America has five taxpayer-funded multimedia overseas broadcasters. Practically unknown, however, is fact that 18 field reporters of those networks have been killed or missing in the last seven decades because of their service in covering events in war-torn or totalitarian countries across four continents.
On May 3, the chief executive of the five networks, John Lansing, paid special tribute to the fallen. “Throughout the years,” Mr. Lansing said, “those 18 colleagues have paid the ultimate price for their labors in pursuit of the truth. I’m reminded of this grave reality every day when I pass our Fallen Journalists memorial at our headquarters in Washington, DC.
“Earlier this week,” Mr. Lansing added, “we marked the first anniversary of the deaths of three Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalists. They were senselessly killed on April 30, 2018, in Kabul, Afghanistan, in a bombing that targeted journalists.” (You can read Lansing’s full statement here.)
In many cases, the correspondents or contract reporters of the U.S. international networks are on the front lines in totalitarian or unstable nations. But frequently, their salaries are for part-time work, and relief for their families is lacking. CEO Lansing announced a significant breakthrough on May 3.
The United States Agency for Global Media (umbrella organization for the five networks Lansing leads) has just launched a support group to provide financial assistance for the surviving families of its journalists killed or injured in action. It is called the USAGM Employee Association. It is designed to help surviving families of journalists have made the ultimate sacrifice or need help with treating life-threatening injuries.
The cost of taxpayer-funded U. S. international media (TV, radio, and on-line services) is now around $745 million a year. The networks reach an estimated 345 million unduplicated users each week in about a hundred countries.
The networks are:
- the two government entities: the Voice of America in 46 languages and Radio-TV Marti in Spanish to Cuba, and
- three grantee USAGM taxpayer funded networks: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, and the Middle East Broadcasting Network in Arabic.
USAGM journalists killed by adversaries of the truth since 1954 were victims of:
- a poison-tipped umbrella six decades ago as a suspected Soviet agent stabbed a reporter who worked for both RFE/RL and VOA.
- a barrage of gunfire that killed courageous VOA Radio Deewa reporter Mukarram Khan Aatif as he prayed one evening in a mosque in his hometown village in northern Pakistan in 2012.
- a bomb explosion that killed VOA photojournalist Ali Nur Said in Mogadishu, Somalia in October 2017 as he approached his own car to recover material for a feed to Washington from a nearby studio.
- and the ISIS bombs in April 2018 (a year ago last week) that killed the two RFE/RL reporters in Afghanistan, Abadullah Hananzai and Sabawoon Kakar. They lost their lives along with a 28-year-old female trainee, Maharram Durrani. That was the worst single day of such tragic killings in the history of U.S. international broadcasting and the worst such bombing in Afghanistan since 2001.
As CEO Lansing told last year’s solemn World Press Freedom Day memorial ceremony:
“Their deaths will not be in vain. We mourn their loss, but we remain steadfast. We will not let these assaults on the press threaten our mission to engage and inform people everywhere in support of freedom and democracy.”
And Mr. Lansing concluded:
“The continued decline of press freedom worldwide as measured by Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders, affects us all. It’s a world in which information is controlled and that foments dissent, marginalization and conflict. Protecting journalists and the work they do is to protect us all.”
Joe B. Johnson consults on government communication and technology after a career in the United States Foreign Service. He is an instructor for the National Foreign Affairs Training Center, where he teaches strategic planning for public diplomacy. Read More