Tag Archives: Afghanistan

Call for more safety measures for journalists

The following item was initially posted at the SPJ International Community site, Journalism and the World.

Roy Greenslade at The guardian published an open letter from the director general of Swedish Radio, Cilla Benkö, calling for the safety of journalists to be taken more seriously by the international community.

He put the whole letter in his latest March 11 column. A portion of that letter is posted below. To see the whole letter and Greenslade’s column, click here.

Cilla Benkö

Enough is enough. Every policy initiative that can be taken to secure the safety of journalists, both here in Sweden and internationally, through bodies such as the UN and the EU, must now be implemented. This is an urgent matter if we want to protect the freedom of the press and the freedom of expression.On Wednesday (9 March), our correspondent, Maria Persson Löfgren, was attacked while on assignment in the Russian state of Ingushetia. On 11 March 2014, our Asia correspondent, Nils Horner, was murdered in Kabul. Two completely unacceptable events.

Both Maria and Nils were engaged in normal assignments for a foreign correspondent. The job is demanding, tough and sometimes associated with danger.

We should be thankful that there are people who want to engage in this kind of journalism, because it’s through them that the rest of us learn about a reality that is often more complicated than those governing in a country would suggest.

The issue of the safety of journalists must be taken more seriously at an international level. Ceasing to cover troubled areas is not an option. In an increasingly digitised world, it is very easy for extremist groups and others to spread their propaganda.

For rest of letter click here.

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Filed under Harassment, International News Coverage, Killings, Press Freedom

Mullah Omar, VOA and the SPJ: An Issue Revisited

The latest reports of the death of Taliban leader Mullah Omar Mohammad remind me of how the SPJ was a vital part of an effort to stop the George W. Bush Administration from interfering with the editorial independence of the Voice of America.

Soon after the 9/11 attacks a VOA reporter got an exclusive interview with Mohammad. The VOA planned to run excerpts from the interview as part of a larger story on Afghan reactions to a speech by President Bush. Almost immediately, the White House, State Department and Pentagon raised objections to the airing the interview, arguing such a broadcast gives a voice to terrorists.

The Voice of America – and other U.S. government broadcast outlets such as Radio Free Asia — is controlled by an independent board of governors. The creation of the board came about when VOA’s home agency – U.S. Information Agency – was wrapped into the State Department. The idea was to ensure the news organization was not controlled by a policy making agency of the U.S. government.

The VOA Charter that protects the VOA editorial independence from government interference was drafted in 1960 and signed into law by President Gerald Ford in 1976.

The points of the charter are very clear:

  1. VOA will serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news. VOA news will be accurate, objective, and comprehensive.
  2. VOA will represent America, not any single segment of American society, and will therefore present a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions.
  3. VOA will present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively, and will also present responsible discussions and opinion on these policies.

The Bush Administration brushed aside points one and three. It weighed in – heavily – to have the Mohammad interview spiked.

Voice of America reporters responded with letters complaining about the attempted censorship by the U.S. government in violation of the charter. And for a while the issue in the United States was moving in the direction the administration wanted. Fortunately, the SPJ International Committee caught wind of the situation and mobilized support for the news organization.

The SPJ and the Hong Kong Correspondents Club issued similar statements condemning the actions of the Bush Administration and called on it to honor the VOA Charter and the editorial independence of the reporters and editors.

Other groups around the world soon also rallied to the side of editorial independence.

In subsequent years, the SPJ followed the efforts by Bush Administration officials to limit the independence of VOA reporters.

2001 SPJ Convention Resolutions

WHEREAS the Voice of America in September obtained an interview with Taliban leader Mohammed Omar, and

WHEREAS the U.S. Department of State sought to intervene against use of that interview, and its spokesman called the broadcast inappropriate, and

WHEREAS the VOA nevertheless used the interview in a five-minute report in the local Afghan languages and in its English broadcasts, and

WHEREAS the Society of Professional Journalists believes truth is best revealed in the light of contesting opinions.

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Society commend VOA for its editorial integrity in this matter, and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Society salute the courage of VOA’s news executives who risked the displeasure of their own government in the service of their mission to inform, and that it find VOA’s practice in this case an exemplar of the most fundamental principles of democracy…

2004 SPJ Convention Resolutions

WHEREAS, the Voice of America has editorial independence protected by law and executive order, and

Whereas, VOA journalists have received numerous awards for excellence in journalism, including several from the Society of Professional Journalists, and

Whereas, the U.S. government has attempted since 2001 to curtail VOA’s reporting, including an exclusive interview with the head of the Taliban, and

Whereas, the independent Broadcasting Board of Governors scuttled a plan in 2002 to shut down all but two VOA bureaus after journalism and human-rights organizations stepped forward to criticize the action;

THEREFORE, be it resolved that the Society of Professional Journalists supports the journalists of VOA who seek to report without bias stories of importance and interest to the world community, and

Be it further resolved that SPJ opposes any actions by the U.S. government to diminish VOA’s news-gathering capability or the integrity; and that copies of this resolution be sent to VOA and the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

Unfortunately, the Bush Administration worked slowly and surely to punish the reporters and editors who authorized the interview, conducted the interview and who raised the alarm over the administration’s attempts to censor the organization. Reporters and editors were reassigned to less sensitive areas or strongly encouraged to take lucrative buy-outs and leave VOA.

