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July 27 2010

15:51

Reversed: Colombian journalist Hollman Morris is free to come to Harvard as a Nieman Fellow

I’m very pleased to provide an update on the case of Hollman Morris, which I’ve written about here and here. Hollman is the noted Colombian journalist who was awarded a Nieman Fellowship to come study here at Harvard — only to have his request for a student visa rejected by the United States government. An American official told Hollman he was being rejected under the terrorist activities section of the Patriot Act; Hollman has done much courageous reporting on ties between right-wing militias and the Colombian government, which has opened him up to criticism from those he reports on.

I’m happy to say that the U.S. State Department has reversed its decision and decided to allow Hollman into the country. He’ll arrive here in Cambridge within the next few weeks and will be able to study at Harvard as we’d originally hoped.

Lots and lots of people worked hard to try to get us to this point — in the human rights world, where Hollman has been held up for years as a model reporter; in the journalism world, which can be counted on to rally around a case like his; and in the community of past Nieman Fellows who wanted to see Hollman join their number. We’re very grateful to all who got involved and argued a journalist shouldn’t be kept out of this country based on who his reporting angers. We’re also grateful for those within the State Department who recognized the need to reverse their decision.

One of the traditional highlights of the Nieman experience is the weekly “sounding.” That’s what we do every Monday night during the year: One by one, the Nieman Fellows each prepare a meal for their Nieman colleagues and spend an hour or so telling the story of their career and life in journalism. I suspect Hollman’s going to have some good stories to tell.

Here’s the press release we just put out:

United States reverses decision and grants visa to Colombian journalist

Hollman Morris to join Nieman class of 2011

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – The U.S. State Department has reversed its decision to deny a visa to leading Colombian journalist Hollman Morris. He is now free to travel to the United States, where he will begin a yearlong fellowship at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.

Reacting to the news, Nieman Foundation Curator Bob Giles said “We’re very pleased that the situation has been resolved this way. Many concerned individuals worked together to support Hollman during the past month and we’re looking forward to having him join us at Harvard. His valuable expertise and insights will be a welcome addition to our new class of Nieman Fellows.”

Last month a U.S. consular official in Bogota told Morris that he was being denied a visa under the terrorist activities section of the Patriot Act. That decision was widely condemned by individuals and groups including the Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma and others, many of whom lobbied on behalf of Morris.

An independent television journalist, Morris has reported extensively on his country’s civil war and resulting human rights abuses. His television show “Contravía” has been critical of alleged ties between the administration of outgoing Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, Colombia’s right-wing paramilitary groups and the Colombian armed forces. Uribe once called Morris “an accomplice to terrorism” for building contacts with the country’s FARC rebels in the course of his reporting. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Colombia’s largest rebel group, is on the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations.

Many journalists and human rights activists view efforts to link Morris with FARC as the Colombian government’s way to discredit his work. Last year, reports surfaced showing that Morris was one of many high profile critics of the government who were subjected to illegal wiretapping and surveillance by Colombia’s intelligence agency.

Morris has traveled to the United States a number of times in the past, has met with high-ranking U.S. officials to discuss Colombia’s human rights issues and in 2007 won the Human Rights Defender Award, presented annually by Human Rights Watch.

Established in 1938, the Nieman Foundation administers the oldest midcareer fellowship program for journalists in the world. Working journalists of accomplishment and promise are selected to come to Harvard for a year of study, seminars and special events. More than 1,300 journalists from 90 countries have received Nieman Fellowships.

In addition to administering the Nieman Fellowship program, the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard publishes the quarterly magazine Nieman Reports, the nation’s oldest magazine devoted to a critical examination of the practice of journalism, and is home to the Nieman Journalism Lab, which identifies emerging business models and best practices in journalism in the digital media age. Additionally, the foundation produces Nieman Storyboard, a website that showcases exceptional narrative journalism, and the Nieman Watchdog Project, a website that encourages journalists to monitor and hold accountable all those who exert power in public life.

July 14 2010

15:00

An update on Colombian journalist Hollman Morris

I want to give you a quick update on the case of Hollman Morris, the Colombian journalist whose visa application has been rejected by the U.S. government. Hollman was set to come here to Harvard for the next year under a Nieman Fellowship. He has produced journalism critical of the Colombian government, and that appears to have been a factor in why the State Department took the extraordinary step of preventing an honored journalist from entering the country.

