Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

Sri Lanka Journalist Murdered

Posted in Uncategorized by allisonkilkenny on January 19, 2009

Note from Allison: Since 1992, over 700 journalists have been killed in Sri Lanka for trying to report on government activities.


Lasantha's colleagues hold his portrait after his death. (Amarasinghe/AP)

Lasantha's colleagues hold his portrait after his death. (Amarasinghe/AP)

Lasantha Wickramatunga was gunned down in his car last week on his way to work. According to colleagues, his attackers used an automatic pistol equipped with a silencer. After they smashed in one of his car windows, they repeatedly shot Lasantha at close range. Somehow he didn’t die on the spot. He died about three hours later in a hospital operating room. Just days after his death, his newspaper published his final editorial, showing that Lansantha may have seen what was coming.

Lasantha was a big, important, controversial name in Sri Lankan journalism. He had taken on the government–make that many of Sri Lanka’s governments–many times in the 25 years he was a journalist. He was argumentative and wrote from a distinct political position. In Sri Lanka, with its corrupt governments and its seemingly interminable Tamil secessionist war, taking a principled stance is dangerous.

But he was a committed journalist. After he was killed on January 8, his paper, The Sunday Leader, ran his last editorial–“And Then They Came For Me”–on January 11. It explains why he did what he was doing, and laid out clearly the drive that makes journalists take on the powerful. The editorial’s arguments are based inSri Lanka’s brutal political reality, but they are universal to people who follow this career everywhere. Here’s Lasantha’s lead, but follow the link for the entire piece, it’s really worth it, particularly if you do this sort of work for a living:

No other profession calls on its practitioners to lay down their lives for their art save the armed forces and, in Sri Lanka, journalism. In the course of the past few years, the independent media have increasingly come under attack. Electronic and print-media institutions have been burnt, bombed, sealed and coerced. Countless journalists have been harassed, threatened and killed. It has been my honour to belong to all those categories and now especially the last.

A death like Lasantha’s generates a lot of emotion, and testimonials and anguished e-mail messages are flying back and forth. A colleague from Asiaweek magazine, Arjuna Ranawana, sent around a message pouring out his grief and anger. Arjuna was Asiaweek‘s South Asia correspondent for years. He knew Lasantha well; they had worked at the Leader together. Arjuna was the director of the Sri Lanka College of Journalism for a while, and now is news manager for Omni TV in Edmonton, Canada.

The government has promised a full investigation of Lasantha’s death, and of the early morning attack on Maharajah TV (MTV) a few days earlier. CPJ called for a nonpartisan investigation into the MTV attack and diplomatic pressure to be put on the government to clarify what happened in Lasantha’s killing. I checked with Arjuna, and he is OK with me reproducing some of his e-mail message:

I for one do not expect such an investigation to yield results but believe them to be cynical public statements being made by a regime bent on killing the messenger. This is because there have been so many of these investigations launched and none have borne results. Either the IGP [Inspector General of Police] never gets those orders and only reads them in the newspapers, the police are utterly inept, or the government is lying to the public and allowing the killers to get away with a bundle of cash, a nod and a wink. Can you even remember the number of special investigations launched into these types of killings, which include MPs N Raviraj and P Maheswaran? These include assaults on journalists and the horrible farce that exists around Minister Mervyn de Silva’s incursion into Rupavahini. All have probes, no? Even Presidential Commissions. There is still space though, for the IGP to prove me wrong.

It would be good for the IGP, and for President Mahinda Rajapaksa to prove Arjuna, and all the other skeptics, Sri Lankans and non-Sri Lankans, wrong. But so far, that doesn’t look like it will happen.

Journalists Targeted In Mexico’s Drug War

Posted in War on Drugs by allisonkilkenny on December 8, 2008

Julie Watson

Photographers work as an injured man is taken away during a prison riot at La Mesa State Prison in Tijuana, Mexico, Monday, Sept. 15, 2008. Mexico is the deadliest place in the Americas to be a journalist, and among the deadliest in the world. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says at least 24 journalists have been killed since 2000, and seven have vanished in the past three years. (AP Photo/Guillermo Arias)

Photographers work as an injured man is taken away during a prison riot at La Mesa State Prison in Tijuana, Mexico, Monday, Sept. 15, 2008. (AP Photo/Guillermo Arias)

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico — As the photographer pulled his 2000 Ford Explorer into a soccer field, the crackle of his police scanner was broken by a lone accordion riff.

The riff, a fragment of a “narcocorrido” glorifying drug smugglers, was an announcement that the death toll in Mexico’s drug war _ already above 4,000 this year _ had just risen.

Hector Dayer already knew that as he looked out at the seven bodies, bound, beaten and repeatedly shot. What he didn’t know was whether yet another colleague was among the victims.

Two weeks earlier, Dayer had photographed a friend _ a veteran crime reporter from a rival newspaper _ shot dead in his car as his 8-year-old daughter sat shaking in the passenger’s seat.

On this day, none of the bodies belonged to journalists. Dayer grabbed his camera, pulled up the collar of his jacket to hide his face, and stepped out to photograph the carnage.

