Archive for the ‘Free Speech’ Category


Witnessing the testimony of Jamal Khashoggi’s fiancée

Seven months after Jamal Khashoggi was brutally slain inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, his fiancée traveled to the United States for the first time to testify before the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee for Human Rights.

 

Hatice Cengiz, center, ahead of testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Human Rights. Also pictured are Joel Simon, executive director of Committee to Protect Journalists, Sarah Repucci, senior director of Freedom House, and Gulchehra Hoja, a Uighar reporter for Radio Free Asia.

 

At this May 16 hearing, Hatice Cengiz called on the United States to pressure Saudi Arabia to investigate the case and bring the perpetrators to justice. As Congressmembers pointed out during the testimony, the Central Intelligence Agency has concluded with “high confidence” that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman ordered the killing.

In emotional testimony, Cengiz called on Congressmembers to live up to the country’s historical role as a model of press freedom and to pressure Saudi Arabia to hold the perpetrators accountable.

“I cannot understand that the world has not done anything about this,” she said through a Turkish translator. “We still don’t know why he was killed. We don’t know where his corpse is.”

She described how the late Washington Post columnist would tell her about the beauty of Washington, D.C., saying she would not miss Turkey when they moved there after their wedding. Cengiz was the last person to see Khashoggi before he entered the Saudi consulate to get paperwork required for their marriage.

Cengiz described Khashoggi’s admiration for the American values of freedom of expression.

“The reason why Jamal came to the U.S. was because people like him were in jail in Saudi Arabia, and here he could be their voice,” she said. “It wasn’t only Jamal who was killed, it was the American values we are discussing here today.”

 

Representative Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chair of the House Intelligence Committee and co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Freedom of the Press Caucus. We discussed press freedom after the testimony.

 

I traveled to Washington, D.C. this week to watch the two-hour testimony about the dangers of reporting on human rights. The high-level session also included Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, Sarah Repucci, senior director of Freedom House, and Gulchehra Hoja, a Uighar reporter for Radio Free Asia.

The Society of Professional Journalists has joined press freedom groups from around the world in pressuring Washington, and in particular, the Trump administration, to demand that the perpetrators be brought to justice. In October 2018, I wrote an open letter to the White House on behalf of SPJ urging it to insist on a full and transparent independent investigation.

The world, and Cengiz, are still waiting.

–30–

Speech at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on World Press Freedom Day

These remarks were delivered at the start of a panel at the United Nations on World Press Freedom Day, May 3, 2019. Watch the panel. My remarks begin at the 1:20 mark.

This followed the Society of Professional Journalists media nonprofit summit a week earlier, known as Quo Vadis Democracy in an Age of Digital Disinformation.

 

Pictured from left to right, Ricardo de Guimarães Pinto, liaison officer for the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Warren Hogue, senior adviser for external relations at the International Peace Institute and a former New York Times foreign correspondent, Meredith Broussard, associate director of the Arthur Carter Journalism Institute at New York University, Moderator Emanuele Sapienza, global policy specialist for civil engagement at the Bureau for Policy and Programme Support at the United Nations Development Program, Stephen Adler, Editor-in-Chief of Thomson Reuters, and me.

 

Remarks at the United Nations on May 3, 2019

Thank you, Maher, and I’d like to extend my especial thanks to Ricardo for giving me this awesome privilege to represent my organization, the Society of Professional Journalists, here at the United Nations. It is an honor to be able to speak alongside such highly esteemed journalists. I had to pinch myself to make certain that I am actually speaking between Stephen Adler and Warren Hogue.

I also want to thank UNESCO for weaving together press freedom and electoral integrity into a timely theme for this year’s World Press Freedom Day.

Although this is a global event addressing the challenges that disinformation poses to the core democratic values of press freedom and electoral transparency, an issue that has emerged again and again, from Brazil to India, it strikes me as appropriate that we’re meeting today here in New York.

The 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, which concluded with an all New Yorker finale, put the institutions that defend democracies worldwide on high alert.

To be sure, there was already no shortage of electoral threats, from unintentionally flawed ballots – think of the hand recount in Florida in 2000 – to outright forms of coercion.

