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Words of Fire

Words of Fire: Independent Journalists who Challenge Dictators, Drug Lords, and Other Enemies of a Free Press

Copyright Date: 2001
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 284
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  • Book Info
    Words of Fire
    Book Description:

    Publisher Description not available

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6391-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xi)
  4. Map: World Press Freedom
    (pp. xii-xiii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    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...

  6. I Looking for Trouble:: The Behavior of Independent Journalists

    • 1 “They Are the News”: Facing Mexican Druglords
      (pp. 13-25)

      AT 9:30 A.M. on Thursday, November 27, 1997, J. Jesús Blancornelas stepped out of his house, opened the door on the passenger side of his red Ford Explorer, and sat in the front seat. He and his personal bodyguard-chauffeur began driving through a quiet, middle-class, residential neighborhood of Tijuana toward his office, six blocks away.

      Blancornelas was sixty-one years old, a short, feisty newspaper editor and publisher with a trim gray beard. He had made a name for himself as a muckraker. His specialty: exposing details of corrupt Mexican officials and drug traffickers. For years, friends and associates—and even...

    • 2 She Had to Be There: Taking Risks in Russia
      (pp. 26-35)

      YELENA MASYUK, A tall, tough, businesslike television correspondent, was no stranger to danger. Masyuk and her camera operator Ilya Mordyukov and her sound engineer Dmitri Ulchev had risked their lives time and again as they covered the rebel side in the first round of fighting in Chechnya between Russia and separatists.

      Now, on May 10, 1997, they were driving west on a road from the Chechen capital, Grozny, to the neighboring Russian republic of Ingushetia. In their car were videotapes of that day’s news coverage: a public rally and an interview with Salman Raduyev, leader of the rebels who were...

    • 3 Opening the Door: Courage in Asia
      (pp. 36-43)

      IN RECENT YEARS a growing number of countries in Asia have begun to liberalize their social and political systems. From South Korea to Taiwan and Indonesia, societies have become more open, and as part of this historic evolution, journalists in these countries have tested the limits of their new freedom.

      One of those journalists was Ying Chan. In 1996 she faced the prospect of imprisonment in Taiwan because of a story involving President Clinton. From her base in New York, the Chinese American journalist collaborated with a colleague in Taiwan to expose what looked like an illegal Asian connection to...

    • 4 Guerrilla Journalists: Underground in Nigeria
      (pp. 44-52)

      In 1995 she was the publisher and editor-in-chief of the Nigerian newsweekly theSunday Magazine. The dictator was Nigeria’s General Sani Abacha. The issue between them: his spurious allegation that twenty-nine junior military officers and civilians had conspired to oust him—a claim his regime was using as a pretext for arresting opposition figures. All journalists were told to get in line and agree with the imaginary “coup plot,” but Christine Anyanwu refused to bow to his will. In effect, she was saying the emperor had no clothes—that there was no plot and no justification for the arrests. She...

    • 5 A Precious Pen: Defiance around the World
      (pp. 53-62)

      MOST OF THE attacks on journalists take place in the battleground countries where the press is partly free. In those countries, such as Mexico, Russia, and Nigeria, independent journalists are officially permitted to exist but must struggle against repressive forces. In other countries, the ones at the extremes of the press-freedom continuum, attacks and pressures on journalists are far less likely to occur, for totally different reasons. At one end, in the totalitarian dictatorships where the only officially tolerated journalists are government controlled, there are virtually no independent local journalists apart from those in prison, and therefore no one is...

  7. II Pushing the Envelope:: Stories That Trigger Attack

    • 6 The General’s Mercedes: Crime and Corruption
      (pp. 65-76)

      ON A MONDAY in October, a young journalist named Dmitri Kholodov went to the Kazan Railway Station in Moscow to pick up a briefcase.

      It was where his informant had told him it would be, in a luggage locker. The informant, speaking by phone from Russia’s domestic intelligence agency, had told Kholodov the briefcase contained incriminating evidence of army corruption—just what the reporter needed to complete his investigation. What the informant did not tell him was that the briefcase contained not incriminating evidence but a bomb.

