Shep Smith BN_112119_0266_rs.jpg
Shep Smith hosts the 29th annual International Press Freedom Awards dinner, and makes news by announcing a $500,000 gift to CPJ. (Barbara Nitke)

CPJ Insider, December: A record-breaking IPFA and a meeting with VP Pence

December 2, 2019 12:13 PM ET

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A record-breaking IPFA and a meeting with VP Pence

The 2019 IPFA honorees met with Vice President Mike Pence at the White House on November 18 to raise concerns about press freedom around the world. (Official White House Photo by D. Myles Cullen)

CPJ held its 29th annual International Press Freedom Awards dinner on November 21, honoring courageous journalists from Brazil, India, Nicaragua, Pakistan, and Tanzania, who took to the stage to make passionate speeches about the significant challenges to critical journalism in their countries.

Nearly 900 guests attended the event, which raised more than $2.7 million for CPJ’s work, a new record achieved with the generous support of dinner chairs Laurene Powell Jobs and Peter Lattman of the Emerson Collective, an appeal matched by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and host Shep Smith’s surprise announcement that he would personally donate $500,000.

The former Fox News anchor’s donation and remarks were covered by The New York Times, The Washington Post, Brian Stelter’s ”Reliable Sources newsletter, Newsmax, Forbes, HuffPost, and Breitbart, among others. They also took flight on Twitter; “Shep Smith” was trending Friday morning, and Twitter created a Moment. Powell Jobs’ remarks were published in The Atlantic, and CPJ Executive Director Joel and Board Chair Kathleen Carroll appeared on CNN’s “Reliable Sources on Sunday.

A few days before the gala dinner, the IPFA honorees -- Patrícia Campos Mello, Neha Dixit, Lucía Pineda Ubau, Miguel Mora, Maxence Melo Mubyazi, and Zaffar Abbas -- and a CPJ delegation met with Vice President Mike Pence at the White House. They expressed to him their concerns that President Trump’s war on the press is endangering journalists abroad, where many authoritarian leaders have borrowed his rhetoric and cracked down on independent media.

CPJ had long sought a meeting with the Trump White House. “It’s important for us to talk to everybody,” Carroll told Brian Stelter on Reliable Sources. “They’re not going to hear our point of view unless we talk with them, and we presented it pretty passionately.”

Several of the journalists shared concerns about laws criminalizing “fake news” with the vice president, who co-chaired the Freedom of the Press Caucus while in Congress. Investigative journalists Mello and Dixit told Pence about harassment they have endured in Brazil and India, respectively, after publishing critical stories. Pineda and Mora thanked the vice president for speaking out about press freedom conditions in Nicaragua, and for the United States’ help in winning their release from prison in June, ending a six-month ordeal.

“The journalists who met with Vice President Pence told him they would like the United States to be an ally and an inspiration,” Simon wrote in an op-ed in USA Today. “He seemed to get this. Let’s hope he can persuade his boss.”


CPJ launches campaign to foster U.S. public support for press freedom

On November 7, CPJ, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and more than 40 media outlets, technology companies, and nonprofits launched the “Protect Press Freedom” messaging campaign. The multimedia initiative aims to mobilize the American public to stand up for press freedom and actively protect its right to be informed. It is a response to increasing attacks, hostility, and distrust of the media and the coalition’s concern that many Americans -- 52 percent, according to our research -- don’t recognize that press freedom is under threat.

Campaign ads depict an America where the news disappears -- TV screens go blank, news in mobile feeds vanishes -- and people no longer have access to information that’s important to them. Visitors to the campaign website can learn more about the threats to press freedom, explore pivotal press freedom moments in American history, and take a quiz to assess their knowledge.

“This campaign gets at a gnawing concern that journalists frequently bring up with me,” Brian Stelter wrote in his CNN “Reliable Sources” newsletter. While President Trump has been framing the discussion about modern news media with hateful rhetoric, “they wonder about who/what is countering his claims with a more honest portrayal of the press corps. This campaign is part of the answer.”


Canadian book club members stage play to benefit CPJ

Newspaper clippings and a program for Drooling Pup Productions’ October staging of Sinclair Lewis’ “It Can’t Happen Here,” which raised funds for CPJ. (CPJ)

CPJ is grateful for large gifts we receive from foundations and friends like Shep Smith, as well as for the heartfelt support of our grassroots donors. One recent effort stood out. Three women from Uxbridge, Canada, sent us $640 in proceeds from their staging of Sinclair Lewis’ “It Can’t Happen Here,” held one Friday night in October.

Elaine deBlicquy, Celia Smith, and Debbie Watson told their local paper, The Uxbridge Cosmos, that they read Lewis’ 1936 novel of the same name in their book club and decided to put on a reading of the story with area actors. Their goal was to spark “thoughtful discussion of what it means to be part of civil society and how fragile democracy can be in the face of fascism supported by a populist technique of controlling information,” Smith said.


