Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category


How Comics Empowered Me

I read a lot of comic books when I was a kid and it’s fair to say that they influenced my decision to become a journalist.

Lois Lane and Clark Kent have a lot to answer for. I might be in mid-thirties but I still have my trusty worn-out Superman sweatshirt I curl up into after spending intense days either working on investigations or sharing remarkable stories in ways that will make them interesting to a global audience. My job as a journalist at the BBC is a varied one and everywhere I go, I pop a pen and a notepad into my bag – because you just never know when a story is going to unfold in front of you. It’s a lesson I picked up at an early age thanks to roving reporter Lois Lane.

I wish I had her fashion sense but for now, I’m just pleased that she helped me find a career that I quite enjoy.

It’s not to say I didn’t have other female journalist heroes. Much like Donatello, Raphael, Leonardo and Michelangelo from the TV series the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – I too was a little bit in awe of “determined TV news reporter” April O’Neil. She was always getting up to adventures and helping them out. Surely that’s what being a reporter was about? These were strong women and I admired them.

Elizabeth Wakefield in the Sweet Valley High book series, Lynda Day in the British children’s television series Press Gang; these were accessible role models whose love of journalism and telling stories and being powerful female figures were all influential as I hit my teenage years.

I moved on and started devouring newspapers and books. I loved Mary Wollstonecraft’s writing. I was lucky that I wasn’t a shy adolescent – at least when it came to being curious about the world. In everything else, I felt like I was on the fringes of whatever “normality” was. But if there was anything to do with storytelling in whatever medium then I’d put myself forward. Work as a children’s bookseller? Yes please. Help set up a youth magazine for my borough so people my age can tell our stories? Of course.

When I got older, my local paper asked me to write a column about what life was like for a girl from a working class background to study English Language and Literature at the hallowed halls of Oxford University. It was there I saw first-hand how if I was to succeed in a highly competitive environment, I needed chutzpah. I needed to take ownership of my writing and believe in my capabilities. I also soon realised I needed to learn the art of networking – something incredibly key for any journalist to be good at. It’s through our networks we find out opportunities, are able to help each other, and get our stories the exposure they deserve.

What drives me is telling a good story. I began my career in local newspapers where I would go to court, inquests, carry out death knocks, write features, columns and learn how to make people accountable to the community around them. It was the best training any journalist could have. I then worked for an independent production company specialising in human rights stories – Insight News Television – where the documentary makers instilled in me an importance of remaining passionate about the story and the difference one journalist can make to the lives of so many others just by giving them space and a platform to share their experiences.

And then I ended up at the BBC, where I’ve been for the past nine years. I’ve worked in a variety of departments, on youth programmes, investigations, the website, World Service radio, digital newsgathering, the business unit and partnership projects. I’ve won awards and worked with the best in the industry – people whom I am in awe of everyday. I am a digital storytelling specialist and I’m glad I’ve moved across departments and allowed my passion for finding ways to stories in creative ways to drive my ambitions. One day I’ll be a verificationista – debunking fake news and investigating emerging breaking news stories; the next I’ll be figuring out the best way to get people to share a story focusing on economics and making it relatable to their lives. Then again, perhaps I’ll be popping up on a Facebook Live or researching inspirational stories of innovation.

Of course it’s difficult to be a woman working in this industry; especially when you begin to realise the importance of having a degree of a work/life balance. Life and its associated challenges doesn’t stop. We’ve all got families and commitments. But journalism is a profession which is hard to fit into a normal eight hour slot. Stories emerge at any time; or you have to follow up at times convenient to the person you need to interview. It’s key to build a strong support network around you who can help you achieve your ambitions as well as make sure you don’t sacrifice everything for work. Here at the BBC, I tried to be involved with the organisation’s pioneering Global Women in News network at its founding stages. It’s an amazing support network. I’m surrounded by amazing women producers and journalists whom I learn from every day. Women who are juggling families, caring responsibilities, multiple projects at work but still produce some incredibly creative interviews and ideas because they love their jobs so much despite its demanding nature.

And of course it’s hard not to be affected by some stories that you work on. I started at the BBC’s User Generated Content Hub when the Arab Spring kicked off in 2011.  I have extensive experience working on disinformation, of working on stories of school shootings and murders; terror attacks and other traumatic reports; of seeing unspeakable acts. But that’s when the art of resilience plays a role. I took my experiences and made them into something to learn from.