The battle for editorial independence in VOA continues. Reporters and editors still report of behind the scenes pressure from policy agencies – Pentagon, State Department, White House, etc – to go soft or hard on stories, depending on government policy. The reporters and editors continue to push back and continue to put out excellent and balanced stories.

And these journalists deserve our continued support. There are unthinking members of our profession and within the SPJ who dismiss the VOA as “just another government propaganda” operation. If they paid attention to the VOA and its charter, they would know it is one of the best and most trusted news organizations in the world.

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Filed under Afghanistan, Censorship, SPJ, Terrorism

CPJ honors brave journalists and what it means to Americans

The Committee to Protect Journalists honored four journalists with its coveted Press Freedom Award this weekend.

CPJ Press Freedom Awards: Honoring tenacity and courage

The award winners are:

  • Mauri König, one of Brazil’s premier investigative journalists, has spent 22 years reporting on human rights abuses and corruption. König’s work includes a series of articles in late 2000 and 2001 that documented the recruitment and kidnapping of Brazilian children for military service in Paraguay. While researching the story in Paraguay, König was brutally beaten with chains, strangled, and left for dead. In 2003, he faced a wave of threats from police as he reported along the Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina border area. Neither case was ever resolved.
  • Dhondup Wangchen is a self-taught Tibetan documentary filmmaker who conceived and shot the film “Leaving Fear Behind” to portray life in Tibet in advance of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Shortly after his footage was smuggled overseas, Wangchen disappeared into Chinese detention. Knowledge of his whereabouts came only after Jigme Gyatso, a monk who had helped shoot the film, was released from jail. Wangchen was sentenced to six years in prison, and in January 2010, he was denied appeal.
  • Azimjon Askarov, a Kyrgyz journalist and human rights defender, is serving a life term in prison in connection with his coverage of official wrongdoing and abuse. His conviction–following a judicial process marred by torture, lack of evidence, and fabricated charges–has been challenged by human rights organizations and the Kyrgyz government’s own ombudsman’s office. Askarov was charged with complicity in an officer’s murder and a series of anti-state crimes, but a CPJ special report, based on interviews with the journalist, his lawyers, and witnesses, has shown that no material evidence or independent witnesses were presented in court to support any of the charges.
  • Mae Azango is one of a small number of female reporters working in Liberia. For the past 10 years, she has worked to expose the plight of ordinary people, particularly women and girls, who have been victimized by issues long hushed in her society. In 2012, Azango took on the politically sensitive subject of female genital mutilation, drawing threats that forced her and her daughter into hiding for weeks. Throughout, she continued to report on the practice, ultimately forcing the government to declare they would work to stop the dangerous practice.

While for most Americans the presentations are “nice” but have no apparent connection to their own lives. (Hence the ongoing problem of making a connection between international events and Main Street.)

But those who do not see the connection just aren’t looking hard enough.

Let’s take these winners one by one.

Mauri König’s reporting on corruption and para-military activities in the tri-border area of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil have a direct and dramatic impact on U.S. security. Every U.S. agency dealing with security see the connection and are (in cooperation with the countries involved) dedicating resources to investigate and deal with the problems in the area.

The tri-border region is a well-known arms and counterfeit market. The weapons being traded are not for home protection but for larger criminal actions from drug and people running to terrorism. And, yes, that has a direct impact on life in the United States.

And then there is the moral issue of child slavery that need exposure. No American would ever argue — at least publically — such slavery should be allowed to exist.

So Americans owe König a debt of gratitude for exposing the activities in one of the most lawless portions of this hemisphere.


Dhondup Wangchen’s documentaries exposed the truth about life in China. Most Americans probably know that the Chinese government restricts speech, religion and the other civil liberties Americans take for granted. So from the moral side, Wangchen’s work is valuable to a better understanding of China.

Wangchen’s reports also tell the world that the Chinese government does not want bad news made public. Now think about how that affects business relationships. If businesses cannot get accurate and independent information about the social and economic situation in China, how can they expect to market goods and services to the Chinese people?

The inability to know what is going on in China means that exports from the United States to China are limited. And that means fewer job opportunities for Americans across the country.


