Journalism lost one of its brightest lights this weekend when the well- known and globally-honored Kremlin critic Anna Politkovskaya, a mother of two and the most courageous chronicler of the Wars in Chechnya, was shot to death, KGB style with two bullets to the head in the elevator of her apartment building in Moscow.
It was a hit job. London’s Independent called it “a story as sinister as anything she investigated in her fearless, award-winning career. …A body found slumped in a Moscow lift. A discarded pistol and four spent shells. A mysterious thin man in a black baseball hat…….” The 48-year-old investigative reporter, lauded by journalists and writers around the world for her exposés in Chechnya, appears to have been assassinated. Her most powerful enemy was President Vladimir Putin. The murder came two days before she was due to publish an exposé of the Chechnyan Prime Minister.” I met Politkovskaya some time ago at a conference we both attended in Barcelona. I learned she had actually been born in New York to parents who worked for the Soviet Union’s diplomatic service. She was matter of fact, soft-spoken, humble and almost unable to talk about the many crimes she has witnessed and described. She said she was impressed with the Mediachannel.org site I edit and urged me to continue. The media world was shocked but it shouldn’t have been because she was frequently threatened. She was the victim of a poisoning as she traveled to report on the school incident in Beslan. The International Helsinki Foundation issued a statement of alarm:
Among the Very Few
“We are shocked, we are disturbed, and we mourn with her family. She was among the very few Russian journalists who investigated the realities of the war in Chechnya, and she was doubtless the bravest. Insofar as the tragic conflict is known and understood at all, it is due in large part to her professionalism and tenacity, for which she appears to have paid with her life."
The New York Times added: “ She was found dead by a neighbor shortly after 5 p.m. A Makarov 9-millimeter pistol had been dropped at her side, the signature of a contract killing, Vitaly Yaroshevsky, the deputy editor of Novaya Gazeta, said in a telephone interview. “We are certain that this is the horrible outcome of her journalistic activity,” he said. “No other versions are assumed.”
Her writing was eloquent and well informed but never detached and distant. She named names, and told it like it is.
Here she was in May of 2002 in Novaya Gazeta: “We have reached a stage in Russia now, where every schoolchild knows that Chechnya is being "cleaned", and adults no longer bother with the inverted commas.
"Zachistka" in this sense entails thoroughly sorting out someone or something and, on the whole, we prefer not to enquire too closely into who or what. For this meaning of this old word we have the war in Chechnya to thank, and more particularly the high-ranking military brass who routinely update us on television with the latest news from Russia's Chechen ghetto, popularly known as the "Zone of Anti- Terrorist Operations"…
Towns and villages are besieged for days; women wail; families try desperately to evacuate their adolescent sons - where to doesn't matter providing it's a long way from Chechnya; village elders stage protest demonstrations. Finally, we are regaled with general Moltenskoy himself, our supposed commander-in-chief of the 'Front Against Terrorism', festooned with medals and ribbons, there on the television screen, pumping adrenalin, larger than life; and invariably against a background of corpses and "cleaned" villages.”
Have we heard one really clear condemnation of these practices from our President who said he looked into Vladmir Putin’s soul and found a soulmate. Killers are driven to embrace other killers. Leaders blind to their own crimes will not see others crimes. It’s not surprising that our “pro-waterboarding” Busheviks have come to resemble their murderous Bolsheviks.”
She believed in the importance of educating the public in a media system—like our own—which often avoids uncomfortable truths. In her case, people lined up outside her office with stories to tell and horrors to share. She was trusted, and loved.
This Information Emptiness
She told an interviewer from the Polish daily newspaper "Rzeczpospolita: “I get a lot of letters, 40% of them are against the war, in the rest of them people condemn my anti-war views. In the Russian media there's a lack of information regarding this subject, not like during the first war from 1994-96. In this information emptiness, actions of authorities are supported by a huge propaganda machine. This machine has been able to create a picture of the enemy. This enemy living down south, they called them "blacks". Sound familiar—“ This enemy living down south, they called them "blacks". She went to Chechnya more than 40 times. She was herself tortured, condemned and discredited. She was often afraid. “I'm afraid a lot,” she said. ”During every trip. But, if I wanted to live without fear and risk, I would become a teacher or a housewife. There's a risk written in the profession of journalist, so this talk about my fear doesn't have any sense.” Already, anger is being heard. These comments are from the website of Chris Floyd, the Moscow Times writer who was recently fired for his
"The thugs who rule the country got her. She saw it coming, but never gave up defending those trampled underfoot in the Russia of Vladimir Putin: a birthday present to him from his goons. Another hero unsung by the stifled Russian media. Another martyr for humanity”…and, “poor Anna has been killed by those in power who fear the loss of it. Fortunately vengeance is the Lord's. He will repay.”
Media Killings Continue
And the deaths of other journalists continue. AP reported this past
weekend: “Two German journalists who had pitched a tent on the side of a road outside a northern Afghan village were killed by gunmen early Saturday, the fifth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan.”
And from London comes word that a British soldier has testified at an inquest into the death of unembedded English TV reporter Terry Lloyd that he saw him killed in Iraq by a bullet fired into his head by a US soldier.
What can we do about these outrages? First, we can find out about them. Then we can a duty tospeak up in protest to the governments worldwide that sanction them, and the media outlets which refuse to do brave reporting.
In the name of all who died, to remember Terry Lloyd and honor the great Anna Politkovskaya, their work must be continued, their killers must be brought to justice.
That is one challenge facing journalism today, despite the degraded state of our news media.
News Dissector Danny Schechter edits Mediachannel.org His latest book is “The Death of Media And the Fight for Democracy" (Melville
House.) Comments to Dissector@Mediachannel.org
© MediaChannel.org, 2006