Likewise, on the many long campaign trails, not a few politicians over the years have repeated half-truths and outright falsehoods in the hope that the election may be won by the time their deceptive campaign messages were debunked.

But in 2016, we woke up to the reality that freedom of expression itself had been weaponized.

The enemies of strong democratic values had learned a new trick. They had turned the power of self-expression on social media platforms — which only five years earlier had helped unleash the natural desire for self-determination in the Arab Spring — into a cloaking device that allowed them to wage a surreptitious influence campaign.

Social media bots generated by troll farms; deceptive political banner ads; and spear-phishing computer hacks coupled with selective leaks became low-cost, highly effective disinformation tools requiring little technological know-how.

Over the last two years, the major platforms have retaliated by employing internal checks, automated by algorithms, alongside small armies of human content moderators to try to combat the malicious trolls spreading deliberate disinformation. However, we know very little about these defensive maneuvers because the platforms are controlled by private companies not subject to the strictures of public entities obeying guidelines of transparency and accountability.

The organization that I represent, the Society of Professional Journalists, held a summit last weekend to discuss this nefarious synergy between anti-democratic forces and digital disinformation. More than 30 press freedom groups convened in New York to hear experts on cyber security and digital disinformation dissect what had happened in 2016, much of which has now been verified by the Mueller report, and more terrifyingly, what might occur as the opponents of democracy become more technologically sophisticated.

For example, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, described how hackers might in the future break into electoral systems to alter the voting rolls in such a subtle manner that voters may not realize why they are being turned away at the polls. She pointed to a line in the Mueller report briefly mentioning that the electoral systems in Florida were breached in the 2016 election.

Of course, this scenario involves a higher degree of technological sophistication than Internet trolling and goes well beyond the type of online misinformation that the press can correct in real time. Government agencies and cyber security consultants will need to ensure that electoral systems are protected against such cyber threats and this seems to have been the case in the 2018 congressional elections. But henceforward journalists covering elections will need to be more vigilant, and particularly more tech savvy, than ever before in order to observe potential voting system threats and by doing so preserve the democratic process.

Deliberate disinformation, on the other hand, whether spread by state or non-state actors with the intent of skewing an election, may have an even more insidious purpose. Another one of our summit speakers, Laura Rosenberger, now the director of the German Marshall Fund of the United States’ Alliance for Securing Democracy, was the foreign policy adviser for Hilary Clinton’s campaign. She pointed out that when the trolls began to operate, there was no emergent Republican candidate. The real goal, she asserted, was undermining public faith in democratic institutions.

At this time, we’re being asked to put our faith in algorithms to solve this crisis. These same algorithms failed to block one in five of the videos of the mosque attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand in March. The numbers are staggering. Users tried to upload one and a half million videos after the shooter livestreamed his attack. Although most were blocked before they could be uploaded, some 300,000 of these videos got through this cyber security net.

Another serious concern is the increasing sophistication of so-called “deep fakes,” digital audio, video and still images that are hyper-realistic forgeries that blur the lines between fact and fiction.

This battle against disinformation and deep fakes is likely to rage for some time, as each defensive measure is countered by new technological advances on the other side, making it akin to an arms race we’re already only too familiar with.

As someone who represents other journalists, I ask what measures can journalists effectively take to counter this potential tsunami of digital disinformation as elections come into the forefront of the news?

Firstly, more than a dozen of the press groups that gathered for last weekend’s summit drafted a resolution to reaffirm our role as watchdogs. This may sound an obvious statement on World Press Freedom Day, but we must recommit ourselves to presenting the public with the factual information that it needs to make sound decisions on vital questions, to include electoral decisions.

However, in order for citizens to be well informed, journalists must be free to do their jobs without fear of reprisal, intimidation or threat of physical harm. This is a tall order. We were honored to have Maria Ressa at our summit, where she eloquently advocated for the rights of a free unhindered press before leaving for the Philippines, Duterte and her destiny. She reminded the room full of journalists who are relatively safe within the borders of the United States that staying free sometimes takes genuine courage.