I was selected for an Ochberg Fellowship focusing on trauma journalism at the Dart Centre for Journalism and Trauma at Columbia University. My interest in that and wanting to be a better storyteller led to another fellowship, this time a Rotary International Peace Fellowship focusing on peace and conflict – something that underpins everything we do as journalists. I took a career break to do this professional development course because it was important for me to embark on this path and meet with non-journalists who worked in this field. If I understood why people worked in war zones; took up careers as peace activists; I felt I would be able to tell their stories better. I’d have more context. It’s important to defend press freedom but first I felt I needed to understand more about whose voices were the ones that people in positions of power want to suppress and why.

I’m back in London right now and currently am with the BBC’s Business and Economics Unit helping to demystify the world of business so that people understand how it affects their daily lives no matter where they are.  It’s a challenge, but then again, every role I’ve ever done has been.

In my career at the BBC I’ve been fortunate to work on big projects. One of which was called What Does Freedom Look Like? We asked the world to share their images of freedom. The season had a massive effect on me. Everything I do now I think about how as a journalist at the BBC, I am in a privileged position; able to give people a voice. When I worked on that project, I came up with the idea of creating a superhero especially for our season. We eventually commissioned a wordless comic which was shared across the World Service and our language services focusing on the idea of freedom. It was a success.

And me – I still read a lot of comic books and they still help me be a better journalist.

I have a dream – shh – that one day I’ll make it into a comic book. Maybe other kids, who don’t quite fit in will see my story and understand that it doesn’t matter what they look like, what they identify as, or what their background is; if they want to be storytellers too and they’ve got the determination to succeed, they can do it.

It won’t be easy but they can do it.

Dhruti Shah shares her story with the SPJ International Community as part of the women’s series for #PressFreedomMatters. She is an award-winning journalist, 2017 Rotary International Peace Fellow, 2015/2016 Ochberg Fellow and strategizes and produces the social media output for the BBC’s Business and Economics Unit. You can follow Shah on Twitter, Facebook, website and personal blog to keep up with her work.

If you or someone you know would like to share your narrative, please fill out the following form and a member of the International Community will contact the nominee. 

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Daring to be Courageous in Work ‘That is Dangerous For Women’

Jodi_headshotFrom childhood I always believed I would be an artist, like many of my relatives. My paternal grandmother was a printmaker, my grandfather, an architect and an amateur bronze sculptor. My uncle was an accomplished painter and my mother a potter. But sometime near the end of my time as a college art-major, I veered off the art path.  I got interested in street photography and made a series of black and white prints from my travels along the U.S. –Mexican border.  My interest in the social and humanitarian dimension of the border and immigration led me to wonder how to best tell the stories I had experienced en route.

Long story short, I asked my mentor, a man who ran one of the best art-printing labs in the country, what he thought of my idea to become a photojournalist. Here was a prominent man, trusted by the best art photographers to handprint their portfolios, and friend to many of them as well.

My mentor told me that photojournalism was dangerous, and maybe not a good choice for a woman.

The last part stunned me. After all, I was raised to the “Free to Be You and Me” soundtrack, songs that championed the idea that girls could do anything boys could do (and vice verse). My mother is good with a drill and a belt sander and my father has no problem managing a load of dishes.

Riot police fired tear gas against protesters in Taksim Square in Istanbul on June 11, 2013, the 11th day of the Gezi Park anti-government protests engulfed many Turkish cities. Photo by Jodi Hilton

So, I dismissed my mentor’s advice, and took it as a dare: I would prove him wrong. I would be daring and courageous. During my first years as a photojournalist, I worked in newspapers. Interspersed with the more mundane assignments, I chased ambulances, photographed fires, floods and other disasters. In Ecuador I photographed street protests, in Honduras, ultra-violent Mara gangs. I eventually relocated to Turkey, where I covered many more protests, including the Gezi uprising that often featured violent conflict between protesters and police. I traveled across the border to Syria where internally displaced people were camped near the Turkish border and gunshots rang out in the distance. In Northern Iraq, I visited the Peshmerga frontline and through binoculars took a look at the black flag-bearing trucks that marked the ISIS frontline.

