Journalism in Latvia attacked again

Two months ago, a crime and defense reporter for the daily Kurzemes Vārds was assaulted in Liepāja. He died two weeks later. Now a crime reporter for the Rīga daily Neatkarīgā Rīta Avīze has been attacked in one of the most public places in the city—the Dome Square.

In both cases, revenge for their journalism is suspected. If that’s so, I hope it’s an anomaly and not the start of a disturbing trend.

Gundars Matīss, 35, may have been attacked in mid-November for the crime reporting he had done for Kurzemes Vārds. And three days ago, NRA reporter Ivars Āboliņš may have been attacked for similar reasons.

I say may because until the attackers are found, the reasons for the assaults won’t be clear. In the Matīss case, the victim died before he could talk to police.

But in Āboliņš’ case, according to a Jan. 14 story in the newspaper, little doubt is left about what provoked the attackers. Two men approached Ābolīņš outside a Dome Square cafe and blamed him for several of their comrades being in jail. They then hit him and knocked him down, kicking him several times. Āboliņš suffered bruises to his head and body, as well as a concussion, NRA reported.

Attacks such as these should be viewed as assaults not only on press freedom, but on society as a whole. The role of a journalist in a democratic society is to provide the information that allows society to function. If a journalist’s ability to report freely is threatened, society’s freedom is threatened as well.

Interviewed by his newspaper, Āboliņš conceded he’s not confident about his safety. "For now I can’t feel certain that attacks like this won’t be repeated and that some other retaliation won’t follow," Āboliņš said.

If journalists don’t feel safe doing their jobs, they may avoid reporting certain stories. Everyone suffers in that case.

But I can’t agree with NRA Editor Aldis Bērziņš, who in the same newspaper story attempted to elevate the legal status of journalists.

"Penalties for bodily attacks against journalists should be equated with attacks on ministers, members of Parliament, prosecutors and other state officials, because (attacks such as these) threaten not just specific victims, but all of society," Bērziņš said.

Journalism is an honorable profession. It’s a profession that, at its best, is a true service to a community. But journalists also are just people. We journalists should never forget that, just as we strive to remind ministers, MPs, prosecutors and other state officials that they are, after all, just people, too.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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