The bumpy road ahead...
The summer months didn't see any let up in the difficulties faced by journalists around the world. The road ahead continues to be a bumpy one for those committed to the exposure of their governments' wrongdoings and the freedom of expression...
For those unfamiliar with Reporters Without Borders (http://en.rsf.org/), here's a snapshot of the work the organisation does...
"Don’t wait to be deprived of news to stand up and fight for it"
In some countries a journalist can be thrown in prison for years for a single offending word or photo. Jailing or killing a journalist removes a vital witness to events and threatens the right of us all to be informed. Reporters Without Borders has fought for press freedom on a daily basis since it was founded in 1985.
Investigate, expose and support
Reporters Without Borders:
- Defends journalists and media assistants imprisoned or persecuted for doing their job and exposes the mistreatment and torture of them in many countries.
- Fights against censorship and laws that undermine press freedom.
- Gives financial aid each year to 300 or so journalists or media outlets in difficulty (to pay for lawyers, medical care and equipment) as well to the families of imprisoned journalists.
- Works to improve the safety of journalists, especially those reporting in war zones.
• Judicial harassment in Zimbabwe- Already facing the Sisyphus like task of disseminating independent thought and observation in Zimbabwe, The Daily News is being sued for 100, 000 US dollars by former information minister Jonathan Moyo for stories quoting comments which – according to US diplomatic cables released a few days before by WikiLeaks – Moyo made to US diplomats in Harare.
This in the wake of Wikileaks’s scandalous outpour of comments revealed to be made by close allies of Mugabe about among other things, the state of his deteriorating health. The latest suit was filed the same week that the minister of media, information and publicity, Webster Shamu, warned foreign and privately-owned news media that the government would withdraw their licences if they continued their “vitriolic attacks and the use of hate language” against President Mugabe. Efforts to censor Zimbabwe's media are only likely to be ramped up in the lead up to the country's elections next year...
• Rwanda’s Predator in Paris- Kagame’s petit dejeuner à Paris was disrupted by a score of RWB activists who demonstrated outside the Ritz in September. “France seems to take pleasure in inviting predators of press freedom,” RWB’s secretary-general Jean-François Julliard said. “The climate for the media in Rwanda is so oppressive that the country is gradually losing its journalists...Two women journalists are currently serving sentences of 7 and 17 years in prison. The remaining critical media are harassed or have gone into exile.”
Rwanda is Africa’s third worst ranking country in RWB’s press freedom index, below only Eritrea and Sudan. President Kagame has been on the Reporters Without Borders list of “Predators of Press Freedom” for years.
• Peru’s third journalist killed this year: José Oquendo Reyes, an investigative TV reporter who covered local corruption, became the second Peurvian journalist to be murdered in a week. Reyes was shot dead as he was about to enter his home in Chincha. Local TV station programme director Pedro Alonso Flores Silva was gunned down in a similar fashion near his home in the northwestern city of Casma. Combating this type of impunity for the murders of journalists is essential for the future of journalism and the news media in Peru. Along wth Peru’s media freedom organizations, RWB is also calling for the immediate release of Paul Garay Ramírez, a programme producer for Visión 47 TV and a correspondent for Radio La Exitosa, who is serving an 18-month jail sentence on a charge of defaming a judge.
• Chile’s journos caught between carabineros & angry students- Explosive student demos in Chile have resulted in “Arbitrary arrests and targeted physical attacks against journalists", which until a few weeks ago had been sparse according to RWB. “The Chilean spring could get darker as it goes on, especially for the journalists, who are exposed both to the abuses of the carabinero police and the readiness of the most radical demonstrators to do battle."
The detention of Raúl Flores, the editor of the online magazine Dilemas, for six hours in Santiago is one example of the crackdown. He was following a march by secondary school students when he was arrested by a group of carabineros although he had previously explained that he was a journalist and had shown them his press accreditation. They erased all of his photos and sound recordings. This example shows how quickly the conditions under which journalists in Chile work can deteriorate.
• Burma's easing up on internet access a smokescreen? Despite access to a number of previously banned foreign news websites including Youtube, BBC, Reuters, The Bangkok Post, Straits Times, Radio Free Asia,Irrawaddy, Democratic Voice of Burma, and the Burmese version of Voice of America being unblocked (purportedly as conciliatory gestures which coincided with a visit by UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma), internet connections remain very slow. Many local news media continue to be censored or controlled by the government and TV stations, books and cartoons continue to be closely supervised.
RWB and others are still calling for the release of Burma’s imprisoned reporters including Sithu Zeya, sentenced to 18 years in prison, Ngwe Soe Lin, sentenced to 13 years, U Zeya, sentenced to 13 years, Win Maw, sentenced to 18 years, and Hla Hla Win, sentenced to 27 years.
• Australia: The control freak down under? Concerns have been raised over a proposed power shift in favour of the Australian Press Council, a regulatory body that monitors conduct and responsibility in the print media. Australia's minister for broadband, communications and the digital economy, Stephen Conroy, announced an independent enquiry into the print media that will look at the effectiveness of current codes of practices and “ways of substantially strengthening” the Press Council’s effectiveness.
