by Kati Marton
Subconsciously, I suppose, I have been preparing for my role as chair of the Committee to Protect Journalists since the day that I witnessed the arrest of my parents, Hungarian journalists, during the chilliest days of the Cold War. They were wire-service reporters guilty only of recounting the grim events of the 1950s in Eastern Europe. I did not see my mother for a year and my father for close to two years after their arrest in early 1955. I was a small child, but the experience of seeing my parents led away by Hungarian secret policemen while the world stood by passively left a permanent mark.
In the past two and a half years, as chair of CPJ, I have worked hard to spare other small children from a similar feeling of anger and helplessness. As this report makes all too clear, we at CPJ cannot assure the safety of our colleagues working under circumstances similar to those of my parents during the Cold War. What we can do is call attention to the obscenity of leading innocents away from their families for the crime of doing their jobs.
Twenty-six journalists were assassinated in 1996. That number is down by 25 from the previous year--cause for celebration, some might argue. But I am a journalist, not a statistician, and the assassination of 26 colleagues in the line of duty is unacceptable to me. Each killing reminds me that, although CPJ does much to ensure that our counterparts around the world enjoy the freedom to do their job, we do not always succeed. In 1996, we failed 26 times to shield our colleagues from lethal violence. We did not keep 185 reporters and editors out of prison: 36 African, 37 Asian, 4 Latin American, and 108 North African and Middle Eastern journalists were locked up at the end of 1996. (See "Journalists in Jail)
When thugs shot Irish crime reporter Veronica Guerin dead last June as she sat in her car at a red light, the blow was personal. She was a friend; I remember her feisty speech in 1995 when she accepted the International Press Freedom Award. The image of her little boy rushing up to the stage to claim not the reporter, but his mom, is not one I will soon forget.
Veronica stood for the best and bravest in all of us. In an effort to circumvent Ireland's onerous libel laws while reporting on organized crime, she directly
confronted underworld figures-a technique that led to repeated threats on her life, an attack in her home during which she was beaten and shot, and finally to her murder. While her daring methods astonished many of her colleagues and those who followed her story, we at CPJ loved and honored Veronica for her refusal to cede ground to the enemies of truth.
Ultimately, we cannot protect the men and women who practice this dangerous profession, who by the nature of their work earn the ire of those with something to hide. What we can do is to stigmatize the crimes committed against them-one of the objectives of this volume.
The Committee to Protect Journalists-the only American organization whose sole reason for being is to monitor abuses against our colleagues beyond our borders and to advocate on their behalf-also speaks truth to power at the highest levels. This year, when CPJ published its Top Ten list of "Enemies of the Press," it included the leaders of China, Nigeria, the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria, Turkey, and Slovakia, among others, as the most egregious oppressors of a free media. We have reason to believe that none of the 10 particularly enjoyed this distinction, especially because we urged U.S. officials to make note of our enemies list in their official dealings.
The Balkan cauldron continued to seethe in 1996. The region's long-muffled independent media emerged as key players in the region's tenuous democratization process. This region plays a role well beyond its size for obvious reasons. It is here that two world wars began, and here, during the past five years' warfare, that one quarter of a million people died and more than three million were left homeless. The state-controlled media in Belgrade, Zagreb, and, to a much lesser degree, Sarajevo, fueled the ethnic passion which unleashed that war. It is now essential for the security of Europe and ultimately the United States that we nurture the growth of free media in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Yugoslavia, and Croatia.
In two separate trips to the Balkans last year, I met with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and Croatian President Franjo Tudjman. I had a single agenda: to bring to bear the full force of the American media on these post-
Communist dictators' attempts to suppress independent journalists. The mask of benevolence slipped momentarily from President Tudjman's face when I asked him point-blank why he was suing an independent-and thus critical of
Tudjman-provincial newspaper for a ruinous sum. "Would any other head of state put up with this sort of coverage?" he erupted, jabbing his finger at the cover of the satirical weekly Feral Tribune. My answer, "All the democratically elected ones," elicited from him not the slightest sign of comprehension.
Toward the year's end, a surge of grass-roots pro-democracy, pro-free press energy came from an unexpected place: Serbia, a region many observers had
written off as hopelessly mired in the most atavistic nationalism. When I learned that Radio B92, Belgrade's only independent radio station, was cut from the air, I traveled to Belgrade to voice CPJ's solidarity with independent media and express our outrage at their oppressors. This show of CPJ's support, which provoked international attention to their plight, was a tremendous morale booster to the beleaguered and isolated independent media.
By the time I held my second set of meetings with President Milosevic in late December, he was no longer the cocksure, all-powerful dictator who had greeted me last spring. Daily pro-democracy demonstrations on the icy streets of Belgrade had stunned him-as they did the rest of the world. During a two-and-a-half-hour meeting, I presented Milosevic with a document that declared his support of "a free press and the right to publish and broadcast freely" in Serbia. He signed it. While this was primarily a symbolic document, it was an important reminder both to the Serb dictator and to the world of American journalists' commitment to a free press in the former Yugoslavia.
The tiny, vulnerable independent Serb media outfoxed Milosevic. When he pulled the plug on B92, it re-emerged unscathed on Radio Free Europe and on the Voice of America. Pro-democracy Serb students and journalists have made brilliant use of the Internet, reaching a small but influential global audience. CNN and the World Wide Web are proving that the most fortified borders are meaningless against technology's onslaught.
Ironically, the more Milosevic tried to silence the voices of dissent, the stronger they became. Nasa Borba, the Serb paper that has faced the harshest repression, has seen its circulation soar by 60 percent. The pro-Milosevic daily Politika, which used to boast a circulation of 300,000, has, since the demonstrations, plunged to a humiliating 45,000. Hunger for the truth after a long diet of lies and distortions drives this remarkable shift. Through ongoing contact with Serb journalists, and direct appeals to their oppressors, we at CPJ continue to encourage Serbia's long-delayed democratization.
The events in Serbia are nothing short of revolutionary. They are a reminder that the time when autocrats could absolutely control the flow of information to their people is past. That was the single most encouraging development for our profession in 1996.
Kati Marton, an author and journalist, is chair of the board of directors of the Committee to Protect Journalists. She is host of "America and the World," a weekly international affairs program on National Public Radio, produced by the Council on Foreign Relations.
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