“We should wear ski masks, like the police,” said Dayer, a father of two who works for the newspaper El Norte. “We are so public. Everyone can see us and identify us.”

Mexico is the deadliest place in the Americas to be a journalist, and among the deadliest in the world. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says at least 24 have been killed since 2000, and seven have vanished in the past three years.

Many of the victims had recently reported on police ties to cartels. Some are suspected of accepting drug money, but it’s hard to be sure because the killings are barely investigated. Of the 24 cases, the committee says, only one has been solved.

Some attacks target specific journalists, others entire newsrooms. In at least two cases, grenades have been thrown at newspaper offices.

The attacks are silencing journalists and undermining Mexico’s young democracy. Across the nation, news media have stopped reporting on the drug war, with most limiting their reports to facts put out by authorities, with no context, analysis or investigation. In most places, journalists don’t even report on killings they witness.

Ciudad Juarez, Mexico’s bloodiest city with about 1,400 deaths this year, is an exception. Here journalists continue to cover the daily deaths, without using bylines or photo credits.

Many use different cars and routes to get to work each day. A few wear bulletproof vests, but most think those make them more of a target.

Nearly all crime reporters have received threats. They include Armando Rodriguez, 40, a veteran with the newspaper El Diario. In February, Rodriguez asked the state prosecutor for protection, but she asked him to file a police report and he never did.

On Nov. 13, Rodriguez sat in his driveway with his 8-year-old daughter, waiting for her 6-year-old sister to come out so he could drive the girls to school. Gunshots rang out.

Rodriguez’s wife, Blanca Martinez, screamed as she looked out the kitchen window. She saw her husband’s head bent down and thought he was searching for his cell phone to call his newspaper to report the gunshots.

Then she realized he wasn’t moving. Their daughter was shaking in the seat next to him.

Martinez ran out and told her daughter to get inside the house, then climbed into the car with her husband, holding his bloody body until police and colleagues arrived.

“I don’t have any hope the guilty will be caught,” she said. “All I want is for them to repent.”

The colleagues who showed up to cover Rodriguez’s death were shaken too.

“I took photos but afterward we all didn’t know what to do,” Dayer said. “There was just silence.”

Rodriguez’s desk at El Diario is much as he left it, notebooks and police communiques stacked haphazardly. El Diario director Pedro Torres says he wants a full investigation, but police have shown little interest.

Hours after The Associated Press asked the office of Mexico’s attorney general why nobody had examined Rodriguez’s computer, El Diario editors say federal investigators called to say they were sending someone to pick it up. The attorney general’s office never got back to the AP.

“We’re not interested in making him a martyr. We just want the truth,” Torres said. “We feel so helpless, so angry _ but not afraid. Because, I insist, you cannot do journalism with fear.”

Jorge Luis Aguirre, director of news Web site La Polaka, agrees. As he was driving to Rodriguez’s wake, his cell phone rang.

“You’re next,” said a voice.

Aguirre parked his car, called his wife and fled to the U.S. with his family. He plans to apply for asylum.

“Any journalist in Juarez is at risk right now of being assassinated just because someone doesn’t like what you published,” he said in a telephone interview from hiding.

Media-freedom groups are pushing for the U.S. to grant such requests, and are lobbying Mexico’s Congress to pass a bill that would make attacks on the news media a federal crime.

“This violence has gone way beyond the press,” said Carlos Lauria of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “It’s going against freedom of expression.”

It is also insanely brutal. Dayer has seen the worst of it this year, from human legs protruding from a large pot commonly used to cook pork, to a body hanging inside a house with a pig mask over the face. When the death count reached eight in the span of an hour, he called his wife and told her to take the kids inside.

Once, as he photographed a headless body hanging from an overpass, someone noticed a man in a car nearby taking pictures of the journalists. A photographer went over to ask what he was doing, but the man sped away. Later in the day, the head was found in a trash bag at the foot of the city’s 28-year-old Journalist Monument, a statue of a newspaper delivery boy.

“I think about that day a lot now,” Dayer said.

Juarez’s journalists take extraordinary risks for their daily blood-and-gore reports. They careen through traffic, often arriving at crime scenes before the police. Photographers have stumbled across hitmen who fired shots, pistol-whipped them and stole their cameras.

On a recent morning, an AP reporter accompanied a TV crew as it plied the streets looking for the day’s dead. The police scanner reported an armed man in a white car nearby, and the driver swung into pursuit. A wailing police car raced up behind the crew, as TV and radio correspondent Ever Chavez screamed at the driver.

“Not too close! Get back!” he said.

The police car stopped the white car and dragged out two men as Chavez moved in with his microphone. Police pulled a black handgun from one of the men’s pockets, but it turned out to be plastic. Chavez went on the air.

“That’s the report we have so far,” Chavez said cheerily. “Be careful out there, and have a good morning.”

Czech Republic PM Smashes Reporter’s Head Against Wall

Posted in media by allisonkilkenny on October 30, 2008

Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek smashes a photo journalist’s head against a wall. I love how Chris Matthews presents this story like it’s a matter of opinion if this is unacceptable behavior.

