Protesters in Tahrir Square. (AP/Emilio Morenatti)

CPJ Impact

News from the Committee to Protect Journalists, February 2011

Protesters in Tahrir Square. (AP/Emilio Morenatti)
Protesters in Tahrir Square. (AP/Emilio Morenatti)

CPJ’s Attacks on the Press launched

Global and regional institutions with a responsibility to guard press freedom are largely failing to fulfill their mandate as journalists worldwide continue to face threats, imprisonment, intimidation, and killings, according to Attacks on the Press, a yearly survey released on February 15 by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Attacks on the Press is a comprehensive guide to international press freedom, with thorough analyses of the key factors that obstruct a free press by CPJ’s regional experts. It includes a special feature on the invisible nature of online attacks meant to curb journalists, including online surveillance, malicious software, and the elimination of news sites from the Internet.

With a preface by Al-Jazeera English anchor Riz Khan, the book provides an overview of media conditions in more than 100 countries along with data on journalists killed (44) and imprisoned (145) in 2010.

With a global launch at U.N. headquarters in New York and events in BrusselsNairobiMadrid, and Sao Paulo, CPJ presented a comprehensive assessment of the most pressing dangers and restrictions facing journalists today. Timed to coincide with the launch, CPJ Internet Advocacy Coordinator Danny O’Brien participated in “Policing the Web,” a panel discussion about online censorship organized by the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand in Bangkok.

Sexual violence against journalists

When news of the attack on CBS news correspondent and CPJ board member Lara Logan reached CPJ, questions regarding sexual violence against journalists and particular risks to female reporters became the order of the day. CPJ issued a statement in reaction to the news, expressing alarm and pointing to Logan’s work with the organization on behalf of other journalists who have faced aggression. 

A blog post by CPJ Senior Editor Lauren Wolfe also explored some of the issues raised by the attack and covers previous cases of sexual assault documented by CPJ, which involve men as well as women.

Silencing witnesses in Egypt and beyond

When demonstrators in Egypt began clamoring for democracy, the government, with its history of using legislation and physical force to obstruct the press, orchestrated an unprecedented campaign to stop the news of a movement for change. As pointed out by several detained journalists and human rights activists, the attacks also intended to rid the country of witnesses to crimes against the people. Both foreign and local journalists were subjected to assaults and detentions by mobs of Mubarak supporters and plainclothes and uniformed police. Anti-media propaganda took root on state television and newspapers. At least one journalist was killed by uniformed agents while covering the unrest. The campaign extended to the disabling of Internet connection the blocking of SMS and mobile phone services and satellite channel transmissions, all reported by CPJ.

During 18 days of brutal repression of the press, CPJ documented 76 detentions and 53 assaults on journalists in Egypt. We are pleased to report that all detained journalists tracked by us are free. But journalists are far from safe. As unrest and demands for democracy spread throughout the region, journalists covering anti-government protests in Bahrain, Iran, Libya and Yemen, continue to face obstruction, assault, and detention.

As the leading organization with thorough, reliable and timely information on what was happening to journalists in Egypt, CPJ became a primary source for journalists trying to stay safe and report on anti-media measures. Additionally, CPJ provided analysis with blog posts on the role of Twitter and on the issues at stake by Executive Director Joel Simon. A piece by Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem also looked at how Egyptian journalists were standing up for their rights. On February 15, CPJ participated in a debate hosted by members of the European Parliament to address the situation in Egypt.

As a result, CPJ has been recognized with the January Sidney Award for its overall excellence and in particular for its “important role in the past month as dozens of foreign and Egyptian journalists have been attacked in Egypt.” The Sidney Award is given once a month to an outstanding piece of socially conscious journalism, or a leading journalistic association, by the Sidney Hillman Foundation.

Another Cuban journalist is released

The latest Cuban journalist to find freedom has been allowed to remain in his country. Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez, who was serving a 20-year sentence, is the latest of now 18 journalists released from prison in Cuba since a 2003 crackdown on dissidents that became known as the Black Spring. CPJ was a key group advocating for his and others’ liberation and has been publishing the blog series “After the Black Spring” in which several of these journalists guide readers through their darkest hours and the trials of a newfound freedom.

Malawi on track to suppress

In August 2010, Malawi’s president threatened to close newspapers that report critically about his administration. Three months later, the government followed through by banning a weekly tabloid. In a culminating move at the beginning of February, an amendment to Malawi’s penal code now allows the government to ban any publication deemed contrary to public interest for an unspecified period of time, institutionalizing political censorship of the press. CPJ has denounced each of these developments that make it increasingly risky to practice independent journalism in Malawi.

Journalist Assistance program makes an impact

A new interactive graphic on the CPJ website illustrates the difference our Journalist Assistance Program made for 163 journalists in 2010. The program provided these journalists or their families with financial support for medical or family expenses and/or logistical help with relocation. The journalists helped by CPJ were facing a range of challenges: a prison sentence or the prospect of imprisonment, threats, violence or other harassment due to their reporting. Journalists from Iran (46), the Philippines (32), Ethiopia (19), and Somalia (10) received the most help.

Upcoming events

CPJ will begin a celebration of its 30th anniversary with panel discussions on March 4 at New York’s Columbia University along with the dedication of the CPJ archive that will become part of Columbia University Libraries’ Center for Human Rights Documentation and Research. The two panel discussions will feature leading journalists on the challenges and victories for press freedom. The first, “Looking Back: 30 Years of Covering War,” will be moderated by veteran journalist and CPJ board member Dan Rather. The second, “Looking Ahead: Social Media and Revolution,” will be moderated by Jacob Weisberg, author, chairman, and editor-in-chief of the Slate Group. Further details will be posted soon on the CPJ website, Twitter, and Facebook.

On April 1, the National Press Club is hosting Commedia dell Media III, a comedy competition among Washington Journalists to benefit CPJ, Reporters Without Borders, and the Eric Friedheim National Journalism Library. Click here for more information.

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