Do journalism and firearms mix?

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 3, 2005

On May 10, 2005, Philip Agustin was executed in his daughter’s kitchen as she prepared a meal for him. Undoubtedly, he’d just put in a long day’s work and was preparing for a relaxing night at home. One shot to the head ended that. Who was Philip Agustin? No one I knew, personally. He was, however, a colleague of mine. I love reading American Journalism Review magazine, which is a bimonthly publication of the Phillip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland – one of the United States’ most prestigious journalism schools. The magazine is loaded with timely features and articles on issues that affect reporters and media worldwide. The October/November 2005 issue contained a rather interesting article. It was, of course, about Philip Agustin. But not just about Agustin. But about hundreds of other journalists, television reporters, anchors and talk show hosts who deal with fear on a daily basis. Agustin was a newspaper publisher in the Philippines. Apparently, they don’t take too kindly to journalists in that part of the world, since the New York Times recently named that country as the world’s most dangerous for media. And that’s behind Iraq. In 2005, a total of five journalists have been killed in the Philippines, including one woman who was gunned down in front of her children. As a result, journalists in the Philippines are doing the unthinkable: they’re strapping on bulletproof vests and sidearms. They’ve even formed an organization, &uot;ARMED – Association of Responsible Media&uot;, and are sending a message to all would-be assailants, &uot;We’re packing, too.&uot; Stateside, newspapers including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have issued strict orders to reporters and media – carrying a firearm of any kind violates a journalist’s role as an objective, neutral observer. While I can certainly see no reason to be carrying a gun in and around Butler County, I can see the Philippine journalist’s side of the argument. If I lived beneath a heavy veil of fear and apprehension every day just because I was trying to do my job, I’d keep a gun by my side morning, noon and night.

There’s nothing to say that carrying a gun would have prevented some of these murders. However, I think that terrorists and armed thugs have taken to attacking journalists more than in the past simply because they make easy targets and are often employed by larger-than-life media entities, which makes the impact of the kidnapping and murder all the more sensational to the general public. Think back to Daniel Pearl, the former journalist for the Wall Street Journal who was beheaded by Islamic extremists on videotape nonetheless.

As a journalist, would I be comfortable carrying a gun in places like Iraq, or the Philippines, or even the heavy crime areas of New York City, Chicago or L.A.?

You betcha.

For while firearms solve nothing, they do ensure you have a convincing say in the argument.

Kevin Pearcey is Group Managing Editor of Greenville Newspapers, LLC. He can be reached by phone at 383-9302, ext. 136 or by email at: editor@greenville.advocate.com.