Posts Tagged ‘Committee to Protect Journalists’


Reporters Without Borders: Dictators Quoting Trump in Press Crackdowns

The image of the United States as a bastion of freedom seems to have done a 180-degree turn, with authoritarian regimes around the planet now quoting President Trump as they crack down on free speech and press, warns media watchdog group Reporters Without Borders.

The group makes this observation as 234 Americans face severe criminal penalties after they were rounded up at the Inauguration Day protests in Washington, D.C., in January, putting a chill on protected speech and the right to assemble. Many of Trump’s counterparts approve of such crackdowns. Listening to these leaders’ anti-media tirades, one can easily imagine the same words coming from Trump.

Thailand’s Prime Minister mentioned “fake reports and hate speech” in his recent announcement of a crackdown on the media.

President Donald J. Trump and First Lady Melania Trump pose for photos with Thailand Prime Minister, Pryut Chan-o-Cha and his wife Assoc. Prof. Madam Naraporn Chan-o-Cha in the Oval Office at the White House, Monday, October 2, 2017, in Washington, D.C. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

“I don’t want to make enemies. But society needs to function in an orderly fashion,” the Bangkok Post quotes Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, leader of the military junta that took over the nation in a coup in 2014. “No matter who you are, if you twist the facts, write what is not true or incite hatred, you will face legal action.”

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen, meanwhile, has voiced bilious support for Trump’s attacks on CNN. The long-serving leader has been busy shutting down media outlets like the Cambodia Daily ahead of the nation’s 2018 general elections.

“CNN deserves the rantings of President Donald Trump,” said the former Khmer Rouge official. “His rantings are right. I would like to send a message to the president that your attack on CNN is right. American media is very bad.”

Dictators Cozy Up to Trump and His ‘Fake News’

Reporters Without Borders sees a clear danger to American democracy and the resulting global ripples of Trump’s all-out assault on facts and the free press. This could be the first time the United States has reversed course and found itself encouraging rather than discouraging dictators from stifling freedoms.

“The phenomenon of ‘fake news’ is a serious one—both at the national and international level,” Margaux Ewen, advocacy and communications director for the group’s North America Bureau, told me in a recent interview. “Opponents of press freedom all over the world have used the term to silence and discredit the media. They have even gone so far as to quote statements from President Trump to support and justify their misdirected policies and draconian laws.

“Authoritarian regimes all over the world can now take full advantage of this anti-media stance by discrediting mainstream news coverage and calling it ‘fake news.’ There are serious global implications of President Trump’s stance against the media.”

U.S. Reporter Faces 70 Years in Prison…for Reporting

The 234 defendants, or the “J20,” as they’re being called, include Santa Fe, N.M.-based journalist Aaron

Cantú. He was rounded up en masse during the Inauguration Day arrests while reporting on the ground, and now faces 70 years behind bars. Reporters Without Borders is watching his case with deep concern about the future of America’s press freedoms.

 

“At the time of his arrest in January, we publicly admonished his arrest and charges,” Ewen told me. “No journalist should be arrested and charged with a criminal offense for simply doing their job covering a protest.”

Big Moment for Democracy as Reporter Goes to Trial

Cantú emailed me this statement as he prepares his defense against the sort of crackdown we are used to seeing done only by authoritarian regimes.

“While I appreciate the outsized attention my case has gotten because of my profession, the entirety of the J20 prosecution is a watershed moment for how the state conceives of and persecutes political activism in the Trump era. These mass trials confirm some of the worst fears about a so-called law-and-order presidential administration that is hypersensitive to criticism, and should be watched closely by anybody concerned with the direction of this country.”

‘No Easy Fix’ for U.S. Press Freedom

Once America jumps down that anti-media rabbit hole, it’s going to be an epic struggle to get out of it, says Reporters Without Borders.

“Unfortunately, there is no easy fix for this erosion of trust in the media,” said Ewen.

Ewen says Americans need to become more media savvy, which may be too big a hurdle.