 

Fljurija Katunari, 18, with her two month-old daughter Elvira in a shack on the outskirts of Belgrade. Seventeen years after the war in Kosovo ended, many Kosovar-Roma families lack the documents, including a simple ID card, that would entitle them to social benefits, health care and the right to work. Photo by Jodi Hilton

My courage grew alongside my portfolio, and I thought that being in the middle of the action was actually a good choice for a woman, at least for a woman like me.

And then something happened. I’m not sure exactly when it started. But somehow over the last years I stopped longing to feel the thrill and adrenaline of an escalating situation. I had proved that I could be courageous in the face of danger. I needed a more compelling direction. It came to me shortly after I got rid of my gas mask; I rediscovered my initial keen interest in documenting human rights stories, and in particular, the plight of refugees, who are forced to leave their home as a matter of survival.

So now, my work is mostly focused on the everyday lives of people struggling to survive. I try to transmit empathy through my photographs, so that others may also see their humanity. Rather than capturing peak action, I’m trying to make nuanced images that initiate questions and encourage viewers to put themselves in the shoes of someone different than themselves.

Jodi Hilton photographing during a riot at the Hungarian border checkpoint in October of 2015. Photo by Maciej Moskwa

I’ve found that my art background is increasingly informing my work, too, as I look for any possible angle (using light, color, composition) to draw attention to the situations I’m documenting.

Now is the time to go back to my mentor, and tell him he was right, but that he was also wrong.

Because photojournalism isn’t only about covering battles, and the requisite courage needed to face down danger. It is just as much about empathy, expressing nuance. And art.

—–

Jodi’s is a photojournalist currently located in Sofia, Bulgaria. Her work has appeared on The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Time, Vocativ, GlobalPost, National Geographic, Der Spiegel, PRI and National Public Radio. You can see more of her work on her website. You can also following her on Twitter or Facebook.

If you or someone you know would like to share your narrative, please fill out the following form and a member of the International Community will contact the nominee. 

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Media Coverage of Asylum Does Not Have to be a Part of Its Humanitarian Aspect

A month ago I attended the Nobel Peace Conference in Germany. We were talking about the political situation in the world and the asylum that has become the top priority of the countries of the world. I remember specifically the story of a Syrian refugee who came out of the Syrian regime in a prisoner exchange deal, telling us her story and the death of her husband under torture.

It is a humanitarian story that summarizes the definition of asylum within some lines.

The media presentation of any asylum case should not aim to make a scoop with what is contained in documents and exclude talking about the humanitarian portion.

In the coverage of asylum news, the picture may differ from the publication of any other news. The life of the refugee and the consequences of publication are more important than the scope, that many media sources seek to do it throughout the Arab region, not only Jordan.

In one way or another, I had to remove this garment, “the journalist’s obsession with the scope,” to start following the cases in depth, highlighting the consequences in the refugee camps as a result of war, asylum and displacement rather than trying to shed light on the consequences of economic and political asylum on Jordan. We are talking about human stories that have suffered and are still suffering as a result of this asylum.

It is a complex crisis that cannot consider one part without the others.

In addition to the importance of maintaining the security of the refugee and the confidentiality of sources of information in light of the policies that intimidated the refugees from the “slander” which the government has repeatedly denied.

Although the issue of asylum has become an important part of the priorities of many female human rights defenders; several violations have been deliberately or unintentionally inflicted on the refugees as a result of political agendas that have paid for them, media coverage has continued to talk about the political and economic consequences of asylum.

Writing my story in asylum is not easy in the presence of a societal culture enshrined by the government and others by placing the Syrian asylum as the “cradle” of the country’s economic, political and social crises. Which means colliding not only with the government and organizations but also by fighting a hate speech that policies have contributed in one way or another to strengthen it. Both citizens and refugees have become victims.

The most important thing to be done by a journalist who deals with asylum issues with its human dimensions, is to clash with the very old and obsolete accusation which is the saying: She is the owner of foreign agendas.

I had faced this in the beginning of my media coverage for asylum news.

The question is have some of the headlines in the provocative media played a role in promoting hate speech towards refugees?

What happened in the follow-up to the file of asylum media was addressing the official letters related to the file of the Syrian refugees and publishing it without any analysis or considering other points of view, which clearly supported increasing the hate speech towards the refugees and changed the public opinion of continuing opening of the border to the Syrian refugees.

