Every day journalists put themselves in peril to do their jobs, facing threats like murder, kidnapping, violence, harassment, intimidation, and more.
Today, World Press Freedom Day, we honor those who risk their lives in order to hold power to account.
The National Press Club hosted a virtual discussion exploring significant developments in press freedom cases impacting recent John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award honorees. Every year, the National Press Club and the Journalism Institute bestow the press Freedom Award upon journalists who bravely disclose the truth in trying circumstances.
2015 John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award honoree
This has been a momentous year in the Austin Tice case, especially in the last 48 hours, Bill McCarren, Executive Director of the National Press Club and board member of Reporters Without Borders U.S., said.
Since August 2020, the Washington Post has led a campaign dedicated to ensuring the safe return of Tice.
Tice, a veteran U.S. Marine Corps captain and award-winning journalist, was detained near Damascus in August 2012, three days after his 31st birthday, while covering escalating conflict in the region. The U.S. government believes he is alive and being held by an affiliate of the Syrian government.
His case has now gone across three U.S. presidential administrations.
“Getting on the president’s to-do list is a vital thing,” McCarren said. “The Tices have been at this in a vigorous way.”
Emilio Gutiérrez Soto
2017 John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award honoree
Mexican journalist Emilio Gutiérrez Soto fled to the United States in 2008 after he received a report that Mexican military personnel were trying to kill him for his reporting on local corruption. His requests for asylum have all been denied and his case is under appeal.
“The current administration has the opportunity to right a multi-year wrong,” said Kathy Kiely, Lee Hills Professor of Press Freedom Studies at the University of Missouri and former reporter for USA Today.
Gutiérrez Soto entered the United States legally and has not been granted asylum despite the threats to his life. He has instead been imprisoned twice in immigration detention cells — the second time following a speech at the National Press Club.
The Department of Homeland Security has not offered a reason for detainment. As a result, the National Press Club, along with lawyers from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the internal communications regarding Gutiérrez Soto to find out why he has been imprisoned.
“We’re in this for the long haul. And so are many great lawyers,” Kiely said.
2020 John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award honoree
Nobel Peace Prize recipient and Rappler CEO Maria Ressa continues to be the target of repeated efforts by the government of President Rodrigo Duterte to silence her. She was convicted in the Philippines in 2020 on trumped-up charges of cyber libel, and has emerged as one of the leading voices for press freedom and independent journalism in the world.
“Just because you have won the Nobel [Peace Prize], it is not as strong of a shield as we’d like,” Kiely said. “We have to keep talking about this case. Because the enemies of press freedom would like nothing more than all of us to get exhausted and stop talking about it.”
Jason Rezaian, Washington Post Global Opinions writer, author of the book: “Prisoner,” and producer of the podcast “544 Days”, added that Ressa’s case illustrates how the Philippines has been a test site for big technology companies with little oversight. She’s been “sounding the alarm” for years about the need for regulation on hate speech.
2021 John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award honoree
Journalist Danny Fenster was detained in Myanmar from May to November 2021. He was managing editor of Frontier Myanmar when he was arrested at Yangon International Airport while traveling to Michigan to see family.
Fenster was released from Insein Prison following diplomatic discussions between former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Bill Richardson and General Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar’s Commander in Chief.
“I think it’s important for people to understand that the choice to go into difficult societies and report is one that the vast majority of us take, understanding the risks that it poses to our safety,” said Rezaian, who was held captive in Evin Prison in Iran from July 2014 until January 2016 and was a 2015 John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award honoree. “We do that knowingly because it’s that important to us.”
The 2022 Aubuchon honorees will be announced later this year and recognized at the Fourth Estate Gala this fall.
Watch the full World Press Freedom Day discussion here: