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The Inside Story - Episode 90 - A Free Press Matters TRANSCRIPT


The Inside Story: A Free Press Matters – World Press Freedom Day

Episode 90 – May 4, 2023

Show Open:

Unidentified Narrator:

This week on The Inside Story: A Free Press Matters.

President Joe Biden:

A free press is a pillar – maybe the pilar – of a free society.

Unidentified Narrator:

The United Nations marks the 30th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day.

From foreign assassination plots on U.S. soil, to a growing anti-war movement in Russia, we take you inside the targeted tactics of repressive regimes.

Plus, a look at journalists missing in action, jailed or whereabouts unknown.

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

The Inside Story - A Free Press Matters:

JESSICA JERREAT, VOA Press Freedom Editor:

Welcome to Inside Story, I’m Jessica Jerreat. The notion that Freedom of the Press is a vital part of any functioning Democracy has been written about for centuries and proven time and again.

Without a free press, democracy loses its watchdog.

But globally, media rights are being rolled back.

The non-profit Reporters Without Borders says that conditions for media are now dire in seven out of 10 countries.

As the UN marks the 30th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day here in NYC, we look at the lengths to which journalists from Iran, Myanmar, and Russia are willing to go to continue to report the truth.


Reporting under a repressive regime is one thing. But reporting on that regime from exile comes with a laundry list of challenges. Overcoming those are Nicaraguan journalists who’ve recreated their newsrooms in Costa Rica. From San José, Costa Rica, Donaldo Hernández has this story as narrated by VOA’s Cristina Caicedo Smit.


San José, Costa Rica. A city refuge for dozens of journalists fleeing repression in neighboring Nicaragua.

Under President Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua’s media have weathered arrests, threats, and raids. But exile is no barrier to their reporting.

Lucía Pineda Ubau, Director, 100% Noticias:

We start working in the morning, we work from home. We talk to sources, and people who are in Nicaragua, they also give us an overview of what is happening there.


Lucía Pineda is one of the most influential journalists from Nicaragua. She ran 100% Noticias, a 24-hour news TV channel, in the capital, Managua — until her arrest in December 2018.

Lucía Pineda Ubau, Director, 100% Noticias:

I have been here in Costa Rica since June 14, 2019, two days after I was released.


Pineda was incarcerated for six months on accusations of inciting violence and promoting terrorism. Charges she denies.

At that time, her outlet was reporting extensively on anti-government protests.

Free from jail, Pineda is still running 100% Noticias, but with limited resources.

Lucía Pineda Ubau, Director of 100% Noticias:

We are often on the phone, and we make a lot of video calls. Thank God there is Skype, Zoom, different tools that make it easier for us to connect with people.


Ortega’s crackdown on the press is reflected in the country’s poor media freedom ranking.

Watchdog Reporters Without Borders says no independent media outlets remain inside the country.

Lucía Pineda Ubau, Director, 100% Noticias:

They confiscate your things, they steal your house, your TV channel, your work equipment and they also put you in jail.


Ortega’s government declined to directly respond to VOA’s questions on the environment for media, sending only a document thanking VOA for the interest.

Today, 100% Noticias operates in Costa Rica via a website and social media, where they publish interviews, stories, and a daily news roundup.

Lucía Pineda Ubau, Director of 100% Noticias:

There is always the challenge to go on air, and to be online, you are working from here from Costa Rica and we would like to be doing it from Nicaragua.


Life in exile can feel isolating.

Most afternoons, Pineda drives from her home to meet with the team at Nicaragua Actual, another outlet run by exiles.

Héctor Rosales, Nicaragua Actual:

Social media has been a key element to keep people inside Nicaragua informed. I dare say that we are one of the media that is widely seen in this digital age.


Rosales worked as a journalist inside Nicaragua for more than 15 years. But risk of arrest, along with threats and a beating forced him to leave in December 2018.

Héctor Rosales, Nicaragua Actual:

I left Nicaragua to flee the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, I did not want to go to jail, and I did not want my family to suffer, precisely while in jail.

Héctor Rosales, Nicaragua Actual:

The media still there are threatened. Unfortunately, they are keeping silent because of those threats.