My boss, Nieman Foundation curator Bob Giles, wrote an op-ed in The Los Angeles Times explaining why the State Department should reverse its decision. Read the whole thing, but here are a couple excerpts:

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.

[...]

The Nieman Foundation invites foreign journalists to join its class of fellows, in part because it is good for the U.S. participants to gain an international perspective, but also as a way of rewarding and nurturing excellence in foreign journalism. During the struggle to remove racial barriers in South Africa, Nieman Fellowships were awarded annually to South African journalists, who carried democratic and journalistic values home with them. Many went on to brazenly employ their editorial leadership to challenge the government and help bring an end to apartheid.

Several endangered journalists have come to the Nieman program from Colombia, where 43 journalists have been killed since 1992. In 2000, Ignacio Gomez, a young investigative reporter, was forced to flee after his newspaper, El Espectador, published stories in which Colombian police and military were linked with violent right-wing paramilitaries. In one of the stories, a Colombian military colonel was said to have masterminded the 1997 massacre in Mapiripan, in which right-wing paramilitaries killed nearly 30 people for allegedly supporting left-wing guerrillas. Gomez received hundreds of death threats after that article was published.

The Nieman Foundation program has been a safe, if temporary, refuge for foreign journalists like Hollman Morris, who are targets because they have challenged dictators and privileged oligarchs. Their experiences inspire others in the fellowship and beyond, and contribute to a greater appreciation of our constitutional guarantees of press freedom. It makes no sense that the U.S. government would intervene to prevent a journalist access to learning about the freedoms we so cherish.

The effort to let Hollman come to this country has gained support from both the journalism and human rights communities. The Committee to Protect Journalists sent a letter to Secretary Hillary Clinton yesterday outlining its belief that the visa rejection “damages U.S. interests in Latin America and increases risks for Morris in Colombia.” They also point to their February report on attacks on the Colombian press, which highlighted Hollman’s case:

Hollman Morris, a reporter known for his critical coverage of the country’s civil conflict, came under fire from the government after he traveled to southwestern Colombia to interview guerrilla fighters for a documentary on kidnappings. On February 1, Morris said, members of the leftist guerrilla group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) urged him to interview three police officers and a soldier who were being held hostage. The journalist told CPJ that once he realized the hostages’ answers had been coerced, he simply asked for their names and their time in captivity. The same day, FARC released the four hostages to a humanitarian mission led by the International Red Cross.

As news of Morris’ meeting with the hostages was reported, the government reacted in forceful, rapid-fire fashion. Vice President Francisco Santos Calderón said Morris had acted without “objectivity and impartiality.” Then-Minister of Defense Juan Manuel Santos called him “close to the guerrillas.” And Uribe accused the journalist of being an “accomplice to terror.”

Morris told CPJ that the accusations triggered a string of e-mail threats. On February 5, CPJ and Human Rights Watch sent Uribe a letter objecting to the loaded assertions and urging the president to put an end to comments tying journalists to any side in Colombia’s armed conflict. CPJ research has shown that such public assertions have endangered journalists. The government has often resorted to such politicized accusations, the New York-based group Human Rights First said at a March hearing of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. Colombian prosecutors, the group said, have brought dozens of unfounded and “specious” criminal investigations against Colombians, including journalists and human rights activists.

The documentarian Alex Gibney wrote a post for The Atlantic about Hollman and included a video he had shot about Hollman for Human Rights Watch. I’ve embedded the video above.

The Boston Globe had a piece noting the National Association of Hispanic Journalists’ call for Hollman to be allowed into the country. Michele Salcedo, NAHJ’s president, told the Globe: “Our government in the past has seen fit to acknowledge his very strong journalistic work, but yet we have denied his visa.”

Colombia Reports notes that the Inter-American Press Association has also called for the visa decision to be reversed and points to an article in the Colombian daily El Espectador on the situation.

And finally, this Washington Post story from a few days ago, by Juan Forero in Bogotá:

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA — In his work reporting on this country’s drug-fueled conflict, Colombian journalist Hollman Morris has met frequently with high-ranking American officials and been received at agencies from the State Department to the Pentagon.

In January, it was a lunch with State’s No. 2, James B. Steinberg, at the residence of the American ambassador in Bogota. A few months before that, he had met Daniel Restrepo, senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs at the National Security Council, to discuss alleged abuses by Colombia’s secret police.

