May 21, 1999
NewsHour coverage of the media
AND THE NEWS
What does it take to report the news in the face of censorship and war?
For newspaper editor Baton Haxhiu, it meant being dead for over a week.
On the night before NATO bombs started falling on Kosovo, Haxhiu's paper, the Daily Times, was attacked and burned by Serb police. Haxhiu fled.
He was in hiding in a basement when he saw a NATO spokesman on CNN announce that four editors had been executed, including him. Haxhiu's wife didn't find out he was alive for 12 days.
Once he had escaped to Macedonia he set up a newspaper for refugees.
Danger in the field
Every year, the Committee to Protect Journalists gives awards to journalists who have shown courage and independence. This year, they have honored 5 journalists, including Baton Haxhiu.
Freedom of the press is alive and well in the U.S., but in many other countries, news is a dangerous business.
When a country is unstable, like Pakistan or Colombia, reporters are often seen as political enemies. When a dictator is in charge, like in Cuba, journalists who criticize the government become targets. And during war, journalists constantly run the risk of being caught in the cross-fire.
Why do journalists risk their lives?
It is probably no accident that freedom of the press is mentioned in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The writers believed that freedom of inquiry and liberty of expression make a democratic society work.
In a non-democratic society, the media can reveal human rights abuses and other national issues. A reporter's work can convince the international community to intervene, or it can galvanize citizens to work together towards change.
Caught between all sides of a civil war
María Cristina Caballero won the 1999 Press Freedom Award for her work in Colombia. She made many enemies for her reports on the drug trade and human rights abuses.
Colombia is currently trying to settle a civil war. Each side wants its view heard as much as possible, and is willing to threaten journalists to get press coverage.
Caballero tries to use journalism to help leaders communicate. Her 1997 interview with Carlos Castaño, leader of Colombia's so-called right wing death squads, revealed that Castaño was ready for peace talks.
Caballero continues to report on events in her country because she believes that Colombia's best hope for peace is a free press that can provide a forum for dialogue and discussion.
Jailed for "dangerousness"
Free expression is illegal in Cuba. Jesús Joel Díaz Hernández, 25-years-old, is in jail for starting an independent news agency.
For 40 years, Fidel Castro has used the state press to keep control. When reporters don't play along, the government makes their life miserable.
Independent journalists can't go to the library, often lose their homes, their phone line is cut off and they are followed by security agents.
Hernández continues to write about the jail conditions, even though guards have confiscated his stories and threatened him with up to 20 more years of jail
Arrests and phone taps
Najam Sethi and his wife and Jugnu Mohsin thought they were safe. Sethi comes from a wealthy family and they run a well-known magazine. But last May, Sethi told a British television reporter about corruption at high levels in the Pakistan government. The prime minister had him arrested.
Since then, Pakistan changed leaders in a military coup and Sethi was released from jail. But the government still listens to the journalist's phone calls, and keeps track of where they go and who they meet.
"There is an unbelievable amount of surveillance -- it makes journalists very cautious and even paranoid. Faxes are intercepted, phones are tapped," says Kavita Menon, Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists.
The new leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, said the press should perform a "positive and constructive role."
But Menon worries about the future. "I wonder what happens when they begin to question him and his administrative policies, will that be seen as a positive and constructive role?"
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