Brooke Gladstone: This is On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
Micah Loewinger: I'm Micah Loewinger. In 2023, a big advertising downturn continued to chip away at local newspapers, national outlets, beloved podcasts, and even WNYC, home to On the Media. Some threats to journalism are fresh like the replacement of human writers with artificial intelligence. Others are perennial like the tactics used by authoritarian regimes to silence critics or the perils of reporting from an active war zone. In 2023, the work has grown even more difficult.
Jodie Ginsberg: The picture, unfortunately, for journalists is largely getting worse.
Micah Loewinger: Jodie Ginsberg is the President of the Committee to Protect Journalists, a nonprofit that tracks threats to the press across the world. She joined me to help us remember some of the journalists that were imprisoned and killed this year.
Jodie Ginsberg: So far in 2023, as of December the 8th, we have documented 81 journalists and media workers killed worldwide. That compares to 68 killed in 2022.
Micah Loewinger: It is safer to be a journalist in the United States than in many other countries, but this year we saw the killing of a young American journalist, Dylan Lyons, in Orlando, Florida.
Jodie Ginsberg: Dylan was covering a fatal shooting that had occurred that morning.
Speaker 60: Five hours after a woman in her 20s was found shot to death in Pine Hills, two journalists, a reporter, and a videographer from Spectrum News 13 were in their vehicle when the suspected murderer returned to the scene of the crime, approached their vehicle and fired.
Jodie Ginsberg: Dylan was killed while reporting on that earlier shooting.
Micah Loewinger: Your organization followed the murder of Cameroonian reporter Martinez Zogo. Who was Zogo and what do we know about why he was killed?
Jodie Ginsberg: Martinez Zogo was the managing director of a privately owned Cameroonian radio broadcaster called Amplitude FM, and he was found dead in late January. He was followed by four hooded men in a car. He sought help at a nearby police station. As he was going to the police station, the attackers drove into his vehicle, then he was forced into the men's car. Several days later, his body was found naked. It was dumped in a plot of land, and it was clear that he'd been subjected to horrific torture.
Speaker 61: His mutilated body was found just outside the capital Yaoundé. Zogo was the host of the popular Embouteillage talk show in which he would brazenly tackle stories that touched on corruption and alleged embezzlement.
Speaker 62: Zogo's disappearance came shortly after presenting a program critical of government corruption.
Jodie Ginsberg: He'd criticized the payment of tens of billions of francs from the Cameroonian Treasury that benefited a prominent Cameroonian businessman, for example, and that businessman was actually arrested in February, but to date, no one's actually been charged or held accountable for his killing. The thing that's important about someone like Martinez is that when we think about the killings of journalists, we often think about a war setting or a conflict setting. Actually, in recent years, the majority of journalists have not been killed in war zones. They are local journalists often reporting on corruption or collusion between criminal gangs, for example, or criminal businesses and politicians, and he is emblematic of that.
Micah Loewinger: I want to talk about the crackdowns on freedom of press in Russia. I know that was a big story in 2022 at the outset of the war. How do things stand now?
Jodie Ginsberg: Russia has been successful in wiping out local journalism or certainly Russian journalism that can operate from inside Russia openly.
Micah Loewinger: In just the past couple of months, more journalists and activists were labeled as foreign agents including a stalwart of independent news, The Moscow Times. Russian police have put the award-winning Russian American journalist Masha Gessen on a wanted list after opening a criminal case against them for their reporting. Putin has already put restrictions on media coverage of next year's presidential race when he'll be seeking another six years in office.
Jodie Ginsberg: While we do continue to get reports about what Russia is doing, much of that is being conducted by Russian journalists who have been forced into exile.
Micah Loewinger: One such exile is Nikita Kondratyev. Brooke spoke to him in March.
Brooke Gladstone: What sorts of stories are you reporting and for whom are you reporting them?
Nikita Kondratyev: For Russian citizens, obviously.
Micah Loewinger: They spoke outside a coffee shop in Berlin where he worked for the European reboot of a banned Russian outlet, Novaya Gazeta. When they met up for the interview, Nikita was visibly tense.
