Iraq is the deadliest place on earth for journalists. The Committee to Protect Journalists has confirmed that 2006 is the fourth year in a row that the country has “won” this tragic award. Far too few journalists seem to care, however (and the US government cares even less):
When you step off the elevator at the Reuters news offices in Washington, D.C., you see a large book sitting on a wooden stand. Each entry describes a Reuters journalist killed in the line of duty. Such as Taras Protsyuk. The veteran Ukrainian cameraman was killed on April 8, 2003, the day before the U.S. seized Baghdad. Protsyuk was on the balcony of the Palestine Hotel when a U.S. tank positioned itself on the al-Jumhuriyah bridge and, as people watched in horror, unleashed a round into the side of the building. The hotel was known for housing hundreds of unembedded reporters. Protsyuk was killed instantly. Jose Couso, a cameraman for the Spanish network Telecinco, was filming from the balcony below. He was also killed.
The difference between the responses by the mainstream media in the United States versus Europe was stunning. While in this country there was hardly a peep of protest, Spanish journalists engaged in a one-day strike. From the elite journalists down to the technicians, they laid down their cables, cameras and pens. They refused to record the words of then-Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who joined British Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush in supporting the war. When Aznar came into parliament, they piled their equipment at the front of the room and turned their backs on him. Photographers refused to take his picture and instead held up a photo of their slain colleague. At a news conference in Madrid with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Spanish reporters walked out in protest. Later, hundreds of journalists, camera people and technicians marched on the U.S. embassy in Madrid, chanting “Murderer, murderer.”
About four hours before the U.S. military opened fire on the Palestine Hotel, a U.S. warplane strafed Al-Jazeera’s Baghdad office. Reporter Tareq Ayyoub was on the roof. He died almost instantly.
When interviewed after his death, Ayyoub’s wife, Dima, said: “Hate breeds hate. The United States said they were doing this to rout out terrorism. Who is engaged in terrorism now?” This summer, she sued the U.S. government.
The family of Jose Couso has also taken action. They know the names of the three U.S. servicemen who fired on the Palestine Hotel. On Dec. 5, 2006, the Spanish Supreme Court said the men could be tried in Spanish courts, opening the possibility for indictments against the U.S. soldiers.
While many bloggers in the Middle East suffer repression and jail, how many Western journalists are campaigning for their release or freedom of speech?