Getting at the truth can be dangerous to your health

By Ron Leir

It’s a dangerous world out there and nobody knows that better than foreign correspondents who’ve covered conflagrations stretching from Syria to Somalia and everywhere in between.

Just in the past couple weeks, we were reminded of that peril in the wake of reports by The New York Times that two Ecuadorian journalists and a companion kidnapped March 26 by rebel forces near the Columbian-Ecuador border had been reportedly murdered by their captors.

The killings of reporter Javier Ortega, photographer Raul Rivas and their driver Efrain Segarra — reported by President Lenin Morena of Ecuador — were attributed to a breakaway faction of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (the FARC) who have spurned a 2016 peace treaty that ended a lengthy, bloody war between the FARC and Columbia.

El Comercio, the newspaper for which the journalists worked, said the men were investigating increasing criminal activity in Ecuador’s northern province of Esmeraldas, including a police station bombing, which was spilling over into Ecuador when they were abducted.

And on March 22, state police in Veracruz, Mexico, said journalist Leobardo Vazquez had been found shot dead earlier that week in the coastal town of Gutierrez Zamora where criminal drug activity has been reported.

Vazquez had managed a news website, Enlace Informativo Regional, covering general news and crime in the area.

According to Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission, 22 journalists have been killed in Veracruz since 2000.

By the reckoning of The Committee to Protect Journalists, of at least 47 news personnel killed in retaliation for their work during 2017, Mexico claimed the highest total — seven — “putting it just behind Iraq and Syria as the deadliest places in the world to work in media,” reported

To try and stop the slaughter, Mexico has implemented a federal protection program that provides bodyguards and “panic buttons” to call for police if threatened, but local media say that’s hardly enough to stop organized crime and corrupt officials from exacting revenge on journalists’ public disclosures.

Even scribes who work for big newspapers have not been immune from violence. Take the case of Miroslava Breach, for example, who wrote about crime and corruption for the national newspaper La Jornada in the northern state of Chihuahua until she was gunned down as she pulled out of her driveway with one of her three children beside her on March 23 last year.

Many journalists who have thus far managed to stay alive despite the risks of continuing to report the news still face other pressures, with the International Federation of Journalists reporting, via, that an estimated 250+ of their colleagues have been imprisoned world-wide — two-thirds of them in Turkey alone.

Here in the U.S., thankfully, working journalists have it easy compared to what much of the world press is up against.

Thank goodness, though, for resources like the Open Public Records Act to access information and for shield laws passed by some 40 states to protect journalists from being compelled to testify before a grand jury.

Judicious application of OPRA can be a vital tool in helping to fill in the gaps when researching a news story and enlightening our readership.

We owe a big debt of gratitude to the Republic’s founders for having included freedom of the press as part of our country’s law and to our military for having defended — many having made the supreme sacrifice — our right to keep it.

Let us continue to hold that right dear and to apply it as needed.

We well understand the plight of sometimes overtaxed custodians of government records who are called on to handle our requests for information and we thank them for their cooperation in our mutual exercise of good government.   


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