Reporters at Risk War and Lawlessness Increasingly Turn Foreign Correspondents into Targets

Article excerpt

INDONESIAN soldiers marching 12 abreast had just opened fire on a crowd of East Timorese mourners when one soldier grabbed reporter Amy Goodman, threw her to the ground, and began kicking her and beating her with his rifle. Ten soldiers then surrounded Ms. Goodman and her colleague in firing-squad fashion.

"I had my passport; they kicked me in the stomach. I doubled over, but each time I could grab my breath I said, 'We're from America, we're from America!' " says Goodman, a reporter for WBAI radio in New York.

Goodman and her colleague were let go and caught a plane out that afternoon. They brought with them first-hand accounts of the 1991 massacre of more than 250 civilians in East Timor.

Scores of reporters around the world are harassed and beaten, sometimes even assassinated, simply for doing their jobs. Local reporters are most often the targets, but foreign journalists are now more vulnerable than ever before.

"If there ever was a sense that journalists should be given some sort of immunity, it is long gone," says Terry Anderson, who adds that it was rare for journalists to be targets when he was snatched from his car in suburban Beirut in 1985. He was held for seven years by Islamic fundamentalists.

Mr. Anderson is now a board member of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Since January 1994, CPJ has confirmed that 110 reporters were killed on dangerous assignments or assassinated because of their work. Another 22 deaths are under investigation.

In the Bosnian conflict alone, CPJ has confirmed 41 journalist killed because of their profession since 1991. Another 12 deaths are still being investigated.

"Bosnia has been ... the most dangerous foreign conflict for journalists since Vietnam," says Bill Orme, CPJ's executive director. "That is doubly remarkable given its geographic scale, the smaller number of combatants, and that it's in the heart of Europe."

Monitor correspondent David Rohde's arrest by Bosnian Serbs Oct. 29 is typical of a growing trend in which foreign correspondents become political pawns. Mr. Rohde was released and all charges against him were dropped on Wednesday.

Rohde was the first to verify the massacre of Muslim civilians by Bosnian Serbs after the fall of the Srebrenica "safe area" in July. He was also the first to interview Muslim survivors of the massacre.

"I don't know if the Bosnian Serbs have articulated a larger design yet," says Nicholas Daniloff, who was arrested on false espionage charges in Moscow in 1986 and detained for almost two weeks. "This may simply be a case of sweet revenge against David Rohde."

While local journalists in dozens of developing countries have faced daily intimidation and harassment from government officials for decades, foreign reporters were generally afforded more respect.

While foreign correspondents' stories may have caused some international public-relations trouble, their reports rarely reached the local people. So the journalists were generally left to do their work, subject to occasional intimidation and harassment. Often the most danger they faced was in combat, when they were shot at along with the troops they covered.

"They were rarely singled out for attack just because they were journalists," says Mr. Orme. "That's no longer the case."

As civil strife breeds chaos, and rebel groups operate outside the rule of the international law, journalists are often viewed as proxies for foreign governments or the international community. As such, they are perceived as the enemy, fair game to be used as bargaining chips or deterrents.

"If your aim as an insurgent force is to keep a story from being reported," Orme says, "shooting a foreign correspondent is a very effective way to make that happen."

The strife in Somalia has dropped off the front pages and out of some papers altogether, in part because there is less interest in the story since the United States withdrew. …