When hunting down the truth turns deadly, the Committee to Protect Journalists comes to the rescue

Michael Hurtig | March 20th, 2012

The Committee to Protect Journalists

by Brian Bruegge

Every day, stories of war, political unrest, and oppression reach us from places across the globe. We are able to hear news about the uprising in Syria, the violence of Mexican drug cartels, or protests in Egypt just by picking up the newspaper or going online. Yet we often have little knowledge of the dangerous and even lethal conditions that many journalists face to bring us this information.

In recent weeks, several journalists have been murdered or killed in the crossfire of conflict in countries such as Syria and Somalia. Already this year, thirteen journalists have been killed as a result of their work. Yet journalists do not need to face these challenges alone, thanks to the help of organizations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which works to expose and prevent these dangers to members of the press.

“We are an organization of journalists for journalists [that] uses the tools of journalism to defend journalists and reporters,” explained Robert Mahoney, Deputy Director of the CPJ. “You can’t underestimate the effectiveness of bringing to light attacks on journalists.”

One of the CPJ’s recent success stories is Eynulla Fatullayev, an Azerbaijani journalist who was jailed in 2007 while investigating the murder of his editor. After his article was published, linking the Azerbaijani government to the killing, Fatullayev found himself sentenced to over a decade of prison time based on false charges. Fortunately, the CPJ was ready to defend him, and worked tirelessly to set him free. In 2009, Fatullayev received the CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award, which is given to journalists who are in prison due to their work.
The CPJ held on to the award until 2011, when Fatullayev was finally freed and able to claim it. “Without the CPJ, he wouldn’t have gotten out of jail,” Mahoney said of Fatullayev’s imprisonment.

The organization was also instrumental in freeing over 20 journalists in Cuba who were imprisoned in 2003 after Fidel Castro clamped down on the press there. Because of their sustained advocacy and lobbying, all of these journalists are now free once again.

Mahoney knows firsthand the dangers that come with reporting on the ground. He has worked as a reporter and bureau chief during times of violence or turmoil in places such as Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. This field experience taught him important lessons about the precautions that journalists must take while working.

“It’s very important that as part of our job we try to educate and make journalists aware of some of the dangers that they will face,” he explains. And, as he points out, his own experience has been an invaluable asset for accomplishing this work.

Despite their efforts, there are still too many journalists in danger around the world for CPJ to handle on its own. CPJ’s efforts, in concert with national governments and other organizations such as Reporters Without Borders are what really make a difference.

As Mahoney makes clear, “We’re all in this together, and the more that we highlight press freedom abuses and repressive behavior towards the press, the easier it is for us to push back and resist.”