Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Deadly Duty: 1990s a Dangerous Decade

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Deadly Duty: 1990s a Dangerous Decade

Article excerpt

You can't really blame Keith Richburg of The Washington Post for wanting to cover Paris after a 14-year overseas career in which he watched fellow journalists die in Somalia, survived a machete attack in East Timor, and snuck through military roadblocks in Rwanda.

Although Richburg, 41, enjoys the challenges those assignments brought, he admits a change to a calmer climate is welcomed.

"It seems to me that, in recent times, it has gotten a lot more dangerous to be a foreign correspondent," says Richburg, who will transfer from Jakarta, Indonesia, to the paper's Paris bureau in several weeks. "The people involved in military conflicts today no longer see us as an objective observer. They have an interest in making sure that journalists aren't there to witness things."

Richburg is not alone. Many foreign editors and overseas reporters from U.S. newspapers contend that covering military skirmishes and political upheavals has become more dangerous since 1990. Most say the danger has increased because many of the conflicts involve smaller, disorganized factions that don't have the same respect for international law and the Geneva convention as those in the past.

"It's always dangerous, but there happens to have been several particularly nasty wars in the '90s," says Barry Renfrew, Moscow bureau chief for The Associated Press. He calls the past and present Chechnya conflicts among " the most intense wars since Korea or Vietnam all-out full war on a scale not seen since World War II."

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which tracks violence against the press, reports that the number of journalists killed worldwide has increased from 26 in 1996 to 34 in 1999. Although fewer journalists are being kidnapped or jailed, with that number dropping from 185 in 1996 to

86 in 1999, the number of journalists at-tacked has been a little more than 200 annually since 1996.

"If you looked at conflicts during the Cold War, there were more rules because there was more of a propaganda war then," says Joel Simon, CPJ's deputy director. "Now, many of these conflicts are devoid of ideology and that makes the press more vulnerable because neither side cares how they are perceived."

At the AP, seven staffers were killed during the 1990s in foreign violence, more than in any previous decade, including the World War II and Vietnam War eras. …

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