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The Inside Story-A Free Press Matters TRANSCRIPT


The Inside Story: A Free Press Matters

Episode 64 – November 3, 2022

Show Open:

Unidentified Narrator:

This week: A Free Press Matters.

We’ll show you the global threat to free and independent journalism.

From Mexico to Somalia and Hong Kong… see what’s being done to ensure local media has a voice.

And hear from journalists – in their own words – as they recall their experiences.

Join us for The Inside Story… A Free Press Matters.

The Inside Story:

JESSICA JERREAT, VOA’s Press Freedom Editor:

Hi. I’m Jessica Jerreat, VOA’s Press Freedom Editor.

My job is making sure that you are aware of the extraordinary measures journalists around the world take every day to keep audiences informed about the issues and events that impact our lives.

“A Free Press Matters” is more than just a mantra here at VOA. Our journalists know firsthand the risks for media working in some of the most repressive regions in the world—and also how credible, independent journalism can affect change.

Today, you will hear from journalists on the front lines describing the danger they face to bring you that coverage—from war to organized crime to politics.

Safety --- or lack of it --- is where we start.

In Mexico, more than a dozen journalists have been killed so far this year, making it the most dangerous country for journalists outside a war zone.

And with organized crime, corruption, and violence widespread, people living in Mexico rely on their journalists to keep them informed and safe.

Mexico has a protection mechanism for those under threat, but reporters tell us the measures don’t always go far enough. The media community is now looking to each other to stay safe.

VOA’s Cristina Caicedo Smit has the story from Mexico’s Veracruz State.


In the town of Medellín de Bravo, second-generation journalists are picking up their lives after violence in Veracruz, one of Mexico’s most dangerous states, robbed them of their parents.

United by grief and frustration over a lack of justice, and feeling vulnerable to attacks, they formed a support network.

Jorge Sánchez Ordóñez, Journalist:

We are in this fight of demanding justice, and we have that combined sentiment of anger and impotence and not knowing what else can happen.


Sánchez lost his father, José Moisés Sánchez Cerezo, in January 2015, when assailants kidnapped and killed the journalist. Six months later, fellow Medellín reporter and family friend Juan Mendoza Delgado was killed. The next month, Veracruz photojournalist Rubén Espinosa Becerril was tracked to a safe house in Mexico City and shot dead.

Jorge Sánchez Ordóñez, Journalist:

It happens many times, when they kill your colleagues, people we know and who we had worked with.


An inability to find justice drove Sánchez and six other families to create a network in memory of the journalists who had been slain or had disappeared called La Red en Memoria y Lucha de Periodistas Asesinados o Desaparecidos.

The group soon grew to 13.

The network not only brings grieving relatives together but provides practical safety measures. Advice and updates are shared on social media and via messaging apps.

Similar groups are springing up across Mexico, says rights group Article 19.

Paula Saucedo, Article 19:

For example, they’re doing advocacy with authorities, trying to find answers and repair the damage for the families. … They are also working on getting better labor and economic conditions for reporters. I think (it) is very on point that the guild gets together and creates these support networks.


For Sánchez, safety measures mean he can keep his father’s legacy alive, via La Unión, a local media outlet they founded together.

And there’s plenty to report on in Medellín del Bravo: poverty; problems with the electric grid and unfinished roads, lack of access to basic services.

But journalists here never know if a story will cost them their lives.

Jorge Sánchez Ordóñez, Journalist:

If you affect some interests, you can be in danger. Even, for example, if you are covering a car accident. And in that event, you may be interviewing someone who’s not comfortable with the questioning and is connected to bad people.


Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries for journalists, with more than a dozen slain in 2022 alone. The country has a special prosecutor to investigate crimes and a safety mechanism for media under threat, but critics say those measures don’t always go far enough.

Paula Saucedo, Article 19:

What worries us most is lethal violence. Because when a journalist is killed, something known as a double murder happens: the murder of the person and the silencing of the stories and investigations that are not going to be told. It has a very strong, cascading effect of fear and censorship.


With Mexico on track to record its deadliest year yet for media, support groups give journalists the courage to keep reporting.

Cristina Caicedo Smit, VOA News.


