The High Price of News

`NEWS' as entertainment - whether stage whispers to a telegenic anchorperson or aerial shots of a white Bronco wandering the streets of Los Angeles - disgusts many Americans, and we can't blame them. No wonder journalism joins politics among the least admired of professions.

But most of us also know the high value of real news, the importance of a press that can freely report and uncover wrongdoing. A study released last month by the International Federation of Journalists shows the high price of getting that information. It said that 155 journalists were killed in 1994, making it the most dangerous year yet for journalists; the previous high was in 1991, when 84 died.

The pace hasn't slackened in 1995. Last week, Jochen Piest, a journalist for the German magazine Stern, was shot while working in Chechnya. He joined Russian reporter Vladimir Zhitarenko and American freelance photographer Cynthia Elbaum as journalist victims of that war.

Rwanda headed the 1994 list, with 48 journalists killed, some brutally hacked to death. Russia and Latin America were particularly dangerous places for journalists investigating crime and corruption. Unrest in Algeria cost 19 journalists their lives; the targeting of journalists there has made Western news organizations reluctant to send in reporters, dimming the spotlight on that violence.

In Bosnia, seven journalists were killed in 1994, including two Americans whose vehicle hit a land mine. In December, the United Nations began allowing reporters to take empty seats on UNPROFOR flights into besieged Sarajevo. Previously, journalists had to travel by land, a much more dangerous undertaking. Since much of the success of UN peacekeeping operations depends on worldwide awareness, one can only wonder why this sensible policy was so long in coming.

The United States isn't exempt from the violence. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued a report last month showing that at least 10 immigrant journalists had been killed in the US in recent years for writing about their home countries. Most of these cases are still unsolved.

The CPJ expects to issue its own list of reporters killed in 1994 this week. The estimate may differ slightly, but the point will be the same: Some journalists pay a very high price to gather the news we all need.

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