Arming Russian journalists: tragedy inspires bad ideas

Alexander Lebedev,  proprietor of the liberal Russian weekly Novaya Gazeta has had enough of anti-press violence, and says he wants his journalists armed.

In the past six years, two Novaya Gazeta journalists (Anna Politkovskaya and Anastasia Baburova) have been shot and killed, and another (Yury Shchekochikhin) died of a mysterious –and suspicious– illness after breaking a corruption scandal, leading his colleagues to suspect foul play.

Russia is the third deadliest country for journalists worldwide, coming in just behind the warzones of Iraq and Afghanistan.  Lebedev’s outrage is more than understandable. Not that it’s going to happen, but the suggestion that journalists be armed to fend off would-be assassins strikes me as a Very Bad Idea.

Journalism is a profession that relies heavily on trust, in a somewhat similar fashion to humanitarian and human rights work.  Aid workers riding in B6 vehicles and hiring armed guards –necessary evils in  locales like Somalia– nonetheless  make local populations wary, and the militarisation of aid work has been devastating for the profession.  I can only imagine the world of trouble armed journalism would create.

So, no, journalists should not go around with guns or even tasers, even in Russia. The last thing Russia needs to be is more Hobbesian.  Russian journalists will stop dying when the state values their lives, not when they  can return fire.

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