Via Zest Media yahoo group:
Press Freedom | 20.06.2011
World needs journalists now more than ever, says expert
Person standing in front of magazine stand
News comes in many forms
Journalists have been denied access to some events in the Arab world,
meaning bloggers are key to reporting on human rights abuses. Press
freedom expert Joel Simon explains how this could represent a change
Joel Simon is executive director of the Committee to Protect
Journalists (CPJ), an international non-profit organization run by
journalists for journalists. Founded in 1981 and headquartered in New
York, the CPJ campaigns for freedom of the press and the right of
journalists to report news without fear. Deutsche Welle spoke with him
about the changing face of journalism in the internet age.
Deutsche Welle: What is your definition of a journalist?
Joel Simon: In the most basic form, journalists gather and disseminate
information that is of interest and relevance to the public. There are
professional journalists who do this and there are people who do it as
citizens. Because of new technologies there are more citizen
journalists today then perhaps at any time in history. But the
profession is none in which you need a license to practice.
Are bloggers journalists? Joel Simon Joel Simon is the executive director of CPJ
Bloggers can be journalists. When there is an issue of whether a
particular individual is a journalist or not, we read up on it. We
read the blog, we make sure that we read it in the language that it
has been written in, we look at the context in which it was written,
we look at the function that it is performing. There are blogs about
all sorts of things that certainly don't qualify as journalism. But
there are many blogs which are clearly journalistic.
In 2009, you said that "bloggers are at the vanguard of the online
revolution." Are they at the vanguard of modern journalism, too?
At that time, there was so much emphasis on bloggers because that was
the new medium through which the public was engaging in this new form
of journalism. But there are new tools available now, like Twitter,
Facebook, YouTube, and other kinds of social media. I think what has
clearly happened is that the ability of citizens to engage in
journalism and to disseminate what they see and what they think to a
portion of the public is now institutionalized. This in no way
diminishes the critically important role of professional journalists
who do it for a living, who are trained, who work with institutional
support and resources. We absolutely need them.
facebook logo with silhouette of poeple on laptopsFacebook and Twitter
were vital for Arab world bloggers I had a look at your "Prison Census
2010." You investigated 145 cases and 69 of these imprisoned
journalists were working with the internet - most of them being
bloggers. In what respect does the online revolution change your work
as an organization defending journalists worldwide?
In many repressive societies there is no outlet through which people
can express critical views, express criticism of the government. So
they have chosen to do that through blogs and other forms of social
media because there is no outlet in the institutional press. The
governments in these countries have recognized that this represents a
threat to them and they crack down. We have seen this in places like
China and Iran. We have seen that throughout the Middle East over the
last several months.
Syrian protestorsSyrian protests have largely been reported on by
online journalists Let's take the footage that we get from Syria these
days, or the pictures that reached us from Iran during the Green
Revolution of 2009, especially the ones of murdered student Neda.
Without bloggers and YouTubers, the international mainstream media
would not have been able to report.
That is true. But if you look at Syria now, that also shows the
deficiencies or the limitations of not having professional,
institutional journalists on the scene with resources. Yes, we know
something about what is happening in Syria but it is fragmented. It is
very difficult to understand and verify the context. And the Syrian
government has made a systematic, effective effort to shut out the
international media and to shut down the indigenous Syrian media. So
citizen journalists and human rights activists and others have stepped
into the fold at a great risk to themselves. But our understanding of
events is fragmented and partial and that is not an acceptable
Pile of newspapers Traditional media is experiencing dramatic changes
Professional journalists are trained to gather facts and to check them
and not to take sides. But if it comes to massive human rights abuses,
don't we have to take sides at some point like citizen journalists do
right from the start? Don't we run the risk that our so-called
balanced professional reporting is actually aiding the perpetrators
much more than the victims?
Some journalists even among the professionals have very strong
opinions and they believe very fervently that it is their role to
document and denounce human rights abusers. You know, you have to be
committed to the facts, you have to be open to new information, and
you have to verify and check the information that you disseminate.
Those are the basic ethical obligations of all journalists. But
journalists absolutely have an obligation to document human rights
abuses because they are newsworthy.
Is the internet revolution more of a chance or a threat to press
freedom and to the exposure of human rights abuses?
It is both. It is a revolutionary communications technology. But I
have been talking to people who have been looking at this issue
historically and people ask the same kind of questions about the
telephone and the telegraph and the radio and the television. Any new
media that has come along that has allowed people to inform the public
more rapidly and more effectively has transformed journalism. In the
end it will sort itself out because there is a basic human impulse
both to gather information and to disseminate that information. And
there is a basic human impulse to want to be informed about what is
happening around us. The medium through which that is done may change
but the basic exercise of journalism will not.
CPJ logoCPJ is based in New York
So even in times of blogs and Twitter and Facebook this world needs us
It needs us more than ever. The number of journalists and the kinds of
journalists, that is all changing and it is expanding. There is still
a crisis in institutional journalism because the economic model is
under stress. But the basic desire of people around the world to
receive information and understand the events that are taking place
around them is stronger than ever. The interconnectedness we all have
as a result of these new technologies reinforces that. So journalists
have a vital role to play. I am absolutely convinced they will
continue to play it, and I am also convinced that there are darker
forces like repressive governments, criminal groups and militant
organizations that will continue to try to impede the work of
Joel Simon is one of the world's leading media experts and writes for
the New York Times and the Washington Post.
Interview: Sandra Petersmann
Editor: Louisa Schaefer