fran ilich on Sat, 12 May 2001 16:02:39 +0200 (CEST)

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[nettime-lat] crimen y periodismo en latinoamerica.

Many journalists pay heavy price

The Gazette

Two weeks ago in Paris, the editor-in-chief of El Tiempo in Bogota,
Colombia, found an arresting way to describe the perils of being a
journalist in his part of the world. People who are offended by stories -
guerrillas, drug lords, right-wing paramilitaries - express their
displeasure directly, he said.

"They don't send letters to the editor, or complain to the ombudsman." They
just shoot the reporters. In 2000 alone, an astonishing 11 journalists were
killed in Colombia, according to the Vienna-based International Press

With predictable results, according to the Colombian editor, Francisco
Santos. There is daily self-censorship; easy questions are put to hard men;
sensitive stories rarely carry bylines.

Santos knows well what he was talking about. He once was kidnapped by drug
lord Pablo Escobar for eight months and is now living in exile in Spain,
along with his wife and children. More than 50 Colombian journalists are
currently in exile, he reported.

Sitting in the audience of reporters and editors, listening to Santos's grim
testimony, I reflected once again on how fortunate we are in Canada when it
comes to freedom of expression.

Auger Shot 

True, things have become somewhat meaner here in recent years. Last August,
Michel Auger of the Journal de Montreal was shot (although not killed) for
his reporting on the drug war between Quebec's arrogant biker gangs. In
1998, Tara Singh Hayer, the courageous editor of the Indo-Canadian Times,
was murdered by Sikh terrorists in Vancouver.

In general, though, the worst thing most Canadian journalists have to worry
about is the curled lip of Conrad Black, or a verbal rap on the snout by
Asper headquarters in Winnipeg. In too many other countries, reporters,
editors and publishers whom I know personally have bodyguards, unpublished
addresses and drivers who bring them to work by a different route every day.

It can take enormous courage to be a journalist. Many pay a heavy price. Two
days ago, on World Press Freedom Day, the IPI mourned 56 journalists and
media workers killed in 2000, while the World Association of Newspapers
released a list of 81 journalists in prison in 18 countries (22 of them in

For its part, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists produced
its annual Top 10 list of global enemies of the press. As always, you'd have
to go a long way to find a more unsavoury bunch. Here they are:

1. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran, instigator of a relentless campaign of
repression against the press. More than 30 newspapers have been closed, and
Iran's best-known liberal journalists languish in jail. The ayatollah made
the jump from No. 2 last year to top of the list; he worked hard for his

2. Charles Taylor, the blood-thirsty nutbar currently in charge of Liberia.
"Taylor has used censorship, prison and threats of violence to silence
virtually all independent media," according to the CPJ.

3. Jiang Zemin, president of China, making the list for a fifth straight
year. He has put huge resources into policing the Internet and made China
the world's leading jailer of journalists.

4. Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, whose tactics against the press include
torture, bombings, expulsions and prosecutions for criminal defamation.

5. Vladimir Putin of Russia. "President Putin pays lip service to press
freedom in Russia, but then manoeuvres in the shadows to centralize control
of the media, stifle criticism and destroy the independent press," said CPJ
executive director Ann Cooper.

6. Carlos Castano, leader of the United Self Defence Forces of Colombia.
This ruthless head of a violent paramilitary force has been implicated in
the murders of at least four journalists.

7. Leonid Kuchma, president of Ukraine. This sweetheart has been tied
directly to the murder of a critical journalist whose decapitated corpse
turned up outside Kiev.

8. Fidel Castro of Cuba, cited for his "scorched-earth assault" on
independent media. On the list for a proud seventh year.

9. Zine al-Abdine Ben Ali, president of Tunisia, for a decade-long campaign
of intimidation and censorship against his country's journalists.

10. Mahathir Mohamad, prime minister of Malaysia, mean and manipulative,
notoriously thin-skinned, contemptuous of press freedom.

Quite a crew. Not the sort you'd like to meet in a dark alley - or, come to
think of it, a presidential palace.

-    Norman Webster is a former editor of The Gazette. 

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