Activist groups struggling to keep them safe

As underscored by the news this week of the attack CBS News’ Lara Logan suffered while covering the revolution in Egypt, foreign correspondents are being beaten and harassed in the volatile areas where their coverage is most vital.

As American journos struggle to cover the news without becoming the next day’s headline, activist groups and even the State Dept. are struggling to keep them safe. But more and more, reporters abroad are facing attacks specifically because they are reporters in countries where powerful forces want to quash coverage of internal unrest and other disruptive forces.

On Thursday, ABC News reported that reporter Miguel Marquez was beaten with billy clubs in Bahrain amid “a hail of rubber bullets, flash grenades and tear gas,” in Marquez’s words. That nation’s government is coming down hard on anti-government activists, going so far as to open fire with shotguns on protesters sleeping in Manama’s Pearl Square on Thursday morning, killing five.

“Governments throughout the Middle East and North Africa cannot deny their citizens coverage of these momentous events across the region,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, Middle East and North Africa program coordinator for nonprofit org the Committee to Protect Journalists. “Local and international media must be allowed to cover the news.”

This month’s events have drawn increased attention to the plight of reporters abroad: On Feb. 2, CNN’s Anderson Cooper was beaten by a group of counterrevolutionary protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square; the same day, ABC’s Christiane Amanpour and her crew barely escaped a mob that kicked in the crew’s car doors and broke the windshield as they drove away.

And the journo world was rocked Tuesday when CBS disclosed that Lara Logan had suffered a sexual assault by a group of Egyptians while covering the fall of President Hosni Mubarak earlier this month.

“In the old days, there was a time when the people who were considered to be ‘the enemy’ in the stories we were covering, they would really give an exception to journalists and leave us alone,” ABC News’ Bob Woodruff said. “Now, people feel like their point is made better if they do something to a journalist.”

Woodruff, along with his cameraman Doug Vogt, was seriously injured by an explosive device near Taji, Iraq, more than five years ago. Woodruff spent more than a year recovering from the attack, and he told Variety that times have definitely changed since the days when journalists identified themselves as loudly as possible to avoid being shot.

Many colleagues, Woodruff explained, used to display the letters “TV” where they could be read easily.

“You used to put that on vehicles, you used to put that on your clothes,” he recalled. “That’s really something we don’t do anymore. The last time I saw it was early on in Afghanistan.”

Regional experts believe that the Tunisian revolution helped spark the Egyptian uprising, which has spread to Bahrain and Libya, where President Moammar Gadhafi has ruled for 42 years.

“If Bahrain goes, there are fears that Saudi Arabia could face greater problems,” said a panting Marquez as he closed the dispatch that was interrupted by the attack.

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