Accessibility links

Breaking News

The Inside Story-A Free Press Matters TRANSCRIPT


The Inside Story: A Free Press Matters

Episode 82 – March 9, 2023

Show Open:

Unidentified Narrator:

Freedom of the press ---

A bedrock of American democracy ---

Now under pressure around the world

Yana Gorokhovskaia, Freedom House:

They inform citizens, they hold the powerful to account./So this is all really necessary for a healthy democracy.

Unidentified Narrator:

From Haiti to Afghanistan ….

And Nigeria to Iran ….

Democracy’s dependence on press freedom …

Now on The Inside Story --- A Free Press Matters.

The Inside Story:

JESSICA JERREAT, VOA Press Freedom Editor:

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

“A Free Press Matters” because freedom to report without fear of reprisal helps the public hold governments to account.

Freedom of the press is the cornerstone to American democracy --- enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

But press freedom is under attack everywhere, and with it, an attack on democracy itself.

Freedom House is a non-profit organization that tracks freedom and democracy around the world. Its latest report finds political and civil liberties in decline for the 17th consecutive year. Among the organization’s biggest concerns: the roll back in media freedom.

VOA’s Veronica Balderas Iglesias gets us started.


As freedoms continued to decline globally for the seventeenth consecutive year in 2022, U.S. nonprofit Freedom House noted a positive trend: everyday citizens are demanding that their political and civil rights be preserved.

Yana Gorokhovskaia is a co-author of the Freedom in the World Report.

Yana Gorokhovskaia, Freedom House:

We continued to see that around the world in the most repressive environments. We see that in China, we see that in Cuba, we saw that in Iran last year.


Gorokhovskaia says that inadequate protections, intimidation and even violence against journalists has left media freedom at risk in at least 157 countries and territories.

Yana Gorokhovskaia, Freedom House:

They inform citizens, they hold the powerful to account./So this is all really necessary for a healthy democracy.

She added that Russian censorship was particularly damaging when it came to reporting the war in Ukraine.

Yana Gorokhovskaia, Freedom House;

You couldn’t call the war ‘war.’ You couldn’t criticize the Russian military, and so as a result most Russian independent media left the country and has to be based elsewhere.


The repression has also discouraged ordinary citizens from seeking access to reliable sources of information – even through a VPN, for instance, says Ksenia Kirillova, an investigative journalist and analyst at The Jamestown Foundation.

Ksenia Kirillova, The Jamestown Foundation:

If you just share truthful information about the war, you can be arrested and can be put in jail.


The Freedom in the World Report — now in its fiftieth year — also highlighted declines in Burkina Faso and Myanmar.

Yana Gorokhovskaia, Freedom House:

We have actually seen people put to death in Myanmar for offering criticism of the coup and the military junta.…

We’re really seeing an unfortunate situation in Burkina Faso/because it means sort of almost a complete destruction of political institutions and people’s rights.


She noted that's a sharp contrast to Colombia and Lesotho, which are among the 34 countries to show improvements.

Yana Gorokhovskaia, Freedom House:

One aspect of the so-called bright spots we see are elections that are competitive and free.


The United States also has work to do in terms of combatting polarization, something Gorokhovskaia called “worrying.”

Yana Gorokhovskaia, Freedom House:

But we also see efforts from both political parties to address that.


Amid a global struggle for democracy, Freedom House recommends governments make human rights a priority, including in bilateral engagements.

Veronica Balderas Iglesias, VOA News, Washington.


Among the most dangerous places to report is Haiti.

Seven journalists were killed there in 2022. Threats of violence and intimidation are escalating.

From Port-au-Prince, Matiado Vilme shows us how journalists fight to deliver the news.

Dieudonne St-Cyr, Journalist:

We often face death threats from people committing acts of violence.

MATIADO VILME, Reporting for VOA:

That’s Dieudonne St-Cyr, who reports for Kingdom FM radio and the news website L’Ethique in Haiti. As a journalist in the capital, Port-au-Prince, he risks his life every day.

Dieudonne St-Cyr, Journalist:

I’ve had experiences where I survived by the grace of God. I’ve had head injuries after running into a streetlight while trying to avoid being shot.


Although he has escaped serious physical harm, the trauma has taken an emotional toll. St-Cyr is struggling after the deaths of his friends and colleagues.