Any time a reporter covers corruption and official abuse in a less-than-democratic country, that reporter is in danger. The work of Azimjon Askarov, showed just that in Kyrgyzstan.

The central Asian country is important to the United States because of the airbase at Manas. This is a major military base supporting  the U.S. operations in Afghanistan. And now the Kyrgyz government wants it closed. This has a direct impact on U.S. military operations and U.S. security.

But let’s look further. Askarov’s reporting was on corruption in a government that gets billions of dollars in military and humanitarian aid. Shouldn’t the US government and the US people be aware of how their money is being spent? (I would answer: “Yes!”)

And then there is the moral side of what happened to Askarov. The CPJ special report on his arrest and sentencing show a government that does not live up to laws and values Americans hold dear.

Fiscally and  morally, the American people have a direct connection to Kyrgyzstan and a debt to Askarov for reporting on government waste, fraud and corruption.


Mae Azango brought to light a very dark and sensitive issue of female genital mutilation in Liberia. Her reporting got the government to work to stop the practice.

And for Americans? For those who like living with their heads in the sand, Azango’s reporting means nothing. To others, however, her reporting is a warning signal to Americans. Yes, female genital mutilation takes place in the good old USA.

Clearly this is a domestic U.S. situation.

On the economic side, by exposing this barbaric practice, Azango is helping empower women in Liberia. More women getting into the Liberian (and as a whole, African) market could mean economic growth and development. That means less aid and more trade. And more trade means potential U.S. jobs.

There are connections. And there are probably even more that I have not thought of.

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Filed under Connections, International News Coverage, Story Ideas

Cheap way to get info and beat censors

In some cases getting an Internet connection is a problem of getting past the censors and in other cases it is just the inability to find a decent connection.

Thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation the people of Jalalabad in Afghanistan put together a cheap Internet connection from on-hand junk.

Afghans Build Open-Source Internet From Trash

The system was built with material using open sourced guidance from Fabfi.

FabFi is an open-source, FabLab-grown system using common building materials and off-the-shelf electronics to transmit wireless ethernet signals across distances of up to several miles. With Fabfi, communities can build their own wireless networks to gain high-speed internet connectivity—thus enabling them to access online educational, medical, and other resources.

This is a great example of what the State Department is up to with its grant to help people get uncensored Internet connection: US helping people get around Internet censors

Maybe the bean counters who see nothing positive about small overseas’s grants might change their minds once they see that this program works and is a big benefit to promoting democracy and democratic ideals.


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Filed under Censorship, Freedom of access, Press Freedom

Why knowing about Failed States is a local concern

Foreign Policy issued its annual Failed States Index this week.

As usual, the report is depressing. It shows too many people living in areas that are chaotic at best. And with chaos comes violence, health problems and abject poverty.

So why should a LOCAL journalist in a LOCAL news organization care about the abysmal conditions people have to suffer through? (Aside from the basic humanitarian concerns we all share.)

Bottom line: Knowing what is happening in other coutnries is a matter of LOCAL concern.

Think about it…

When a government and a society fall apart, the number refugees skyrocket. And where do those refugees go? In many cases they come to the United States.

But the USA is a big place. Why the LOCAL concern?

The refugees have to go somewhere.

Who would have ever thought that the Minneapolis-St. Paul area would be ground zero for Somali refugees. (Somalia is #1 on the list.)

And just about every county in the the States has someone who has been touched by the wars in Afghanistan (#7) and Iraq (#9).

In the Western Hemisphere, Haiti is alone at #5.

In Africa, besides Somalia there is Chad (#2), Sudan (#3), Democratic Republic of Congo (#4), Zimbabwe (#6), Central African Republic (#8) and the Ivory Coast (#10).

With a little research we find that each of these “Failed States” has some sort of natural resource vital to modern society. And each country is a source of a large number of refugees.

Sounds as if there is plenty here for a LOCAL news organization to get a LOCAL angle on this international event.

Oh, by the way, Pakistan is #12 and Yemen, where the U.S. is also active, is #13.

Even China (#79) is seen as “In Trouble.” If that country goes, where will Wal-Mart get merchandise to fill its shelves?

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Filed under International News Coverage, Story Ideas

What happens when perception trumps reality

We all know it is not true. We know that there are journalists who do go out on their own without NATO military support.

But this Ted Rall cartoon does address a larger perception issue. Comments?

Ted Rall website.

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Filed under International News Coverage

Cartoonists head to Afghanistan

Cartoonists Matt Bors, Ted Rall and Steven Cloud are traveling unembedded in Afghanistan.

These cartoonists are sharp-witted and unconventional.

Following their exploits in Afghanistan should be interesting.

Here are their blog sites:

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Filed under Asia, International News Coverage