Who is a journalist?

By Joel Simon/Executive Director on February 10, 2009 2:06 PM ET

There are 125 journalists in jail around the world, according to the latest CPJ census carried out December 1. That's a slight decline from the previous year, when we counted 127 journalists in jail. Those findings are included in Attacks on the Press, our annual survey, which we released today.

In my remarks at a United Nations press conference, I noted that several journalists were released from prison in Cuba. Despite our hopes, however, the international spotlight cast by the Olympic Games did not prompt China to relax its media control policies. In fact, China censored the Internet during the Games, impeded the movement of international journalists, and cracked down on dissidents who published critical essays online.

One reporter at today's press conference asked how we define "journalist" and noted that our numbers are lower than those from groups such as Amnesty International, which count all jailed dissidents.

We don't have a rigid definition of who is a journalist, instead applying a common sense, case-by-case approach. We read the posts, examine the context, and make a determination. We try to be as inclusive as possible, particularly in repressive countries where the mainstream media is closed to critical views. Our census of imprisoned journalists includes numerous bloggers who expressed political views in tightly controlled countries. (We describe our methodology in more detail in Attacks.)

There are certain kinds of speech that we do not classify as journalism. Poems, novels, and political speeches, for example, all fall outside our purview. We are evolving and adapting as media changes, but we continue to derive strength from our founding 27 years ago as an organization of journalists standing up for the rights of colleagues around the world. 


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