But when Morris sought a U.S. student visa so he could take a fellowship for journalists at Harvard University, his application was denied.

July 09 2010

12:15

Colombian journalist Hollman Morris denied U.S. visa to be a Nieman Fellow at Harvard

It’s the time of year when the new class of Nieman Fellows starts arriving here in Cambridge, but we thought you should know about an unprecedented situation currently keeping one of our colleagues away. Hollman Morris Rincón, an independent journalist in Colombia, won a Nieman Fellowship this spring to study conflict negotiation strategies, international criminal court procedures, and the Rome Statute. I’ll just quote the AP:

BOGOTA, Colombia — The U.S. government has denied a visa to a prominent Colombian journalist who specializes in conflict and human rights reporting to attend a prestigious fellowship at Harvard University.

Hollman Morris, who produces an independent TV news program called “Contravia,” has been highly critical of ties between illegal far-right militias and allies of outgoing President Alvaro Uribe, Washington’s closest ally in Latin America.

The curator of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard, which has offered the mid-career fellowships since 1938, said Thursday that a consular official at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota told him Morris was ruled permanently ineligible for a visa under the “Terrorist activities” section of the USA Patriot Act.

Here’s a video of Hollman talking about human rights abuses in Colombia; here’s an interview from the Center for Investigative Reporting with Hollman and his brother and colleague Juan Pablo Morris about their work:

The Morris brothers take their cameras deep into the Colombian countryside to probe into the disappearance of thousands of individuals kidnapped over the past decade, and track efforts to unearth their graves far from the cosmopolitan capital city of Bogotá or the eyes of the international or global press. “Our aim,” Juan Pablo told us, “is to reconstruct the memory of those atrocities….Many of the people who followed the paramilitaries in the 1980s and 90s are running the country today.”

Contravia has uncovered links between paramilitary leaders and high officials in Colombian politics and finance. Thirty senators and representatives in the Colombian Congress have been imprisoned because of their ties to the paramilitary death squads; another sixty have been investigated. That’s a third of Colombia’s 268 member Congress, giving rise to a new term — ‘para-politica’ — to describe the ongoing crisis as one top politician after another is accused of complicity with the para-military squads. Most of those accused represent political parties that are part of the governing coalition led by President Alvaro Uribe.

Hollman Morris was given the Human Rights Defender Award by Human Rights Watch in 2007. He’s been forced to leave Colombia several times for extended periods after the airing of Contravía revelations. The show does not receive commercial backing; subsidies come from the Open Society Institute, the European Union and other international sources.

In February 2009, Contravía’s reporting prompted a denunciation by the government: Colombia’s Minister of Defense, Juan Manuel Santos, accused Hollman Morris on national radio of being “close to the guerillas,” after he conducted several interviews with FARC hostages who were later released. Uribe himself denounced Morris to the national press, and implied he was a member of the “intellectual bloc” of the FARC.

Santos is now the president-elect of Colombia and, ironically enough, was a Nieman Fellow himself while a newspaperman in the 1980s.

The independent website Colombia Reports reports on documents from April, allegedly from the Colombian security agency, that appear to call for surveillance and harassment of Hollman, including requesting “the suspension of visa.”

Obviously, we’re hoping this can be resolved. For decades, the Nieman Fellowships have brought journalists from around the world to Harvard to study and learn from one another in an atmosphere of open exchange. My boss, curator Bob Giles, has written to the State Department asking it to change its decision, and other forces are rallying in his support. I don’t know that we have many readers in Foggy Bottom, but if we do, we sincerely hope this won’t be the first time an American political decision has prevented a foreign journalist from studying with us.

June 14 2010

18:09

NIEMAN REPORTS: THE LAST ISSUE

niemanreports_banner

The Summer 2010 issue of the Harvard University Nieman Reports is here.

The Digital Landscape: what’s Next for News is the main topic that includes many contribution from around the world.

The full index is here and my piece here.

My headlines:

The Tablet’s Mobile Multimedia Revolution: A Reality Check

‘In my opinion, tablets, like the Internet in the past, are fantastic opportunities, not just devices on which to perform the same old tricks.’

