Skip to main content

Emma Daly, communications director at Human Rights Watch, was a journalist for 18 years, mostly as a foreign correspondent.

Sunday, May 3, is World Press Freedom Day.

It has been a ghastly year for the media, as we look back on World Press Freedom Day. Headlines are filled with gruesome attacks, notably the beheadings of James Foley, Stephen Sotloff and Kenji Goto, and the murderous assault on Charlie Hebdo.

Story continues below advertisement

The deaths of Foley and Sotloff, both kidnapped by Islamic State (also known as ISIS) while working as freelance reporters in Syria, prompted reporters and advocates to create voluntary guidelines for media outlets to work more safely with freelancers in conflict areas.

More than 60 news organizations and press freedom groups have signed on, along with the Frontline Freelance Register, which represents more than 400 independent journalists. All have committed to uphold safety practices, including providing insurance, protective gear and first aid and hostile environment training. It's a positive first step – we need journalists to report impartially from dangerous places and as a result of shrinking news budgets and changing technologies, many of those covering the conflicts in Syria and Iraq are freelancers without the resources available to staff correspondents.

The largest group providing information and those most at risk in war zones, however, are probably local journalists or citizen journalists who feed information to reporters or distribute it via social media. In Syria they're targets of the government and ISIS and other rebel factions; dozens have been killed or detained.

We know the name and face of the British photojournalist John Cantlie, still held by Islamic State, But local media and human rights groups estimate that IS has abducted more than 20 Iraqi journalists and media workers and is reported to have publicly executed Thaer Ali, a newspaper editor, in Mosul a week ago by firing squad. Iraqi journalists have told us of threats from officials and militia members, and the subsequent chilling effect on their work.

One of those the Syrian government holds is Mazen Darwish, president of the Damascus-based Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM). He was arrested in February 2012 and charged with "publicizing terrorist acts" – for peacefully documenting human rights abuses.

Many governments use bogus charges to harass, intimidate and punish journalists and others who speak out, including Azerbaijan, China, Ethiopia, Iran and Vietnam. Over the past 25 years, the Hellman-Hammett program, administered by Human Rights Watch and celebrated in its magazine, has made grants to more than 800 writers at risk. Almost half were imprisoned at the time.

Without accurate, independent reporting we won't know how governments abuse power. Without scrutiny, tyrants and terrorists can operate freely, and that hurts us all.

Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter