Archive for the ‘Advocacy’ Category


Giving the thumbs-up gesture in solidarity with Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, jailed in Myanmar one year ago today.

Dec. 12 marks the disgraceful anniversary of the detention of two courageous Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. And if the authorities in Myanmar have their way, they will spend the next six years in jail.

A “thumbs-up” gesture has become a global symbol of solidarity with the pair of Reuters reporters, so today, photos of believers in press freedom giving the familiar gesture along with the hashtag #FreeWaLoneandKyawSoeOo have been circulating on social media.

The journalists were detained last year after reporting on a massacre of Rohingya in a broader effort by the government to suppress the minority group that the United Nations has called a genocide. The result of their reporting: a chilling story filed in February, Massacre in Myanmar. Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel peace prize-winning leader of the country, has not used her position to defend or pardon the jailed journalists.

The Society of Professional Journalists has advocated on behalf of these brave Reuters reporters, as well as the other journalists who made the four covers of TIME Magazine’s “person of the year.” We sent a letter to the White House demanding that it push for an independent investigation into the murder of Saudi Arabian journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. We released a statement last week urging the Philippine government to drop the politically-motivated charges against news website Rappler and its CEO Maria Ressa. And we held a forum about the attack on the Capital Gazette at our annual conference in Baltimore in September.

We will keep advocating on behalf of these courageous journalists until the last one is freed or vindicated.

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#TruthNeverDies

UN Marks Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists With a Look Back at the Life of Chris Hondros

 

Chris Hondros was a stranger to fear. In the opening scene of a documentary about the award-winning conflict photographer, he takes a cellphone call amid crossfire in Monrovia, Liberia. At this point in the film, the audience doesn’t see Hondros. We hear his off-screen voice calmly explain that “things are fine” to the caller, who must surely have heard the hail of bullets. He ends the conversation quickly by saying “give me a call back in about half an hour.”

The Getty Images photojournalist covered nearly every major global conflict beginning with the war in Kosovo in 1999. He went on to cover Iraq, Pakistan and the Arab Spring — until his luck ran out when he was killed by a mortar attack in Libya in April 2011.

A recent documentary directed by his childhood friend Greg Campbell portrays the American photojournalist’s courage and passion for his calling. In an early clip, a teenage Hondros is greeted by scoffs when he tells the other boys sitting around a table that he really isn’t afraid of anything. The rest of the film goes on to prove this wasn’t an empty boast.

The feature-length film, titled simply ‘Hondros,’ (now streaming on Netflix), was screened at the United Nations headquarters in New York today. The audience included diplomats, journalists and the film’s executive producer, Riva Marker, who said the production company she co-founded with American actor Jake Gyllenhaal, Nine Stories Productions, which is better known for fictional films, made this documentary because of the strength of the childhood friendship between the filmmaker and the photojournalist.

The occasion marked the fifth anniversary of the UN’s International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.

The UN created this global event in late 2013 to raise awareness about the impunity with which journalists around the world are being killed, imprisoned or silenced. Today’s date was chosen in memory of Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon, two French journalists murdered in Mali on Nov. 2, 2013.

 

Here I am posing in front of the United Nations headquarters with the hashtag of the day: #TruthNeverDies.

 

Today, the UN unveiled a new awareness campaign to draw attention to this issue with the tagline #TruthNeverDies. UN Secretary-General António Guterres announced the campaign in videotaped remarks shown at the event.

“In just over a decade, more than 1,000 journalists have been killed while carrying out their indispensable work. Nine out of ten cases are unresolved, with no one held accountable,” the secretary-general said. “This year alone, at least 88 journalists have been killed. Many thousands have been attacked, harassed, detained or imprisoned on spurious charges without due process. And this is outrageous. This should not become the new normal.”

He went on to express how deeply troubled he was by the growing number of attacks against journalists and the culture of impunity, while calling on governments and the international community to protect journalists and create the conditions they need to do their work.

Today was also a reminder that the recent brutal killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was hardly an anomaly. It is a method of repressing free speech that is becoming all too common.

UNESCO publishes its findings related to the safety of journalists in the World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development: 2017/18 Global Report

Facts and Figures for 2006 – 2017 include:

  • 1010 killings of journalists have been condemned by UNESCO Director-General in the last 12 years.
  • Nine out of ten cases of killed journalists remain unresolved.
  • 93% of killed journalists are local and only 7% are foreign correspondents.
  • Journalist killing per region: 33.5% in the Arab Region. 26% in Asia & Pacific. 22.9% in Latin America and the Caribbean. 11.6% in Africa. 4% in Central & Eastern Europe. 2.5% in Western Europe and North America.

 

SPJ demands Khashoggi’s killers be brought to justice

We call on Trump to push for independent investigation in a letter to White House

Editor’s note: Shortly after this letter was mailed and sent electronically to the White House, Saudi Arabia confirmed the death of the missing journalist. The Society of Professional Journalists still calls for a full and transparent independent investigation that leads to the arrests of the perpetrators of this crime.

 

October 19, 2018

The President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

I am writing to you today on behalf of the Society of Professional Journalists, the nation’s largest and most broad-based journalism organization, to express our deep concern over the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as well as your ongoing rhetoric attacking press freedom, a crucial pillar of our democracy.

While our organization takes no political party stance, like all free speech groups we are partisan on the issue of press freedom and the other rights guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which you have sworn to uphold.

Today, we implore you to lay aside political rhetoric and stand up for press freedom worldwide. As President of the United States, a position long viewed as the leader of the free world, we urge you to insist on a full and transparent independent investigation into the disappearance and alleged extrajudicial killing of Mr. Khashoggi. That would send a strong message to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia — where journalists critical of the royal family have been jailed — that attacking, jailing and murdering journalists is an affront to the people’s right to know and the people’s right to participate in the democratic process.

That message, Mr. President, must be followed by a sincere commitment on your part to condemn those who would seek to weaken our democracy by silencing a free press. We were extremely disappointed by your apparent praise of Congressman Greg Gianforte’s assault on a reporter who asked him a question — behavior for which the congressman himself has publicly apologized. Assaulting or otherwise threatening a journalist is not macho behavior to be commended at a campaign stop. It signals a cynical disregard for the safety of journalists to repressive political leaders around the world.

Now it is time to take a stand for global press freedom. We expect you as our President to remind Saudi Arabia that there are grave consequences for an ally of the United States if it takes, as alleged, the unconscionable step of silencing a journalist by premeditated ambush, torture and murder.

Respectfully,
J. Alex Tarquinio
President
Society of Professional Journalists

There is no democracy without a free press

Today, hundreds of newspapers across the country are publishing editorials to fight back against repeated attacks on the media. The brainchild of The Boston Globe, newspapers were asked to publish their own editorials that highlight the dangers of the assault on the press.

The Society of Professional Journalists stands in solidarity with these newspapers and applauds their efforts to explain the importance of the work they do every day. We know that without them, the country would be a much darker, more secretive place.

After all, it’s journalists who uncover stories of children being abused by people in positions of authority; of drinking water being contaminated because regulations and laws weren’t followed; of the misuse of money and power by government officials and agencies.

Freedom of the press was included in the writing of the First Amendment for good reason. Our founding fathers knew that it is human nature for those in positions of power to sometimes abuse that power. For democracy to thrive, they believed it was important to ensure there would always be a watchdog – the press – to maintain balance and, when needed, protect citizens from their own government by helping them obtain information. (As the Washington Post tagline states: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”)

Journalism is a public service. Journalism is done for the public good. We’re taught as journalists to show the story, not tell the story. The best way to show the public that we are not “the enemy” is by telling accurate, fair, truthful stories. By showing that we care about the people and communities we cover. By acting ethically at all times.

But while a majority of journalists do just that, they remain at risk. According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, 27 journalists have been attacked so far in the United States in 2018. Worldwide, according to Reporters Without Borders, 50 journalists, 10 citizen journalists and 3 media assistants have been killed in 2018.

Journalists should not have to consider hiring security guards to accompany them to political rallies. Journalists in every city and town across America should not worry for their safety every time they go out to cover a story.

A segment of the American public is clearly angry about what they describe as “fake news” or too much opinion and not enough facts. Journalists don’t understand why the average citizen struggles to tell the differences among news, opinion, commentary and analysis, or to realize that not every journalist produces each kind of journalism.

The United Nations Human Rights Chief said earlier this week the numbers of incidences of violence and death against journalists will increase worldwide if the rhetoric does not stop. Other countries look to the United States to set the precedent, he said, adding that, “The U.S. creates a demonstration effect, which then is picked up by other countries where the leadership tends to be more authoritarian [in] character or aspires to be authoritarian.”

No profession is perfect. Journalism is no exception. But a United States without a free press is not a place most Americans would want to live. Simply put, there is no democracy without a free press.

Recent Attacks Against Journalists Are Attacks Against American Freedoms

In the last several weeks journalists have been pinned against a wall, arrested, assaulted, told to get “back in your cages,” and threatened with gun violence by a sitting state governor.

The key word left out of the sentence above: American.

Those incidents happened to American journalists. American journalists working and doing their jobs in the United States, a country that has a freedom designated for the press.

