Speaking in a small basement “banquet room” in the Rayburn Office Building, two journalists who have risked their lives to report the truth and some of the folks who support them reminded me why it is that I care about saving journalism (which does NOT mean saving newspapers).
Jenny Manrique and Fatima Tlisova have reported on the violent, corrupt abuse of power by agents of the governments and criminal elements in Colombia and Russia, respectively. The stories of the things they witnessed and the reaction from those whom their reporting challenged are chilling. Both women were harassed and threatened; Tlisova was detained, beaten and poisoned. Amazingly, each of them said they only decided to leave when the threats involved their families. Tlisova is currently winding up a fellowship at Harvard’s Nieman Foundation; Manrique was awarded the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Elizabeth Neuffer Fellowship. But these fellowships, wonderful as they are, only last a year. The violent hatred of their governments for those who speak the truth lasts much longer.
Tlisova opened her talk noting that she had spoken to Congress two years ago about the threats to human rights in Russia and that sadly she could not report that there was any improvement at all. Nonetheless, even from her location outside her homeland, she continues to report on events in the Caucasus.
Joel Simon of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), noted that in addition to continued attacks on traditional journalists, online journalists are increasingly at risk and now more of the journalists jailed for their work publish online than in print. Fittingly, CPJ today announced the Ten Worst Countries for Bloggers. When asked what could be done to mitigate the risks to online journalists of harassment based on the actions of internet providers of platforms, Simon pointed to the recently launched Global Network Initiative as the best hope. Meanwhile, Rodney Pinder of the International News Safety Institute (INSI) called on internet news companies to chip in to support training and other kinds of protection for journalists at risk.
The event was organized by the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and supported by the Congressional Caucus for the Freedom of the Press, whose co-Chair Rep. Adam Schiff opened the panel. It being Washington, someone asked the question of whether trying to get the US make a fuss about jailed journalists didn’t risk “distracting” from the larger issues of US foreign policy. Ugh. Joel Simon answered with great restraint that it wasn’t his job to worry about US foreign policy, it’s his job to worry about the journalists.
When you work with media and journalists for a long time, cynicism becomes more or less the air you breathe. It’s important (on World Press Freedom Day, which is May 3, and every day) to be reminded of the bravery that many many journalists around the world demonstrate and the dedication of the groups that work every day to support them and keep them safe. I wish I had half of their strength.
Oakland Post editor Chauncey Bailey was killed in August 2007 allegedly for investigating criminal activities of Your Black Muslim Bakery. (via On the Media)