3 LATIN AMERICAN JOURNALISTS GET
Their works and struggles get recognized by the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Three Latin American journalists have won the International Press Freedom Awards from the global nonprofit Committee for the Protection of Journalists. They are Patrícia Campos Mello from Brazil and Lucía Pineda Ubau and Miguel Mora from Nicaragua.
The award recognizes “courageous journalists from around the world,” according to CPJ, an independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide. While freedom of the press is extremely limited or nonexistent in dictatorial regimes, CPJ notes that the 2019 prizes honor journalists in democracies around the globe where governments are attempting to erode press freedom. “The journalists have faced online harassment, legal and physical threats, and imprisonment in their pursuit of the news,” states CPJ in a press statement.
The International Press Freedom Awards were presented Nov. 21 in New York City.
BRAZIL’S AWARD-WINNING INTERNATIONAL REPORTER
Patrícia Campos Mello is an award-winning reporter and columnist at the daily Folha de S. Paulo, one of Brazil’s biggest news outlets, and an experienced international correspondent, according to her biography. She has reported on human rights and public health stories in Brazil, including on babies being born with microcephaly as a result of the Zika virus in 2016. She has also reported on the war in Afghanistan, the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, the national elections in India, and migration and the refugee crisis in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Turkey, Lebanon, and Kenya.
In late 2018, during the Brazilian presidential election campaign, Campos Mello was attacked online in response to her coverage of allegations about efforts by a group of businessmen supporting then-presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro to sponsor bulk messaging on WhatsApp related to the campaign. After the stories were published, she was threatened on social media and over the phone. Callers made direct threats against her and her family, and social media users shared doctored photos and fake news stories about her. In addition, details of events in which she planned to participate were shared among hundreds of WhatsApp groups, with calls for Bolsonaro supporters to attend the events and confront her in person. Campos Mello was forced to cancel all public appearances for more than a month, and her newspaper hired a bodyguard for her. A WhatsApp number for the newspaper Folha was flooded with hundreds of thousands of messages related to her reporting.
The attack on Campos Mello was one of the most visible cases of doxxing in a year and election cycle in which dozens of journalists were harassed and criticized for their reporting. “I am more cautious in my approach to people in the new government because I worry they are going to use it against me,” Campos Mello told CPJ in December.
Campos Mello received the King of Spain Journalism Prize and the Petrobras Prize in 2018 and the Red Cross International Committee Prize for humanitarian journalism in 2017.
TARGETS OF INTIMIDATION
“Over more than 20 years of military dictatorship, Brazilian journalists were systematically censored, persecuted, tortured and killed,” said Campos Mello. “The dictatorship ended in 1985. Thirty-four years later, in comes a democratically elected president, Jair Bolsonaro, who denies that the military rule was a dictatorship.
“And journalists once again are the targets of intimidation and persecution by the government, this time with the help of social media and digital militias, lawsuits and virtual lynching.
She added, “We are living through a new form of censorship and harassment, outsourced to armies of patriotic trolls and amplified by bots on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.”
JOURNALISTS UNDER DURESS IN NICARAGUA
Intimidation and other pressures are familiar to broadcast journalists Pineda Ubau and Mora of
Nicaraguan news channel 100% Noticias.
Miguel Mora is the director and founder of 100% Noticias, one of the main independent media outlets reporting on the political crisis in the country. Its journalists, especially Mora, have faced constant harassment and threats as a result of their reporting. The outlet is banned from broadcasting in Nicaragua, and the government has seized its studio and equipment.
Pineda Ubau has worked for more than two decades for Nicaraguan outlets including TV Noticias and the news program “22/22,” which she co-founded. She first worked at 100% Noticias from 1995 to 2001, when it was a news show, then rejoined it in 2008, when it had evolved into a 24-hour cable and digital channel. She is the news director of the outlet.