The hate speech in some headlines was twofold: first, the lack of objectivity in the official discourse, without any scrutiny and focus on hateful terminology and concepts, where the matter was left to reporters to interpret, by ignoring the other side.

The hate speech in some headlines was twofold. First, the lack of objectivity in the official discourse, without any scrutiny and focus on hateful terminology and concepts, where the matter was left to reporters to interpret, by ignoring the other side. Second, it is to focus on negative, not humanitarian, issues of refugees (such as crime and high unemployment).

Unfortunately, some websites and journalists do not comply with the legal text in the publications. Article 7 of the Jordanian Publications Law stipulates that the print and the journalist must not spread hatred among the people, and all those on the land of the Kingdom. Except as provided for in article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which provides for the prohibition of any “advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence”.

As a result of many press and media coverage of asylum news that has been in the context of a systematic or nonsystematic “hate speech” that results from a lack of knowledge of human rights and criteria for covering asylum news by choosing terminology that avoids falling into the quagmire of hate speech.

The importance of female journalists knowing about the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and belief in them is important for following this file, which can not be cut off from it. Its consequences are not known or notable for some of us because you are shedding light on the right of living for a person who the life imposed him a painful reality.

As part of the coverage of the media coverage of asylum in its humanitarian dimensions, we find that the one who is keen on this dimension in media coverage in Jordan are female journalists specializing in human rights (Nadine Nimri, Rania Sarayra and Samar Haddadin, for example).

In the end, we have the right to defend the rights in our writing because it is in defense of our rights in this life. We must live away from political agendas, away from beliefs and customs, and even from what is being traded (security and safety).

And yes, there is a price and there are consequences for everyone who seeks to highlight the importance of preserving and establishing these rights, but life in dignity and defending these rights is always worth standing up to anyone who violates them only to have power.

So, I begin working with this platform #PressFreedomMatters to promote the role of female journalists in activating the fourth authority (the media) in combating the violation of these rights and ensuring the continuation of their work without any legal or political threats or obstacles.

—–

Hebatulahayat Obeidat began her career as a radio journalist for Albalad. She spent eight years in Jordan where she conducted training on election coverage, news writing and debates in Jordan, Yemen and Libya. She is a producer and presenter for the news and radio program on political and human rights. She is a member of The Regional Alliance for Human Rights Defenders in the Middle East and North Africa. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.  Her contribution above was translated from Arabic to English.

If you or someone you know would like to share your narrative, please fill out the following form and a member of the International Community will contact the nominee. 

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Rebecca Baker Reflects on World Journalism Conference in Seoul

     After traveling more than 6,000 miles to attend the World Journalists Conference in South Korea, I was prepared for culture shock. I was prepared to hear about the wide-ranging experiences journalists face in far-flung countries. I was prepared to hear stories far different from my own.
     What I wasn’t prepared for was learning how journalists around the world are all dealing with the same things: Layoffs and cutbacks. Concern about career opportunities. Annoying bosses and bureaucratic corporate culture. Frustration over government obfuscation.
     One of the most striking conversations was with female journalists from India, Australia and Iran, three of the most different places one can imagine. And yet we all shared a similar experience—sexist, misogynistic comments from trolls on our stories. In one case, a reporter was attacked for simply encouraging racial and gender diversity among financial advisors. Some were more severe than others, but what amazed me was how each moved past the disparaging remarks—and threats, in some cases—to continue doing important reporting on social issues. As the saying goes, nevertheless, they persisted.
     Despite our different backgrounds, we shared a passion for news stories, for uncovering wrongdoing, for affecting positive change. We had other traits in common—similar senses of humor, a healthy skepticism of authority and a general disdain of pomp and circumstance. It’s what bonded us, to some degree, and created friendships that I hope continue for years to come.
     I left the conference with a new appreciation of the work that journalists are doing in counties such as Serbia, Argentina and Italy. The journalists I met may not be aware of SPJ’s Code of Ethics, but they are meeting those standards every day. They are seeking truth and reporting it, acting independently; being accountable and transparent and minimizing harm. They reminded me of the importance of the work we do and the work that SPJ fights for and champions year after year.
     The journalists I met deserve a toast for their hard work and dedication. I raise a glass to them all.
—–

Rebecca Baker is managing editor of the New York Law Journal, the largest-circulation legal daily newspaper in the country. She has been a reporter for The (Bergen) Record in New Jersey, The Journal News in Westchester County, New York, and the New Haven Register in Connecticut.

