CPJ Impact

News from the Committee to Protect Journalists, May 2010

Brazilian students surf the Web at a "Campus Party" in São Paulo. (Reuters/Paulo Whitaker)
Brazilian students surf the Web at a “Campus Party” in São Paulo. (Reuters/Paulo Whitaker)

Two Victories for Press Freedom Online

Danny O’Brien, CPJ’s new Internet Advocacy Coordinator, joined us with a brief to defend online journalists and the Internet itself as a medium for global press freedom. In his first month, he helped reform a weak law in Brazil and get a persecuted Ethiopian media outlet back online. On April 21, Google published international statistics on government demands for content removal and access to private user data. The figures contained some surprises, including the high ranking of Brazil as a censor of online content and unmasker of anonymous Internet sources. O’Brien’s analysis of Brazil’s position led to a frank discussion on the CPJ Blog between CPJ and officials at the Brazilian Ministry of Justice. Within days, a new draft law criticized in the blog entry had been redrafted by the ministry to create better protections for Brazilian online journalists. You can read our analysis, and the ministry’s responses, on our blog

Defending at-risk journalists remains the heart of CPJ’s mission whether they work for traditional press or the emerging online media. The editors and writers of Ethiopia’s Addis Neger newspaper had no choice over their switch from print to digital. In 2009, their Addis Ababa print newspaper was shut down, and its staff forced into exile after threats and harassment from officials and government supporters. They continued to keep in touch with their audience by using a Facebook group of more than 3,000 fans—until Facebook abruptly removed their page earlier this month, citing high levels of user complaints, presumably from government supporters. CPJ worked behind the scenes at Facebook to lobby to reinstate Addis Neger’s page. The journalists were able to restore contact with their supporters in time to launch their own independent news site at AddisNegerOnline at the beginning of May.

A Global Gathering for Justice

CPJ hosted the first-ever Impunity Summit on April 20 and April 21. Press freedom advocates gathered from around the world to work to bring the killers of journalists to justice. Representatives from Russia, Mexico, the Philippines, Pakistan, and many other countries attended the summit, which took place at Columbia University and the offices of the Open Society Institute in Manhattan. We emerged from the meeting with a common commitment to expanded and coordinated advocacy.

In conjunction with the summit, CPJ hosted a public panel discussion at Columbia titled “Fighting Back: Bringing the Killers of Journalists to Justice,” moderated by CPJ board member and Associated Press Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll. Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger and Journalism School Dean Nicholas Lemann both spoke at the event. CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon presented the findings for our 2010 Impunity Index, a ranking of countries where the killers of journalists go free. There were setbacks—conditions in the Philippines worsened dramatically—but also some improvements. Brazil, for example, dropped off the list by solving an outstanding case.

A week later, on April 29, CPJ released another report, “Ten Cases to Solve” in which we provided a list of outstanding murder cases and challenged authorities to bring justice and reverse culture of impunity.

CPJ is grateful to the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for underwriting the Impunity Summit as well as our Global Campaign Against Impunity.

CPJ Award Winner Granted Pardon, but Future Uncertain

Facing intense international pressure, Sri Lankan Mahinda Rajapaksa reportedly pardoned journalist J.S. Tissainayagam, who had been released in January on bail. But the pardon has not been officially announced, and its impact is unclear.

CPJ honored Tissainayagam, known as Tissa, with an International Press Freedom Award in November 2009. At the time, Tissa was serving a 20-year sentence after being convicted under Sri Lanka’s draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act. In January, CPJ deputy director Rob Mahoney and Bob Dietz traveled to Sri Lanka and met with the county’s attorney general to discuss the Tissa case and other matters. CPJ’s report on press freedom conditions in Sri Lanka will be released soon.