Impact Tracker

Years of inaction in the murder case of Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was assassinated in a car bombing two years ago, have given way to a month of swift developments. On November 14, police arrested the suspected “middleman” in the murder plot during a raid targeting an alleged money-laundering ring, and he soon offered to name the mastermind if granted a pardon. The next week, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat confirmed he would recommend a presidential pardon after the middleman gave evidence and court testimony. The middleman was debriefed, and by November 20 the authorities had arrested an alleged mastermind, Malta’s wealthiest businessman, Yorgen Fenech, whom Caruana Galizia had reported on in a Panama Papers investigation, as he tried to flee in his yacht. Fenech has ties to officials close to the prime minister, and his arrest has roiled the government. After thousands of people took to the streets, Muscat’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, and tourism minister resigned on November 25, and his economy minister “suspended himself.” The next day, Schembri was arrested, as was Fenech’s physician. Prime Minister Muscat claimed credit for the breakthrough in the case, but there were calls for his resignation; on December 1 he said he would resign in the new year. CPJ, which has long campaigned for justice, joined nine other international organizations in expressing concern about possible political interference in the investigation of the assassination of Caruana Galizia.

In an escalating campaign of intimidation, Egyptian authorities on Saturday, November 23, detained Shady Zalat, a journalist at Mada Masr, one of the last independent publications in the country, after picking him up from his Cairo home. The next day, plainclothes security forces raided the outlet’s offices, where they confiscated laptops and phones and held staff in the newsroom, and ultimately detained three more journalists, Lina Atallah, Mohamed Hamama, and Rana Mamdou. A crew from France 24 and two foreign employees were caught up in the raid. A swift international outcry followed, joined by CPJ, and all four journalists were released later on Sunday.

In December, CPJ reported that Zambia's Supreme Court sentenced Derrick Sinjela, editor-in-chief of the privately owned Rainbow newspaper, to 18 months in prison for contempt of court after he published articles that accused the Supreme Court of corruption. We condemned the action and began advocating for his release. This August, CPJ urged the executive secretary of the Southern African Development Community, Stergomena Tax, to prioritize press freedom and the safety of journalists within the community. That letter, which was also sent to the leaders of SADC’s member states, including Zambia’s President Edgar Lungu, laid out priority issues in the region and several cases of concern, including Sinjela, the only incarcerated journalist in Zambia. That month, CPJ also spoke with Zambia’s permanent secretary of information, who told us the ministry would pursue a prerogative of mercy with the relevant authorities. President Lungu pardoned Sinjela on November 11, the president’s birthday. The next day, Sinjela, newly freed, sent us a message saying: "I am fine as a direct CPJ effort." Today, no journalists are jailed in Zambia in connection to their work.

For over a year, CPJ has been challenging the Trump administration over its escalation of journalist stops and device searches at the U.S. border. After collecting journalist stories, CPJ published a report and documentary in October 2018 called “Nothing to Declare” describing the chilling effect the practice has on press freedom. We called on U.S. Customs and Border Protection to cease such searches and stops, pushed members of Congress to conduct oversight, and filed FOIA requests to obtain more information about CBP policies. Meanwhile, our partners, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, filed suit on behalf of 11 travelers whose smartphones and laptops were searched without individualized suspicion or warrants. On November 12, a federal court in Boston ruled that the searches violated the Fourth Amendment.

CPJ reported on the September 25 and October 23 arrests of Palestinian journalists Hani al-Agha and Bassam Moheisen, respectively, by the Hamas-affiliated Internal Security Forces. Al-Agha, a reporter for pro-Fatah broadcaster Sawt al-Shabab Radio, was detained because of his reporting on declining standards of living in the Gaza Strip, which he blamed on poor governance by Hamas, according to the Fatah-affiliated Palestinian Journalists' Syndicate. The Internal Security Forces told CPJ that al-Agha "was arrested on charges of undermining revolutionary unity” and would be detained for 15 days. The same accusation was leveled against Moheisen, a reporter for the Palestinian National Authority-affiliated Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation in Gaza, who was allegedly beaten during interrogation about his work, social media activity, and criticism of Hamas. Al-Agha also complained about mistreatment in detention. Moheisen was released on November 3, according to the journalists’ syndicate, and Al-Agha was released on November 10.

Citing CPJ data on online harassment, DeleteMe, a Boston technology company, expanded its services for media organizations to include removing personal information found online for journalists facing trolling and other online threats.


CPJ in the news

The global reach of Trump’s ‘fake news’ outrage,” The Washington Post

El vicepresidente Pence recibe a dos periodistas que fueron encarcelados en Nicaragua tras cubrir las protestas contra Ortega,” Telemundo

YouTube Promised to Label State-Sponsored Videos But Doesn’t Always Do So,” ProPublica

Trump has said freeing American prisoners abroad is a top priority. What about U.S. prisoners in Iran?Los Angeles Times

How Trump Corrupted the American Presidency in Every Imaginable Way,” GQ

How To Generate Real News In Divided Societies,” Forbes

Slain reporter’s mother worries about Syria pullout impact,” The Associated Press

Fears over crackdown on free speech as Nigeria refuses to release prominent journalist,” CNN

With the arrest of a prominent journalist, Nigeria’s Buhari is up to his old tricks,” The Washington Post

A Market Grows In Africa For Weaponized Spyware Aimed At Activists,” The Charleston Chronicle

Sri Lankan journalists fear situation may worsen after polls,” The Associated Press

Govt panned for revoking Aatish Taseer's OCI card,” Deccan Herald

Twitter in India: Why was rival Mastodon trending?” BBC News

Committee To Protect Journalists Issues 'Safety Advisory' To Guard Phones Against Snooping,” Outlook India

Artists and Activists See Tighter Controls on Expression in Pakistan,” The Wall Street Journal

Killers of Afghan Journalists Rarely Punished: NGO,” TOLOnews

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