CPJ's 15th Anniversary: 1981-1996

The Committee to Protect Journalists marked its 15th anniversary in 1996. The American journalists who filed CPJ's papers of incorporation in 1981 dedicated the organization to the defense of the "human and professional rights of journalists around the world." Their goal was to use the power of the U.S. media on behalf of colleagues abroad threatened by authoritarian governments and other enemies of independent journalism. They were compelled by a sense of urgency. Death-squad killings of journalists were rampant in Central and South America, and violent attacks on the press were on the rise elsewhere.

The incorporating documents laid out clearly CPJ's basic mandate: the protection of journalists through "the compilation and verification of the actual or threatened violations of the professional rights of journalists; the mobilization of public opinion throughout the world for the prevention of…such violations; and the dissemination of information concerning the status and treatment of journalists throughout the world."

It was an ambitious but realistic agenda. Since 1981, CPJ has documented, protested, and publicized thousands of violations of press freedom and has grown into a vitally important institution to journalists and news organizations worldwide. It is the only U.S. organization with a full-time staff devoted solely to this important work.

Rapid-fire requests for CPJ's help can come during crises ranging from crackdowns on independent newspapers to political assassination campaigns against editors and reporters. On average, over the past decade, at least one journalist has been killed every week somewhere in the world. Scores of journalists are imprisoned every year because of what they have reported. Hundreds more are routinely subjected to physical attack, illegal detention, spurious legal action, and threats against themselves or their families. And even in the United States, where the press enjoys great power and legal protection, journalists have been murdered with impunity.

CPJ turns the spotlight of public attention on these acts. It can intervene anytime a reporter is in trouble. A professional staff of highly experienced regional specialists tracks press conditions through an extensive network of sources, reports from the field, and on-site fact-finding missions. Volunteers from its board of media leaders and its international membership are ready to assist. CPJ notifies news organizations, government officials, and human rights groups of press freedom violations. In many cases, its protest campaigns have been responsible for getting journalists out of jail or preventing their imprisonment. This year, with the establishment of CPJ's Web site, journalists everywhere have access to the latest news about press freedom conditions around the world and a vast database of information about past violations.

Paradoxically, the expansion of press freedom since the end of the Cold War has made CPJ more important than ever. Jailings and murders of journalists increase virtually every year. So do the calls for CPJ's help. Last year alone, CPJ responded directly to more than 250 press freedom violations and documented 500 other such incidents.

We are proud of what the Committee to Protect Journalists has accomplished in its first 15 years. But we are asked to do much more, and with your support, we can do more. CPJ is entirely dependent on donations from journalists, news organizations, and private foundations. It is nonpartisan, nonprofit, and nonstop.

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