News from the Committee to Protect Journalists, October 2013

CPJ launches US report

Following CPJ’s release of its report on the state of press freedom in the United States, the organization is pursuing high-level meetings with the White House. CPJ had drafted six recommendations that were shared with President Obama, including calling for a guarantee that journalists would not be at legal risk or prosecuted for receiving confidential and/or classified information.

CPJ continues to work toward securing a meeting with the Obama administration in order to discuss the report’s findings.

“Given our 32-year history fighting for press freedom around the world, we believe CPJ can make an important contribution to the press freedom concerns and debate in the United States,” CPJ Chairman Sandy Rowe wrote in a blog published the day after the report.

The report–which was written by Leonard Downie, Jr., Arizona State University journalism professor and former Washington Post executive editor, with additional reporting by Sara Rafsky, CPJ’s research associate for the Americas–received widespread coverage in the United States, including on CNN’s Reliable Sources, Huffington Post Live, and NPR’s On the Media.

The report found that the Obama administration’s aggressive war on leaks and other efforts to control information has chilled the conversation between journalists and their sources. Any restriction on this conversation inevitably reverberates around the globe. The report, which was mentioned by Glenn Greenwald in The Guardian, also received a great deal of global media attention, including in Brazil, where it had recently been announced that the U.S. National Security Agency was monitoring the communications of its president, Dilma Rousseff, and other senior officials.

The administration responded to Politico about the findings of CPJ’s report. Eric Schultz, a White House spokesman, defended the administration’s “commitment to reforming Washington,” and said that its “continued efforts seek to promote accountability, provide people with useful information, and harness the dispersed knowledge of the American people.”

Uruguayan broadcast bill sets standard in region

In Latin America, journalists are often targeted by repressive legislation, including the media laws in Venezuela and Ecuador. So it was refreshing when Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s Americas program coordinator, met Uruguayan President José Mujica this month to discuss a media bill that includes strong guarantees for freedom of expression.

The bill, which was introduced in May by the Mujica administration, is aimed at ensuring regulating radio and television with the goal of creating a diverse and competitive broadcast system. It also forbids censorship, and maintains that journalists have a right to editorial freedom. But even more extraordinary is the process by which the bill was created–the executive branch engaged every sector of society and included recommendations from journalists, media executives, civil society organizations, and prominent press freedom advocates.

“It is our duty to ensure universal access to radio and television and contribute to freedom of information,” Mujica told CPJ. “[The bill] will guarantee more freedom of expression to journalists but also to all Uruguayans.”

The bill is being debated this month in the lower chamber in Congress. A decision is expected on November 5.

Lauría wrote that the law could be used as a foundation for a regional model. “This legislation could be a model for the region, especially given what’s happening in countries like Venezuela and Ecuador,” he said. “There are a few provisions that could be improved upon, but I am largely pleased to see this kind of inclusive law-making process being used.”


Pirate arrest has implications for the press

When CPJ Senior Adviser Jean-Paul Marthoz, who is based in Brussels, first heard that Belgian authorities had arrested a Somali pirate on October 12 after drawing him to Belgium, he saw this as a positive step in the fight against piracy. But then he realized that the operation, which involved luring the pirate under the guise of filming a documentary, served to blur the line between journalists and combatants. He also saw that practically no one had raised the issue of the potential “risks for journalists in conflicts or lawless areas.”

“I immediately contacted the [Belgian] Association of Journalists and shared my concerns with them,” Marthoz said.

CPJ research shows that at least three journalists have been killed in direct relation to their work in Somalia this year. The organization ranks the country as one of the most dangerous in the world for journalists to work. For the fourth year in a row, Somalia was ranked second on CPJ’s Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where journalists are slain and the killers go free.

“Our global perspective, looking at things from a different angle, helped a lot in identifying the issue,” Marthoz said. “Our conversation led them really to discuss thoroughly the issue and, after they had checked with sources, decide to react with a communiqué.”

On October 18, the Belgian Association of Journalists issued a statement condemning the operation. The Flemish public broadcasting company VRT subsequently also issued a statement urging authorities to never use this ruse again.

Belgian authorities did not immediately respond to the statements.

CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon was also interviewed by Slate about the case and noted that journalists are often accused of being spies. “International journalists operating in Somalia are incredibly vulnerable,” he said. “There have been kidnappings and ransom demands. Any action that fuels that perception potentially makes that incredibly risky work even more risky.”


Editor freed in Morocco

Morocco prides itself on being more liberal than its regional neighbors, but over the years CPJ has documented several repressive measures the government has taken against the press. In recent weeks, CPJ worked to secure the release of an editor jailed in Morocco. After 38 days in prison, Ali Anouzla, editor of the news website Lakome, was temporarily freed. He is scheduled to appear in court in December.

Anouzla was arrested in connection with a news article published on Lakome‘s website on July 13 that referred to an article posted on El País, the leading Spanish daily, which included a direct link to a YouTube video that was purportedly posted by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, a North African branch of the extremist group.

CPJ worked with Anouzla’s colleague, Aboubakr Jamai (a 2003 CPJ International Press Freedom Awardee), on the case by building a coalition of 60 organizations to call for his release. CPJ, alongside Jamai, also met with State Department officials to urge them to raise the editor’s case with the Moroccan government. Jamai returned to Morocco and held a press conference on Anouzla’s case, mentioning CPJ’s support in those meetings.

“The unprecedented move of using an anti-terrorism law to charge Anouzla in Morocco is an indication of serious setbacks to the country’s record on press freedom,” Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s MENA program coordinator, said.


Keeping the spotlight on Ethiopia

With six journalists in prison, Ethiopia was the eighth-worst jailer of journalists in the world, according to CPJ’s 2012 prison census. In 2009, authorities broadened the scope of the country’s anti-terror law, and criminalized coverage of any group the government deemed to be terrorist. CPJ research shows that prominent journalists and bloggers have been detained under this far-reaching law.

On October 11, CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita traveled to Washington to participate in a candlelight vigil for imprisoned bloggers in Ethiopia. CPJ helped organize the event.

The next day, jailed Ethiopian journalist Woubshet Taye was honored with the Free Press Award at the CNN Multichoice Africa Journalist Awards in Cape Town, South Africa. CPJ had nominated Taye for the award and had provided additional information about his case to help the committee reach a decision.

CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, Sue Valentine, attended the event. “Ethiopia is frequently lauded for its economic growth, but too little attention is focused on its dismal human rights record,” Valentine said. “Woubshet’s wife and son received a standing ovation as they accepted the award on his behalf, focusing attention on the high cost being paid by Woubshet and other journalists, Eskinder Nega and Reeyot Alemu, who dare to ask questions and write freely about their country.”

Changes to CPJ’s board of directors

CPJ welcomes Stephen J. Adler to its board of directors. Adler is the president and editor-in-chief of Reuters.

Dean Baquet has rotated off the CPJ’s board after completing 10 years of service. Baquet is the managing editor for news at The New York Times. CPJ extends its gratitude for his service.

Upcoming events

CPJ and the New America Foundation will host a panel in New York on November 14, called “Obama and the Press,” which will discuss the findings of the U.S. report. For more on the event, click here.

CPJ’s annual International Press Freedom Awards will be held on Tuesday, November 26, 2013, at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. Lara Logan will be hosting the event. 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 the awards in recognition of their courageous reporting in the face of severe reprisal.

For tickets, please call CPJ’s Development Office at +1 (212) 465-1004, ext. 113. 


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