Journalists - Not Targets

A journalist's job is often dangerous, and in some countries it can be life threatening.

The watchdog group Reporters Without Borders reports that fewer journalists were killed in 1998 than in 1997. That's the good news. The bad news is that most of the 19 reporters killed lost their lives as they investigated ties between government officials and organized crime.

The group cites the deaths of journalists in such countries as Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico as stemming from campaigns of intimidation against reporters by mafia-type organizations.

This disregard for the lives of reporters is wrong. Behind it lies an assumption that journalists are expendable - an assumption not limited to mafia types or corrupt officials.

Last week, the Committee to Protect Journalists sent a letter to Javier Solana, NATO secretary general, protesting the alliance's bombing of radio and television facilities in Belgrade. The missile attack against Radio and Television of Serbia reportedly killed nine people and injured 18 others.

CPJ argues, persuasively, that targeting civilian broadcast facilities "permanently jeopardizes" the status of journalists as noncombatants. Despite Slobodan Milosevic's wielding of state-run broadcasting as a propaganda tool, NATO's attack sets a worrisome precedent. Even under authoritarian rule, independent voices can sometimes surface. And the Belgrade facility was used by foreign as well as Serbian reporters. Better to keep all journalists out of the cross hairs than try to justify targeting the work of some, no matter how slanted.

Finally, some positive signs from the Reporters Without Borders report: Journalists in Hong Kong have not seen the wholesale dismantling of press freedoms that was predicted when Beijing took control. And reporters in Nigeria have seen improvement in their situation, possibly aided by wide coverage of their country's emergence from years of dictatorship.

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