Who Should Care if Reporters Are Harassed? You.

On Feb. 17, members of Pakistan's secret service, the ISI, broke into the offices of the News, the country's most-influential English-language daily, according to the newspaper's former editor.

The government was upset with a story the News had planned to run the next day, the editor, Shaheen Sehbai, told ABCNEWS.

Late that same night, or early the following morning, Sehbai says he also got a call from the government's chief information officer demanding they pull the story.

When he refused, the information officer asked the publisher of the News to fire Sehbai. The government also pulled all its advertising from the News and its sister publications.

But in a little more than a week, Sehbai himself resigned. It had only been days since the world learned about Daniel Pearl, the American reporter who was kidnapped and killed while trying to pursue a story about Islamic militants.

Sehbai, a veteran journalist with over three decades of experience, knew there was a possibility he might meet a similar fate. Three weeks ago, he arrived in the United States fearing for his safety — and vowing to fight another day.

Untold Sacrifices

For thousands of journalists around the world, Sehbai's dilemma is far from unique.

Thousands of his colleagues regularly face the threat of beatings, arrests, censorship and harassment — and sometimes even death — for their work.

Click here to read about some of the more press-unfriendly nations of the world.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, more than 600 journalists or their news organizations were attacked in 2001. Another 118 are in jail for their work.

The CPJ says 37 journalists were killed in the line of duty last year — but very few were covering combat. Most were murdered in reprisal for their reporting on corruption and crime.

Daniel Pearl may have given special attention to the dangers regularly faced by journalists, but the lists of casualties issued by organizations like CPJ and Reporters Sans Frontieres every year are seldom noticed.

Many of the affected journalists are from countries like Algeria and Colombia, areas that are sparsely covered to begin with.

But journalists from these ranks say their stories and their lives do matter — not only because they are searching for the truth, but also because their work may have an effect on the war against terror.

The world's renewed vigilance against terror has reduced the value of press freedoms, exactly at the time they should be treasured, they said.

Implications for the War on Terror

In Sehbai's case, the story that brought him to blows with the government was directly related to the war on terror.

The story he refused to suppress was a confessional statement given by Sheik Ahmed Omar Saeed, the Islamic militant accused of masterminding the plot against Daniel Pearl.

In that statement, Saeed asserted that he also had a role in last December's terrorist attacks on the Indian Parliament.

The article also linked Saeed to Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI. According to the newspaper report, he told investigators that ISI operatives helped him finance and plan the attack.

In other words, he linked a key American ally in the war on terror with an act of terror itself. Subsequent reports by American media outlets have also hinted at links between Saeed and at least rogue elements of the ISI.

The Pakistani government has denied such allegations, calling them wild and baseless.

Experts said this situation underscores the importance of press freedoms, not only in America, but around the world.

"You cannot make good policy without good information," said Joel Simon, deputy director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Unnecessary Roughness

Many journalists are warning, as Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham did this month, against using the war on terror as "a pretext for repression."

In November, a Pew Research Poll of Americans found that half of the respondents felt the military should exert more control over news about the war, and 40 percent thought the media should decide how to report it.

Kavi Chongkittavorn, editor of Thailand's The Nation, one of the most influential dailies in Southeast Asia, said similar circumstances exist in his country, traditionally home to one of the freest presses in the region.

Thailand was recently the focus of media criticism after it threatened to expel two journalists from the Far Eastern Economic Review for reporting on poor relations between the prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, and King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Chongkittavorn said the prime minister has tightened his grip on the press in a quest for absolute power, and that he has been encouraged by Washington's interest in having Thai cooperation in the war on terror.

The government has begun rewarding friendly publications with advertising revenue, and withholding it from unfriendly ones, Chongkittavorn said.

Chongkittavorn added that the prime minister has tried to buy media outlets, attacked the credibility of prominent journalists he didn't like, and withheld access to himself and certain government officials from some publications he didn't like.

"Thailand for the first time is making Malaysia and Burma feel at home," he said.

Malaysia and Burma are notoriously press-unfriendly countries. Since 1984, Malaysia has required journalists to get licenses annually. Because they must pass the scrutiny of the government every year, such a policy in effect compels journalists there to self-censor.

In Burma, the government is extremely sensitive to bad news and criticism. Something as harmless as an anti-government joke can lead to summary imprisonment.

Dangerous Precedent

The new confidence in state-controlled media has myriad dangerous consequences, many journalists said.

The press' job is to expose corruption, they said. But when there are handicaps on an independent press, corruption is allowed to thrive.

As a result, "there is so much disappointment, so much frustration that people turn to terrorism and all kinds of desperate acts," Sebhai said.

In Pakistan, journalists are prohibited from covering allegations of corruption involving the military, Sehbai said, — even though the military has provided the bulk of Pakistan's leaders for the 50-plus years of its existence.

And when these rules are violated, there are huge prices to be paid. Sehbai still remembers what happened when one of his chief reporters decided to go ahead with a report on a general: He was "taken from his car, and beaten blue and black with jackboot marks all over his shoulders," Sehbai said.

Extreme Examples

When state controls on the press are taken to an extreme, the results can be ridiculous.

In notoriously insular North Korea, on Sept. 12, the day after what many journalists consider the biggest story in their lifetimes, "America in great panic" was only the second story reported.

The top story, according to the electronic archives of the official Korean Central News Agency, was entitled, "Joint seminar of Russian Juche idea study groups held."

In Myanmar there was hardly any news about Sept. 11 at all. The electronic archives of the official New Light of Myanmar shows that on Sept. 12, the top story was entitled "Special Refresher Course No 11 for Basic Education Teachers of CICS (Upper Myanmar) concludes."

State television ignored the attacks, and government newspapers only mentioned them in passing, according to the CPJ. Vendors selling copies of Sept. 11 coverage even had their merchandise confiscated, and were threatened with arrest.

Even news of the government's letter of condolence to the United States was delayed by several days, the CPJ said.

And after President Bush used his first State of the Union address on Jan. 30 to condemn Iran, Iraq and North Korea as part of an "axis of evil" threatening world peace, the KCNA did not run any story on the speech until more than a month later.

On March 12, citing statements by a number of countries including Cuba, Finland, and Cambodia, the KCNA submitted an article entitled "Bush's remarks on "axis of evil" denounced worldwide."

Click here to read about some of the more press-unfriendly nations of the world.