Secondly, our summit resolution encourages journalists to invite the public to become our allies in this fight. We urge the public to help journalists correct mistakes and counter misinformation they find online, whether that information appears to be malicious or simply mistaken.

Finally, we should all hold governments and private platforms to account, pushing them to develop technological and regulatory solutions, but at the same time making sure their actions are more transparent and they remain engaged with the public so that our right to freedom of speech and association are not infringed upon without the people’s consent.

Together, we must tackle this threat to our democracies pro-actively and with the optimism that we can preserve our dearly won freedoms. Journalists here in the United States can be encouraged that our Congressmembers recently submitted a resolution expressing their sense of the, quote: “importance of local print and digital journalism to the continued welfare, transparency, and prosperity of government at every level and the continuation and freedom of the United States as it is known today.”

This is a global problem, and U.S. Congressmembers introduced several bipartisan bills this term recognizing that. For example, The Global Electoral Exchange Act would promote the exchange of electoral best practices internationally, particularly in the areas of cyber security and data transmission.

In conclusion, democracies have collectively tackled worse foes. Arguably, the democratic world faced a far greater threat from fascism in the 1930s and ‘40s. Out of that global conflict emerged the intergovernmental institutions such as the UN, and high moral standards such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

This challenge may require a similar collaborative effort to stand against the forces of disinformation.

Thank you.

–30–

Speech in Seoul about the role of journalists in peace negotiations

Note: At the start of my term, I vowed to post the significant speeches that I made in this space. Well, it’s been a busy couple of months so I am getting caught up. Here’s the remarks that I made at the World Journalists Conference in Seoul, South Korea, on Monday, March 25, 2019. The theme of the conference was Role of the Press for Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and World Peace.

 

 

A Free Press Lights the Way Forward

As the President of the Society of Professional Journalists in the United States, I am honored to speak to such a distinguished gathering of global journalists. We meet here at a pivotal moment on the Korean peninsula.

Many of you are visiting South Korea for the first time. Those of you who were here at the World Journalists Conference last year will remember the hopeful political climate. We met a week after South and North Korean athletes marched arm-in-arm into the stadium of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games.

That was such a surprising sight after a nerve-wracking period of North Korean missile and bomb tests, which began with the North conducting its first intercontinental ballistic missile test on July 4, 2017, provocatively the same day as the United States celebrated its national Independence Day. Yet more ICBM launches followed, and most alarmingly, the country’s sixth, and most powerful nuclear test, which it claimed was a hydrogen bomb.

Amid those fearful developments, bellicose taunts were exchanged between the leaders of North Korea and the United States. Who can forget U.S. President Donald Trump calling Kim Jong-Un “little rocket man,” or Kim denouncing him as a “dotard?” Nevertheless, the world was forced to sit up, it could hardly do otherwise, because even though this name-calling was school boyish, the words were backed by nuclear arsenals. Then, just as startling, we journalists from around the world, gathered here last February, heard the announcement that the U.S. president had agreed to a bilateral summit with the North Korean leader. All this augured well for a step forward toward world peace.

Since then, for the past year, close observers of events related to the Korean peninsula have been witnesses to a five-act drama. In the first act, the global press speculated about where, when, and even if, the two men would meet. Then the world was mesmerized by the theatricality of the Singapore summit, which turned more on the personal chemistry of the principals than on the preparations of professional diplomats. In the months of uncertainty following the initial summit, which did not produce much in terms of concrete results, questions emerged about the utility of bilateral negotiations at the highest level. Then came the disappointment of the Hanoi summit, which ended prematurely, without a formal declaration. Finally, satellite images pointed to the rebuilding of test facilities in the North.

As this story played out, journalists have been there every step of the way, documenting not only the words of the principal protagonists, but also the insights of political operatives and policy experts, the history of the Korean peninsula, and public reactions to the high-stakes nuclear negotiations. In short, they have not stinted to report on the hope, the danger, and yes, the occasional absurdity of the situation.