If you’ve read the headlines or followed the stories on social media, you may have seen the threat of gun violence called a joke, or the event that resulted in an assault charge for a newly elected Congressman, called inappropriate unless the reporter deserved it.

These incidents are not funny and should not be dismissed. The words being spoken are also not funny and they should not be treated as jokes.

These incidents are an attack against the freedoms America was founded on and should be taken seriously.

Most importantly they need to stop. 

In the United States, the First Amendment protects a free press. This includes protecting an individual’s right to ask questions of elected officials without the threat of violence. Journalists should not be arrested or physically harmed for simply trying to do their jobs. Journalists are the eyes and ears of the public. When they are prevented from doing their jobs, the public loses and American freedom is threatened.

The United States, whether data and reality always supports it or not, is often used as an example of a free society by others around the world. This includes evaluating what a free press looks like.

Around the world, we are seeing journalists killed or physically threatened while doing their jobs. These incidents also need to be stopped and should be taken seriously. It is also why it is even more important to push back and stop the incidents happening here.

What we allow to happen on U.S. soil could set the tone for what others experience and do elsewhere, outside our borders.

These recent incidents, that include physical violence, anti-press rhetoric, and legal action are steps away from freedom. They are incidents that should not be happening in a country that was founded on protecting freedom of the press. These incidents threaten American democracy.

Right now, there is undeniable tension between journalists, news organizations, and the public. Polls continue to show the American public’s trust in media is at an all-time low.

While there are examples of reporting and journalists that may have helped contribute to that, we, as Americans, both journalists, and non-journalists, need to work together to stop this threat against our freedom.

Do we want to live in a country where people are not free to ask politicians questions? A country where the information the public receives only comes from those in power? A country where you are not free to publish information people may disagree with?

I know that is not the America I want to live in. It is also not the America people have fought hard, in some cases sacrificing their lives, to protect.

In the name of freedom, let’s stand together.

SPJ and Journalism Organizations Respond To Election of Donald Trump

Last week, after the election, the Society of Professional Journalists and other journalism organizations released statements reinforcing their commitment to protecting the First Amendment and fighting for the public’s right to know.

Since the election SPJ has seen an increase in donations. Some, when donating, have specifically cited the election outcome.

I want you to know that SPJ is ready to defend the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment and push for government transparency.

We hope that you will continue to join us in this fight. If you have ideas or thoughts or want to help in any way, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me. Also, if you need help donating or renewing your membership, we would gladly help with that as well.

Here is a list of statements made by journalism organizations:

Lynn Walsh is the National President for the Society of Professional Journalists. In her day job she leads the NBC 7 Investigates team in San Diego, California. She loves holding the powerful accountable and spends more time than she would like fighting for public information. Connect with her on Twitter, @LWalsh.

Baltimore Police Email Search Fee Hinders Public Access and Decreases Accountability

Baltimore Police Department

The Baltimore Police Department is charging $50 if a member of the public requests emails from the department, making public access to information and holding government officials more difficult.

MuckRock posted this earlier this week.

According to the policy, outlined in a response to MuckRock, the department says it will charge the $50 email search fee before it will begin to process the request. If the fee is paid, the search begins, a review cost is determined and if the cost and terms are “agreed upon” the $50 fee is deducted from the final cost. Click here or look below to read more about the policy.

While it is a nice gesture for them to deduct the search fee from the total cost, charging just to begin a search threatens the public’s right to information. Emails from public agencies and public employees should be released to the public without prohibitive fees. This information belongs to the public. Members of the public should not have to pay a search fee for it. Charging before the request is even processed is even more prohibitive and threatening to the public’s right to know.

An email to the Baltimore Police Department was not returned. It is also unclear as to when or why this policy was implemented. MuckRock estimates it was sometime in the last two months.

Whatever the reason, the policy is prohibitive and makes requesting emails more difficult for the public. Since the public has a right to this information, there should not be extra steps to jump over or extra fees to be paid in order to obtain it.

Fighting for access to information is something the Society of Professional Journalists takes seriously. If you have been hindered by Baltimore PD’s policy, please let me know: @LWalsh or lwalsh@spj.org

More from the policy:

If you are requesting e-mails correspondence the following is the procedure to request BPD e-mail.

Request for BPD emails are handled by the Information and Technology Section (I T). BPD emails are handled separately from the City of Baltimore emails. BPD emails have a limited retrieval time frame. The cost of in-house retrieval is based on the number of email that must be reviewed before being disclosed. Confidential opinions, deliberations, advice or recommendations from one governmental employee or official to another for the purpose of assisting the latter official in the decision-making function may be withheld. In addition, part of an interagency, or intra-agency letter or memorandum that would not be available by law to a private party in litigation can be withheld.

