Testimony of ICFJ President Joyce Barnathan to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs: ICFJ's Work in Egypt

Feb 162012

Chairman Ros-Lehtinen, Congressman Berman and Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today on our distressing situation in Egypt.

The International Center for Journalists runs programs in Egypt—and around the world—that are aimed at accomplishing two key goals: raising professional standards and skills. Journalists, media managers and, increasingly, citizen journalists worldwide say they benefit from what we have to offer—practical, hands-on journalism training. We aim to marry the best professional standards with the latest digital innovations.

ICFJ is a non-governmental and non-profit journalism organization, no more, no less. We do not take political positions. We do not fund political activities, including protest movements, or support political parties or candidates running for parliament or the presidency. (Of course, the journalists we train may cover such events.) We are not an advocacy group except to advocate for good journalism. For nearly three decades, we have helped journalists provide accurate, contextual, responsible reports, whether on government, business, the arts or health.

We are funded mainly through private funds, but we receive about a third of our funding from the U.S. government. We cherish our integrity and maintain autonomy in every program. If there are strings attached, we aren’t interested.

Our view is that no matter who produces the news or what platform is used to disseminate it, journalists must uphold the highest standards. Our role is increasingly important as the players and channels for news multiply. In this cacophony of information, we arm today’s journalists—both professional and citizen—with the skills needed to provide responsible, ethical coverage so that citizens can make the best decisions in their lives. That is the case in Egypt. That is the case everywhere we work.

For this reason, we are dismayed by recent events. We have never faced charges like this anywhere—and we have worked in 180 countries. We have always been transparent with the Egyptian government about our activities. As recently as November, we informed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about all our programs as part of the registration process. Last year, our local lawyer told us that to get registered, Egyptian law required us to open an office and show activity, which we did.

Now, we are faced with indictments that charge five individuals—three Americans (who work in the U.S.) and two Egyptians—with opening an office and sending in funds without being registered. The charges falsely claim that funds were used for conducting political activities in a manner affecting Egypt’s sovereignty and national security.

We are especially concerned about the welfare of the two Egyptians who work with us. Our recently hired, young program officer, who simply does clerical work, is facing the most serious charges of all. Both Egyptians are falsely accused of accepting nearly a million dollars from us. In fact, they received a total of $74,000 to cover salaries, office rent, furniture and laptops.

The indictment against us says nothing specifically about our programs. Right now, we have two U.S. government-funded programs in Egypt. One is an initiative to help citizen journalists produce quality local news. The other program helps journalists throughout the region develop multimedia, public-service reporting projects.

We are proud of our programs in Egypt. Journalists we have mentored have produced award-winning stories on the environment, health and corruption. We have developed a guide to the best practices for blogging and a handbook on how U.S. and Arab journalists can improve coverage of one another’s society. The Egyptian government has even officially registered a national association of citizen journalists that formed as a result of our recent program.

In Egypt, we signed contracts with strong partners for all our programs. They range from the state-run newspaper Al Ahram to Ahram Canadian University. The vast majority of our trainers are highly regarded Arab journalists. We are very heartened by the strong support we have received from many of the journalists we have worked with in Egypt and beyond.

As always, we will refrain from engaging in politics over this or any other issue. We don’t tell governments, political parties or candidates what to do in Egypt, the U.S. or anywhere.

Of foremost concern is our staff in Egypt. While not arrested, as you can imagine they are under tremendous duress. We want to make sure that any resolution includes the most vulnerable people on the ground. We hope such a resolution can be found as quickly as possible.

Thank you.

Watch the full testimony here.

Click here for the remarks in Spanish.