A 10m glass and steel cone shines a beam of light into the night sky at the top of BBC Broadcasting House, London, to commemorate BBC news journalists and media people who have been killed in the course of their work. Last Monday (June 16, 2008), it was dedicated by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.
Rodney Pinder, director of the International News Safety Institute (INSI), which works for more safety for journalists, said: "These men and women are the unsung heroes of democracy, for without a free press there can be no freedom."
The previous week Nasteh Dahir Faraah, who worked for the BBC Somali Service as well as other news agencies, was shot dead in the southern Somali city of Kismayo. A day later, Abdul Samad Rohani, BBC Pashto reporter and fixer of the BBC's News bureau in Kabul in the southern Helmand province in Afghanistan, was abducted and shot dead.
Mark Thompson of the BBC reported, "The killings are a stark reminder of the courage and commitment shown by those who work for the BBC's journalism around the world and especially those who work in the most dangerous and difficult areas in order to report for our audiences”.
Mr Rohani was the Helmand reporter for the BBC World Service's Pashto language service. A BBC World News editor, Jon Williams, said Mr Rohani's courage and dedication had been a key part of the BBC's reporting from Afghanistan in recent years. His bravery - and that of his colleagues - had allowed the BBC to tell a key story for audiences in the UK, in Afghanistan and around the world.
The United Nations mission in Afghanistan urged the authorities to leave no stone unturned in the search for Mr Rohani's killers. “Afghan journalists risk their lives every day to highlight the concerns and needs of ordinary Afghan people, and it is most upsetting that such selfless individuals are being targeted for no other reason than doing their job," said Aleem Siddique, a spokesman for the UN mission in Afghanistan. Mr Rohani was at least the fourth journalist killed in Afghanistan in the past year.
Nasteh Dahir Farah, 36, who freelanced for the BBC and Reuters news agencies in Somalia, was fatally shot on his way home in the southern city of Kismayu, the National Union of Somali Journalists reported. His gunning down was described in NowPublic as a “targetted assassination”. A group of armed men fired several shots at Mr Farah, who was elected vice president of the union in 2005, according to Reporters Without Borders.
At least nine other journalists have been killed in Somalia since February 2007, according to Amnesty International. Omar Faruq Osman, secretary-general of the Somali journalists union, commented, "We will not stop our work because of these criminals".
Even so, Iraq remains acknowledged as the most dangerous place for media people to work. Up to April 2008, 215 journalists and media assistants have been killed since the start of fighting in Iraq in March 2003. Two are still missing; 14 have been kidnapped. Reporters Without Borders has described the dangers journalists have faced in Iraq since the start of the war, the bloodiest for the media since World War II: Three years of slaughter in Iraq.
Media people in other countries also daily face the possibility of killing, kidnapping and torture. It can be argued that a journalist has a choice whether to take up a position in a dangerous area or not. And although bullets do not distinguish gender, women correspondents in a war zone have to be seen as the most vulnerable. The risks involved send cold shivers down your spine.
The extent of these hazards perhaps was first brought firmly into public focus by the shooting in Moscow in October 2006 of Anna Politkovskaya. Well known for her critical coverage of the Chechnyan war, Ms Politkovskaya had also written a critical book on the then Russian president Vladimir Putin and his campaign in Chechnya. She documented widespread abuse of civilians by government troops and her chronicle of killings, tortures and beatings of civilians by Russian servicemen put her on a collision course with the authorities.
In a similar vein, media people, particularly in Asia and the South-East Asia, increasingly have been killed, received death threats and experienced intimidation and stand over tactics. In this region the Asia-Pacific arm of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has been faithful in reporting both killings and threats, while working to bring pressure on governments and agencies that are hostile to the role of journalists.