The BPD can run a word, name or phase through the email retention system. The BPD can run individual email addresses or the entire BPD email system. Once the system identifies the emails with the word, name or phase each email will have to be review to determine what can be disclosed and their relevancy.

The average staff time of review e-mails for release is approximately 150-200 pages reviewed per hour (e-mails and attachments). Time differs depending on the size or complexity of the e-mails. Once all disclosable emails are identified the BPD will advise of the actual cost of producing the e-mails. There is a minimum charge of $50.00 to start the search and downloading of e-mails. After the number of emails is determined you will be provided with the review cost. If the costs and terms are agreed upon emails will be reviewed. The $50.00 search fee will be deducted from the final cost.

Government Employees Don’t Get To Decide Which Journalists Cover Them

A former soccer coach is acquitted in a murder trial. The prosecutor in the case holds a news conference after the verdict. Three journalists covering the trial are excluded.

The dateline for this story isn’t somewhere overseas. It’s unfortunately in our own backyard, in upstate New York.

Last week, St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary Rain barred The Watertown Daily Times reporter William Eckert and photographer Jason Hunter from a news conference after a not guilty verdict in the murder trial of Oral “Nick” Hillary.

Hillary was accused of stalking, strangling and killing 12-year-old Garrett Phillips. The trial has garnered media attention outside of New York, highlighted on national TV programs.

According to The Watertown Daily Times,  Rain excluded Eckert because she said he “‘is a dishonest reporter and I won’t have a dishonest reporter reporting to the community dishonestly.'” (Another journalist, Brit Hanson, was also blocked from the news conference but it has been reported that Rain said that happened in error.)

Click here to read Eckert explain how the events unfolded.

A photo of St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary Rains on the county website.

A photo of St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary Rains on the county website.

This is unacceptable and threatens the right of a free press. If government officials use their power to decide which journalists are granted access to public information, involving the public, on public property, it threatens our rights and freedom to speak freely, gather information freely and publish freely.

This goes beyond granting someone an exclusive or first interview. This was a news conference where only a few people were excluded and they were excluded because of a government leader’s opinion of them and their work.

The government does not get to decide who reports on and covers them. The public should be outraged that a public official is trying to block their right to public information by blocking access to those that may ask critical questions or hold officials accountable. Excluding certain members of the press from interviews and news conferences interferes with the public’s right to know.

I join and support the New York State Associated Press Association, a group of New York newspaper and broadcast journalists, in condemning Rain’s actions.

“…It is inappropriate for you to attempt to control information by giving personal invitations to only certain reporters based on your preference for favorable coverage, or to bar reporters whose coverage you dislike,” the association president Tracy Ormsbee said in the letter.

Click here to read the full letter.

A response from Rain was not immediately received but will be added if it is.

The Watertown Daily Times is protesting and demanding an apology from Rain.

Requesting Public Information Should Not Result in Felony Charges

Fannin-Focus publisher Mark Thomason spoke at the SPJ National Convention in New Orleans on Sept. 20. Outgoing national SPJ president Paul Fletcher (left). Photo by Curt Yeomans, SPJ Georgia board member

Fannin-Focus publisher Mark Thomason spoke at the SPJ National Convention in New Orleans on Sept. 20. Outgoing national SPJ president Paul Fletcher (left). Photo by Curt Yeomans, SPJ Georgia board member

Mark Thomason, publisher of the Fannin Focus newspaper in Blue Ridge, Georgia was arrested June 24 and charged with three felonies, including one for making a false statement on his open records request.

No journalist or member of the public should ever have to put up with what Thomason has when exercising his or her right to public information.

On the day of his arrest Thomason said he had no idea why he was arrested.

“For two days I sat in a jail cell without a pillow or blanket,” he said.

After his release on a $10,000 bond, Thomason said he faced unusual bond restrictions and was required to provide numerous on-the-spot urine samples for law enforcement in his hometown.

When the Georgia chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists first heard of Thomason’s arrest, they began sharing their outrage with the public.  The chapter also filed a formal complaint to the Judicial Qualifications Commission against the judge, Brenda Weaver, Chief Superior Court Judge of the Appalachian Judicial Circuit, who had Thomason and his attorney arrested.

At it’s annual convention last month in New Orleans, SPJ’s members commended Thomason’s “relentless pursuit of the public’s right to know” in a freedom of information battle involving the actions of chief superior court judge.

Click here or watch below (jump to the 11 minute, 47 second mark of the video) to hear Thomason’s comments to SPJ members and journalists at the convention.

