opening shot

Opening Shot

Attacks on reporters and photographers in the Arab world threaten journalism everywhere
May 1, 2011

Is journalism worth dying for? Murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya’s editor used those words as the title of a posthumously published collection of Politkovskaya’s articles. The question was meant to refer to the danger faced by reporters in repressive regimes like Russia. But it has taken on new relevance for journalists covering the series of revolutions in Arab countries. Reporters are operating in spontaneously erupting, unofficial war zones where they aren’t necessarily recognized as noncombatant observers. Their press passes do not protect them from being branded as enemies, subject to capture, detention, beatings, and threats of death.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has documented about five hundred attacks across the Arab world since unrest began in December. At least four journalists have been killed in Libya alone and others have died in custody elsewhere. At least one Western correspondent has been raped. Several more have gone missing, including freelancers Clare Morgana Gillis and James Foley, who, along with photographers Manu Brabo and Anton Hammerl, were captured on April 5 and who do not have the influence of a global media powerhouse that employs them to use as leverage for their release. War reporters have traditionally charged into conflict, knowing that, unlike the combatants, they can get out. But what if they can’t? Are we adequately prepared to answer that question?

The Editors are the staffers of the Columbia Journalism Review.