IMPRISONED FOR REPORTING
In June, Nicaraguan authorities released Pineda and Mora after detaining them in a December 2018 raid on the newsroom of 100% Noticias. The two were rushed through court appearances for a trial that was repeatedly delayed in which they were accused of “inciting violence and hate” and “promoting terrorism,” allegations that CPJ called “absurd.” They were kept under surveillance and in isolation for the majority of the 172 days they spent in prison, and their health, including their eyesight, deteriorated. Although Pineda also holds Costa Rican citizenship, Nicaraguan authorities denied Costa Rican authorities access to her while she was imprisoned.
The imprisonment of these journalists is emblematic of the media environment in Nicaragua, where authorities have cracked down on dissent since anti-government protests began in April 2018, according to CPJ. Outlets have been shut down, and journalists have been targeted with violence, harassment, and persecution. Dozens have fled Nicaragua. CPJ’s Emergencies team has provided many of them, including colleagues of Pineda and Mora from 100% Noticias, with assistance and has distributed safety updates on the media environment in the country.
“Nicaragua is being threatened with death,” said Pineda Ubau and Mora in a joint statement delivered at the awards dinner. ‘“We will kill those who protest” is the motto of the dictatorship. Beatings, bullets, and death is their daily recipe to hold on to power.”
They added, “Never before had we understood the true value of press freedom as we do in these trying times for our people and our homeland…. As Nicaraguan journalists, we will not tolerate censorship, nor will we surrender to it. Never.”
The Latin American communicators were among six international journalists honored by CPJ on Nov. 21. The other three were Neha Dixit from India, Maxence Melo Mubyazi from Tanzania and Zaffar Abbas from Pakistan.
Neha Dixit, an award-winning freelance reporter, has covered politics, gender, and social justice in print, TV, and online media for more than a decade. She began her career at Tehelka magazine and then joined the special investigation team at India Today newsmagazine.
In 2016, Dixit wrote a story for Outlook magazine that accused members of a right-wing nationalist group of trafficking more than 31 girls in Assam state to other parts of India in order to inculcate them with a nationalist ideology. After the story was published, members of the ruling party filed a criminal defamation suit against Dixit and Outlook, accusing both of violating Indian law.
Melo Mubyazi co-founded and is the managing director of Jamii Forums, an online discussion site and source of breaking news. He has been charged under his country’s restrictive CyberCrimes Act and, in 2017, appeared in court 81 times.
Both Dixit and Melo Mubyazi received each an International Press Freedom Award.
For his part, Abbas, editor of Pakistan’s daily newspaper Dawn, received the CPJ’s 2019 Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award, recognizing extraordinary and sustained achievement in the cause of press freedom. Abbas, who has decades of experience as a reporter in Pakistan, has led Dawn since 2010. Under his leadership, Dawn and its reporters frequently have come under government pressure. He has also been physically attacked.
“Zaffar Abbas is the embodiment of journalistic courage, which is why the board is so pleased to honor him with the Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award,” said Kathleen Carroll, chair of the CPJ board. “Every day he fights to deliver facts to Dawn’s readers in the face of pressure, obstacles, and blockades from the institutions in Pakistan that would much prefer to go about their business without scrutiny from the press or the public.”
Under Abbas’ editorship, Dawn has come under government pressure several times. In May 2018, military guards disrupted the distribution of the newspaper in many parts of the country after the paper printed an interview with the former prime minister. Those disruptions still continue in some areas. In 2016, after Dawn published an exclusive report on the relationship between the military and leaders of the then-ruling party, distribution of the paper to provinces such as Sindh and Punjab was disrupted. Abbas told CPJ that he and the reporter of the story were each interrogated by members of the intelligence service for hours, but they refused to divulge their sources.
Abbas has faced reprisals for his work in the past. In 1991, armed men attacked him and his brother at his home in Karachi after he reported on the Muttahida Qaumi Movement political party. The two were badly beaten, and he required stitches on his head. A few years later, armed extremists attacked the BBC office in Islamabad and set it on fire, and beat him and his colleague. The attack was in apparent retaliation for two films shown on the BBC that showed members of a majority Sunni sect advocating attacks on Shias.