“Double checking sources and facts, consuming news from established and unbiased outlets, and running the story by a few different sources are just a few ways to verify the information available to the reader,” said Ewen.

Ultimately, though, the future of press freedom is in the hands of the man at the top. Unless he changes course, Trump could do lasting damage to American democracy, said Ewen.

“Until President Trump learns to accept criticism from the media and starts respecting the First Amendment, press freedom in the U.S. will continue to be undermined, putting American democracy at risk.”

 

War Against Journalists Continues in Mexico

The latest victim in attacks against journalists in Mexico is Anabel Flores Salazar, a reporter in Veracruz.

Mexican authorities say they are searching for her after reports she was dragged from her home by armed men and hasn’t been seen since.

Salazar was taken Monday morning from her home near the city of Orizaba, where she worked for several newspapers.

Unfortunately, kidnapping and killing journalists is not uncommon in Mexico. Since 2010 15 journalists have been killed in Veracruz alone.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 24 journalists have been killed in Mexico because of their jobs since 2010. A vast majority — 77 percent — of the reporters killed covered the crime beat, just like Salazar.

Threats against journalists come not only from the gangs but also corrupt public officials. The BBC reports there are strained relations between the Veracruz governor and the media. The governor has gone as far as warning journalists to “behave” or bad things might happen to them.

Understandably journalists in the area saw the comment as a veiled threat.

 

Veracruz prosecutors say they will investigate everything about Salazar to see why she was kidnapped.

The office said a few years ago she was seen with a leader of the local branch of the Zetas drug cartel.

And here in lies the problem.

For reporters to do their job, they have to develop sources across the board. If a cartel leader doesn’t like a story, threats are made and carried out against journalists. Likewise, if a local political figure is identified as being in the hip pocket of a cartel, the journalist receives threats from or is intimidated by the local government.

And then, there are a few bad apples in the journalism profession. Some have used their position as reporter or commentator to extort money from people in exchange for their silence on the air or in print. And because of the few unethical journalists, it becomes easier for governments and gangs to frame honest journalists, because the public is already to accept corruption within the media exists, just as it exists in the rest of society.

And to be clear, the situation described above is not unique to Mexico. Journalists throughout the Western Hemisphere face similar threats from gangs and rogue government officials.

2015: Another dangerous year for journalists

The Committee to Protect Journalists reports:

Syria, France most deadly countries for the press

Of 69 journalists killed for their work in 2015, 40 percent died at the hands of Islamic militant groups such as Al-Qaeda and Islamic State. More than two-thirds of the total killed were singled out for murder.

Worldwide, 69 journalists were killed in the line of duty—including those murdered in reprisal for their work as well as those killed in combat or crossfire or on other dangerous assignments. The total, which includes journalists killed between January 1 and December 23, 2015, is higher than the 61 journalists killed in 2014. CPJ is investigating the deaths of at least 26 more journalists during the year to determine whether they were work-related.

Unlike in the past three years, the deaths were widely distributed across countries. At least five journalists were killed in each Iraq, Brazil, Bangladesh, South Sudan, and Yemen.

List of journalists killed in 2015.

Here is the CPJ list of deadliest places to be a journalist:

Deadliest Countries in 2015

  1. Syria: 13
  2. France: 9
  3. Brazil: 6
  4. Yemen: 5
  5. South Sudan: 5
  6. Iraq: 5
  7. Bangladesh: 5
  1. Mexico: 4
  2. Somalia: 3
  3. USA: 2
  4. Turkey: 2
  5. Kenya: 1
  6. Ukraine: 1
  7. Pakistan: 1
  1. Colombia: 1
  2. Libya: 1
  3. Poland: 1
  4. Ghana: 1
  5. India: 1
  6. Guatemala: 1

The UN General Assembly Is Meeting: Put Press Freedom on the Agenda?

Joel Simon from the Committee to Protect Journalists has a featured piece in Columbia Journalism Review on how the United Nations should — but really can’t — do something about press freedom.

What can the UN do for press freedom?

Bottom line: Not much, but it can make some nice statements.

