Posts Tagged ‘press freedom’

CPJ call to action

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

Tomorrow evening I will attend the Committee to Protect Journalists annual awards dinner honoring four courageous reporters with the 2010 International Press Freedom Award. I look forward to this night all year long — it continues to be one of the most inspiring evenings I have ever experienced. Tomorrow’s honorees include journalists from Venezuela, Iran, Ethiopia and Russia. Each have risked everything — often even their lives — to bring us the truth that we, as readers and citizens, deserve.

This year I want to post an appeal I received by email from Joel Simon, CPJ’s Executive Director, for contributions to CPJ’s Journalist Assistance Program. The program supports journalists who have been brutalized for doing their jobs by those who are enemies to truth and freedom. CPJ is an excellent organization and their work is vital to us all. I believe in their work wholeheartedly. For more information, visit their site.

Here is Joel’s note about the Journalist Assistance Program:

Help journalists in need: An appeal
By Joel Simon/CPJ Executive Director

Mikhail Beketov is lucky to be alive, although I’m sure there are days when he doesn’t think so. On November 13, 2008, the environmental reporter who campaigned against a highway that would have destroyed a forest in Khimki, a town outside Moscow, was beaten nearly to death by men with metal bars. The attackers made a special effort to destroy his hands and left him to die in the November cold. He would have if neighbors had not noticed him and called the police 24 hours after the attack.

Today, Beketov is confined to a wheelchair. He can no longer speak. He can no longer write. His mind appears intact, however, and he took great joy when we visited him at his Moscow hospital during a recent mission to Russia. CPJ board member Kati Marton described the afternoon we spent with him in a very moving blog. In a most outrageous development, while Beketov’s attackers walk free, the disabled editor is being dragged to court by Khimki Mayor Vladimir Strelchenko–the official who sponsored the highway Beketov so sharply criticized. Strelchenko–whom Beketov’s colleagues and friends suspect to be the man who ordered the November attack–filed a criminal defamation suit against the journalist. Reports tell us that despite serious health concerns, Beketov is being forced to appear in court, driven in an ambulance.

Through our Journalist Assistance program, CPJ has been providing Beketov with financial support since the attack. But it became clear to us during our visit that he will need care for the rest of his life. We pledged to help Beketov find the care he needs. We are currently researching options for underwriting long-term help, but in the interim CPJ will provide financial assistance.

We are seeking donations to CPJ’s Journalists Assistance Fund, which will be used not only to support Beketov, but dozens of journalists around the world who are victims of violence and repression.

Here are a few examples:

CPJ helped Kalundi Robert Sserumaga, a well-known Ugandan journalist and author, with his medical bills and general support after local authorities detained him for four days on charges of sedition. While in state custody, Sserumaga was beaten, threatened with death, and denied medical attention.

Syrgak Abdyldayev, a Kyrgyz reporter, was stabbed and beaten in March 2009 by an unidentified attacker. Abdyldayev, a political reporter and commentator with the independent newspaper Reporter-Bishkek, was hospitalized with 21 stab wounds, two broken arms, and crushed shoulders. CPJ sent funds for medical treatment and general support.

Tika Bista, a reporter for the Nepalese local daily Rajdhani, was critically injured in a knife attack in December 2009. CPJ sent funds for emergency medical treatment and also helped support her family during her recovery.

All contributions to CPJ’s Journalist Assistance Fund will go directly to journalists in need. CPJ already covers the full cost of administering the Journalist Assistance program, including researching cases, delivering financial assistance, and providing non-financial support including help with resettlement.

What this means is that every dollar that you contribute–whether its $500, $100, or $10–will go directly to journalists in need. And the entire amount is tax deductible. Please make a donation now to support CPJ’s vital work.

Your gift may be worth double. If this is your first donation to CPJ, or you give more now than you’ve given before, CPJ Chairman Paul Steiger will match your contribution up to $500.

