The Russian problems with maintaining a free and independent press and news media are well documented. I could try to reiterate those problems, but Sean explains them admirably:
Russia, which suffers from a basic lack of democracy, continues slowly but steadily dismantling the free media, with industrial groups close to President Vladimir Putin buying up nearly all independent media outlets and with passage of a law discouraging NGO activity.To put a really fine point on the similar issues with the American free press, we have thd recent article by gonzo (I can only imagine he would enjoy the comparison) expat writer/journalist/editor Mark Ames of eXile.ru - Where Is America’s Politkovskaya?:
Each year several journalists are murdered in Russia with complete impunity. The person who ordered the July 2004 killing in Moscow of Paul Klebnikov, editor of the Russian edition of Forbes magazine, remains publicly unknown. The murder of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya in early October 2006 is a poor omen for the coming year.
When put into context, the decline in the free press in Russia is symbolic of a global phenomenon. The index also notes that even traditionally high ranked countries like France, the United States, and Japan has seen press freedom deteriorate. Since 2002, when the ranking was created, the US has fallen from 17th to its current position of 53rd. It dropped seven ranks in the last year. RWB explains the drop in the US as a result of, “Relations between the media and the Bush administration sharply deteriorated after the president used the pretext of “national security” to regard as suspicious any journalist who questioned his “war on terrorism.”
The West has used poor Anna Politkovskaya's corpse to do exactly what she fought against: whipping up national hatred, lying, and focusing on evils committed safely far away, rather than on the evils committed by your own country. The West has exploited her death with all of the crudity and cynicism of an Arab mob funeral...only at least the Arabs use their own people's corpses to demonize an enemy that actually kills them. Whereas in this case, the West stole another country's corpse, then paraded it at home in order to whip up hatred against the corpse's birthplace. It would be like the Palestinians slipping into Tel Aviv, grave-robbing Rabin's corpse after his murder, then parading it around Gaza City, ululating hate towards Israel for allowing the great peacemaker to get killed.Perhaps you don't believe that the American military might specifically target journalists. It doesn't mesh very well with Americans self-image of our free country. Certainly, as Tim Newman of White Sun of the Desert discusses regarding the death of Terry Lloyd, some of these increased deaths in Iraq are due to reporters blatantly and foolishly putting themselves in harms way:
That's kind of how Russians reacted when they saw that the West crudely exploited Politkovskaya's murder. The West's crude reaction only increased Russia's crude counter-reaction...
If you ask me, what is most significant for us in the West about Anna Politkovskaya's death, and her courageous life (btw, a big "fuck you" to our [Russian] nationalist readers who don't agree with this), is not so much what it says about Russia -- it doesn't say much new at all, to be honest, but instead is another chapter in an increasingly depressing story that started under Yeltsin.
Rather, what is significant about her death is this: Why doesn't America have an Anna Politkovskaya? Why don't we have someone as courageous as she was to tell the story of how we razed Fallujah to the ground Grozny-style? How we bombed to smithereens and ethnically cleansed a city of 300,000 people in retaliation for the deaths of four American contractors? Where is the American Anna Politkovskaya who will tell us about how we directly killed roughly 200,000 Iraqis, and indirectly are responsible for about half a million Iraq deaths since our invasion? Why isn't there a single American willing to risk almost certain death, the way Politkovskaya did, in the pursuit of truth and humanity?
One reason why is because they risk getting killed not only by Iraqi insurgents and Al Qaeda terrorists, but also by the highly efficient American forces. (Not that this stopped Politkovskaya, but it stops America's righteous Politkovskaya-bearers.) And even if they get the story out, it gets quashed by the mainstream press, you lose your job, and you get met by a hostile, even bloodthirsty public who doesn't want to hear about it.
From what I could gather from the initial reports which came out at the time, Lloyd and his crew had disappeared into the battlefield area well ahead of coalition lines, unescorted and without telling the coalition soldiers of their plans. They came across a small convoy of Iraqi soldiers, most of whom were bearing arms, and decided in their wisdom to join them as they headed towards American lines. There is speculation as to whether the Iraqis were planning to surrender, but it seems that no white flag was raised or armaments abandoned to indicate such intentions. Nevertheless, Lloyd and his hapless crew stuck with the Iraqi column as it sped towards American lines. Unsurprisingly, the Americans believed the armed Iraqi soldiers to be attacking and opened fire, and somehow Lloyd was hit by either an American or Iraqi bullet. Lloyd was then transferred to an unmarked minibus which was being used as an ambulance, along with four Iraqi soldiers. The Americans then opened fire on the vehicle, killing Lloyd and the other passengers.However, this circumstance doesn't explain all 85 journalists deaths in Iraq. There have been many other cases of reporters killed or "discouraged" in Iraq, often while conducting investigations into unsavory deeds and under circumstances that beg questions. Not enough questions have been asked about some of these well-known attacks. Mark Ames again provides bloody details:
Far from being a deliberate murder of a journalist on the part of the Americans, those responsible for the killing were more likely dumbstruck at the stupidity of a civilian press crew accompanying an Iraqi military convoy which was, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, carrying out an attack.