Responding to an upsurge in media killings, particularly of journalists working in conflict zones, the UN has prioritized the issue of journalists’ safety in recent years. In 2012, UNESCO, the UN agency charged with defending press freedom, launched a Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity. The following year, the General Assembly passed a resolution to create an International Day to End Impunity for crimes against journalists, marked each year on November 2.

In July 2013, Kathleen Carroll, executive editor of the Associated Press, become the first ever journalist to address the Security Council. She noted, “Most journalists who die today are not caught in some wartime crossfire, they are murdered just because of what they do. And those murders are rarely ever solved; the killers rarely ever punished.” Last May, the Security Council passed a historic resolution reaffirming the international legal protections for journalists covering armed conflict. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon regularly condemns the killing of journalists, and calls on member states to take action.

All of these measures are important, and have tremendous symbolic value. But it is difficult to point to concrete advances in response to UN action. In fact, the level of violence against journalists has increased in recent years, and imprisonment of journalists around the world has reached record levels. Recent high-profile cases—including the conviction of three Al Jazeera reporters in Egypt; the ongoing imprisonment of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian in Iran; and the seven-and-a-half-year sentence handed down to renowned investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova in Azerbaijan—demonstrate that when it comes to imprisoning journalists, repressive governments are increasingly unresponsive to international pressure.

Simon argues journalists, diplomats and other human rights defenders need to use the occasion of the annual opening of the UN General Assembly, when leaders from around the world come to New York to argue for more action to protect journalists in their home countries.

Over the years, the Committee to Protect Journalists, which I head, has used the General Assembly to secure commitments from a number of heads of state, including former President Vicente Fox of Mexico, who agreed to appoint a special prosecutor for crimes against journalists, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, who committed during a meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations to receive a CPJ delegation in Ankara.

Simon says this one-on-one approach should not let the United Nations, itself, off the hook, but it appears to the only way — for now — to get things done.

He argues journalists should demand accountability from the leaders who speak a the UNGA for their violations of press freedom. By just reporting the speeches and not looking at the records of the speakers, journalists become accomplices in efforts to whitewash media repression.

 

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:

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.

Help us improve and protect journalism abroad

Dear supporters of international journalism,

The world of journalism continues to change rapidly. But while many in the industry debate business models, the latest data-mining software or the impact of the Facebook news feed, the threats and dangers faced by colleagues across the world remains the same.

Virtually no country remains untouched in its attacks to journalists and freedom of the press. As we witnessed during the events in Ferguson, Mo., even in our own back yard there is a long way to go in protecting journalists’ right to tell stories to the world, uncensored.

A group of more than 30 professionals have come together this year to revive the cause of the SPJ International Committee. Under a new structure, the SPJ International Community hopes to bring to light the ethical, political and social issues affecting reporters abroad. Our members are located and/or represent countries from the Americas, Africa, Asia, Europe and beyond.

Our new community structure will allow members more freedom and flexibility in the scope and goals of the group. We have divided the community into four subcommittees, which will focus on outreach, international SPJ chapters, freedom of the press/ethics issues and education. Given our community spirit, however, we may restructure or add more subcommittees according to the needs and feedback of the group.

Although the SPJ International Community may grow, change and adapt with time, our goals remain the same:

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 44 journalists have been killed in 2014 while performing their jobs; more than 200 were imprisoned in 2013; and hundreds have left their countries in exile due to threats to their lives.

We, the Society of Professional Journalists International Community, will put our hands, minds, hearts, contacts and skills together to ensure SPJ can become a beacon of light and hope to those aforementioned journalists who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in honor of the truth.

We are no longer an isolated profession. We live in a globalized society. We, the SPJ International Community, are committed to improve and protect journalism beyond the boundaries of our nations.

Our goals are global and our reach is wide.

Come join us.

Interested in taking part in the SPJ International Community? Email us at spjinternational@spj.org.

Connect with us on Twitter: @SPJ_IJC
Follow us on Facebook: facebook.com/SPJInternational

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