2009 Set Deadly Record For Journalists Last year was the deadliest one for working journalists since the Committee to Protect Journalists started keeping track in 1992. Host Liane Hansen talks with NPR's Media Correspondent David Folkenflik about the events that led to the elevated risk for journalists around the world.
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2009 Set Deadly Record For Journalists

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2009 Set Deadly Record For Journalists

2009 Set Deadly Record For Journalists

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

Every year, human rights groups such as Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists issue reports on journalists who have lost their lives while covering news across the globe. This past week, a reporter for Canada's Calgary Herald newspaper was killed while on assignment in Afghanistan. Two thousand nine turned out to be particularly deadly because of one bloody November day in the Philippines.

NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik joins us from our New York bureau to talk about that incident and larger issues affecting freedom of the press. Hi, David.


HANSEN: Tell us more about what happened in the Philippines.

FOLKENFLIK: It was a massacre. This happened in the country's southernmost island. It's an impoverished region controlled by a single political dynasty. On November 23rd, there was a convoy of vehicles that included relatives of an opposition candidate and several dozen journalists. They were stopped by guards, effectively, for the ruling clan, the Ampatuan family.

Afterwards, some 60 bodies were found hours later, shot and mutilated - women, many of them, sexually assaulted. And more than 30 of those people were journalists. There was an outcry, and arrests and criminal charges of members of that family despite their ties to the Philippine president, Gloria Arroyo. But the committee that protects journalists and others say there's reason to doubt that justice will be delivered.

There's what's called a culture of impunity there, which means literally, kind of getting away with murder. I talked to Sam Zarifi. He's a senior official with Amnesty International and, as disclosure, also a friend of mine. He went there personally to investigate for some days and says it's the single worst incident of the killing of journalists in modern record.

HANSEN: Let's turn to another country, Iran. With events going on there, the citizens are actually chronicling the protests and the government crackdowns through social media sites like Twitter and Flickr. But there's very little on-the-scene reporting from professional journalists. What's the climate for reporting there?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, for actual reporting there, it's pretty grim. Before the tumult of this past summer, the regime in Iran more or less tolerated the media and took a sort of tentative tolerance, also, toward the blogosphere. You know, the foreign press was invited for a brief stint to cover the elections. It didn't go to plan. There was mass crackdown, foreigners were expelled, many were arrested, journalists were detained, some tortured, newsrooms were threatened and shut down.

And now with these new protests, there's been reports of arrests of at least 11 journalists there in recent days. So when you think about the citizen journalism, the technology affords a degree of knowledge to the outside world, including ourselves, that we might not otherwise have had.

Nonetheless, people, for example, like Joel Simon - he's executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists - argues that you can't really replace professional, on-the-scene reporting with grainy footage from cell phone videos, that we can't have the rich, textured understanding of very complicated dynamics that we need.

HANSEN: It was interesting that, given that there are two theaters of war where America is involved, certainly, the deaths of journalists covering major combat actually went down. Why?

FOLKENFLIK: This is mostly about Iraq. In recent past, as many as three dozen journalists might die in a single year. This year, it appears to be down to four. The involvement of America is about to wind down to some degree, and you've seen a concurrent pullout of news organizations, in fact, beginning before the departure of the troops themselves. But one part of that pullout, too, is that many media outlets simply don't have the money to cover Iraq in the way that they did. They're shifting reporters to Afghanistan or simply sending them home.

We think of combat as Iraq and Afghanistan, and clearly Afghanistan is becoming more dangerous, but we're not hearing as much about the deaths of many American journalists, particularly in other countries that are strife-torn, places where Americans tend to do very little reporting these days - like, say, Somalia. It creates a real vacuum for the information feed there. Scary times, indeed, for reporters.

HANSEN: NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. He joined us from our New York bureau. Thank you, David.


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