The Tully Center for Free Speech

Free Speech Zone

Empowering Independent Media and Press Freedom

By Roy Gutterman, May 3, 2012

The First Amendment not only affords journalists some protections to report and investigate news, tell stories and publish without oppressive government interference, but it also ostensibly grants citizens access to information unfiltered by the government.

There are many places around the world where citizens are deprived of a free press and independent media. Though the American model of a free, independent and protected press may be just that, American, efforts are underway to export these First Amendment values around the world.

The Center for Media Assistance, a Washington, D.C., based nongovernmental organization working on free press development around the world, released its second report Tuesday, “Empowering Independent Media – U.S. Efforts to Foster a Free Press and Open Internet Around the World.”

CIMA’s report sheds light on some of the rights many Americans take for granted.  The second edition of CIMA’s report, released at an event in Washington, D.C., Tuesday builds on its inaugural 2008 report, showing how the American model of a free, independent press can be applied in developing countries.

CIMA’s Senior Director Marguerite Sullivan wrote that funding for independent media reached $222 million in 2010 from public and private institutions.

The report focuses on key areas including digital media, citizen journalism, legal protections, safety for journalists, media literacy and education and training of journalists in parts of the world where the press is not free.

The report notes the role of media in the previous year following major protests around the world, the” Arab Spring” and the infusion of modern, digital and cellular communications technology and social media along with traditional media formats –newspapers, television and radio. No matter what the form, information must be disseminated without the fear of censorship, punishment or retaliation.

But facts and figures in the CIMA report also provide sobering realism — journalists are only as free as the laws of their lands.  In 2011, CIMA reported that 179 journalists were jailed for committing journalism while murders of journalists increased more than 30 percent in the last decade and violence against journalists also increased.

Some of the statistics are jarring. Compiling and extrapolating data from five different international organizations, CIMA stated that by some accounts between 64 to 124 journalists were killed around the world in 2011.

Also unveiled Tuesday was a “Map of Press Freedom” for 2012, mapping the state of the press around the world. The global survey by another NGO, Freedom House, analyzed media in 197 countries, showing the number of countries with free press at 33. 5 percent while those with a “partly-free press” accounted for 36.5 percent. Countries deemed “not free” accounted for 30 percent.

In population terms, the map showed that about 85 percent of the world’s people live in places with a partly free or not free press.

The challenges of combating state-sanctioned censorship and hostility toward the press requires funding the independent press in places where the term press means “government-sponsored” or state-run press, CIMA notes.

Funding goes toward training, development and protection of journalists and journalistic institutions in countries where reporters are not only threatened, jailed and killed, but lack certain professional standards and legal protections. Programs range from teaching basic journalism techniques to lessons in selling advertising and running a media business.

While much of the story sounded bleak, the report and speakers Tuesday spoke of the efforts to develop media and protection of journalists as well as efforts to expand basic freedom of information laws, which are now alive in more than 90 countries.

“Journalists are being targeted with laws that throw them in jail. In this country you can’t get thrown in jail, at least most of the time, for something you write,” said David Kaplan, an investigative reporter who wrote and edited the 150-page report.

Kaplan’s summary of the report concluded with a Powerpoint frame, aptly summarizing the presentation:  “Investments made today in free, independent media seem likely to yield impressive returns tomorrow – in economic development, accountability, government and open, democratic societies.”

To read the full CIMA report click here.