Journalists' Safety: A Constant Concern

By Houston, Brant | Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. The IRE Journal, November/December 2000 | Go to article overview

Journalists' Safety: A Constant Concern


Houston, Brant, Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. The IRE Journal


While many U.S. investigative journalists look forward to a decade in which they will bring more international elements into their reporting, they are realizing the increased potential dangers that accompany these stories both abroad and at home.

Earlier this fall, a gunman shot Montreal reporter Michael Auger five times in the back in the parking lot of Auger's newspaper. Most fellow journalists suspected that Auger's years of reporting on organized crime and rival drug gangs had drawn the rage of thugs who had frequently and anonymously threatened him.

(At press-time, Auger was recovering from his serious wounds, but no arrests had been made. The IRE Board of Directors has joined other groups in writing a letter to Quebec authorities calling for a quick and effective investigation. See letter at end of this column.)

For long-time IRE members, the shooting brought back the awful memory of the murder of reporter Don Bolles in Arizona in 1976. The death of Bolles, an IRE member who worked on a story about organized crime, led to the Arizona project by IRE. The project continued Bolles' work and resulted in a multi-part series on corruption in that state.

That series provided the best life insurance policy ever created for U.S. reporters working in the U.S. But at the same time, violence and threats against journalists both in the U.S. and in other countries has kept up a rapid pace.

As of early September, the killing of 23 journalists internationally had been reported. In addition, threats are not uncommon against journalists - Americans and others working on stories involving other countries, whether the journalist is in that country or working in the U.S. For example, last year, Robert Friedman, a free-lance magazine reporter in New York City, had hits ordered on him by - not one, but two - Russian organized crime groups.

Clearly, it's time for U.S. journalists to widen their awareness of these threats and the environments in which they occur, particularly if they want to fight back through news stories and reports. The withdrawal by the U.S. press from foreign countries has limited our knowledge and expanded our naivete and it's time for some self-education. …

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