In this section you will find a WAN op-ed on the theme of "Journalists in the firing line". Newspapers can freely publish the text, with credit to WAN.
The Dangers of "Committing Journalism" Worldwide
"I got put in jail in Zimbabwe for simply doing my job. They said I was 'committing journalism' and I hope they were right."
how Barry Bearak of The New York Times described his arrest, brief
detention and expulsion from Zimbabwe for trying to report from the
country during the last elections. Bearak's plight was widely reported
in the global media and created a storm of indignation and protest in
the international community. As many as a thousand journalists are
arrested in the world each year, however, and the dramatic, often
tragic, stories of the vast majority of them go untold.
125 journalists are currently in prison serving significant jail terms
- and more than 400 have been murdered in the past decade. To report on
corruption, to challenge government policies, to investigate organized
crime - these are just a few ways to get a one-way ticket to prison or
the cemetery in dozens of countries.
Why do these journalists
take the risk, voluntarily put themselves and their families in the
firing line? Each man or woman's story is different, but all are united
in one idea at least: that without the right to inform and express
ideas freely, one cannot demand any other rights.
3 May, World
Press Freedom Day on 3 May is an annual occasion to reaffirm this idea
and to turn the spotlight on repressive governments which deny their
people this freedom. It is a day to support and understand the
fundamental relation between press freedom and democracy and all human
There are countless stories to be told and remembered
on 3 May. Barry Bearak, The New York Times' co-bureau chief in
Johannesburg circumvented a draconian press law in Zimbabwe that
severely restricted coverage of the presidential elections. His
reporting mission was cut short when 21 police officers raided his
hotel room. He spent four days in a concrete cell before being
expelled from the country.
In Zimbabwe, where independent news
sources struggle to stay afloat, reporters can be instantaneously
deemed criminals for what they've written or for not having proper
journalistic accreditation. Trying to achieve press freedom, said
Bearak, "is a rear-guard action. In places like Zimbabwe, we're
clearly outnumbered and I can't say we are winning."
Kaka would agree. The director of the private radio station Saraouniya
Radio was imprisoned for 384 days for his coverage on the Niger Justice
Movement, which has been engaged in a long rebellion against the
"The rebellion in the North is the most important
story in Niger, yet no one can cover it because the government censors
everything", says Moussa Kaka.
"People are always talking
about modernizing Africa, but that is not possible as long as
journalists are going to jail for what they write or say," he said.
"You want democracy, then let the press do its job. And, if
intimidation worked, this job wouldn't exist, or at least I wouldn't be
doing it. I am ready to go back to jail, no hesitation."
stories are common. Mohammad Al-Al Abdallah, a 26-year old Syrian
blogger and human rights activist whose father and brother were both
jailed for criticizing Syrian policies and calling for reform, was
briefly detained before he fled the country for the United States,
where he continues to write his blog, I'm leaving and I'm not coming
back, which is censored in his home country.
"We are getting
arrested, like traditional journalists, and although it is shameful, it
means that we are doing something right," said Al-Abdallah.
Yemen, Abdel Karim Al-Khaiwani, spent a year behind bars for his
reportage on high-level corruption, nepotism, and human rights abuses.
Al-Khaiwani, is now facing another six-year sentence, and is frequently
barred from leaving the country to attend international meetings on
"I refuse to submit to or to put up with
intimidation. I refuse to give up the principles of freedom and
justice. I protest against despotism, oppression and all forms of
harassment," he says.
In Colombia, 130 journalists have been
killed over the past 30 years, for articles that cover guerrilla
warfare, high-level corruption and drug trafficking. Claudia Julieta
Duque, who has battled court cases, faced death threats and has left
the country on three occasions in fear that her investigative reporting
would have deadly consequences, says:
"I strongly believe that
the only way to achieve real press freedom in Colombia is to ensure
that all of us defend it together. Regardless of personal differences,
focuses, or ideas - the right to express is above all interests and
This repression isn't only a problem for
journalist and bloggers, but for all of us, since we rely on them to
take the risks and report the stories. Mohamad Ali Al-Abdallah of Syria
says there is much that can be done. "From attending court hearings to
supporting the family of imprisoned journalists, everyone can
contribute in their own way, at their own scale," he says.
Written by Larry Kilman, Director of Communications and Public Affairs at the
World Association of Newspapers. WAN annually organises a World Press
Freedom Day initiative to draw attention to the role of independent
news and information in society, and how it is under attack. More
information can be found at www.worldpressfreedomday.org