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Why a Free Press? : Colleagues to take up slain reporter’s work

We fuss and whine here about "the media." But there is perhaps no greater testament to the power of the press and the importance of a free one than what's happened in Iraq since Saddam Hussein fell.

We fuss and whine here about "the media." But there is perhaps no greater testament to the power of the press and the importance of a free one than what's happened in Iraq since Saddam Hussein fell.

Journalism is generally not a dangerous profession. Mayors don’t slit the throats of pesky city hall reporters. College football coaches rarely plant bombs in columnists’ cars. Movie stars don’t hire hit men to rub out snarky bloggers.

At least, not in the United States. In other parts of the world, telling people the truth is exceedingly dangerous.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a New York-based group of foreign correspondents, nearly 700 journalists have been killed worldwide since 1992 for doing, or while doing, their jobs.

More than 1 in 7 have been killed in Iraq since 2003. Last year, 32 journalists were killed there.

Some were in the wrong place at the wrong time, killed by suicide bombers or roadside bombs whose targets were anyone in the blast radius.

Some were killed because they were Sunni. Some were killed because they were Shiite. Some were killed because their families didn’t pay a ransom quickly enough. Some were killed because they worked for Americans.

But most were killed because they were trying to tell their countrymen and the world what was happening there.

Some worked for or owned newspapers. Some worked for television news stations. Some worked for radio stations. Some were freelancers.

We fuss and whine here about “the media.” But there is perhaps no greater testament to the power of the press and the importance of a free one than what’s happened in Iraq since Saddam Hussein fell.

There has been an explosion of media, with newspapers and radio stations starting in every town, with nearly a dozen broadcast television stations and Arabic-language programs sent by satellite.

Why? Iraqis crave news.

But those trying to fill the power gap left by the demise of the Baath regime want to control what Iraqis get to know. Knowledge is power.

So journalists who try to wrest that power from the few and give it to the many are killed. Yet despite the death threats, bombings and killings, these nascent media outlets still find men and women willing to serve the cause of freedom by gathering and reporting news.

Brave men and women also risk their lives to report the news elsewhere, but war is not the common denominator for risk of death. Countries ruled by authoritarian regimes or ravaged by the drug trade are at the top of the list for journalists’ deaths.

The United States is one of the safest countries for journalists. Only three have been killed here since 2000, according to the CPJ. One occurred Sept. 11, 2001, and another is connected to the anthrax letters mailed shortly afterward.

The third was Chauncey Bailey, editor of the Oakland Post, a weekly covering that city’s black community.

He had been investigating the shady dealings of a bakery run by the Black Muslims when he was gunned down on his way to work Aug. 2.

His killer has pleaded guilty – good enough for prosecutors. An organization of Bay Area and national investigative reporters has been formed to continue Bailey’s work.

Questions about what went on at Your Black Muslim Bakery persist, as do questions about whether someone hired the killer to shoot Bailey.

The project is similar to the Arizona Project, in which dozens of investigative reporters from around the nation went to Phoenix in 1976 to continue the investigative work of reporter Don Bolles.

Bolles, an Arizona Republic reporter, died that year, several days after a bomb was detonated beneath his car. He had been investigating business and public corruption in all areas of Arizona government.

The goal behind the Bolles and Bailey projects is journalists serving notice that you can’t silence the news by killing one of us. More will come in our place and continue the work.

American journalists can afford such crusades. The killing of a reporter is rare here.

In Baghdad, there are no “projects” when a reporter is killed. There is only the daily work of reporting the news.

There, journalism is the crusade, for there can be no freedom without a free press.


Countries with most journalists killed since 1992
1. Iraq 125

2. Algeria 60

3. Russia 47

4. Colombia 40

5. Philippines 32

6. India 22

7. Somalia 21

8. Bosnia, Turkey 19

10. Pakistan 17

11. Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Tajikistan, Afghanistan 16

15. Brazil 15

16. Sri Lanka 14

17. Mexico 13

18. Bangladesh 12

19. Angola, Yugoslavia 8

Source: Committee to Protect Journalists


Learn more about the Chauncey Bailey Project


Read Tucson Citizen Assistant City Editor Mark B. Evans’ blog, “Why a Free Press?”

If you need help accessing records, call 573-4614 or e-mail mevans@tucsoncitizen.com

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