She is a member of SPJ’s national board as Region 1 Director, overseeing all student and professional SPJ chapters in the Northeast. She is on the advisory council of The Deadline Club in New York City, where she also served as president, awards contest chairwoman and events chairwoman.

More than 90 journalists from over 55 countries gathered from April 2-8 for the World Journalists Conference in South Korea. The Society of Professional Journalists represented by Lynn Walsh, Rebecca Baker and Elle Toussi attended the conference. For more information about the conference and any other international journalism conferences please reach out to the SPJ International Community here.
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Press freedom orgs react to massacre of journalists in Paris

The Society of Professional Journalists International Community joins the worldwide outcry against the murder of 12 journalists in Paris Tuesday.

Masked gunmen entered the offices of the French weekly satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo the morning of Jan. 7, opening fire with semiautomatic weapons on staff, including prominent editors and cartoonists of the publication, according to a New York Times article.

Media outlets report the attack came from Muslim extremists as a result of the paper’s satirical depictions of Prophet Muhammad.

“Extremists feel emboldened to attack and kill journalists anywhere in the world for lampooning religion or reporting on political and governmental activities,” said SPJ President Dana Neuts. “Such outrageous attempts to silence journalists will not be tolerated or successful.” (Read full SPJ statement here)

French President Francois Hollande described the attack as an act of terrorism and vowed to protect freedom of speech in the nation.

“No barbaric act will ever extinguish freedom of the press,” Hollande said in a statement on his official Facebook page. “We are a country which will unite and stand together.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists described the shooting as “the worst attack on the media since the 2009 Maguindanao massacre in the Philippines,” where 57 people, most of them journalists, were killed by gunmen while en route to cover a local election.

“An attack of this nature in Paris shows that threats against freedom of expression are global, no region is safe from it,” CPJ posted on twitter, while also changing its profile picture to a black background with the words “Je Suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) printed across.

Since 2011, the offices of Charlie Hebdo have been under police protection after the paper was fire-bombed shortly after publishing a cartoon depicting Prophet Muhammad, according to the French-based agency Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontiers).

“This terrorist attack marks a black day in the history of France,” said Reporters Without Borders Secretary General Christophe Deloire, who was at the scene of the shooting.

SPJ member Jennifer Karchmer, who lives in Montpellier, France, and happens to be visiting a fellow journalist in Paris, shared her account of the day’s events:

“We’ve learned the city is under high alert but are considering attending a public demonstration being held at Place de la Republique,” Karchmer said. “We are watching CNN international news and monitoring social media.

“I am in touch with friends in the south of France where I live in Montpellier and they are attending demonstrations to condemn the attacks. The entire country is worried, shocked and responding. The French do not miss a beat. A list of cities with planned demonstrations was published soon after the attacks.”

Karchmer, who has worked as a correspondent for Reporters Without Borders, said today’s shootings are “an egregious attack on freedom of speech and freedom of information.”

“Working in France would seem a safe place to publish and print, yet after today, we realize we are living under new pressures to censor information,” she said.

More comments on the attack from press freedom organizations around the world:

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Open season on journalists in Paraguay

Impunity for the murder of journalists is hardly a new phenomenon in Latin America, but the ambush-style killings of four Paraguayan journalists in a year and a half has stirred domestic and international outrage and plunged an already beleaguered government into crisis.

Pablo Medina. Photo courtesy of ABC Color

Pablo Medina. Photo courtesy of ABC Color

The most recent killing was that of Pablo Medina, 53, an investigative reporter for the country’s leading daily, ABC Color, who was gunned down on the afternoon of Oct. 16 while returning from an assignment in Canindeyu department near the Brazilian border, a hotbed of marijuana cultivation and drug smuggling. He was shot four times in the chest and face with a 9-mm pistol and once with a shotgun by two men on motorcycle wearing camouflage fatigues.

One of his passengers, Antonia Almada, 19, also was hit and died en route to a hospital. Her younger sister, Juana, escaped unhurt.

Suspicion focused immediately on the mayor of the town of Ypehu, Vilmar “Neneco” Acosta, scion of a politically connected family suspected of large-scale marijuana cultivation and trafficking, as the intellectual author of the ambush. Juana Almada identified one of the gunmen as Acosta’s brother, Wilson. The two brothers are subjects of an Interpol warrant and are believed hiding in Brazil, where Vilmar Acosta has dual nationality and, reportedly, political friends.