Héctor and Pineda say the challenges of reporting from exile are enormous, including a high cost of living and little income for operating expenses.

But giving up is not an option.

Héctor Rosales, Nicaragua Actual:

I have always had that motivation to continue in this great fight, to continue reporting, to continue doing journalism despite the setbacks.

Lucía Pineda Ubau, Director of 100% Noticias:

This dictatorship is going to pass; I always say this again and again: “dictatorships pass, and journalism and the people stay.


With data from Voices of the South showing 185 journalists forced to leave Nicaragua since 2018, and media outlets shuttering, the work of exiled journalists like Rosales and Pineda is more important than ever.

For Donaldo Hernández in San José, Costa Rica, Cristina Caicedo Smit, VOA news.


It is impossible to discuss freedom of the press, or speech, or assembly without taking note of the situation in Iran.

Over the past eight months Iran has seen widespread demonstrations in the wake of a young woman who died while in police custody. To deal with the turmoil there, the Islamic Republic turned to wholesale jailing of dissenting voices and threats to media overseas.

VOA’s Arash Arabasadi has the Inside Story.


Six months of civil unrest after a young woman’s death in the custody of Iran’s “morality police”.

In September of last year, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was arrested for what the Islamic Republic described as “immodest attire.” Tehran released a video claiming to show Amini collapse in custody and blamed the fall for triggering a fatal heart attack. Her family disputed that account in an interview with VOA.

Almost immediately, nationwide anger became worldwide condemnation of Iran’s harsh treatment of Amini and countless others like her. In response, Tehran began jailing journalists critical of the regime.

Iranian journalist and media advocate Yeganeh Rezaian watched from Washington as the government turned up the heat.

Yeganeh Rezaian, Committee to Protect Journalists:

In multiple cases we at the Committee to Protect Journalists were in touch with lawyers who are representing these journalists and their families. And one morning we wake up, and our source is gone, because the lawyer, himself, was arrested and thrown in jail.


The Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ, documented nearly 100 media arrests from the end of September — when protests began— to early January. Of those, half were women.

Yeganeh Rezaian, Committee to Protect Journalists:

Based on our annual research in 2022, at the end of the year, not only Iran became the biggest jailer of journalists in the world, but it was also the biggest jailer of women or female journalists.


Those arrested are accused of charges from vague anti-state activity to espionage, a crime punishable by death.

But it’s not just inside Iran’s borders, as Rezaian says Iran looks to silence its critics abroad… like VOA Persian Host, Masih Alinejad.

Masih Alinejad, VOA Persian Host:

The Islamic Republic hired three criminals from Eastern Europe. They were clearly part of a criminal syndicate. They were hired by the Islamic Republic to kill me on U.S. soil.


But that was just one attempt.

Masih Alinejad, VOA Persian Host:

The Islamic Republic actually tried to kidnap me first. The FBI stopped the kidnapping plot, and they charged four people, one of them--Niloufar Bahadorifar--is right now in prison. She received four years’ prison sentence.


Alinejad says she isn’t deterred by Iran’s attempts to reach her in the U.S.

Masih Alinejad, VOA Persian Host:

I tell myself that I have two options: to feel miserable every single day, or to make my oppressors feel miserable. Honestly, I choose the second one and that makes me so powerful. Because look, I'm only 45 kilos, you see that I'm not even carrying a weapon, but they are scared of me. They’re scared of millions of Iranian women like me who say no to them.


Back in Washington, Rezaian says that although Iranians no longer fear the regime like they once did, the threats and following violence remain very real.

Yeganeh Rezaian, Committee to Protect Journalists:

And I fear for them. But I’m glad that they’re brave, and they’re not afraid of telling the truth. They are not afraid of covering their own country at its realities.


Iran’s permanent mission to the UN did not respond to VOA’s request for comment. But the Islamic Republic recently announced the pardoning of tens of thousands of Iranians arrested since protests began.

Arash Arabasadi, VOA News.


We just saw the lengths to which Tehran has gone to silence those critical of the regime, even on U.S. soil. It’s rare that such brazen attacks happen in the United States. But they do. We spoke to VOA Persian Host Masih Alinejad about the Islamic Republic’s efforts to silence her.

Masih Alinejad, VOA Persian Host:

They did everything – I mean everything - to silence me. By everything, I mean, everything!

They went after my family. They brought my sister on TV to denounce me publicly. Can you believe that? I was just watching my sister denouncing me, like in 17 minutes TV show. It was not easy. And then they went after my mother. They interrogated my mother for two hours to stop her from sharing her love with me. Then they arrested my brother. They put my brother in prison for two years to punish me. None of them stopped me. They created actually a law saying that if anyone sends Masih Alinejad videos or you know photos, you will be charged up to 10 years prison. That didn't stop women, so then it's not going to stop me as well.

We face guns and bullets. We face the killers. If we say that we want to just be free to express ourselves. So that's why for me, it's it's like having air having energy. It's like having food, water. It's like ,you know, if I don't have freedom to express myself, I don't think that I can survive. I can -I'm not as scared of being killed, but I'm scared of being shut up.

Ihar Tshikhaneka, VOA New York Bureau Chief:

How is the recent crackdown on the media? They're different from the ones we've seen before?

Masih Alinejad, VOA Persian Host:

This time is totally different. Because people made up their mind that the more that they get killed, the more that they get determined to take back to the street and bring this regime down.

People are ready to pay the price. I see the mothers of those who got killed saying that this revolution needs blood and our children you know sacrifice their life that shows you this time is different. For 40 years we had the fear inside us. Now this is the government that they scared of their own people.


As government officials inside Russia and occupied Ukraine continue to censor and restrict social media and news-gathering outlets, a group of Russian anti-war specialists is finding ways to connect with its audience by combining technology with lessons learned from the Soviet underground press era.

VOA’s Alexey Gorbachev has this report on Samizdat Online.


Gathered in a Manhattan house, this group of tech-savvy activists say all they need to circumvent Russian censors is an internet connection.

Their website Samizdat Online — named after the Soviet era underground press — can reach audiences inside Russia without users needing a VPN.

Yevgeny Simkin, Samizdat Online:

The links that we generate are available everywhere. There's nothing specific to the regions, so any place where the internet exists, those links will open and deliver the content that we are proxying.


Russia’s media regulator Roskomnadzor has blocked access to Samizdat, but that doesn’t stop them the team providing content on the war in Ukraine or human rights issues that authoritarian regimes seek to suppress.

Each article has a unique link, rendering attempts to block it futile.

Co-founder Michael Sprague says the method reflects how people in Soviet times secretly produced pamphlets.

Three decades after the fall of the Soviet Union, he finds himself explaining those methods to a new generation.

Michael Sprague, Samizdat Online:

Everything had to be handwritten. Everything had to be passed from person to person to person. And so, we basically trained a whole generation of 20 year olds like to understand like, this is, there is another way to communicate when you're not quite sure whether you can trust the state or even the media that you're working with.


Samizdat translates roughly 15 articles daily from several news sites that it partners with, to share reports on on the war in Ukraine and human rights abuses in Russia, Belarus, and Iran.

But staying one step ahead of the censors is tough.

Since its invasion of Ukraine, Russia has blocked access to social media platforms and thousands of news websites, including the Russian-language services of the VOA.

According to Statista, about a fifth of Russians now use a VPN. A spike in use since 2021.

It was only a matter of time before the authorities took notice, says Steven Feldstein, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Steven Feldstein, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:

The most common method is for Russians to access, to use VPNs, virtual private networks, to get around blocks of different platforms or different websites. Now that in of itself has become very complicated because Russian authorities have also sought to block different VPN providers as well.


Samizdat gets around that with a method that doesn’t require VPN. Users simply browse stories then share unique links with friends via social media, messaging apps, email or text messages.

Samizdat’s founders believe tech giants like Google and YouTube could be incorporated into their system.

And they have an additional objective: to reach Russians who are not actively seeking independent coverage and who lack access to accurate information.

From New York, Alexey Gorbachev, VOA News.


When the U.N. declared World Press Freedom Day, the goal was to promote media freedom and the safety of journalists around the world.

On this 30-year anniversary, VOA’s Lisa Bryant spoke with UNESCO’s head of the media platform about the importance of this issue.

