Journalists' murders need investigation by other journalists
by Posted Wed, Sep 1 2004
In her article “Free Speech Under Assault,” Myroslava Gongadze makes a passionate plea for international intervention to investigate the murders of journalists. After her own husband's murder in Ukraine, Gongadze personally understands the importance of preventing such violence in the future.
Her proposal is right on. As she points out, the former Soviet Union is a killing field for independent journalists men and women who campaign to establish the news business as a legitimate protector of democracy. The International Press Institute, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters without Borders have all made statements about the murders of journalists in the region.
But there has been no serious follow-up to these statements. International organizations usually mount protest “missions” to countries where serious free-press constraints have occurred.
These missions are international delegations of leading journalists who go to an offending country to make representations about misdeeds. Sometimes in fact, often these misions meet with high-level officials and are told that measures will be taken to correct the bad situation. But protest missions are not enough to counteract the lack of action by authorities when murder of reporters and editors goes unchecked.
A year ago, IPI Global Journalist ran a cover story on the murder of journalists, detailing the slaying of 500 journalists in the last decade. The cover line said, in part: “Authorities have shown little interest in finding the killers, often charging journalists with crimes instead.”
On May 9, Paul Klebnikov, the founding editor of the new Moscow publication Forbes Russia, was shot to death as he left his office. It was a gangland-style killing.
Klebnikov was an investigative reporter. The second issue of his magazine created a sensation in Moscow when it ran a list of the nation's wealthiest people. Number 35 on that list was Yelena Baturina, who, besides running a business operation worth US$1.1 billion, is the wife of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov.
President Vladimir Putin himself promised prompt action to solve the crime and bring the killers to justice. At this writing, almost two months after the murder, there has been no action.
Klebnikov's list included former military officers and members of the KGB as well as Communist Party functionaries and others who, from shady beginnings, such as street-corner currency trading, had accumulated riches.
Savik Shuster, a prominent Moscow television talk show host until his program was canceled, said of the killing, It's a message to the entire journalistic class: Don't do investigative journalism in Russia.
To do unpopular investigative reporting in Russia or several other countries these days means to put your life on the line for your profession. But the truth is that such investigative reporting is needed in Russia and other former Soviet republics if the crimes of the murders of Klebnikov, Gongadze and dozens of others are to be solved.
In 1976, Don Bolles, an investigative reporter for the Arizona Republic, was killed in a car bomb blast in downtown Phoenix while investigating crime and corruption throughout the state.
Bolles was a founding member of Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), which, amid great controversy for campaigning, sent 36 reporters to Phoenix to finish Bolles's investigation. For that investigation, the IRE was nominated for a special Pulitzer Prize. It did not investigate the murder itself. The state did, and three men were tried.
The worldwide murder of journalists these days is a story that affects not only workers in the news business. We cover them regularly for the general public because they have consequences for all of society. Unfortunately, we do not follow through as IRE did 28 years ago. We should do as well now.
This is the time for the international news business to investigate the identity of who the killers of journalists are in individual cases, to uncover why reporters are dying and why little is being done to bring the perpetrators to justice. Task forces of reporters should be gathered and supported to do the investigations that the authorities ignore. With the muscle of international participation by strong news groups, it can safely accomplish this task.