February 3, 2011

The U.S. State Department has called on the Egyptian foreign minister to protect journalists after hearing from numerous news outlets that their crews have been attacked and detained as they cover the uprising in Egypt.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has condemned the attacks on journalists. Speaking to reporters Thursday afternoon, she said:

“We condemn in the strongest terms attacks on reporters covering the ongoing situation in Egypt. This is a violation of international norms that guarantee freedom of the press and is unacceptable under any circumstances.

We also condemn in the strongest terms attacks on peaceful demonstrators, human rights activists, foreigners, and diplomats. Freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, and freedom of the press are pillars of an open and inclusive society. It is especially in times of crisis that governments must demonstrate their adherence to these universal values.

There is a clear responsibility by the Egyptian Government, including the army, to protect those threatened and to hold accountable those responsible for these attacks. The Egyptian Government must demonstrate its willingness to ensure journalists’ ability to report on these events to the people of Egypt and to the world.”

At a briefing Thursday afternoon, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Philip J. Crowley told reporters that there have been no reports of American casualties.

However, he said, “there are very strong indications that this is part of a concerted effort. I can’t tell you who is directing it, but with the increasing number of instances of people roughed up, journalists’ cars attacked, offices broken into, journalists detained, these do not seem to be random events.”

Crowley also suggested that Thursday’s efforts to prevent journalists from covering the unrest could foreshadow an attempt by the Egyptian government to clear out journalists before Friday — when more demonstrators could take to the streets, increasing the prospect of confrontations.

Crowley said that the U.S. Embassy has been in touch with the foreign ministry to register “our grave concern” and seek assistance.

The State Department is monitoring reports of violence based on reports from news organizations, Crowley said.

He praised the U.S. Embassy in Egypt, which “has been terrific in having its security officers use their contacts within the Egyptian Government and others to just try to determine the status of all the journalists who have been either roughed up or detained.”

Although Crowley had tweeted earlier in the day, “There is a concerted campaign to intimidate international journalists in #Cairo and interfere with their reporting,” at the briefing he did not specify who was behind the campaign.

He did say that information from some journalists indicated that Egyptian Ministry of Interior personnel were involved in some incidents. “We have raised that information directly with the Egyptian Government,” he said. “We obviously want them to investigate these fully. We want to have the journalists released. We certainly do not want to see this continue.”

Crowley said the government is “expecting news that the reporters have been released, and we want to see a commitment by the government to do everything that they can to make sure that there is freedom to report on the ongoing events in Egypt.”

Crowley also expressed concern not only for those journalists who have been detained, but for those working where there are angry mobs. “We want to make sure that wherever journalists are there’s an adequate security presence nearby,” he said.

Journalists have been covering the unrest in Egypt since it began January 25, but reports of violence and intimidation have poured in over the last day or so. Reporters, photographers and videographers have described how they have been surrounded by mobs, beaten, and had their equipment taken from them.

ABC World News Tonight is compiling reports of intimidation against journalists, as well as arrests.

Reporters Without Borders called the situation a “witch hunt.” In a post on its website, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists said the systematic and sustained attacks documented by CPJ leave no doubt that “a government-orchestrated effort to target the media and suppress the news is well under way.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists documents and investigates reports of abuses against the press, including instances of journalists being killed while reporting. One of the four journalists confirmed dead in 2011 was Lucas Mebrouk Dolega, who was killed when he was struck in the head by a tear gas canister while photographing the uprising in Tunisia.

Steve Myers contributed to this report.

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Julie Moos (jmoos@poynter.org) has been Director of Poynter Online and Poynter Publications since 2009. Previously, she was Editor of Poynter Online (2007-2009) and Poynter Publications…
Julie Moos

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