Journalists Face Injury and Death for the Truth
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Face Injury and Death for the Truth
Would you die for your job?
Unless you're a soldier, firefighter, police officer or rescue worker, chances
are your answer is no.
On Sept. 11, 2001, we learned a lot about those who put their lives on the line
every day. For once we saw that heroism wasn't about some pretty boy play-acting
on the big screen for millions of dollars, while lesser-paid stuntmen took the
risks. We also saw that heroes are not steroid-pumped goons with big fat endorsement
contracts for over-priced athletic gear made for pennies by those less fortunate.
But, for all the media tributes to those who sacrificed themselves on 9/11, there
was far less attention paid to their salaries, health issues — or how former
mayor Rudy Giuliani, who himself has achieved God-like status, short-changed their
departments so much that their communications systems failed them on that fateful
Typical. It doesn't fit with the media celebrity myth-making program.
But last year was not a particularly good for journalists, either.
According to the international pressure group Reporters Without Borders, 31 journalists
died on the job last year, eight of them while covering the war in Afghanistan.
Another 110 were thrown in jail, an increase of almost 50 per cent over 2000 —
mostly thanks to how many countries used the threat of terrorism to abrogate civil
liberties, including press freedoms.
Sitting here in my ergonomically correct chair, the target of nothing worse than
nasty emails, I have enormous admiration for colleagues who risk their lives for
the truth. And you needn't look very far to find examples.
Just a few years ago, ace crime reporter Michel Auger was shot up in a Montreal
parking lot, apparently by the thugs he covers.
Still, we have it so good here.
Last month, Reporters Without Borders published a list of 139 countries, ranked
according to how much press freedom they have. Canada placed fifth, just behind
Finland, Iceland, Norway and the Netherlands. We would have ranked higher if journalists
didn't have to grapple with police at demonstrations — or face proprietors
who slap them with gag orders, as CanWest Global did at The Montreal Gazette.
Interestingly, the U.S. ranked 17th.
It doesn't help the American press freedom cause when the White House tries to
keep networks from airing video from Al-Jazeera, the so-called "Arab CNN," or
when the Pentagon refuses access to prisoners being held in Cuba or to troops
in Afghanistan. But the U.S. also ranked so low because its journalists are being
jailed for refusing to reveal their sources on stories.
Which is something we ought to watch for here. The National Post is being pressured
by the RCMP to give up documents that could implicate Prime Minister Jean Chrétien
in a loan scandal. Last week, police seized videotapes of an interview conducted
by CTV's W-Five — even before the report was aired.
Tomorrow night in Toronto, journalists will gather at a downtown hotel for the
International Press Freedom Awards, sponsored by the Canadian Journalists For
The honourees include:
HornAfrik's Elmi, 46, says he is no hero. He's just a businessman who brought
"state of the art broadcasting" and impartial journalism to the country of his
"What was happening was warlords were bombarding hate-mongering into society,"
he told me on the phone from Ottawa, where he owns two restaurants. "So we changed
that, and hopefully contributed to the society."
Elmi maintains Canadians need to appreciate how great we have it here: "A lot
of people don't know how lucky they are in expressing themselves, in writing or
in demonstrating," he remarked. "Somebody can disagree with you, or say it is
wrong or maybe even illegal. But nobody harasses you, nobody intimidates you,
nobody shoots at you, nobody imprisons you and nobody beats you up."
Yet another thing for which we must stand on guard.
- Lira Bayseitova, who exposed government corruption in her native Kazakhstan.
She paid a horrific price: the life of her 25-year-old daughter Leila who died
in police custody last June. They said she was a heroin addict who hung herself.
But a subsequent investigation, including a blood test, revealed no drugs —
but a lot of bruising consistent with a vicious beating.
- Ahmed Abdisalam Adan, Mohamed Elmi and Ali Shamarke, three Somali-Canadians
who returned to their war-torn native country to establish HornAfrik, a modern
and independent radio and TV network that airs the only reliable information there.
- The Star's Kathleen Kenna, who was critically injured in Afghanistan. Kenna,
who is still on leave, has won the Tara Singh Hayer Award, which goes to a Canadian
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