World Press Freedom Day

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

May 3 is World Press Freedom Day. But on this day, this year, I am not thinking about the dangers for the many journalists whose bylines I’ve come to associate with places like Mogadishu or Manila, Kabul, Moscow or Islamabad. It’s not because I don’t have immense respect for them and for the risks they take to bring their readers essential reports from some of the most dangerous, repressive corners of the world. I do.

But this year my thoughts are with those who rarely, if ever, get a byline. Yet these are the individuals without whom most foreign journalists – myself included – would never get a single story written.

These nameless men and women are the fixers, the translators, the drivers, the local reporters and aspiring journalists who make the work of their foreign peers possible. They are brave and determined individuals who assume nearly all the risk for telling stories those in power would often rather stifle and who are far too rarely recognized for their efforts.

Of all the journalists who have died around the world because of their work, 90 percent are locals, according to CPJ. It is common that their murderers are never found, prosecuted or convicted.

I recently returned from a three-week reporting trip to the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was my second time there, covering stories primarily about women’s and children’s rights and sexual and gender-based violence. I was mostly in Bukavu and Goma, the regional capitals of South and North Kivu respectively, where violence and insecurity has been ongoing since the late 1990s.

Impunity and disregard for the rule of law is rife in Congo, a vast nation with a shoddy record of protecting the members of its media, especially in the east. Six journalists have been murdered since 2005, according to Reporters Without Borders, and three in Bukavu – one each in 2007, 2008 and 2009. Fixers are not immune. According to a 2004 CPJ report, Acquitté Kisembe, a fixer for Agence France-Presse, disappeared while on assignment in 2003. He was presumed dead.

Though Congo is seeing increased stability in some parts of the country, risks for journalists remain. On my first trip, last October, I reported on the death threats one month earlier made to three female journalists based in Bukavu.

On both trips I worked closely with a local interpreter whose assistance has come to be not just helpful, but a professional and personal necessity.

He, like so many of his colleagues around the world, guides me through every step of what I do in Congo. He’s found for me secure accommodations and reliable drivers to ferry me safely along eastern Congo’s gutted, perilous roads. He’s made contact with countless sources before I’m even in country to insure that I’ll have the story I’ve promised my editors. He’s spent hours helping me schedule interviews and translating them as we go. He never lets me walk into a police station or military compound alone. He tells me where I can go safely and where I can’t. I don’t question his judgment.

As we bump our way through Bukavu’s muddy streets, he shares his insider’s take on Congolese culture, politics and history. His lessons often become the silent background informing so much of what I write. And, no less important, he steers me to the best food and Internet connections in town. I’ve told him many times – and I can only hope he knows how sincere I am when I say this – I would be totally lost without him.

But his name goes nowhere on my stories. He’s a silent, but invaluable, partner. For me, this World Press Freedom Day is a reminder of my indebtedness to him and his colleagues everywhere.

At CPJ’s Impunity Summit, held last month at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Owais Aslam Ali, secretary-general of the Pakistan Press Foundation, underscored this point that unnamed locals are key to our work. Yet he felt that the international media community is not doing enough to protect and support those journalists and fixers upon whom we rely so heavily.

“This war is being covered by the foreign media on the cheap,” he said of the ongoing conflicts in Pakistan. The brunt of the dangers are being borne by the local media, he said, adding that they are pushing the limits of what they cover for, and because of, the foreign press.

Yet, Ali felt that there was scant support by the international media community for the journalists who take risks to bring us these stories, who become internally displaced as they flee their homes in the face of threats because of their work. He called the foreign media “callous” in this regard. The only journalist’s murder in the last decade to have been solved and prosecuted to a conviction in Pakistan was that of Daniel Pearl, an American, in 2002. But to Ali, the case was evidence that with international pressure, attention and support, there can be justice for all journalists, even when they are local.

So, today, I’ll be thinking about the names behind the names we see in print. I’ll be thanking them for their courage and tenacity and wisdom. I am grateful for the continuing work CPJ does to protect the fixers (here are some recent examples: I hope that others at the Summit heard what I did from Ali – that when we speak up for journalists, let’s not speak only for those whose names appear in print.

(this post was written for the blog of the Committee to Protect Journalist)