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Now We Ban Journalists…

I have great respect for the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University, for which I have written articles, the most recent one in the last issue of their magazine on the future of visual journalism (my piece is here). The Foundation also offers coveted residencies for mid-career journalists to study, reflect, and expand their knowledge base at Harvard. Now an invited Colombian journalist has been refused a visa to attend by the US government, the first time that this has ever happened.

I leave it to Bob Giles, curator of the Nieman Foundation, to explain the importance of what has happened, cited from the Los Angeles Times:

“It is not uncommon for international journalists who come to Harvard University as Nieman fellows to be out of favor with their governments. They often work in countries where free expression and the rule of law exist in name only. They report in an atmosphere of danger where threats, and sometimes violence, are common tools to encourage self-censorship and silence truth-telling.

“Colombian journalist Hollman Morris has long worked in challenging conditions, producing probing television reports that document his country’s long and complex civil war. He has built contacts with the left-wing guerilla group known as the FARC and told stories of the conflict’s victims. He has revealed abuses by the country’s intelligence service and enraged government officials, including the president, Alvaro Uribe, who once called him “an accomplice to terrorism.”

“Morris was awarded a Nieman Fellowship in journalism this spring and planned to travel to the United States to begin his studies at Harvard in the fall. But then, last week, he was told by a U.S. consular official in Bogota that he was being denied a visa under the “terrorist activities” section of the Patriot Act.

“In the 60 years that foreign journalists have participated in the Nieman program, they have sometimes had trouble getting their own countries to allow them to come. The foundation’s first brush with the harsh reality of journalism under repressive regimes came in 1960, when Lewis Nkosi, a black South African and writer for Drum, a magazine for black South Africans, was awarded a fellowship. His application for a passport was denied by the country’s apartheid government. Angry and bitter, he applied for an exit visa. It enabled him to leave, but he was forbidden to ever return.

“Morris, though, is the first person in Nieman history to be denied the right to participate not by his own country but by ours. The denial is alarming. It would represent a major recasting of press freedom doctrine if journalists, by establishing contacts with so-called terrorist organizations in the process of gathering news, open themselves to accusations of terrorist activities and the possibility of being barred from travel to the United States….” (to continue reading, click here)

One Comment

  1. That’s the shame of it. A legitimate reporter who documents the side opposing the government can be labeled a “terrorist” by that government, and thus subject to denial of entry into the US or other countries that recognize the issuing country’s labeling. It’s absurd. Visa issuance should be reviewed on a case by case basis, and by someone qualified to do so.

    Sunday, July 25, 2010 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

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