Yesterday, CPJ received the Thomas J. Dodd Prize
for International Justice and Human Rights at an outdoor ceremony at the
In presenting the award to CPJ, Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd praised the role of the press in bringing hidden injustices to the world's attention. He noted that as a prosecutor at Nuremberg, his father, Thomas, had befriended a young journalist named Walter Cronkite. As Michael pointed out in his remarks more than 30 decades later, Cronkite helped create CPJ.
It was a great day for CPJ and press freedom,
and we couldn't be more grateful to the
Here is the prepared text of the speech I gave in accepting the award:
Thank you, President Hogan. Thank you to Senator
Dodd and the Dodd Family. Thank you to the National Advisory Board of the
The Committee to Protect Journalists was founded nearly 30 years ago to fight for the rights of journalists around the world to report the news freely, without fear of reprisal. In the course of our existence, we have fought against repressive laws, helped win the release of countless journalists imprisoned around the world, and beaten back censorship. In the 11 years that I have worked at the Committee to Protect Journalists, I have met hundreds of journalists from around the world whose bravery and courage inspired me. I recognized that they did their work at tremendous risk, and I knew that some of them might not make it.
Let me tell you about a few of them who didn’t.
Dana, a cameraman for Reuters in the West Bank city of
Mazen was a giant man, 6 foot 3 and built like a linebacker. But he
was one of the most gentle and forgiving people I’ve ever known. While
documenting clashes in
I remember Russian investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya.
She was the opposite of Mazen--guarded, severe, and sometimes
scolding. She had gray hair and thick glasses. I never saw her smile. She believed that
she had an obligation to document the brutalities of the Chechen war and was indignant
at her fellows Russian, but ultimately at people all around the world, who went
about their business oblivious to the slaughter. She was repeatedly threatened;
once she was detained by Russian soldiers and kept in a pit. She survived a
poisoning attempt. She knew they would get her eventually and yet she continued
to report and write her stories. The killers caught up to her on October 6,
2006, and executed her in the elevator of her
I didn’t know Lasantha
Wickramatunga, the Sri Lankan editor who was shot to death in January, but
I felt like he spoke for all murdered journalists in a famous letter he wrote
from the grave. Wickramatunga was the editor of the Sunday Leader in the
“People often ask me why I take such risks and tell me it is a matter of time before I am bumped off. Of course I know that: it is inevitable. But if we do not speak out now, there will be no one left to speak for those who cannot, whether they be ethnic minorities, the disadvantaged or the persecuted.”
What compelled these journalists to essentially sacrifice their life for their profession? I think about this every day.
First, I believe that curiosity, the need to know and understand our surroundings and to communicate our knowledge to others, is an essential element of the human condition and the basis of human society. These needs are so intrinsic that governments can only suppress them at great cost and determination. Information empowers people to take action and control their own destiny. This is why every totalitarian system is at its core an elaborate system of information control.
Journalists who risk their lives are usually guided by a deep
faith in the essential goodness and power of humanity. They do their work
because they believe people will act if they know the truth and that things
will change if people act. On occasion they have been proven right. Journalism
played a key role in the collapse of many powerful and brutal governments, from
the Soviet Union to apartheid
We are humbled and inspired by journalists like Anna Politkovskaya and Lasantha Wickramatunga.
But we are also angry.
We are angry because in a just and decent society no journalist should have to make the sacrifice that they made.
CPJ has no greater responsibility than fighting for justice when our colleagues are murdered. According to CPJ research, in nearly 90 percent of the 543 journalist murders since 1992 the killers got away scot free.
This record of impunity has a devastating effect on the local press, breeding fear and self-censorship and allowing criminals to define the terms of public dialogue.
CPJ is fighting against these injustices. With support from the Knight Foundation we are waging a Global Campaign Against Impunity.
In the first year and half, we have focused on
Last month, we issued a new report in
Seeking justice for our slain colleagues is just part of our work in defense of press freedom.
Through our journalist security program we are seeking to educate journalists about the best way to do their jobs safely.
Our journalist assistance program provides direct support--from medical assistance to help with resettlement in exile.
We have helped evacuate dozens of journalists from
Through our advocacy, we are seeking to bring down the number of journalists in jail around the world, which we currently estimate at around 150.
CPJ successfully campaigned for the release of Iranian-American freelancer Roxana Saberi, who was arrested in January, sentenced in March to eight years in prison on trumped up charges of espionage, and released in May after her sentence was reduced on appeal.
Today, we are focusing attention on Maziar Bahari, the correspondent
for Newsweek magazine who was
arrested shortly after the June 12 elections. Bahari was pressured to make a
false confession and has been denied access to a lawyer. His wife, who
CPJ’s advocacy has helped win the release of jailed journalists
But one reality which makes our job more difficult is the fact
More than a dozen journalist, some working for international media
organizations, have been detained by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and
held for extended period times without being charged with any crime. One
journalist is being held today. Ibrahim
Jassam, a photographer for Reuters, has been imprisoned for over a year in
Ibrahim Jassam should be charged or released. It is appalling that he can be held indefinitely without due process. This is a practice which must end.
Any American journalist who has traveled the world knows that the
It is this tradition which gives the
Journalists in most democratic counties, and even some less democratic ones, enjoy legal safeguards which allow them to protect their sources.
We need an effective federal shield law which provides broad protections for all news gatherers. I commend Senator Dodd for championing a federal shield law in the Senate.
Senator Dodd has also introduced a bill, named in honor of Daniel Pearl, which would require the State Department to include a section on press conditions in its annual human rights report. This measure is essential for ensuring that the promotion of press freedom is part of our foreign policy. We urge the Senate to move toward quick passage of this important legislation.
Keeping the press free today doesn’t just mean defending individual journalists. It means defending the medium through which journalism is disseminated--and in our current era that means the Internet.
The Utopian notion that the Internet is impossible to censor or
control has been superseded by a new reality: According to CPJ research, online
reporters now represent the largest group behind bars, surpassing print
journalists for the first time. In countries like
According to our census data, freelancers also make an ever-increasing percentage of journalists imprisoned around the world.
While well-funded foreign bureaus continue to exist, increasingly
international news is being gathered by a new generation of journalists who
work for smaller media outlets or for themselves. Local journalists are
providing front line reporting for
While American celebrated the return of journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling after four
months of captivity in
But as major news media outlets cut back on foreign coverage,
freelancers are taking up the slack. We as a society benefit enormously from
the work of
CPJ is an organization of journalists that defends the rights of our colleagues around the world. We do it not because we think journalists are different, or are entitled to special rights. We do it because we believe that by standing up for press freedom, we are defending the public’s right to be informed. We want journalists to be able to shine a light on the worst human rights abuses. We want people around to know if their governments are corrupt, and to hold officials accountable.
We are humbled by the honor bestowed on us by the Thomas J. Dodd prize and grateful that this generous award will allow us to continue our work on behalf of journalists everywhere.
Anna Politkovskaya, Lasantha Wickramatunga, and countless other journalists gave their lives for their profession.
But they also gave their lives because they wanted us to know what was happening in their countries.
By standing up for justice whenever journalists are killed, by defending press freedom wherever it is threatened, CPJ is standing up for your right to information in a globalized society.
The recognition bestowed on us today will allow CPJ to continue this important work.