Beloit College program will focus on free press

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BELOIT - Protecting journalists and combating "Fake News" news is the goal of Beloit College's 2018/2019 Weissberg Chair in International Studies.

Joel Simon has been the executive director of Committee to Protect Journalists since 2006. The committee is an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide and defends the right of journalists to report the news without fear of reprisal.

Simon will be in Beloit and on campus from March 18-23 to interact with students, faculty and the community.

The public is invited to two events during Simon's residency. The first is Simon's "Freedom of the Press" lecture at 7:30 p.m. on March 22 at Eaton Chapel.

Beth Dougherty, chair of the Weissberg Committee and Manger professor of international relations, said the lecture will be focused on the state of press freedom globally.

"The idea is talking about the challenges journalists face now, where many people will dismiss them as fake news," Dougherty said.

She said this includes the added importance of fact-checking stories. This will be touched upon further in the second public event: A panel discussion called "Valuing the Fact and Truth in the Age of Fake News," which will be from 10 a.m.- noon on March 23 at the Moore Lounge inside Pearsons Hall.

The panel will consist of Jeffrey Gottfried, senior researcher at the Pew Research Center; Dee J. Hall, managing editor at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism; Angie Drobnic Holan, editor of PolitiFact; Lori Robertson, managing editor of factcheck.org; and Simon.

Dougherty said talking about journalists' role in society right now is more important than ever, which led to Simon's Weissberg Chair appointment.

"We thought it was critical with the climate concerning the press globally and in the United States," Dougherty said. "Over the last few years there's been an erosion of press freedoms, not just in the usual suspects like North Korea, but even in areas that have been seen as democratic."

She points to Poland, Hungry and Serbia as countries in Europe that have experienced deterioration of the free press.

"If people don't have access to information, they can't make good decisions as citizens," Dougherty said.

One of the Committee to Protect Journalists' missions is to track the arrested and killed due to their work.

The organization found that 54 journalists were killed and 251 journalists were imprisoned in 2018.

Dougherty said it was Simon's work with the nonprofit as well as his other credentials that made him the perfect candidate for the Weissberg Chair position. He spent 10 years working in Latin America, offering a more global approach to his work in protecting journalists.

Also, his new book "We Want to Negotiate: The Secret World of Kidnapping, Hostages and Ransom," explores the question of whether or not governments should pay ransom to terrorists.

Dougherty said this book hits home with many in the Beloit community, as journalist Luke Somers, a Beloit College alumnus, was captured and killed by an al-Qaida group in Yemen.

In addition to his two public engagements, Simon will be speaking to classes and breaking bread with both students and faculty during his stay in Beloit.

"Any student who wants to be a journalist will have many opportunities to speak with Joel in groups and individually, and that's one of the best parts of this program," Dougherty said.

Beloit College offers a journalism minor. For the second year, the college also is offering a standalone media studies major.

From its beginning in 1999, Beloit College's Weissberg Program has hosted a leading figure in human rights on the world stage for a short residency as Weissberg Chair. This individual speaks to audiences on and off-campus, discusses a critical issue with experts and practitioners in public forums and interacts with members of the campus in a variety of formal and informal settings.

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