Words of Fire: Independent Journalists Who Challenge Dictators, Druglords, and Other Enemies of a Free Press

Words of Fire: Independent Journalists Who Challenge Dictators, Druglords, and Other Enemies of a Free Press

Words of Fire: Independent Journalists Who Challenge Dictators, Druglords, and Other Enemies of a Free Press

Words of Fire: Independent Journalists Who Challenge Dictators, Druglords, and Other Enemies of a Free Press

Synopsis

If journalism is the first draft of history, then independent journalists are surely its most daring composers.

Along such celebrated and high-profile figures as Christiane Amanpour and Wolf Blitzer, there exists a stratum of journalistsself-employed, working under dire conditions, and with minimal resourceswho often place themselves at ground zero of world events. In this gripping account, Anthony Collings takes us into the world of independent journalists, and the daily challenges they face confronting dictators, hostile military, and narcoterrorists. Unfettered by any ties to those in positions of power, these guerrilla journalists are often the first on a storywhether reporting on corruption in Mexico, organized crime in Russia, or sexual scandal in the Middle Eastand accordingly face the brunt of their subject's wrath.

Collings, who has himself been held captive while on assignment, here focuses less on those nations in which the press is either largely free (such as the U.S. or Western European democracies) or aggressively restricted (as in China), and more on those "battleground countries" where the eventual outcome of the struggle between state and fourth estate remains unclear. Relying on interviews, professional contacts, and his own experiences, Collings explores the dilemmas and strategies of journalists who persevere in the face of war, repressive governments, and criminal aggression, with particular emphasis on the role of the Internet.

At a time when journalism is increasingly a profession under siege, Words of Fire forces into the spotlight a more positive side of the profession, those who pursue journalism not for profit or fame but as a personal crusade.

Excerpt

From behind the bars of a prison window, Ocak Isik Yurtçu grinned as he held up his award, showing it off to one hundred fellow journalists cheering outside.

It was an extraordinary scene that day, July 16, 1997, at the remote prison in Tekirdag, Turkey. Yurtçu, a stocky, bearded editor, sentenced to more than fifteen years in prison for publishing stories about the Kurdish separatist rebellion, proudly displayed a plaque naming him as a recipient of the International Press Freedom Award of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

But the day before, in San Luis Río Colorado, Mexico, there was no public cheering. Benjamín Flores González was shot dead as he walked up the driveway to his newspaper office. the brash young publisher had defied warnings by drug traffickers to drop his crusading brand of journalism. Despite the publisher’s assassination, his colleagues continued to report the drug story.

That same year in Abidjan, capital of the Ivory Coast, a journalist named Freedom Neruda was released from prison after serving twelve months for a satirical article that poked fun at the country’s leader. Neruda had turned down a government offer of early release from prison if he dropped an appeal. For him, dropping the appeal would be tantamount to admitting wrongdoing—and as far as Freedom Neruda was concerned, he had done nothing wrong.

At a district court in Taipei that year, two journalists won acquittal of criminal libel charges brought by a powerful local politician they had implicated in an alleged secret plan to funnel $15 million in illegal donations to the Clinton reelection campaign. One of the journalists, a short, feisty Chinese American named Ying Chan, used the Internet to help mobilize international public opinion in her favor and win the lawsuit.

These journalists have one thing in common: defiance, a refusal to be censored, as they write and speak the words of fire that antagonize . . .

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