“I strongly believe that journalism is one of the most noble professions, because without an informed world, and without an informed society, we are weak, we are weak”. Christiane Amanpour
In October, 2014, I reported on a demonstration in Managua, Nicaragua, against the construction of the Interoceanic Canal (uniting the Pacific and the Atlantic Ocean). It was a sunny and hot afternoon, but it didn’t stop protestors from raising their voices and walking the streets against this megaproject signed by the government and the Chinese businessman Wang Jing, in June, 2013.
The demonstration ended at a well-known neighbourhood of the capital because it was blocked by police. My colleague and I were getting ready to leave when we heard the screeching of motorcycles, used by paramilitaries, who transgressed the barrier line set up by police. They hit several protestors, stole phones and cameras, and intimidated us.
Fortunately, they didn’t take away our recording because we hid it and looked for a safe place. Since that day, I was more alert while working, and took precautions. This was the beginning of many violations of freedom and expression of press in my country.
Incidents like the above were constantly repeated to journalists while reporting on stories that were forbidden by the government. In 2018, the incidents broke out in Nicaragua to a level of social-political crisis following the government’s announcement to slash social security benefits.
Many journalists received a death threats, physical attacks, harassments and intimidation. Over 70 fled the country; policemen raided and confiscated independent media equipment, arrested, and jailed several journalists. In April, 2018, my colleague, Angel Gahona was assassinated in Bluefields the main city in the south Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua.
Today, as we celebrate World Press Freedom Day under the title “Journalism without fear and favour”. I would like us to remember that this day is to remind governments about the compromise for freedom press, support for independent media and journalists, especially women.
Have you ever checked the bylines of the articles you read? How many are written by women?
According to the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF), women “makeup less than 37% of the articles produced by major news orgs, and only 8% are produced by women of colour. In a key political year, only 34% of U.S.A. election coverage is generated by women, but still, their coverage is often questioned, attacked or distrusted”.
In many countries, journalists and media are under attack by governments or companies. According, to the Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ), in 2019, 25 journalists were killed. From this total 2 were female. Syria had 7, followed by Mexico with 5, and next Somalia and Iraq with 2 each. As of May, 2020, 6 had been killed.
Women journalists are a double target of restraint and treat of press freedom. A lot of badass female journalists dare to not stay back and stay and remain silent about the injustices that they witness in their community or abroad.
Journalist, Lucía Pineda Ubau from 100% Noticias in Nicaragua, was arrested and jailed in December, 2018. Also, police raided and confiscated their equipment (still not returned). She was one of the hundreds of political prisoners charged by the government as “promoting terrorism; inciting violence and hate”. After 172 days in prison, she was released along with other political prisoners.
Likewise, journalist, Svetlena Prokopyeva’s house was raided in February, 2020 in Pskov, northwest of Russia, by police who confiscated her computer and froze her bank accounts. This act was done over comments she made in November, 2018, at Radio Ekho Moskvy about a bomb detonated by a 17-year-old inside the Arkhangelsk office of the Federal Security Service.
She was charged by authorities as “justifying terrorism”, and the trial was scheduled for April 20th, but due to the coronavirus pandemic it was postponed.
On a list compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Turkmenistan is the third country of censorship. Reporter Soltan Achilova who works for the Khronika Turkmenistana (Chronicles of Turkmenistan), was banned last year in March from traveling outside the country; no explanation was given. Previous to this incident, she was assaulted, threatened, and detained by police.
Even in a time of a crisis like the novel virus, governments are violating press freedom. Last month, Ana Lalić, a Serbian reporter for website Nova.rs, was arrested after publishing an article about the lack of equipment and conditions hospitals are facing because of the pandemic. According to the government, she was responsible for creating panic. She spent a night in jail and was set free the day after. The charges were dropped later.
In 2016, I participated in the World Press Freedom Day. It was held in Helsinki, Finland, at the Finland House. This was a unique experience since I heard so many stories similar to mine or worse.
Every year, a Press Freedom Prize is given to a journalist by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) /Guillermo Cano. This year, it was given to Jineth Bedoya Lima, a Colombian research journalist.
Bedoya was born in 1974. Her stories are focused on the armed conflict, peace process, and sexual violence against women in Colombia. The website of UNESCO wrote: “Bedoya was herself a victim of sexual violence in 2000 when she was abducted and raped in connection with an investigation into arms trafficking… conducting for the daily newspaper El Espectador. Three years later, while working for the daily El Tiempo, she was kidnapped by militants of the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)”.
A lot of brave female journalists are daily at the frontline to report and take photos of the stories that we read, hear, and watch. Many times, they are not allowed to speak, report, and travel. So next time you read your favourite magazine or watch a panel discussion conducted by women journalists, think about the context they were in to develop this story.