News from the Committee to Protect Journalists, May 2013

Gunman sentenced in murder of Philippine journalist

CPJ has extensively covered the case of radio journalist Gerardo Ortega, who was killed in January 2011 in the Philippines, and has provided non-financial support for the Ortega family. Through our Global Campaign Against Impunity and the new digital component Speak Justice: Voices Against Impunity, CPJ has also pressured the Philippine government to break the country’s silencing circle of impunity.

On May 7, a man who said he was paid the equivalent of US$250 to kill Ortega was sentenced to life imprisonment. But CPJ’s work does not stop with this conviction. Too often we have seen low-level hit men tried and sentenced, while powerful political figures remain outside the grasp of the law.

CPJ joins with the Ortega family in calling on the government of President Benigno Aquino to bring real and complete justice in this case. Fifty-five journalist murders have gone unsolved in the Philippines in the past decade. The country ranked third-worst worldwide on CPJ’s 2013 Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where journalists are murdered regularly and the killers go free.

Report spotlights violence against Pakistani press

Following the successful release of CPJ’s report on Pakistan, we are seeking meetings with members of the incoming government and are calling on them to urgently address the issue of violence against the press by bringing perpetrators of past crimes to justice.

The report, written for CPJ by independent journalist Elizabeth Rubin, exposes the intricate web of manipulation, intimidation, retribution, and impunity that has led to a significant rise in journalist murders over the past five years. Military officials, intelligence agents, and criminal elements of political parties threaten and attack the news media without fear of punishment.

CPJ’s report was covered by local and international English and Urdu-language media, with Asia Program Coordinator Bob Dietz explaining the report’s findings to BBC and CNN International’s global audiences. On Twitter, the report was the Top News item for the hashtag #Pakistan.

Impunity a focus on World Press Freedom Day

CPJ’s 2013 Impunity Index was released on World Press Freedom Day and caused a stir in Nigeria, which appeared on the index for the first time. Nigeria’s presidential spokesman tried to downplay the facts by saying our survey promoted “sensationalism, rather than the truth.” But the criticism does not change the facts, as Peter Nkanga, CPJ’s East Africa consultant, was able to demonstrate on the CPJ Blog.

With five unsolved murders since 2009, Nigeria ranks 11th of the 12 worst countries for impunity and is one of two African countries on the list. The other is Somalia, where 12 journalists were murdered in 2012 alone despite relative calm in Mogadishu.

The index also found that unpunished, deadly violence continues to plague the press globally. Deteriorating security accompanied by a lack of justice was seen in Pakistan, while in Brazil, where provincial reporters have proved especially vulnerable, the impunity rating has risen despite the government’s stated commitment to justice.

CPJ presented the report at official events in New York and Costa Rica, and also hosted a successful side meeting with press freedom groups, journalists, and academics on strategies to combat impunity.

CPJ releases Iran report, hosts panel with Jon Stewart

At least 40 Iranian journalists were behind bars on April 15, 2013, as authorities cracked down on the independent media ahead of the June presidential elections, CPJ found in a new report. Iran is the second leading jailer of journalists in the world, according to CPJ research.

CPJ joined with the PEN American Center and the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran on May 8 to host a film screening of “Forced Confessions” and panel discussion to focus on the deterioration situation of the Iranian press. Moderated by political satirist Jon Stewart, the panel featured Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari and CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon.

A video of the panel discussion is available here.

Facebook joins the Global Network Initiative

Facebook is a key platform for journalists, so we’re pleased to see Facebook join the Global Network Initiative this month. With a billion users, Facebook has served in some repressive countries as a publishing platform for journalists whose newspapers or news websites have been closed down.

GNI already includes companies like Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo, who work with human rights defenders and ethical investors to overcome some of the thorny challenges to freedom of expression and user privacy posed by powerful political and commercial interests.

Press freedom set back in United States

CPJ’s board of directors has rarely seen the need to raise its collective voice against U.S. government actions that threaten newsgathering. This month, however, the board wrote to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Deputy Attorney General James Cole to vigorously protest the secret seizing of phone records of The Associated Press.

A few days later, in a letter to Holder, CPJ joined more than 60 civil liberties, press freedom, and public interest groups in demanding answers on the recent targeting of journalists.

In a Washington address two days after the board letter was sent, U.S. President Barack Obama said he was “troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable.” He added that Holder has agreed to “review existing Department of Justice guidelines governing investigations that involve reporters” and report back by July 12.

CPJ will continue to monitor the case.


CPJ’s Distress Fund provides emergency grants to journalists facing persecution for their work. Support our work and make a gift today.

Upcoming events

June 10: New America NYC: Iraq – Remembering a Forgotten War

June 14: “The Media in Pakistan: Security Challenges” Elizabeth Rubin, independent journalist and author of CPJ’s report, Roots of Impunity: Pakistan’s Endangered Press, and CPJ Board member Ahmed Rashid, author of Pakistan on the Brink, will speak at Chatham House in London.

June 19: CPJ will launch its annual Exile Report.

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