On Friday, Oct. 1, the University of Arizona School of Journalism presented the annual John Peter and Anna Catherine Zenger Award for Press Freedom to the Committee to Protect Journalists, an international organization dedicated to protecting the rights of journalists worldwide.
Executive Director Joel Simon accepted the Zenger Award on behalf of the CPJ. Simon has worked extensively with the organization for almost a quarter century and has served as its executive director since 2006.
The CPJ’s mission is to promote press freedom around the world, and they do so by utilizing both advocacy and assistance tactics. In addition to writing letters and putting out press releases, the CPJ provides direct assistance to at-risk journalists overseas through their Emergency Response Team, which provides support to journalists in a variety of ways.
The ERT provides support for families of jailed journalists, helps them evacuate from dangerous situations and aids threatened journalists in relocating within their own country.
“Everything is situational, everything is circumstantial, but the main thing that distinguishes the Emergency Response Team is this operational capability to actually save lives,” Simon told the Daily Wildcat.
Before the awards presentation, the Wildcat was able to speak with Simon, who talked about some of the biggest challenges the CPJ faces in promoting press freedom around the world.
“When it comes to imprisoned journalists, you’re dealing with states, and states have interests, Simon said, “…What’s challenging is to put enough pressure on governments that they perceive the release of journalists to be in their interest.”
Simon also spoke about the relationship between governments and journalists, and how governments around the globe feel threatened by the informational power that journalists wield.
“I feel that we live in this information age,” Simon said, “and the essential battle is over information. Governments recognize this, and they know that independent information is a threat to their power.”
He elaborated further on the ways that governments attempt to undermine the power of journalists reporting in different countries.
“In more authoritarian countries, you see direct repression,” Simon said. “In countries that are led by populist elected autocrats, you see efforts to discredit, undermine, attack, marginalize and minimize the influence of media. Together, those two forces have created an overall crisis in press freedom globally.”
Simon expressed his gratitude for the recognition of the CPJ’s work in protecting press freedom and felt honored to join the other inspiring recipients of the Zenger Award. Some other notable beneficiaries of the award include CNN correspondents Christiane Amanpour and Carmen Aristegui, CBS broadcast journalist Walter Cronkite and New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet.
“It really feels awesome,” Simon said. “I mean, I recognize that this is an award for the organization and I happen to be the leader, so I’m here to accept it on behalf of everyone. I’m looking over at the people who have received it in previous years, and I’m pretty amazed to be in that company … Most of the other recipients are journalists for whom the defense of press freedom is part of their work but it’s not their total focus, and so for us it’s a real validation that the work that we do everyday has meaning and is appreciated by the journalism community.”
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