Guilherme Canela, UNESCO Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists:

The role of the universal system of human rights and particularly of UNESCO is to protect a free, independent and pluralist medium.

So, you can’t talk about freedom if journalists are being attacked. You can't talk about editorial independence if the media can’t survive financially.You can’t talk about pluralism if you don’t have a plural media landscape in terms of private media, community media, public service broadcasters.

So, in the last 10 years, UNESCO has engaged 25,000 judges and prosecutors in these conversations about freedom of expression all over the world.

30 years ago we had 12 countries with freedom of information laws. Today we have 135 in 30 years, getting 100 plus nations agreeing to a significant structural change in their in their in their laws, not minor at all.

This 30 years really shows that we managed to put freedom of expression and safety journalists in higher place in terms of international discussions with concrete impacts on how this can be better protected and better promoted at both the regional and international level. 04:59

LISA BRYANT, VOA Correspondent:

I’d be curious to get more information from you about some of the attacks on journalists and what can be done?

Guilherme Canela, UNESCO Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists:

We have identified violations in 65 countries, in all regions of the world, we published another concern about the safety of foreign correspondents in different ways of attacking them, labeling them as a particular enemy of the state, or using accusations of money laundering. Different elements that we can call a soft or indirect censorship. You don’t censor the content directly you find other excuses.

However, the good news is that is now the alarms are being raised So let's hope that we all will work like fire man and fire women and try to extinguish this. This fire that unfortunately it is out there.


The threat of being arrested and jailed remains a harsh reality for journalists in Myanmar.

Following the February 2021 military coup, dozens of media workers were detained, while others fled for their safety. Two years later concern for press freedom is still a priority.

Living in exile, journalist Kyaw Myo Thura Tun shares his story with VOA.

Kyaw Myo Thura Tun, Journalist:

My name is Kyaw Myo Thura Tun. I am working for Myanmar Press Photo Agency as a news editor.

I arrived in Mae Sot (Thailand) when the fighting broke out in Karen state (Myanmar) December 15, 2021. We had to run away and spent a night in Mae Taw Tha lay.

So, we arrived at Thailand December 16. We stayed at Mae Taung refugee camp for eight days. We arrived at Mae Sot during Christmas time in 2021.

In Thailand, for media, the most important things are press freedom and security. Some fled and escaped, some are wanted by the Myanmar military junta in the exiled media community. The main challenges for journalists in exile are press freedom, safety and security.

Right now, there is a lot of inflated news. In order to prevent that, we should select which news is not toxic for news consumers. Although Myanmar is currently facing a crisis as we are reading bad news daily, but we should break through from this routine and present the possible solutions for the audience

As media, we have responsibility to point out injustice. Therefore, press freedom is vital.

After the coup, the military banned free press, and we have seen the situation as Junta can to do whatever they want to do freely. It is important to not to let that happen. Media as a public service, we have to inform the public systematically and press freedom plays the very important role.


As we close out this week’s show, we moved to a new position, in front of News Corp and Fox News Headquarters in New York City. News Corp also owns Wall Street Journal.

We are here to highlight the plight of a fellow member of the media, Evan Gershkovich. Evan’s detainment in Russia sparked President Biden at the White House Correspondent’s dinner to speak about efforts to free him and to also bring home journalist Austin Tice, from Syria.

President Joe Biden:

To Evan’s parents Ella, Mikhail, and sister Danielle, as I’ve told you in person: We -- not just me -- we all stand with you.

Evan went to report in Russia to shed light on the darkness that you all escaped from years ago.

Absolute courage. Everyone in this hall stands with you. We’re working every day to secure his release, looking at opportunities and tools to bring him home. We keep the faith.

We also keep the faith for Austin -- Austin Tice. His mom Debra is here tonight. (Applause.) She knows from our several conversations -- the conversations with me and my senior staff -- we are not giving up.

Tonight, our message is this: Journalism is not a crime.

Evan and Austin should be released immediately, along with every other American held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad.


As we leave you, we note other journalists detained, whose work covering unrest in Iran was recognized this week by UNESCO.

I am Jessica Jerreat. See you next week on the Inside Story.