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Weissberg Chair Simon delivers lecture on freedom of the press

Beginning in 1999 The Weissberg Program has allowed students and community alike to engage in thoughtfully addressing global problems. This is done as Beloit College invites a leading figure in human rights for a week-long residency as Weissberg Chair. This individual speaks on and off campus and works with students in varied settings addressing a critical issue in human rights today.

This year Joel Simon, executive director of Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), was chosen as the 2019 Weissberg Chair. Simon has helped CPJ through a time of expansion, helped launch the Global Campaign Against Impunity, established a Journalist Assistance Program and led CPJ’s defense of press freedom in the digital space. Simon has also participated in CPJ missions around the world and written for publications such as Slate, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times,World Policy Journal, Asahi Shimbun, Columbia Journalism Review and The Times of India.

As discourse on media surveillance continues on campus, Simon shared his views on a more global level during his lecture on Freedom of the Press March 22 in Eaton Chapel. Opening, Simon explained that CPJ, “defends the rights to journalists to report the news freely without fear of reprisal.” He stated that although they have been doing this for 30 years, it is harder than ever and at the same time extremely vital. As journalists all over the world are being imprisoned in record numbers, they are also being killed more regularly. Simon elaborates saying, “they are being vilified, undermined, and denounced by political leaders, including our own president who routinely calls journalists ‘fake news’ and ‘enemies of the people.’”

Along with journalists, Simon also focused on the ways that media outlets are also under attack. “Technology has provided us with access to more information than in anytime in human history, but that technology is being hijacked by governments to disseminate disinformation and to track our every click. The online environment has become contaminated by hate and lies, and the media itself increasing reflects narrow partisan concerns,” Simon explained. According to Simon this decline in press freedom represents a threat to all human rights, including the right to free expression guaranteed to all people under international law.

Simon continued his lecture discussing: the origins of the global press freedom movement, it’s relationship to human rights throughout modern history, the impact of technology and the intensifying threats to journalists throughout the world.

Discussing leaders Simon called “Democratators,” he highlighted the ways that leaders can attempt to hide repression behind a democratic veneer. “[They seek] to use the legitimacy they derive from winning elections to curtail independent institutions that could constrain their power, most notably the press,” Simon explained. Also mentioning events such as the protests at Tahrir Square, Simon underlined the power media holds, and the retaliation of surveillance and censorship that can come in turn with this power.

Addressing our current position, Simon declares that we are in a new paradigm. “Trump’s anti-media rhetoric is giving solace to dictators and despots who no longer feel pressure from the U.S. and are in fact mimicking Trump’s approach,” Simon said. This can be seen by the way that journalists around the world are being jailed by false news charges.

Simon urged those in attendance to get involved saying, “In the internet age, we are all journalists in the sense that we gather and share information online. You can help us stand up for the press and the rights of journalists by following us on social media and sharing our content.” This can be done by following CPJ on Twitter @pressfreedom, or finding them on other platforms such as Instagram and Facebook. Finally, Simon encouraged everyone to use best practice when posting/sharing online, by having multiple sources, being willing to admit errors and altogether engaging thoughtfully and respectfully.

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