It's tough to be a journalist. Between budget cuts, staff reductions, and the demand to be a "one man band" e.g. write, shoot, tweet, blog, etc. all in real-time -- expectations and pressures have never been greater.
But during a year in which legends in the international press corps have lost their lives in the line of duty, from Anthony Shadid to Marie Colvin, it's time to start paying attention to what can be done to both reduce the dangers of reporting and increase, if not simply safeguard, basic freedoms. This is important on all days, but especially today, World Press Freedom Day.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders report that 17 journalists were murdered last year and 179 journalists were imprisoned for doing their jobs. It's time to step back and ask: what can be done? It's also time to focus on where those violations are the worst. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that Iran jails more journalists than any other country in the world. An astounding 42 were imprisoned at the end of 2011.
We asked a diverse group of thought leaders -- some of them journalists and writers, others human rights activists and think tank scholars, as well as professors of journalism at Columbia and NYU -- to offer their perspectives on press freedom, particularly as it relates to Iran.
What they said should be heard, and contains some important advice, pleas and prescriptions.
A free press is not a given. In too many countries the practice of journalism is a courageous act. The sad fact is, that the world's most brutal regimes are growing even more callous and bold in their disdain for the press. These regimes have widened the definition of the press to include the millions of their own citizens who blog and are active on social networks. Authoritarian governments have subverted the World Wide Web into an instrument of suppression rather than freedom. Examples range from China to Syria, from North Korea to Uzbekistan, from Cuba to Vietnam.
At Iran180, our focus is of course on the regime in Tehran. While many in the west heralded the role played by Twitter during the 2009 "Green Revolution", what has been tragically less visible is the intense crackdown on Internet usage that has come in the wake of that uprising. The regime has dedicated significant resources, over $500 million dollars in 2010-2011 (http://giswatch.org/en/country-report/social-mobilisation/iran), to sophisticated and repressive efforts to disrupt communication. It is a well-documented fact that Iranian journalists face some of the most challenging conditions anywhere. From explicit censorship, to the forced shutdown of private publications, to the ever-present threat of violence at the hands of the Iranian state. These facts have been extensively documented by both the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders:
Iran jails more journalists than any other country: At the end of 2011 over forty journalists were imprisoned in Iran, far more than in any other country. The "crimes" for which these individuals were imprisoned are often connected to reporting or activism on behalf of beleaguered ethnic and religious minorities, women, labor rights activists, or fighting for human rights generally.
• Iran is an "Enemy of the Internet": Consistent with broader trends in the repression of journalists worldwide, many of those jailed in Iran have found themselves locked up because of blogging and digital journalism. This can be writing for online publications, or more informal personal blogs, both of which fall under the Iran's restrictive press laws. According to the CPJ over a quarter of those imprisoned in Iran are digital journalists. It is this treatment of web-based journalists, along with broader efforts to censor, manipulate, and control online communications that has led Reporters Without Borders to label the Islamic Republic an "Enemy of the Internet".
• Disconnecting from the World Wide Web: According to the regime itself, many Internet security experts, and other observer organizations, the regime plans to use its control over the infrastructure of the Internet in Iran to create a national "Intranet" divorced from the World Wide Web. If this effort comes to fruition, Iranian human rights advocates, pro-democracy activists, and civil society members will be increasingly divorced from the world at large, but also, more importantly, from each other.
The Obama administration has taken welcome measures to facilitate the distribution of communication technologies to everyday Iranians that will undermine the regime's stranglehold on various forms of communication. The administration has also intensified its crack down on firms that are supplying technology the regime will need to achieve its repressive goals. These efforts are crucial to assisting average Iranians who are fighting for a better future. This approach needs to be replicated by countries and companies around the world. No longer can companies dealing in IT think uncritically about pursuing commercial relationships with a regime that is willing to employ that technology to abuse its own people. Remember, on World Press Freedom Day 2012, we are all journalists now.