Clockwise from top left: Nedim Şener, Janet Hinostroza, Nguyen Van Hai, Bassem Youssef (AP, Sebastián Oquendo, To Coucle Refaat, Free Journalists Network of Vietnam)
Clockwise from top left: Nedim Şener, Janet Hinostroza, Nguyen Van Hai, Bassem Youssef (AP, Sebastián Oquendo, To Coucle Refaat, Free Journalists Network of Vietnam)

News from the Committee to Protect Journalists, September 2013

Press freedom award winners announced 

Four journalists–Janet Hinostroza (Teleamazonas, Ecuador), Bassem Youssef (Capital Broadcast Center, Egypt), Nedim Şener (Posta, Turkey), and Nguyen Van Hai (Dieu Cay, Vietnam)–will be honored with CPJ’s 2013 International Press Freedom Awards in recognition of their courageous reporting in the face of severe reprisal.

Upon receiving the news, Hinostroza told CPJ: “It will be an honor for me to receive this recognition, which will drive me to continue working for freedom of expression in my country and support the different processes that are being developed around the world to defend this right.”

Paul Steiger, editor-in-chief of ProPublica and former editor-at-large of the Wall Street Journal, and a member of CPJ’s Advisory Board, will also be presented with CPJ’s 2013 Burton Benjamin Award for his unwavering commitment to press freedom.

Daniel L. Doctoroff, chief executive and president of Bloomberg LP, is the dinner chairman, and Lara Logan, CBS News correspondent and CPJ board member, will host the event. The award ceremony will be held on Tuesday, November 26, 2013, at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. For tickets, please contact CPJ’s Development Department

CPJ co-hosts journalist summit in Istanbul 

Since the outbreak of war in Syria, dozens of Syrian journalists have gone into exile. Attempts to provide assistance to them have been hamstrung by a lack of coordination among various groups. This month, CPJ and the Rory Peck Trust brought together several local and international journalists in a summit in Istanbul, called “How to Support Journalists Covering the Syrian Conflict: A Summit on Joint Strategies for Assistance.”

CPJ board members Sandra Mims Rowe and John Carroll, Executive Director Joel Simon, and other CPJ staff attended the conference.

“International, regional and local organizations, as well as news outlets, all participated and agreed on the need for a more coordinated response to local and foreign journalists covering the Syrian crisis. We now have the foundation to help make that happen,” said María Salazar-Ferro, coordinator of CPJ’s Journalist Assistance program.

CPJ’s Journalist Assistance program has seen a marked increase in the number of requests for assistance it receives on behalf of Syrian journalists and foreign freelancers covering the conflict in Syria. CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program has been documenting the situation for journalists in Syria as it unfolds.


Advocating for press freedom in Turkey

The release of CPJ’s October 2012 report on Turkey had a huge impact, but led to an acrimonious war of words with the Turkish government. In an effort to try and maintain this critical posture while opening a dialogue, CPJ carried out a mission to Istanbul this month. CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon and CPJ board members Sandra Mims Rowe and John Carroll met with officials at the Turkish Ministry of Justice in Ankara and delivered a letter calling on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to work to ensure greater press freedom in the country.

The letter outlined the threats and legal action facing journalists working in Turkey and made recommendations to the government that included releasing all imprisoned journalists and halting the criminal prosecution of journalists. The letter received widespread local and international coverage, including in The Associated Press and the BBC.

CPJ’s Simon described the meeting with the Turkish officials in a mission journal on September 23, 2013: “The tone was open and constructive, and, in an effort to improve communication and build confidence, we agreed to share with the Justice Ministry a list of jailed journalists we are considering for inclusion on our 2013 imprisoned list, which will be published in December. The ministry, in turn, pledged to provide its perspective on the cases. This is a normal part of our reporting process and we will, of course, take the government’s views into account when making our own independent determination.


Working to liberate a Liberian editor

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf took office amid pledges to heal Liberia’s wounds following the violent and protracted civil war. While the country has become more stable, repression against journalists has not ceased.

A journalist was jailed in August for his inability to pay a harsh fine in connection with a libel conviction. Rodney Sieh, editor of FrontPageAfrica, was convicted in relation to a story published on the findings of a government investigation that accused a former official of corruption.

CPJ voiced concern about Sieh’s health, which reportedly deteriorated in prison. In early September, CPJ also wrote an open letter to President Sirleaf, calling on her to reform the libel laws in the country. CPJ received a response to its statement about Sieh’s health and the open letter to the president. The US ambassador to Liberia also told CPJ that President Sirleaf had mentioned CPJ’s letter in talks with the ambassador.


CPJ secured a meeting with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf this month, on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York City. In the meeting, CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita raised concerns of the country’s libel laws and specifically mentioned Sieh’s case.

“This politically tainted case against Rodney Sieh illustrates the urgent need for legal reform in the country and the perils the press faces when scrutinizing powerful public figures or reporting the findings of government inquiries on corruption,” said CPJ’s Keita. “We were pleased with the opportunity to meet with the president and told her that we would continue to advocate for these necessary reforms.”

Release of a Chinese blogger

While Chinese authorities freed imprisoned freelance journalist Shi Tao on August 23, his release was not publicized until early September. The journalist had been imprisoned since November 2004 on charges of “leaking state secrets abroad” for messages he wrote summarizing government restrictions on domestic media reporting on the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

CPJ honored Shi with its 2005 International Press Freedom Award in absentia. The organization has been advocating for his release since he was condemned to prison, and has written letters to Chinese authorities and U.S. President Barack Obama, and criticized the appellate court’s decision to uphold the term.

“Shi Tao’s release is welcome news, of course, even though he never should have been jailed in the first place,” said CPJ Asia Program Director Bob Dietz. “But it is an anomaly in China’s increasingly repressive attitude toward online activity. Don’t expect China to be a freer country because it has released a journalist from unjustified imprisonment.”


Journalism and democracy in the Americas

In testimony delivered to the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere of U.S. House of Representatives this month, CPJ’s Carlos Lauría, senior program coordinator for the Americas, pointed out that violence and official harassment are the trends that illustrate the challenges facing the press, and linked the importance of journalism and free speech to democracy.

“In different countries throughout the hemisphere, broad aspects of public discourse are limited by the threat of physical violence, government censorship, restrictive legislation, and financial pressures,” CPJ’s Lauría said in the testimony. “The lack of vigorous debates on issues of public interest, which is the cornerstone of modern democracies, is creating political instability, reducing government accountability, and compromising economic development.”

CPJ’s Americas program has long advocated for the importance of a free press to secure democracy and good governance in the region.


Petitioning for investigations in Egypt

CPJ has documented the deaths of nine journalists who were killed in relation to their work in Egypt, including five who were killed since the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi in July.

The organization launched a petition on September 4, calling on Egyptian authorities to conduct serious and efficient investigations into the journalist killings. The petition has already been signed by more than 1,000 individuals, including several prominent Egyptian journalists, which CPJ called “a hopeful sign for the future of the Egyptian media.”

As CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said in a blog on September 5, “The dead include journalists who worked for the government, the opposition, and, for the first time in Egypt, international news organizations. This puts considerable pressure on the current military-led government to ensure the Egyptian judiciary conducts independent and impartial reviews of each of these cases.”

You, too, can lend your voice. Join our cause and sign the petition here.


Sherif Mansour: Risk-taker

Congratulations to CPJ’s Sherif Mansour, program coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, who was listed in the Diplomatic Courier’s 2013 list of the top 99 under 33 Foreign Policy Leaders.


Upcoming reports

United States: On October 10 in Washington, CPJ will release its first-ever comprehensive report on press freedom in the United States. The report is being written by Leonard Downie Jr., journalism professor at Arizona State University and former executive editor of The Washington Post.


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