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Journalists brave attacks, death in much of the world

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Gene Policinski
April 26, 2012

The world news items about reporters killed, news organizations harassed, and unsolved crimes committed against journalists in other nations come nearly daily, generally in one or two paragraphs at most in a newspaper or online. These attacks around the globe demonstrate the huge difference between press freedom as we know it in the United States and press freedom elsewhere.


One day each year is set aside to focus on that difference—World Press Freedom Day, this year on May 3. In an annual report to be released May 1, Freedom of the Press 2012, the independent watchdog group Freedom House will give us its latest assessment.


At the same time, an updated, wall-sized map (newseum.org/exhibits-and-theaters/permanent-exhibits/world-news/press-freedom-map.html) at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., will be unveiled showing in green, yellow and red the nations where the press operates freely, somewhat freely or not freely. There’s an awful lot of red and yellow, and precious little green. As striking as the map’s stark image is, it’s the content behind the colors that hits home. In just the past few weeks:


--A crusading Brazilian reporter was shot and killed April 22 because of his work, colleagues said. Décio Sá, a political reporter for a newspaper in northeastern Brazil, was at least the fourth journalist slain this year in Brazil. An editor at his newspaper was quoted as saying, “Mr. Sá had ‘a long list of enemies’ as a reporter who wrote about local corruption.”


--In an April 17 report, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Iraq remained at the top of its “Impunity Index” for the fifth year in a row. The cases of 93 journalists killed in the past 10 years remain unsolved. The report, published annually, notes 12 nations where at least five reporters have been killed with no criminal convictions from 2002 to 2011. Somalia was second worst for the third year running, with 11 killings unsolved.


--In Kuwait, writer Mohammed Al-Mulaifi was sentenced to seven years at hard labor in prison and fined $18,000 for slander and defamation after saying in tweets that his country’s Shiite Muslim minority was loyal to foreign countries.


And a trial is set to begin in Denmark for four men charged with planning an armed attack on the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten seeking to avenge its publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad.


The United States, though safer from violence than most nations, is not without critics of its commitment to press freedom. In January, Reporters without Borders listed the U.S. as 47th in press freedom worldwide, mainly owing to arrests of journalists reporting on police actions against Occupy movement encampments around the country. Thankfully, most of those arrests ended with charges dropped or dismissed—and prompted an outcry against heavy-handed police tactics against journalists and protesters alike. No reporters were killed.


The U.S. Department of State has launched an online “Free the Press” campaign, highlighting individual journalists who face government threats worldwide, ranging from imprisonment to house arrest to travel bans.


“Media freedom is oxygen” for societies, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Tara D. Sonenshine told a group of international journalists in discussing the campaign. “It’s the moral equivalent of oxygen—it is how a society breathes, and it is a key pillar of building civil societies.”


Spend some time with the reports from Freedom House, Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters without Borders, all available online. The violence against those who would simply report the news is nearly unbearable, particularly for Americans who may often berate but never take up arms against reporters and editors.


And regardless of the regard you may or may not have for the news media, pause for a moment May 3 to honor those who gave their lives or their liberty so that others might better know about the world around them.


Gene Policinski is senior vice president and executive director of the First Amendment Center, 1207 18th Ave. S., Nashville, Tenn., 37212. Web: www.firstamendmentcenter.org. Email: gpolicinski@fac.org.

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