The past year has been a traumatic one for the press, with the high number of journalists killed and imprisoned underscoring the perils of a profession that requires being on the front line of history. Amid growing animosity by governments, and the threats posed by organized crime and militant groups such as the Islamic State, 2014 has been a difficult year for journalists. But the Committee to Protect Journalists has worked to help those in trouble and advise others.
- CPJ’s intensive reporting on the dangers in Syria enabled journalists and news outlets to make informed decisions about how to cover the conflict. When journalists are kidnapped or imprisoned, CPJ works with news organizations and family members to help campaign for their release.
- CPJ is spearheading a review of journalist safety mechanisms, coordinating with the families of American journalists who were taken hostage, and encouraging a review of U.S. and international hostage and ransom policy.
Despite unprecedented challenges, the Committee to Protect Journalists has made important gains in the fight to protect journalists and promote press freedom. And we couldn’t have done it without your support.
This year, we helped secure the early release of 41 imprisoned journalists
Among them was Siamak Ghaderi, an Iranian journalist who was imprisoned for four years and tortured in custody. We featured Ghaderi in our Ten Journalists to Free From Prison campaign for World Press Freedom Day. Over the summer he was released and in November he was able to receive CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award in person. “I’m coming to New York to thank the people that supported me,” Siamak told CPJ. “This award… belongs to all Iranian journalists who are still in prison, in exile, or working in difficult conditions.”
Two other journalists profiled in the campaign have also been released, including Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Van Hai, who was honored with the IPFA award in absentia in 2013. This year, we were able to hand him his award in person. Hai was freed thanks to our relentless reporting and advocacy–and thanks to the more than 10,000 people who signed our petition calling for his release. On October 21, the journalist was taken from his prison cell directly to the airport in Ho Chi Minh City and sent into exile in the U.S. He is now living with his family in Los Angeles.
“This wouldn’t have been possible without your vital reports and persistent support,” wrote one of Hai’s colleagues at the exile-run Free Journalists Network of Vietnam. “Please know that you all at CPJ have saved a man’s life, and have kept hope alive for so many other human rights defenders on the ground.”
Making some noise on the silver screen
Comedy news star Jon Stewart released his film “Rosewater” about imprisoned Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari in November. “The Daily Show” host is best known for his comedy, but he has shown a strong commitment to freedom of the press and invited CPJ to participate in several screenings and discussions about his film to help draw attention to the plight of at least 30 journalist who remain behind bars in Iran.
“When I was in prison, one of the things that gave me hope was knowing that those outside were making a lot of noise to get me out,” said Bahari, who presented freed prisoner Ghaderi with his award. “CPJ has been making noise on behalf of jailed Iranian journalists for years.”
We need to keep this hope alive. Our annual prison census identified 220 journalists in jail around the world on December 1, 2014. That’s the second-highest number since we began tracking imprisoned journalists 14 years ago. We will continue to fight for the release of jailed journalists around the world until all are freed.
What the numbers don’t tell you
The prison census doesn’t take into account cases of journalist detained or jailed and then released, such as Simon Ostrovsky, who was held by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine while on assignment for VICE News. Ukraine became so dangerous for journalists this year that CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia research associate, Muzaffar Suleymanov traveled there on a fact-finding mission. “There is a media war between Russia and Ukraine and you don’t know what sources to trust, so we went, we saw, we spoke to people, and now we have a much better understanding,” he said. Being on the ground helped Suleymanov advocate for the release of detained journalists.
We provided emergency aid to more than 200 journalists this year
Many of the journalists we helped were fleeing imminent arrest, including 37 Syrians forced into exile. Another journalist had fled to Tunisia from Libya after receiving threats. CPJ helped him through monetary assistance and emotional support. “Of all the emails I get, his were the saddest,” said Nicole Schilit, Journalist Assistance Associate. The journalist later sent a message to CPJ promising to “pay it forward” and thanking the team for listening.
- This year, the crucial work CPJ does in assisting journalists was highlighted by ABC News in video it produced.