By Juan Antonio Giner

April 06 2010

13:30

Check out the future of photography: The current issue of Nieman Reports

Written journalism isn’t the only form being radically transformed by technology. Sure, the Internet may have eliminated the monopoly that the Gotham Morning News enjoyed, and any web page could be one link away from the attention of millions. But photojournalism is also having both its distribution model and its production model changed. The old client news organizations aren’t paying any more (at least not as much). The price of quality cameras has dropped so much that a skill-less amateur can, almost by accident, create a great shot. And a good photo gets spread around the Internet so quickly that maintaining ownership — and the money that comes with it — can be almost impossible.

Those issues are some of the ones that the current issue of Nieman Reports wrestles with. Where is photojournalism headed? Is it into a headlong embrace of new technologies? Toward a business model that can sustain professional work? Or toward a model in which an army of cameraphones are good enough? As Nieman Reports editor Melissa Ludtke puts it in her intro to the issue:

Photojournalism’s destination and audience, once pre-ordained by the news organizations that paid the cost of doing business, are now in flux. Digital possibilities are limitless, but what is now required of photojournalists are an entrepreneurial mindset and a facility with digital tools. On the Web, photographs now act as gateways to information and context, to stories told by participants and conversations held by viewers.

Here are some of the stories Lab readers will be interested in:

— Ed Kashi writes about shifting to multimedia in the age of declining traditional media.

— Brian Storm talks with Melissa about the new digital distribution model for photography.

— VII’s Stephen Mayes talks about the shifting roles of photo agencies.

— Ian Ginsberg compares photojournalism’s changes to those of the music industry.

— Turi Munthe explains the digital wire service they’ve built at Demotix.

The entire issue is worth your time.

March 23 2010

09:38

#Tip of the day from Journalism.co.uk – inspiration for visual journalism

Photojournalism: The Nieman Foundation has created a fantastic resource charting developments in photojournalism, as well as some inspirational work, on its new visual journalism site. Worth a look by photojournalists - new and old. Tipster: Laura Oliver. To submit a tip to Journalism.co.uk, use this link - we will pay a fiver for the best ones published.


January 20 2010

15:00

Deadline approaching for U.S. applicants for Nieman Fellowships; take special note, business reporters

Doesn’t that look like the kind of place you’d like to spend a year?

That’s Lippmann House on the Harvard campus, where I’m lucky enough to come to work every day. It’s also the home of the Nieman Fellowships, the wonderful program that allows journalists to spend a year at Harvard, taking classes and researching the topics of their choice.

The deadline for American journalists to be part of the next class of fellows is coming up soon: January 31. (The deadline for international applicants has already passed.)

To recap, Nieman Fellows get to spend a year at Harvard, auditing whatever classes they want in any part of the university (or down the road at MIT). We pay you for the 10 months you’re here (at least $65,000, with more for fellows with children to care for). You spend the year with a couple dozen of the best journalists from around the world, your fellow fellows. The idea is to give you the chance to step away from the daily pressures of your work life and dive into the subject matters that interest you.

Some fellows use the year to focus on learning more about their beats; environmental reporters take science classes, business reporters take economics classes, and so on. Some focus on a subject far afield from what they’ve spent their careers covering, using the fellowship as a pivot point to a new career. Some use it focus on issues like those we cover here — the future of news, both financially and journalistically. (Fellows also get to spend the year working with us here at the Lab, if they choose.) It’s really up to you.

I want to give special notice to a new kind of fellowship we’re offering for the first time this year. Thanks to the generosity of the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, we’re reserving one spot in the next class for a business journalist. So if you cover business or economics and would like to spend a year learning from smart folks like the profs at the Harvard Business School, we’d definitely like to see your application.

What kind of journalist becomes a Nieman Fellow? For many years, the class was made up primarily of newspaper reporters. But as the industry has shifted, so has the class. Our current American fellows include as many freelancers as newspaper reporters, plus people from radio, magazines, wire services, and the web. (Selfishly, I’d love to see more web folks in the next class.) Folks from television and documentary filmmaking are also very much welcome. If you do quality journalism, no matter the medium, you could be a candidate.

Anyway, the deadline is 11 days away as I write this, which is still plenty of time for you to get cracking. You can apply entirely online this year for the first time. You’ll need to submit two short essays, an application form, a few recommendations, and some samples of your work — it’s not a difficult process. So get moving, and come introduce yourself when you arrive in the fall.

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