Oct 8, 2006

On Anna Politkovskaya and Employment Risks

Left: Anna Politkovskaya, courtesy of Time.com

News that a Russian journalist who chronicled military abuses against civilians in Chechnya was found shot to death Saturday hit close to home with me, as I have spent a few years in the profession.

Anna Politkovskaya, 48, was found dead in an elevator in her apartment building in central Moscow Saturday. Police and prosecutors believe the killing was related to her investigative journalism.

The murder is especially chilling for journalists in Russia, as that nation is among the deadliest countries for those involved in the investigative journalism. At least a dozen members of the press have been killed in contract-style slayings since 2000, the year Vladimir Putin took office.

While tragic, those in the business know that journalism is not pretty, and that bad things can happen to good people. I have been on the receiving end of email and voicemail threats myself, and - at the very least - these forms of intimidation make a person cautious.

If not paranoid.

And yet anyone who has worked in the press knows that violence is an inherent risk. While journalists enjoy a somewhat less precarious existence in the United States, it only takes one angry reader to cut short your life.

Or one angry person in the field. While working on a series that documented abandoned houses in Toledo for the Toledo Free Press, I incurred the wrath of a wild-eyed, inebriated man who was living in the basement of a hovel on North Erie Street.

He was under the impression that I was taking pictures of him, rather than the dilapidated building in which he was squatting. He charged at me with a can of gasoline and threatened to douse me and ignite me. A nearby maintenance man joined the mini-scuffle with a sharp yard implement and convinced the hooligan that he might be better off calling it a day.

Ah, the special memories.

And who could ever forget the North Toledo riot of 2005, in which local journalists could choose from a variety of methods by which to endanger themselves. By standing near the police, one was subject to being hit by thrown projectiles, while standing near the protesters meant that a journalist could be be greeted with teargas, knee-knocker pellets, and flash-bang explosives.

Anna Politkovskaya faced far worse, and persevered until her untimely death. Russia has lost one of its most important journalists, and truth may be suppressed for some time in the gangsterocracy.

Politkovskaya, however, would likely return to the same course of action if given the chance to return. The quest for truth can be a deadly addiction for journalists, but freedom and democracy depend on people like Anna Politkovskaya for their existence.


George Nemeth said...

Great post, Mike.

Mark said...

Putin is former KGB, contract-style killings are up.

Coincidence? Probably not...

I won't say any more though...

-Sepp said...

Some Russians have not yet embraced the new freedoms they have since the fall of communism and are stuck in the old system style of thought. The government has a very hard time dealing with the fact that it no longer controlls what gets printed.

Hooda Thunkit said...

A sad story from an increasingly backward country.

That Putin thing is just a coincidence, rigghhhhttttt.

Peahippo said...

Well, Mike, probably in contrast with the New Russia, you have the right to keep and bear arms in case you have to deal with assailants.