WaPo Editor Warns of Global Assault on Free Expression

Nov 112014
  • Baron said "now is a moment to consider how to better protect our people and our mission." (Photo by Alexander Morozov)

Washington Post executive editor Martin Baron said “serious attention” should be given to the safety of journalists because autocratic governments and terrorist groups alike “see killing, kidnapping, maiming, and jailing reporters as all in a day’s work.”

He said governments around the world were also using suppression, surveillance and intimidation to prevent journalists from doing their work.

Baron issued his call to action during a keynote speech to nearly 600 media leaders and luminaries at the International Center for Journalists' (ICFJ's) 30th Anniversary Awards Dinner.

He said the fate of two independent journalists executed by the Islamic State this year “made horrifyingly clear the risks that journalists now face in telling the world what they see.”

Referring to reporters James Foley and Steve Sotloff, whose public beheadings shocked the world, Baron said the executions “stood also as a metaphor for the sinister designs of all those who do violence to journalism itself – silencing those who arm themselves with nothing more than pen, camera and keyboard.”

Baron, a Pulitzer Prize-winning editor who took the helm at the Post in 2013, said the situation requires urgent attention.

He said the global assault on free expression included the brutal murder of journalists from Mexico to the Middle East, the suppression of information by world powers such as Russia and China, and the efforts of some authoritarian states to unplug their populations from the Internet.

Even the United States was slipping, he said, despite its special role in promoting press freedom, as the government has become “addicted” to classifying documents that should be available to the public.

“Governments worldwide are making our work harder through obstruction, surveillance, intimidation,” he said.

“This deserves our serious attention, especially today, when we celebrate journalists of courage and achievement. We need eyewitnesses and honest accounts. The world cannot be covered from the office. It cannot be explained solely by reading books and studies. In short, we need real reporting.”

Baron said he didn’t have the answers, but urged industry leaders to work together to develop some soon.

“Now is a moment to consider how to better protect our people and our mission. What technology do we need? What new training must we provide? How do we build professional support networks that are faster, more nimble, more effective? How do we report safely when so much and so many conspire to defeat us?”

ICFJ announced during the awards dinner that Pamela Howard, a trustee of the Scripps Howard Foundation and vice chair of ICFJ’s board of directors, would match every dollar donated, up to $300,000. ICFJ said some of the funds will be used to improve digital safety for journalists.

Watch the video or read his remarks.