CPJ names ‘world’s worst places to be a journalist’
Daily Time Monitor
NEW YORK: The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is marking World Press Freedom Day on Saturday, May 3, by identifying the “world’s worst places to be a journalist”.
At the top of the list is Iraq, where nine journalists covering the US-led war were killed in action during the first three weeks of hostilities, falling victim to Iraqi or US fire, land mines, or suicide bombers. Four others died in accidents or from illness, while 24 were temporarily detained by the US or Iraqi forces during the war.
A CPJ press release says: “While the bulk of the fighting is finished in Iraq, safety conditions for journalists remain precarious: banditry, gunfire, and physical attacks will likely make Iraq a dangerous assignment for newsmen in the days to come”. In violence-stricken Chechnya, journalists endured attacks and threats, on top of the everyday brutalities of war. In the last decade, 18 journalists were killed for their work, and, presently, only a handful are willing to risk their lives by reporting from the region.
“Those who dare to go, find themselves caught in the middle of an intense propaganda war between the Kremlin and Chechen rebels,” the press statement reads. “Journalists working in Chechnya officially are mostly confined to a military press centre, where they receive filtered information. Travel is only allowed with elaborate police escorts, making independent reporting impossible. Others who cross into Chechnya clandestinely to investigate human rights abuses and portray an unsanctioned picture of the conflict face detention and physical attacks from Russian forces. Foreign correspondents whose coverage of the region is deemed anti-Russian are often denied visas or even blacklisted by the Foreign Ministry. These policies have succeeded in the government’s goal of preventing journalists from reporting on the war’s devastation.”
Similarly, journalists are finding it increasingly hard to survive in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The CPJ claims that “indiscriminate gunfire from the Israeli army [has] made the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip a treacherous beat”, adding: “Three journalists have been killed by Israeli gunfire there in the last 12 months, including cameraman Nazeh Darwazeh, who was shot in the head at close range by an Israeli soldier in April despite being well marked as a member of the press. Israeli soldiers are rarely punished when they shoot journalists.”
Newsmen operating near the front lines continue to face a variety of other obstacles. In recent months they have been wounded by Israeli military strikes. The Israeli army has closed Palestinian radio stations, and a tough Israeli government policy hamper the press from reporting objectively from these areas.
“Militant Jewish settlers, meanwhile, perpetrate violent attacks against journalists, and Palestinian security forces and militias have physically assaulted, threatened, and confiscated materials from journalists,” reads the statement.
While it is hard to report from the war-torn places mentioned above, it is not easy to practice journalism in autocratic states either. In March, with international attention focused on the US war to unseat Saddam Hussein, a brutal crackdown was launched in Cuba by Fidel Castro’s government. Cuban authorities put 28 journalists behind bars, who are now serving lengthy prison terms of up to 27 years.
“The crackdown, while unprecedented in its scale, was the culmination of years of repression and intimidation, including jailings, forced exile, confiscation of property, suspension of phone service, and orchestrated harassment by pro-government mobs,” reports the CPJ. “Cuban journalists, who dictate and fax their stories about human rights violations and petty corruption to their colleagues abroad, pose a direct challenge to the information monopoly that the government of President Fidel Castro Ruz maintains on the island.”
Similarly, authorities in Vietnam, during the last year, intensified their repression on independent writers and political dissidents. Those who published news or opinions contradicting the Communist Party line were harassed, placed under heavy surveillance, or jailed. The government typically accused independent journalists of endangering national security and treated even moderate criticism of the government, or support for democratic reform, as treasonous offences.
“Eight journalists are languishing in Vietnam’s prisons or under house arrest. In recent months, local journalists expressed fears of an even broader crackdown following reports that authorities compiled a nationwide ‘blacklist’ of writers and dissidents.” The CPJ has also placed Afghanistan, Eritrea, Togo, Colombia, and Belarus on its list of the “worst places to be a journalist”.
It mentions the “unchecked power of local warlords and weak rule of law” as fundamental factors responsible for an inhospitable environment for the press in Afghanistan. “Despite the new freedoms enjoyed by the media after the ouster of the repressive Taliban regime,” reads the press release, “journalists say it is impossible to write and speak freely because of threats, physical intimidation, and assault. These abuses are often committed by politicians and military commanders who use government security forces to harass independent journalists.”
According to the acting director of the committee, Joel Simon, “many journalists who report from these places have made the ultimate sacrifice; others are in jail serving long sentences. But their colleagues persevere, confronting government crackdowns, physical violence, harsh press laws, and indiscriminate gunfire to bring us the news”.
The CPJ is a non-partisan, non-profit organisation dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide.