In countries that rank highly on the Impunity Index, what is the presence of other advocacy groups—local groups with a similar mission to CPJ? Do they exist and do they have an impact?
In many of these countries, there are strong local groups and they absolutely play a critical role in mobilizing local journalists and generating domestic attention on this issue. It’s really the pincer of international and domestic pressure that gets these governments to listen.
It’s pretty startling to read in this report that 40 percent of journalists who were murdered in the listed countries in the last decade had received threats before they were killed. Does CPJ have a recommendation for journalists about what they should do should they receive a threat?
At the IFEX meeting we had a panel discussion about this very thing, responding to threats. The issue is complex. We looked at different countries and how different governments have responded. I started out our discussion with a journalist from Pakistan, and I asked him about the murdered Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad: how does a journalist like that respond to a threat, where does he turn?
To make a long answer short, the answer is that he has nowhere to turn. He did what is the best thing you can do. He tried to make key people aware of the threat, like the researcher at Human Rights Watch and colleagues in the journalism world. He wanted to make sure that everyone was aware of the threat so that if anything happened people understood where the threat was coming from. But there was no one in the government he could turn to, there was nowhere he could go for help.
Meanwhile, in Colombia, which has actually seen its standing improve, they actually created a joint partnership between the government and local press freedom group the Committee to Protect Journalists (not to be confused with us). It’s a quasi-governmental mechanism. If you go to them and say you’ve been threatened, for the most part they respond. The case has to be vetted by the journalism groups and approved and if a determination is made that you’re a legitimate journalist under threat, they will help to relocate you and provide basic things like cell phones and emergency numbers. And it has made a difference.
One of the things another participant in the discussion brought up was that in the Philippines, for a long time, the threat was sort of a badge of honor. “Yeah, I got a threat, I must be getting to them.” It was a bit like a lawsuit—if someone threatens you with a lawsuit, in some instances that means you’ve done your job, because someone’s pissed off. But a lawsuit is one thing; a death threat is something else entirely. That culture is changing in the Philippines. People do take these threats seriously and they’re more likely to take action and I think that’s one of the lessons from the research: threats do need to be taken seriously.