CPJ Names World's Worst
Places to Be a Journalist
New York, May 3, 2002The Committee to Protect Journalists marks
World Press Freedom Day by naming the world's worst places to be a journalist10
places whose dangers and restrictions represent the full range of current
threats to press freedom.
At the top of the list is the West Bank, where Israeli prime minister
Ariel Sharon's government has used extraordinary force to keep journalists
from covering its recent military incursion. Next is Colombia, where
violent reprisals against the press by all factions in the civil conflict
have made this the most deadly beat in the Western Hemisphere. Meanwhile,
dangers persist in Afghanistan, where eight journalists were killed
in the line of duty in late 2001, and where U.S. government actions have
hindered independent reporting on the war. CPJ also placed Eritrea,
Belarus, Burma, Zimbabwe, Iran, Kyrgyzstan,
and Cuba on the list of worst places to be a journalist.
"In these countries where press freedom is under attack, journalists endure
violent assaults, crackdowns by authoritarian regimes, danger from military
operations, and harsh financial reprisals designed to bankrupt independent
voices," said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper.
"Incredibly, in many of these places, journalists still manage to report
the newseven under extremely difficult circumstances and at great
personal risk," said Cooper.
World's Worst Places to be a Journalist
When Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon launched a massive military
offensive in the West Bank in late March, the Israel Defense Forces
(IDF) used threats, intimidation, and, in some cases, potentially lethal
force to prevent journalists from covering its military operations.
In one notorious incident, IDF troops fired stun grenades and rubber
bullets at reporters waiting outside the Ramallah compound of Palestinian
leader Yasser Arafat. IDF soldiers have also fired live rounds at working
reporters, detained several journalists, confiscated film or press cards
from others, ransacked the offices of private West Bank television and
radio stations, and repeatedly attacked the Palestinian National Authority's
broadcasting facilities in violation of international humanitarian law.
Meanwhile, Israeli officials have expelled one foreign correspondent
and refused to accredit Palestinian journalists.
Palestinian militants have also harassed journalists, particularly photographers
who captured unflattering images. On April 1 in Bethlehem, for example,
militants forced reporters to hand over footage of the body of an alleged
Palestinian collaborator who had been shot in a parking lot.
With 29 journalists murdered in the last decade, the Colombian press
has paid a terrible price for reporting the news. But in the past, journalists
at least felt that they had the support of the population and the government
while they reported on drug trafficking, corruption, and violence committed
by both leftist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries. Now, at a
time when Colombia's civil conflict is intensifying and all sides are
less tolerant of criticism, some politicians are fueling the fire by
accusing the press of bias.
Leftist rebels have silenced a local radio station and allegedly tried
to attack a television news studio with a ground-fired rocket. Right-wing
forces that have acknowledged murdering several journalists have publicly
accused the press of having "poisonous spirits." Top journalists are
fleeing into exile, and others are in hiding. Meanwhile, presidential
front-runner Álvaro Uribe Vélez, who has been questioned
about his alleged ties to paramilitary forces and drug traffickers,
has noted, "...a free press is one thing, and a press at the service
of straw men and shady deals is another thing." Presidential elections
are scheduled for May 26.
In November 2001, eight journalists were killed reporting on the
U.S.-led military offensive in the country, and post-Taliban Afghanistan
remains dangerous and chaotic. But U.S. government actions have also
hampered independent reporting. CPJ documented three instances where
journalists were forcibly prevented from covering U.S. military activities
in Afghanistan. In one case, U.S. soldiers threatened to shoot a Washington
Post reporter who was attempting to report on a U.S. missile strike
that may have killed a group of civilians in eastern Afghanistan. In
mid-November, U.S. bombs destroyed the Kabul bureau of the Qatar-based
Arabic satellite channel Al-Jazeera. To date, Pentagon officials have
provided no evidence to back their claim that the building was "a known
This tiny Red Sea nation is now Africa's foremost jailer of journalists,
with at least 13 reporters behind bars and the entire private press
banned since September. President Isaias Afewerki's government variously
accuses independent journalists of "endangering national unity," of
not having proper licenses, and of evading the compulsory national service
program. The ruling party tightly controls the state media. Even so,
authorities arrested three state media employees in mid-February. One
was charged with treason for giving a tape of a local television program
to a foreign diplomat. The Afewerki government has been unfazed by persistent
international denunciation of its human rights record and continues
to dismiss foreign critics as enemies of Eritrea.