- Less than a quarter of exiled journalists we help are able to continue their work, according to CPJ’s special report Forced to Flee. We are helping to change that through fellowships and partnerships with media and academic organizations, but so much remains to be done.
- In October, CPJ traveled to Nairobi to meet with exiled Ethiopian journalists who had fled a government crackdown, and to advocate on their behalf with refugee agencies.
Harnessing video and social media to raise awareness and change the conversation
- CPJ research showed that the Bahraini government intensified its crackdown on the press before high-profile events such as the Grand Prix. Through a digital campaign, in partnership with RSF, a flash mob was timed to the starting gun of the F1 race so our calls for the government to “put the brakes on press censorship” would be heard over the roar of race car engines.
- Since the military took power in Egypt in July 2013, seven journalists have been killed, dozens detained, and independent and critical voices silenced. CPJ’s documentary “Under Threat: Egyptian Press in Peril” launched with an appeal for discussion on social media at #EgyptLastWord and is part of our efforts to engage President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s administration in taking action to improve conditions for the press.
Protecting the platforms that enable journalism
The Internet and digital networked technologies are central to contemporary journalism. We launched a campaign in September to uphold the #RightToReport in the Digital Age over concerns about the surveillance and harassment of journalists. It included an online petition calling on U.S. President Barack Obama to prohibit the surveillance of journalists and media organizations. We partnered with Participant Media to include the petition in its campaign around the film “Citizenfour” and, along with Change.org, have gathered nearly 10,000 signatures. The campaign has attracted prominent journalists, media executives, and more than 70 supporting partners–including The Associated Press, Al-Jazeera, Bloomberg News, First Look Media, Electronic Frontier Foundation, The Huffington Post, and Vice. Please consider adding your name to the growing list of supporters.
- CPJ met with senior officials of the Obama Administration earlier this month to discuss our concerns and request a follow up on the recommendations we made last year on improving press freedom in the U.S.
CPJ strengthened our communication with major technology companies that provide the platforms that are central to so much of today’s journalism. We helped restore the Facebook page of Nigeria’s Premium Times, advised social media companies on policies that impact press freedom, and teamed up with Project Galileo to help protect news websites from online attacks.
Getting the EU to stand behind its press freedom commitments
We ramped up our work in the EU this year as we sought to raise concerns about press freedom backsliding in Hungary and Turkey, surveillance of journalists in the UK and France, and EU policies such as the so-called “Right to be Forgotten” ruling. We also pushed for the EU to uphold its stated commitment to free expression and use its authority to promote better protection abroad, including in Rwanda, Egypt, and Central America.
- CPJ Europe representative Jean-Paul Marthoz was invited to present the findings of CPJ’s fact-finding mission to Hungary at a special event organized by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, in Paris this month. The Chair quoted in length from CPJ’s letter on Hungary to the Foreign Minister of Belgium, which assumed the presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe and therefore plays a crucial role in holding member states up to their obligations under EU mechanisms.
Putting press freedom on the agenda
CPJ worked with a range of groups to put press freedom on the agenda at the US-Africa summit and the EU-Africa Summit. Press freedom and the protection of journalists emerged as a key policy concern, raised publicly and privately.
We have also been advocating for the inclusion of press freedom in the post-2015 development agenda as the U.N. updates the Millennium Development Goals, making the case that freedom of expression and access to information play a crucial role.
CPJ is more influential and effective than ever before
In 2014, CPJ secured pledges of reform in meetings with heads of state in Turkey, Brazil, and Pakistan, and with senior officials in Hungary and Iraqi Kurdistan. We have drawn international attention to impunity for journalist murders, and have seen an increase in prosecutions as a result. This year marked the first International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists on November 2, an important symbolic gesture that we hope will lead to concrete action.
When looking back at the top news stories from 2014, remember those who brought them to us
I know I wouldn’t want to live in a world without journalists who are willing to put their lives and livelihoods on the line to inform the public and hold government and business leaders accountable. The right to access to information and freedom of expression is the most fundamental human right and ensures the existence of all other human rights. With your support, we are ensuring that journalists will be able to report the news without fear or reprisal. Thank you.
Courtney C. Radsch
Committee to Protect Journalists