New York, March 26, 2002–The September 11 attacks and subsequent “war on terrorism” precipitated a press freedom crisis that was global in scope, according to CPJ’s annual survey of press freedom conditions around the world.
Attacks on the Press in 2001 documents over 500 cases of media repression in 140 countries, including assassination, assault, imprisonment, censorship, and legal harassment. In documenting these attacks, CPJ’s report notes several alarming trends.
- A total of 37 journalists were killed worldwide as a direct result of their work in 2001, a sharp increase from 2000 when 24 were killed. The dramatic rise is mainly due to the war in Afghanistan, where eight journalists were killed in the line of duty covering the US-led military campaign. Most of the journalists killed, however, were not covering conflicts but were murdered in reprisal for their reporting on sensitive topics including official crime and corruption in countries such as Bangladesh, China, Thailand, and Yugoslavia.
- After four years of steady decline, the number of journalists in prison jumped nearly 50 percent – from 81 in 2000 to 118 in 2001. More than two-thirds of last year’s increase came from little noticed crackdowns in Eritrea and Nepal, carried out after September 11. China, already the world’s leading jailer of journalists for the third year in a row, arrested eight more ending the year with a total of 35 journalists behind bars.
- Governments around the world invoked “national security” concerns while seeking new restrictions on the press or unleashing new intimidations in countries like Zimbabwe, where journalists were denounced as “terrorists.” As justification, some cited U.S. actions after September 11, such as the State Department’s attempt to censor a Voice of America interview with Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
Jailed Journalists Freed
Despite these setbacks, in 2001 there were some important gains and positive developments in global press freedom. In countries like Yugoslavia, Syria, and Sri Lanka journalists were able to report the news more freely than they had in years. Eight journalists jailed in Ethiopia were all released following intensive advocacy and a fact-finding mission by CPJ’s Africa program, and two of CPJ’s International Press Freedom awardees, in prison when their awards were announced in 1999 and 2000, were both released in 2001 before serving out their full sentences.
“These releases are powerful evidence that even the most hard-line opponents of a free press are not immune to international pressure,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “At the same time, a truly global press freedom crisis affected journalists from China to Benin to the West Bank making it more difficult to safely and freely report the news,” said Cooper.
For more than 20 years, CPJ has stood up for countless journalists, saving lives and exposing those who would silence the press. In 2001, that advocacy was more critical than ever. As Anne Garrels notes in her preface to Attacks on the Press in 2001, “in the wake of September 11, many governments may be tempted to use the threat of terrorism as a pretext to crack down on a prying, inconvenient press. If they do, CPJ will be there to make a fuss – we owe that to our colleagues around the world.”
Syria, Burma, and Colombia: Three Special Reports
Special reports in this year’s Attacks analyze press freedom conditions in Syria, Burma, and Colombia. “Stop Signs” reports that although Syria’s press showed signs of life after Bashar al-Assad succeeded his ironfisted father two years ago, the thaw proved to be fleeting. “Burma Under Pressure” shows how journalists in Burma persevere against odds unheard of in almost any other country, running a gauntlet of strict government regulation, capricious censors and corrupt bureaucrats. “Bad Press” focuses on Colombia’s right-wing paramilitary leader Carlos CastaÒo’s use of violence, intimidation, and even murder to control the local media.
The annual Attacks series is widely recognized as the most authoritative and comprehensive source of information on press freedom conditions worldwide.
CPJ is pleased to announce that the Brookings Institution Press will market and distribute Attacks on the Press in 2001. This agreement will help CPJ’s important publication reach a broader audience.