Dieudonne St-Cyr, Journalist:

I’m living in constant fear. And that hasn’t changed. When I look around, there are five or six journalists I know who have died. You ask yourself, 'Will it be me tomorrow? And if I’m going to die tomorrow, where will it be? How will they execute me? Will I be shot, or will they beat me to death?'


Unrest and violence have ramped up since the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. In the apparent power vacuum, gangs have been fighting for territory. It’s a situation that the United Nations says is creating a “living nightmare” for thousands.

Since then, journalists have been navigating a treacherous environment. Some have been contacted by gang leaders who want to share details about their actions, such as the blocking of the Varreux oil terminal in Port-au-Prince in September. Gangs have also threatened journalists for quoting their rivals in the news.

Dieudonne St-Cyr, Journalist:

The gangs understand the importance of a journalist’s microphone because they want to use it to get their message out.


Residents, too, recognize the importance of the press. When three rival groups went to war in 2021 and 2022, media helped keep the public safe, says Yvenert Phanord Silla, a Port-au-Prince community leader.

Yvenert Phanord Silla, Community Leader:

We did interviews with journalists, asking them to get the news out, make the public aware of what’s going on, make the gangs aware of the impact of their actions, make people traveling through the area aware, too, and that effort resulted in the peace we’ve been enjoying for two months.


As shown by the kidnapping of journalist Jean Thony Lorthé on the streets of Port-au-Prince in early February, the risks media face are ever present. But still, Haiti’s reporters persist, knowing their audiences are depending on them.

For Matiado Vilme in Port-au-Prince, Sandra Lemaire, VOA News.


Organizations like the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press help journalists across the

U.S. to perform their role as public watchdog.

I spoke with Gunita Singh, a staff attorney for the RCFP, here in Washington to learn more about what they do and how they help.

Gunita Singh, Staff Attorney, RCFP:

We have been around for about 50 years and we're essentially a one stop shop for journalists, where we provide pro bono legal support for virtually any legal need that a member of the news media may have.


What issues or challenges do journalists tend to come to you for help with?

Gunita Singh, Staff Attorney, RCFP:

You really see a wide spectrum. In cases where dockets and court cases are sealed or maybe some of the records filed in a court case are sealed, journalists will come to us and say, ‘I don't think they should be sealed and it's actually really relevant for my reporting. Can you help me with this?’ So in those cases, we will file a motion to intervene in the case for the limited purpose of unsealing those records.


Why do you think that public watchdog journalism matter so much?

Gunita Singh, Staff Attorney, RCFP:

For example, if you attend a government meeting, a school board meeting, say or a city council meeting, and you're able to see government working as it should, you know, you're seeing the the legislators or the School Board Representatives being engaged and curious, that fosters I would say a hope and or rather a sense of faith and confidence in the way government is working. And just important, just as important is being able to see misconduct and spot where potential failings and shortcomings are. So that watchdog role is of utmost importance and it's what motivates Reporters Committee attorneys in providing pro bono support to members of the news media.

So whether you're checking the score of the latest game or you're checking the weather or you're learning about the war in Ukraine or economic policy that interest rates, whatever it is, we rely on numbers, of the news media to distill these highly complex matters for us, and I feel like every time I try to imagine living in a society without a free press, it's a very dark and bleak landscape. The people are entitled to timely and accurate information about governmental affairs in order to make informed decisions about how they, how they vote, who they want representing them. But just beyond that, I mean, you want to foster informed debate about matters of public concern is what democracy is all about. And that's why we need members of the news media to play that role in facilitating that.


Newsrooms are under extraordinary economic pressure. We see particularly across the U.S., news deserts: communities that no longer have local media outlets associated with their region. How prohibitive is that?

Gunita Singh, Staff Attorney, RCFP:

It's a very difficult landscape for local news right now, but fortunately, individuals and organizations are taking note of that, and enterprises are springing up to kind of make things easier for local journalists.

So local news is critically important, which is why the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press a few years ago launched its local legal Initiative … We have attorneys in Oklahoma and Tennessee and Colorado and Pennsylvania, where those attorneys are just— their dockets are filled to the brim helping local journalists with freedom of information requests and court unsealing dockets. The gains have been truly, truly remarkable.


I want to talk a little about when the system works well. I believe you were involved in the Khan v Department of Defense records request for a journalist at the New York Times magazine who was exploring the extent of civilian casualties from military strikes. Could you tell me a little bit about that case?

