By Nicole Mitchell
The Santa Fe Convention Center was the center of activity when more than 50 international journalists, and reporters from across the country and the state attended the Journalism Under Fire three-day conference. Sponsored by the Santa Fe Council on International Relations, this conference sought to facilitate dialogue around issues of press freedom in the United States and beyond. This unique event explored the question of “are we free without a free press?”
Each day of the conference centered around three interrelated themes. The first day’s agenda was “Freedom of the Press, Fake News, Persecution, and Exile.” The second day’s theme was “Journalism at the U.S.-Mexico Border and Around the World.” The final day of the conference featured dialogue regarding “The Challenges for Local Journalism: Corporatization, Consolidation and Change.”
The conference featured talks from various journalists. The first day included a session titled “Challenges for Women Journalists around the Globe: from Ensuring Diversity to Combatting Harassment.” One of the speakers featured was Indigenous freelance journalist Jenni Monet of Laguna Pueblo, Ann Cooper of the Columbia University School of Journalism and Hannah Allam of Buzzfeed.
The highlight of the second day of the conference was the Citizen Exchange Circles session. The international journalists selected to attend the conference participated in small group discussion
regarding the status of journalism in their respective nations. One of the round table discussions featured journalists Soukthavy Thephavong of Pathet Lao News Agency and Thi Thanh Ha Pham of Vietnam Digital Television. Each of these individuals work for state-run news media organizations.
One of the discussion topics was the impact that being a government-funded media outlet has on potential censorship. Each of the journalists indicated that censorship was not necessarily an issue for them regarding their stories. Pham shared, “we cover all news in our country… I don’t think we are censored. Social media is very free in our country and people can say what they want there.”
Conversely, Christelle Meledje of Radio Télévision Ivoirienne indicated that criticisms of the government or government officials is not considered acceptable within her news organization. This can present challenges when featuring guests on television shows ”“ especially within a live broadcast setting.
The conference occurred on the heels of the Jamal Khashoggi scandal and several journalists who had experienced persecution or censorship were in attendance. The issue of imprisoning and criminally charging journalists for performing their professional responsibilities drove the talks offered at the conference. Jenni Monet, was among the many journalists who was detained and faced criminal charges while covering the Dakota Access Pipeline protest at Standing Rock in North Dakota.
Students in the IAIA journalism class attend the event on the second day and were able to network with other Native American journalists and professionals invested in furthering Indigenous media.
The Journalism Under Fire conference also addressed issues such as “fake news,” the role of journalism in democracy, the status of women journalists, and maintaining a free press. The conference partners included the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF), the Santa Fe New Mexican, the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande Chapter, the New Mexico Press Association, and KSFR.