When Turkish editor Can Dündar was thrown into solitary confinement last year for publishing news that embarrassed the government, he discovered that not only cellphones and laptops but even flowers and colored pens were forbidden.
Now Dündar is in exile, but scores of his compatriots are still locked up — Turkey is “the world’s biggest prison for journalists,” he noted last week — and Turkey is hardly alone. “Virtually every corner of the Earth is now threatened by the rise of nationalist, authoritarian factions that seek to destroy diversity and replace it with a gray, concrete cell.”
Dündar was honored by the Committee to Protect Journalists in a ceremony in New York this month that was more warning than celebration. Around the world, journalists are being killed, imprisoned and threatened for doing their jobs — and while they pay the most direct price for their courage, people everywhere suffer when their governments can no longer be held to account.
Some of these stories may seem more relevant to Americans than others; the soaring murder rate in Central America helps fuel immigration to the U.S. But no matter how remote their coverage may seem, these International Press Freedom Award winners share a conviction that is as essential to Americans as everyone else: Democracy cannot function unless citizens can be informed, through fair news coverage and not propaganda, of the activities of their rulers.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent, nonprofit organization, noted recently that U.S. attitudes toward the press can have an outsized influence across the world. In a Nov. 17 letter to Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who was a founding member of the Congressional Caucus for the Freedom of the Press, CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon warned of “the danger that harassment of the press in the United States will be used as a pretext by repressive leaders around the world to persecute their critics.”
“President-elect Trump has obstructed major news organizations, attacked reporters by name, and contributed to a threatening climate for journalists covering the election,” Simon wrote. “These actions in the United States set a terrible example for the rest of the world.”
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE WASHINGTON POST