Gunita Singh, Staff Attorney, RCFP:

Absolutely. I love talking about this case. So I appreciate the question. Azmat Khan has sued the Department of Defense in a Freedom of Information Act litigation that my colleagues and I at the Reporters Committee are so proud to help Azmat Khan with.

She focuses on America's air wars, and as you mentioned, she wants to understand the true extent of civilian casualties resulting from the war on terror.

And in the course of her reporting, she learned that these drone strikes are very often based on deeply flawed intelligence and they're executed in rushed and imprecise ways at times at times.

It's critically important that the American people have this more accurate and more honest picture of the ramifications of a war that has been waged in our names and with our taxpayer dollars, for decades. I think just as important as that element of allowing Americans to bear witness is the fact that Ms. Khan's reporting generated policy reform within the Defense Department.


Is there any advice or information that you would like to direct journalists to in this field?

Gunita Singh, Staff Attorney, RCFP:

I guess the only advice that I would give journalists is to be persistent. We need you and we need your doggedness and your bravery and your persistence in order to remain aware and informed.

Unidentified Narrator:

For its January edition, the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo asked cartoonists to lampoon Iran’s Islamist leader Ali Khamenei.

Iran’s brutal response to anti-regime demonstrations has included sentencing protesters to death.

In 2015, Charlie Hebdo was the target of a homicidal attack by Islamists who objected to cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

Reacting to the latest cartoons, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said [quote]:

“We are sorry that this magazine is published in a country which claim[s] to be respecting the values and supporting the rights of others …

“… but it fails to stand by the most obvious principles and bases that govern the international law.”

[Nasser Kanani, Iranian Foreign Ministry]

That is false.

In fact, France’s independent press demonstrates its adherence to international law.

Freedom of expression is enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Charlie Hebdo’s director, “Riss” Laurent Sourisseau, said the cartoons of Khamenei are in support of Iranians [quote] “risking their lives to defend their freedom against the theocracy.”

They also honor 12 colleagues assassinated in the attack on Hebdo’s office in Paris.

In Iran, hundreds of demonstrators allegedly have been killed by security forces, and thousands have been detained or arrested.

More than 90 Iranian journalists have been detained for covering the unrest.

The U.N. human rights chief has said death sentences for demonstrators amount to [quote] “state sanctioned killing” for exercising basic rights.


“Gender apartheid”. That’s how the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Afghanistan described the Taliban’s policy of banning women from places in society,

from schools to many occupations, including journalism.

Azita Nazimi is one of those women --- forced into exile but committed to keep reporting on issues affecting women still inside Afghanistan.

VOA’s Shaista Sadat Lami tells us her story.

SHAISTA LAMI, VOA Correspondent:

As a journalist who covered health and women’s issues — and as a mother raising four children from exile in Pakistan — Azita Nazimi knows what news Afghan women find important.

For 15 years, she reported for stations including TOLO TV, 1TV and Radio Begum.

But when the Taliban entered Kabul in August 2021, Nazimi and her female colleagues were told to go home.

Nazimi remembers what was lost when the Taliban took over.

Azita Nazimi, Afghan Journalist:

All our dreams and hopes. The achievements that women made in the past 20 years and the main achievement of the republic, having freedom of speech and press.


About six weeks after the fall of Kabul, Nazimi joined a group protesting the rules imposed on women.

Azita Nazimi, Afghan Journalist:

We wanted to raise our voices to gain our freedoms. But, on the contrary, no one listened to us. And our voices were silenced. That was why we left Afghanistan.


The Taliban takeover had dire consequences for Afghan media, says Rebecca Vincent of Reporters Without Borders, an international organization that advocates for press freedom.

Rebecca Vincent, Reporters Without Borders:

The numbers of working journalists have decreased drastically for both sexes, but disproportionately so for women.


As of 2023, 11 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces have no female journalists at all. And of the 2,700 women reporters pre-Taliban, a little over 600 are still working, says Vincent.

Rebecca Vincent, Reporters Without Borders:

Women are largely absent now — not just in the storytelling role, but in the stories themselves. We’ve seen increasing restrictions by the Taliban on not only who can present the news and in what way, but who they’re allowed to interview, who can be present in these broadcasts.


The shrinking space for female journalists mirrors that for Afghan women in general.

