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A Reporter's Courage

The recent murder of Irish journalist Veronica Guerin underscored, again, the contributions of crusading journalists and the need to support their work.

Ms. Guerin's beat was crime, and her pursuit of organized mobsters in Ireland - from bank robbers to drug traffickers - was remarkable for sheer persistence and courage. She had received repeated warnings; last year she was threatened with death and then shot in the leg; her home had been fired at, endangering her family.

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Despite it all, she never relented. Guerin received the 1995 International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists, which monitors attacks on reporters and editors around the globe. Her murder, carried out by professional assassins as she stopped at a red light in a Dublin suburb, brought to 23 the number of journalists killed this year in reprisal for their work.

Most of these vicious attacks on those trying to put the truth before readers and viewers have happened in turbulent parts of the world. Algeria, with its deep-set civil strife, has had eight such killings. Russia has had six, and the majority of targets there, as in Colombia in recent years and now in Ireland, have been journalists trying to report on organized crime.

Americans will recall the 1992 murder of journalist Manuel de Dios Unanue in New York City, another reporter determined to track drug dealers.

Ireland, unlike many other places where members of the press have been killed, is an established democracy that recognizes the threat to freedom inherent in such attacks and can take effective action. A special session of the Irish parliament was called in the wake of the Guerin murder, and Prime Minister John Bruton has announced a new anticrime offensive.

The men who killed Guerin and those who hired them must be apprehended. That's Step 1 in honoring her extraordinary commitment. Crime-fighting initiatives that go beyond rhetoric are important too. Finally, Ireland should consider reworking severe libel laws that hobble journalists and virtually provide cover for those who may want to silence reporters.

Ireland, a democracy, recognizes the threat to freedom inherent in such attacks.

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