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Dark Times For Press Freedom, It's True

Dangerous job
Dangerous job
Jillian Deutsch


PARIS — Someone, somewhere will probably call this fake news.

Reporters Sans Frontières, a Paris-based organization for the protection of journalists and free expression, released its latest annual World Press Freedom Index this morning, and … little good news to report. The Index, which tracks criteria like harassment and violence against journalists and laws protecting reporters and sources in 180 countries, found that nearly everywhere, things got worse in 2016 for journalists.

Among the findings, democratic nations are electing "strongmen," who are using their newfound power to target the press. This has perhaps gotten most attention in the U.S., which fell two spots as newly elected President Donald Trump targeted the press directly, and all of society wrestled with so-called "fake news," "post truth" and alternative facts. But the U.S. is not alone. France's current election is the latest stage on which to watch politicians rail against the press and citizens share false news reports. We'll see where the country stands in next year's report.

Other democracies like Canada, Poland and New Zealand slipped in the rankings following an increasing "obsession with surveillance and violations of the right to the confidentiality of sources." How they've done this varies by country. Germany extended mass surveillance by the government without an exception for journalists; New Zealand passed a law punishing information leaks with a five-year prison sentence; and in Canada, Quebec police spied on at least six investigative journalists.

That the state of press is linked to political changes shouldn't surprise anyone.

But a far more troubling country for press freedom was Turkey, where the government has jailed more than 100 journalists following the July 15 failed coup and the subsequent rise in authoritarian rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Finland and Eritrea both lost their multi-year streaks as the best and worst places for reporters after the Finnish prime minister attempted to halt a news report on a conflict of interest and Eritrea allowed a (closely monitored) film crew into the country, even though it still keeps journalists locked up in secret jails. The respective best and worst places for press freedom in 2016 were Norway and North Korea.

For the Index, published annually since 2002, there were two bright spots this year worth noting: Gambia, which expelled an autocratic president and removed restrictions on previously censored newspapers; and Colombia, where not a single journalist was assassinated for the first time in seven years.

That the state of press is linked to political changes shouldn't surprise anyone. But while we may have sensed that 2016 was a bad year for press freedom, the latest Reporters Sans Frontières rankings now offers some solid evidence that, yes, this news is very real.

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Migrant Lives

They Migrated From Chiapas When Opportunities Dried Up, Orchids Brought Them Home

An orchid rehabilitation project is turning a small Mexican community into a tourist magnet — and attracting far-flung locals back to their hometown.

They Migrated From Chiapas When Opportunities Dried Up, Orchids Brought Them Home

Marcos Aguilar Pérez takes care of orchids rescued from the rainforest in his backyard in Santa Rita Las Flores, Mapastepec, Chiapas, Mexico.

Adriana Alcázar González/GPJ Mexico
Adriana Alcázar González

MAPASTEPEC — Sweat cascades down Candelaria Salas Gómez’s forehead as she separates the bulbs of one of the orchids she and the other members of the Santa Rita Las Flores Community Ecotourism group have rescued from the rainforest. The group houses and protects over 1,000 orchids recovered from El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve, in the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas, after powerful storms.

“When the storms and heavy rains end, we climb to the vicinity of the mountains and collect the orchids that have fallen from the trees. We bring them to Santa Rita, care for them, and build their strength to reintegrate them into the reserve later,” says Salas Gómez, 32, as she attaches an orchid to a clay base to help it recover.

Like magnets, the orchids of Santa Rita have exerted a pull on those who have migrated from the area due to lack of opportunity. After years away from home, Salas Gómez was one of those who returned, attracted by the community venture to rescue these flowers and exhibit them as a tourist attraction, which provides residents with an adequate income.

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