January 11, 2017

Committee to Protect Journalists agrees, 2016 was a terrible, terrible year


According to a report commissioned by the Committee to Protect Journalists, 2016 was the worst year on record (going back to 1990) for global journalistic freedom, judged by the number of imprisoned journalists around the world. This is partly due to a dramatic spike in imprisonments by the Turkish state, which has been enforcing a brutal crackdown on journalists and news outlets since the failed coup against Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on July 15, 2016, and which is responsible for eighty-one of the year’s total 259 jailings. This is up from 199 total jailings in 2015, and surpasses the previous record of 232, set in 2012. The full census is available here.

Turkey (perhaps obviously) takes the number one spot for most imprisonments, followed by China, Egypt, Etritea, and Ethiopia. Notably, and for the first time since 2008, Iran is not among the top five, having released a large number of the reporters jailed during the post-election crackdowns of 2009.

Here are some other interesting notes regarding the 2016 report:

  • Nearly three-quarters of those imprisoned globally face anti-state charges. Since 2001, governments have exploited national security laws to silence critical journalists covering sensitive issues such as insurgencies, political opposition, and ethnic minorities.
  • The top five worst jailers accounted for sixty-eight percent of journalists imprisoned worldwide.
  • About twenty percent of journalists in prison are freelancers. The percentage has steadily declined since 2011.
  • The vast majority of journalists in jail worked online and/or in print. About fourteen percent worked in broadcast.
  • Ethiopia, Panama, Singapore, and Russia were all holding journalists who are foreign nationals. At least two journalists, held by Eritrea and Venezuela, are dual citizens.
  • Twenty of the 259 journalists held worldwide are female.
  • Countries jailing journalists in 2016 that were not listed on CPJ’s 2015 survey were Cuba, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Panama, Singapore, Tunisia, Venezuela, and Zambia. In addition, Montenegro appeared on the 2016 census as CPJ became aware for the first time of a journalist arrested in 2015.

While the United States isn’t included in this list, it’s as good a time as any to reflect on a number of troubling trends in domestic journalistic freedom. Of course, Donald Trump’s well documented hostility towards the press does not bode well. There is also the deeply troubling harassment and intimidation of journalists Amy Goodman and Deia Schlosberg, who bravely reported on the Standing Rock protests against Energy Transfer Partner’s Dakota Access Pipeline. So clearly this battle is not over yet, despite some encouraging developments at the end of 2016. And let’s not forget the Washington Post’s disturbing “fake news” blacklist,  and their subsequent total failure to fact-check a bombshell report on Russian hacking.

Also, our departing president just signed into law a piece of legislation that will create a globally active anti-propaganda agency, which will work to “recognize, understand, expose, and counter foreign state and non-state propaganda and disinformation efforts aimed at undermining United Sates national security interests.” Yep, nothing terrifying about that. No need to worry about a new and shadowy military organization whose sole purpose is quashing “non-state” dissenters and propagandists. Surely our president-elect will be circumspect in his use of such a potent device.

All in all, this is a discouraging picture of journalism in the US and abroad. And, one would think, cause for pressing concern to those of us interested in free speech, journalistic integrity, and censorship. Sadly, many seem more interested in standing up for a juvenile bigot with ties to a proto-fascist white nationalist movement.



Simon Reichley is the Director of Operations and Rights Manager at Melville House.