A lesson in reporting of journalists’ killings

Broadcast reporter Mukarram Khan Aatif was killed in his mosque near Peshawar yesterday. The Pakistan Taliban took credit for the assignation after threatening him and his family for his work.

The killing shows the continued threat journalists face in Pakistan. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Pakistan is the most deadly place for journalists. Since 1992 CPJ has been able to confirm that 41 journalists were killed in Pakistan because of their work. An additional 14 were killed but the motives for the killings could not be confirmed.

The killing of Aatif was clearly because of his work.

The Taliban threatened him and his family repeatedly because of his reporting. From the VOA story:

Friends and relatives and that death threats from Taliban militants had forced the slain reporter and his family to abandon their hometown and move to Shabqadar.

There is a need to differentiate between journalists killed because of their work and journalists killed.

To hear some organizations tell the story, Honduras is one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists.

Yes, since 1992, eighteen journalists have been killed, but only five of those killings can be directly attributed to the journalists’ work. That leave 15 murders with unknown motives.

Could those 15 other killings have been because of a person’s job? Possible. But we will never know because Honduras has such a weak legal and political system. And the police force has no real ability to seriously investigate the crimes.

Add to the weaknesses of the Honduran system the fact that Honduras is the most dangerous place for anyone at this time, with a national murder rate of 86 per 100,000 and some cities at 100+ per 100,000. (By comparison the Detroit murder rate at its peak was about 34 per 100,000.)

There are too many cases of journalists being killed in Honduras that can be seen as “wrong place, wrong time” killings. And in other cases the killings may have nothing to do with the person’s job.

Case in point could be Luz Marina Paz.

Paz, a broadcast journalist, did not receive any threats because of her reporting, yet she was gunned down December 6, 2011 while test-driving a vehicle she was considering buying.

The vehicle was owned by an army colonel. Was he the actual target?

Paz operated a small stall at a weekend market. She refused to pay the “war tax” imposed by gangs and narco traffickers. (In the US we would call it a “protection racket.”)  Was she a target because of this?

Or was the target the mechanic with her in the car?

We will never know because of the inability of the Honduran police to conduct a proper investigation. (FYI: The US government is looking at ways to help train an investigative squad, that is if Congress does not take away the funds.)

Bottom line is that it does no one any good to claim all the killings of journalists in Honduras — or in any other country — are because the journalists are being targeted. It is poor reporting because it is not factual.

The unfortunate part about the facts is that they require time to explain. In an era of soundbites and 140 character limitations, fully explaining something is becoming more difficult.

It is fine to use journalists, students, lawyers, opposition politicians, etc as examples of important people killed to highlight the violence of some countries. But the killings have to be placed in context.

Was the opposition party leader killed because he opposed the government? Or did he piss off a gangster, a narco or even an ex-wife?

We know that Aatif was killed because the Taliban did not like his work. He was a clear victim of the Taliban. We also know that other journalists in Pakistan were killed because they reported on things powerful interests in the country did not want revealed.

We do not know why Paz was killed.

Nor do we know why a total of 35 journalists were killed last year. We do know that 46 were killed because of their work.

Instead of reporting just that X number of journalists/students/lawyers were killed in Country Y, it would be nice if the international media would look into why those individuals were killed and what is being done to bring the killers to justice.

I would be willing to bet — maybe not $10,000 — that the real reason is not known because of weak or corrupt political and legal systems. And, to me, THAT is the story.

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Filed under Connections, International News Coverage, Killings

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