In monitoring these unfolding momentous events it has been refreshing and an inspiration to note how press freedom has improved by leaps and bounds here in South Korea. While you tour the country this week, as I did last year, you’ll see dozens of national and regional newspapers on newsstands. The current government can rightfully boast that it healed a longstanding rift at the public broadcasters, and the country jumped ahead 20 places in the Reporters Without Borders 2018 World Press Freedom Index.

This renaissance of the free press here, part of a broader trend of growing freedoms in the country since the late 20th century, goes hand-in-glove with the culture of innovation and progress. In the span of a few generations, South Korea has evolved from a poverty-stricken, war-torn land to one of the wealthiest and most vibrant of the global economies, and we Americans are proud to call South Korea our ally — one of our most stalwart.

From the standpoint of the organization I represent, the Society of Professional Journalists, a free press is like a beacon that, by radiating the light of truth outward, helps expose to the public gaze even the most sophisticated subterfuges. By contrast, limiting the coverage of negative outcomes darkens the way forward.

Of course, when we talk about concepts such as press freedom and impartiality, we are discussing ideals. These are goals that we, as journalists, must constantly strive toward, rather than destinations to attain. In some countries, there are still many roadblocks along the way. Without a strong judicial framework protecting the free flow of information, governments can cut off access to news outlets and journalists may work at their own peril. In such difficult cases, we need not only journalists dedicated to the highest ethical standards of the profession, but also a legal community in support of freedom of information and of the press.

Journalists are widely perceived as the eyes and ears of the public. They are not diplomats. They do not represent their government, nor do they speak for special interests, such as political parties or social groups with which they may privately identify. When events take a turn for the worse, when summits collapse without results, when there is evidence of retrenchment, they must focus on the events as they unfold.

To be sure, there is more than simply firsthand reporting; there is a legitimate role for opinion journalism. This goal of denuclearization warrants plenty of opinion pieces, but they should be clearly indicated as such. That permits readers and viewers to understand that the selection of facts has been guided by the desire to validate an opinion.

But reporters writing the first draft of history — particularly those covering crucial events such as nuclear disarmament negotiations that so profoundly influence world peace — should render a full and impartial account of events. It is especially important that a free press functioning in an open society behaves responsibly by focusing on the legitimate security concerns of each side; but it should not omit to report on troubling developments. Journalists must report what is done, what is said, and whenever possible, what is unsaid.

To obtain the fullest possible picture of key events like the summits with North Korea, it is important to cover the public reaction. After the Hanoi summit, the Washington Post published an account of the disappointment felt by many South Koreans. One South Korean expert described his fellow citizens as “heartbroken.” A free press provides an impartial chronicle, and in this case, informed Americans of the sentiments of their allies halfway around the world.

With such high stakes, the public has a right to as complete and realistic an account of events as possible. As the Washington Post’s own logo proclaims, “Democracy dies in darkness.” When reporting on nuclear negotiations, this adage may be taken literally as well as figuratively.

A story of the scope and potential impact of the nuclear negotiations on the Korean peninsula is, naturally, of interest in every country around the world. You’ll each produce stories during your time here for your compatriots back home. The greatest contribution that we, as journalists, can make to peace on the Korean peninsula is to report back honestly and fully what we see here.

Thank you.

–30–

 

 

Sunshine Week begins early this year

Today marks the beginning of Sunshine Week, an annual rite of spring for media nonprofits. As the days lengthen, we are reminded that the framers of our constitution, among them James Madison, had a vision of government transparency that was a radical break from the world they were born into. Madison, a consummate publicist in an era before his name became associated with that art, first tried to sell the public on the need for federalism in the Federalist Papers. When the Constitution continued to encounter opposition, he proposed the articles that came to be known as the “Bill of Rights.”

Sunshine Week was created by our friends at the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) to coincide with Madison’s birthday on March 16. Since the first Sunshine Week in 2005, the annual celebration of open government has grown to include many partners. The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) is proud to count ourselves among them.

In advance of Sunshine Week, I traveled to Washington, D.C. to do some lobbying on Capitol Hill with our friends in the News Media for Open Government, an alliance of news media and journalism organizations that includes SPJ. I joined with alliance members from ASNE, RCFP, the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, the National Newspaper Association and the News Media Alliance.

Together, we met on Monday with legislative aides for Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, and Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, who both serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

We discussed the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) portal, the signature achievement of our media coalition: the #FixFOIAby50 campaign. This campaign successfully sought to modernize this crucial tool of government transparency by FOIA’s 50th anniversary on July 4, 2016. The passage of this legislation created a unified portal to act as a clearing house for FOIA requests to government agencies. Now, our goal is to push for the improvement of the portal so that requests are smoothly handled and more swiftly fulfilled. In particular, we want documents that are repeatedly requested to be made public.

We also talked about the Journalist Protection Act, a much-needed new law that would help safeguard the act of newsgathering. This failed to win passage in the last Congressional session, and it is one of our coalition’s top priorities for the current session.

The Journalist Protection Act would amend the federal penal code to make it a crime to assault a journalist on the job. It would punish an individual who knowingly injures a journalist with the intention of intimidation or to impede the act of newsgathering.

Sadly, this law has become necessary in the hostile climate for American reporters that has evolved since the 2016 election. Congressmembers of both houses began talking about reintroducing this legislation in February, after a Trump supporter violently shoved a BBC cameraman filming President Donald Trump giving a speech at a rally in El Paso, Texas.

“This is what happens when a President calls a #FreePress the ‘enemy of the people’ and whips his rallies into a frenzy. Assaults must not be tolerated, and I look forward to re-introducing the #JournalistProtectionAct along with @SenBlumenthal,” California Democratic Congressmember Eric Swalwell wrote on Twitter at the time.

Likewise, we at SPJ, and the other members of the News Media for Open Government, look forward to advocating for this legislation during the 116th U.S. Congress.

World Press Freedom Day

The following day, I went on my own to meet with legislative aides on the other side of the Capitol Building, in the offices of Congressmembers Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, and Steve Chabot, an Ohio Republican.

I had met with both Congressional aides previously in September. Their bosses co-chair the Congressional Freedom of the Press Caucus, which focuses exclusively on threats to press freedom outside of the United States.

Among the occasional statements made by the caucus is an annual resolution in support of the United Nations World Press Freedom Day, marked each year on May 3. This year, we at SPJ plan to celebrate World Press Freedom Day in a big way. (For more about those plans soon, keep an eye on Freedom of the Prez.)

On Tuesday, we chatted about the greatest risks to global press freedom and the need to advocate for journalist safety overseas. Earlier this year, the caucus held a meeting in D.C. spotlighting their demand for a thorough investigation into the death of Saudi Arabian journalist and Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi. SPJ will watch for future caucus events and share them with you on our social media.

After these meetings, it was on to the National Press Club, where I met with the newly-installed president, Alison Kodjak. In her day job, she’s an NPR health policy correspondent.

We talked about the Club’s plans for a Night Out for Austin Tice on May 2, a day before World Press Freedom Day, in order to raise awareness about the only American journalist currently being held hostage overseas. Participating restaurants have pledged to donate a portion of their proceeds that evening to a fund that will add to a $1 million reward established by the Federal Bureau of Investigations for information leading to the safe return of Austin Tice.

Tice, an award-winning freelance journalist and veteran U.S. Marine Corps officer, was abducted while covering the civil war in Syria in 2012. Kodjak said one of the most important aspects of the May 2 event is to raise awareness about his captivity.

At the start of Sunshine Week, it’s important to remember the many ways we can advocate for press freedom — whether by striving to improve upon our federal and state freedom of information laws, to protect the act of newsgathering, or to raise awareness of the efforts to intimidate or impede journalists at home or abroad. Pick your cause, then go forth and fight for it.

— 30 —

Giving the thumbs up to Reuters’ jailed journalists

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.

