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The methodology used by The Committee to Protect Journalists leaves a little to be desired.  I have to say, aside from their weird creepy singling out of Russia, I've little reason to accuse them of malice (unlike Freedom House, which is obviously politically motivated).  According to their website, "CPJ is funded solely by contributions from individuals, corporations, and foundations."  They don't accept government funding.  But individuals, corporations, and foundations are perfectly capable of having self-serving agendas.  It would be nice if they actually told us who those, say, corporations are.  Also their board of directors seems clean, impressive even, if you ignore the fact they're mostly hotshot American media celebs.  I have to take a deep breath and say "ohm" before I let a ombudsman of the WaPo lecture me about journalistic integrity.   In fact, I'm sure CPJ wants to make the world a better place.  

Exile: Liars without Borders

The site of the Committee to Protect Journalists has a section outlining its methodology:

CPJ applies strict journalistic standards when investigating a death. We consider a case "confirmed" only if we are reasonably certain that a journalist was killed in direct reprisal for his or her work; in crossfire; or while carrying out a dangerous assignment. We do not include journalists who are killed in accidents--such as car or plane crashes--unless the crash was caused by hostile action (for example, if a plane were shot down or a car crashed trying to avoid gunfire).

We include only confirmed cases in our database and in the statistical analysis above.

If the motives are unclear, but it is possible that a journalist was killed because of his or her work, CPJ classifies the case as "unconfirmed" and continues to investigate to determine the motive for the murder.

But the CPJ list for Russia included, for example, Yury Shchekochikhin, who died in 2003 from acute allergic reaction, in somewhat suspicious circumstances. Despite this he was declared a "confirmed" case by the CPJ. Also placed in the "confirmed" category was Ivan Safronov of Kommersant, who fell out of a window in February 2007. Whether it was a suicide or a foul play (and whether it was related to his work) is still not clear, but it was suspicious (he had been working on a story about secret Russian weapons sales to Syria). Another reporter included in the database as "confirmed" was Ilya Zimin, who was murdered after making homosexual advances on a Moldovan migrant worker whom he met in a bar and brought back to his apartment. Pavel Makeyev was fatally struck by a car in 2005 - yet he is included in the "confirmed" category of journalists murdered on the job. Vyacheslav Ifranov died in his garage from monoxide poisoning without any evidence of a foul play - yet he is also in the CPJ list.

When you look at this table what becomes immediately clear is that the CPJ has two distinct ways of judging journalists' deaths based on where they happen. In countries like Russia, Belarus, or Iran, the cases of "confirmed" journalist deaths as a reprisal for their work, the CPJ includes death by any circumstance whatsoever. But in most other countries, a journalist has to either be directly assassinated or die in a war to be listed as "confirmed" killed for his work; no journalists anywhere else in the world are set up for car crashes, suspicious suicides or sudden illnesses for their work. The difference in criteria is huge. The CPJ includes lists those journalists whose death was without any doubt related to their work. For Russia, in contrast, even the slightest suspicion about a journalist's death automatically qualifies his name to appear in the database of the "regime's victims" (this trend really started in earnest after 2002).

The blog "Russia in the media" has an analysis of the 17 "confirmed" cases of journalists killed in the line of duty in Russia since 2000:

An Audit of the Committee to Protect Journalists Claims

In summary, CPJ claims that 17 journalists were killed in Russia in since 2000 due to their professional activities. Examination of each case found that out of 17 claims, only 5 were correct (Domnikov, Khasanov, Klebnikov, Makeev, Politkovskaya), 8 were complete falsifications (Skryl, Ivanov, Scott, Shchekochikhin, Sidorov, Kochetkov, Maksimov, Safronov), and 4 were partial falsifications (Yatsina, Yefremov, Markevich, Varisov). If we assign the truthfulness value of 50% to partially falsified claims, the overall truthfulness rate of CPJ, given this sample, is 41%. Clearly, CPJ's definition of "strict journalistic standards" as being only 40% truthful is at variance with what any reasonable person would expect. But it is very much in line with what one would expect from a propaganda outlet.

Of course, the desire to protect journalists' lives is very noble. But the end does not justify the means. Engaging in outright falsifications while making the outrageous claim that "strict journalistic standards" are being followed discredits journalism as a profession and raises the obvious question of why should any special emphasis be placed on protecting that kind of people?


For fun, you can look at Freedom House's Freedom of the Press Index for 2009.  Italy's no longer free. :(


"Talking nonsense is the sole privilege mankind possesses over the other organisms." -Dostoevsky

by poemless on Mon May 4th, 2009 at 12:29:33 PM EST

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