Take the case of Yasser Salihee, an Iraqi correspondent for Knight Ridder. Salihee was shot by an American sniper with a bullet to his head on June 24, 2005. At the time, he was gathering material for an investigative piece about how the US was training death squads -- the very same death squads which are now responsible for the savage civil war that kicked into high gear this year.The overwhelming message is, that in a world-wide society that is becoming increasingly polarized and politicized, speaking out against your government's or citizenry's "official" or popular point of view is becoming more and more hazardous. Careers and lives are being lost in the free reporting of ideas and many citizens are becoming increasingly intolerant of differing points of views. Those opinions that remain free to be spoken are increasingly under large corporate or government influence, in a manner that stifles free expression. When those who have the most to lose by exposure, own the free press, the results are not likely to be good for the general population.
Salihee was killed; the American sniper was cleared; and Knight Ridder washed its hands, declaring "there's no reason to think that the shooting had anything to do with his reporting work." Imagine an analogous situation in Chechnya, the hue and cry from the Applebaums -- it'd be as inversely loud as the silence over Salihee's death. At least even the Kremlin admits Politkovskaya was killed for her reporting.
Indeed Salihee is just one of a number of journalists killed in Iraq, by far the most dangerous place in the world for journalists. And it's not all the insurgents' fault either. Some more marginal journalists, from Robert Fisk to Dahr Jamail, have written about how US forces in Iraq target journalists for murder. But no one wants to hear that -- so these kinds of reports stay on the margins. Journalists were targeted and killed at Al Jazeera; at first, reports that the Americans targeted them were dismissed as "conspiracy theory" talk, but recently, admissions that Bush, Blair, and a former Blair minister all explored ways to bomb Al Jazeera during the war are finally raising questions. Well, not really. Should be raising questions, leading to impassioned editorials by the Post and Anne Applebaum. But they're not, because they're too busy demonizing Russia.
Giuliana Sgrena, the Italian journalist who was kidnapped last year in Iraq and freed by an Italian intelligence agent, was shot and wounded (the agent was killed) by US forces when she was returning to freedom. She insisted that US troops deliberately targeted her. A smear campaign in the US press -- labeling her a Communist and an anti-American with Stockholm Syndrome-- effectively nullified her story, but even pro-Bush Berlusconi was so incensed by the incident that he started to back away from Bush's war.
Italian TV later discovered evidence that US forces had used an illegal WMD, white phosphorus chemicals, during its destruction of Fallujah the year before. In spite of all the evidence, including burned corpses whose clothes were still intact, eyewitnesses, and even friendly Iraqi ministers who denounced it, the American media largely ignored it. Why the fuck did Italian TV, and not American TV, break this story? Where was Anne Applebaum on the atrocities in Fallujah?
The case of Eason Jordan, CNN's longtime superstar news chief, might explain the mainstream American media's silence. This is what happens when you're a mainstream American media man who dares to tell the ugly truth about Iraq. While hobnobbing with the Global Aristocracy at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January of 2005, Jordan made the mistake of telling his fellow elite what was really happening in Iraq: American forces were "out to get journalists, and some were deliberately targeting journalists."
Within two weeks, the longtime CNN honcho was out of work. His resignation came complete with a Stalin-esque confession that's chilling to read today:
"After 23 years at CNN," he wrote, "I have decided to resign in an effort to prevent CNN from being unfairly tarnished by the controversy over conflicting accounts of my recent remarks regarding the alarming number of journalists killed in Iraq. I never meant to imply U.S. forces acted with ill intent when U.S. forces accidentally killed journalists, and I apologize to anyone who thought I said or believed otherwise."
Yes, he was a wrecker and a Trotskyite, and he begged for forgiveness. Because the man was dead -- in America, losing your job like that, after bad-mouthing America, means you're as good as dead.
A number of journalists have had their careers destroyed for not following the Party Line: Peter Arnett, Ashleigh Banfield, to name two of the most prominent. Meanwhile, the editors at the New York Times and the Washington Post who pushed for war, who spread lies about WMDs and helped bring about the 500,000 deaths reported today (a figure that of course is being attacked and demonized by the same people who cheer an organization's "courage" when such figures are arrived at in Chechnya), get to keep their jobs.
You can see now why we have no Politkovskaya, as badly as we need one. If you go against the "fascist" tendency in your home country, you're targeted for death and career destruction by the government and a bloodthirsty right-wing population. Just as with Chechnya, Iraq has been made too dangerous to work in, and the American government has put a perfectly air-tight lid on information, not even allowing photographs of the coffins of dead American servicemen.
There is good news, of course. We have a tool for free discussion that scarcely no one could have imagined even 20 years ago - the Internet. Tied in with our increasingly wired and high-tech world, the Internet can provide free range for a multitude of ideas and rapid development of stories - with all the pluses (mobile phone photos and videos of incidents) and minuses (flash mobs) that brings.
However, there is evidence that the internet actually might increasingly polarize peoples opinions and serve as a tool of intolerance. Certainly, the biggest bigots on the planet suddenly have a weapon in the internet to smite upon ideas that they don't appreciate or outright hate.
For comparison, we have below a compilation of journalists deaths during prior wars of the past century. Information is from Committee to Protect Journalists and Freedom Forum:
- Algeria (1993-96): 58
- Colombia (1986-present): 52
- Balkans (1991-95): 36
- Philippines (1983-87): 36
- Turkey (1984-99): 22
- Tajikistan (1992-96): 16
- Sierra Leone (1997-2000): 15
- Afghanistan (2001-04): 9
- Somalia (1993-95): 9
- Kosovo (1999-2001): 7
- First Iraq war (1991): 4
- Central American (1979-89) 89
- Argentina (1976-1983) 98
- Vietnam: (1955-1975) 66
- Korean War: 17
- World War II: 68
- World War I: 2