Medina, who had worked for ABC since 1998, had received numerous death threats for his reporting on drug trafficking in Curuguaty department and had been under police protection for a time. His brother Salvador, a radio journalist, was murdered there in 2001, apparently by drug traffickers. His murder remains unsolved.

President Horacio Cartes, elected in 2013, decried the murders of Medina and Almada and told journalists, “I feel like we’ve all been killed.”

His government came under intense domestic and international pressure to bring the killers to justice. The Paraguayan Journalists Union, Catholic Church, Inter American Press Association, Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and the director of UNESCO all demanded action.

Paraguay is a landlocked country of 6.7 million people with an area the size of California. Courtesy of the CIA's World Factbook

Paraguay is a landlocked country of 6.7 million people with an area the size of California. Courtesy of the CIA’s World Factbook

A major break in the case came with the arrest on Dec. 8 of Arnaldo Cabrera, Vilmar Acosta’s driver. Reportedly embittered that he had been abandoned in a remote area without money or weapons and fearing for his own life, Cabrera confirmed that Wilson Acosta was one of the gunmen and that the other was the two brothers’ nephew, Flavio Acosta.

Cabrera said Vilmar Acosta planned Medina’s death in July, at his birthday party, surrounded by family. He claimed Acosta wanted revenge because Medina’s reporting had led to Vilmar Acosta and his father, Vidal, being convicted and imprisoned in 2011. Medina had reported that human remains were buried on the Acostas’ ranch. Investigators unearthed three skeletons.

Ironically, when Medina was gunned down, he was working on a story about pesticide contamination in local soybean plantations, not marijuana trafficking.

“It was a tragic event that has affected us very much,” said ABC reporter Natalia Daporta in an email. The paper carries daily updates on developments—or lack of them—in the investigation.

Public protests, a rarity in Paraguay until the recent advent of social media, erupted after Medina’s death, prompting the Congress in November to launch a 45-day investigation, which has been shrouded in secrecy. The lower house also impeached two Supreme Court justices on suspicion of having been overly lenient toward drug traffickers, and forced the resignation of a third. The justices had been instrumental in overturning a ban on Vilmar Acosta’s running for mayor because of his dual citizenship, and they released him from prison two days before he was elected mayor!

 "WANTED," declares this poster published by ABC Color of Vilmar Acosta, the accused intellectual author of the Oct. 16 ambush murder of ABC investigative reporter Pablo Medina. Acosta's brother and nephew were identified as the triggermen. All three are subjects of an Interpol warrant and are believed to be hiding in Brazil.

“WANTED,” declares this poster published by ABC Color of Vilmar Acosta, the accused intellectual author of the Oct. 16 ambush murder of ABC investigative reporter Pablo Medina. Acosta’s brother and nephew were identified as the triggermen. All three are subjects of an Interpol warrant and are believed to be hiding in Brazil.

Medina had dubbed Congresswoman Cristina Villalba the drug dealers’ “godmother” and alleged she was Vilmar Acosta’s protector. Villalba admitted Acosta had telephoned her after Medina’s death to proclaim his innocence. She volunteered to acquiesce her legislative immunity to be investigated if requested by a judge; no judge has yet requested it.

Paraguayans, and international journalism organizations, are now watching to see how seriously the government seeks to extradite the Acostas from Brazil, whether the investigation will uncover their collusion with governmental officials and, if so, whether anything will be done.

“CPJ is encouraged by the initial progress made by Paraguayan authorities in the murder of Pablo Medina and Antonia Almada,” commented Carlos Lauria, Americas program coordinator for CPJ. “But authorities must now ensure that all those involved in the crime, including the mastermind, are brought to justice.”

Brazilian Attorney General Rodrigo Janot pledged on Dec. 16 to make every effort to capture the suspects.

Paraguay, a landlocked country of 6.7 million people with an area the size of California, has a long history of dictatorship and corruption. The country was ruled by the autocratic Gen. Alfredo Stroessner from 1954 until he was overthrown in 1989. Its nascent democracy has been unstable, and two presidents have been impeached and removed. Transparency International ranks Paraguay the third most corrupt country in Latin America after Haiti and Venezuela. It has long been notorious for smuggling operations, first of stolen automobiles and contraband cigarettes, and in recent years of guns and drugs.

