite assurances by Pakistani authorities that perpetrators of this crime would be executed, none of those imprisoned has been thus far.

This week's Time magazine, meanwhile, carries a brief report about dangers to the press in covering the increasingly deadly drug cartels in Mexico. The magazine reports that many reporters in the country simply pass the subject up, despite the fact that the new Mexican president, Felipe Calderon, has sent thousands of soldiers to combat the drug dealers.

Time reports that seven journalists have been murdered in Mexico since last October, mostly in retaliation for reporting on the drug cartels, and two television reporters covering the drug crisis went missing in the last month. On May 24, a grenade attack on the newspaper Camblo Sonora, published in Hermosillo, resulted in an announcement that the paper was temporarily shutting down. There have even been reports of foreign reporters stationed in Mexico going easy on the drug question, out of fear of reprisal.

These days, it seems, everyone is fair game for the purveyors of crime and violence.

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Both Time magazine and the Los Angeles Times report this week on the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War. But the orientation of the two articles is quite different. Time's coverage is one-sidedly Palestinian, focusing on all the troubles they have encountered since encouraging the threats to Israel that induced the Israelis to attack. The L.A. Times, in the Opinion section, has an essay by Israeli war expert, Michael Oren, that primarily deals with the Israeli perspective. Also, the Times has a lengthy report, starting on Page 1, on the city of Jerusalem, developments there in the next 40 years. It is fair and even handed.

It is regrettable, however, that while the New York Times has a comprehensive report on yesterday's shelling by a U.S. Navy destroyer yesterday of terrorists in Somalia, including the killing of one terrorist who was an American, the L.A. Times doesn't have so much as a mention of the attack. L.A. Times foreign coverage is beginning to slip in several ways, and it was reported last week that the paper now has correspondents stationed in 18 foreign countries, compared to 22 a short time back.

Also less than comprehensive has been the Times coverage on the termination of columnist Al Martinez. Jim Rainey, the Times' media reporter, said in an article Saturday that over 300 communications had been received by the paper protesting the end of the popular Martinez's column. But in the Times' Calendar section Saturday, only three letters were written, at the end of the usual letters column.

Martinez apparently got the word he was through in a call from the section editor, Rich Nordwind, rolling over to instructions from his superiors. It was all done over the phone . Martinez was allowed to write two more columns, and may occasionally make a reappearance, but in a crassly insensitive act, his e-mail address was taken away even before those last two columns.

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