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CPJ launches survey of Attacks on the Press at events worldwide

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released its worldwide survey on press freedom violations, "Attacks on the Press," in six countries in different regions on 16 February. Drawing on CPJ's own investigations as well as information gathered by other IFEX members, the 360-page book details the struggles and threats journalists face and how these press freedom violations corrupt the flow of information, undermining democracy. The survey provides a factual, systematic analysis of the media environment in more than 100 countries, with information on journalists killed, imprisoned, and the repercussions of forcing journalists into exile.

In Africa, dozens of journalists have gone into exile because of intimidation and violence, especially in Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea. And with this exodus of reporters, local communities no longer have a reliable source of information, governments or political factions take over control of formerly independent news outlets, and there are fewer journalists who have the professional standards and training to carry out independent news gathering. Many journalists remaining in Ethiopia and Eritrea have been imprisoned. In Somalia, English-speaking journalists are targeted. This means that without reliable local reporters, international reporters no longer get news. In exile in Nairobi, separated from loved ones, living on the streets, Somali journalists encounter arbitrary harassment and detention. At the Nairobi launch of the CPJ survey, Somali journalists pointed to the risks local journalists face in the war-ravaged country; nine journalists were killed in 2009.

In the Americas, unlawful spying by national intelligence agencies has created a chill with sources becoming increasingly reluctant to talk to journalists. Cuban state security agents have kept journalists and dissidents under constant surveillance for decades. In Colombia in 2009, agents subjected journalists, politicians, judges and human rights defenders to illegal phone tapping and e-mail interception. And in Argentina, there has been a federal investigation examining whether agents tapped the phones and hacked the e-mail accounts of critical journalists, politicians, judges, and artists as part of a strategy to discredit and stop their work.

On 16 February in Bogotá, CPJ and the local Foundation for Freedom of the Press (FLIP) launched their annual reports together. They also met with authorities, including President Alvaro Uribe Vélez, to discuss the findings of the reports. The delegates called on the Colombian government to prosecute all those responsible for illegal spying and to refrain from accusing members of the media of having connections to armed groups, without any evidence, as it puts their lives in danger.

The CPJ survey points to the power of the Internet in the Middle East in bringing human rights reporting to a mass audience by bloggers, despite brutal attacks on critics by the state, and the resilience of Arab journalists. "A 2008 survey of 600 journalists in 13 Arab countries by the American University in Cairo found that most believed their primary mission was to drive reform."

At a press conference in Cairo, Naziha Rejiba, editor of the Tunisian online publication "Kalima" and a 2009 CPJ International Press Freedom Awardee, offered a stark description of the harassment Tunisian journalists face. "They don't kill us physically... but they assassinate our characters." At the United Nations in New York, Canadian-Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari, who was detained and tortured for 118 days in Tehran's Evin prison, asked the secretary-general to prioritize free expression.

For Asia, the book includes a special section on the culture of impunity in the Philippines with a detailed account of the massacre of 32 journalists last November in election-related violence. For the international launch of the book, in Tokyo, CPJ led a panel discussion on how technology and the rise of social media is changing the press freedom landscape, with discussion on citizen journalists sending photos of street demonstrations in Iran, and other examples that highlight the worst abusers.

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