Cristina has been covering the risks for Mexico’s media for VOA, traveling to Tijuana on the southern border, where two journalists were slain this year.

Cristina Caicedo Smit, VOA Correspondent:

I think it was a little bit scary, of course, to be honest to to travel there and knowing that we had certain time that we had to be there in Tijuana, just for safety precautions also, because we're we were doing a story on how reporters have been attacked and you know, recently killed in Tijuana.

I did feel at some point not unsafe, but it was a little bit nervous. Maybe the day that I went to the to cover the story and the families of the disappeared people because we went to this open desert space that you never know what's going on. You know, you never know what can happen. And it was a first time for me as a reporter to do that type of story.

I think there's a lot of there's a lot of reporters were scared, but they do have this sense of like they need to keep doing this even though it's not safe. And reporters are receiving threats, or they're being harassed online or for stories they're they're making.

There's a big sense of responsibility of like, if we don't do this, who is going to uncover this, this type of stories, who is going to report on things that are going on and people don't know from crime to corruption to drug trafficking from you know, state mal use of funds and things like that.


When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the country’s journalists woke to find themselves in war zone. The battle has killed at least 15 journalists, and many others have been injured bringing viewers updates from the front line.

For those running the Kyiv Independent, a media outlet founded in November last year, there’s an understanding that you can’t report the story if you die trying.

Our Anna Chernikova takes us inside the new news outlet in Kyiv.


It’s an all-too common scenario.

As an air raid siren sounds, journalists at The Kyiv Independent gather their belongings and relocate to a shelter: an underground bar close to their newsroom.

Founded by journalists from the Kyiv Post who wanted greater independence, the media outlet launched just three months before Russia’s invasion. Since then, the English-language website has quickly become a leading voice on the war in Ukraine.

Its young team keeps the world focused on Ukraine — both at home and abroad.

Olga Rudenko, The Kyiv Independent Editor in Chief:

It's never easy to cover any war, but especially so when it's a war that is in your country, and you're not just a journalist who arrives on the scene and then goes home to safety. But there is no safety for you, there is no safety for your family. And it's quite different for us, for journalists who cover the war, while actually, you know, living through it.


No story is worth a human life, and Rudenko sometimes holds her team back to make sure they don't take unnecessary risks. Her highest priority: their physical and emotional safety.

Olga Rudenko, The Kyiv Independent Editor in Chief:

And on the emotional side, it's more difficult. I don't think there are textbooks for managing a team like this, in a time like this. And well, that's part of our emotional support program, a dog in the office.

I mean, we're all human, we're all just trying to get through all of it the best way we can and at the same time, do the best journalism we can for our audience.


Denys Krasnikov is a senior editor for The Kyiv Independent, covering the war while his mother remains in the heavily shelled city Zaporizhzhia. The work helps Krasnikov to hold on.

Denys Krasnikov, The Kyiv Independent:

I think our work is kind of a therapy for us.


Originally from France, reporter Alex Query says Ukraine has become a second home.

Alex Query, The Kyiv Independent:

Because it doesn’t really make any sense for me to come back to France. Because I feel my duty as a journalist here. And you know, well, not only toward giving an opinion but toward just generally this country and what’s happening.


The team has created a credible Ukrainian voice abroad. But a lot of work remains to be done.

Daryna Shevchenko, The Kyiv Independent CEO:

We were set up to be the voice of Ukraine. That’s why we started The Kyiv Independent.

We have to talk more and more to our international colleagues and partners, explaining things that often seem obvious to us, but are not obvious to them. And I think this is a big part of our mission. Recently we launched the section ‘Explaining Ukraine' that is exactly about that, adding context to what is happening in the country.


Within its first year, The Kyiv Independent's fight for editorial independence has transformed into a greater fight to protect Ukraine’s democratic ideals.

Anna Chernikova, for VOA News, Kyiv, Ukraine.


Danger for journalists doesn’t just lie on the battlefield.

Harassment of journalists online and through social media is an increasing concern.

I talked to Elisa Lees Munoz of the International Wiomen’s Media Foundation, here in Washington, about a new guide they’ve developed to deal with these often-anonymous threats to journalists.


Can you tell me a little bit about what went into developing the guide?

