Press freedom fighter Jodie Ginsberg expands her fight

Jodie Ginsberg was running a small free speech organization in London in 2014 when Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab walked into her office.

He had recently been released from prison for organizing democratic rallies during the Arab Spring and posting tweets that the Bahrain monarchy found offensive. He made Ms Ginsberg realize how important it was for her colleagues who remained in prison to know that people were fighting for them.

When Mr. Rajab was again thrown into prison soon after his return to Bahrain, Ms. Ginsberg held vigils outside the Bahraini embassy, ​​stayed in regular contact with his family to document his condition and campaigned vehemently for his release.

“One of the reasons my case became known internationally was Jodie,” Mr Rajab said of Bahrain’s modern capital, Manama, where he is serving the final year of his final sentence, for voicing anti-government dissent on Twitter, from home.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, one of the world’s largest press watchdog organizations, recently announced that Ms Ginsberg would become its new chair in April.

Ms. Ginsberg, veteran journalist and free speech advocate, takes over at a time when journalists are increasingly under threat, with a record number of incarcerations around the world and press freedom attacks on the rise in the United States.

It’s a challenge she’s passionate about, says Ginsberg. An optimist who has helped many outspoken artists and imprisoned activists gain international attention, she believes “journalism is essential if we are to have free, independent and tolerant societies”.

“The experience of being persecuted for your work is extremely isolating,” Ms Ginsberg said, referring to Mr Rajab’s case. “And it’s even worse if you don’t feel that people are showing solidarity.”

Growing up in a middle-class family in Potters Bar, a suburban town just north of London, Ms Ginsberg carried a pencil and paper with her as a child and regularly broadcast newscasts for her grandparents , posing as a foreign correspondent like the BBC’s Kate Adie. Hired by Reuters out of graduate school, Ms Ginsberg soon got her big break by traveling to Johannesburg as a business correspondent. Later, she ran the large London bureau of Reuters, overseeing a team of 45 reporters, writing about the 2008 banking crisis and covering the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

Although her former boss, David Schlesinger, described her as passionate and fearless, Ms Ginsberg said she never personally felt threatened because of her work. It was later, after becoming the head of a small free speech nonprofit, Index on Censorship, that she became passionate about protecting journalists, even in the seemingly least likely: the United States.

“In 2018, I was on a press freedom mission in the United States and I clearly remember these two White House correspondents talking about how they received death threats on a daily basis, as if c was normal,” she said from her home in Cambridge, England. “I was horrified.”

“It made me go from a journalist by profession to a journalist lawyer,” she said.

Ms Ginsberg has spent the past two years heading the European branch of Internews, a large non-profit organization that trains and supports freelance journalists around the world. Three days after arriving in March 2020, the company announced a trial lockdown due to a strange new global virus. Employees have still not returned to the London office.

Understanding that freelance journalists already working on shoestring budgets would need to cover the pandemic quickly, she helped launch a new fund that offered some 180 grants to journalists and news organizations around the world.

“I strongly believe that we can only make decisions about ourselves and our world if we have the information to do so,” said Ms Ginsberg, 44, a married mother of two.

The Committee to Protect Journalists was created in 1981 by two American journalists who had worked in parallel to raise awareness about the case of Alcibíades González Delvalle, a Paraguayan columnist and critic of his country’s military government who had been arrested for one of his columns.

A few weeks after their campaign, Mr. González Delvalle was released. Realizing that no other organization was monitoring press freedom from the United States, the two journalists, Michael Massing and Laurie Nadel, assembled a board of distinguished, award-winning journalists from major organizations such as The New York Times, The New Yorker, the Washington Post and CBS. Renowned CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite, recently retired, has signed on as honorary chairman of the group. Its mandate was to protect journalists outside America who did not have First Amendment shelter or ready access to human rights lawyers.

“We felt we had those protections and privileges, unlike other countries,” said Massing, who still sits on the board. “We would use our own influence and prestige in America to help journalists in other countries.”

Since then, CPJ has grown into one of the world’s leading press freedom organizations, with an annual budget of $10 million, more than 50 staff and contractors, and a global presence that stretches from the Nigerian capital, Abuja, Guatemala City and New Delhi.

In 2001, it broadened its mandate from raising awareness of journalists under threat to directly helping some of them, offering emergency funds to hire lawyers, obtain medical treatment or flee their country.

Last year, the organization helped around 60 journalists and their families evacuate Afghanistan after the Taliban seized power.

CPJ is currently assisting with the case of Jeffrey Moyo, a Zimbabwean freelance journalist who works with the New York Times and faces criminal charges under the country’s immigration law for helping two Times reporters enter the Zimbabwe last year.

The organization’s successes, however, have been overwhelmed by increasing attacks on journalists, not just in places with authoritarian governments, but in the United States, where former President Donald J. Trump has decried the press several times, a tactic he has continued since his departure. office a year ago.

When CPJ’s longtime executive director Joel Simon announced he would step down effective late last year, he said it was with waning optimism.

“The decline in press freedom has produced more cases – more journalists who need support, so you have to respond to those people,” Mr Simon said in an interview. “But if you do that exclusively, you kind of swim in place. Ultimately, you want the situation to improve. So how do you both support journalists who are currently under threat and address broader challenges to press freedom in a constructive way? »

Ms. Ginsberg agrees. “We want journalists to be safe so that people have access to a free and independent press,” she said. “And that means addressing systemic issues that threaten the safety of journalists, not just working on individual cases.”

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