–30–

 

 

 

 

 

#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

President’s Installation Banquet Speech

 

Remarks Given by National SPJ President

J. Alex Tarquinio

after being sworn in at the

President’s Installation Banquet

at the Excellence in Journalism Conference

in Baltimore on Sept. 30, 2018

 

An editor once opined, as editors do, in a time of deep skepticism towards the media that it was imperative for journalists “to make their voice one of energy rather than of hatred,” and, “if we take pride in objectivity rather than in rhetoric, in humanity rather than in mediocrity, then we will preserve many things and we won’t be without merit.” That editor was the writer and philosopher, Albert Camus, and the time was 1944, a week after Paris was liberated from Nazi occupiers. In his moment, Camus understood the endemic public mistrust of journalists. After all, not a few had been Nazi collaborators and the political divisions appeared to be insurmountable.

Our fight to maintain high journalistic standards today, amid assaults on our credibility and economic pressures, isn’t a new one. In each age and across the globe, journalists have been combatting government propaganda, roadblocks to public information, interference with news distribution, and even trials and executions for exposing the truth. These battles still rage on, as far off as Myanmar, where two of our colleagues have been arbitrarily imprisoned, and as near as Washington, D.C., where the president refers to the media as the “enemy of the American people.”

Demagoguery isn’t new, it just takes on a new face in each age.

Our challenge as journalists is to rise above the rhetoric, to use our craft to reveal the humanity of the voiceless rather than the mediocrity of the talking heads.

That is why the Society of Professional Journalists will continue to support reporters who are stymied at every turn with lawsuits or endless Freedom of Information requests.

That’s why we’ll keep sharpening the skills of all of our members, especially freelancers and journalism students, who don’t benefit from on-the-job training.

That’s why we’ll enlighten the public about how we do our jobs, through public speaking engagements, editorials and our innovative new program, #Press4Education.

That’s why we’ll push harder for diverse coverage by media outlets that reflect the communities they cover.

And above all, that’s why we’ll keep educating the public and our fellow journalists about our ethics code. This is the gold standard by which mutual trust between the public and the press can be earned.

As news gatherers, we need to be rigorously even-handed in our coverage and leave rhetoric to the opinion pages. We mustn’t lose sight of the diverse spectrum of opinions in our society and succumb to the phony dichotomies of reality TV. And we must be unswerving in our support of free speech. Just as citizens living in a free society have the right to be informed, those same citizens, no matter what their viewpoints, have the right to be heard.

As American journalists, we are privileged. Although the First Amendment is under constant pressure it stands tall and by association so do we while conducting our everyday reporting. This is far from the case in other oppressed parts of the world, where the journalists live in fear that they might be jailed or murdered for exposing wrongdoing. We have traditionally enjoyed real freedom of the press—unparalleled in the history of the world.  We must not take this for granted, but rather set shining examples to inspire our international colleagues who risk their liberty and their lives in simply doing their jobs.

Yet it’s hard to deny that anti-press rhetoric has been rising in many democracies—including our own—at a time when our reporting is being overwhelmed by a steady digital stream of opinion, publicity, rumor and deceit. As our country becomes more polarized, we must rise above partisan politics. We mustn’t retreat into defensiveness. Let the restrained response we give to those who label us “fake” show who has the moral high ground.

As the largest journalism association in the land, SPJ has advocated for the free flow of information for generations. We supported legislation in 2016 to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act and will push to see that this is fully implemented, creating a consolidated online portal to request information from any federal agency. We see a real need for legislation currently sitting in Congress that would make it a federal crime to assault a journalist reporting in the field. And we will keep pressing the government not to use public information officers as gatekeepers to limit our access to sources, and not to pursue whistleblowers who sound the alarm about government waste or wrongdoing.

One thing we could be better at is communicating our goals to our members and to the public at large. SPJ signs on to countless legal briefs and supports journalists in peril, yet we do very little to tell the public about this advocacy. If Americans understood what it takes sometimes to get the story, they might be better able to discern the difference between reporting and propaganda.

And as I stated when I ran for this office a year ago, I’d like to see SPJ form closer partnerships with other press freedom organizations. SPJ should be the go-to press group for journalists from across the globe when they think of freedom of information and democracy.

We can learn from the expertise of other groups that specialize in foreign reporting, covering trauma or digital journalism, while spreading the word about our esteemed code of ethics and our fight to improve access to public information.

