News from the Committee to Protect Journalists, December 2013

End-of-year Impact

As 2013 draws to a close, CPJ looks back on the highlights of the year, when we stepped in and advocated for journalists and news outlets at risk around the world.

Thank you for all you have done to support us, and please continue to join us in our important work.

CPJ reaches grim milestone

This year, with the shooting death of Sky News cameraman Mick Deane in Egypt, CPJ documented the 1,000th journalist killed in relation to his work since the organization began documenting fatalities in 1992. Over time, about one journalist is killed every week, CPJ research shows.

The conflict in Syria, a spike in Iraqi bloodshed, and political violence in Egypt accounted for more than half of the 70 journalists killed for their work in 2013, CPJ found in its annual census. Pakistan, Somalia, India, Brazil, the Philippines, Mali, and Russia also saw multiple journalist deaths during the year, although the number of deaths in Pakistan and Somalia declined significantly from previous years. The proportion of victims who were singled out for murder was 44 percent, less than the historical average. Thirty-six percent of the journalists were killed in combat or crossfire, while 20 percent died during some other type of dangerous assignment.

Fighting to end impunity

CPJ’s continued advocacy to end impunity in the killings of journalists worldwide was heeded by the United Nations Security Council in July, when it held its first special session on the protection of journalists. In November, the Third Committee of the General Assembly passed a resolution on the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity, demonstrating the deep level of global concern.

At least five convictions in 2013 have helped stem the global tide of impunity. Ukrainian authorities convicted a former high-ranking police official in the 2000 murder of Georgy Gongadze, founder and editor of the news website Ukrainska Pravda. In the Philippines, the killer of journalist Gerardo Ortega was sentenced to life in prison after saying he was paid the equivalent of US$250 to carry out the January 2011 murder.

And in Brazil, three separate convictions were made against the killers of radio reporter Francisco Gomes de Medeiros; Edinaldo Filgueira of Jornal o Serrano; and Domingos Sávio Brandão de Lima Júnior, owner, publisher, and columnist of the daily Folha do Estado.

CPJ will continue to work toward ending the culture of impunity in journalist killings around the world.

Win for press freedom in the Americas

In a cautious victory for human rights and press freedom in March, the Organization of American States (OAS) reaffirmed the autonomy and independence of the regional human rights system and rejected attempts aimed at neutralizing the work of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and its special rapporteur for freedom of expression at the OAS extraordinary assembly. CPJ played an important role in framing the debate and publicizing the threats.

But the battle is not over. A paragraph in the resolution instructing the OAS Permanent Council “to continue the dialogue on the core aspects for strengthening” the system means that Ecuador and its allies of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, known as ALBA, will most likely continue to push for restrictive reforms. CPJ will continue to fight any proposals that could make citizens throughout the hemisphere more vulnerable to press freedom violations. Indeed, even the jailing of journalists will continue until legal protections are enacted that safeguard journalists and freedom of the press.

Working to free jailed journalists

In 2013, CPJ successfully advocated for the release of at least 39 journalists and one press freedom advocate. A prominent case was that of Liberian editor Rodney Sieh, who was jailed for not paying libel damages in relation to a story published in FrontPageAfrica about the findings of a government investigation that accused a former official of corruption. CPJ secured a meeting with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and raised concerns about the country’s libel laws, specifically mentioning Sieh’s case.

CPJ’s advocacy raised the prominence of the case and applied international pressure to the government. Sieh was released in November.

CPJ documented at least 211 journalists behind bars in 2013, when it conducted its annual census on December 1. CPJ found that Turkey was the world’s leading jailer of journalists, followed closely by Iran and China.

CPJ issues report on press freedom in US

This year marked the release of CPJ’s first-ever report on the state of press freedom in the United States. The report–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–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.

CPJ continues to seek a meeting with the Obama administration in order to discuss our recommendations.

CPJ summit for journalists in exile

CPJ and the Rory Peck Trust co-hosted a summit in Istanbul in September, called “How to Support Journalists Covering the Syrian Conflict: A Summit on Joint Strategies for Assistance.” The summit was convened to address the needs of Syrian journalists who have fled their homes and to allow service providers to coordinate their responses. 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.

“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, said in September.

2013 International Press Freedom Awards

CPJ rounded out the year with our annual International Press Freedom Awards ceremony at the Waldorf in New York. We honored Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef, Ecuadoran TV reporter Janet Hinostroza, Turkish journalist Nedim Şener, and imprisoned Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Van Hai with 2013 press freedom awards.

CPJ will hold Hai’s award until he can accept it in person.

Remembering Mike O’Connor

Mexican journalists lost one of their most formidable advocates in 2013. CPJ Mexico Representative Mike O’Connor, who passed away suddenly on December 29, will be remembered as someone who was on the forefront of the struggle for press freedom. His superb skills as an investigative journalist helped scores of reporters across the country during a period marred by violence and censorship.

Mike’s work had a tremendous impact on one of CPJ’s biggest successes in recent years. On May 3, in what CPJ called “a step forward in the fight against impunity,” Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signed legislation to implement a constitutional amendment giving federal authorities broader jurisdiction to prosecute crimes against freedom of expression. Mike campaigned tirelessly for more involvement from the federal government in prosecuting press crimes, and persuaded journalists, advocates, legislators, and officials that the passage of the amendment would provide the country with a better framework to protect freedom of expression. He finally prevailed.

Mike started working for CPJ in January 2009, and played a critical role as an advocate for the rights of Mexican journalists to report the news without fear of reprisal. He was an exceptional journalist, truly committed to the cause of human rights and press freedom. We will miss his commitment to press freedom, his sarcasm and sense of humor, and his friendship.

Best of the blog in 2013

Russia steps up crackdown on rights groups, Internet

Snowden travels trace a path of government hypocrisy

Remembering Iraq, a forgotten war

Afghan journalists in good hands–their own

Amid upheaval, Egypt’s media blunders

Covering Westgate

The US press is our press

Interactive Timeline: 12 months of impunity at a glance

Behind the numbers: Researching Syria’s killed journalists

We invite you to read an overview of our work in our 2013 Annual Report.

Happy New Year!