Video Here


Journalists sound alarm over press freedom in Europe

Published: Tuesday 4 March 2008   

Journalists throughout Europe, both east and west, are faced with a growing pattern of censorship and pressure including physical violence and intimidation, according to a survey by the Association of European Journalists (AEJ). What’s more, the EU is failing to stand up for them, the AEJ adds.


Responding to growing concerns over media concentration, in 1992 the Commission launched a wide consultation (Green Paper) on pluralism and media concentration in the EU. Two years later, the consultation concluded that it is primarily up to the member states to maintain media pluralism and diversity. A directive was proposed at a later stage by then Internal Market Commissioner Mario Monti but his initiative was rejected twice by the College of Commissioners, last time in 1997.

A new approach to media pluralism, based on monitoring, was launched by current Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding. Initial results are expected in 2009 with the publication of an independent study that will seek to define indicators for assessing media pluralism in the EU member states.

The Association of European Journalists (AEJ) presented its first survey of media freedom across Europe in November 2007. Entitled “Goodbye to Freedom?”, the survey was updated and presented at an event in Brussels on 28 February 2008. It covers 20 countries across Western and Eastern Europe.

The survey, presented on 28 February in Brussels, found media freedom “in retreat across much of Europe” and pointed to a number of abuses by governments, including interference in editorial policies and even threats and intimidation.

The AEJ survey, which covers 20 countries, listed a number of abuses including:

  • Violence and intimidation (Russia, Armenia);
  • assault against media independence by governments (Slovenia);
  • political abuses, particularly in public broadcasting (Croatia, Slovakia, Poland), and;
  • commercial pressure and over-concentration in mainstream media (France, Italy).

William Horsley, the survey’s editor, said: “Governments across Europe are showing a marked trend to use harsher methods, including heavy official ‘spin’ and tighter controls on journalists’ access to information in order to block media criticism.”

And according to Horsley, the trend is not confined to the younger democracies of Central and Eastern Europe. “The open confrontation between government and the media in Slovenia is mirrored in various ways in the UK, Ireland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, among others.”

In Ireland, two senior journalists from The Irish Times are facing jail sentences for refusing to reveal their sources, the AEJ heard at a recent workshop in Dublin. In Slovakia, journalist Martin Klein was condemned for publishing a satirical article about a church leader, a ruling which was subsequently upheld by Slovakia’s Supreme Court despite a judgement by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg which backed the journalist.

EU and media organisations slow to react

What’s more, Horsley says media organisations themselves have to share part of the blame. “European media have been too slow to comprehend and report the pattern of censorship, pressure and sometimes physical violence faced by journalists in every corner of Europe,” Horsley told EurActiv.

As for the European institutions – the Council, Commission and Parliament – Horsley said they had so far failed to stand up for media freedom.

“EU leaders have too often failed to live up to their rhetoric about upholding ‘European values’ like media freedom,” Horsley told EurActiv. “The EU’s main institutions have failed to stand up to Russia over the strangulation of its independent media.”

“If the EU neglects its own doubtful record in protecting media freedoms at home it is obvious that governments elsewhere will not take very seriously its appeals to allow media freedom and independence there.”

OSCE forum on media freedom

Meanwhile, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) called on its member states to respect their media commitments at a forum on 29 February in Vienna.

The forum discussion marked the tenth anniversary of the office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media (RFOM), now held by Miklos Haraszti. The office provides early warning on violations of freedom of expression and assists participating states in fulfilling their commitments.

“The 56 OSCE nations committed themselves to the highest standards of human rights, freedom of expression included. Today, we sometimes have to defend not only press freedom standards but also the very notion of international co-operation on human rights,” Haraszti said in a statement.


William Horsley, the AEJ survey’s editor and an ex-BBC foreign correspondent, told the Brussels event on 28 February: “Media freedom is not an optional extra. Without it, governments cannot be held to account and there can be no rule of law.”

European journalists attending the survey presentation in Brussels identified further threats such as the lowering of standards due to commercial pressure and cost reductions. This includes the rise of ‘churnalism’, a practice where news production is considered as “a factory-like process simply to fill space.”

Lorenzo Consolipresident of the International Press Association (IPA), said it was important to improve conditions for transparency and denounced the growing tendency among Brussels institutions to try and control the questions asked by the press.

Some participants also recommended thinking about new revenue models brought about by new Internet technologies. Recent successful attempts at renewing journalism have included websites such as: and

Christophe Leclercqfounder and publisher of, stated after these events: “The internet is not without issues of quality and independence, but the new technology also makes it more difficult for governments to suppress news entirely.”

Leclercq pointed to the EurActiv network itself as a “small step” towards greater media pluralism. “Set up initially as a contribution to transparency, media diversity and multilingualism, the EurActiv network started with a pilot project administered by the European Centre for Journalism, which was then expanded to Central Europe, in co-operation notably with the International Federation of Journalists. The EurActiv CrossLingual network now connects around 30 journalists, working in nine languages in nine countries.”