I hope to make these partnerships a cornerstone of the coming year. Because we amplify our message when we speak with one voice.

As this audience knows, we couldn’t do all of this without our members who step up to lead these efforts. Much of our work is done by the national committees, so I wish to announce a few new faces who I’ve asked to chair the committees in the year ahead. I will begin with those who are continuing to lead the same committees—and obviously, we thank them for their past and continuing service to SPJ. And if you’re here, please stand up when you hear your name.

Andy Schotz will continue to chair the Awards & Honors committee; Danielle McLean will continue to lead the Freedom of Information committee; Hagit Limor will once again chair the Legal Defense Fund committee and Bob Becker will continue to keep us on the straight and narrow with Bylaws.

Now for the new faces, Leticia Steffen will co-chair the Education Committee, along with last year’s chair Becky Tallent; Rebecca Aguilar, will chair the Diversity Committee; Lynn Walsh will chair the Ethics committee; Michael Arena will chair the Membership committee; one of the new national board members, Michael Savino, will chair the Resolutions committee; and finally, the Nominations committee, which recruits candidates for the national board and the regional coordinators, will be chaired by Eddye Gallagher.

It is the volunteer efforts of these dedicated members that allow SPJ to thrive. We thank you.

And my appreciation to everyone here for your support and belief in SPJ. Together, we set the bar high. Now let’s go out and make our voices heard.

Thank you, and good night.

–30–

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.

Memos and Emails to Federal Agency Employees Ban Press Releases, Social Media Posts and “Outward Facing” Documents

Denying agencies from sharing and communicating with the public, even temporarily, denies citizens their rights to access and the ability to hold the government accountable.

The public’s access to its government and its employees is dying.

Tuesday, memos and emails, obtained by a variety of news organizations, show federal agencies are being prohibited from sending press releases, posting on social media and sharing information on blogs.

The agencies involved include the Environmental Protection Agency (link 1, link 2) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

It is being described as a temporary media blackout but in reality, it is the public that is being kept in the dark.

The Associated Press is reporting emails sent to EPA staff since President Donald Trump took office, ban employees from “providing updates on social media or to reporters.” According to BuzzFeed News, USDA employees, specifically employees in the Agricultural Research Service department, were told not to release “any public-facing documents” including “news releases, photos, fact sheets, news feeds, and social media content.”

This is a step away from transparency. This is also a step in the complete opposite direction of what The Society of Professional Journalists and more than 60 other journalism and free press organizations were hoping to discuss with President Trump and his administration when we sent a letter asking for more transparency within government agencies and more direct access to government employees.

The letter, sent to President Trump and his administration less than a week ago, specifically asked for a meeting to discuss three things:

  • the ability of reporters to directly interact with government employees who are subject matter experts, rather than interacting with Public Information Officers (or having all conversations monitored by Public Information Officers);
  • access to the activities of the President;
  • and ensuring that the Federal Freedom of Information Act remains as strong as possible.

Click here to read the letter.

Policies, where federal agencies are barred, even temporarily, from releasing information to the public are unacceptable. These policies prevent the public from knowing what the agencies are spending taxpayer money on. They go against what this country was founded on. They go against our existence as a democracy.

These policies keep the public completely in the dark. They also do not allow journalists to hold the government and its officials accountable.

According to the Washington Post, USDA officials said ARS had not “blacked out public information.” They added, according to the article “that scientific articles published through professional peer-reviewed journals have not been banned.” In a statement, a representative with the ARS told the Washington Post, “as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific in-house research agency, ARS values and is committed to maintaining the free flow of information between our scientists and the American public as we strive to find solutions to agricultural problems affecting America.”

It is unclear if these directives came from within the USDA, from Trump himself or from officials overseeing the transition.

What is clear when instituting policies like this is that it shows a complete disregard for the public’s right to know what the government it is doing and it threatens the right of the public to access information through the Federal Freedom of Information Act.

SPJ will not stand by and watch as journalists and the public’s rights are being threatened. Even if temporary, this is a step away from an open and honest government.

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