Under Taliban rule, women are denied education and, oftentimes, employment and are forbidden to travel unless accompanied by a close male relative. Local media in recent weeks reported that pharmacies had been told to stop providing access to contraceptives, a claim the Taliban rejected.

For a journalist who used to report on women’s health, Nazimi is frustrated.

Azita Nazimi, Journalist:

If I could or I were allowed to, I would focus on women's issues, particularly health and women's empowerment, such as in social and economic sectors. Unfortunately, no journalist is allowed to work on such issues.


Afghanistan still has media, but, Vincent says, the ability of independent journalists to keep working is deteriorating.

For Muska Safi in Islamabad and Lisa Bryant in Paris, Shaista Sadat Lami, VOA News.


If a free press is a foundational part of democracy, then facts and fact-based reporting are the foundation of a free press.

Training journalists to use fact-checking to dispel false information is the goal of the non-profit news organization Dubawa. Established in Nigeria, it is now a major resource for journalists across West Africa.

From Abuja, our Timothy Obiezu dove into the media outlet’s work with its editor, Kemi Busari.

Kemi Busari, Editor, Dubawa:

The Nigerian Fact Checkers Coalition was established mid-2022 and it started with a meeting among Dubawa, Fact Checkup and Africa Checks. We realized that we all have a common enemy which is false information.

Disinformation is a very big issue in Nigeria because some people have found a market in it.

Nigeria is at a very critical stage currently. The country is not united in a way. There are a lot of other challenges like kidnappings, we also have a lot of economic challenges like the debt servicing, the issue of the new Naira and all.

And because of these challenges, purveyors of false information are leveraging on people's sentiments, on people's biases to put out false information. Like I said, we get a lot more false information these days and how do we fact check?

Dubawa is an independent fact-checking organization that operates in five West African countries ‑ Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia and The Gambia, and what we do basically is - we do fact-checking work.

We try to first of all, reach out to the claimant. For instance, if someone goes on Twitter to claim something about the electoral process, we try to reach out to such persons to say ok, 'Where's your source?' 'How did you arrive at this?' And after that, we also have a methodology that we follow.

The attention span on the internet is very very low so we have fact card that has just the glimpse, the verdicts and how we arrived at the verdict that you can read in less than 30 seconds.

Information defines our lives in several ways - the kind of food we want to eat, where we want to go, how we want to get there and what have you. And if we are fed with false information, sometimes it could lead to some fatal consequences. I'll give you an example of it. Some years ago in the North Central part of Nigeria, in Jos, a picture was shared on Facebook of some people from the Fulani tribe attacking Berom tribe.

A few days later some Fulani people were moving around a particular road and they were accosted by some people from the Berom tribe and they killed a family of six in retaliation just because of that picture. When fact-checkers saw that picture, they fact checked it and they realized that it was from another country.

So, disinformation affects our lives in several ways and that is why it is important for us to be very wary and one of the key stake holders are the journalists.


Among the 12 individuals that Time Magazine is recognizing as Women of the Year for 2023 is Iranian activist and TV host Masih Alinejad.

In exile from Iran since 2009, Alinejad hosts a weekly program on VOA Persian.

She has been a fierce advocate for women’s rights and outspoken about Tehran’s requirement that women wear a hijab.

While grateful for the recognition, Alinejad says the circumstances blunt any enjoyment of it.

Masih Alinejad, VOA Persian:

I really want to thank TIME Magazine for selecting me as one of the Women of the Year. But to be honest, I don't know whether I have to be happy or not because of the situation in Iran. In normal circumstances, for me as a woman who comes from a very tiny village in north of Iran, to be selected for Women of the Year list of TIME Magazine should bring joy and happiness. But these days, these situations in Iran are not a normal time for us.

I want to use this opportunity to echo the voice of Iranian brave women who are leading the most progressive revolution, who are bravely saying that 'We lost everything, but not hope.

For me, this is an opportunity to dedicate my award to the brave women of Iran, to the brave men of Iran in standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Iranian women and saying no to Islamic Republic.


An elaborate plot to kidnap and return Alinejad to Iran was foiled in 2021, as was an apparent

assassination attempt in 2022.

That’s all for now.

Find our coverage of press freedom at

Follow us on Instagram and Facebook at VOANews.

And catch up on past episodes and explore new documentaries on our free streaming service,

VOA Plus.

I’m Jessica Jerreat.

Before we go, we honor the work of those journalists who were

killed this year or are still missing while trying to bring you the news.