The feature in last week’s “Newsweek” was a personal account of Maziar Bahari’s captivity in Iran this summer. Bahari is a well-known journalist and documentary filmmaker. He was in Iran covering the June 12 election when he was arrested without charge. He was accused of being a foreign spy. He would spend the next 118 days in prison.
Bahari was released on bail in October, but still faces 15 different charges in Iran, barring him from re-entering the country. Iranian officials did not detail the reason for his release, but it is speculated that discussions between the United States and Iran a few weeks earlier in Geneva, the unstable health of his pregnant wife and international attention via petitions and media coverage were contributing factors.
His heart-wrenching account of his time in the Evin Prison in Iran is a great example of journalism, but also raises interesting questions about the protections afforded to journalists abroad. It is frightening to think the horrors he experienced could happen to any journalist.
This also reminded me of the media frenzy that ensued when Jill Carroll, a freelance reporter for the “Christian Science Monitor,” was captured in January 2006. The insurgents that abducted Carroll used her as a bargaining chip to attempt to corner the U.S. into releasing Iraqi prisoners. She was eventually released by her captors for unknown reasons.
One group, Reporters without Borders, is an advocate for such journalists. They coordinate public demonstrations demanding the release of imprisoned reporters and fight against censorship of the press. The French NGO has networks in several countries, including the U.S., and more than 120 correspondents. It has consultant status with the United Nations.
- Had you ever heard of Reporters without Borders? Do you think it’s an effective organization?
- Should the U.S. rely on outside organizations such as these to protect our journalists or should there be a more institutional procedure for American correspondents?
- Would you ever consider living in an unstable foreign country as a reporter?
Frankly, accounts such as these have led me to shy away from the prospect of being an international news correspondent. I don’t think I’m up to the risks involved. I personally feel there should be a more institutional approach by the U.S. to protect journalists. It seems that we simply respond depending on the situation, but I feel that more could be done. Additionally, I think we could make more monetary contributions and lend more political backing to organizations such as Reporters without Borders that seem to align themselves with our values of freedom of the press and freedom of speech and our position in support of human rights.