Remarks by Tony Ridder, Chairman & CEO of Knight Ridder and IPFA Dinner Chairman
Thank you, Gwen.
Let me begin by saying that it is a privilege to chair this dinner, and I want to thank David Laventhol, Ann Cooper and their CPJ colleagues for the opportunity to do so. Rarely is it possible to "give back" in so meaningful a way.
Like many in this room, I have spent portions of the past three years watching some of the most talented journalists in our organization and yours volunteer for assignments in Afghanistan and Iraq. I have read, watched and listened to their dispatches . . . as have you . . . and wondered at both the hardships they endure and the dangers they face . . . as have you.
Their reports are vivid. During the recent siege of Falluja, it was impossible not to feel the bullets flying. In many of the accounts, it was clear that bodies were falling right next to our correspondents. Here, for example, is an excerpt from a report that appeared in my Mercury News only eight days ago:
"When Sims and his men came through the front door, gunfire raged for a few minutes. Two soldiers were hit near the shoulder. Crouching by a wall outside, Sgt. Randy Laird screamed into his radio, 'Negative, I cannot move, we're pinned down right now! We have friendlies down! Friendlies down!
"A line of troops ran up, taking cover from the bullets. They shot their way into the house. Sims lay on a kitchen floor, his blood pouring across dirty tile. His men gasped. There was no life in his eyes."
"He's down," Staff Sgt. Thorsten Lamm, 37, said in the heavy brogue of his native Germany. The men sprinted to a rubble-strewn house to get a medic. When the troops rushed back, they lifted Sims' body into a pile of blankets and carried it into the closest Bradley.
"Six soldiers and a reporter piled in after, trying not to step on the body."
Who here has not worried for the safety of such correspondents? Who has not wondered if the only responsible thing was to tell them: Don't go. Not now. It's too dangerous.
If the mission of the Committee to Protect Journalists is to ensure that our colleagues can pursue their work throughout the world unhindered and unharmed, the war in Iraq dramatizes for us all how challenging that goal can be.
The good news, of course, is that relatively few of the world's trouble spots are actual theaters of war. The bad news is: Journalists in many of those other places find themselves very much in harm's way, regardless. Consider, if you would, these examples from the CPJ's 2004 program report:
* February: A mission to Bangladesh to highlight a string of attacks against journalists, all brutal and all unpunished. CPJ representatives pushed political leaders to take responsibility for the action of party militants, generated widespread attention and increased pressure on the government to prosecute crimes against journalists.
* June: A trip to Togliatti, Russia highlighted Russia's disgraceful record in the contract-style killing of local journalists. Two editors of the same paper were killed within 18 months. CPJ representatives met with journalists, families of the slain editors and officials in the local prosecutor's office to press for justice in these and other cases. One stayed on in Moscow to research a special report on the dangers facing journalists covering the Chechen conflict.
* September: Two CPJ representatives traveled to Tijuana to investigate the June 22 murder of Zeta editor Francisco Ortiz Franco. A special report on the investigation will be issued soon. Latin America, as will not surprise you, receives considerable attention from CPJ. Castro's Cuba, Haiti and Columbia are three high-profile destinations for the Committee's missions.
Apart from direct physical assaults, CPJ has concerned itself this year with defamation, imprisonment and enough other flavors of repression that we are reminded, as ever, of this truth:
Freedom of the press is precious - and despite what our Constitution says, it is not a guarantee. Much of the world has no use for it, and right here in our own backyard, many appointed and elected authorities challenge it. To protect this privilege requires constant vigilance. It requires all the care and feeding, all the Freedom of Information requests and amicus curiae briefs we can muster.
Thus in July, the Committee published a briefing looking at allegations of political interference at the Voice of America. In August, it sent a letter to Homeland Secretary Tom Ridge asking him to support legislation that would allow foreign journalists from "friendly" nations to enter the U.S. without an I-visa.
Most significantly, the Committee has issued alerts expressing concern about the number of current contempt rulings that could send U.S. reporters to jail for refusing to reveal confidential sources. Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper's cases are the most prominent, but all are blatant attempts both to "hinder" and to "harm'' the pursuit of truth.
The Committee to Protect Journalists is a standard-bearer for all the freedoms of the press. That is: the freedom to seek and retrieve and interpret, without interference, all that is real and true and meaningful in a tumultuous world. And: the freedom to pass it along - to the next reader, the next listener, the next viewer, the next generation, without a filter.
This is noble work. It is the lifeblood of what we do with our lives every day. It is what binds us together as the "journalistic community" - and that's not just a phrase; it's a calling. We are here tonight because it is not sufficient to read dispatches and worry. We must act. By your presence in this room, I know you share these convictions. You are acting. And I thank you profoundly for your support.