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Thursday, February 13, 2014

New Report Documents Dangers For Reporters

Monica Prieto (left), the wife of El Mundo correspodent Javier Espinosa, Iraqi journalist Ghaith Abdul-Ahad (center) and Ayman Mhanna (right), director of the Samir Kassir Eye Center give a press conference at the Samir Kassir offices in Beirut on December 10, 2013 hours after El Mundo newspaper announced the kidnapping of two Spanish journalists; Espinosa (portrait left) and freelance photographer Ricardo Garcia Vilanova (portrait-right). A radical group linked to Al-Qaeda kidnapped two Spanish journalists reporting in Syria in September and is holding them captive, according to El Mundo newspaper. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, center, a Guardian correspondent and a spokesperson for the families of both Javier Espinosa and Ricardo Garcia-Vilanova, speaks during a press conference with Monica Prieto, left, Espinosa’s wife, and, Ayman Mhanna, right, director of Samir Kassir Eyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom, in Beirut, Lebanon, Dec. 10, 2013. The families of two Spanish journalists kidnapped in Syria appealed publicly for their safe and immediate release. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

The Committee to Protect Journalists says the past two years have been “absolutely atrocious” for the killing and imprisonment of journalists, with Syria the deadliest place to work and Turkey the number one jailer.

In its annual report, “Attacks on the Press: Journalism on the Front Lines in 2013,” the international media watchdog cites wide-ranging government surveillance, the unchecked murder of journalists and indirect political and commercial pressures on the media as the major threats to press freedom.

It also says Egypt experienced the greatest deterioration in press freedom last year. The report shows that 211 journalists imprisoned and 70 killed in 2013, slightly lower than the 2012 record of 232 journalists jailed and 72 killed — a tie with the deadliest year of the Iraq War.

Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, joins Here & Now’s Robin Young to discuss the report.

Interview Highlights: Joel Simon

Why it has become more dangerous

“What kept journalists safe in conflict was, you know, not because people liked them, but because they were useful. And they were useful because, to a certain extent, they had an information monopoly, you could call it. If you wanted to communicate with the world, it didn’t matter what perspective you were coming from. You kind of needed the press to achieve that. That’s no longer the case. There’s so many other ways to communicate that the media is less essential, and so much is at stake that warring factions are battling over control of information, and journalists have become, in their minds, fair game. I mean, that’s certainly what we saw in Iraq, and that’s what we’re seeing in Syria today. Journalists are being deliberately targeted. There’s absolutely no respect for the work of the media. Certainly, the Assad forces, the government forces, are more culpable, but we’re seeing terrible abuses being committed as well by some of the hard-line rebel factions. So Syria has become almost a no-go zone for journalists these days.”

Dangers in Egypt 

“Egypt has become an incredibly polarized society, and this is reflected in the press. And the government is using this new framework to basically say that any media that’s critical is aligned with terrorists, and so they’re using this broad anti-terror framework to crack down on the media. Al-Jazeera is in the line of sights. About 20 Al-Jazeera journalists are indicted, facing charges related to supporting terrorism. It’s a crazy notion. But Egypt has also become incredibly violent for journalists. About six journalists have been killed while covering street protests and other events there in the last year. So repressive and violent, and it’s deteriorating rapidly.”

Dangers in Turkey

“Turkey’s the world’s leading jailer of journalists, and for a long time, people didn’t really perceive Turkey as having — certainly the government as having — authoritarian tendencies. But it’s been very, very aggressive in curtailing critical media and using, again, an anti-terror framework to do that. Critical journalists who express support particularly for the aspirations of the Kurdish population are deemed terrorists, and many have been arrested. And we’ve seen recently that the Prime Minister Erdogan has also lashed out at social media, which he feels is providing a forum for critical expression that challenges the government, and so we’ve seen a very repressive Internet law that’s been passed by the parliament in Turkey and could become the law of the land very soon. So Turkey is a country that we’re watching closely and, again, believe is headed in the wrong direction.”

On the importance of protecting sources

“It’s critically important that journalists, to be able to do their jobs, be able to protect their sources, and one of the forms that journalists use to communicate, they communicate electronically. And we now know, from a variety of cases, that in certain circumstances, the U.S. government has been able to obtain phone records and emails, and they’ve used that information to track down the sources that have spoken or communicated with journalists. Journalists are operating in an environment in which they really have to question whether their communication is secure, and whether they have the capacity to protect their sources. And so it’s a very different environment from the one journalists operated in a few years ago, and if you talk to journalists who cover these kinds of issues, they tell you they’re very concerned.”


  • Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. He tweets @Joelcpj.

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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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