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CPJ RECEIVES OSCE PRIZE FOR JOURNALISM AND DEMOCRACY


Acceptance Speech by Ann Cooper

ON BEHALF OF THE AMERICAN JOURNALISTS WHO FOUNDED THE COMMITTEE TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS NEARLY A QUARTER OF A CENTURY AGO, I THANK YOU FOR THIS GREAT HONOR.

THIS PRIZE COMES AT A CRUCIAL MOMENT FOR GLOBAL PRESS FREEDOM--A TIME WHEN MANY GOVERNMENTS, INCLUDING THE UNITED STATES, INCREASINGLY CITE THE WAR ON TERRORISM AS A JUSTIFICATION FOR CURBING FREE MEDIA AND FREE EXPRESSION.


AND SO I ACCEPT THIS AWARD NOT ONLY ON BEHALF OF CPJ, BUT AS A REPRESENTATIVE OF THE HUNDREDS OF JOURNALISTS WE DEFEND EVERY YEAR.....IN EVERY PART OF THE WORLD....IN DEMOCRACIES, AS WELL AS IN DICTATORSHIPS.

THIS YEAR, BY HONORING THE WORK OF AN INTERNATIONAL PRESS FREEDOM ORGANIZATION, THIS ASSEMBLY HAS SENT EACH OF THE JOURNALISTS WE DEFEND A POWERFUL MESSAGE: THAT THEY ARE NOT ALONE IN THEIR DEDICATION TO A FREE PRESS.

THIS HONOR ALSO SENDS A VERY POWERFUL MESSAGE TO REPRESSIVE GOVERNMENTS. IT'S A MESSAGE THAT SOME OF YOUR OWN GOVERNMENTS NEED TO HEAR:

THAT DEMOCRACY DEPENDS ON A FREE PRESS.

THAT WITHOUT PRESS FREEDOM, THERE IS LITTLE CHANCE FOR FREE ELECTIONS, GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY, OR EVEN ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT.

AND THAT WITH A FREE PRESS, SOCIETIES HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY FOR THE VIGOROUS PUBLIC DEBATE THAT CAN HELP THEM SOLVE THEIR PROBLEMS THROUGH PEACE, NOT CONFLICT.

MY OWN WORK AS A JOURNALIST HAS GIVEN ME CONVINCING PROOF OF THESE NOTIONS.

DURING THE LAST FIVE YEARS OF THE SOVIET UNION I WAS A MOSCOW-BASED CORRESPONDENT, WITNESSING THE UNFOLDING OF SOVIET LEADER MIKHAIL GORBACHEV'S POLICY OF GLASNOST.

WHAT BEGAN AS AN EXPERIMENT IN LIMITED FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION QUICKLY EVOLVED INTO A DYNAMIC PROCESS THAT SLIPPED BEYOND THE KREMLIN'S CONTROL.

AND AMONG THE LEADERS OF THAT PROCESS WERE INDEPENDENT-MINDED JOURNALISTS.....

WHO SEIZED THE OPPORTUNITY TO UNCOVER DARK SECRETS OF THE SOVIET PAST, TO EXPOSE DECADES OF GOVERNMENT ABUSES, AND TO PROMOTE REFORM OF THE CORRUPT AND OSSIFIED SYSTEM OF COMMUNISM.

THE MEDIA'S COURAGE WAS AN EXAMPLE FOR THE ENTIRE COUNTRY. AFTER 70 YEARS OF REPRESSION, SOVIET CITIZENS SHED THEIR FEAR, VOICED THEIR IDEAS AND OPINIONS, MADE REAL CHOICES IN ELECTIONS.

AND IN AUGUST OF 1991, JOURNALISTS WERE AGAIN AMONG THE LEADERS, DEFYING THE TANKS AND CENSORS OF SOVIET HARD-LINERS TO REPORT THE TRUTH: THAT THE HARDLINERS HAD STAGED A COUP IN ORDER TO ROLL BACK GORBACHEV'S REFORMS.

THE FAILURE OF THAT COUP WAS A VICTORY FOR PRESS FREEDOM AND FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION.

I WISH THE STRUGGLE FOR PRESS FREEDOM COULD HAVE ENDED THERE.

BUT OF COURSE IT COULD NOT. AND IT CONTINUES TODAY IN MOST OF THE FORMER SOVIET REPUBLICS, AND IN MUCH OF THE REST OF EASTERN AND CENTRAL EUROPE.

THROUGHOUT THE REGION, THE COLLAPSE OF COMMUNISM MORE THAN A DECADE AGO BROUGHT TANTALIZING NEW FREEDOMS, TEMPERED BY DISHEARTENING NEW REPRESSIONS.

IN RUSSIA, PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN AND HIS KREMLIN HAVE MANIPULATED THE LEVERS OF POWER TO CURB INDEPENDENT MEDIA.

THE KREMLIN HAS BROUGHT ALL NATIONAL BROADCASTING IN RUSSIA BACK UNDER STATE CONTROL.

IT HAS PUNISHED THOSE WHO REPORT CRITICALLY ON THE KREMLIN'S CONDUCT IN CHECHNYA - INCLUDING TWO OF THE PAST WINNERS OF THIS PRIZE, ANDREI BABITSKY AND ANNA POLITKOVSKAYA.

THE KREMLIN HAS SPONSORED NEW RULES ON CAMPAIGN COVERAGE THAT SEVERELY LIMITED INDEPENDENT REPORTING ON RUSSIA'S DECEMBER PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS.

YOUR OWN MONITORS CRITICIZED THAT ELECTION AS "A REGRESSION IN THE DEMOCRATIC PROCESS.' THEY BLAMED STATE MEDIA FOR ACTIVELY PROMOTING THE PRO-PUTIN PARTY THAT SWEPT THE VOTE.

PERHAPS THE BLACKEST SPOT ON RUSSIA'S PRESS FREEDOM RECORD IS THE IMPUNITY ENJOYED BY THOSE WHO MURDER JOURNALISTS.

SINCE THE FALL OF THE SOVIET UNION, CPJ HAS DOCUMENTED THE KILLING OF 32 RUSSIAN JOURNALISTS BECAUSE OF THEIR WORK.

THEY WERE KILLED BY BOMBS. THEY WERE STABBED. THEY WERE SHOT TO DEATH.

MOST WERE MURDERED IN DIRECT REPRISAL FOR THEIR REPORTING, BUT POLICE, PROSECUTORS, AND COURTS CONSISTENTLY FAIL TO PURSUE THESE CRIMES.

AND SO THE KILLINGS CONTINUE.

LAST OCTOBER, THE EDITOR OF A NEWSPAPER IN THE RUSSIAN CITY OF TOGLIATTI WAS STABBED TO DEATH - JUST 18 MONTHS AFTER HIS PREDECESSOR WAS MURDERED.

BOTH MEN PERISHED BECAUSE THEIR PROVINCIAL NEWSPAPER DARED TO REPORT AGGRESSIVELY ON ORGANIZED CRIME AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT CORRUPTION.

BOTH MEN'S MURDERS REMAIN UNSOLVED, LIKE THE MUDERS OF MOST OTHER RUSSIAN JOURNALISTS.

ELSEWHERE IN EUROPE, GOVERNMENT SECURITY FORCES--AND EVEN HEADS OF STATE--HAVE BEEN IMPLICATED IN THE ASSASSINATION OF JOURNALISTS.

THREE YEARS AGO THIS ASSEMBLY HONORED SLAIN UKRAINIAN EDITOR GEORGY GONGADZE. HIS MURDER HAS BEEN LINKED TO PRESIDENT LEONID KUCHMA'S GOVERNMENT.

TO THIS DAY THE UKRAINIAN GOVERNMENT HAS SUCCESSFULLY OBSTRUCTED INTERNATIONAL OVERSIGHT OF THE UNSOLVED GONGADZE CASE.

IN BELARUS, STATE PROSECUTORS HAVE FAILED TO INVESTIGATE ALLEGATIONS THAT THE GOVERNMENT OF PRESIDENT ALEKSANDR LUKASHENKO MAY HAVE BEEN INVOLVED IN THE JULY 2000 DISAPPEARANCE AND MURDER OF JOURNALIST DMITRI ZAVADSKY.

ALSO UNPROSECUTED IS THE 1999 ASSASSINATION OF BELGRADE EDITOR SLAVKO CURUVIJA. HIS MURDER HAS BEEN LINKED TO SENIOR SECURITY OFFICIALS UNDER FORMER PRESIDENT SLOBODAN MILOSEVIC.

THE FAILURE TO SOLVE THESE CRIMES AND BRING THE MURDERERS TO JUSTICE IS ONE OF THE GREATEST CHALLENGES TO PROMOTING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND THE RULE OF LAW IN RUSSIA, BELARUS, UKRAINE, AND ELSEWHERE IN THE REGION.

ANOTHER SERIOUS OBSTACLE TO PRESS FREEDOM IS THE COLLECTION OF OUTDATED CRIMINAL LIBEL LAWS STILL IN EFFECT THROUGHOUT THE REGION.

THOUGH SELDOM ENFORCED, THESE STATUTES ACT LIKE A SILENT CENSOR, BECAUSE JOURNALISTS KNOW THAT POLITICIZED COURTS ARE READY TO SEND THEM TO PRISON FOR CRITICIZING GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS AND THEIR ABUSES.

AS THIS PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY PURSUES ITS WORK OF PROMOTING DEMOCRACY AND THE RULE OF LAW, AMONG ITS GOALS SHOULD BE THESE:

TO INSIST ON RIGOROUS INVESTIGATIONS AND PROSECUTIONS OF THOSE WHO ATTACK OR MURDER JOURNALISTS.

AND TO DEMAND THAT STATES ELIMINATE THEIR OUTDATED CRIMINAL DEFAMATION STATUTES.

YOU MUST SEND A CLEAR MESSAGE:

THAT DEMOCRACY CANNOT EXIST WITHOUT A FREE PRESS.

AND THAT THE PRESS IS NOT FREE WHEN THE MURDERERS OF JOURNALISTS GO UNPUNISHED, AND WHEN JOURNALISTS CAN GO TO JAIL FOR CRITICIZING THEIR GOVERNMENTS.

THANK YOU AGAIN, ON BEHALF OF CPJ AND THE JOURNALISTS WE DEFEND.

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