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News Coverage Could Be Affected as More Foreign Correspondents Targeted


Foreign correspondents for western media outlets have always faced dangers in the field. But recently western journalists have become high-value targets. They have been subjected to kidnapping and even murder by terrorists or groups seeking publicity for their causes. This is especially true for western reporters working in the Middle East.

Wars, insurgencies, and political upheaval are the kinds of events foreign correspondents traditionally cover. They act as the eyes and ears for a wider public, often taking risks to get the story.

But ever since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, western reporters increasingly have become targets. Frank Smyth is with the Committee to Protect Journalists, a non-governmental group that defends global press freedoms.

"I think you see journalists getting targeted largely because of their association with the United States, particularly in Middle Eastern countries which is something we haven't seen in the past and that's a new phenomenon and it is something we're concerned about,” sys Mr. Smyth. “The notion that journalists are neutral and journalists are there to report what's going on used to be accepted by a great many actors around the world. And now there are some actors who see journalists as hostile merely by their presence in terms of the media they are representing."

American reporter Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and savagely beheaded in 2002 by terrorists in Pakistan. Jill Carroll was kidnapped in Iraq early this year and held for more than two months by insurgents before being freed.

Non-American reporters also have been targeted. The kidnapping of an Italian journalist in 2005 in Iraq prompted widespread concern in her country.

Most recently, Fox News correspondent Steve Centanni and cameraman Olaf Wiig were kidnapped in Gaza and appeared on videos pleading for their lives. They were freed after being forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint. Cameraman Wiig later talked about the possible repercussions of his ordeal.

"My biggest concern, really, is that, as a result of what happened to us, foreign journalists will be discouraged from coming here to tell this story and that would be a great tragedy for the people of Palestine, and especially for the people of Gaza."

Frank Smyth says Wiig's concerns are justified. "If it is becoming more dangerous for foreign correspondents to go out and report, they are going to be more likely to report one side of the story. And as a result Americans and others will get a distorted view of the news and I think that's unfortunate."

Murder and intimidation have long been problems for local journalists in developing countries. In Mexico, for example, attacks on newspapers are not uncommon when they publish articles about drug trafficking.

In the Philippines, journalists were been trained to use guns to defend themselves following a series of attacks against reporters.

However, Frank Smyth of the Committee to Protect Journalists says the best way to stop all forms of repression against journalists is to publicize incidents of abuse, no matter what the source.

"We need to start working with western media groups, with Arab media groups and other groups around the world to build solidarity and defend the notion that journalists have the right to do their jobs.

For example, we also defend a Sudanese cameraman with Al-Jazeera who was picked up in Pakistan who is now in Guantanamo being held by U.S. military forces for more than four years without being formally charged. When we defend people like the Sudanese cameraman from Al-Jazeera it also sends the message to journalists around the world that journalists as a community need to defend themselves against any kind of actors, whether they are government or non-governmental, insurgents or not, that are encroaching or threatening press freedom."

Despite these efforts, journalism is bound to remain a dangerous profession, especially for foreign correspondents.