Who would have thought that France would top the list of most deadly countries for the press in 2015, second only to Syria? The massacre of eight cartoonists and journalists by Islamic militants at the Paris office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo last January was one of the deadliest attacks against the press since CPJ began keeping records in 1992. And in November a freelance music journalist was among the 130 killed in an Islamic State-inspired attack in the French capital.
"We're stepping up our efforts to discredit ISIL's propaganda, especially online," President Barack Obama told delegates at the Leaders' Summit on Countering Violent Extremism last month. The social media counter-offensive comes amid U.N. reports of a 70 percent increase in what it terms "foreign terrorist fighters"--citizens of U.N. member states who have left to join Islamic State and other militant groups.
Last week, I met a Cameroonian journalist who worked in the Congo until he fled following a series of threats and an attack on his home by armed men who assaulted his sister. Elie Smith, a TV host who documented alleged abuses by police and was outspoken in his criticism of the government, said he thought he had been under surveillance and that he had received multiple threats via text message.
Mass surveillance and the bulk collection of metadata by the U.S. government pose serious threats to journalists in the U.S. and around the world, which is why the Committee to Protect Journalists today joined a wide coalition of privacy, human rights, technology, and trade groups calling on Congress and the Obama Administration to include certain elements in U.S. surveillance reform.
In an effort to counter extremists and militant groups who use a mix of violence and social media to spread their message, a summit was held in Washington, D.C. this week to discuss how to counter violent extremism. While there is little denying that these groups must be tackled, an approach must be found that will not justify restricting the press.
After a series of high-level meetings to discuss press freedom concerns with Egyptian officials in Cairo this week, it was heartening to hear that journalists Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Baher Mohamed had been granted bail after more than 400 days in prison.
In 2009, the sketch comedian Jason Jones traveled to Iran to interview Newsweek reporter Maziar Bahari for "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart. Shortly after the disputed June 12 elections, the series of reports aired amid a brutal crackdown on Iranian journalists and the opposition. Bahari was among those arrested. Among the "evidence" presented by his interrogators--one of whom smelled like rosewater--was his interview with the fake news show, which they claimed was proof he had spoken with an American spy. When they could not get those charges to stick they made up a new one: "media espionage."
This month, the prosecutor-general of Kyrgyzstan, Aida Salyanova, told the Committee to Protect Journalists that her office is working hard to fight corruption and ensure transparency in government activities.
We are not convinced.
Egypt's newly elected leader, Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, will have to face many challenges as president, including the real crisis that confronts freedom of the press in the country. Things were never good for the press in Egypt, but they have worsened significantly since former President Mohamed Morsi was ousted last summer. As CPJ wrote in a letter before the election to el-Sisi and his now defeated opponent, Hamdeen Sabahi, at least six journalists have been killed since Morsi's ouster and 16 journalists are currently imprisoned. Dozens more have been detained and released, creating a climate of fear and repression that has dampened the ability of journalists to cover political developments and the most recent election.
Do you believe the free flow of information must be protected? Sign the #RightToReport petition and demand that President Obama immediately:
1. Issue a presidential policy directive prohibiting the hacking and surveillance of journalists and media organizations.
2. Limit aggressive prosecutions that ensnare journalists and intimidate whistleblowers.
3. Prevent the harassment of journalists at the U.S. border.
Or click here to see the full petition, and join leading journalists like Christiane Amanpour, The Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger, Editor of the AP Kathleen Carroll, and Arianna Huffington in signing on.