Directing limited energies where they do the most good
In January my co-chair Jeremy Main produced a review  of press-freedom abuses around the world in 2009—the first review of the year from any press-freedom organization that I’m aware of. As Jeremy points out, even without the massacre of 30 Philippine journalists  and 27 others in Maguindanao in November last year would have been a dreadful one for journalists around the world. By the count of the Committee to Protect Journalists , 70 news people were killed because of their work, and that was a record. Reporters Without Borders put the number even higher, at 76. The number of journalists held in jail jumped to 136, according to CPJ (169 according to RSF).
If you haven’t read Jeremy’s report I urge you to do so. It will give you a sense of how the problems of reporters and editors around the world aren’t limited to the collapse of print media’s business model.
The work of the FoP committee has always been implicitly one of triage, matching the committee’s few members not just to the most pressing cases of journalists in jeopardy but to those to which the addition of OPC’s voice could actually have some effect. For several years there’s been debate within the committee about just how to manage this balance. It’s assumed that the Club is expected to add its voice on headline-grabbing events like the assassinations of Russian journalists or the hacking of Google China. But there’s no evidence suggesting that the addition of OPC has much impact in such high-profile cases.
The direction in which the Committee is evolving is to put the Club on record in those headline-making cases but to direct the majority of energies and scarce personnel to nominally democratic or aspirationally modern countries, places for which public rebuke from America’s leading organization for foreign-affairs journalists might actually be a source of embarrassment.
The committee’s work since mid December is a good example of what I mean. There were well-argued letters of protest to Spain  and Pakistan , for instance, but the focus of our work was on Latin American countries in which institutional respect for free expression can be all too often shaky.
In Peru  just last week we challenged President Alan Garcia Perez to address the deteriorating situation of our colleagues there, using as our departure point two recent cases in which Peruvian officials retaliated against journalists who criticized them. We see these as a disturbing continuation of a trend that began in 2009, and we underscored for Perez that such instances are damaging to Peru’s status as a modern democracy.
In Bolivia  we took the occasion of Evo Morales Ayma’s reelection to express alarm at a growing habit of government-inspired attacks on the press, both physical and verbal. As Juan Javier Zeballos, executive director of the Asociación Nacional de Prensa put it, the climate for the independent media in Bolivia has become “increasingly oppressive and aggressive.” According to the ANP, in the fourteen months ending in October there were one hundred twenty-three physical attacks on journalists and one hundred sixty-four attacks. One journalist was murdered.
In the years to come we will be paying special attention to Brazil . As we told Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s president, 2009 was in many ways terrific for Brazil—a booming economy and then news that Rio de Janeiro will play host to the 2016 Olympics. Brazil will be in a spotlight brighter than it has ever known before, and with that new scrutiny must come heightened awareness of the frequent threats to our colleagues there. Just in the month of December we became aware of the following:
* On December 15, unidentified assailants killed Brazilian radio host José Givonaldo Vieira in Pernambuco.
* On December 11, two journalists working for Carajás TV’s crime program, "Campo Mourão Urgente," were shot at as they were editing their program in Paraná. Rita de Cássia dos Santos, the program’s producer, suspects the shooters were local drug traffickers attempting to intimidate the reporters.
* On December 10, the Federal Supreme Court ruled against an appeal filed by O Estado de São Paulo asking to reverse a lower court decision preventing it from publishing information about a federal investigation of businessman Fernando Sarney. It happens that Sarney is the son of Brazil’s senate president (and former president of Brazil) José Sarney.
* On December 5, photographer Lúcio Távora of A Tarde was threatened by military police while photographing a demonstration by students in Salvador.
* On December 4, a court in Acre released Antônio Muniz, a local TV commentator and columnist for the daily newspaper, O Rio Branco. Muniz had been jailed for two days in connection with a 2002 conviction on a charge of defaming a senator. He was released because in Brazil press offenses have been decriminalized—a hopeful portent for free expression had Muniz not been forced to appear in handcuffs at a closed-door hearing in violation of federal court rules.
We were, frankly, surprised that the list for a single month is so long. Brazil has become a shining light for other countries on the path to modern economic development. As we reminded Luis de Silva, the work of a free press has been absolutely central to that achievement.
Submitted by: Kevin McDermott