Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Journalists fight for free expression despite dangers

In correlation with the release of its 2007 Annual Report, Reporters Without Borders, in collaboration with the National Press Club, held a press conference today, highlighting the danger of being a journalist in the world today. In 2006, more than 140 journalists were imprisoned and at least 110 were killed, the highest numbers since 1994, stated Reporters Without Borders Washington Representative Lucie Morillon. Already this year, six journalists and four media assistants have been killed. In light of these numbers, a number of journalists from around the world relayed stories of the current dangers journalists face in various countries today.

Iraq was deemed the most dangerous location for journalists based on the number killed, according to the report. The situation for those who seek to pursue free expression is so grave that all conference attendees were asked not to take photos or video of the presenting Iraqi journalist, Huda Ahmed, to maintain the safety of her relatives back home. In conclusion to a few of her personal stories, she emphasized that Iraqi journalists are vulnerable regardless of their location within the country. They must drive via different routes both to and from work so that insurgents cannot follow them home and kill them for siding with a particular religion or political alliance. When writing an article, they sign it using a pseudonym or provide full credit to the Western journalists they may be partnered with.

Ahmed noted the importance of distinguishing between Iraqi journalists working for local media and those working with foreign media sources, as the difference between the two matters in the amount of security received. “ The government cannot protect regular citizens, so how can it protect journalists?,” Ahmed asked. However, despite living in continual fear, most Iraqi journalists are dedicated to being the “voices and conscience of the people,” professed Ahmed.

Unlike the daily violence and threats that fuel the fear among journalists in Iraq, dangers in Mexico surface primarily from criticisms of the government and investigations into drug trafficking. Due to the situation in Mexico, the country was designated the most dangerous place for journalists in the Americas and the second most dangerous place in the world in 2006. Jose Carreno, a Mexican journalist, stated, independent of his workplace affiliation, that the problem in Mexico “is not what the government is doing; it is what it is not doing.” That is providing security to journalists who try to help the Mexican people see the lack of transparency in the government. It is for this reason, he continued, that “political gamesmanship is interfering with the investigation of crimes.”

This interference appears to be precisely the problem in some on-going cases. Brad Will, a New York cameraman with Indymedia was killed in Oaxaca on October 27 while filming riots that captured physical attacks on journalists and destruction of media offices. The two police men arrested for his murder were released in November on insufficient evidence.

As the Beijing Olympics quickly approach, the concern regarding freedom of the press in China becomes a hotter topic. Chinese journalist and editor of Boxun, Watson Meng, noted that, effective January 1, 2007, Chinese officials will allow reporters working for foreign media to interview any official in China with proper permission. However, Meng continued, permission is set to halt at the end of the games. Also, this allowance is only for foreign citizens. Nothing has changed for Chinese citizens, including those imprisoned for expressing criticism of the government - predominantly via internet sources. China imprisoned more political dissidents than any country in the world in 2006.

The U.S. is also a country of concern for Reporters without Borders. Two cases in particular highlight recent concerns of journalists pressured by the judicial system to reveal sources and break confidentiality. Having already sat in jail for almost 160 straight days, Josh Wolf, a blogger and freelance journalist in California, may remain there until July 2007 for refusing to hand over to a Federal Grand Jury the film he took of an anti-G8 protest, where a police vehicle was damaged. One representative of the Free Josh Wolf Coalition concluded his update by expressing that “we are living in an era where freedoms are disappearing in the name of freedom.”

Similarly, Sarah Olsen, an independent journalist and radio producer, was subpoened by a U.S. Army court-martial to provide evidence at First Lieutenant Ehren Watada’s trial, since she exclusively interviewed him one week before he publicly announced that he refused to deploy to Iraq. Olsen remarked that when journalists begin to be viewed as the “investigative arm” of the government, free speech is repressed, journalists become scared and sources begin to question their confidentiality.

Though varied in nature, each case represents the dangers presented by governments and violence throughout the world that obstruct the freedom of expression of both journalists and ordinary citizens.

For the full report, click here.


Post a Comment

<< Home