We Are the Stories They Told, Colltalers
The Committee to Protect Journalists has just put out a grim slideshow of the 1,000 newspeople who have been killed since 1992, while covering armed conflicts around the world. Even such a high number, though, however unacceptable, fails to convey the tragedy and heartbreak behind it.
More to the point, the significance of this figure lies on what it says about the brutal times we’ve been living in. It’s almost foolish to decry the absolute contempt contemporary warring factions reserve towards those risking their lives to bring us, the precious few, a front view of the carnage.
Many would also ad an extra layer of complexity, when checking such sad records: news personnel who cover wars, as enlisted forces, had at one point or another a choice in the matter, unlike the innocent civilians who’re caught in the crossfire and treated as legitimate targets.
Still, whether newspapermen or war correspondents from yesteryear had it harder than our contemporaries, the Geneva Convention notwithstanding, or that it takes a certain type of individual to choose to report while literally bullets fly by, the even sadder truth is that most of these stories are either falling on deaf ears or failing to move us.
What these 1,000 documented cases attest is to a larger narrative, that of conflicts being defined by their impersonality and seemingly random violence, a constant of mass slaughter so often and so savage to go straight to our unconscious mind, never stopping at the brain’s reflection centers.
As the killing is performed by an unmanned flying executioner, annihilating from existence entire communities we never knew existed, in the name of causes we can’t comprehend, it’d be up to journalists to tell the stories as if they were our own. Except when they become themselves subjects.
That’s when we examine the faces on the slideshow, searching for traces of the kind of determination we’d expect from warriors and soldiers, or bewilderment we’re used to seeing from unarmed bystanders. Instead, we see us, who are neither trained to kill nor had our village visited by doom.
These writers, reporters, photographers, cameramen, sound technicians, or simply people who got a recorder and followed a rally, somehow could be us because many may have wound up smack in the middle of gunfire in some faraway land out of a casual, fateful decision made long ago.
You’ll find the expected veterans, scarred survivors of many a bomb explosion that befell those surrounding them, but also the not so predictable few, who one day had dreams of making a living telling heartwarming stories and the next, found themselves swimming in rivers of blood and fire.
Many didn’t have to go to war to meet their fate, such as Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist critical of the Russian government who was murdered while leaving home in 2006. One of her alleged assassins for hire was just shot in the leg this past week, in a possible attempt at silencing him.
You may pontificate here how dangerous some countries have become for journalists and how the insidiousness and impunity of their murders seem to compare to places like Syria and Egypt, for instance, where at least four newspeople have been killed in the ongoing massacre just the past week.
But it’d be unfair to single out these countries, obviously under extreme circumstances, or even Russia, for being dangerous places to be a journalist. As matter of fact, the U.S. is arguably fast become one of the worst offenders when it comes to freedom of the press.
We’re aware that the previous statement would’ve been an oxymoron at least on paper, only a few years ago. After all, no nation maintains a reputation as being the most powerful democracy on Earth for an entire century, without assuring freedom of the press to its citizens.
But as the Obama administration unleashes its Justice Department after investigative reporters with a zeal fit for bloodhounds, many Americans are increasingly afraid that a devilish mix of truthfulness and legal trickery may be enough to mute and intimidate an entire class of professionals.
With not so much as a flimsy handful of secretive interpretations of the Constitution, it’s argued and defend the case for a culture of indifference or fear of speaking truth to power, with a chilling impact not on what’s reported by the media, but what it’s deemed too dangerous for us to know.
Not all journalists are whistleblowers, or selfless martyrs pursuing highfalutin causes. On the same token, not all stories that we most definitely need to know are told by media professionals, as the cases of Pvt. Bradley Manning and the CIA subcontractor Edward Snowden show.
But it’s unquestionable that reporters, either offering a narrative in close proximity to carnage and conflict, or simply refusing to rubber stamp the official word about reality and history, remain vital and the mining canaries for the state of democracy of any given country, ours included.
A quick review of the U.S.’s recent history shows how much that means, for there wouldn’t have been the Watergate scandal, if it weren’t for the pursuit of the case by two newspapermen, and we probably be still in Vietnam, hadn’t been for the Pentagon papers released by Daniel Ellsberg.
There’s always a wider scope behind the killing of journalists, be it in action or as a consequence of stories they told, as much as when someone is indicted for an idea, or persecuted for pursuing facts. Such background pervades that sobering parade of faces published by the CPJ.
For all talk about the demise of the press, and the potential for social networks to cover events in real time as they develop, news are only as relevant as their impact on our lives and future, and only a free, undaunted, flesh and blood human being is capable of expressing the whole spectrum of their unvarnished truth. Here’s to a meaningful week ahead. WC