Journalists' Lives on the Line

Last year, 56 journalists and 17 media workers worldwide lost their lives for doing their jobs, the highest number in a decade.

Combat casualties in Iraq contributed to the toll. But the majority of the deaths around the globe were murders of targeted journalists who were exposing corruption, crime, or taking officially unpopular stands, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York.

A full democracy and a free press go hand in hand. As American abolitionist and journalist Frederick Douglass said, "To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as ... the speaker."

That's why, for instance, US Secretary of State Colin Powell berates Russia for its crackdown on the media. Meanwhile, lawlessness there has led to the deaths of 11 journalists in contract-style killings in recent years - the latest being the Forbes Russia editor Paul Klebnikov, an American gunned down in Moscow last July. His death confirms a dismal trend in places like Russia and the Philippines. Unlike Mr. Klebnikov, though, most journalists who die in the line of duty are locals.

Western media are now more savvier about protecting employees. Local reporters in poor, corrupt, and repressive countries, though, don't have the luxury of training for various kinds of threats. Nor do they usually enjoy Western-style legal protection. Their killers often go unpunished.

It's imperative for countries with press freedoms and rights to publicly demand the same in countries without them. The locals - and their governments - need them.

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