Brooke Gladstone: When you hang out with other exiled journalists, what's the most common cause of distress?
Nikita Kondratyev: There are three main topics, of course. The first one is depression. Everyone is depressed and struggling with it. The second one is German authorities, German immigration laws.
Brooke Gladstone: What's the third thing?
Nikita Kondratyev: The third thing is how to work.
Brooke Gladstone: How sustainable is this for you? Can I be frank? You seem a little bit stressed out.
Nikita Kondratyev: My country has waged war. Why wouldn't I be stressed out? I don't know.
Brooke Gladstone: How long do you think you can do this?
Nikita Kondratyev: I don't know. No idea. I cannot foresee future. I can plan my life for next 10 hours, I guess. I don't know what will happen next month.
Brooke Gladstone: Do you intend on going back to Russia at some point?
Nikita Kondratyev: Of course. I do not know what will happen next, but even if our regime will collapse, it won't be peaceful, democratic Russia. At once, there will be some tough period and I do not know if I want to partake, so yes, lots of militant groups. They are not connected to government in any way. They can conduct their own violent policy.
Micah Loewinger: Meanwhile, this year also saw an exodus of foreign reporters from Russia.
Jodie Ginsberg: Since the arrest this year of the Wall Street Journal reporter, Evan Gershkovich, which really put a lot of international organizations on notice that they might be next.
Speaker 64: Wall Street Journal reporter, Evan Gershkovich, spending more than 250 days in a Russian prison on spying charges.
Jodie Ginsberg: I think every single day is probably incredibly psychologically and emotionally difficult.
Micah Loewinger: Reporter Valerie Hopkins had been based in Moscow before Evan was locked up. She spoke with OTM producer, Molly Rosen, in April.
Speaker 65: Valerie Hopkins of The New York Times knew it was risky to be working as a journalist in Russia, but she told me that Evan's arrest partly came as such a shock because of the espionage charges. Foreign correspondents have to get their accreditation extended by the Russian government every three months.
Valerie Hopkins: If they really believed that Evan posed a risk, they could have chosen to not extend his accreditation, which effectively would have ended his ability to report from inside Russia. Instead, they chose to do this escalation, which I think probably had the chilling effects that it intended.
Gordon Fairclough: We withdrew our bureau chief.
Speaker 67: Evan's boss, Gordon Fairclough.
Gordon Fairclough: I'm not sure when I would consider it safe for us to have someone back on the ground in Russia. That, of course, makes it harder for American audiences to know what's happening in Russia, particularly at a time of pretty significant diplomatic tension between Washington and Moscow, having fewer avenues for mutual understanding is not a good thing.
Micah Loewinger: I asked Jodie Ginsberg of CPJ how rates of injury and death among journalists in Ukraine and Russia compare to 2022.
Jodie Ginsberg: In 2022, we documented the deaths of 15 journalists and media workers. It's just two, that's two too many, but it's just two in 2023. The thing about war reporting is, we think of war reporters often as these international journalists who parachute in wearing their helmets and their flak jackets and standing at the front of tanks. In actual fact, much of war reporting is local journalists who are having to become war reporters because war has come to their countries.
Adnan El-Bursh: This is my local hospital. Inside are my friends, my neighbors. This is my community. Today has been one of the most difficult days in my career.
Micah Loewinger: Adnan El-Bursh, a journalist with BBC Arabic, filed this report in October after visiting Gaza's Al-Shifa Hospital.
Adnan El-Bursh: Among the dead and wounded, my cameraman, Mahmoud, has seen his friend Malik. Malik has managed to survive, but his family have not.
Micah Loewinger: In the first couple of weeks of the war, I called up Sherif Mansour, Middle East and North Africa program coordinator with the Committee to Protect Journalists. He told me about reporters in Gaza who've continued to work despite food and water shortages, bombing, and electricity blackouts.
Sherif Mansour: Those journalists are choosing to continue to do the best they can. Otherwise, we end up with misinformation and disinformation that fuels the conflict.
