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Parents of detained journalist James Foley mark World Press Freedom Day

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Parents of detained journalist James Foley mark World Press Freedom Day

  • John and Diane Foley
    Kevin D. Grant/GlobalPostJohn and Diane Foley

John and Diane Foley know ground truth.

They know it through the passion of their son, James Foley, a talented freelance journalist who has provided GlobalPost with award-winning video coverage of the Arab Spring and its bloody aftermath in Libya and Syria. Foley went missing while reporting in Syria on Thanksgiving Day and has not been heard from since.

And so Diane and John, the parents of a big, warm family of five children who hail from New Hampshire, know all too well the sober, serious risks of ground truth. They've known it far too well for the last 162 days since Jim went missing.

When they lit the candle of remembrance at the Overseas Press Club last week, John and Diane honored the reporters around the world like their son who have risked their lives for their jobs, who are missing at this moment, and in 2012, which was the most deadly year on record —133 died pursuing ground truth. And now despite the consuming, sleepless worry they and their family and all of James' loved ones are going through, they try to understand how it is that their son is so drawn and dedicated to the mission of ground truth.

Today, on World Press Freedom Day, anyone who cares about international reporting and those who carry out ground truth around the world needs to take a minute to join the Foleys to voice their support in the call that those holding James Foley release him and allow him to return to his family.

Today at our Boston office, CEO and co-founder Phil Balboni hosted an event titled "Silenced Voices: When Conflict Journalists Go Missing" which was attend by the Foley family and intended to highlight their effort to keep their son's case — and the case of all of those journalists missing or killed while trying to do their jobs — on the front burner for all of us who care about press freedom.

"We remain very hopeful of Jim's release and we remain totally committed to bringing Jim home safely to his family," said Balboni.

Balboni also made news, saying that there is growing information that Foley is being held by the Syrian government:

"With a very high degree of confidence, we now believe that Jim was most likely abducted by a pro-regime militia group and subsequently turned over to Syrian government forces."

He made the remarks before a gathering of supporters and media who also watched Foley's powerful video pieces from Libya and Syria and were joined in a panel discussion by five prominent international journalists, including David Rohde, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, formerly of the New York Times and now with Reuters, who was captured by the Taliban and escaped.

While Foley remains missing in Syria, there are 232 other journalists around the world who are imprisoned for their work, according to the Center to Protect Journalists.  And 982 journalists have been killed — more than half of them with impunity and no recourse to justice — in the process of doing their work since 1993, according to CPJ, and 17 have been killed so far this year.

As a co-founder of GlobalPost and as an editor working with dozens of freelancers around the globe, today is a reminder of the extraordinary responsibility we have to be sure that journalists we send into areas of conflict need to have adequate training and resources to do their jobs safely. To set standards and clear expectations of our people in the field, GlobalPost has since launch relied on a field guide which is made available to correspondents titled GroundTruth and which includes a poignant essay by Jim Foley from 2011. 

Today, Balboni strongly confirmed GlobalPost's commitment to this obligation to provide support to correspondents, whether staff or freelance. And this week GlobalPost announced 27 reporting fellowships to help train the next generation of foreign correspondents and to provide them with the resources they will need to tell the stories that matter. The initiative is to be called The GroundTruth Project. And today, I am in Ottawa, Canada at the invitation of UNESCO to discuss GroundTruth and the rising perils for journalists covering conflicts in the digital age.

John and Diane Foley spoke to the gathering at GlobalPost in Boston today and they began by talking about how their son was only one of the 232 journalists around the world held captive in Russia, China, India, Afghanistan, across Africa, in Colombia and in Syria. These missing journalists are from dozens of different countries and they are united by a faith in the belief that reporting from the ground is not only a calling for many journalists, but an urgent need for anyone who cares about freedom and about holding those in power to be accountable. 

Diane spoke about the cycles of "anger" and "terror" and "hope" that the family has gone through in the months since Jim has gone missing, the second time he has been abducted. The first time was in Libya in 2011 when he was held for 45 days before being released.

As John Foley put it so well and so simply today, "Journalists play a role in bringing the light of truth to the darkness of suffering around the world. Jim convinced us that reporting on the ground was his passion. We remember Jim and all the other journalists still in captivity today."

This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

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