February 19th, 2009 09:54 EST
SOP Writer Andrew Chien Warns of Threats, Dangers in Journalism
Freedom of speech and press is only a trite gesture if it is not enforced. We cannot expect these freedoms to be exercised if we do not protect the very people whose livelihood depends on the first amendment.
Journalist Michael Herr in his infamous Vietnam dispatches said, truth is the first casualty in war. " After all, almost nothing outside of murder could censor any journalist with integrity. In 2004, 56 journalists were killed, which according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, makes it the worst year for journalist casualties in 10 years. Out of these 56 journalists, 36 were murdered. With the exception of nine cases, every murderer received full impunity from their crimes. Our current situation in Iraq has most journalists killed as a result of crossfire, but at least nine of the 23 journalists killed were specifically targeted.
As an unpaid American student journalist, many believe that an uncertain job market and a future of poverty are the only hazards that plague me. Apparently, financial suicide or writing obituaries are probably the closest I will ever come to the threat of a violent end. Norman Mailer infamously said, If a person is not talented enough to be a novelist, not smart enough to be a lawyer, and his hands are too shaky to perform operations, he becomes a journalist. " This could not be further from the truth.
On the Newark Campus of Ess*x County College, I endured physical and mental anguish more painful than a holiday in Cambodia. It all started when I applied for a writing position at the local school newspaper, the Ess*x County College Observer. Once I was hired, the supervisor congratulated me and said, Just make sure you make your writing as controversial as possible and no higher than a 7th grade level. " It was as if I have found the job of my dreams and then woke up as an unpaid intern for Bill O`Reilly.
The publication process itself was a nightmare. I would have to type up my paper, put it on a floppy disk, and have it all clearly labeled. Then, some random editor decided to change my title and my name. Still, I pressed on because my ego was not going to feed itself. I decided to do a series of an exposes on the security guards at Ess*x County. My punk rock and hip hop upbringing already gave me a sarcastic respect for authority of course, like Ice Cube said, Fu*k the Police. "
I am including security guards in that category. It was less than comforting to know that my tuition was paying the salary for my oppressors. I wondered if they got commission for every mental scar they inflict.
A similar question must be raised by the tax paying journalists of Bangladesh. The corrupt officers in the local region oppress them constantly. In many cases, to serve and protect " is a motto best left incomplete.
Panthanibas Baura, the Purkbokone correspondent in southeastern Bangladesh was arrested for writing articles on corruption within the local police. " Even at a peaceful press conference organized by students, the police attacked journalists, leaving three of them hospitalized as a result. The security guards at Ess*x County shared the same training video.
I fell paralyzed on the floor, after going into a seizure-like delirium due to the heat and a broken blood vessel in my nose. Two security guards aggressively picked me up and shoved me into a wheelchair. They began to slowly wheel me around, in a pathetic attempt of public humiliation; parading me around the school like some type of novelty or warning. While blood was gushing out of my nose, they discussed hypothetical situations at my expense. One of them hoped that it was a student that punched me in the face. His partner laughed mockingly, stating his own wishes to physically beat me bloody. They were careful with what they wished for.
As we neared the narrow corridor to the medical office, they suddenly rammed me against a wall. With great sadistic glee, they treated my body like a pinball game as I was bounced off wall after wall. My kind caretakers " would adjust the speed of my wheelchair constantly as they sped up, stopped and steered me around as the wheels squeaked in confusion. When they dropped me off at the office, one of them walked back in to flip me off. This gave me a visual presentation that I was public enemy No. 1 in their books. The nurse quickly warned me to not speak out against them because it would almost certainly come back to haunt me.
Journalists need to be aware that there are ways to protect themselves from such injustices. The Committee to Protect Journalists (http://www.cpj.org) have on their Web site a free downloadable guide on Reporting in Dangerous Situations. The guide includes information on a list of helpful topics such as how to survive in hiding " and minimizing risk in conflict zones. "
Standard good journalist practices such as being balanced and assessing the risks of the story beforehand help. Humanitarian agencies such as Amnesty International and Reporters without Borders are raising funds to help bring justice to journalists who have been victimized for simply doing their jobs.
All over the world, journalists are being tortured, killed and detained. A moment of silence would be inappropriate. Now is the time to speak the truth louder than ever.