The story sounds hideously like another--one of a chaotic, predatory attack on a woman journalist in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Clothes torn from her body, hundreds of men surging to grab her breasts and claw at her. A woman wondering, "Maybe this is how I go, how I die." It has been almost a year and a half since CBS correspondent and CPJ board member Lara Logan endured an attack like this. Now, an independent journalist and student named Natasha Smith reports that it has happened to her.
As the Internet and mobile communications become more integrated into reporters' work, the digital threats to journalists' work and safety have increased as well. While many press reports have documented Internet surveillance and censorship--and the efforts to combat them--mobile communications are the new frontline for journalist security.
After the Salvadoran online newsmagazine El Faro exposed a secret government deal with criminal gangs last month, its staff faced repercussions that illustrate the new and complicated risks facing journalists worldwide. El Faro's report, which said the government provided more lenient treatment of imprisoned gangsters in exchange for the groups' agreement to slow down their murderous practices, addressed one of the most sensitive topics facing journalists today--crime and its many interconnections with government.
For a few weeks after the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, it looked as if Egypt might do the unthinkable and do away with the ministry of information. New publications and TV stations sprouted up, newspaper circulation soared, and a new breed of citizen journalists and bloggers opened a space for reporting and comment that a year earlier would have led to a jail sentence.
For a growing number of independent journalists and bloggers, the memory of that press freedom euphoria is as hazy as the Cairo skyline.
Not since the worst period of the Iraq war, or in the Balkans the decade before, have so many storied journalists been killed or seriously injured in such a short period of time. Inevitably, the spate of deaths leaves many journalists asking questions about whether and how much they are willing to risk their own lives, and possibly the lives of others. Many experienced journalists might agree on one thing: the decisions one makes about risk are among the most intimate decisions they will ever make.
What a difference a year makes. In January 2011, we had to scrap plans for our regular Middle East launch of Attacks on the Press at the headquarters of the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate in downtown Cairo. Just a few blocks away, in Tahrir Square, journalists were busy fending off their own attackers as pro-regime thugs tried to thwart young Egyptians' ultimately successful attempt to topple Hosni Mubarak.
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