LA Press Freedom Week Wrap

by Meher Tatna September 23, 2019
Lester Holt, Sewell Chan, Marina Walker Guevara, Errin Haines Whack and Leon Krauze

Lester Holt, Sewell Chan, Marina Walker Guevara, Errin Haines Whack and Leon Krauze

Armando Gallo/HFPA

On January 7, 2017, Meryl Streep, in her Cecil B. deMille Award acceptance speech at the Golden Globes, addressed the Hollywood Foreign Press Association directly.  “You . . . belong to the most vilified segments in American society right now. Think about it. Hollywood, foreigners, and the press. . . We need the principled press to hold power to account, to call them on the carpet for every outrage. That’s why our founders enshrined the press and its freedoms in our Constitution. So, I only ask the famously well-heeled Hollywood Foreign Press and all of us in our community to join me in supporting the Committee to Protect Journalists. Because we’re going to need them going forward. And they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.”

And we did. The members of the HFPA voted to expand our philanthropy to encompass journalism, granting $1 million to the Committee to Protect Journalists and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press over the next two years.

Further extending our support of these organizations, the HFPA, in collaboration with the Los Angeles Times, envisioned LA Press Freedom Week, a week-long slate of events to shine a spotlight on the vital work of the first three organizations which share a common goal: to allow journalists to do their work without threats, coercion, intimidation, incarceration, torture or even murder. Thus Press Freedom Week showcased conversations on the subjects of free speech and the protection of the First Amendment to highlight the work that the organizations do by engaging the public and the journalism community in and around Los Angeles. The statistics are dismal. This year alone, 16 journalists were killed for doing their jobs. The number in 2018 is 94, with 3 missing, 60 held hostage and 348 detained.

Three marquee events of PFW were sponsored by the HFPA. Various satellite events grew around them sponsored by other media organizations including FilmAid/Internews, The Hollywood Reporter, NBC News, the Los Angeles Times, PEN America, KCRW, KPCC, and LAist.

The inaugural event was a panel discussion at the Paley Center for Media moderated by HFPA member Ramzy Malouki (West Coast news bureau chief for CNews, Canal Plus group) on Press Freedom and Elections. Panelists Kathleen Carroll, Maria Ressa, Terry Tang and Blanka Zöldi discussed the challenges for journalists and threats to press freedom and democracy that emerge around elections both globally and in the United States. 

Ressa, Time magazine’s 2018 Person of the Year, has faced down misinformation, death threats and nonstop harassment for covering the Duterte government in the Philippines ever since she started Rappler.com, an online news site. She discussed the direct effect social media has had on elections and the spread of false information.  Carroll, who chairs CPJ’s board, spoke on how developments in technology and the rise of social media have had effects on journalists working in combat zones. In a time when the press has been called the enemy of the people, Zöldi, an investigative reporter for Direkt 36 of Hungary, spoke about ways in which journalists can band together and collaborate, especially in the context of a press conference where, if a question is not answered, that it be repeated until it gets answered by the rest of the press corps.  Tang, who is the deputy Op-Ed Editor of the Los Angeles Times addressed the challenges of covering political news in this era, likening it to 3-D chess – dealing with the horse race of political candidates, doing policy analysis, and deciding where to allocate resources in responding to the constant flow of news events.

The second marquee event was held at the Los Angeles Central Library downtown on the subject of Press Freedom and Diversity. It was introduced by Los Angeles Times Editor-in-Chief, Norman Pearlstine, and moderated by NBC Nightly News and Dateline NBC anchor Lester Holt. Panelists Sewell Chan, Marina Walker Guevara, Leon Krauze, and Errin Haines discussed the meaning of diversity in media and how it can influence the information we read, hear, watch and share.

Haines, a reporter covering race issues for the AP, discussed the increase in diversity throughout newsrooms, especially in the wake of the 2016 election. “I think that what a lot of newsrooms are realizing is that we simply are not in a post-racial environment. If anything, we’re in a hyper-racial environment.” She added that while it may not be a good time to be a person of color, it’s a very good time to be a journalist of color. Krauze, a Univision anchor and columnist for The Washington Post, spoke about how his newsroom handles speaking to a widely diverse audience, even within the Hispanic community. Walker Guevara, Director of Strategic Initiatives for ICIJ, related how a professor in journalism school advised her to lose her Argentinean accent if she hoped to succeed in her profession. Chan, Deputy Managing Editor of the Los Angeles Times stressed the importance of keeping the focus on the story rather than the journalist in a politically fraught environment.

The closing night’s panel was held at UCLA School of Law’s Ziffren Center for Media, Entertainment, Technology, and Sports Law, and was titled Cross-Border Legal Threats to Press Freedom. The panel was introduced by Dean Jennifer Mnookin and moderated by Dale Cohen, director of the Documentary Film Legal Clinic at UCLA School of Law. Panelists included Mónica Almeida, Bruce D. Brown, Agnès S. Callamard and David Kaye.

Callamard, one of the two UN Special Rapporteurs along with Kaye on the panel, spoke to the audience about the process she undertook before issuing her findings into the killing of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi saying, “Khashoggi’s killing was premeditated and the result of elaborate planning involving extensive coordination and significant human and financial resources. It was overseen, planned and endorsed by high-level officials.” Brown, Executive Director of RCFP, made note of the attempts by the Trump administration to prevent the merger of Time Warner and CNN, and the targeting of Amazon because of Trump’s war with the Washington Post. He also referred to the invoking of the Espionage Act in the case of Julian Assange, a development that will have a chilling effect on whistleblowers, in his opinion. Almeida, Quito bureau chief of El Universo, spoke about the conditions that journalists labored under in the previous authoritarian regime of Rafael Correa in Equador -- ten years of journalists treated as corrupt, lying and anti State; lawsuits to force bankruptcy by a state-controlled judiciary. And Kaye spoke about three worrisome trends that he has been monitoring.  First, the redefinition of journalism as a threat to national security, the redefinition of reporting as political opposition, which he described as a fundamental threat to journalism, and the moves by countries like Singapore to prohibit and criminalize the dissemination of false information, which he saw as a problem because it leads to pressure on the sharing of legitimate information and a kind of politicization of journalism.

Please click here for videos of the three events.