Pakistan Now Worst Killing-Field for Journalists

12/16/2011 03:15 pm ET | Updated Feb 15, 2012

2011 looks like yet another bad year for journalists. Bad once again in the most down-to-earth terms -- getting killed.

One change this year, though, is in that grim league-table of countries revealing which ones are the worst for a journalist to work in, measured death-by-death.

America's proximate neighbor, Mexico -- deep in its U.S.-supported 'war on drugs' -- has now been displaced from top of this fatalities league by Pakistan, America's questionable partner in the pointlessly named 'war on terror.'

With 16 still-perilous days left on the calendar, this year's number for journalists (and media workers generally) killed in the course of their work in Pakistan stands at seven. The record is compiled by the institution we habitually (and can reliably) turn to for well-checked enumeration, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Pakistan's number contributes to a world total of 42.

Concerning these numbers... there's another category the CPJ also lists, comprising deaths with 'Motive Unconfirmed.' This year this amounts to 4 in Pakistan, and 35 world-wide. The heading means media people whose deaths cannot definitely be connected to their work, although generally it does look that way. In Pakistan, three of the dead so categorized, Muneer Shakir, of the Online News Network, Abdost Rind, a freelancer, and Ilyas Nizzar, of Darwanth newsmagazine, were associated with Baluchi separatist activism -- and the fourth, Zaman Ibrahim, of Karachi's Daily Extra News, was reported to be a governing party activist as well as a reporter.)

The world's 'confirmed' total of 42 is not significantly different from last year's number of 48. Should we be grateful that our profession's risks are not mounting, by this measure -- just staying basically as dangerous as ever?

Given Pakistan's fractious state, and its inevitably blurred divisions between journalism and political activity (and even sometimes militia affiliations) we can probably expect the record to get worse among local journalists. And among international journalists who go to report there, the risks unavoidably loom large, for who can forget the gut-wrenching killing of the Wall Street Journal's Daniel Pearl in 2002?

Those highly professional media-workers who continue to do their jobs in the face of such risky conditions deserve our special admiration, I believe.

When I reflected on this worldwide death-toll late into last year, while Mexico was heading the list, I focused on the anguishing case of El Diario de Juarez, the leading city newspaper on the Mexican side of the cross-border conurbation, Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, Texas. A young intern photographer on the paper, Luis Carlos Santiago had just been killed, the second Diario murder in two years, and another intern had been injured. The angry, grieving and frustrated editor Pedro Torres caused a stir by pleading in a bloody-looking headline to negotiate with the area's murderous drug cartels, in an effort to gain some protection for his staff. Unsurprisingly, no terms were agreed.


A year or so later, I can report that the paper's injured intern is not only well-recovered from wounds to his head, arm and abdomen -- having spent five months on getting healed -- but he's now a full-fledged photographer determined to do his job to the utmost, working back at the same frequently targeted newspaper. He's Carlos Manuel Sanchez (pictured) and he says he loves his work, even as he recalls his friend and colleague instantly felled by a 9mm bullet as they sat together in a car. "I value my life," he simply declares.

I've written now and again that my own personal calculus when reporting in dangerous settings has usually, to be quite frank, veered decidedly toward the cautious. Between valuing life, in Sanchez's simple words, and getting the story, there's an obvious requirement to strike a correct balance, and it can only be an inexact science at best. I can't possibly see Daniel Pearl, for instance, as a reckless individual. He would have tried, I'm sure, to weigh the risks judiciously.

But our tribe are always going -- however much or how little caution we practice -- to be what the purposeful traders in violence and death, professional soldiers, will call... as they try for bloodless terminology ... 'collateral damage.'

A FOOTNOTE of little comfort. Iraq, the scene of this week's ceremonies declaring an end to America's military engagement there, is Number Two in the league of journalist-killing territories, for the second straight year.

Read more of David Tereshchuk's media industry insights at his weekly column, "The Media Beat," with accompanying video and audio. Listen also to The Media Beat podcasts on demand from Connecticut's NPR station WHDD.