Attacks On Gay Journalists On The Rise p.34

By: Debra Gersh Hernandez Worldwide incidents often go undocumented and are
rarely denounced by mainstream press defenders sp.

ATTACKS ON GAY and lesbian journalists around the world have been increasing, yet they rarely are denounced by mainstream press defenders.
According to a new report from the Committee to Protect Journalists, homosexual reporters, editors and publishers from both mass-circulation publications and those aimed at the gay community are targeted for these attacks.
Although many of these cases should be included in the annual "Attacks on the Press" investigation, they often are not reported to CPJ by its contacts, some of whom are unaware of the incidents at all, and others who do not see them as legitimate press freedom cases, even though they are.
In a new report, CPJ has documented 21 cases in 14 countries where homophobic attacks took place over the past five years.
As with all cases reported by CPJ, these involve specific press freedom abuses.
"We must always be able to demonstrate that a journalist or news organization is being attacked, prosecuted or censored as a direct consequence of their work," explained CPJ executive director William A. Orme Jr. in his introduction to the study.
The report, "Double Jeopardy: Homophobic Attacks on the Press, 1990-1995," was prepared by Moscow-based journalist Masha Gessen, a former board member of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. The study was released during the National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association conference in Washington.
Gessen found that "those who attack or seek to silence journalists or news outlets that cover gay and lesbian issues range from heads of state to criminal extortionists."
Government authorities tend to invoke censorship laws and other legal restraints, including bans on gay sex, coverage of homosexuality and child exploitation laws. Some governments also keep "pink lists" of homosexual journalists, which are used to threaten and harass them.
"Such cases have generally escaped the attention of press freedom and human rights organizations," the report stated.
"In part, this stems from the marginal position of much of the gay and lesbian press and the de facto exclusion of gay and lesbian journalists from mainstream professional journalistic communities," Gessen explained.
"Partly, too," she continued, "established groups have been reluctant to take on such cases because they raise uncomfortable questions about whether the organizations should stand up for the right to engage in sexually explicit speech or defend a journalist accused of a crime so hideous as child exploitation."
"In addition, official forces hostile to the gay and lesbian media have long capitalized on the mainstream media's discomfort with issues of sexuality to engage in attacks that are nothing more than attempts to limit press freedom and intimidate reporters," she noted.
The nongovernment assailants seem to prefer physical abuse, Gessen reported, noting, however, that police also have engaged in physical attacks.
"When a gay journalist or news outlet is attacked by a nonofficial source, such as an extremist group or urban gang, accountability rests not only with the perpetrators but also with the state in instances where the police or other law enforcement agents fail to thoroughly investigate ? and, where possible, bring to justice ? those responsible," the report stated.
Another issue is the fact that many gay and lesbian journalists consider some violence and harassment "a natural attribute of their work," Gessen explained.
All is not, however, doom and gloom.
Gessen found that gay and lesbian journalists in the United States reported that "harassment has decreased significantly over time," with fewer reports of arson, hate mail, malicious phone calls and threats of violence. Nevertheless, the report does include two incidents taking place in the U.S. during the past five years.
The first was in May 1992, when more than 2,000 copies of the San Francisco Bay Times were taken from newsracks by police.
The cover story was critical of police response to rioting in the wake of the verdict in the Rodney King beating case, and it featured a caricature of the police chief holding a police baton in a sexually suggestive way with the headline: "Dick's Cool New Tool: Martial Law."
The police chief was fired for exercising "poor judgment" in suggesting the papers be removed.
The other U.S. case chronicled in the report occurred in September 1993, when the board of supervisors ordered the library board in Fairfax County, Va., to remove copies of the Washington Blade from its branches or be disbanded. The supervisors eased their mandate after being threatened with a First Amendment lawsuit, and the two sides eventually agreed to place the papers on a higher shelf ? although the library opposed any move that would require a patron to ask to see the newspaper.
Gessen found that most of the cases which she examined involved censorship issue.
"Censorship mechanisms, such as obscenity and anti-pornography statutes, pose one of the greatest threats to press freedom anywhere, and certainly the greatest and most consistent threat to publications with gay and lesbian content," Gessen reported.
While noting that CPJ does not take positions on a country's morality standards, Gessen pointed out that obscenity statutes, designed to protect moral standards, often are turned against gays and lesbians, who are seen as threats to those standards.
Additional measures used against gays and lesbians are laws in some nations prohibiting the promotion of homosexuality.
Yet, a further obstacle is the resistance of distributors to carry gay and lesbian publications, for fear that local statutes will be turned against them, as well.
"As a result of such resistance, many gay and lesbian newspapers have opted to distribute free of charge," Gessen explained, "which in most instances means they have to fight for the legal protections that would be accorded them if they provided a product with a stated commercial value."
While some parts of the United States have improved on the distribution issue ? a 1994 Maryland law, for example, makes it illegal to take copies of a free newspaper with the intent of preventing someone else from reading it ? such protection is "far from the norm in most countries."
Among the nations cited in the CPJ report, and the actions taken against the press (in some cases, there was more than one instance of the same offense), were: Austria, censorship; Bulgaria, censorship; Canada, harassment and censorship; Greece, legal action; Hungary, harassment; India, threats; Lithuania, censorship; Nicaragua, legal action; Romania, legal action and imprisonment; Russia, legal action, harassment, imprisonment, censorship and attack; United Kingdom, censorship; United States, harassment and censorship; Yugoslavia, attack and threats; and Zimbabwe, censorship and threats.


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