Actor and activist Meryl Streep stands alongside CNN Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour, who hosted CPJ’s 2017 International Press Freedom Awards dinner. (Getty Images/Kevin Hagen)

CPJ Highlights: Year-End Edition

There is no way to sugar coat it–this has been a terrible year for press freedom around the world. A record number of journalists are in jail. Violence remains stubbornly high. Political leaders who should be defending press freedom–including U.S. President Donald Trump–are instead vilifying journalists and undermining the role of the media.

These challenges make our victories all the more sweet. We know how much is at stake. In this year-end edition of “CPJ Highlights,” we’d like to tell you about some of our successes in the fight to defend press freedom. To all of you who support CPJ and press freedom, this is also our chance to say thank you.

Standing up in defense of journalists in the United States

The anti-press rhetoric by prominent figures in the U.S. has cast a chill on the media. But we at CPJ have a stake in ensuring that journalists are allowed to speak out. So we will continue calling on the U.S. government to uphold its commitments to press freedom at home and to use its moral authority to improve press freedom protections abroad.

In August, we launched the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, a project that we led in partnership with the Freedom of the Press Foundation and more than two dozen other groups. And the results are chilling.

Since January, there have been at least 32 arrests of journalists in the United States. Press equipment was seized, stolen, or damaged at least 24 times. There have been at least 35 attacks on journalists, 22 of whom were assaulted while covering protests. CPJ will continue monitoring these trends in the United States and speaking out in defense of the media.

CPJ also expanded its advocacy with policymakers in the U.S. Our Washington advocacy manager is engaging with the State Department, ensuring CPJ research is available on Capitol Hill, and building on our relationships with leaders (including Senator Marco Rubio and State Representative Adam Schiff). Just this week, after CPJ shared details of our reporting with Congress members on the imprisonment of a prominent Vietnamese blogger, Schiff tweeted out a call for the blogger to be released.

CPJ and other groups have helped revitalize the Congressional Caucus for Freedom of the Press. After CPJ met with State Representative Adam Schiff this year, his office created a webpage for the caucus, which is co-chaired by Congressman Steve Chabot of Ohio. Two of the journalists featured on the site are CPJ cases. On World Press Freedom Day, Schiff cited CPJ data in an article he wrote on press freedom.

We will continue speaking out about press freedom in the U.S. CPJ’s strength lies in our ability to mobilize journalists to fight for press freedom, an issue that they already care so much about. We have taken more steps to increase awareness of press freedom in the current media environment, and we will continue to host or participate in public events on press freedom in the U.S. to ensure that our perspective is included in the conversation.

And we will not stop working to ensure that U.S. journalists are able to carry out their work freely and without fear of reprisal.

CPJ’s 2017 International Press Freedom Awards dinner

Actor and activist Meryl Streep with CNN Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour, who hosted CPJ's 2017 International Press Freedom Awards dinner. (Getty Images/Kevin Hagen)
Actor and activist Meryl Streep with CNN Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour, who hosted CPJ’s 2017 International Press Freedom Awards dinner. (Getty Images/Kevin Hagen)

“I come from a land where we’ve learned to live with extreme pain and become accustomed to injustice,” said Mexican journalist Patricia Mayorga at CPJ’s 2017 International Press Freedom Awards dinner.

Mayorga was forced to flee her home after she received threats. She received CPJ’s 2017 International Press Freedom Award from actor and activist Meryl Streep who said that she felt privileged to be there “on a night when we honor some of the bravest journalists in the world and this terrific, hardworking organization whose mission it is to safeguard them and their work.”

CPJ also honored Pravit Rojanaphruk, a Thai journalist and longtime press freedom advocate; imprisoned Cameroonian journalist Ahmed Abba; and Yemeni journalist Afrah Nasser. PBS journalist Judy Woodruff was honored with CPJ’s inaugural Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award, presented in memory of Ifill, a journalist and former CPJ board member who died in late 2016. Ifill’s brother, Bert, presented Woodruff with the award.

The ceremony was hosted by Christiane Amanpour, chief international correspondent for CNN and CPJ senior advisor, and chaired by David Rhodes, president of CBS News.

The night was a moving tribute to journalists who continue to report despite facing great risks. Thanks to a Facebook Live feed of the event, people all over the world were able to learn about the risks that these journalists face. The video, which has been viewed more than 36,000 times, was shared by Amanpour as well as international outlets including Proceso, the Mexican magazine affiliated with awardee Mayorga. CPJ also received a combined 2 million impressions on Twitter. A Twitter moment, which was among our top tweets, received over 41,000 impressions.

Details of the ceremony were included in more than 450 news reports across the world, including in AllAfrica, the LA Times, Voice of America, Columbia Journalism Review, the Dhaka Tribune, the Washington Post, and The New York Times.

CPJ helped secure early release for 67 imprisoned journalists

One of the core parts of CPJ’s work is to document every case of journalists jailed anywhere in the world for their work. But we do more than just report. Our advocacy also helps win their freedom.

In 2017, we launched a “Free the Press” campaign to highlight cases of journalists imprisoned on anti-state charges. We also conduct a prison census each year in which we list the cases of each journalist behind bars for their work on December 1. (Stay tuned to our website to read our 2017 census.)

