WITH EVER MORE news and information at people's fingertips, including news about far-flung wars and obscure conflicts, it's easy to forget that collecting that information can still be hard, dangerous work. Thirty-three journalists were killed in 1999 because of their work reporting the news, a grim statistic that reflects the continuing danger faced by those who practice journalism far from the comfortable conditions and legal protections of the United States. The Committee for the Protection of Journalists, a New York-based organization that compiles the annual list, counts one-third more deaths than in 1998, when 24 journalists were killed in 17 countries, and notes a marked trend toward "silencing the witnesses to wars, atrocities and corruption."
The largest single number of journalists this year -- 10 in all -- lost their lives in Sierra Leone, most of them at the hands of rebel forces known as the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), whose brutality toward civilians included widespread amputations and the abduction of thousands of children. Eyewitnesses told the committee's investigators that RUF rebels entered the capital, Freetown, in January with a list of journalists to "eliminate" because of coverage deemed hostile to them; one was tied to a truck and dragged, then shot to death, while others were shot dead in front of their families or had their homes burned.
Other journalists died of the hazards of traveling in war zones or with nongovernmental delegations: the two Sri Lankan broadcast journalists killed along with a crowd in a Dec. 18 assassination attempt against the president at an election rally; the reporter shot by Indonesian gunmen along with a group of nine church workers with whom he was traveling in East Timor. Local reporters frequently run more risks than high-profile international ones in documenting conflicts that, though horrifying, only intermittently command the attention of an American audience. But many such conflicts would go entirely unremarked if not for those who take such risks. "People do terrible things to each other," says a news photographer in Tom Stoppard's play "Night and Day," "but it's worse in places where everybody is kept in the dark."