A dogged group of journalists is doing its best to cover local news
despite the efforts of President Aleksandr Lukashenko, who clings to
power via Soviet-style repression. In the months prior to Lukashenko's
controversial September re-election, tax officials seized equipment
from media organizations, froze their bank accounts, and installed a
senior government official as head of the publishing house that prints
most independent newspapers in the capital, Minsk.
Meanwhile, authorities made little progress investigating the disappearance
of Dmitry Zavadsky, a television cameraman who vanished on July 7, 2000.
Although two former members of the Belarusian special forces were recently
convicted of kidnapping Zavadsky, his body has not been found and prosecutors
have not pursued credible leads implicating senior government officials
in the disappearance.
Journalists in Burma work under impossible conditions, forbidden
by state censors from publishing almost anything of substance and subject
to imprisonment for the slightest expression of dissent. The government
owns all electronic media and controls print publications through capricious
licensing requirements. Public access to the Internet is restricted
to a limited number of Web sites screened and approved by military authorities.
During the past few months, secret talks between members of the ruling
military junta and opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi have led many
to hope that change may be on the horizon. While these negotiations
have resulted in the release of more than 200 political prisoners, including
a few journalists, they have so far yielded no real reform.
Once known for its vigorous and largely uncensored independent press,
Zimbabwe has become a hostile environment for local reporters and foreign
correspondents alike. During the past two years alone, President Robert
Mugabe's government has detained more than 50 journalists, tortured
at least two, and filed over three dozen lawsuits against reporters
and their news outlets. Police and pro-government vigilantes have attacked
several journalists, while the independent Daily News has suffered
three bomb attacks since 2000.
After September 11, 2001, the Mugabe government adapted White House
rhetoric to brand journalists and other critics as "terrorists." Two
recent pieces of legislation, the Access to Information and Protection
of Privacy Act and the Public Order and Security Act, effectively outlaw
all criticism of Mugabe.
While Iran boasts a relatively lively press, the country's conservative-controlled
courts relentlessly cracked down on liberal newspapers in the past two
years. Since April 2000, when Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
delivered a fiery speech accusing the country's reformist press of being
foreign agents, the courts have closed at least 47 publications, most
of which backed President Mohammed Khatami's reform movement. Dozens
of journalists have been detained, summoned to court, and prosecuted
for their writings. Others are appealing pending prison sentences or
have been fined and barred from practicing their profession. Today,
at least three are jailed in connection with their journalistic work.
Kyrgyzstan is rapidly losing its reputation as an "island of democracy"
in Central Asia. Emboldened by the growing number of U.S. troops in
Kyrgyzstan, President Askar Akayev has used the threat of international
terrorism as an excuse to curb political dissent and suppress the independent
and opposition media. Compliant courts often issue exorbitant damage
awards in politically motivated libel suits, driving the country's most
prominent newspapers to the brink of bankruptcy. The state publishing
house refused to print several newspapers that criticized Akayev. Meanwhile,
officials found legal excuses to cancel the licenses of several independent
The Cuban government is determined to crush independent journalism
on the island but has not yet succeeded. A small but growing group of
journalists report the news as they see it and tell the world by dictating
(and faxing) their stories down static-filled phone lines to their colleagues
abroad. The stories, on human rights abuses, petty corruption, and the
travails of daily life, are posted on the Internet and at times broadcast
back into Cuba. Journalists are constantly followed, harassed, intimidated,
and sometimes jailed. While two imprisoned journalists were recently
released from prison, Bernardo Arévalo Padrón, jailed
since 1997, is serving a six-year sentence for "disrespecting" President
Fidel Castro Ruz. He is the only journalist in the Americas currently
behind bars for his work.
|All Photos: Associated