Press Conference by Executive Director of Committee to Protect Journalists

15 February 2011

Press Conference by Executive Director of Committee to Protect Journalists

15 February 2011
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Executive Director of Committee to Protect Journalists


Nearly half of the 145 journalists placed behind bars in 2010 found themselves in Chinese and Iranian prisons, making those two countries among the most dangerous for journalists working around the world, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists said today at a United Nations Headquarters press conference.

A fresh example of the threats that journalists around the world faced every day was the persecution they had confronted in the clamour for democracy in Egypt over the past two weeks, said the Committee’s chief, Joel Simon.

As those recent events in Egypt had made clear, “the stakes are enormous”, he said.  The Egyptian authorities had clearly sought to curtail the ability of the press to cover the demonstrations in order to lay the groundwork for a “violent assault” on the protestors.  That effort did not succeed, but “as unrest spreads through the Middle East, so do the attacks on journalists”.

The Secretary-General “did make positive comments about press freedom violations during the recent crackdown in Egypt”, he said, “commending” the United Nations chief for having done so.  But, he asked the Secretary-General to “take a consistent position”, to suggest a willingness to speak out publicly in support of press freedom that was based more on a deep commitment to principle than on political considerations.  “The United Nations must reverse the trend of appeasement and take a principled stand in defence of press freedom,” he urged.

The intimidation, threats, attacks and killings against journalists were threats against every citizen’s right to be informed — “these threats retard the ability of journalists to report news and give citizens the access to information that affect their lives,” said Mr. Simon, who has served as director of the New York City-based Committee since 2006.  “When we defend a journalist’s right, we uphold our own right to be informed.”

Mr. Simon also used the press conference to launch the Committee’s annual survey, “Attacks on the Press”, which looks at international press freedoms and the key factors that obstruct a free press.  This year’s report also takes a special look at the “worrying new tactics” that use the Internet to curb journalists’ work.  Those tactics go beyond filters and include online surveillance, malicious software, e-mail hacking and the elimination of news sites.  “These invisible attacks constitute a new front against press freedoms,” he said.  “Even international correspondents are finding their electronic movements monitored.”

Those rights were enshrined in the United Nations, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and many other international treaties, he noted.  He called on regional and international organizations, including the United Nations, to take a strong, public position for press freedom.  Through their actions and inactions, those institutions had failed to convey that freedom of the press was a right.

He pointed to the aborted attempt by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to award an annual life sciences prize named after the President of Equatorial Guinea, as an event that did not expand press freedom.  The attempt consumed much energy on the part of organizations promoting press freedom and hurt UNESCO’s reputation.  He was also disappointed that the Secretary-General did not congratulate Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo after he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 for his non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.

In response to correspondents’ questions about Mr. Ban’s actions surrounding press freedoms, Mr. Simon said the Committee would like Mr. Ban’s public position on press freedom to be consistent.  Committee officials had met with Mr. Ban in person in April 2007 to discuss the issue.  “It’s logical for the United Nations, given its Charter, given its responsibility for upholding and promoting human rights” for it — and particularly the Secretary-General — to become an “outspoken advocate” for freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

In its communications with the United Nations, the Committee has consistently maintained that the United Nations, particularly the Secretary-General, should become an outspoken advocate for freedom of expression.  He added that Mr. Ban’s record was “decidedly mixed” on the issue and had not reflected a consistent approach.  “Consistency is very important.  It shows that adherence to press freedom trumps political calculation.”

Mr. Simon, since assuming his post, has helped the Committee launch the Global Campaign against Impunity.  The Impunity Index ranks nations based on the number of unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of each country’s population.  He also helped create the Journalism Assistance programme, which provides aid to journalists in distress.

Attention was drawn to other hotspots that spell trouble for journalists around the world, including Pakistan, where the violence from neighbouring Afghanistan was spilling over the border and creating a violent situation for journalists; Mexico, where the growing violence among drug cartels and between drug cartels and the police was enveloping journalists; Russia, India and Cuba.

Other Committee officials attending the press conference were Paul E. Steiger, Committee Chairman; Robert Dietz, Asia Program Coordinator; and Mohamad Abdel Daymen, Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.