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Where journalism is dangerous
February 7, 2014 - Stephen Browne
The Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Barometer for 2013 is out.
A crucial way of measuring press freedom is of course, how dangerous it is to be a journalist.
Last year 75 journalists, 4 media assistants and 8 netizens and citizen journalists were killed, down 20 percent from last year.
Looking at the list of countries where journalists are known to have been killed as a result of their activities as a journalist, there are some surprises.
As in surprisingly low: Afghanistan, Columbia and Libya only one apiece, Russia and Mexico only two apiece.
Surprisingly high: Brazil, 5, the Philippines and India eight apiece. Who knew?
Unsurprisingly high: Egypt, 6, Pakistan, 7, Somalia, 7, Syria, 10.
It's worth noting these figures do not include cases in which a journalist's work has not been confirmed to be linked to their murders. Nor are they clear as to whether journalists in war zones were specifically targeted or just in the wrong place at the wrong time like a lot of civilian casualties.
The last American journalist murdered on American soil was Chauncy Baily of the Oakland Post (California) in 2007, by the target of his reporting.
Wikipedia has a list of American journalists killed in the line of duty going back to 1837.
The first noted was Elijah Parrish Lovejoy, editor of the Alton Observer, lynched by a pro-slavery mob. This Okie who has rankled a bit at jibes from self-righteous Yankees takes some satisfaction in pointing out this was in Alton, Illinois.
Then there's a run of three journalists between 1843 and 1848 who all worked for the Vicksburg Sentinel (Mississippi). But since two of them died in fights or duels I don't think it's fair to count them as murdered.
Irving Carson, reporter for the New York Tribune, made history by being the first journalist killed in the Civil War on April 6, 1862, while covering the Battle of Shiloh.
Mark Kellogg became the first Associated Press reporter killed on the job - at the Battle of the Little Big Horn on June 25, 1876.
In 1934, 1935 and 1945 three journalists in a row were murdered in Minneapolis. All for investigating corruption and organized crime.
The 1945 murder of Arthur Kasherman of the alternative Public Press is said to have figured in the election of one anti-corruption crusader named Hubert Humphrey as mayor of Minneapolis.
What's ironic about that is the next journalist on the list is W.H. "Bill" Mason of KBKI radio in Alice, Texas, killed by Deputy Sheriff Sam Smithwick, who Mason had exposed as the owner of a strip club.
Former Governor Coke Stevenson who had just lost the Democratic senatorial primary to Lyndon B. Johnson, thought Smithwick could prove Johnson had won the primary by voter fraud. Unfortunately Smithwick was hanged before Stevenson could talk to him. Since then it's been pretty conclusively proven Johnson did indeed steal that election. Among other reasons because Johnson used to boast about it when he was going large, and had a picture to prove it.
Looking down the list it seems that considering the sheer number of them, being a journalist isn't very dangerous in this fortunate country of ours. I've made people mad enough to complain about me, but it's never occurred to me that anyone would want to murder me. (Of course the day is still young...)
Ironically the only times I've been in danger on the job was when I was still a part-time amateur in Eastern Europe. My editor felt it prudent to keep my name off an article once. His judgment was confirmed when a couple of so-called "mafia" type came to the office demanding to know who wrote that article about taxis. (Taxis? Another time.)
But of course there's always the possibility of danger while chasing a story a bit too enthusiastically.
From the 2013 Darwin Awards:
"(31 March 2013, Newcastle, England) The UK homeless population's numbers are difficult to gauge; the website Crisis.co.uk sets a low estimate at 2,300 homeless people per night.
Intending to advance his career, investigative journalist Lee Halpin, 26, decided to acquire background in the problem by pretending to be homeless. He borrowed a sleeping bag and, waving aside the concerns of friends and family, he set off into the streets alone. "I will sleep rough, scrounge for my food, interact with as many homeless people as possible, and immerse myself in that lifestyle as deeply as I can," said the journalist--three days before freezing to death in a boarded up hostel."
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