Global Risks to Journalists Increase—Record Number in Prison

From a Wall Street Journal story by Caitlin Ostroff headlined “Global Risks to Journalists Increase, Say Press Advocates”:

UNITED NATIONS—Press freedom advocates highlighted a growing number of risks to journalists as a record number have been imprisoned, including Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich.

The United Nations hosted a series of speakers ahead of its 30th World Press Freedom Day on Wednesday. That date will also mark the fifth week of Mr. Gershkovich’s detention by Russia. As of December, 363 journalists were imprisoned in more than 30 countries, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

“Stop detaining and imprisoning journalists for doing their jobs,” said António Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General, in a video message. “As journalists stand up for the truth, the world stands up with them.”

When the U.N. held its first World Press Freedom Day three decades ago, the world looked different, said A.G. Sulzberger, chairman and publisher of the New York Times.

Media organizations were enjoying financial strength, technology was starting to make information more accessible to people globally and Cold War tensions were fading, he said

“This moment proved to be a short-lived high point,” he said.

The internet upended news organizations’ business models and misinformation and clickbait eroded confidence in the press, he said. Reporting in a number of countries, including China, Hungary, Egypt, Nicaragua and India, grew more dangerous, he said.

“In Russia, journalists who dare to even acknowledge the Ukraine war face long prison terms,” Mr. Sulzberger said, pointing to Mr. Gershkovich’s detention and calling for his release.

Mr. Gershkovich, 31 years old, was detained on March 29 by Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, while he was on a reporting trip in the city of Yekaterinburg and held on an allegation of espionage that the Journal and the U.S. government vehemently deny.

Russian authorities haven’t publicly provided evidence to support the allegation, and the U.S. government has designated Mr. Gershkovich as wrongfully detained. Mr. Gershkovich was accredited to work as a journalist in Russia by the country’s Foreign Ministry at the time of his detention.

Press freedom is also being encumbered by online harassment, technological surveillance and growing concentration in media ownership, speakers said. Audrey Azoulay, Unesco director-general, said that the intergovernmental organization has helped provide protection equipment to journalists in Ukraine and worked with member states to increase press freedom.

The U.S. Agency for International Development will contribute up to $9 million in seed funding for a new nonprofit, Reporters Shield, that will help non-U.S. media defend investigative reporting against legal threats, Samantha Power, administrator of USAID, said Tuesday. The organization is now accepting applications for aid, she said, and could start helping journalists in some regions as soon as next month.

Masih Alinejad, an Iranian-American journalist, said that more than 70 journalists are imprisoned in Iran. She called on U.N. member states to pass a resolution against the transnational repression of journalists.

“We have to take strong action,” she said, adding that “empty words” won’t help the journalism community.

Jose Zamora spoke about his father, Guatemalan journalist and president of the elPeriódico newspaper José Rubén Zamora, who has been detained for eight months in Guatemala.

“His real crime has been doing journalism,” Mr. Zamora said, noting that his father had published a series of investigative stories on corruption before his arrest.

Ahead of his discussion with Almar Latour, the publisher of The Journal, Abderrahim Foukara, the D.C. bureau chief for Al Jazeera, held up pictures of Al Jazeera reporters: one recently released, two detained and one killed a year ago. Mr. Foukara then held up a copy of a Journal story on Evan’s detention.

Mr. Latour said that there is hope and commitment to bring Mr. Gershkovich home and that reporters must continue to cover countries that are cracking down on press freedom.

“You have to—before going in—understand what the risks are and also prepare for the unexpected. However we cannot withdraw from reporting,” he said. “The fight for press freedom, the fight for Evan’s release, is the fight for everybody’s freedom.”

Caitlin Ostroff is a reporter for The Wall Street Journal’s London bureau, focusing on cryptocurrencies and crypto companies.

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