Joel Simon, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, spoke at Ithaca College on Wednesday, Dec. 12, about the life-threatening dangers journalists across the globe face when reporting. A day after Time Magazine named “The Guardians” – a group of journalists targeted for their work - its Person of the Year, Simon stressed that journalists play a crucial role in telling the full, unbiased truth about news events.
Titled “The Trump Effect: Press Freedom in the U.S. and Around the World," Simon’s presentation shined a spotlight on journalists across the world who have been imprisoned or killed for their work. Based on data that Committee to Protect Journalists has been collecting since 1992, there has been a total of 1,332 journalists killed globally. Out of that number, about two thirds were murdered in retaliation for their specific coverage, such as politics and human rights issues.
Another interesting revelation was the increase in the number of journalists imprisoned on false news charges. That number increased from nine in 2016 to 21 in 2017.
Simon said this trend correlates to U.S. President Donald Trump’s attitude towards media organizations that report him in a negative light. The rhetoric used against the media by Trump can influence leaders of other countries, such as China and Egypt, to act the same way. For instance, Simon mentioned a bill recently passed in Egypt that classifies Facebook and Twitter accounts with more 5,000 followers as media outlets. The Egyptian government will require these accounts to obtain a permit from the government before posting, and would give the government power to remove and ban content that they deem to be “fake.”
We are at a moment where people are thinking about what's at stake," Simon said. "If governments are censoring or even killing journalists because of their work, then we are at risk of not knowing the difference between real and 'fake' news."
Raza Ahmad Rumi, director of the Park Center for Independent Media, which sponsored the talk, said that Simon’s message was critical because of how his organization has fought for the lives of journalists throughout the years.
“A free press is a fundamental and central American value imbedded in American history, so it is important to uphold,” Rumi said. “The kind of work that the Committee to Protect Journalists is doing is incredibly valuable. All across the globe, they are protecting and supporting journalists and their work, regardless of our current political climate.”