LetÂ's face it, most American journalists have it easy. Sure, we may gripe about elusive sources, credibility gaps and the difficulty of ferreting out the truth. But if we write something that some authority figure doesnÂ't like, our lives are not at risk.
Not so for reporters in many other parts of the world. And women journalists have even worse, since frequently itÂ's not only their profession, but also their gender that makes them targets of abuse.
So next week the International WomenÂ's Media Foundation will be honoring three international journalists who have put themselves on the line. Never heard of IWMF? I didnÂ't know much about it either, until I was asked to join the organizationÂ's board a few years back.
The group was founded about 10 years ago by American women reporters like Eleanor Clift of Newsweek, Judy Woodruff of CNN and Carole Simpson of ABC News. According to IWMF executive director Sherry Rockey, "The awards give a great deal of visibility to women journalists around the world who are risking their lives for the truth, and it also creates some protection for them."
They need it. In the past, the awards have recognized reporters who have been beaten, imprisoned and exiled. One of last yearÂ's winners had acid thrown on her face after she tried to expose corruption in Bulgaria. An Algerian journalist who received the award a few years back never got to accept it. She was in hiding then. She still is.
And this yearÂ's honorees are equally courageous. ThereÂ's Aferdita Kelemendi, a Kosovar Albanian who helped establish Radio/TV 21. Serbian authorities refused her station a license to broadcast in Albanian, so Kelemeni started sending her stories out over the Internet.
But during the conflict in Kosovo, Serbian police came to her studios and destroyed everything. She learned that one of her colleagues had been murdered and that she was on a target list. She and her family fled to Macedonia, and she set up operations there.
Kim Bolan of the Vancouver Sun has never given up trying to solve the 1985 bombing of an Air India Jet. Her reporting on extremist elements in VancouverÂ's Sikh community linked to the bombing has made her a target of death threats, too.
And Sharifa Ahklas of Afghanistan has been arrested and beaten for her reporting on religious fundamentalists in her native land, particularly on their treatment of women. She and her family escaped to Pakistan, and she still continued to sneak across the border to continue intervewing women who have been forced to give up their jobs and driven into poverty.
Now, in one of those continuing horror story that has plagued IWMF Courage awardees over the years, the military coup in Pakistan has made her future uncertain. At this writing itÂ's unknown whether Ahklas will even be able to come to the United States next week to get her award.
ThereÂ's a courageous American journalist being honored, too. Peggy Peterman spent more than 30 years as a reporter, columnist and editorial writer for the St. Petersburg Times, in Florida. She was hired in the days when the paper, like so many others in our nation, had a separate "Negro Page."
Peterman fought hard to get news of the black community into the regular sections of the paper, arguing with editors, including one who chastised her for featuring too many pictures of black children in one of her stories.
For years she earned a far lower salary than her white colleagues. And though she was never threatened by authorities, some of her fellow so-called citizens sent mean and scary letters.
So for those of us reporters who get grumpy when a plane is late, or a public official wonÂ't return a phone call or when our editors tell us our stories are too long, the IWMF Courage awards are a good reminder of how cushy our jobs really are.
But maybe this is also a moment for all Americans to think about something we all take for granted: the right to know.