      Kholodov, twenty-seven, brought the briefcase back to his office atMoskovsky Komsomolets, Moscow’s...

    • 7 A Veiled Woman: The Separatists
      (pp. 77-88)

      IT’S NOT ONLY stories of crime and corruption that are dangerous for journalists. Covering separatist movements can also be deadly. At stake is not money but national identity. Ethnic minorities risk their lives to break free of subjugation. Nation-states fight desperately not to be torn apart. They see separatists as a fundamental threat to their territorial integrity, so much so that the states take extraordinary measures to try to crush them.

      Even a government committed to liberal democratic principles including a free press—for example, the government of India—will suspend those freedoms if it fears they could play into...

    • 8 Brother against Brother: Civil War
      (pp. 89-98)

      ON A SUNDAY evening in July 1994, Yasmina Drici was driving with a friend near her home in Rouiba, a suburb of Algiers. Drici was a proofreader atLe Soir d’Algérie, an independent evening newspaper. Agroup of unidentified men in police uniforms stopped the car, searched through Drici’s pocketbook, found her press ID—and slit her throat. She bled to death.

      She was not the only journalist to fall victim to the carnage in Algeria. During one three-year period occurred incidents such as these:

      On a Friday, the Muslim day of worship, reporter Djamel Ziater was shot to death while...

    • 9 In the Thick of It: Protests and Riots
      (pp. 99-104)

      PHOTOGRAPHER ROBERT CAPA once said: “If your pictures are no good, you aren’t close enough.” Being close enough to get the picture and the story is essential for anyone covering the news, but with it comes risk. Journalists who cover protests and riots have to plunge into the thick of things to find out what’s going on. And that’s when it becomes dangerous.

      Photographer Lorescu Voirel was nearly strangled with an American flag in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, as he took pictures for the New York daily newspaperNewsdayduring an anti-American demonstration in front of the U.S. embassy in 1994. During...

    • 10 Money at Stake: Economic Secrets
      (pp. 105-112)

      XI YANG GOT a scoop—and risked execution.

      His report barely raised eyebrows elsewhere. But in his country it meant a trial and a possible firing squad. The charge: stealing state secrets. And what were those secrets? Not nuclear plans. Not missile data. Not the identities of spies, nor secret codes. Instead the secrets were government plans to sell gold and raise interest rates or keep them at current levels. Hardly the stuff of spy novels. The subject might excite economists but not many others. In the United States, the idea that a journalist might face a firing squad for...

    • 11 The President’s Mistress: Exposés
      (pp. 113-119)

      THE EXPOSÉ IS the lifeblood of many journalists. Sensational revelations are among the most coveted stories and are often the most popular kind of reporting, especially stories that point out the foibles of the high and mighty. To no one’s surprise, this type of reporting is more popular with the general public than with the powerful figures whose personal shortcomings are exposed, and that makes the exposé one of the main causes of attacks against journalists.

      Anything to do with sex is bound to hit a nerve.

      When a born-again Christian named Frederick Chiluba became his nation’s president, he vowed...

    • 12 We Are Not Amused: Satire
      (pp. 120-132)

      BEIJING DIDN’T LAUGH when a Hong Kong newspaper published satirical cartoons about its human rights record.

      The cartoons appeared in the comic strip seriesThe World of Lily Wong. One of them alluded to allegations by human rights advocates that mainland China was harvesting organs from executed prisoners and selling them for use as transplants. That cartoon appeared in the Hong Kong newspaperSouth China Morning Postin May 1995, two years before Britain handed over the colony to China.

      Beijing had already strongly denied the allegations before the cartoon appeared, pressuring two local TV stations not to air a...

  8. III Shoot the Messenger:: Types of Attacks on Journalists

    • 13 We Have Ways: Violence and Imprisonment
      (pp. 135-141)

      WHATEVER THE PROVOCATION, whether a story of corruption or a scoop about economic secrets, the journalist who writes it may suffer a wide variety of retaliations. Violence and imprisonment are among the favorite techniques to punish reporters. One of the most bizarre and extreme examples of violence occurred in the Central African Empire.

