|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference on Report of Committee to Protect Journalists
Citing an unprecedented number of journalists imprisoned or killed around the world in 2012 — 232 and 70, respectively — experts at a Headquarters press conference today stressed that the United Nations must make press freedom and the fight against impunity a priority in its post-2015 development agenda.
“It’s been a sad year for press freedom,” said Rob Mahoney, Deputy Director of the non-profit Committee to Protect Journalists, as he presented the latest edition of the organization’s report “Attacks on the Press”. Among its findings, the report stressed that attacks on journalists, coupled with restrictive legislation and State censorship, were jeopardizing independent reporting and even, in some countries, the basic human rights to self-expression and information.
Joined by the Committee’s senior regional leaders — Mohamed Keita, Africa Advocacy Coordinator; Carlos Lauria, Americas Senior Programme Coordinator; and Sherif Mansour, Middle East and North Africa Programme Coordinator — he stressed that all people stood to lose when journalist were silenced, as that disempowered citizens and stifled debate.
Briefly outlining the report’s other findings, he said that challenges to press freedom included media blackouts and targeted attacks against journalists. Access was impeded to war zones around the world as well. The majority of those affected were freelancers or online journalists — a growing trend — who lacked the protection of major news outlets. Indeed, he said, “most of these are local journalists reporting local stories about human rights […] or corruption.”
Stressing that the compilation of data and statistics was one of the most important contributions to improving press freedom, he noted that the 2013 edition of the report featured a new tool, known as the “Risk List”, which identified 10 places with significant downward trends during 2012, including high murder rates and entrenched impunity, in Pakistan, Somalia and Brazil; the use of restrictive laws in Ecuador, Turkey and the Russian Federation; and the imprisonment of large numbers of journalists in Ethiopia, Turkey, Viet Nam, Iran and Syria.
There was also an exceedingly high fatality rate for journalists working in Syria, he added, noting that they faced multiple risks from all sides of the conflict.
Also according to the report, he said, the 70 journalists killed in 2012 represented a 43 per cent increase from 2011, while the 232 imprisoned represented an increase of 53 per cent from 2011. A number of those imprisoned or killed were “citizen journalists”, who were relied upon by news professionals around the world for photographs and first-person information, he added.
It was important to note that not all the countries on the Risk List were oppressive in the traditional sense. In fact, he added, countries with obviously oppressive regimes, such as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, were not included on the List, whereas in Brazil, journalists continued to be targeted despite the country’s global leadership and its strides to improve development and governance.
Another relatively new development was the threat of “cyberattacks” on publishing platforms themselves, as had been reported recently by The New York Times in a series of stories about how it had come under attack, he said.
The Committee was partnering with the United Nations system in a number of areas to protect journalists, he continued. In particular, it was incumbent upon Member States to ensure the safety of journalists, including citizen journalists, and to combat impunity, as strides made in development could not be sustained without a free and independent press. In that regard, he urged the United Nations to develop coordinated and rapid responses to jailed journalists and other threats.
Mr. Mahoney and his colleagues also responded to a number of questions from correspondents.
Asked for more information about the threat of cyberattacks, Mr. Mahoney said that individual attacks on journalists and news outlets had indeed been increasing over the past year — there had been reports of such attacks in Africa, Asia and North Africa, even prior to the Arab Spring. Cyberattacks were becoming increasingly sophisticated, he said, noting that it was easy and inexpensive to hire criminal hackers. In response, the Committee had published a security guide outlining basic precautions for journalists, and was currently translating it into various languages.
In a related question, Mr. Mahoney was asked whether the United States Administration had become less assertive about combating challenges to press freedom following the “Wiki-leaks” scandal. He said that, in general, the values espoused by the American Government were in harmony with the Committee’s own. “We want the [ United States] to be a strong and supportive champion of press freedom,” he said, adding that “we need the support of all Western Governments” in that respect. Indeed, “we need to keep them on their toes” to speak out when there were violations of press freedom. The Committee would continue working to ensure that such concerns were central to the United States’ policies.
Another correspondent asked whether Mr. Keita felt there had been a systematic erosion of press freedom in South Africa, to which he answered yes. It was ironic for the African National Congress — the country’s governing party — to pass “apartheid-era laws” to silence the press, he said, noting that many of those journalists were reporting on corruption and broken promises to end poverty, among other key issues. Moreover, it was disturbing to see that criminal investigations had been opened against the Associated Press and Reuters newswire agencies for allegedly placing cameras outside the home of Nelson Mandela. “It’s really outrageous,” he added.
Asked about the press in Mexico, Mr. Lauria responded that the situation was indeed very bad, with many journalists killed or exiled. There was an overall climate of fear and intimidation that was leading to rampant censorship. The problem was going beyond press freedom to stifle the basic human rights of average citizens. “We are hoping that the Administration of [President Nieto] will make this freedom of expression a priority in his agenda,” he said. The Committee was closely following the Government’s actions in helping to end the cycle of impunity, and was planning a visit to the country in mid-March.
Replying to a question about the condition of journalistic freedom in Egypt — and in particular whether that situation was different under President Mohamed Morsy than it was when former President Hosni Mubarak was in power — Mr. Mansour said that such challenges remained from the previous regime; journalists were still being prosecuted for what they wrote, as well as outright attacked. While many people had wanted to see press protections enshrined in the country’s new Constitution — adopted late last year — they had unfortunately been disappointed, he said.
The panel also responded to questions about the situation of the press in Sri Lanka, Lithuania, Turkey and the United Republic of Tanzania, and elsewhere.
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