This year is going to be different.
You and I probably repeat this phrase over and over at the beginning of each new year.
But for us as journalists, 2009 can be a time when we bring about enormous changes all over the world. Our combined efforts and voices do make a difference, if we are willing to speak out louder and stronger for freedom of the press overseas.
With very little time and effort, we might be able to improve conditions for our sisters and brothers in other countries. All it takes is an e-mail, a note, a phone call to express our concerns, even our outrage, over how journalists are being treated outside the United States.
For example, what about contacting the Mexican Embassy in Washington, D.C., concerning the plight of Miguel Angel Villa Gómez Valle? According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), “Villa Gómez’s bullet-riddled body was found (Oct. 10) in a refuse dump, less than 12 hours after he went missing.” The death of this journalist, shot once in the head and twice in the stomach, was no accident. He was the editor of a daily tabloid in Lázaro Cárdenas that frequently published stories about organized crime and corruption in southwestern Mexico.
If you want to let the government know how you feel, call the Mexican Embassy at (202) 728-1600 or go to their Web site (portal.sre.gob.mx/usa) to fill out an e-mail form.
Or how about the case of a radio reporter in Ecuador who was sentenced in September to six months in prison for slandering a former mayor? Freddy Aponte Aponte, a journalist in the southern city of Loja, recently learned that the ex-leader is suing him for $1 million in damages. Voice your concern by calling the Embassy of Ecuador in Washington, D.C., at (202) 234-7200, or send them an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On the other side of the world, a Chinese journalist will be only halfway through his 10-year prison sentence this year. Shi Tao, 37, was arrested in November 2004. He was found guilty of forwarding messages his newspaper received from the government about possible riots during the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Officials claimed the information was top-secret and that Tao sent e-mails to Web sites outside the country. Demand the release of Tao by calling the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., at (202) 328-2500 or write to them at email@example.com. You can even add your name to petitions by RSF (www.rsf.org) and Amnesty International (www.amnesty.org).
Then there is the matter of an Ethiopian editor who was brutally attacked in October in the middle of the afternoon. The International Press Institute reported that Amare Aregawi “was assaulted … by two assailants, while leaving his son’s school following a parent-teacher meeting. Aregawi was struck on the back of the head, and left bleeding and unconscious on the ground. This most recent incident follows a series of editorials in The Reporter criticising members of the local business community.” Call for better protection for journalists by notifying the Embassy of Ethiopia in Washington, D.C., at (202) 274-1861 or (202) 274-4570 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, no one has been charged in the 2005 death of a Lebanese journalist. Last month, the Committee to Protect Journalists again demanded that the government find those who assassinated Gebran Tueni, managing director and columnist for the leading daily Al-Nahar.
A statement issued by CPJ said the writer — also a member of Parliament and a strong opponent of the regime in the adjacent country of Syria— was “killed by a bomb that targeted his armored vehicle in East Beirut.” Urge officials to bring the murderers to justice by contacting the Lebanese Embassy in Washington, D.C., at (202) 939-6300 or email@example.com.
Add to all of these incidents the deaths of 50 journalists throughout the world in 2008. Plus, another 140 writers and reporters were arrested and imprisoned, according to RSF.
We need to make our voices heard. We have a responsibility not only to the public everywhere, but also to those in our profession who are working under extremely adverse and trying circumstances each day. As citizens of a free country, we are in a unique position to make a difference in the media all around the globe.
Let 2009 be the year for change, the year when we do more than merely talk about what is going on in the media “over there.” It is time to do something. Even a simple phone call or an e-mail will help.