This year, CPJ advocacy helped win the early release from prison of at least 67 journalists. One of them, Egyptian journalist Mosad al-Barbary, told us, “I’m thankful for all of your efforts. God bless you.”

Egyptian journalist Mosad Al-Barbary, with his children. (Mosad Al-Barbary)
Egyptian journalist Mosad Al-Barbary, with his children. (Mosad Al-Barbary)

Al-Barbary, the administrative manager of Egyptian TV channel Misr 25, was arrested in 2014 and sentenced to life in prison on charges that included publishing false news. Al-Barbary appealed the sentence and, in May 2017, a court acquitted him on appeal. CPJ reported on al-Barbary’s arrest and called on authorities repeatedly to free him and all other journalists jailed in Egypt.

We fought for justice in journalist murders

There is no higher calling for CPJ than pursuing justice for colleagues murdered for their work. Since 2007, we have waged a Global Campaign Against Impunity, and we report on each case, meet with government officials, and highlight the lack of justice in our work. In October, CPJ published its 10th annual Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where journalists are murdered and their killers go free.

The challenges are significant, but we are beginning to see signs of progress, including a reduction of journalists murdered. Since 2012, advocacy by CPJ and other groups has helped win convictions in the murders of 35 journalists, many of them emblematic cases for us. In 2017, our advocacy contributed to securing convictions in the murders of two journalists: Mexican reporter Marcos Hernández Bautista in Mexico, and Syrian editor Naji Jerf, who was killed in Turkey.

CPJ discusses impunity with the presidents of Mexico and Ukraine

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto meets with a CPJ delegation in which he pledges to prioritize impunity and journalist safety. (Los Pinos)
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto meets with a CPJ delegation in which he pledges to prioritize impunity and journalist safety. (Los Pinos)

Part of CPJ’s commitment to battling impunity is engaging directly with those responsible for pursuing justice, including heads of state. On May 4, a CPJ delegation visited Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto as part of a mission to launch a special report, “No Excuse,” which calls on the government to do more to bring those who murder journalists to justice.

During the 90-minute meeting, Peña Nieto told CPJ that his government was committed to following up on investigations into attacks on the press and pledged to prioritize combating impunity in the murders of journalists for the remainder of his term. He said the safety and protection of journalists would be a priority and guaranteed funding for a federal protection mechanism which would have run out of money.

The CPJ delegation expressed concern about the poor record of the office of the federal prosecutor in successfully investigating crimes against journalists. Mexico’s attorney general, who attended the meeting, said authorities planned to replace the federal prosecutor “with someone experienced who will have the support and recognition of (freedom of expression) organizations.” A few months later, it did.

A CPJ delegation and the family of murdered journalist Pavel Sheremet meet with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in July. (Kiev-President Office)
A CPJ delegation and the family of murdered journalist Pavel Sheremet meet with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in July. (Kiev-President Office)

CPJ traveled to Kiev in July to launch a special report, “Justice Denied,” on the investigation into the 2016 murder of Belarusian journalist Pavel Sheremet, who was killed in a car bombing. Sheremet was honored with CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award in 1998.

While in Kiev, a CPJ delegation and members of Sheremet’s family met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, to discuss the report’s findings and present recommendations regarding the investigation into the killing. Poroshenko acknowledged the lack of progress in the case and proposed introducing an independent investigator. CPJ also held substantive meetings with representatives from Ukraine’s General Prosecutor’s Office, the National Police, and the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), the three agencies responsible for the investigation.

CPJ will continue to monitor the investigation’s progress and hold President Poroshenko to the promises he has made.

CPJ in the spotlight

Thousands of you have shown your support to CPJ this year. By doing so, you have also shown your support for brave journalists across the world who fight every day to bring you the news.

At the Golden Globes in January, Meryl Streep called on people to join her in supporting CPJ because “we’re going to need them going forward and they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.” In January, New York University and Slate co-hosted a sold-out panel event benefiting CPJ that discussed how journalists can–and should–cover the Trump presidency. “The job of journalism is to put pressure on power,” said David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker and a CPJ board member, who was one of the panelists.

Vanity Fair threw a party in February to celebrate its 2017 Hollywood issue and made a generous donation to CPJ. Comedian Samantha Bee hosted the “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner” in April and donated the proceeds to CPJ. In August, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which hosts the Golden Globes, announced that it was awarding a grant to CPJ, which was accepted at the association’s annual banquet by Twilight actor Robert Pattinson.

BuzzFeed donated the proceeds of merchandise it sold after then President-elect Trump called the outlet “a failing pile of garbage.” The New Yorker donated part of its profits from T-shirt sales to CPJ. A number of other initiatives benefiting CPJ–ranging from artwork sales and comedy shows–were also announced from individuals who wanted to join in our fight. And we received hundreds of letters from supporters like you, thanking us for our work.

We at CPJ are proud to come into work each day and help defend journalists, and your support means a lot to us. If you haven’t yet made a year-end gift, please consider donating to CPJ today. If you have already done so, we are deeply grateful. Even if it’s as little as $5, it makes a huge difference.

Thank you for all that you do to support press freedom.