Elisa Lise Munoz the executive director of the International Women's Media Foundation:

We have been training newsrooms to combat online violence against their journalists for the past couple of years. We want to change the culture in newsrooms and we feel that it is absolutely he responsibility of newsrooms to protect their journalists.

But we're not naive. We know that journalists and newsrooms are working 24/7 cycle that they have revenue issues that they can't necessarily afford the digital security experts that we bring to the fore. So we thought we should help them to protect their journalists and created this this guidebook


Could you speak a little bit about why it's a press freedom issue when you see these online attacks and threats? How is that disrupting the free flow of news?

Elisa Lise Munoz the executive director of the International Women's Media Foundation:

Anytime that there is a targeted attack against journalists and an attempt to silence them it is a press freedom issue and when it comes to online violence, the fact that these attacks are primarily directed at underrepresented communities, journalists of color, non-binary journalists, trans journalists, it is a direct attempt to keep a specific group of people out of the news media. That's why we consider a press freedom issue.

It absolutely is changing the way that news is produced and conducted. We've spoken to numerous journalists that engage in self-censorship, whether it's conscious or unconscious, the way that they might approach a story whether or not they decided to go down the road with a specific news story, whether it be abortion or even an environmental story or during COVID story about vaccines. I mean, it seems that no topic is off limits when it comes to triggering the kind of onslaught that these journalists are experiencing.

Part of what we think is the solution is really to have policies so that these situations aren't addressed in an ad hoc basis. And it's not just the journalists and their editor, really, the whole newsroom has to be engaged. Most newsrooms don't have digital security experts and sometimes they use their tech people as the digital experts. Those two things have nothing to do with each other.

So there really needs to be an outreach, as we're trying to do to newsrooms to educate editors and publishers about the impact of online violence against journalists so that they can have these policies. already in place.

I think there is absolutely a reticence to raising your hand and saying that you're experiencing this for fear of the backlash, which, you know, especially for women who are already underrepresented in the newsroom. They don't want to be taken off a beat. They just want support to address these issues.


And if there was one simple thing that a newsroom or a freelancer could do today, just to protect themselves better online, what would your main recommendation be for them?

Elisa Lise Munoz the executive director of the International Women's Media Foundation:

I think what we are recommending just off the bat is to get some sort of subscription like delete me, or privacy doc that deletes your public information from the internet. So your address, your relations, your family's addresses, so that you can't be found and that's very, very difficult.

And the reason that we recommend some sort of subscription is because you have to constantly be doing this. You can't just do it once. It has to happen on a regular basis. And I know that that is a solution that comes from a position of privilege. Not everybody has the means to subscribe to these services.

But the IWF does have emergency grants, and it is one of the things that we would absolutely provide support for. But better yet these journalists working for newsrooms should demand that their newsrooms pay for this kind of support. So that's just one very basic thing.

And also to engage in a security assessment on every story that is done. We used to recommend this for physical security, but it absolutely has to be done in terms of digital security as well.

I just think it's important that newsrooms support their journalists, for the most part what we see out there is individual journalists, whether they're freelancers or working for newsrooms left to deal with these issues on their own.


The extent of China’s influence over Hong Kong can be seen in the upcoming trial of one of its best known publishers.

Apple Daily Founder Jimmy Lai, a champion of the pro-democracy and free press movement, is in prison after being convicted of fraud and unlawful assembly.

And in December, he’ll face charges under Hong Kong’s National Security Law.

Our Laurel Bowman dives into how Hong Kong is using a labyrinth of laws to silence critics.

LAUREL BOWMAN, VOA Correspondent:

From the factory floor to a billionaire media mogul, Jimmy Lai is a well-known figure in Hong Kong.

But after a national security law was enacted in 2020, the Apple Daily founder went from a life of luxury to a prison cell.

In December Lai stands trial, accused of colluding with foreign forces. He is already in prison after convictions of unlawful assembly and fraud.

The piling up of cases is seen by his international legal team as a form of “lawfare” aimed at discrediting Lai.

Caoilfhionn Gallagher, Human Rights Lawyer:

What happens is the authorities instead of just using libel laws or counter terrorism laws, which they have used for many years to try and silence journalists, they are now using a range of other laws too.

