Jailed journalists
Committee to Protect Journalists

The Committee to Protect Journalists earlier this month released its yearly report on incarcerated news reporters around the world, and the results are disturbing.

For the second year in a row, the total number of jailed journalists hit a new global record. This year's 262 reporters in custody eclipsed last year's mark of 259, according to the committee's analysis.

The totals represent people the committee determined were incarcerated by the government as a result of their reporting activity. It doesn't include people held hostage by terrorists and other non-governmental groups. The count is a point-in-time snapshot; in this year's case, the census was taken on Dec. 1. Reporters who were taken into custody and released earlier in the year are not part of the count.

The committee works to promote freedom of the press around the world, and it's been doing the important work of carefully tracking jailed journalists cases for more than two decades.

From this year's report, two related trends stand out for me. The first is that more than half of the cases of imprisoned news reporters come from just three countries: Turkey, China and Egypt.

While all of those nations certainly have authoritarian leadership, none are isolated from the engaged global community of nations. They have active working relationships with the rest of the civilized world, including the United States.

Unfortunately, the rest of the world — including the United States — has done little to discourage the way Turkey, China and Egypt treat journalists.

"In a just society, no journalist should ever be imprisoned for their work and reporting critically, but 262 are paying that price," the committee's executive director, Joel Simon, said in a press release. "It is shameful that for the second year in a row, a record number of journalists are behind bars. Countries that jail journalists for what they publish are violating international law and must be held accountable. The fact that repressive governments are not paying a price for throwing journalists in jail represents a failure of the international community."

Regarding the United States' role in this situation under the President Donald Trump administration, a case can be made that hostility toward the concept of a free press is being fomented around the globe.

One of Trump's signature terms has been "fake news," which he frequently uses to describe coverage that he thinks is unfair or unflattering. Rarely does he actually dispute the facts in such reports; he just knows that if he labels something as a "fake" and tries to portray himself as a victim of a smear campaign by the news media, a good portion of his supporters will dismiss the information.

A large segment of the American public sees through this act, but how is it playing beyond our borders? One piece of information from the jailed journalists report provides a disturbing answer. In 2017, the number of cases of reporters put behind bars on charges of "false news" doubled to 21.

"U.S. President Donald Trump's ... insistence on labeling critical media 'fake news' serves to reinforce the framework of accusations and legal charges that allow such leaders to preside over the jailing of journalists," the committee wrote. 

As we move into 2018, we need more of the people Trump sometimes listens to — Republicans in Congress — to speak out against the policies and rhetoric that are contributing to these troubling trends.

Executive editor Jeremy Boyer’s column appears Thursdays in The Citizen and he can be reached at (315) 282-2231 or jeremy.boyer@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @CitizenBoyer

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