Micah Loewinger: You mentioned that there were three Israeli journalists killed by Hamas on October 7th. One was former AP video journalist, Yaniv Zohar, who was killed at his home. Then there were two young journalists, 122 and 125, who were murdered at the Supernova Music Festival. Do we know if any of these journalists were working at the time they were killed or were they just caught in the attack?
Sherif Mansour: We have talked to a few of the editors who were working with them. One of them have said that, yes, it was Saturday, a holiday, but he heard that there were attacks, and he actually went out of his house in order to work undocumented. When he came to his house, he found that Hamas fighters already were zoning in on his home. We are trying to be inclusive in terms of who we can consider a journalist working at the time.
Jodie Ginsberg: The Israel-Gaza war is the deadliest conflict for journalists that the Committee to Protect Journalists has ever documented in the more than three decades that we've been doing this work.
Micah Loewinger: Jodie Ginsberg of the CPJ, which has found that the Israeli military is likely responsible for the vast majority of these deaths.
Jodie Ginsberg: Never have so many journalists and media workers been killed in such a short space of time. That's really what's driven these higher numbers this year in 2023. One of the deaths that we were particularly saddened by was the death of Belal Jadallah, who was a previous contributor to the work of CPJ. Jadallah was the director of Press House - Palestine, a press freedom organization, a non-profit organization that supported the development of independent Palestinian media.
Jadallah was killed by an Israeli airstrike that hit his car in Gaza. Jadallah, among other things, provided absolutely indispensable research for a report that CPJ published in May of this year called Deadly Pattern, that found a complete lack of accountability in Israeli military killings of journalists over the past 22 years. He helped us locate families of journalists killed in Gaza, helped us acquire their photos for our reports, and his killing really leaves an enormous gap in the media landscape in Gaza, and we pay tribute to him.
We are raising the cases of journalists who are killed to the international community to make sure that those deaths are investigated, to try and find ways to ensure that journalists can report safely. By having access to personal protective equipment, that's not been possible in this war because it's not possible to get such equipment in.
Micah Loewinger: It's also worth noting, though, that many of the slain journalists were wearing clear press garb and protective clothing.
Jodie Ginsberg: Well, personal protective equipment can only go so far. A journalist from Reuters, Issam Abdallah, was killed on October the 13th by an Israeli strike, and a number of colleagues from other news outlets were injured. They were all wearing press insignia and clearly visible as press. If journalists are targeted as they appear to have been in this case, then the only way to protect journalists in that scenario is for those attacks in which civilians have been swept up to stop.
Micah Loewinger: In addition to this staggering death toll this year, CPJ has also been tracking threats to press freedom around the world, ranging from threats of violence, imprisonment, legal threats, and other intimidation aimed at reporters.
Jodie Ginsberg: We continue to see escalating threats in Central and South America. It continues to be extraordinarily dangerous to be a journalist in Mexico, for example. We've seen a continued outflow of journalists from places like Nicaragua and Venezuela. Journalists going to exile from Iran, for example. As democracies decline, and they are on the decline, among the first people to be targeted are journalists. They're like the canaries in the coal mine. All of our freedoms are at stake when so much violence is directed against journalists. Press freedom is our freedom. We rely on journalists to bring us the information that we need to live freely and safely, and without journalists, we cannot do so.
Micah Loewinger: Jodie, thank you very much.
Jodie Ginsberg: You are so welcome.
Micah Loewinger: Jodie Ginsberg is the President of the Committee to Protect Journalists. That's it for this week's show and for 2023. On the Media is produced by Eloise Blondiau, Molly Rosen, Rebecca Clark-Callender, and Candice Wang with help from Shaan Merchant.
Brooke Gladstone: Our technical directors, Jennifer Munson, Katya Rogers is our Executive Producer. On the Media is a production of WNYC Studios. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
Micah Loewinger: I'm Micah Loewinger.
Brooke Gladstone: From On the Media, here's to a wonderful 2024. You never know. It could happen.
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