SPJ, Reporters without Borders fight for journalists’ rights

Reporters without Borders held a protest outside the Syrian embassy in Paris.

In 2011, 16 journalists have been killed on the job, and as of Dec. 1, 2010, 145 have been imprisoned, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

One of the most recent journalists currently missing in action is Dorothy Parvaz, who landed in Syria on April 29 and has not been heard from since.

Organizations such as the Society for Professional Journalists, Reporters without Borders and CPJ have set out to try to protect journalists around the world and to help release others like Parvaz.

Charles Davis, MU journalism professor and adviser for MU’s student chapter of SPJ, said it is frightening when a reporter is an area with a mob-rule mentality.

“How do you predict that someone is going to come and kidnap you off the street?” he said. “It’s a hard thing to predict.”

Clothilde Le Coz, Washington Director of RWB, said the organization is protesting the repression of journalists.

According to a news release from RWB, on May 3, World Press Freedom Day, demonstrators outside of the Syrian embassy in Paris threw buckets of paint at the embassy’s perimeter walls. They used the paint to write, “It is ink that should flow, not blood.”

“Syria is the country that worries us most at the moment,” RWB secretary-general Jean-François Julliard said in a news release. “No one knows what is going on there. How many of the demonstrators have been killed? How many have been wounded? No one knows because journalists are being prevented from working.”

Foreign reporters cannot get visas to go there, and local journalists are all being jailed or forced to remain silent, Julliard said in a news release.

Parvaz is a citizen of the United States, Canada and Iran. Due to her Iranian citizenship, she did not need a visa in order to enter Syria.

Davis said MU works to prepare students for situations like this by encouraging them to use common sense. He said he encourages reporters to always travel in pairs or trios in order to protect their safety, but that it is not a foolproof technique.

He said that during times of war or upheaval, journalists are often targeted, but that it is important to take risks in journalism.

“It’s critically important that we continually remind the public, both at home and abroad of how important it is that the press be free to do its job,” Davis said. “By that I mean free from certainly government control, but in this case we mean literally free from physical intimidation.”

MU professor Sandy Davidson said it is hard to know what to do in a situation like Parvaz’s.

“If a reporter has been kidnapped, accosted or whatever word you want to use, by some kind of renegade group, then that’s just a very difficult situation,” Davidson said. “If there’s no diplomatic force that you can break there, what do you have to negotiate with? Who do you have to negotiate with?”

Davis said some journalists feel they can remain safe while working in those types of situations, but that balancing risk with safety can be difficult.

“The stories have to be told, and there are brave people out there like Dorothy and others who feel like they can maintain their physical safely while still telling the story, and sometimes they can,” Davis said. “Sometimes, however, I think the risk-taking gets a little out of balance, and it’s hard to know with Dorothy Parvaz because we just don’t know what happened yet.”

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