Concordia's Thursday Report

Vol. 28, No.6

November 20, 2003


Reporters Without Borders helps journalists

by Heather Thompson

Emily Jacquard, director of communications in Montreal for the international press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders, responded last week with rueful pragmatism to a question about how her organization decides which journalists to help.

“As a friend of mine said, if we were an organization giving out food to the hungry, we would feed the starving ones first,” she explained in a press conference last week with students of Concordia’s Journalism Graduate Diploma program.

By the measures of Reporters Without Borders, Gao Qinrong is one of the starving.

This former journalist for the Xinhua News Agency was imprisoned almost five years ago after writing an article exposing an officially approved irrigation scam in Yuncheng City. Government officials in China, where the press is largely owned and operated by the state, sentenced Gao to a 13-year jail sentence on charges the reporter claims were trumped up to silence him.

After spending the first five years of his detention in a windowless cell, the 53-year-old’s health is steadily declining. Despite numerous attempts by Gao and his wife to achieve a reversal of his sentence, he is not scheduled to be released until Dec. 3, 2011.

Gao holds a place on Reporters Without Borders priority list. The non-profit organization sent this list of nine journalists to media outlets around the world this year in anticipation of their annual Sponsorship Day.

Jacquard said that along with International Press Freedom Day on May 3, the Sponsorship Day is one of the most important events on the Reporters Without Borders calendar.

On that day, which happens to be today this year, newspapers, radio and television stations are encouraged to document the stories of journalists who are in jail for uncovering corruption and human rights abuses in their countries. The glaring brightness of this media spotlight is intended to force the government of these countries to release the prisoners.

Jacquard, herself a graduate of Concordia’s communication studies program, was asked to speak to the journalism graduate students in honour of this event. She presented a brief history of the aims and actions of Reporters Without Borders before opening the floor to a 40-minute question period, and was impressed by the students’ response.

Jacquard found that enlisting the help of media outlets was more difficult that she imagined it would be.

“It seems logical to me: If you are journalists, you have to show your solidarity.” Recently, she had conversation with a reporter who couldn’t understand the reasoning behind the Sponsorship Day.

“He said, ‘Why talk about one jailed journalist when a thousand other people die out there every day?’ I told him that if that if we kill that journalist, nobody will know about the thousand.”

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