ABC Color newspaper offices in Asunción, Paraguay (Photo by Robert Buckman)

ABC Color newspaper offices in Asunción, Paraguay. Photo courtesy of Robert Buckman

ABC Color, founded in 1967 by businessman Aldo Zucolillo, is the dean of the country’s press. It was closed during the last five year’s of Stroessner’s regime for its overly aggressive reporting of public wrongdoing. It sells about 29,000 copies daily through street-corner kiosks.

There are now only two other dailies: Ultima Hora, which was closed for its aggressive reporting and biting editorials and cartoons for 30 days in 1979, and the younger, business-oriented La Nación. All are published in the capital, Asunción.

There are a handful of privately owned television stations with news operations, which are more reactive than proactive. The country’s most influential medium remains radio.

Thus, it is no surprise that the other three journalists slain since 2013 were all radio journalists.

Marcelino Vásquez, director of the radio station Sin Fronteras (Without Borders) in Pedro Juan Caballero on the Brazilian border, was gunned down by two men on a motorcycle on Feb. 6, 2013.

Fausto Gabriel Alcaraz, a reporter for Radio Amambay in Pedro Juan Caballero, was shot 11 times, also by two men on a motorcycle, on May 16, 2014.

Three weeks later, on June 9, Edgar Fernández Fleitas, an attorney who hosted a radio program called Ciudad de la Furia (City of Fury) for Radio Belén in the southern city of Concepción, was shot to death at his office. A suspect was arrested later that month, but the motive was unclear.

For decades, the so-called Tri-Border area where Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina meet has long been a lawless zone frequented by smugglers, Nazi fugitives and Islamic terrorists. Its subtropical climate, fecund soil and porous borders have made Paraguay Latin America’s second-largest marijuana producer after Mexico.

Robert Buckman, Ph.D., is an associate professor of communication and SPJ chapter adviser at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Buckman worked at the U.S. Embassy in Paraguay from 1977-79, when Stroessner was cracking down on the press’ attempts to report on corruption. He visited the offices of ABC Color during a trip to Paraguay in 2013.

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Gangs, Government and Journalism in El Salvador

An online newspaper in El Salvador is facing threats because of its stories about alleged negotiations between the government and criminal gangs.

The publication, El Faro, ran an article last week detailing a government deal to give certain benefits to jailed gang leaders like transfers to better prison facilities or even money if they would cut back on the violence.
El Salvador has the second highest homicide rate in the world (after Honduras) at 66 per 100,000 people and much of the killing is attributed to gangs.
In its stories, El Faro reported that after the alleged agreement was reached, only three murders were reported, down from an average of 14 per day.
In its article, El Faro reporters gave details of their conversation with a gang leader still on the streets. The gang member said murders planned for the very day that got the order to “calm down” were cancelled.
Imprisoned gang leaders did get transferred to another prison, but government officials deny striking any deal.
El Faro editor and founder Carlos Dada said in an email published by Spain’s El Pais newspaper that government sources have said that by publishing the article “El Faro’s risk level has greatly increased.”
Gangs have targeted journalists. In 2009, French documentary filmmaker Christian Poveda was killed in El Salvador after finishing an award-winning documentary, “La Vida Loca” on gang life in El Salvador.

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SPJ demands investigation of reporter’s death in Pakistan

On May 31, Asia Times Bureau Chief Sayed Saleem Shahzad was found dead about 150 miles outside of Islamabad. His death occurred after he had written a story linking the Pakistani military with terrorists believed to have orchestrated a recent raid of a naval base. Journalists in the country cried out and are blaming the nation’s secret service for his murder.

This comes as no surprise as Pakistan is currently ranked as the sixth most murderous country for free press in the world according the Committee to Protect Journalists’ 2011 Impunity Index. In a post for the Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News, ASU Hubert Humphrey Fellow Malik Siraj Akbar recounts his own frustrations with the free press horrors that are taking place in his homeland and the colleagues he has lost as a result.

[CORRECTION 6/09/11: The above word “recounts” has been corrected from “recants.”]

“The authorities have not investigated or punished those responsible for these killings,” Siraj said. “Worse still, official pressure on media outlets has led to a complete blackout of the news concerning their deaths.”

In response to the increase in violence targeting journalists, SPJ President Hagit Limor and the International Journalism Committee mailed a letter to Pakistan Ambassador Husain Haggani last Friday, demanding an official investigation into the death of Shahzad. Additional copies of the letter were sent to Ambassador Haggani’s email account and the office of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

You can read the full letter as posted below.

2 June 2011

To:             Hon. Husain Haqqani
Pakistan Ambassador to
The United States

Dear Ambassador Haqqani,

This letter to you and your government is an official statement from The Society of Professional Journalists and its International Journalism Committee on the recent death of journalist Saleem Shahzad, and the growing list of journalists killed in Pakistan for their professional work.

SPJ has been monitoring the plight of journalists in Pakistan and now must strongly protest against the violence that has befallen reporters, allegedly from elements of your country’s military.

Mr. Shahzad’s death so soon after he produced a story that raised questions about the relationship between Pakistani military officers and terrorist groups is alarming and raises our concern about press freedoms in your country.

Last year, eight professional journalists met violent deaths in Pakistan, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, making your country the most dangerous place on the planet to be a professional reporter – ahead of Iraq, Mexico and Honduras. In many of the killings in Pakistan, fellow journalists and international human rights organizations have publicly expressed suspicion that the crimes were acts of reprisal by members of your nation’s intelligence service and the military.

The danger that journalists face in Pakistan is a stark reminder that democracy cannot evolve to the benefit of the people without a professional and independent media which is free of selective pressure from government and overt and perceived threats of violence.

The Society of Professional Journalists, the oldest and largest professional organization of its kind in the United States, insists that journalists adhere to a strict code of ethics and a high standard of professional practice. More and more we are sharing our standards of practice with journalists around the world who seek to improve the quality of their work. We counsel our international associates that a journalist’s freedom of expression is a right that must be treated with respect. We insist that the best way to preserve that right is to practice journalism within a framework of high professional and ethical standards. It is, however, impossible to ask for media responsibility in an environment where journalists face government repression and repeated acts of violence.

Therefore, SPJ demands that the Pakistani government immediately launch an official investigation into Mr. Shahzad’s murder and into the violence that has turned so many journalists into victims in your country. Only a transparent and thorough investigation of this murder and of the violence aimed at journalists can lift the significant veil of international concern that hovers over your government’s relationship with the media.

SPJ and its International Journalism Committee are ready to participate and cooperate with your government in such an investigation, and in discussions on the future of press freedoms and responsibilities in Pakistan.

I am also ready to provide more details of our concerns in a conversation.

Thank you for considering our petition.

Sincerely,

Hagit Limor
President
The Society of Professional Journalists

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Some Updates from Asia

The China Daily published two interesting articles related to journalism this past week. The media panel of the Beijing-Tokyo Forum met recently to discuss how Japanese and Chinese media can foster a better understanding of each culture.

An editorial, also published on August 31st, expressed concern about political party and police interference with journalistic activities. “That a matter between a media organization and an enterprise which should and could have been resolved very well by the judiciary, if necessary, has evolved into one between the media and the local Party and government authorities,” the editorial stated, “is in itself a worrying phenomenon.”

The Indonesian Press Council expressed concern that a recent Supreme Court ruling in that country threatens press freedoms. The Jakarta Post reports that Erwin Arnada, the former chief editor of Playboy Indonesia, was convicted of public indecency under the country’s criminal code. The Press Council argues that Indonesia’s press law, which “regulates violations committed by the press,” should have been used instead. The Council is worried that the decision sets a precedent that future actions could be taken against media organizations using the country’s criminal code.

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No Reporting for 30 years!!

Here’s a new twist on how to limit press freedom in Iran — jail AND a three-decade ban on journalistic writing. Agence France Presse reports that Iran journalist Jila Baniyaghoob has gotten a one-year jail sentence for her reports tied to last year’s election unrest. Her punishment also prohibits her from writing for the next 30 years.

Both Baniyaghoob and her husband, economic journalist Bahman Ahmadi Amooi, were arrested last June for their reporting work. He got a five-year prison sentence for the articles that he wrote for now shuttered reformist newspapers.

The court considered Baniyaghoob’s reports on last year’s disputed presidential elections in iran to be anti-government.

Baniyaghoob is the recipient of the 2009 courage in journalism award from the International Women’s Media Foundation.

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