RWB has stated: “Given the current tension between the Australian government and the press, which is very critical of this government, it is legitimate to wonder whether this inquiry into the print media is politically motivated" and furthermore, that "Government funding of the council, as the council’s new chairman, Julian Disney, has proposed, would cause a conflict of interest that would threaten media freedom.”
EUROPE & EX-USSR:
• Investigative journalism under fire in Turkey- Two of the country’s leading investigative journalists, Ahmet Sik and Nedim Sener, have just completed their sixth month in prison despite the trial not having commenced, on what RWB calls trumped-up terrorism charges: “Each day they spend in prison is an outrage that sullies the image of Turkish democracy.”
Their arrests triggered a wave of protests in Turkey and abroad and became the symbol of both the judicial system’s "paranoid attitude towards the media and the widespread use of pre-trial detention".
The journalists are imprisoned due to their critical coverage of an extremely sensitive subject- an alleged clandestine network of secularist military officers and ultra-nationalists known as Ergenekon that is supposed to have plotted a coup against the pro-Islamic AKP government...
Reporters Without Borders published an investigative report: http://en.rsf.org/IMG/pdf/rsf_report_turkey_2011_en.pdf
• Death threats in France- Open death threats were made against journalist Fabrice Arfi, who works for the French online newspaper Mediapart, in what RWB described as "the first time for many years, to our knowledge, that a journalist in France has complained of death threats.” Arfi is involved in a sensitive investigation into armed attacks in Karachi and began getting vague text-messages just before the appearance of his first article (co-authored by Karl Laske) about arms dealer Ziad Takieddine. The messages came from the mobile phone of Pierre Sellier, founder and chief of the economic intelligence firm Salamandre, which is close to arms and counter-espionage circles and has several contracts with the French president’s office. When Laske rang Sellier, he replied he would, “do Arfi in, I’ll smash him, I’ll beat him to a pulp, I’ll kill him, I’ll put three bullets in his head.”
So is this part of a worrying trend in France? The threats were revealed after a legal enquiry confirmed that state security officials had spied on journalists of the daily Le Monde in connection with the Bettencourt bribery scandal the paper is investigating, involving billionairess Liliane Bettencourt and former budget minister Eric Woerth. Interior minister Claude Guéant confirmed that the French domestic intelligence service (DCRI) had conducted “surveillance” of phone calls, which he said was quite different from “phone-tapping.”
RWB laments the fact that “just a few months after the new law to protect secrecy of journalistic sources was adopted it was being deliberately trampled on by the French intelligence services...to protect top government officials from embarrassing revelations. Contrary to what their lawyers have said, the authorities have spied on a journalist’s phone records to discover his sources in a blatant violation of their confidentiality."
MIDDLE EAST & NORTH AFRICA:
• Old practices die hard: Tunisia & Morocco try to gag information- After being prevented from leaving the country, Tunisian blogger and resident in France, Sami Ben Abdallah, received a summons to report “as soon as possible” to the judicial police in response to a complaint filed against him early September. Abdallah was interrogated for eight hours the next day without being allowed access to his lawyer and questioned for allegedly sending insulting SMS messages. His family said the real reason for his arrest was the acerbic criticism of the country’s current rulers that he had posted in his blog. He has also posted a serious of investigative reports about Kamel El-Taief, a businessman close to former President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.
Meanwhile, in Morocco, Mohamed Dawas, a blogger based between Tanger and Tétouan, was hit by police in the local police station after being arrested and was forced to sign a statement against his will. Many fellow bloggers and activists showed up to the first hearing in his trial in solidarity. His lawyer, Abd Essadek Elbichtawui, told RWB that Dawas was arrested on a trumped-up charge of drug trafficking and the real reason was his blog posts. “His arrest is purely political but this is unfortunately not the first case of its kind...We are hoping for a fair trial because we are convinced of his innocence.”
• Censorship reigning supreme in post-Mubarak Egypt- Worrying signs of an increasingly iron grip on Egypt's media are emerging, as Information minister Osama Heikal decided (after consultation with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) to temporarily freeze the granting of satellite TV licences to recent applicants without saying how long for. Heikal also threatened to “take legal measures against satellite TV stations that jeopardize stability and security”, in order to restore order to the “increasingly chaotic media scene."
So do these moves signal a return to the Mubarak era of media censorship? RWB stated that "Since taking over after Mubarak’s removal, the Supreme Council has repeatedly taken decisions that negatively affect media freedom in Egypt, endangering something that Egyptians fought hard for during their 18-day uprising, with numerous bloggers being interrogated and prosecuted."
PRESS FREEDOM BAROMETER:
• 41 Journalists killed
• 2 media assistants killed
• 157 journalists imprisoned
• 9 media assistants imprisoned
• 122 netizens imprisoned
QUOTE OF THE MONTH
"Freedom of expression is the foundation of human rights, the source of humanity, and the mother of truth." LIU XIAOBO, Chinese dissident and winner of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize