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Letter from Michael De Dora of CPJ

Press Release

Letter from Michael De Dora of CPJ

News Desk

Dear friend of CPJ. Happy New Year from Washington, D.C.!

It was only 18 months ago that I joined the Committee to Protect Journalists as its inaugural Washington advocacy manager. My first couple weeks on the job were spent strategizing about how to handle the new political landscape in the United States: a president openly hostile to the media, federal agencies in disarray, and a Congress divided.

In a world where a disturbing number of journalists continue to be targeted for their work, how could the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) ensure that freedom of the press does not fall prey to political partisanship, and that the U.S. government protects press freedom both domestically and around the world?

The answers: increase our research, bolster our advocacy, and help ensure that Americans understand the importance of press freedom and defending journalists.

In 2018, I helped rally existing allies to recommit to and increase their efforts; identify and build relationships with potential new allies; encourage and celebrate cross-party engagement; and work closely with civil society partners to apply maximal and continual pressure. I also significantly increased CPJ’s engagement with Congress.

Our work in 2018 featured persistent engagement with the administration where and when possible and significantly increased engagement with Congress. Despite the challenges before us, we accomplished much in 2018, and have set a strong foundation for our work ahead. Here are some of our highlights from Capitol Hill last year:

The U.S. Press Freedom Mission. 

With increased world interest in the state of press freedom in the United States, CPJ and IFEX organized an unprecedented press freedom mission to the U.S. in January, coinciding with the one-year anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration. Leaders from six advocacy organizations —CPJ, IFEX, Reporters Without Borders, Article 19, Index on Censorship, and the International Press Institute—conducted fact-finding visits to Texas and Missouri, then traveled to Washington, D.C. for an event at the Newseum and meetings with policymakers. The mission resulted in a joint report that details the intensifying challenges faced by journalists and news organizations in the U.S., and led to increased interest on Capitol Hill regarding threats to journalists in the U.S.

World Press Freedom Day 2018. 

Thanks in part to CPJ advocacy, for the first time in Congressional history, bipartisan resolutions recognizing thise day and its significance were proposed in both the Senate and House, the latter of which was sponsored by the co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus for Freedom of the Press, Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Steve Chabot (R-OH). While the House version got stuck in committee, the Senate version was passed unanimously in December. In addition, CPJ teamed with the Broadcasting Board of Governors (now the U.S. Agency for Global Media) and the George Washington University School of Media & Public Affair to organize an event the week prior to WPFD 2018, and with Internews to sponsor an event the day of. In addition, I authored an op-ed in The Hill calling on U.S. officials to commit to keeping press freedom nonpartisan.

Engaging with the administration. 

Ahead of the March session of the U.N. Human Rights Council, we attended a State Department briefing, then followed up with staff to share our recent research on Iran. During the session, the State Department released a statement calling on Iran to respect the rights of journalists. In May, we briefed officials at the State Department regarding our priority countries and cases in Asia. In August, we met with officials at the State Department ahead of the OSCE’s Human Dimension Implementation Meeting. Several priorities raised at that meeting by our aAdvocacy dDirector, Courtney Radsch, were included in the U.S. statement at HDIM, which cited CPJ data. And in November, following the release of CPJ’s report on the impact of Customs and Border Protection policies on journalists crossing U.S. borders, we began a series of joint meetings with Assistant Commissioner Andrew Meehan in order to gain insight and press for change.

Impact in Congress. 

Despite some successful engagement with the administration, on balance it has both reduced capacity (and interest) in defending press freedom. As such, the year 2018 was a year was spent working closely with key members of Congress. This included both legislative and public messaging efforts.

In early January, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) lead a letter signed by seven senators to then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging him to address the targeting of journalists in Mexico; the letter drew heavily upon CPJ research, which we provided to the office.

Later in the month, our advocacy with several Senate offices on the Reuters journalists imprisoned in Myanmar lead to their inclusion in a Senate resolution.

In May, we requested that Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL), sponsor of the Cambodia Democracy Act, include additional language on media freedom violations as the bill moved through the House Committee on Foreign Affairs; his office incorporated several of our points, in the process creating an entirely new subsection on media freedom (the bill would pass the House but not the Senate).

In June, the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations contacted CPJ to secure a statement on press freedom in Cameroon for a subcommittee hearing on human rights in the country; CPJ’s Africa program coordinator Angela Quintal’s statement can be found here.

Ahead of the July publication of CPJ’s report on press freedom in Ecuador, we met with key staff in Congress to share our findings and encourage pressure on Ecuadorian officials to complete political reforms.

And lastly, in December the House voted 394-1 in favor of a resolution introduced by Rep. Chabot calling on the government of Myanmar to release Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.

On social media, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)  was particularly active, tTweeting about various CPJ cases—including Eskinder NegaShawkanWa Lone and Kyaw Soe OoMother Mushroom, and Azimjov Askarov. The cases of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo drew particular attention from members of Congress, prompting tTweets by Rep. Schiff, the late Sen. John McCain, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), and a joint statement shared on Twitter by Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE) and Thom Tillis (R-NC). In addition, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) delivered a floor speech on threats to journalists around the world in which he cited CPJ data and International Press Freedom Award recipients.

#JusticeforJamal.

Given the U.S. government’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, the murder of Jamal Khashoggi riled especially intense debate on Capitol Hill. Upon learning Khashoggi’s disappearance, CPJ immediately engaged with U.S. government officials to ensure there would be a proper response. On October 10, the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), respectively—sent a letter to President Trump formally triggering a provision of the Global Magnitsky Act that requires the president to investigate whether a foreign person/s is responsible for Khashoggi’s death and report back on potential sanctions within 120 days. On October 25, I sent a letter to the chairman and ranking member thanking them for their swift and bipartisan action, and urging them to keep up the pressure. Days later, I co-wrote an op-ed in The Hill with CPJ’s MENA researcher Justin Shilad making clear the Trump administration must take seriously Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s alleged involvement. On November 20, Corker and Menendez sent a follow-up letter requesting the president to specifically investigate the potential role of the Crown Prince. Then, on December 13, the Senate unanimously approved a resolution stating the chamber believes the Crown Prince is responsible for the murder. We have also been involved at the grassroots: on November 28, I spoke at a local government body meeting in Washington, D.C., in support a resolution to ceremoniously rename the street where the Saudi embassy is located in the city to “Jamal Khashoggi Way.” It passed unanimously and now moves to the City Council.

Bridging European and U.S. advocacy. 

Another successes in 2018: bridging our advocacy in Washington and Brussels, which is managed by EU Representative and Advocacy Manager Tom Gibson. In February, I attended a private dinner with Stavros Lambrinidis, the EU’s Special Representative for Human Rights. In March, we arranged a week of meetings for Matthew Caruana Galizia, a son of murdered Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. He met with various U.S. government officials, including Elisabeth Millard, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs at the State Department. Weeks later, we joined Reporters Without Borders for a protest outside the Maltese embassy. The event, and my remarks, were reported on by Jason Rezaian in The Washington Post. In June, we teamed with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project to host a civil society roundtable with the visiting OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Désir. And in October, I attended a private dinner with Deputy Managing Director for the Americas Hugo Sobral, the Deputy Managing Director of the Americas Department in the European External Action Service for the EU. These efforts will continue in 2019.

IPFA recipients descend on D.C. 

A week prior to accepting their International Press Freedom Awards (IPFA), CPJ’s courageous 2018 recipients—Amal Habbani of Sudan, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh of Vietnam, Luz Mely Reyes of Venezuela, and Anastasiya Stanko of Ukraine—visited Washington, D.C., for several days of meetings with U.S. government officials. These included meetings with journalists at the Voice of America; representatives for EU member states; Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission; the office of Sen. Marco Rubio; regional and country-specific staff at the State Department; correspondents at the State Department; and with State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert Tweet, who tweeted about the meeting and later mentioned it at a State Department press briefing.

Despite these successes, the U.S.’ standing as a beacon for press freedom—a country where journalists can work in relative safety, and whose government aggressively defends the rights of journalists working under the thumb of repressive governments around the world—remains in peril. So, inIn 2019 we will continue and expand our work in Washington.

Looking ahead, our challenges do not get any easier. The president continues to denigrate the press on a regular basis, undermining the ability of the U.S. government to hold governments accountable. Federal agencies and department remain critically understaffed in key positions. Within Congress, four prominent members who used their voices and positions of power to defend the importance of media freedom and independent journalism—Sen. McCain (R-AZ), Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Sen. Bob Corker, and Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA)—have died or retired.

But our work is too important to let a politics get in the way, and for every challenge, an opportunity presents itself. Congress will welcome 110 new members in 2019. That means 110 new potential champions for our issues.

In the year ahead, CPJ will continue to fight so that journalists around the world who depend on the United States to stand for press freedom know they can count on us, and that journalists working in the U.S. enjoy full and fair protections protected by the U.S. Constitution. Thank you for your ongoing support and cooperation.

Blitz’s Editorial Board is responsible for the stories published under this byline. This includes editorials, news stories, letters to the editor, and multimedia features on WeeklyBlitz.net

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