Mar 062002

As we witnessed this week, the level of conflict in Afghanistan will not diminish anytime soon.

Nor will the danger posed to foreign journalists.

Someone asked me last week if I thought coverage of Danny Pearl’s death would have been as extensive had he not been a Wall Street Journal reporter. The media was granting this poor man’s tragic story such saturation coverage because he was one of its own, my friend argued.

Maybe that’s true. But the fact remains that foreign correspondents – who are civilians – willingly place themselves in extreme danger so they can tell you and I what’s going on over there. Without them, stories such as the Pentagon’s accidental killing of those innocent Afghan troops a month ago may never have emerged.

The public overlooks the much-maligned media for a variety of reasons, never acknowledging that those men and women, armed with no more than a pad and pen or camera, are performing a heroic duty every day. While it is a soldier’s mission to protect our country, and us, it is a journalist’s duty to tell us how, where and why that happens.

There’s a reason the media is so specifically protected under the First Amendment. It is the watchdog of government and the voice of the people, and journalists knowingly undertake a special risk to carry out those duties.

Peter Baker’s story from Monday’s Washington Post dramatically explained the lingering hatred the Afghan people harbor toward Americans and the extreme danger journalists face there.

After their boss’s capture by American soldiers, a group of Pashtun militants contemplated kidnapping a group of Western reporters who were standing right before them.

“What are you waiting for?” one Afghan fighter asked in Pashto, within earshot of a translator. “Are you waiting for instructions?”

The journalists bolted and were pursued by heavy gun and grenade fire. One Canadian reporter, Kathleen Kenna, was seriously injured by what appeared to be a grenade blast, and was evacuated to a U.S.base hospital while her colleagues remained stranded.

The journalists – from The Washington Post, Newsweek, Agence France-Presse and the Toronto Star – came under attack twice Monday and sought shelter at an American military base. But the U.S. military warned the reporters to seek safety somewhere else.

“It’s not safe here,” one soldier urged. “Get the heck out.”

They did, with a contingent of Afghan security guards as escorts back to the city of Gardez.

“Don’t turn back, even if they start to fire,” one U.S. soldier advised.

But as soon as the American soldiers disappeared into the base, the Afghan escorts balked and refused to take the reporters into the city after dark.

So the journalists decided to spend the night in their cars in the freezing desert temperatures outside the American base, nervously anticipating daybreak.

“There’s a lot of bad guys around here,” warned one Special Forces soldier. “These guys will kill anybody. If you’re an American, they’ll kill you.”

These are the conditions facing reporters who daily stare danger in the face simply so they can bring us the story.

Maybe it’s just me, but that most definitely deserves our undivided attention.

Becky is a senior majoring in history and journalism.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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