      In the summer of 1977 the eccentric and bloodthirsty dictator Jean-Bedel Bokassa decided to have himself crowned emperor. Preparations for the $20 million ceremony attracted journalists from around the world to the tiny, impoverished country known as the Central African Empire to write stories about this appalling...

    • 14 We Have Other Ways: Legal and Economic Pressures
      (pp. 142-150)

      IF THEY CAN’T shoot or beat a journalist into silence, repressors have a wide variety of other weapons at their disposal. Among the most effective are legal and economic pressures, especially the application of an unusual form of libel law.

      Reporter Yryspek Omurzakov learned just how effective that law can be. In remote, mountainous Kyrgyzstan, a small country on the border with China, he wrote satirical articles lambasting the government. Despite warnings from officials, he persisted. Prosecutors charged him with smearing the “honor and dignity” of the president, and Omurzakov was given a two-year suspended prison sentence. Still he persisted,...

  9. IV The Messenger Reacts:: Responding to Attacks

    • 15 Chilled or Defiant: The Painful Choice
      (pp. 153-166)

      NBC PRODUCER MARK Feldstein had faced danger before. He once had been assaulted and suffered a head injury while investigating labor conditions in Florida, and he had refused to back down when confronting other threats in the past. But now he faced a new situation.

      In October 1998 he and correspondent Lea Thompson and two camera crews arrived in Port-au-Prince, the capital of the impoverished, violence-plagued Caribbean nation of Haiti, to shoot interviews and gather information for one section of an investigative piece for Dateline NBC about alleged misconduct by United Nations peacekeepers. UN officials were angered by the questions...

    • 16 Cat and Computer Mouse: Using the Internet
      (pp. 167-185)

      WHETHER IT’S PUTTING banned radio stations back on the air in Yugoslavia, helping a Nigerian reporter on the run from police, smuggling news into China, or keeping a Belorussian newspaper alive after police close its printing plant, the Internet is emerging as a major factor in the battle between censors and independent journalists. In the words of one editor, whose Arabic newspaper is forbidden on Jordanian newsstands but available online: “[The Internet] has penetrated all borders and made press censorship the joke of the century.”

      That may be an exaggeration. There still are many problems of access. And censors as...

    • 17 The Great Firewall: China and the Internet
      (pp. 186-194)

      TWENTY-EIGHT CENTURIES AGO, vassal states under the Chou dynasty began building sections of the engineering triumph known today as the Great Wall of China. As completed later by emperors of the Qin and Ming dynasties, it became a defensive shield of stone and brick snaking forty-five hundred miles across the tops of mountains along the northern border. Today it stands twenty to fifty feet high and fifteen to twenty-six feet thick, with watchtowers and a serrated upper level, a structure so large that it is visible from space. The Great Wall of China was designed to help keep out Mongol...

    • 18 Send in Uncle Walter: Advocacy Groups
      (pp. 195-209)

      ALIZA MARCUS RECEIVED the ominous notice in September 1995. The American journalist, based in Istanbul, faced the prospect of being locked up in a Turkish prison.

      A prosecutor had charged the Reuters correspondent with inciting racial hatred because of her report about the Turkish army’s evictions of Kurdish villagers and the torching of their homes. (See chapter 7, “A Veiled Woman: The Separatists.”) Her Reuters news agency report had been published by a pro-Kurdish newspaper the previous year. Marcus was charged under Article 312 of the Turkish Penal Code. If convicted, the thirty-three-year-old native of Westfield, New Jersey, faced up...

  10. Conclusion: Tomorrow’s News: The Outlook
    (pp. 210-224)

    BOLSTERED BY ADVOCACY groups and the empowering medium of the Internet, independent journalists at the beginning of the twenty-first century have many weapons in their arsenal as they confront the dictators, politicians, police, armies, druglords, corporations, and other powerful enemies arrayed against them. But their enemies are also well equipped for the struggle. Which side is winning?

    In the closing days of the old century and the opening days of the new one, there were conflicting signals. In Latin America, a Uruguayan radio commentator was shot dead by a politician, but the Mafia-linked killers of an Argentine news photographer were...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 225-252)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 253-254)
  13. Index
    (pp. 255-268)
  14. About the Author
    (pp. 269-270)