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Freedom of the Press Committee Annual Report
The OPC Press Freedom Committee is preparing for a major transition. We seek a new generation of leadership as we move into a new era, with a wider franchise to fit journalism’s new conditions.
When the new Board of Governors meets next month, FoP co-chairmen, Kevin McDermott and Jeremy Main, will step down from their leadership roles — Kevin after 15 years and Jeremy after 10. The committee thanks them for their long and dedicated service to the cause, and is grateful that they will continue to help with the work. Co-chairman Larry Martz has agreed to run the committee for another year, while looking for his replacement. During this year, we will also be exploring new ways for the committee to contribute to the defense and expansion of press freedom.
In the past year, we have written our traditional letters protesting abuses of press freedom to 31 governments, some of them as many as five times. We have focused in recent months on the events of the Arab Spring, with letters to 11 regimes in the arc of rebellion — stretching from Tunisia to Pakistan.
These letters have been an OPC franchise for more than 50 years, and are part of our “brand.” While they serve mainly to reinforce the work of such media watchdogs as the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and the International Press Institute — organizations with paid staffers who can seek out and verify new cases — we think the letters do help abused journalists and enhance the OPC’s image as an organization. On more than one occasion, the journalists for whom we have gone to bat have told us that we made a difference. We intend to keep writing letters, but not to focus on raising our output. In especially egregious cases, we will try sending e-mails to all OPC members asking them to send letters or e-mails of their own reinforcing the protest.
Among the new activities we will propose to the Board of Governors:
- More articles for the OPC Web site, the Bulletin and other publications, on current issues of press freedom. In the past year, we have conducted a forum; for example, on the Wikileaks issue, among our members on the Club’s Web site, written two interim reports on the Arab Spring uprisings, reported on the Mexican drug wars and the bogged-down prosecutions in the massacre of 31 Philippine journalists in 2009. We will look for more forum topics and more subjects for general articles.
- We will become much more active in converting such topics to blogs and postings on the OPC pages on Facebook and Twitter. This should help the OPC reach and energize a younger generation of journalists, and help the committee recruit new members interested in its work.
- The committee has already written the first of a series of quarterly reports on the state of press freedom in the world, which will appear not only on our Web site, but in World Policy Journal, the magazine of the World Policy Institute — and in other magazines around the world as we can sign them up. We will ask OPC members stationed abroad for help in focusing each quarterly issue on relevant topics and in following up on interesting or important cases.
- Working with the OPC Foundation, the committee will encourage the foundation’s scholarship winners to take an active part in press freedom work. This could include blogs and social media postings as well as pieces for the Web site on press freedom in the countries where they are posted, Q&A interviews with journalists there, or expanded reports following up on abuses we have protested.
- We will work with journalism schools, beginning in New York, to offer guest lectures and seminars on press freedom issues. We hope to find interns to help with our work, and to enlist other students in blogging, posting and tweeting about current concerns such as the recent court decision exonerating the CIA for destroying videotapes of the torture of terrorist suspects — a case that would not call for one of our traditional letters, but certainly speaks to freedom of information and accountability.
- We will explore new sources of funding for the committee’s expanded activities. We will also ask the new board members to take an active part in our work.
- To underscore the OPC’s commitment to press freedom, the committee will also recommend to the Board that its chairman should automatically serve as a de facto board member, and that the board should consider making the chairmanship an elected position.
Respectfully submitted by: Larry Martz, Jeremy Main and Kevin McDermott
Co-chairmen, Freedom of the Press Committee