Appreciating freedom of press as journalists die in line of duty

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The weather made a lot of headlines this past week, with record-breaking cold locally and across the nation. Among the most telling statistics was that every state in the nation, save for Hawaii, recorded temperatures below freezing.

As is the case for other occupations, journalists can't always avoid going out in the cold to carry out their duties. And, with cold weather and fires going hand in hand, it wasn't surprising we had two fire calls this week, one Monday evening in Shamokin when it was 8 degrees and the other overnight Wednesday into Thursday when temperatures were in the teens.

No complaints; it's part of the job. If anything, it makes us appreciate the effort of volunteer firefighters, who risk their lives in extreme cold - and every other weather condition - for no compensation.

Besides, at least our reporters and those throughout the United States are safe. The same cannot be said on an international basis.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) this week issued a "desperate appeal for governments across the world to end impunity for violence against journalists and media staff." The appeal comes after, according to IFJ, at least 105 journalists and media staff lost their lives in targeted attacks, bomb attacks and other crossfire incidents around the world in 2013. Fifteen more lost their lives in accidents while on assignments.

The 23rd annual IFJ list, according to a story in Editor & Publisher, shows the deadliest regions for journalists were Asia Pacific, with 29 percent of the killings, and the Middle East and Arab world, with 27 percent.

The ongoing turmoil in Syria means it tops the list of the world's most dangerous countries for media in 2013; 15 journalists lost their lives in Syria. Meanwhile, violence and corruption in the Philippines (10 deaths), insurgents in Pakistan (10) and terrorism and organized crime in Iraq (13) and India (10) have accounted for high fatalities of journalists in these countries, too, the report says.

As it is, the 105 deaths represents a 10 percent decrease, but the IFJ has stressed that levels of violence are still "unacceptably high," and that "there is an urgent need for governments to protect and enforce journalists' basic right to life."

The federation noted its welcomes a UN Resolution, adopted Dec. 18, establishing an International Day to End Impunity for crimes against journalists. It "condemns unequivocally all attacks and violence against journalists and stresses that "impunity for attacks against journalists constitutes the main challenge to the strengthening of the protection of journalists."

It's not surprising the primary intent of the violence is to "silence" the journalists. Lest we take freedom of the press for granted.

(Andy Heintzelman, editor of The News-Item, writes "The Week In News" for each Saturday edition.)

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