Richard Engel’s narrow escape from kidnappers in Syria offers a reminder that journalists often confront real danger in their effort to shine light on the world’s dark corners.
NBC News’ chief foreign correspondent, and as many as five crew members, were held hostage for five days by an unknown group that claimed loyalty to Syrian President Bashar Assad. They were blindfolded, handcuffed, and, Mr. Engel says, subjected to mock executions.
They were rescued when their captors got into a firefight with rebel forces at a checkpoint, and escorted across the Syrian border into Turkey. Reports suggest that one or more crew members still may be in captivity.
The capture and escape of Mr. Engel and his crew are the stuff of drama. But their tale is just one among many: The Committee to Protect Journalists, which promotes freedom of the press and tracks violence against journalists, says 67 people were killed this year reporting from the world’s trouble spots. The committee is investigating about 30 other deaths of journalists to determine whether they were work-related.
According to the nonprofit group, Syria is the most dangerous place in the world for journalists. More than two dozen reporters, photographers, videographers, and crew members have been killed this year covering the fighting there.
But Syria is not alone. Somalia, with 12 journalists killed, is the second-most dangerous country for media. Seven journalists were killed this year in Pakistan and four in Brazil, while one died in at least 16 other nations.
Reporters Without Borders sets the international death toll higher, at 88. The international organization, which monitors attacks on freedom of information, notes that 44 citizen journalists were killed in 2012.
Journalists often suffer collateral damage from the violent events they cover. Sometimes they are targeted by governments or others who do not want their activities revealed.
Meanwhile, CPJ says a record 232 journalists are in prisons around the world, a 30 percent increase over 2011. Turkey leads the way with 49 journalists imprisoned, followed by Iran (45), China (32), Eritrea (28), and Syria (15).
Most are detained on trumped-up charges, or no charges at all. Hundreds more journalists have fled their homelands in recent years because of threats of prison or violence.
Americans don’t hear about most of these reporters or crew members, because they don’t work for major U.S. and international news outlets. But they deserve to be remembered — and honored — by everyone who values freedom and human dignity.