28 October 2008

Still No Justice in Murder of Uzbek Journalist

One year ago, Alisher Saipov, a 26-year-old Uzbek journalist who was a correspondent for the Voice of America and contributor to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, was shot to death by an unidentified gunman near his office in the southern Kyrgyzstan town of Osh. Despite pledges by the Kyrgyz authorities to bring Saipov's killers to justice, the case remains unsolved.

Edward Kaufman, member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the federal government agency that oversees VOA and RFE/RL, said: “One year later, and the shots that killed Alisher Saipov still echo with his young family and among journalists worldwide who seek to freely report the facts. The government of Kyrgyzstan must pursue Saipov's killers, following a path to justice no matter where it leads.”

Reporters Without Borders said: “The lack of any substantial progress is disgraceful. So far neither perpetrators nor masterminds have been identified. Such a degree of impunity is an outrage. The investigators should seriously consider the possibility that the murder was linked to Saipov’s journalistic work instead of trying to explain it away in terms of his support for the Uzbek exile opposition party Erk or the contacts he may have had with banned religious groups.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists has also spoken out: “Solving the contract-style murder of Alisher Saipov is a litmus test for [President Kurmanbek] Bakiyev's administration. He came to power in 2005 with the promise of democratic reform and rule of law. The smear of impunity casts doubt on that commitment, shaking the public's trust in the government's ability to protect its citizens. Kyrgyz authorities should work to restore that trust by mounting a transparent and effective investigation into Saipov's murder. They owe this to Avaz Saipov and all of us who remember Alisher for his courageous journalism.”

Reporters Without Borders recently ranked Uzbekistan 162nd out of 173 countries when it comes to freedom of the press, with Kyrgzstan ranked 111th.

23 October 2008

Journalism Moments: Remembering I. F. Stone

Earlier this month, John Walcott, the Washington bureau chief for a U.S. newspaper chain (McClatchy Newspapers), was awarded the first I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence for his reporters’ coverage of the period leading to the start of the Iraq war.

Walcott’s reporters produced dozens of stories that, virtually alone among news organizations, challenged Bush administration claims about the threat posed by Baghdad.

The award is administered by the prestigious Nieman Foundation at Harvard University but probably not many people outside the journalism world in the U.S. know who I. F. Stone was. He was an independent American investigative journalist best known for his newsletter, I.F. Stone’s Weekly, launched in 1953 and published through 1971. (He died in 1989 at the age of 81.)

As the New York Times noted in its obituary of Stone, “the primary grist for his profitable, 19-year newsletter was documents rather than people. He read at least 10 newspapers a day and ferreted out contradictions and inconsistencies in the voluminous records of official Washington, using them to oppose McCarthyism, racism, the nuclear arms race, American military involvement in Vietnam and other issues he regarded as stains on democracy.”

Walcott, in his acceptance speech for the award, made several comments that we think bear noting here --- none more important that his statement that being skeptical was “at the heart of who I.F. Stone was, what his legacy to us is and what's been missing in American journalism in recent years, not just in the coverage of the Bush administration's case for war in Iraq” but also, in Walcott’s view, in coverage of the latest Wall Street crisis.

Some other key Walcott observations:

“Why, in a nutshell, was our reporting (about the Iraq war) different from so much other reporting? One important reason was that we sought out the dissidents, and we listened to them, instead of serving as stenographers to high-ranking officials and Iraqi exiles. I'm afraid that much the same thing may have happened on Wall Street. Power and money and celebrity, in other words, can blind you. Somehow, the idea has taken hold in Washington journalism that the value of a source is directly proportional to his or her rank, when in my experience the relationship is more often inverse.

“That brings up a larger point, and one that I think is another part of what went wrong back in 2002, and what may have gone wrong on Wall Street. Instead of being members of the Fourth Estate, too many Washington reporters have been itching to move up an estate or two, to become part of the Establishment or share in the good times. I.F. Stone, on the other hand, knew well that reporters, by definition, are outsiders.”

Walcott, by the way, served as moderator during a panel discussion in September at VOA headquarters on the “New Media vs. the New Censorship”. The event, sponsored by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), focused on the challenges posed by the increasingly sophisticated efforts of authoritarian regimes to suppress and manipulate news online.