Primary Sources

Prague Embassy cable, Embassy Protest of Attack on American Journalist During November 17-19

Description

In this November 20 cable to the State Department, the U.S. Embassy in Prague reported its formal protest of the assault on American journalists during the November 17 demonstration. Western media coverage of independent and anti-state activity had increased during 1989. By autumn, foreign media correspondents were expected at demonstrations. Dozens of international journalists covered the November 17 procession and many were wounded during the confrontation with police afterwards. The embassy's protest described injuries sustained by American citizens. While acknowledging that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had denied responsibility for foreign nationals' safety at demonstrations, the embassy asserted that police had deliberately targeted foreign journalists. Therefore the Czechoslovak government was accountable for their mistreatment. The embassy's argument highlights the contentious role foreign media played in communist countries. On the one hand, media coverage of protests damaged the party's image and it regarded the Western press as part of the anti-state opposition. On the other hand, Western governments championed freedom of speech and open access to information as basic human rights. As seen in its protest's conclusion, the U.S. embassy perceived the physical attack on media personnel as a symbolic attack on Western democratic values.

Source

Prague Embassy to U.S. Secretary of State, "Embassy Protest of Attack on American Journalists During November 17-19 Demonstrations in Prague," 20 November 1989, Cold War International History Project, Documents and Papers, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).

Primary Source—Excerpt

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1....IN CONJUNCTION WITH A DEMARCHE BY THE AMBASSADOR CONCERNING THE BRUTAL RESPONSE BY CZECHOSLOVAK POLICE TO DEMONSTRATIONS WHICH OCCURRED IN PRAGUE ON NOVEMBER 17, AND THEREAFTER, EMBASSY IS SUBMITTING A NOTE OF PROTEST CONCERNING SEVEN AMERICAN CITIZEN JOURNALISTS WHO WERE ATTACKED BY SECURITY OFFICIALS DURING THE DEMONSTRATIONS....

2. THE MINISTRY HAS TWICE INFORMED THE EMBASSY THAT IT CANNOT ENSURE THE SECURITY OF FOREIGNERS, NEITHER DIPLOMATS, JOURNALISTS NOR CASUAL OBSERVERS WHO ARE "PRESENT WITHIN THE RANGE OF UNPERMITTED DEMONSTRATIONS".... IN RAISING THE NOVEMBER 17 AND SUBSEQUENT INCIDENTS, THE EMBASSY WILL STRONGLY POINT OUT THAT THESE HAVE NOT BEEN ACCIDENTAL, BUT IN ALL CASES HAVE INVOLVED CLEAR IDENTIFICATION OF THE JOURNALISTS BEFORE THE DETENTION OR ATTACK. THEREFORE, THE GOC CANNOT DISCLAIM RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE DELIBERATE ACTIONS OF ITS POLICE SECURITY PERSONNEL.

3. THE TEXT OF NOTE FOLLOWS:

THE EMBASSY OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA PRESENTS ITS COMPLIMENTS TO THE FEDERAL MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS OF THE CZECHOSLOVAK SOCIALIST REPUBLIC AND HAS THE HONOR TO PROTEST THE TREATMENT OF THE FOLLOWING AMERICAN CITIZENS WHO, WHILE PERFORMING THEIR NORMAL DUTIES AS ACCREDITED JOURNALISTS ON THE AFTERNOON AND EVENING OF NOVEMBER 17 IN AND AROUND WENCESLAS SQUARE, WERE BEATEN BY OFFICIALS OF THE SECURITY ORGANS OF THE GOVERNMENT OF CZECHOSLOVAKIA.

MS. PAULA BUTTURINI OF THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE WAS SEVERELY BEATEN BY UNIFORMED POLICE, UNDER THE DIRECTION OF A PLAINCLOTHES OFFICIAL. SHE REQUIRED EMERGENCY MEDICAL ATTENTION AT THE FRANCISCU CLINIC FOR HEAD WOUNDS, AND RECEIVED 16 STITCHES....

MR. PAUL CONOVER OF CABLE NEWS NETWORK WAS ACCOSTED BY THREE PLAINCLOTHES OFFICIALS. HE WAS SHOVED AND STRUCK REPEATEDLY WITH NIGHTSTICKS. THE OFFICIALS DEMANDED THAT HE SURRENDER HIS VIDEO TAPE, WHICH HE DID. THEY THEN SEIZED HIS CAMERA WHICH WAS CARRIED OFF BY UNIFORMED PERSONNEL....

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IN KEEPING WITH THE AGREEMENTS OF THE CONFERENCE ON SECURITY AND COOPERATION IN EUROPE, AS WELL AS INTERNATIONALLY ACCEPTED STANDARDS OF HUMAN RIGHTS, THE EMBASSY WISHES TO CONVEY ITS STRONGEST PROTEST AGAINST SUCH DELIBERATE INTERFERENCE WITH THE LEGITIMATE CONDUCT OF INFORMATION MEDIA ACTIVITIES AND PHYSICAL ABUSE OF PERSONS ENGAGED IN NORMAL PRESS BUSINESS.

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How to Cite this Source

Prague Embassy, "Prague Embassy cable, Embassy Protest of Attack on American Journalist During November 17-19," Making the History of 1989, Item #494, http://chnm.gmu.edu/1989/items/show/494 (accessed December 19 2014, 5:45 pm).

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