The SPJ membership also called for Judge Weaver to resign and thanked the SPJ Georgia chapter members for their hard work and due diligence bringing this issue into the public conversation.

What Thomason did, standing up for his right to public information, is something, I hope, no other individual, journalist or news organization has to experience. But, if you do find yourself in a similar situation, I want to know.

SPJ was founded to fight for these very issues. Whether that is your right to government access or recording video on a public sidewalk. We are here for you. Or maybe you find yourself being forced to tell a story or write something in a way that you feel is journalistically unethical. Please tell us, so we can help.

So, please contact me and let us know what we can do to help. We are here to help protect journalism and the public’s right to know.

Lynn Walsh is the current National President for SPJ. In her “day job” she manages and leads the NBC 7 Investigates team in San Diego. She loves holding the powerful accountable and spends more time than she would like fighting for access to public information. Follow her on Twitter, @LWalsh, or contact her via email: Lynn.K.Walsh@gmail.com.

Only response to free-speech bullies: some muscle

In the cold, clear light of a second-day story, the words are still chilling:

“Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here!”

As most journalists in America now know, the woman who made that statement was Melissa Click, a communications professor at the University of Missouri, caught on a video that went viral.

The video, photographed by student Mark Schierbecker, documented, among other things, efforts by student photojournalist Tim Tai to cover student protesters at Mizzou; the video was shot after news that university system president Tim Wolfe had resigned. The journalists presumably were seeking comment and reaction to the resignation.

But come back to Click. She sought to shut down the student press in a way that was threatening. Some muscle? Really? Should Schierbecker have feared for his personal safety?

To their great credit, Schierbecker and Tai showed respect, resolution, calmness, professionalism and yes, courage, considering they were faced with an unhappy crowd chanting, “Hey hey ho ho, reporters have got to go!”

Click since has issued an apology for her actions, which Schierbecker said in a tweet that he did not accept. No doubt she is hoping that everyone, including the school she works for, will move on.

But should the rest of us let Click off easy? I don’t think so. There is a word for someone who treated the journalists the way she did: Bully.

She bullied Schierbecker, and the call for help to remove him forcibly is inexcusable and indefensible.

Since she was trying to shut down press coverage, call her a free speech bully, attempting to squelch a reporter.

Here is another reason not to let her off the hook: She’s not alone in higher education.

Within the past year, SPJ has tracked no fewer than six examples of journalism advisers at colleges across America who have run afoul of their schools’ leaders for (gasp!) encouraging student journalists to do their jobs and cover the school.

In each case, the administration would prefer that the student press run happy news, or perhaps recipes, instead of stories seeking to hold (often) public employees accountable.

In one of the adviser altercations, the school paper’s editor-in-chief provided his notes of his run-in with a high-level administrator. “Free speech bully” again would be the operative phrase. The encounter was intimidating and oppressive: the administrator was unhappy the paper had run articles about mold in university buildings.

Frank LoMonte runs the Student Press Law Center, and his job is to watch all this and to offer help and, if necessary, legal support.

In a Facebook post last weekend, LoMonte noted he had just returned from a visit to a public university where the student reporters are required to submit their interview questions for the university president in writing to a media-relations functionary.

This minion rewrites any questions that are unacceptably “negative” and sends back a script, to which the journalists are told to adhere under threat of unspecified reprisal, he said.

I asked him: At what university did this occur?

LoMonte demurred, citing the need to minimize harm (See SPJ Code of Ethics, section II). The students were so frightened that he would need to get their OK to out the school. I am not a fan of citing incidents without names, but I trust the source here.

It’s important to note that the people involved here are college kids, between ages 18 and 21. No doubt the students LoMonte dealt with are frightened.

All these incidents, showing a careless disregard for free speech and the free press, sound like something out of a tinpot dictatorship or some leftover totalitarian regime. Tendering questions for sanitation by a minion sounds like great job training for a position at George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth after graduation.

But these stories are happening at colleges in this country, one with a history and laws that protect free speech and a free press. These schools, if they bother to teach the Constitution, must be saying that it has only nine amendments…that first one got deleted somewhere along the way.

No student should face intimidation, threats of personal violence or reprisal – simply for doing his or her job as a journalist.

The only response, I think, to free speech bullies is some muscle.

Not sending goons out to do physical harm to anyone, but push-back. Exposure. Forceful calling out. Telling the tales. Litigation when needed. Financial support for those lawsuits. And a clear message that that is what they can expect.

Because when confronted, bullies fold and run.

Updated 2/8/16, to correct the spelling of Mark Schierbecker’s name.

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