LAUREL BOWMAN, VOA Correspondent:

Media and legal analysts believe Hong Kong is targeting the pro-democracy publisher to send a message.

Keith Richburg, Foreign Correspondents Club:

And so with these national security cases it puts everybody on notice that if this could happen to somebody as prominent and as wealthy as Jimmy Lai it can happen to anybody.

LAUREL BOWMAN, VOA Correspondent:

Hong Kong police told VOA they cannot comment on ongoing legal proceedings.

The city chief executive John Lee did not respond to a request for comment. While Security Secretary in 2021, Lee said the Apple Daily case is “not about media work or journalist(s) work.”

With the national security law in play, and Lai and other independent media figures detained or summonsed, Hong Kong has dropped in press freedom rankings. Media outlets are starting to close.

Lai’s pro-democracy outlet Apple Daily was first. With executives detained and assets frozen, the iconic paper published its final edition in June 2021.

Popular outlets Stand News and Citizen News followed suit just six months later, with the latter citing security concerns for staff.

Media freedom does still exist, says Richburg. Major international news outlets still work in the city, but the changing environment is making some journalists nervous.

Keith Richburg, Foreign Correspondents Club:

Journalists have to figure out how to navigate what I call this new normal. You can still operate here … you have to be a lot more careful … a lot of sources don’t want to talk to media particularly foreign media now and journalists never know when they are going to be accused of inadvertently going over these kind of vague red lines.

LAUREL BOWMAN, VOA Correspondent:

For Lai, a conviction in next month’s national security case could result in a lengthy prison term for the 74-year-old publisher.

Caoilfhionn Gallagher, Human Rights Lawyer:

He now faces the rest of his life behind bars simply for doing his job, simply for being a journalist, and a media owner and for standing up and speaking truth to power.


Hong Kong’s persecution of Lai and others is condemned by the U.S. State Department. It has warned that authorities are using the law to “to silence dissenting views, and to stifle freedom of speech.

Laurel Bowman, VOA News.


Somalia has a poor reputation when it comes to journalist safety—a point underscored when a double bombing killed one journalist, and injured two others, including Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulle, a freelance contributor with VOA’s Somali service. Abdulle is recovering from his injuries.

Attackers are rarely held accountable, and Somalia for the eighth consecutive year tops the Committee to Protect Journalist’s Global Impunity Index.

VOA Acting Director Yolanda Lopez said, “The bravery and courage of our journalists – and their dedication that takes them wherever the story leads them – often means that they put themselves in harm’s way.”

Shortly before the blast, VOA spoke with Somali freelancer Hassan Barise about the challenges journalists there face.

Hassan Barise, Somali Journalist:

The reality of the journalists on the ground is of mixed feelings. On one way you feel proud, you're very good, or the other way, you feel continuously harassed, continuously threatened, continuously put into danger.

For example, as a journalist, you can meet a privileged person that you can meet the ministers you can meet the biggest businessman you can meet the Prime Minister's you can meet the president you can meet the needs of the people that you are very well known for sports. So, in that case, you feel privileged, but the other side you feel particularly targeted, because the way you are very well known to the good people, still you are very well known to the bad people as well.

When someone is killed, and you know, the perpetrators, assailants, are able to free movement or walking about the normal businesses without being chased or without being, you know, being rounded up for the crimes they have committed, you know, the journalists are having a very big difficulty. When particularly you know, that the perpetrators, those who are threatening, you know, even those who might be killing and still are able to move freely about the city. You know, that's a big problem, that fortunately now, at least we have some functioning institutions, for example, the national security or the police forces. They are trying their best to go after the perpetrators of any attack.

The times really are different. I've been at a time when the journalists were having the most difficult time. It was when there was no government at all, or very weak government. And then we had very strong militias or warlords or whatever would call them. At least now we feel that we are making developments in terms of the rule of law.


That’s all for now. I’m Jessica Jerreat.

Stay up to date on Press Freedom issues and the day’s news at VOANews-dot-com – forward dash press freedom.

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And you can follow me on Twitter @JessicaJerreat

Also catch previous episodes of The Inside Story on our free streaming service, VOA-plus.

Before we go, the names of journalists who are missing and in peril.