Michael McFaul, a favorite punching bag for The eXile, recently launched a broadside against the Putin government in a Foreign Affairs article titled "The Myth of the Authoritarian Model," which was reviewed in the last issue. Among his many spurious claims was this:
"Meanwhile, Russia now ranks as the third-most-dangerous place in the world to be a journalist, behind only Iraq and Colombia. Reporters Without Borders has counted 21 journalists murdered in Russia since 2000, including Anna Politkovskaya, the country's most courageous investigative journalist, in October 2006."
You hear this horror story all over the Western media. But how true are these claims?
First, let’s get one thing straight. Iraq is a truly special case – in a horrible sense. In 2007, forty journalists were killed in Iraq, the same number as in 2006— which is the highest number of journalists killed since 2003, according the data by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (http://www.cpj.org/deadly/index.html). According to another organization, Reporters Without Borders, 209 "journalists and media workers" have died in Iraq.
Since the American invasion Iraq has been a hellhole of such an enormous proportions that there simply is no other country on earth which even compares. In that sense, the dangers journalists face elsewhere in the world seems like the odd lightning strike. Even within this "competition" it’s important to look at how the statistics are calculated, and what are the differences between Russia and other countries in this respect.
I looked at the statistics of journalists killings provided by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an NGO based in New York, following an online discussion I read about in a Russian LiveJournal forum. Something very strange quickly became evident to me: In Russia and other post-Soviet countries, journalists included in the CPJ’s database died all sorts of ways: from gunshots, terrorist bombs, heart attacks, in car accidents, suicides, etc. And yet in other countries almost all the reported journalist murders were a result of either direct assassinations (usually by gunshots), or else they were war-related or terrorism-related.
Does anybody really believe that in every other country around the world except the former Soviet Union, journalists never die from car crashes or suspicious suicides, never have untimely heart attacks or other fatal illnesses that can be connected to their work? This is highly unlikely, to say the least. Which points to another obvious explanation for this phenomenon: the criteria applied to Russia and neighboring post-Soviet countries on the one hand, and the rest of the world on the other, are very, very different.
The site of the Committee to Protect Journalists has a section outlining its methodology:
CPJ applies strict journalistic standards when investigating a death. We consider a case "confirmed" only if we are reasonably certain that a journalist was killed in direct reprisal for his or her work; in crossfire; or while carrying out a dangerous assignment. We do not include journalists who are killed in accidents--such as car or plane crashes--unless the crash was caused by hostile action (for example, if a plane were shot down or a car crashed trying to avoid gunfire).
We include only confirmed cases in our database and in the statistical analysis above.
If the motives are unclear, but it is possible that a journalist was killed because of his or her work, CPJ classifies the case as "unconfirmed" and continues to investigate to determine the motive for the murder.
Let’s consider this statement as applied to the case below from Mexico in 2006, of the so-called "confirmed" category: