Inter Press Service » Press Freedom http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Wed, 26 Apr 2017 05:14:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.17 Worrying about Fake News Has Become All the Ragehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/worrying-about-fake-news-has-become-all-the-rage/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=worrying-about-fake-news-has-become-all-the-rage http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/worrying-about-fake-news-has-become-all-the-rage/#comments Wed, 26 Apr 2017 05:10:52 +0000 Farhana Haque Rahman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150153 By Farhana Haque Rahman, Director General, Inter Press Service
ROME, Apr 26 2017 (IPS)

Rogue interests, perhaps even foreign, are said to be trying to interfere with the electoral process in the U.S. and European Union members. Senior government officials glibly endorse what they themselves call “alternative facts” and even openly describe the media as their enemy.

Farhana Haque Rahman

Farhana Haque Rahman

Social media platforms, seen as the primary distribution vector for this plague, are under pressure to police their content.

However, the history of journalism is full of stories of distortions, many of them in prestigious publications. Benjamin Franklin once produced – in wartime – a fake newspaper to distribute a fake story.

At root, the current fake-news epidemic is a symptom of growing distrust in media. It also reflects a widespread contempt for expertise, which poses a special challenge for organizations like IPS, where for decades we have sought to chronicle the complex and often slow-moving travails of development in the global South.

The press, which should by nature be profoundly aware of the tactics of all kinds of propaganda, has no choice but to see this crisis as an opportunity.

A vibrant media ecosystem requires readers who are able to discern trustworthy news from “alternative” versions. Indeed, the relative absence of such readers may be a guide to what kind of policy response is needed. Enabling such readers to thrive is analogous to the goals of development efforts aimed at lifting people out of poverty and hunger.

That goal must include safeguards against againts violence directed at reporters, including civic journalists and bloggers, who are frequently targeted for abuse and often physically attacked, even hacked to death as evidenced by a string of grisly crimes in Bangladesh. Last year’s high-profile “Pizzagate” episode in the United States’ capital, in which a man fired an assault rifle in a popular restaurant he had been told by right-wing online sites was linked to an elite paedophilia ring, is a reminder that such attacks may themselves be based on fake news as well as ideological beliefs or factional interests.

Yet in the end, just as “more speech, not less,” was a rallying call for advocates of freedom of speech, today’s response should be real news, and more of it.

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With an Eye on Electoral Violence, Kenya Keeps Tight Rein on Mediahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/with-an-eye-on-electoral-violence-kenya-keeps-tight-rein-on-media/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=with-an-eye-on-electoral-violence-kenya-keeps-tight-rein-on-media http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/with-an-eye-on-electoral-violence-kenya-keeps-tight-rein-on-media/#comments Tue, 25 Apr 2017 00:12:52 +0000 Justus Wanzala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150128 Kenyan journalists attend a function. The media has been blamed for fanning the flames of electoral violence, which took an ethnic angle. Credit: Justus Wanzala/IPS

Kenyan journalists attend a function. The media has been blamed for fanning the flames of electoral violence, which took an ethnic angle. Credit: Justus Wanzala/IPS

By Justus Wanzala
NAIROBI, Apr 25 2017 (IPS)

As the clock ticks down to Kenya’s general elections slated for Aug. 8, a move by the Kenya Communication Authority (CAK) to make journalists adhere to guidelines on election coverage has elicited fear that the government could be trying to control how they report on the polls.

The rules, announced on Feb. 28, require Kenyan journalists to keep all notes and recordings for six months and ensure that radio and TV guests do not make hateful statements about individuals and ethnic groups.“Considering that most media houses are privately owned by influential politicians and well connected individuals, it remains to be seen whether those who flout the rules will face justice." --Kennedy Epalat

On March 7, the media managers also signed up to another poll coverage code designed by the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) in collaboration with Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). The council is a quasi-governmental body charged with protecting media independence and enforcing standards of professionalism.

MCK rules also require media organisations to remain truthful to the tenets of responsible journalism that is sensitive to peace and objectivity during the polls. Kenya was engulfed in post-election violence in late December 2007 and January 2008 due to a poll dispute that saw some 2,000 people lose their lives and over 3,000 flee their homes. The media was blamed for not doing enough to forestall the violence, which took an ethnic angle.

The scenario was to influence the subsequent election in 2013, which was peaceful but saw the media depicted as being overly timid. Critics noted that most coverage failed to raise the tough issues facing the country during the election period.

Not everyone thinks the guidelines are a bad thing. According to Dennis Odunga, a reporter at the Daily Nation, Kenya’s leading daily newspaper, enforcement of the rules will be a challenge as long as impunity continues to prevail. But the CAK guidelines are just a reminder that the media is expected to promote fair coverage in line with journalistic standards.

“For instance, keeping notes and recordings is not a new thing in the media world. It is a rule we apply when dealing with sensitive matters like in investigative stories,” he observed.

He said that it is possible to check hate speech in both print and electronic media. In the case of radio and television programmes, hosts should be in control of their guests and be fast in interrupting those who use the platform to whip up ethnic emotions – although such a measure should be done with decorum.

“Freedom of expression and access to information is not absolute [under the constitution],” he noted. “But, being a government entity, we must be wary of possibility of mischief in some of the rules, especially on programming that could affect the flow of revenue for media houses.”

Fair coverage of the election might remain a mere wish anyway, given that media houses are known to be driven by both ownership and editorial interests, he said.

CAK’s Angela Koki, speaking on behalf of Director General Francis Wangusi, told IPS that the Kenya Information and Communication Act 1998 gives the Authority power to prescribe a code that sets standards for the time and manner of programmes to be broadcast.

She said the Authority prepared the Programme Code and Complaints Handling procedure for use in the regulation of broadcasting services with stakeholders. “The consultation was done in line with the constitution and consolidation of inputs, the final documents were published and came into effect on 1st July 2016,” she said.

In exercising its mandate, Koki said the CAK is simply reminding media houses about already existing regulatory provisions governing the responsible use of broadcasting platforms before, during and after the elections.

“Coverage of elections and political parties can be found under section nine of the Programming Code and requires that broadcasters provide equitable coverage and opportunities to political parties participating and candidates among other standards,” she said.

On whether media practitioners are being burdened by multiplicity of regulations, Koki said CAK’s mandate is to regulate broadcasting houses as its licensees, and does not extend to journalists or journalistic practices.

She added that the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) is the regulator mandated to handle professionalism and accountability of media workers and journalists.

“The requirement to keep broadcast recording for a period of one year and also the requirement of delay of live broadcasts by seven seconds so as to manage unintended content before it goes on air applies to broadcasting houses as an entity and not to journalists,” she clarified.

She concurred with Odunga that the Programming Code is a living document and is to be reviewed every two years. She thus urges journalists to give their inputs towards the improvement of the document whenever there is a call for stakeholder consultations.

Her views were echoed by MCK Deputy Chief Executive Officer Victor Bwire who said there are no new guidelines announced by the communication Authority of Kenya. He reiterated that the authority just talked about the need for implementation of its programmes code for radio and television that was instituted in 2016 noting too that CAK’s programmes Code was arrived at in a participatory manner.

Bwire said views were sought from CEOs of media houses and representatives of the Editors Guild. “They are really not new, we just update to include issues relating to gender sensitivity and emerging matters like fake news,” he said.

“The aim is to ensure fair and professional coverage of elections. The measure is also aimed at adherence to standards, just as is the case in when it comes to climate change and business reporting. There is nothing new, if anything each media house has its in house policy,” he added.

Kennedy Epalat, a radio news editor at the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, said CAK’s move is influenced by the perception that media helped foment the post-election violence of 2007/8, especially local radio stations.

“By retaining the recorded material and the scripts for six months, relevant agencies get evidence to sustain prosecutions in order to avoid the propagation of hate in future,” he observed.

In relation to radio and television guests, Epalat said it is incumbent upon programme producers to blacklist those with notoriety in propagating hate. Guests should also be prepared by the programe hosts on the dos and don’ts, although such measures are not devoid of challenges.

“In 2004, I black-listed a member of parliament (MP) from participating in my radio programmes because of attacking the president whenever he was talking about crime or corruption. This is even after asking him to avoid the same. I even told my presenter as much. Two months later, the MP was appointed as an Assistant Minister for Information and Broadcasting and asked my station to set aside one hour weekly for him which he would use to outline government policy. Fortunately, I was not victimised,” he recalled.

Commenting on how the multiplicity of guidelines will impact on the 2017 general election coverage, Epalat said that accessing information and freedom of expression will be impeded under certain circumstances.

“The people you seek information from may not offer that information as freely as they would do if you came from their community. People will tend to trust one of their own with information – especially if it is sensitive,” he said.

He said the challenge will be aggravated if those covering the elections have not undergone training in light of the emerging rules. And like Odunga, he is concerned with the problem of impunity.

“Considering that most media houses are privately owned by influential politicians and well connected individuals, it remains to be seen whether those who flout the rules will face justice,” he observed.

To fellow journalists, he said since MCK has signed a memorandum of understanding with the IEBC on elections coverage, as long as they abide by its guidelines, and apply the rule of common sense; cognizant of the past chaotic elections, then they do not need to worry.

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“We Can’t Protest So We Pray”: Anguish in Amhara During Ethiopia’s State of Emergency http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/we-cant-protest-so-we-pray-anguish-in-amhara-during-ethiopias-state-of-emergency/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=we-cant-protest-so-we-pray-anguish-in-amhara-during-ethiopias-state-of-emergency http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/we-cant-protest-so-we-pray-anguish-in-amhara-during-ethiopias-state-of-emergency/#comments Mon, 17 Apr 2017 00:02:36 +0000 James Jeffrey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149986 Woman and child outside a Gonder church with crosses marked in ash on foreheads. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Woman and child outside a Gonder church with crosses marked in ash on their foreheads. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

By James Jeffrey
BAHIR DAR, Apr 17 2017 (IPS)

As dawn breaks in Bahir Dar, men prepare boats beside Lake Tana to take to its island monasteries the tourists that are starting to return.

Meanwhile, traffic flows across the same bridge spanning the Blue Nile that six months ago was crossed by a huge but peaceful protest march.“They were waiting for an excuse to shoot.” --Priest in Bahir Dar

But only a mile farther the march ended in the shooting of unarmed protesters by security forces, leaving Bahir Dar stunned for months.

Events last August in the prominent Amhara cities of Bahir Dar (the region’s capital) and Gonder (the former historical seat of Ethiopian rule) signalled the spreading of the original Oromo protests to Ethiopia’s second most populace region.

By October 9, following further disasters and unrest, the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front party declared a six-month state of emergency, which was extended at the end of this March for another four months.

Ethiopian national flags and regional Amhara flags flutter along the bridge over the Blue Nile on the road going east from Bahir Dar that the protesters took last year. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Ethiopian national flags and regional Amhara flags flutter along the bridge over the Blue Nile on the road going east from Bahir Dar that the protesters took last year. A mile on from the bridge the peaceful march descended into tragedy with shots fired into the crowd. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

On the surface, the state of emergency’s measures including arbitrary arrests, curfews, bans on public assembly, and media and Internet restrictions appear to have been successful in Amhara.

Now shops are open and streets are busy, following months when the cities were flooded with military personal, and everyday life ground to a halt as locals closed shops and businesses in a gesture of passive resistance.

Speaking to residents, however, it’s clear discontent hasn’t abated. Frustrations have grown for many due to what’s deemed gross governmental oppression. But almost everyone agrees that for now, with the state of emergency in place, there’s not much more they can do.

“Now it’s the fasting period before Easter, so people are praying even more and saying: Where are you God? Did you forget this land?” says Stefanos, who works in Gonder’s tourism industry, and didn’t want to give his name due to fear of arrest by the Command Post, the administrative body coordinating the state of emergency.

“Because people can’t protest, they are praying harder than ever.”

The four-month extension to the state of emergency contains less sweeping powers than before. Now police need warrants to arrest suspects or search their homes, and detention without trial has officially been ended. But grievances remain about what happened before.

“Someone will come and say they are with the Command Post and just tell you to go with them—you have no option but to obey,” Dawit, working in Gonder’s tourism industry, says of hundreds of locals arrested. “No one has any insurance of life.”

Outside Gonder churches, beggars line streets hoping for alms. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Outside Gonder churches, beggars line streets hoping for alms. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Locals recall how if young men gathered in too large a group they risked getting arrested.

“The regime has imprisoned, tortured and abused 20, 000-plus young people and killed hundreds more in order to restore a semblance of order,” says Alemante Selassie, emeritus law professor at the College of William & Mary and Ethiopia analyst. “Repression is the least effective means of creating real order in any society where there is a fundamental breach of trust between people and their rulers.”

Across Gondar, many unemployed men seek distraction by chewing the plant khat, a stimulant that motivates animated conversation about security force abuses and the dire local economic situation.

“If you kill your own people how are you a soldier—you are a terrorist,” says 32-year old Tesfaye, chomping on khat leaves. “I became a soldier to protect my people. This government has forgotten me since I left after seven years fighting in Somalia. I’ve been trying to get a job here for five months.”

Beyond such revulsion and frustration, some claim the state of emergency has had other psychological impacts.

“Continued fear and distrust of the [ruling] regime by the Ethiopian people,” says Tewodrose Tirfe of the Amhara Association of America. “Continued loss of hope for a better form a government where basic human rights of the Ethiopians are respected.”

For many the memories of what happened during protests last summer are still raw, especially for Bahir Dar residents.

Tens of thousands gathered in Bahir Dar’s centre on August 7 before marching along the main northeast-running road out of the city toward the Blue Nile River, carrying palm tree leaves and other greenery as symbols of peace.

After crossing the bridge there are various versions about what happened next.

Some say a protester attempted to replace Ethiopia’s current federal national flag flying outside a government building with the older, pan-Ethiopian nationalistic flag—now banned in Amhara—an argument ensued and the guard shot the protester.

Others say that protesters threw stones at the building—the guard fired warning shots in the air—then protesters tried entering the compound—the guard fired at them.

But there is less uncertainly about what happened next.

“Security forces suddenly emerged from buildings and shot into the march for no reason,” says an Ethiopian priest, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “They were waiting for an excuse to shoot.”

It’s estimated 27 died that day, the death toll rising to 52 by the end of the week. A total of 227 civilians have died during unrest in the Amhara region, according to government figures, while others claim it’s much higher.

“Two people on my right side dropped dead,” says 23-year-old Haile, marching that day. “One had been shot in the head, one in the heart.”

Such violence was unprecedented for Bahir Dar, a popular tourist location, known for its tranquil lake and laid-back atmosphere.

“The city went into shock for months,” says the Ethiopian priest.

But as the months have passed, normal daily life has gradually reasserted itself.

“People are tired of the trouble and want to get on with their lives,” says Tesfaye, a tour operator. “But, then again, in a couple of years, who knows.”

Many criticise the government for failing to address long-term structural frictions between Ethiopia’s proclaimed federal constitution and an actual centralist developmental state model, as well as failing to resolve—with some saying it actively stokes—increasing ethnic tensions.

“Three years ago I went to university and no one cared where you were from,” says Haile, a telecommunication engineer in Bahir Dar. “Now Amhara and Tigray students are fighting with each other.”

“Federalism is good and bad,” says Haile’s friend Joseph, who is half Tigrayan and half Amhara. “Ethiopia has all these different groups proud of their languages and cultures. But [on the other hand] even though my father is Tigray, I can’t go and work in Tigray because I don’t speak Tigrayan.”

Joseph pauses to consider, before continuing.

“This government has kept the country together, if they disappeared we would be like Somalia,” he says. “All the opposition does is protest, protest, they can’t do anything else.”

Finding such a view in Gonder is much harder.

“The government has a chance for peace but they don’t have the mental skills to achieve it,” says tourist guide Teklemariam. “If protests happen again they will be worse.”

The main road between Gonder and Bahir Dar winds up and down steep hillsides, surrounded by mountains, cliffs and tight valleys stretching to the horizon.

Ethiopia’s vertiginous topography has challenged foreign invaders for centuries. But it’s potentially a headache for domestic rulers too, added to which militarism is a traditional virtue in the Amhara region.

In Gonder, men talk admiringly of an Amhara resistance movement which conducted hit-and-run attacks on soldiers when they occupied the city, before withdrawing into the surrounding mountains.

“The farmers are ready to die for their land,” the Ethiopian priest says. “It’s all they have known, they have never been away from here.”

According to Gonder locals, armed farmers have been fighting Ethiopian security forces for months.

“I saw dozens of soldiers at Gonder’s hospital with bullet and knife wounds,” says Henok, a student nurse, who took part in the protests. “The government controls the urban but not the rural areas.”

Off the main streets in Gonder, Ethiopia, poverty becomes starker. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Off the main streets in Gonder, Ethiopia, poverty becomes starker. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Young men like Henok talk passionately of Colonel Demeke Zewudud, a key member of Amhara resistance arrested by the government in 2016, and even more so about Gobe Malke, one of the leaders of the farmer insurrection until he was killed this February, allegedly at the hands of his cousin in the government’s payroll.

“If the government wants a true and real form of stabilization, then it should allow for a true representative form of governance so all people have the representation they need and deserve,” Tewodrose says.

“But the concern of the TPLF is the perception from the international community, so they can continue to receive and misuse foreign aid.”

In his role with the Amhara Association of America, Tewodrose presented a report to a U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing March 9 about “Democracy Under Threat in Ethiopia”. The report also detailed 500 security forces killed during fighting in Amhara—Gonder locals claim many more.

“Before I die I just want to see Ethiopia growing peacefully and not divided by tribes,” says 65-year-old grandmother Indeshash, housebound in Gonder due to ongoing leg problems. “If my legs worked I would have protested.”

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Journalism in Nicaragua under Siegehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/journalism-in-nicaragua-under-siege/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=journalism-in-nicaragua-under-siege http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/journalism-in-nicaragua-under-siege/#comments Thu, 30 Mar 2017 22:37:46 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149731 The offices of La Prensa, the oldest newspaper in Nicaragua and the leading media outlet critical of the Daniel Ortega administration, has suffered negative economic consequences as a result, as have other opposition outlets. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

The offices of La Prensa, the oldest newspaper in Nicaragua and the leading media outlet critical of the Daniel Ortega administration, has suffered negative economic consequences as a result, as have other opposition outlets. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Mar 30 2017 (IPS)

During the 161st session of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), an empty chair across from the OAS Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Edison Lanzas, sums up the Nicaraguan government’s relationship with this issue in the country: absence.

At the Mar. 15-22 meeting of the IACHR, an independent Organisation of American States (OAS) body, only Cuba, the United States and Nicaragua were absent from the debate in the review and complaints session, which in the case of Nicaragua dealt with freedom of expression.

It was the third time this Central American country abstained from participating, which according to experts on freedom of expression and journalism conveys a “disregard” by the government towards the media and journalists, ever since leftist President Daniel Ortega returned to power in 2007, after governing the country in the 1980s.

Adrián Uriarte, the dean of the social sciences department in the University of Commercial Sciences, said “freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and goes beyond the media.”

The academic explained to IPS a set of indicators he created to determine the degree of freedom of expression in a country.

The first “refers to the exercise of this right in different social areas: home, community, media, school, church, and now social networks,” while the second “has to do with the exercise of this right in public spaces: protests, demonstrations, marches,” he said.

The third involves “a citizen’s right to demand accountability from the government and the powers-that-be, including the media.”"This can be measured by the lack of access to information, zero interviews, zero advertising from the state, control over tax exemptions, and control of social and labour institutions to exert administrative pressure on owners of media outlets.” -- Adrián Uriarte

The fourth relates to “the right to seek and access public information; and the fifth indicator has to do with the exercise of this right in writing, by radio or television, which of course is directly linked to freedom of the press.”

This country “has good grades in the first indicators, in terms of freedom of expression, mostly because in Nicaragua internet use is not yet regulated, and as a result, social networks have become the main new public spaces where citizens exercise their right to freedom of expression,” said Uriarte.

“But journalists and the media are ironically the group that exercises freedom of expression the least in Nicaragua. I would say actually that this is the area where self-censorship is practiced the most,” said the academic.

In Uriarte’s view, the government of Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo, who became vice president in January, “has a sectarian vision of freedom of the press.”

“There are public policies aimed at promoting technological development and access to information and advertising for public and private media outlets, but which have ties, according to investigative reporting, to the current administration,” he said.

“On balance, we can say that in Nicaragua those who suffer a lack of freedom of expression are private media outlets not influenced by the state,” said Uriarte.

“The most visible form has been denial of this right,” he said.

This “can be measured by the lack of access to information, zero interviews, zero advertising from the state, control over tax exemptions, and control of social and labour institutions to exert administrative pressure on owners of media outlets.”

“It is also seen in the cancelation of private spaces in local newscasts, removal of technical equipment from local radio stations, which has naturally led to the closure of private spaces of opinion due to a lack of economic sustainability for many journalists.”

Newspaper and radio reporter Juan Rodríguez has experienced firsthand the consequences of being considered an “opposition journalist”.

“In 2007 I was communications and press officer for the Executive Secretariat of the National System for Disaster Prevention and Care, when the Sandinista government came into power and they cancelled my contract with no legal justification. They fired me because they suspected that I belonged to the right-wing media,” he told IPS.

Since then, Rodríguez has got around a series of barriers and a lack of institutional support to make radio programmes, while complaining about political harassment for having headed the independent Association of Journalists of Nicaragua.

Journalist Luis Galeano, director of the local radio and television programme Café con Voz, put it like this: “As a journalist I always work thinking whether tomorrow we are going to be able to go on the air.” His programme, broadcast by a local TV station and a network of community radios, is not yet considered “opposition”, but Galeano is worried that any day now the authorities will apply pressure to remove it from the air.

“I don’t know whether the government will all of a sudden get annoyed with what I say or do in my programme and order its closure, or whether business people are going to request that my programme be shut down, or whether they will pressure the few business people that support the media to stop backing us. The truth is that I live in constant worry about whether or not I will remain on the air,” he said.

Dozens of journalists have complained about the same sense of uncertainty, to Nicaraguan human rights lawyer Juan Carlos Arce with the non-governmental Nicaraguan Human Rights Centre.

Freedom of expression, according to the United Nations, is based on “the freedom to seek, receive and impart information.” In the current situation this right is not guaranteed for individual citizens, collectives or independent journalists, due to a secretive government policy,” Arce told IPS.

According to the activist, the 2007 policy is based on the strict control of public information and manifests itself as a gag order for civil servants.

For Arce, the problem of freedom of expression is exacerbated by government control of the media. This, in his opinion, “runs counter to the government’s obligation to promote pluralism and independence in the media.”

In this Central American nation of 6.2 million people, in 2007 there was only one TV channel and one radio station in the hands of the governing Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) , another state-owned station and two other pro-government stations, as well as several others close to the government.

In 2017, according to Arce, more than 80 per cent of the radio stations, TV channels, print media and on-line programmes are under the control of the FSLN, controlled by family members, political operators and like-minded journalists, although some occasionally declare themselves publicly as independent.

“As an advocate, the biggest problem is the lack of information of the institutions and the fact that that many people avoid speaking out because they fear retaliation from the government,” he said.

Arce said the absence of the government in the continental forums to debate on freedom of expression is shown not only by the empty chairs during the 161st session of the IACHR, but also in the countless pronouncements of international bodies on violations of human rights and other universal rights.

To illustrate, Arce mentioned U.N. criticisms in its Universal Periodic Review on Nicaragua in 2014, and other reports issued since 2008 by the U.S. State Department, the European Parliament, the OAS, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, the Inter American Press Association, Freedom House, and Amnesty International, among others.

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Under Fire, Journalism Explores Self-Preservationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/under-fire-journalism-explores-self-preservation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=under-fire-journalism-explores-self-preservation http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/under-fire-journalism-explores-self-preservation/#comments Fri, 24 Mar 2017 13:50:06 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149625 Journalists call for the freeing of a colleague at a UNESCO colloquium in Paris. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Journalists call for the freeing of a colleague at a UNESCO colloquium in Paris. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Mar 24 2017 (IPS)

With widespread attacks on professional journalists and the rise of a fake-news industry, media experts agree that journalism is increasingly under fire. But how can the press fight back and ensure its survival?

Judging by the stubbornly defiant tone at a one-day colloquium held at UNESCO’s Paris headquarters on March 23, there may still be reason for hope in a media landscape ravaged by the killings of journalists, verbal abuse of reporters, job losses, low pay and “alternative facts”.The business model that has long served the press in general is changing, and the sector is universally scrambling to adapt in ever-transforming terrain.

“When [U.S. President] Trump said that the media is the enemy of the people, it’s perfect for journalism,” said Vicente Jiménez, director-general of the Spanish radio network Cadena SER. “We can eradicate some bad practices. It’s a great opportunity.”

Jiménez was one of several media professionals calling for journalists to clean up and protect their own sector, during the colloquium titled “Journalism Under Fire: Challenges of Our Times”.

“Journalism used to be a pillar of democracy,” Jiménez said. “But that model is changing with social media.”

He said the dependence on “clicks” for on-line-media income was leading to “stupid” and “vile” stories, and he told participants that the three most-read stories in Spain over the past year were fake ones. He warned that the media would lose its relevance if this situation continued.

Carlos Dada, co-founder and editor-in-chief of El Faro digital newspaper, based in El Salvador, stressed that a distinction had to be made between “media” and “journalism”. As an example, he said that during a certain period in his country, journalism was under fire while media companies grew rich, partly by being politically compliant and going about business as usual.

Dada said that technology was “not only a threat” but that it was also a “huge opportunity” in areas such as using data in investigative stories, for which El Faro is known in Latin America.

Still, the business model that has long served the press in general is changing, and the sector is universally scrambling to adapt in ever-transforming terrain, participants pointed out.

According to UNESCO, “technological, economic and political transformations are inexorably reshaping” the communications landscape.

“Major recent elections and referenda have raised many questions about the quality, impact and credibility of journalism, with global significance,” the agency said.

In organizing the colloquium, UNESCO said it hoped to “strengthen freedom of expression and press freedom, since modern societies cannot function and develop without free, independent and professional journalism”.

As some panellists noted, however, many journalists work under political dictatorship – in countries that are United Nations member states – and they “pay with their lives” or with their liberty for telling the truth, as one speaker put it.

UNESCO statistics show that more than 800 journalists have been killed over the past decade, and although the agency has been working with governments and the press on ways to end impunity for the killers of media workers, attacks on journalists continue on a daily basis.

Yet killing, imprisoning or abusing the “messenger” is only one aspect of the assault on professional journalism. The dissemination of so-called fake news, with “mainstream” media companies sometimes involved, has led to confusion among the public about what is real and what is false and contributes to the overall distrust of the press.

While critics have particularly slammed social media company Facebook for its role in spreading false news stories, the company is adamant that the responsibility lies with its users.

“You’ll see fake news if you have signed up to fake news sites,” said Richard Allan, a former politician and Facebook’s Vice President of Policy for the European, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region, who participated in the colloquium.

Explaining how the company’s “algorithm” works for showing content, Allan said that the “vast majority” of what users saw in their feed was the “sum” of material to which they connected.

He told the colloquium that Facebook was trying to address the issue of fake news, but he added: “We don’t want to be the world’s editor.”

If Facebook is unwilling to be a gatekeeper, who would take action though, asked Maria Ressa, a former CNN correspondent and now editor-in-chief and CEO of on-line news site Rappler in the Philippines.

“We have not only misinformation … we have disinformation,” she said, describing the deliberate spreading of false stories in targeted attacks against individuals, groups or policies.

For Serge Schmemann, a New York Times writer and editor, “fake news is more a symptom than the real problem”. A crucial issue is how journalists are now expected to produce news, with often too little time or resources to work on an in-depth story.

But, said Schmemann, “We will adapt, we will survive… We have to remain honest reporters.”

A key to survival may be getting the public involved, according to David Levy, director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

In an interview on the sidelines of the colloquium, he told IPS that for professional journalism to continue, it will have to get people to value the service enough to pay for it.

“Sometimes ordinary people see journalists as part of the problem, rather than the solution, and journalists have to change this image by getting rid of bad ethics and practices,” he said.

Financial support is already a possibility through crowd-funding, subscriptions and philanthropy, Levy said. In addition, the proper functioning of publicly funded media – where politicians refrain from interference while still holding the media accountable – was an essential part of the solution, he added.

Despite all these views and the organizing of one conference or colloquium after another (there will be a slate of them on World Press Freedom Day, May 3), the outlook remains troubling, even dire, for many journalists in the field.

“We don’t have jobs. We’re badly paid,” said Paris-based Burundian journalist Landry Rukingamubiri. “Then there’s fake news and pretend-journalism. Where do we go from here?”

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Half a Century of Struggle Against Underdevelopmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/half-a-century-of-struggle-against-underdevelopment-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=half-a-century-of-struggle-against-underdevelopment-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/half-a-century-of-struggle-against-underdevelopment-2/#comments Fri, 03 Mar 2017 10:00:53 +0000 Pablo Piacentini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149227

This oped was written by the Argentinian journalist Pablo Piacentini, cofounder of IPS to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the agency in 2014. IPS is republishing it now to celebrate his life. Piacentini passed away in Rome on March 1.

By Pablo Piacentini
ROME, Mar 3 2017 (IPS)

The idea of creating Inter Press Service (IPS) arose in the early 1960s in response to awareness that a vacuum existed in the world of journalism, which had two basic aspects.

Firstly, there was a marked imbalance in international information sources. World news production was concentrated in the largest industrialised countries and dominated by a few powerful agencies and syndicates in the global North.

By contrast, there was a lack of information about developing countries in the South and elsewhere; there was hardly any information about their political, economic and social realities, except when natural disasters occurred, and what little was reported was culturally prejudiced against these countries. In other words, not much of an image and a poor image at that.A journalist specialised in development issues must be able to look at and analyse information and reality from the “other side.” In spite of globalisation and the revolution in communications, this “other side” continues to be unknown and disregarded, and occupies a marginal position in the international information universe

Secondly, there was an overall shortage of analysis and explanation of the processes behind news events and a lack of in-depth journalistic genres such as features, opinion articles and investigative journalism among the agencies.

Agencies published mainly ‘spot’ news, that is, brief pieces with the bare news facts and little background. Clearly this type of journalism did not lend itself to covering development-related issues.

When reporting an epidemic or a catastrophe in a Third World country, spot news items merely describe the facts and disseminate broadcast striking images. What they generally do not do is make an effort to answer questions such as why diseases that have disappeared or are well under control in the North should cause such terrible regional pandemics in less developed countries, or why a major earthquake in Los Angeles or Japan should cause much less damage and fewer deaths than a smaller earthquake in Haiti.

Superficiality and bias still predominate in international journalism.

While it is true that contextualised analytical information started to appear in the op-ed (“opposite the editorial page”) section of Anglo-Saxon newspapers, the analysis and commentary they offered concentrated on the countries of the North and their interests.

Today the number of op-eds that appear is much greater than in the 1960s, but the predominant focus continues to be on the North.

This type of top-down, North-centred journalism served the interests of industrialised countries, prolonging and extending their global domination and the subordination of non-industrialised countries that export commodities with little or no added value.

This unequal structure of global information affected developing countries negatively. For example, because of the image created by scanty and distorted information, it was unlikely that the owners of expanding businesses in a Northern country would decide to set up a factory in a country of the South.

After all, they knew little or nothing about these countries and, given the type of reporting about them that they were accustomed to, assumed that they were uncivilised and dangerous, with unreliable judicial systems, lack of infrastructure, and so on.

Obviously, few took the risk, and investments were most frequently North-North, reinforcing development in developed countries and underdevelopment in underdeveloped countries.

Pablo Piacentini

Pablo Piacentini

In the 1960s, those of us who created IPS set ourselves the goal of working to correct the biased, unequal and distorted image of the world projected by international agencies in those days.

Political geography and economics were certainly quite different then. Countries like Brazil, which is now an emerging power, used to be offhandedly dismissed with the quip: “It’s the country of the future – and always will be.”

At the time, decolonisation was under way in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. Latin America was politically independent but economically dependent. The Non-Aligned Movement was created in 1961.

IPS never set out to present a “positive” image of the countries of the South by glossing over or turning a blind eye to the very real problems, such as corruption. Instead, we wished to present an objective view, integrating information about the South, its viewpoints and interests, into the global information media.

This implied a different approach to looking at the world and doing journalism. It meant looking at it from the viewpoint of the realities of the South and its social and economic problems.

Let me give an example which has a direct link to development.

The media tend to dwell on what they present as the negative consequences of commodity price rises: they cause inflation, are costly for consumers and their families, and distort the world economy. Clearly, this is the viewpoint of the industrialised countries that import cheap raw materials and transform them into manufactured goods as the basis for expanding their businesses and competing in the global marketplace.

It is true that steep and sudden price increases for some commodities can create problems in the international economy, as well as affect the population of some poor countries that have to import these raw materials.

But generalised and constant complaints about commodities price increases fail to take into account the statistically proven secular trend towards a decline in commodity prices (with the exception of oil since 1973) compared with those of manufactured goods.

IPS’s editorial policy is to provide news and analyses that show how, in the absence of fair prices and proper remuneration for their commodities, and unless more value is added to agricultural and mineral products, poor countries reliant on commodity exports cannot overcome underdevelopment and poverty.

Many communications researchers have recognised IPS’s contribution to developing a more analytical and appropriate journalism for focusing on and understanding economic, social and political processes, as well as contributing to greater knowledge of the problems faced by countries of the South.

Journalists addressing development issues need, in the first place, to undertake critical analysis of the content of news circulating in the information arena.

Then they must analyse economic and social issues from the “other point of view”, that of marginalised and oppressed people, and of poor countries unable to lift themselves out of underdevelopment because of unfavourable terms of trade, agricultural protectionism, and so on.

They must understand how and why some emerging countries are succeeding in overcoming underdevelopment, and what role can be played by international cooperation.

They also need to examine whether the countries of the North and the international institutions they control are imposing conditions on bilateral or multilateral agreements that actually perpetuate unequal development.

World economic geography and politics may have changed greatly since the 1960s, and new information technologies may have revolutionised the media of today, but these remain some important areas in which imbalanced and discriminatory news treatment is evident.

In conclusion, a journalist specialised in development issues must be able to look at and analyse information and reality from the “other side.” In spite of globalisation and the revolution in communications, this “other side” continues to be unknown and disregarded, and occupies a marginal position in the international information universe.

An appreciation of the true dimensions of the above issues, the contrast between them and the information and analysis we are fed daily by the predominant media virtually all over the world – not only in the North, but also many by media in the South – leads to the obvious conclusion that there is a crying need for unbiased global journalism to help correct North-South imbalance.

To this arduous task and still far-off goal, IPS has devoted its wholehearted efforts over the past half century.

Pablo Piacentini, born in Buenos Aires, cofounded IPS-Inter Press Service in 1964. Having served as Editorial Director, Chief Editor and then Director of the Economics Service, until six months ago Piacentini headed the IPS Columnist Service.

 

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Community Stations Fight for Frequencies in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/community-stations-fight-for-frequencies-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=community-stations-fight-for-frequencies-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/community-stations-fight-for-frequencies-in-el-salvador/#comments Mon, 27 Feb 2017 07:58:13 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149116 Sandra Juárez, holding a microphone, rehearses together with two colleagues from Izcanal Radio and Television to record a programme. This station is the only community TV station in El Salvador, which can only be viewed by subscription, but that could change with the advent of the digital system in the country. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Sandra Juárez, holding a microphone, rehearses together with two colleagues from Izcanal Radio and Television to record a programme. This station is the only community TV station in El Salvador, which can only be viewed by subscription, but that could change with the advent of the digital system in the country. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
NUEVA GRANADA, El Salvador, Feb 27 2017 (IPS)

The Izcanal Radio and Television set is simple and austere, but this TV station made history in El Salvador, being the first, and until now the only one, to make the leap from community radio to community TV channel, in 2006.

It has done this through a local cable TV station, not an open signal channel, but that could change very soon.

“Our greatest wish is to compete for Izcanal to have its frequency and broadcast on an open signal channel; that’s our dream,” said Wilfredo Hernández, news coordinator at the Izcanal station, which was born in February 1993 in Nueva Granada, a town in the eastern department of Usulután.

Izcanal’s signal reaches across this town to 35 surrounding municipalities, but to receive it you have to pay for cable TV service. “The right to freedom of expression has to do with access to different sources of information and spaces for participation, and when the media system is exclusive and corporate, there is no way to guarantee this right.” -- Leonel Herrera

Its programming is focused on showing positive developments and initiatives in the community, revolving around themes such as local development, women and gender, environment, a culture of peace and migration.

“The major media outlets don’t show the good things that are happening in the communities, we offer this option,” said Sandra Juárez, coordinator of programming and content, while she edited an audio file on a computer.

Hernández and Juárez hope that radio and television, which are currently dominated by private commercial stations, will become more open and democratic, but to achieve that the authorities would have to generate the appropriate conditions.

They told IPS that the legal and operational foundations are in place to open up to new alternative projects, which would lead to a strengthening of the freedom of expression.

The government of leftist President Salvador Sánchez Cerén has announced the launch of digital TV in 2018, a new technology which will optimise the bandwidth and could make way for new stations, especially community, public and academic stations, among others.

For the shift from analogue to digital, the authorities chose the ISDB-Tb model, known as the “Japanese-Brazilian” model, used throughout Latin America, except in Colombia and Panama.

Social organisations grouped together in the Network for the Protection of the Right to Communication (RedCo) are fighting for El Salvador’s General Superintendency of Electricity and Telecommunications (Siget), the regulator of the sector, to promote the incorporation of these new players in the TV frequencies and also to open spaces on the jam-packed radio spectrum.

The expansion of the radio spectrum gained momentum following the reform of the Telecommunications Law in May 2016, which acknowledges community and other non-profit stations, and established alternate mechanisms for them to participate in the allocation of frequencies, such as direct allocation and a tendering process.

Wilfredo Hernández, during the broadcast of one of the radio news programmes of Izcanal Radio and Television, a project that emerged in 2003 in Nueva Granada, in eastern El Salvador. The community station was the only one to expand towards a TV channel. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Wilfredo Hernández, during the broadcast of one of the radio news programmes of Izcanal Radio and Television, a project that emerged in 2003 in Nueva Granada, in eastern El Salvador. The community station was the only one to expand towards a TV channel. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

When the 1980-1992 civil war ended, a score of community stations were operating, initially broadcasting without a license from private frequencies, which led to crackdowns by the police.

In 2008, they managed to secure, through third parties, an FM license, which they fractioned and divided into zones to broadcast their programming, although with interference.

For years they struggled for the elimination of the auction system, imposed by the now reformed 1997 Telecommunications Law, a scheme that prevented community stations from competing on an equal footing.

In 2015, the Supreme Court came down on their side, ruling that something other than the auction system should exist, to guarantee the participation of these actors, in response to appeals on the grounds of unconstitutionality filed by social organisations in 2012 and 2013 against this mechanism and other aspects of the law in force at the time.

The inclusion of these new players in radio and television would give the country’s media a more pluralistic and inclusive character, which would strengthen freedom of expression, said Leonel Herrera, head of the Association of Participatory Radios and Programmes of El Salvador (Arpas).

“The right to freedom of expression has to do with access to different sources of information and spaces for participation, and when the media system is exclusive and corporate, there is no way of guaranteeing this right,” Herrera told IPS.

But the idea of extending the allocation of frequencies faces heavy opposition from commercial radio stations, controlled by five corporate consortiums, which account for 92 per cent of the spectrum, according to Siget.

The segment for open TV is almost entirely in private hands, although of the 42 existing stations, seven are not commercial and are run by religious organisations, and two others are state-run.

Uncertain future

But the entry of new players, in radio as well as in television, cannot be taken for granted, and if the current system remains as it is, blocking the entry of other participants, the media will become even more concentrated in fewer hands, said Herrera.

In the case of television, the digital platform and its greater bandwidth would allow diversification, but Herrera argued that the existing license-holders intend to keep the extra bandwidth for their channels.

In radio, the panorama is even more complex, because the radio spectrum is full and the commercial consortiums refuse to give space to community stations, although there are proposals to divide the frequency bandwidth to double the space.

“Siget must comply and make room, otherwise the reform that acknowledges community radio stations will only remain on paper,” said Izcanal’s Hernández.

A request from IPS for an interview with the superintendent of the regulator, Blanca Coto, received no answer.

An opportunity for new licenses in radio could open this year, during the renewal of frequencies, a process which takes place every 20 years. Until the reform in 2016, they were automatically renewed, a mechanism which practically ensured the concessionaires a license for life..

Now they must meet requisites such as keeping up with payments, failing to commit serious infringements, and making proper use of the broadcast signal.

But RedCo argues that with these standards almost every station will manage to get its license renewed, and that other aspects should be taken into account, such as whether the license was originally obtained in a transparent, legal manner.

A report from the Presidential Secretariat of Participation, Transparency and Anti-corruption revealed in September 2016 that 60 per cent of the concessions granted before the 1997 Telecommunications Law have no paper trail to verify their allocation.

The then regulatory body used to grant frequencies as an award for political favours or to benefit relatives or friends of the right-wing National Republican Alliance (Arena), in power from 1989 to 2009.

If Siget includes this transparency factor proposed by the organisations that make up RedCo, some licenses may not be renewed, giving community stations a chance.

But even if community stations are granted radio and TV licenses, this would not be enough to bring about a more democratic media system. To do that, the state must back up these measures with public policies aimed at promoting and developing community radio, said the interviewees.

The RedCo organisations have submitted a Proposal for a Public Policy in Communications, to contribute to a debate that, in the end, should generate clear measures to democratise the media in El Salvador.

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Confusion over U.S. Travel Ban Grounds Foreign Correspondentshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/confusion-over-u-s-travel-ban-grounds-foreign-correspondents/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=confusion-over-u-s-travel-ban-grounds-foreign-correspondents http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/confusion-over-u-s-travel-ban-grounds-foreign-correspondents/#comments Mon, 20 Feb 2017 16:20:32 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149031 Confusion over the implementation of the US travel ban has left journalists unable to travel. Credit: Rebecca Murray/IPS.

Confusion over the implementation of the US travel ban has left journalists unable to travel. Credit: Rebecca Murray/IPS.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
NEW YORK, Feb 20 2017 (IPS)

New restrictions on immigrants and refugees coming to the United States are also posing challenges for foreign correspondents covering news in the United States. Some have had to indefinitely postpone plans to report on conflicts in the Middle East while others have found an unfriendly reminder of their past treatment as journalists in less free countries.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s immigration executive order sent shockwaves throughout the world as citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries and all refugees were barred from entering the country for 90 days and 120 days respectively.

Though the travel ban is temporarily on hold following a court decision to reject its reinstatement, President Trump stood by his policy, calling it “common sense” and promising to keep “the wrong people” out of the U.S. Trump announced Thursday that he would sign a new Executive Order next week which will address some of the legal issues raised by the U.S. courts.

Within the millions affected by the travel ban are journalists, many of whom were caught amidst the chaos and confusion as the initial Executive Order was implemented.

In the wake of the order, BBC journalist Ali Hamedani, an Iranian-born British citizen, was detained and questioned upon his arrival at Chicago’s O’Hare airport for over two hours.

“I was always dreaming to live here, to write stories here, to be able to travel to places and write whatever I wanted to write about without being persecuted,” -- Journalist Sama Dizayee.

He said his phone and computer were searched, including his social media accounts.

”It wasn’t pleasant at all. To be honest with you, I was arrested back home in Iran in 2009 because I was working for the BBC and I felt the same this time,“ he said.

Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, a dual American and Iranian citizen, also expressed his fear about the “major” impact of the new policy on his family, stating: “This isn’t the America I promised [my wife] when we were finally set free.”

Rezaian spent nearly two years in an Iranian prison after being arrested on charges including espionage and propaganda against the government.

CNN editor and award-winning journalist Mohammed Tawfeeq, who is an Iraqi national and legal permanent resident of the U.S., was detained in Atlanta where he was subjected to additional screening. He promptly filed a federal lawsuit challenging the executive order.

“We are concerned when policies adopted by countries restrict the access and movement of journalists…We believe that journalists should be allowed to enter countries, to report on them regardless of where those countries are,” Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)’s Advocacy Director Courtney Radsch told IPS.

The ban also affects foreign correspondents covering the United Nations. Although there is a specific exception for journalists traveling as part of diplomatic delegations to the United Nations, the original executive order does not directly address any other media visas given to foreign media representatives traveling to or who are already in the country.

The restrictions have also concerned journalist Sama Dizayee, an Iraqi journalist who is a green card holding legal permanent resident in the U.S.

Dizayee told IPS that she had a trip planned to London but was forced to cancel it once the travel ban was implemented.

“I wake up and [saw] all of these people that were detained, deported back to their home countries…I was like oh my god I’m a legal resident here in America and I came all the way from Iraq here to pursue journalism, a dream that I always wanted and now my freedom is threatened,” she told IPS.

The Department of Homeland Security later clarified the policy in relation to green card holders, stating that U.S. permanent residents from one of the seven countries are not automatically barred from entry and will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Despite this, Dizayee, who initially had refugee status before becoming a permanent resident, said she still did not want to take the risk.

“Do I really want to become subject to extra screening and hours of being held at the airport? Do I really want to be profiled as a Muslim Iraqi here in the U.S.? This is not an experience I want to remember,” she said.

Dizayee told IPS that she has always been subjected to extra screening due to her background, waiting for hours to be released.

“That really stays with you…and it has now become a law with this travel ban,” she said.

Dizayee highlighted that the stakes are particularly high for journalists whose work is now limited due to the inability to travel.

“[Journalists] go places to cover stories—they go to Iraq, to Lebanon, we travel all the time,” she said, adding that she had planned to travel to Iraq to cover the Mosul battle.

“I can’t be there now, I can’t write that story,” Dizayee continued.

CPJ issued a safety advisory for journalists, recommending that those who are from one of the seven countries with media visas in the U.S. should not leave within the time period covered by the executive order.

Radsch also advised journalists not to travel with mobile or other devices or to make sure confidential or important information is backed up rather than on their devices.

“This order is helping to highlight the importance of [digital security] for journalists,” she told IPS.

The U.S. order has already emboldened other governments to implement similar policies, including the Iraqi government which approved a “reciprocity” measure banning Americans from entering the Middle Eastern country, further restricting information flow across borders and journalists’ ability to report.

Radsch highlighted the need to get clarity on how the order is impacting journalists and what the regulations are.

She also told IPS that journalists have been subject to secondary screening and questioning at the border before this new policy, including Canadian photojournalist Ed Ou who was pulled aside and interrogated for six hours on his way to cover the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. After refusing to surrender the password to his devices, Ed Ou was denied entry into the U.S.

Dizayee expressed uncertainty and apprehension regarding the future of the new travel restrictions.

“I was always dreaming to live here, to write stories here, to be able to travel to places and write whatever I wanted to write about without being persecuted,” she told IPS.

“I am not going anywhere for the next 90 days for sure,” Dizayee continued.

The immigration executive order, initially implemented at the end of January, was denounced by several human rights groups and politicians, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights who said: “Discrimination on nationality alone is forbidden under human rights law. The US ban is also mean spirited, and wastes resources needed for proper counter-terrorism.”

Similarly, Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Sarif, said the Trump Administration’s decision would be recorded in history as “a great gift to extremists and their supporters” while Swedish foreign affairs minister Margot Wallström said she was “deeply concerned” by a decision that “creates mistrust between people.”

Others expressed support for the move including Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull who stated that “”it is vital that every nation is able to control who comes across its borders.”

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Sri Lanka Shines Light on Public Sector Governancehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/sri-lanka-shines-light-on-public-sector-governance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sri-lanka-shines-light-on-public-sector-governance http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/sri-lanka-shines-light-on-public-sector-governance/#comments Wed, 15 Feb 2017 15:23:31 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148952 Sri Lanka’s new Right to Information (RTI) Act could open new doors for the country’s media if journalists use it effectively. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Sri Lanka’s new Right to Information (RTI) Act could open new doors for the country’s media if journalists use it effectively. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Feb 15 2017 (IPS)

Sri Lanka’s long-awaited and much-debated Right to Information (RTI) Act became law this month without much fanfare.

There was no big PR campaign on the part of the government to unveil it on Feb. 3, a day before the island’s 69th Independence celebrations. There was not even a public event, a rarity in this South Asian island, where politicians are prone not to let such opportunities pass by.

Maybe the lack of fanfare was due to a rare understanding of what RTI could do to Sri Lanka’s governing culture – like media minister Gayantha Karunathilake predicted several months ago, the act now places all elected and public officials ‘inside a glass box’ of public scrutiny.

And the requests have flooded in. Taking the lead has been actor turned politician and current deputy minister of social welfare, Rajan Ramanayake. He filed a slew of requests even before the ink dried on the new act.

“This is an act will reveal everything about politicians, without any discrimination on party affiliations,” Ramanayake said.

His RTI requests include details on the number of bar permits, sand mining permits, duty free shop permits, fuel station permits and land permits that have been offered to elected officials from parliamentarians to those at local government bodies. He said he was likely to receive the details by the third week of February.

He has also filed a request for details of all licenses given out by the government to operate TV stations and their conditions.

Most of the first batch of RTI requests have been linked to corruption within public sector, according to RTIWire, a national website that tracks the progress of the act.

“When we asked the public what information they would seek through RTI, almost a third of them referenced some form of corruption by public servants; for example, asset declarations, irregularities in tenders, salaries and perks for ministers,” RTIWire said in profiling the first ten days of the new act.

Citizens in the former conflict zone in the North and East have used the act to seek information on land acquisitions by government departments and on missing loved ones.

Media Minister Karunathilake is candid about the act’s possible ramifications on the government ,which has stepped into the second of a five-year term.

“This will open up the government structure completely for scrutiny. Usually governments will take this kind of decision at the toe end of their terms, but we have not. The act can minimize corruption.”

There has been criticism leveled at the government that the act was aimed at soothing international concerns on rights issues, especially those stemming from the administrations of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa between 2005 to 2015.

The minister denied that there was any connection between the act and the government’s efforts to regain preferential tariff deals for garment exports to the European Union.

“There is no connection at all,” he said. In the next two months the EU is expected to announce whether Sri Lanka will be allowed back in to GSP+ tariff fold that it lost in 2010 due to rights-related concerns.

Opposition parties, however, say that the government is not showing the same enthusiasm it displayed in getting the act finally functioning in making sure the act is implemented efficiently.

“If they are serious, they should begin awareness campaigns without delay,” Opposition MP from the People’s Liberation Front Nalinda Jayatissa said.

To be fair, the government has a Herculean task on its hands in getting RTI information officers into all government agencies, which according to some estimates at the Media Ministry could be in the range of 40,000.

The Ministry has been training officers in the last few months, and while several thousand have taken up posts, many more remain to be filled. The government has not done itself any favours by only allocating a mere Rs 25 m (175,000 dollars) in the current budget for RTI implementation.

Close to two weeks after the act became law, the government was yet to announce the relevant officers in departments, adding confusion and creating unnecessary delays for those submitting requests. B.K.S. Ravindra, the additional secretary at the Media Ministry, said that list would soon be made available online, but did not give a date.

During the first week of the act, there was also confusion about whether police came under the act and who was the relevant officer for each station. Ravindra said that police stations indeed came within the act and that the Assistant Superintendent of Police from each district would serve as the RTI officer.

But according to RTIWire, “the Police are still in the process of appointing Information Officers. This should be complete within the next few weeks. The police force is currently participating in trainings held by the Ministry of Mass Media on Right to Information.”

There is also a dearth of awareness in rural areas on the act and how to file requests, especially in rural areas. In Arananayake, a rural village about 130km from the capital Colombo, which suffered a devastating landslide last year, villagers still living in temporary shelters had absolutely no idea that they could gain information from using the act.

The bigger test for the government will be to make sure that the RTI act does not end up a damp squib.

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Pakistani Reporters in the Crosshairshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/pakistani-reporters-in-the-crosshairs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistani-reporters-in-the-crosshairs http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/pakistani-reporters-in-the-crosshairs/#comments Mon, 30 Jan 2017 13:32:55 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148714 Journalists in Peshawar protest an attack on Dawn News near the Peshawar Press Club in November 2016. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Journalists in Peshawar protest an attack on Dawn News near the Peshawar Press Club in November 2016. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Jan 30 2017 (IPS)

The Federally Administered Tribal Areas located on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border remain one of the most perilous places in the world to be a reporter, with journalists walking a razor’s edge of violence and censorship.

FATA has been a bastion of Taliban militants since they crossed over to Pakistan and took refuge when their government was toppled in neighbouring Afghanistan by the U.S.-led Coalition forces towards the end of 2001.“Most of the 200 reporters from FATA have migrated outside their districts and do their work from safer places. We are unsafe. There’s no protection at all.” --Muhammad Ghaffar

Militants have used the area as a base to target security forces as well as journalists whom they perceive as pro-government.

Muhammad Anwar, who represents FATA-based Tribal Union of Journalists (TUJ), said that excessive violence, threats and intimidation remain a fact of life.

“There are two options with FATA’s journalists: either to face death or stay silent over what is going on there,” he said.

Hayatullah Khan was the first journalist killed, in June 2006 after being kidnapped in December 2005 in Waziristan. Since then more than 20 journalists have been killed in the seven agencies of FATA, allegedly by Taliban militants who were unhappy over their reporting.

“Taliban militants set on fire a newspaper stall when they saw news highlighting their activities. They also warned the reporters to stay away from coverage of the Taliban’s punishments of local people,” Muhammad Shakoor, a journalist from North Waziristan, told IPS.

Shakoor, who now lives in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), one of Pakistan’s four provinces, recalls how militants’ threats have prompted many journalists to flee to other parts of the country.

The situation in Swat district in KP also turned sour for journalists during the unlawful rule of the Taliban from 2007 to 2009. “Taliban militants intimidated local journalists. At least three of them were killed because they were disliked by the Taliban militants or the Pakistan Army,” Muhammad Rafiq, a local journalist, told IPS.

Reporters fear for their lives and take extreme caution while filing their stories. “We are stuck between militants and the army. We don’t know about the killers of our colleagues who have fallen in the line of their duties,” Rafiq said.

The Taliban may have disappeared as a result of military operations, but they still have the capability to target journalists, he said.

“Most of the 200 reporters from FATA have migrated outside their districts and do their work from safer places. We are unsafe. There’s no protection at all,” Muhammad Ghaffar said.

Ghaffar, who works with an Urdu newspaper in Mohmand Agency, said that it’s not only insurgents. They also face threats from the local political administration who wants them to toe the line.

“It is almost impossible to do independent reporting due to lack of protection. Journalists are surrounded by a host of problems, due to which they have to remain careful,” he said.

Journalists in Pakistan are targeted from “all sides” even as the conditions for media in the country improved slightly.

“Journalists are targeted by extremist groups, militant organisations and state organisations,” says a new report on press freedom by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The report, released early in January, showed that Pakistan had jumped 12 spots to 147 in RSF’s in 2016 World Press Freedom Index, up from 159 in 2015 and 158 in 2014.

Pakistan stands at number two in the international index of the most dangerous places for journalists, who face harassment, kidnappings and assassinations, RSF said. During the last 10 years, more than 100 journalists have been killed in Pakistan, with almost 98 per cent belonging to FATA, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan province.

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists has demanded that the government file cases or reopen old investigations into dozens of murdered journalists but there has so far been no action.

Last year, the International Federation of Journalists reported that Pakistan was amongst the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, with 102 journalists and media workers having lost their lives since 2005.

The IFJ’s report said that since 2010 alone, 73 journalists and media workers have been killed — almost one journalist every month. It termed Balochistan province a ‘Cemetery for Journalists’, where 31 journalists were killed since 2007.

“The armed insurgency and sectarian violence account for a number of these killings but many of them raise suspicions of the involvement of the state’s institutions,” it said.

The killers of journalists mostly walk free, as Pakistan has so far recorded only three convictions.

Mar. 16, 2016 marked a rare occasion for journalists in Pakistan to celebrate the third verdict convicting a murderer of journalist when a district court in KP sentenced a man named Aminullah to life imprisonment for the killing of journalist Ayub Khattak on Oct. 11, 2013 for his reporting on the drug trade, in which Aminullah was involved.

In March 2016, senior journalist Hamid Mir was targeted by unknown assailants who inflicted grievous injuries. The attackers were never found.

Mir, who later received the “Most Resilient Journalist” award by International Free Press in Holland in November, said he escaped the assassination attempt but wouldn’t leave Pakistan because people stood behind him. He dedicated his award to the people of Pakistan for showing bravery against militancy and terrorism.

“The award is recognition of my sacrifices for advancement of journalism, which encourages me,” he said.

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‘For Trump, Media Is Public Enemy Number One’http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/for-trump-media-is-public-enemy-number-one/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=for-trump-media-is-public-enemy-number-one http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/for-trump-media-is-public-enemy-number-one/#comments Fri, 27 Jan 2017 21:21:18 +0000 IPS News Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148700 By IPS News Desk
ROME, Jan 27 2017 (IPS)

“Alarmed by the new administration’s repeated attacks on the media and blatant disregard for facts in the first three days of Donald Trump’s presidency,” Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called on Trump and his team “to stop undermining the First Amendment and start defending it.”

Donald Trump speaking to supporters at an immigration policy speech at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona. Photo: Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, USA. Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license.

Donald Trump speaking to supporters at an immigration policy speech at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona. Photo: Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, USA. Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license.

In the first 72 hours since the 45th President of the United States took his oath of office, his administration has executed a coordinated attack on the media and demonstrated a clear disregard for facts, RSF on Jan. 26 reported.

“It is clear that Trump views the media as his number one enemy and is taking every single opportunity to try to weaken their credibility, said Margaux Ewen, Advocacy and Communications Director for RSF North America.

Any reporting he deems unfavorable to him, any reporting that does not jibe with his administration’s message of self-aggrandizement, is called false and irresponsible, Ewen added.

“RSF reminds Trump’s administration that the press does not provide public relations for the President, but reports the truth in order to hold government officials accountable, despite statements to the contrary from White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. What’s equally alarming is the repeated lies that Spicer and Trump’s advisors are feeding to the press, despite irrefutable photographic evidence to the contrary.”

Alternative Facts

On Saturday Jan. 20, President Trump made use of his first full day in office vigorously attacking the media, referring to them as “among the most dishonest human beings on earth” during a speech he made at C.I.A. headquarters, RSF reports.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer towed the same line at his first press conference since the inauguration, RSF adds, harshly scolding journalists for “deliberately false reporting” regarding the presence of a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. in the oval office and the size of inauguration crowds.

“He claimed “photographs of the inaugural proceedings were intentionally framed in a way to minimize the enormous support that had gathered on the national mall.”

He then falsely claimed “this was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration period. Both in person and around the globe,” says RSF.

“He proceeded to make several other false statements during the press conference and proclaimed that the media’s “attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong…We’re gonna hold the press accountable.” Spicer then refused to take any questions from reporters.”

On Jan. 25, during an interview with CNN’s Chuck Todd, Senior Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway claimed that Spicer had presented “alternative facts” and after being pressed to answer Todd’s question on why Spicer repeatedly stated falsehoods at Saturday’s press conference Conway said that the Trump administration might have to “rethink their relationship” with the press, RSF continued.

“In fact, the simultaneous attacks on the press for so called ‘inaccurate’ reporting and the use of what the administration calls ‘alternative facts’ to counter this reporting are reminiscent of an authoritarian government’s tactics, “ says Delphine Halgand, Director of RSF North America.

“The press freedom predators of the world are watching Trump and taking notes. It’s terrifying to think how much more brazen they will be in their attacks on journalists around the world now that the leader of the United States of America is setting a terrible example.”

Inaugural Incidents

On Inauguration day, the U.S. Department of the Interior was banned from Twitter after its account retweeted photographs comparing this year’s inauguration attendance with that of Obama’s 2009 inauguration, RSF informed.

In a statement from Jeffrey Ballou, it added, President of the National Press Club, it was alleged that several credentialed reporters were denied access to cover inaugural events. RSF is aware of one such incident which barred CNN from covering the Deploraball on the eve of Inauguration.

“As riots broke out in Washington, DC on Inauguration day, Washington Post video reporter Dalton Bennett was thrown to the ground by police while covering the arrests of dozens of anti-Trump protesters and rioters.”

AJC photographer Hyosub Shin was pepper sprayed in the face while covering the same riots in DC. Three journalists were arrested along with rioters and protestors: Alexander Rubinstein from RT America, Evan Engel for Vocativ, and Aaron Cantu, a freelance journalist who has written for Al Jazeera, among other outlets.”

RSF informs that they have since been charged with participating in a riot and could face up to 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine. The Guardian has reported that a documentary producer and 2 other journalists arrested while covering these events face the same charges.

The US currently ranks 41 out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.

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Social Networks in Mexico Both Fuel and Fight Discontenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/social-networks-in-mexico-both-fuel-and-fight-discontent/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=social-networks-in-mexico-both-fuel-and-fight-discontent http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/social-networks-in-mexico-both-fuel-and-fight-discontent/#comments Thu, 19 Jan 2017 19:38:01 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148584 The social networks have played an important role in citizens’ initiatives to organise protests against the gas price hike in Mexico and in the government’s strategy to curb cyber-activism. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The social networks have played an important role in citizens’ initiatives to organise protests against the gas price hike in Mexico and in the government’s strategy to curb cyber-activism. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jan 19 2017 (IPS)

The scene in the video is simple: a bearded man with a determined look on his face sitting in front of a white wall witha portrait of Emiliano Zapata, symbol of the Mexican revolution.

“Mexicans to the battle cry, the moment has come to overthrow the corrupt political system we are under, it is now or never. We will show what we are made of. With just two steps we will be able to write a new history, which our children and grandchildren will also enjoy,” lawyer Amín Cholác says emphatically.

In the video titled “Mexicans to the cry of: Peña out!,” Cholác urges people to take part in demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience against the rise in fuel prices adopted Jan. 1 by the government of conservative President Enrique Peña Nieto.

“I made this video because we cannot stand it anymore, this country cannot take it any longer,” the founder of the non-governmental organisation Dos Valles Valientes, who lives in the southern state of Chiapas, told IPS.

The video has thousands of views on Youtube, and in other video networks, and has also spread over Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp.

“It has been well received, people from all over the country have joined, they have communicated via social networks or by phone. But I have also been threatened, they put an image of hitmen, they insulted my mother, but if I had been scared, I wouldn’t have done it,” said Cholác.

The activist, whose organisation fights increases in electricity rates, said “the networks are a double-edged sword. They have worked extraordinarily well for us, because they are very accessible and cheap. Whatsapp reaches every corner, as do text messages.”

But activists are also threatened through the networks, said Cholác, whose Facebook account was cloned twice. “I opened another one, and I promised myself that for every Facebook account that was cloned, I would open three,” he said.

The video’s wide dissemination reflects the growing use of the Internet in Mexico to drive political and social movements, such as the resistance to fuel price increases. But the social networks also serve to promote counter-attacks against citizen initiatives by the political powers-that-be and the spreading of misinformation and propaganda by the other side.

The up to 20 per cent hike in fuel prices unleashed the latent social discontent, with dozens of protests, looting of shops, roadblocks, and blockades of border crossings throughout the country, as well as a wave of lawsuits filed by trade unions and organisations of farmers, students and shopkeepers.

The simultaneous price rises for fuel, electricity and cooking gas were a spark in a climate of discontent over the public perception of growing impunity, corruption and social inequality.

The protests, which have waned somewhat but show no signs of stopping, have led to at least six deaths, the arrests of 1,500 people, and the looting of dozens of stores.

 Topics addressed by accounts implicated in the dissemination of fear messages in the social networks to neutralise the protests against the fuel price hikes in Mexico, which were also promoted over the same networks.  Credit: Courtesy of Rossana Reguillo


Topics addressed by accounts implicated in the dissemination of fear messages in the social networks to neutralise the protests against the fuel price hikes in Mexico, which were also promoted over the same networks. Credit: Courtesy of Rossana Reguillo

“The protests in response to the price rises arose from spontaneous calls disseminated on WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter. A call started to circulate for people to not fill their gas tanks for three days, and around new year’s day the calls for protests started, mainly along the border,” said Alberto Escorcia, with the group Loquesigue TV.

On Jan. 4, the group published an analysis of the rumours and calls to violence, which were fed by 650 Twitter accounts and more than 7,600 messages – allegedly false accounts used to fight back against the protests.

As a result of the group’s publications, Escorcia received threats, he told IPS.

According to a study carried out last year, in 2015 Internet penetration in Mexico was 59 per cent, in a population of 122 million, in spite of there being almost one mobile phone per inhabitant. This is an indication of the relative power of digital democracy in this country.

Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Twitter are the social networks preferred by Mexicans.

“Between Jan. 2 and 3 the ‘gasolinazo’ (the price rise) was going to be an important trending topic, because it is a noble theme, in the sense that it attracts a variety of sectors and affects society as a whole,” expert Rossana Reguillo told IPS.

“But on Jan. 4, the countertrend started. ‘Bots’ and ‘trolls’ gained visibility, giving rise to other trends. The (protests against the) gasolinazo started to lose ground,” said Reguillo, the head of the interdisciplinary laboratory Signa Lab, at the private Western Institute of Technology and Higher Education.

The lab examined Twitter and detected more than 10,000 accounts involved in the dissemination of some 15,000 messages aimed at neutralising the social unrest. Standing out in this effort were the online groups Legión Hulk and SomosSecta100tifika (which translates into ‘We are a scientific sect‘). The latter promotes the trending topic #GolpeDeEstadoMx (Pro Coup D’etat Mexico).

This counteroffensive shows how the citizens‘ online mobilisation triggers a response from the powers under attack, as well as threats against activists, such as the ones received by Cholác and Escorcia.

“We have found a pattern of fear-mongering and anonymous calls similar to what we saw ahead of the inauguration of Peña Nieto (in December 2012), when weeks before, rumours of looting began to circulate,” said Escorcia.

In his opinion, “this time there was greater damage, because the fear of going out and the encouragement for people to get involved in the looting spread from the web to the streets,” he said.

A precedent to this was the reaction sparked by the notorious quote by then Attorney-General Jesús Murillo, who said “I´ve had enough“ in November 2014, referring to the unresolved case of the forced disappearance in September of that year of 43 student teachers in Ayotzinapa, in the southern state of Guerrero.

That expression generated the trending topic on Twitter #YaMeCansé (“I‘ve had enough“), as well as an attempt to neutralise it.

A study “On the influence of social bots in online protests; Preliminary findings of a Mexican case study“, published last September by academics from Mexico and the United States, concluded that there was an important presence of bots, which simulate human beings, affecting discussions online about the case of the missing students.

This phenomenon is widespread, and in Latin America the experts consulted by IPS mention in particular the case of Brazil, during the lengthy process that lead to former president Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment and removal from office, in August 2016.

Their hypothesis is that companies dedicated to these services work for governments and political parties to silence online dissent.

In the case of Mexico, Escorcia said “there are companies that generate anything from online attacks to fake news items and political campaigns, which have worked for all kinds of organisations: left-wing, right-wing, and obviously for the PRI,” the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party.

For Reguillo, who has also been a victim of social network attacks on several occasions, the main question is who is behind this cyber activity.

“There is money involved here, it’s not a group of young people who say ‘let‘s crash the web‘. There is a clear strategy to silence debate, to invade the public space and turn Twitter into a battlefield. They destabilise the space for discussion,” she commented.

“Nobody can stop this. People have become aware and are protesting,” said Cholác, who is calling for mass demonstrations on Feb. 5.

Another fuel price hike scheduled for early February will spark further online battles.

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Right to Information Dead on Arrival at UNhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/right-to-information-dead-on-arrival-at-un/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=right-to-information-dead-on-arrival-at-un http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/right-to-information-dead-on-arrival-at-un/#comments Thu, 19 Jan 2017 18:32:48 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148581 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 19 2017 (IPS)

The 193-member UN General Assembly has been dragging its feet on a proposal that has been kicked around the corridors of the United Nations for over 10 years: a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) providing journalists the “right to information” in a sprawling bureaucracy protective of its turf.

world-press-freedom-dayIronically, nearly 100 countries – all of them UN member states – have approved some form of national legislation recognizing the right to information (RTI) within their own borders but still seem unenthusiastic in extending it to the press corps at the United Nations.

The US Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which dates back to 1967, has provided the public and the press the right to request access to records from any federal agency—and has been described as “the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government”.

In the US, federal agencies are required to disclose any information requested under the FOIA unless it falls under one of nine exemptions which protect interests such as personal privacy, national security, and law enforcement.

In Australia, the legislation is known as Right2Know; in Bangladesh, the Right to Information (RTI) Resources Centre provides resources for those seeking to file a request with government agencies; in Japan, the Citizens’ Centre for Information Disclosure offers help to those interested in filing requests; in India, the Right to Information: a Citizen Gateway is the portal for RTI; Canada’s Access to Information Act came into force in 1983 and Kenya’s Access to Information Act was adopted in August 2016, according to the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD).

The strongest law among the new countries on the RTI Rating is that of Sri Lanka, which scores 121 points, putting the country in 9th place globally, says CLD.

The passage of this law means that every country in South Asia apart from Bhutan now has an RTI law. The region is generally a strong performer, with every country scoring over 100 points except Pakistan, which continues to languish near the bottom of the rating, according to CLD.

And Sweden’s Freedom of the Press Act of 1766 has been described as the “oldest in the world.”

Samir Sanbar, a former UN Assistant Secretary-General who headed the Department of Public Information (DPI), which provides media accreditation and doles out free office space to UN-based journalists, told IPS the right to information is an integral part of U.N. principles.

But providing that right—even the basic information available in the public domain– has been stymied both by member states and the UN bureaucracy, he added.

He pointed out that the need to “inform the peoples” of the United Nations is implicitly indicated in the Charter.

But implementing it was “a basic issue I had experienced throughout my work, with both certain government officials– including those publicly claiming open channels– and many senior U.N. Secretariat colleagues”.

Those who believed “Information is Power” were very hesitant, to what they perceived was sharing their authority with a wider public, said Sanbar who served under five different UN Secretaries-General.

“It was most evident that when I launched the now uncontested website www.un.org, a number of powerful Under-Secretaries-General (USGs) and Permanent Representatives cautioned me against “telling everyone what was happening” (in the UN system) and refused to authorize any funds.”

“I had to raise a team of DPI volunteers in my office, operating from within the existing budget, to go ahead and eventually offer computers loaned from an outside source, to certain delegations to realize it was more convenient for them to access news releases than having to send one of their staffers daily to the building to collect material from the third floor.“

Eventually, everyone joined in, and the site is now recognized as one of the ten best official sites worldwide.

“We had a similar difficulty in prodding for International World Press Freedom Day through the General Assembly. It seems that even those with the best of intentions– since delegates represent official governments that view free press with cautious monitoring– are usually weary of opening a potentially vulnerable issue,” said Sanbar, author of the recently-released “Inside the U.N. in a Leaderless World’.

Matthew Lee, an investigative UN-based journalist who has been pursuing the story for over 10 years, told IPS he has been virtually fighting a losing battle.

“When I first got to the UN in late 2005, I noticed there was no FOIA. After asking around about it, I got then Under-Secretary-General (USG) for Management, Christopher Burnham, to say he would work on it. But he left. So I asked his replacement at Under-Secretary-General, Alicia Barcena, who said she would work on it. She never did.”

The UN Secretariat, he said, has continued to blame the General Assembly. But the Secretariat could easily adopt its own policy, for example, to disclose who pays for UN Secretary-General’s travel.

Asked about the FOIA, UN deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq told IPS last year: “The secretary-general supports the idea of transparency. But this would be an issue for member states.”
Barbara Crossette, a former UN Bureau Chief for the New York Times and currently contributing editor and writer for PassBlue, an online publication covering the UN, told IPS: “I think you are right, to be sceptical about getting anything like this through the General Assembly. Or for that matter that the Security Council would be cooperative, if asked for information.”

As you would know, a lot of people who have worked in DPI see the General Assembly – and the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) in particular — as loathe to promote the sharing of information, even in the current setup, and assume that not enough countries would back making access to it a right, she noted.

“A FOIA would be a godsend to would-be spies. And how would it be legally crafted, I wonder?. It would be interesting to know if places like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have these policies.”

The new Secretary–General Antonio Guterres’ team “is supposed to be writing a new communications policy for the UN — making it more open and effective in outreach generally. But I don’t know if that will include journalists.”

In one of her recent pieces in PassBlue, Crossette said the DPI is also completely hamstrung by its mandate, officials acknowledge, and the head of the office, who ranks as Under Secretary-General, is not chosen primarily for his or her media skills, but is often a political appointee with little or no journalism experience.

He or she must work under tight budgetary conditions deliberately framed to not give the department the tools it needs, she added.

Sinha Ratnatunga, editor-in- chief of the Sunday Times, a major weekly newspaper in Sri Lanka, told IPS the RTI law was passed by parliament last June; signed into law by the Speaker in August and becomes operational on February 4 (independence Day).

“However, there is a provision to ‘stagger’ its implementation if the government isn’t ready”, he pointed out.

“In any event the law must be operational whether the government is ready or not by August 4 (one year after the Speaker signed it into law). But the government is rather silent on how prepared they are for February 4 which is hardly a fortnight or so away”, said Ratnatunga , Deputy Chairman, of the Sri Lanka Press Institute and Board Member of the World Association of Newspapers (WAN-IFRA).

He said the law is pretty progressive but many people, including journalists “are pretty clueless about its power and reach and what difference it can make to empowering citizens and journalists in the quest of good governance.”

He said there’s a whole exercise of educating public servants, appointing Information Officers, educating the journalists and the citizenry ahead.

“Yes, the law took 12 plus years in the making, but the most difficult process of educating the country on the potential of the law lies ahead.”

“Hopefully, the media will play the role of whistleblower, but fewer journalists are now interested in investigative journalism; so we have to wait and see if all the trouble in bringing the law was worth it, after all,” he declared.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Populist Leaders Endanger Human Rights: Advocacy Organisationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/populist-leaders-endanger-human-rights-advocacy-organisation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=populist-leaders-endanger-human-rights-advocacy-organisation http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/populist-leaders-endanger-human-rights-advocacy-organisation/#comments Thu, 12 Jan 2017 22:56:12 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148492 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/populist-leaders-endanger-human-rights-advocacy-organisation/feed/ 0 Bangladesh’s Women Journalists Rise Against the Oddshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/bangladeshs-women-journalists-rise-against-the-odds/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bangladeshs-women-journalists-rise-against-the-odds http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/bangladeshs-women-journalists-rise-against-the-odds/#comments Wed, 11 Jan 2017 13:44:10 +0000 Mahfuzur Rahman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148466 Wahida Zaman of United News of Bangladesh. Photo Courtesy of Wahida Zaman.

Wahida Zaman of United News of Bangladesh. Photo Courtesy of Wahida Zaman.

By Mahfuzur Rahman
DHAKA, Jan 11 2017 (IPS)

Journalism is a profession that attracts both sexes, but social taboos and hostile office climates have kept the numbers of women working in Bangladesh’s media sector dismally low. Still, a new generation of women is stepping up, with the support of their path-breaking colleagues.

According to an October 2016 report by senior female journalist Shahnaz Munni of News 24, a private TV channel in Bangladesh, women journalists in Bangladesh’s media industry account for only 5 percent in print and 25 percent in electronic media.“You have to face some obstacles, some real challenges. And they start straight from your own home." --Wahida Zaman

Braving these odds and obstacles, young female graduates are increasingly joining the profession. Wahida Zaman, for example, recently joined United News of Bangladesh (UNB), an independent wire service, as an apprentice sub-editor.

“Unlike many other classmates of mine, both male and female, I chose to study journalism by choice. Before being a journalist, I was actually a photographer. Nothing thrills me more than the thought that journalism can give me all these opportunities in one package,” Zaman told IPS.

“I can go to places, meet new people, get to know new stories — stories of both successful and unsuccessful people, and of course take lots of photographs. That’s how my dream of being a journalist started blooming.”

But, she said, being a woman and a journalist at the same time is not so easy in real life. “You have to face some obstacles, some real challenges. And they start straight from your own home,” Zaman added.

There is often resistance among family members, who want their women to be ‘safe’, she said.

“First of all you’ll have to convince your family that journalism is not a ‘risky’ profession at all for you. In our society, you’ll often get undermined for being a woman. You cannot go far because you’re a woman, you cannot move alone because you’re a woman, you cannot work at late night because you’re a woman, you cannot be brave enough to do investigative reporting because you’re a woman — and excuses keep coming.”

Nadia Sharmeen, a reporter at Ekattor TV, a private television channel in Bangladesh, came under attack in 2013 while covering a rally organised by Hefazat-e-Islam, for Ekushey Television, her previous workplace, in the capital Dhaka.

Sharmeen, who won the US State Department’s International Women of Courage Award in 2015, told the IPS that women in Bangladesh face challenges in all sectors. “Threats and intimidation have been part of this profession for women,” she said.

Hailing from Bagerhat, a remote southwestern district of Bangladesh, she said she enjoys the full support of her family in pursuing her career.

Sanchita Sharma, a news editor with Boishakhi Television, said the atmosphere for female journalists in Bangladesh is better now than at any time before and their numbers are growing — but are still not satisfactory.

Sharma said one problem is that women still focus on being news presenters rather than reporters or copy editors, which can help them get elevated to top positions.

Sanchita Sharma of Boishakhi Television. Photo Courtesy of Sanchita Sharma.

Sanchita Sharma of Boishakhi Television. Photo Courtesy of Sanchita Sharma.

Apart from social problems, a common challenge for women journalists is they have to manage both their homes and their offices. “It’s a double trouble for them,” she said.

Regarding the Bangladesh National Press Club, Sharma said the men who dominate its Executive Committee are reluctant to grant membership to women. “It’s very painful that women account for only 54 among the Club’s 1,218 members,” she said.

Echoing Sharma, Rashada Akhter Shimul, a Joint News Editor at Somoy TV, said male journalists misinterpret the successes and promotions of their female counterparts with concocted juicy stories.

She said their male bosses can be unnecessarily tough in putting their female colleagues on night shifts. “They (male bosses) can easily spare us from nightshift duty if there is no emergency, but they don’t. That’s why many promising girls are quitting the profession.”

Every profession has hazards, but in journalism this is disheartening, particularly for women. “Things are improving, but slowly,” she said.

Shimul said male bosses also undermine female journalists and ignore them when it comes to covering important and challenging news beats like that of crime and PMO (the Prime Minister’s Office).

Shahiduzzaman, Editor of News Network, a leading non-profit media support organisation of Bangladesh, said the atmosphere in Bangladesh for female journalists is still far from ideal.

Shahiduzzaman, also a Representative and Senior Adviser for South Asia with Inter Press Service (IPS), said it was the News Network that first came forward in the mid-1990s to provide journalism training to female university graduates by offering them fellowships.

He said News Network has so far provided training to nearly 300 young and upcoming women journalists with support from donors like Diakonia, Free Press, USAID, Ford Foundation, Norad, Canadian International Development Agency, The World Bank and Janata Bank, a public sector local bank. And 60 percent of them are now working in the country’s mainstream media. “Sanchita and Shimul are among them,” he mentioned.

Stressing the importance of gender equity in Bangladesh’s media industry, Shahiduzzaman said a very few of the 5 percent female journalists hold policymaking positions, which is necessary for to make far-reaching changes.

Regretting that there are hardly any female journalists at the country’s district level, the News Network editor said widespread training programmes are needed to encourage female young graduates to take up journalism as their profession.

“We can do even better if we can get support from donors as in the past,” he said.

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More Than 50 Internet Shutdowns in 2016http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/more-than-50-internet-shutdowns-in-2016/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=more-than-50-internet-shutdowns-in-2016 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/more-than-50-internet-shutdowns-in-2016/#comments Fri, 30 Dec 2016 06:16:31 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148353 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/more-than-50-internet-shutdowns-in-2016/feed/ 0 Reporting from Inside a Refugee Detention Centrehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/reporting-from-inside-a-refugee-detention-centre/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reporting-from-inside-a-refugee-detention-centre http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/reporting-from-inside-a-refugee-detention-centre/#comments Thu, 29 Dec 2016 23:01:17 +0000 Andy Hazel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148350 Journalist and asylum seeker Behrouz Boochani is detained indefinitely by the Australian government on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island. Credit: Aref Heidari.

Journalist and asylum seeker Behrouz Boochani is detained indefinitely by the Australian government on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island. Credit: Aref Heidari.

By Andy Hazel
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 29 2016 (IPS)

Despite being locked up in an Australian detention centre on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, Kurdish-Iranian journalist Behrouz Boochani has continued reporting – gaining bylines and media attention around the world.

Journalism is the reason Boochani was forced to flee his home country of Iran, and – like the other 900 men detained indefinitely on Manus Island – seek refuge in Australia.

“When the Australian government exiled me to Manus Island I found out that they are basing their policy on secrecy and dishonesty,” Boochani told IPS.

“In my first days here I started to work to send out the voice of people in Manus. Why did I start? Because the Australian government’s policy of indefinite detention is against my principles and values, and against global human values.”

“I know that I am a refugee but I'm a journalist and writer too. I have been denied my identity as a journalist because of this refugee concept and most of the media don't care about that." -- Behrouz Boochani

Boochani worked as a freelance writer in Iran and founded the magazine Werya, devoted to exploring Kurdish politics, culture and history. In February 2013 the offices of Werya were raided by the paramilitary agency the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, also known as Sepah, classified by the US government as a terrorist organisation.

Boochani was in a different city when 11 of his colleagues were arrested. The story he wrote about the raid on the website Iranian Reporters quickly went global and put him in the government’s sights and he fled.

Boochani spent his first two years in detention writing and publishing articles under a fake name, for fear of losing the mobile phone that has been his lifeline since arriving on Manus Island.

“We were not allowed to have phones until April this year,” he explains. “The guards twice searched my room looking for my phone. After two years of sending out my work in this way I felt that I had become part of Australian society and with the support of (international organisations) PEN International and Reporters Without Borders, I started to use my real name. I would never say that I’m not scared, but I say that fear is not powerful enough to stop me or prevent me from working on my mission. It’s my duty to document all of what happens here.”

What has been happening on Manus Island has attracted global condemnation. In May the UN Human Rights Council condemned the detention centre and Papua New Guinea affirmed that it would be shut down. Since then, the Australian government have declared the centre ‘open’, meaning that inmates can come and go freely though they cannot leave the island. Boochani and other detainees have spoken of being encouraged to accept residency in Papua New Guinea, despite attacks on detainees from both local residents and police forces. Returning to Iran, Boochani says, is not an option.

“PEN International and a coalition of human rights groups launched an international campaign on behalf of Mr Boochani in September 2015. The campaign called for Mr Boochani’s request for asylum to be processed by Australian immigration officials as soon as possible and urged the Australian government to abide by their obligations to the principle of non-refoulement—as defined by Article 33 of the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Despite numerous approaches to the Australian government and relevant ministers and departments, by the campaign coalition and its supporters, there has been no response from senior government officials.”
– PEN International letter to Australian Minister of Immigration Hon. Peter Dutton MP, November 3, 2016

“The political situation in Iran does not change especially for Kurdish people. There are about 20 journalists still in prison there. In November, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution against the Iranian regime for violating human rights. Last year they hanged more than 1,000 people. How can I go back?”

Since arriving in Manus Island, Boochani has written for Australian and international newspapers and radio programs and co-directed the feature length documentary about life on Manus Island Chauka, Please Tell Us the Time. He has continued to write articles about Kurdish culture and politics for Kurdish media, published poetry and essays, contributed to two forthcoming books and completed his first novel, due in mid-2017.

One of the greatest challenges facing Boochani is what he calls “the refugee concept”, the willingness of Australian and international media to use his insight and words but to cast him as a “broken man” or a refugee.

“This is a big form of censorship,” he says. “I know that I am a refugee but I’m a journalist and writer too. I have been denied my identity as a journalist because of this refugee concept and most of the media don’t care about that. When I have found a subject for a story and provided information and documents to other journalists sometimes they have ignored me, or other times they published a story on the basis of my information but denied my identity by referring to me only as a refugee. I’m doing the same job as other journalists in Australia or anywhere else, but I am always called a refugee.”

Overcoming the international concept of Australia as a peaceful, law-abiding nation with a relaxed attitude to life also presents a difficulty to Boochani as a journalist. “We are being tortured by a western country and the media and human rights organisations find it hard to believe that a country like Australia is implementing policies that are the same in many ways as Iran or Saudi Arabia,” he says. “I am a prisoner like the others here. It’s hard to work in this situation. I have to endure prison and torture and at the same time work as a journalist or human rights defender.”

The Manus Island detention centre holds around 900 men, most of whom are refugees intercepted en route to Australia having fled conflicts in countries such as Sudan or Syria, or persecution as is the case with Rohingyas from Myanmar.

The detention centre is a key part of a multi-billion-dollar bilateral agreement between the Papua New Guinean and Australian governments. Condemnation of Australia’s offshore detention of asylum seekers has come from several branches of the United Nations including the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Committee Against Torture, the High Commissioner for Refugees, the Special Rapporteur on torture and the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants.

While identifying as a journalist and writer, Boochani is not motivated by profit.

“If I do work for money, I will lose my way. The important thing is to send out a voice from Manus and let people know the reality.”

“I am a journalist, I am a writer, I am a prisoner. The history of this prison is written in my hand … I am here with only a phone and my tongue and say:  I am more than you know. The Australian government made a mistake exiling a journalist to this prison and keeping him as hostage.  Writing is my mission, my work, it is me.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article said that the UN Human Rights Council had declared Manus Island Detention Centre illegal. The council condemned the centre, and in response the PNG government declared it illegal.

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Right to Information Act to Redefine Sri Lanka’s Media Landscapehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/right-to-information-act-to-redefine-sri-lankas-media-landscape/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=right-to-information-act-to-redefine-sri-lankas-media-landscape http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/right-to-information-act-to-redefine-sri-lankas-media-landscape/#comments Wed, 14 Dec 2016 14:29:17 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148207 Media experts and government officials say that the new Right to Information Act will change the way media works in Sri Lanka. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Media experts and government officials say that the new Right to Information Act will change the way media works in Sri Lanka. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Dec 14 2016 (IPS)

Sri Lanka’s upcoming 69th Independence Commemorations will be of special value to the island’s media – that is, if everything works as planned.

The newly minted Right to Information (RTI) act will take effect on Feb. 4, 2017, according to officials at the Ministry of Mass Media and the Department of Information. Sri Lanka’s beleaguered media – by some estimates over 20 journalists and media workers have been killed in the last decade – has been breathing more easily since January 2015 when a new government headed by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe took power. The RTI act was one of their election pledges.“It is like putting the government in a glass box." --Media Minister Gayantha Karunathilaka

The act itself dates back to over two decades and has traveled a long and arduous road. Its first imprint was in the 1998 Colombo Declaration of Media Freedom and Social Responsibility. In 2004, Wickremasinghe, who briefly headed the government, initiated the drafting of the Freedom of Information Bill. It was tabled in parliament but could not be taken up for a vote since the government was ousted.

In 2010, current speaker Karu Jayasuriya introduced the 2004 draft as a private member’s motion, but that too was defeated. On June 24 this year, the RTI bill was finally passed by parliament. But there is still a long way to go.

The RTI Commission of five members is yet to be appointed. President Sirisena has ratified three names but is yet to fill the other two. Officials close to him say that the two final nominees have shown some reluctance, others say that the president is dragging his feet.

Officials at Ministry of Mass Media and the Department of Information, who are spearheading the changes in the public sector for the implementation of the Act, have chosen to stay quiet on this subject, though a few admit privately that there is a snag.

Despite the obstacles, officials at the two institutions are moving ahead, with the aim of announcing soon that by Feb. 4 next year, Sri Lankans can for the first time submit RTI requests.

Media Minister Gayantha Karunathilaka says that the RTI act will change the way the country is governed. “It is like putting the government in a glass box,” he recently told a gathering in southern Galle on the act.

The minister admits that the act will be a watershed in Sri Lanka media culture. “Now journalists can rely on verified, authenticated information from the government, rather than on hearsay.”

But he says that the larger effect will be on the country as a whole. “People don’t know about this that much. But with this act, politicians will have to think not twice, but thrice before they act, because the general public now has the right to seek and obtain information legally and the government is duty bound to give such information.”

Sri Lanka’s media faced repeated attacks like this burning of The Sunday Leader press on the outskirts of the capital Colombo in November 2007, but has breathed more easily since the new government took office in January 2015. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Sri Lanka’s media faced repeated attacks like this burning of The Sunday Leader press on the outskirts of the capital Colombo in November 2007, but has breathed more easily since the new government took office in January 2015. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Director General of Information Ranga Kalansooriya, a former journalist and a media trainer, puts Sri Lanka’s new act on a par with its Indian counterpart or even above it.

While the Indian act does not allow for overruling of RTI request denials based on national security once all the appeals are exhausted, the Sri Lanka version includes clauses where the commission can overrule some denials.

“For example, if there was a case of military corruption, like in an arms deal, this is a case of national defence. But if the public interest in corruption is heavier, then the commission can release this information,” Kalansooriya told IPS.

The Information Department has already begun to appoint and train public officials on handling RTI requests. Kalansooriya said that over 1,000 have so far been appointed. The government is also going to set up set up a special unit that will handle RTI requests relating to private companies and contractors working with government agencies.

RTI experts say that for the act to function efficiently, an attitude shift is required in the way public officials work, from being opaque to being transparent.

“The law itself requires a paradigm shift in governance because until the RTI Act was brought in, the understanding about how government business should be conducted is that information will be shared with people on a need-to-know basis,” said Indian expert Venkatesh Nayak.

“The RTI Act turns that on its head by saying that people have the right to seek information of any kind that they would want to get access to and the law provides for that access with the exception of certain circumstances when the disclosure may not be in the public interest.”

Nayak, who has been working with Sri Lankan non-governmental organsiations on building awareness, also feels the act needs to be promoted widely and is still largely unknown outside of urban areas, a fact even Media Minister Karunathilaka admits.

“Unlike other laws, the RTI law is perhaps the only law of its kind which is not going to get implemented unless there is a demand from the people to implement it,” Nayak said.

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Journalists Honoured for their Courage, Resolvehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/journalists-honoured-for-their-courage-resolve/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=journalists-honoured-for-their-courage-resolve http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/journalists-honoured-for-their-courage-resolve/#comments Wed, 30 Nov 2016 03:18:20 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148004 Burton Benjamin Memorial Award recipient Christiane Amanpour with IPFA honorees Malini Subramaniam, Óscar Martínez, and Can Dündar at the International Press Freedom Awards. Nov. 22, 2016, New York. Credit: CPJ/Barbara Nitke.

Burton Benjamin Memorial Award recipient Christiane Amanpour with IPFA honorees Malini Subramaniam, Óscar Martínez, and Can Dündar at the International Press Freedom Awards. Nov. 22, 2016, New York. Credit: CPJ/Barbara Nitke.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
NEW YORK, Nov 30 2016 (IPS)

Journalism has become one of the world’s most dangerous professions, making the courageous achievements of this year’s four International Press Freedom Award winners particularly meaningful.

The four winners from El Salvador, India, Turkey and Egypt were honoured for their courageous achievements by the Committee to Protect Journalists at the 26th International Press Freedom Awards on November 21.

“These awardees are truly remarkable journalists, all of whom have carried out their work with the knowledge that doing so puts them in real danger,” said CPJ’s Board Chairman Sandra Mims Rowe.

“It is heartening to see such resolve, and to know that even under the most threatening conditions, journalists will always find a way to do their job,” she continued.

Since 1992, CPJ found that 1220 journalists have been killed, the majority of whom were murdered with complete impunity. In 2015 alone, nearly 200 journalists were also imprisoned worldwide.

Can Dündar, one of the awardees and chief editor of Turkish daily newspaper Cumhuriyet, was arrested in November 2015 and sentenced to 6 years in prison after publishing a report claiming Turkey’s intelligence service’s plans to send weapons to Syrian rebel groups.

“It is our right to write, and the people’s right to know. We are not only defending a profession, but we are defending the people’s right to be informed,” -- Can Dündar.

Dündar, who was arrested on charges of disclosing state secrets, espionage and aiding a terrorist group, told IPS of the importance of press freedom.

“It is our right to write, and the people’s right to know. We are not only defending a profession, but we are defending the people’s right to be informed,” he said.

“This award is a kind of message from the world to us that they are aware of our struggle,” Dündar continued.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF)’s Press Freedom Index, Turkey is ranked 151st out of 180 countries. Since the election of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2014, more than 1800 cases were opened against journalists and cartoonists for insulting the leader.

The country’s media crackdown has only deepened since the coup attempt in July as the Turkish government has allegedly used its state of emergency and anti-terror laws to shut down over 100 news agencies and imprison approximately 120 journalists.

Óscar Martínez, another awardee and investigative reporter from El Salvador, also highlighted the important role of media to IPS, stating: “Only in countries where the press can exercise its right to freely inform is it possible to illuminate those dark corners [of societies] that would otherwise stay in the dark.”

One such dark corner is the ongoing violence in El Salvador. The Central American nation is now the world’s most violent country that is not at war, with over 6,500 murders in 2015 alone. After reporting on extrajudicial killings by police, Martínez received death threats and was forced to temporarily flee the country.

Though CPJ’s award can help the press freedom cause, Martínez added that governments must ensure and provide real protection for journalists.

Malini Subramaniam similarly reports on abuses by police and security forces and extrajudicial killings, but in India’s “Red Corridor” where a five-decade long conflict between Maoists and the government has persisted.

Working in the Indian State of Chhattisgarh, first as a development worker then as a journalist, Subramaniam told IPS that she saw indigenous residents, known as adivasis, caught in the crossfire without essential services or a voice.

“These stories were not coming out…I realised that these stories need to be told,” Subramaniam told IPS, adding that the dangers of telling the story did not matter to her.

Due to her critical reports on human rights abuses, Subramaniam has had to cope with numerous instances of police interrogation and harassment, eventually forcing Subramaniam to leave the Bastar district of Chhattisgarh.

However, Subramaniam noted that she is just one of the journalists that faced such perils there. According to CPJ, at least four journalists are imprisoned in the Central Indian state, and other journalists including a BBC correspondent have been forced to flee the area for fear of reprisal.

“It’s not just about an individual, it is about the larger field,” Subramaniam told IPS.

“This award will sort of amplify the situation that is there in Bastar as far as reporting is concerned, what’s happening to the journalists that are there and as a message to the government of India to wake up,” she continued.

CPJ also honoured Mahmoud Abou Zeid, an Egyptian photojournalist who has been in prison since August 2013.

Zeid, who is also known as Shawkan, was arrested while covering clashes between Egyptian security forces and supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi. Among the charges he faces is weapons possession, illegal assembly and murder.

Egypt is the second largest jailer of journalists in the world, only second to China, CPJ found.

Attending the awards ceremony on behalf of Shawkan was his childhood friend Ahmed Abu Seif.

“I still sometimes want to wake up and for somebody to tell me that it is just a dream,” Seif told IPS, adding that it hurts him that Shawkan is not there himself to receive CPJ’s award.

“This award means a lot for recognising a journalist behind bars. It’s also a sign to tell the Egyptian government that…even if you don’t recognise him as a journalist, we do,” he continued.

The fight for press freedom is not limited to countries like Egypt and Turkey, but also continues to remain an issue in the United States.

Receiving the Burton Benjamin Memorial award was Christiane Amanpour who pointed to the perils American journalists face and may continue to face after President-elect Trump assumes office.

“I never in a million years thought I would be up here on stage appealing for the freedom and safety of American journalists at home,” she told attendees, pointing to a tweet by President-elect Trump that said “professional protesters” were “incited by the media.”

She particularly noted the issues U.S. media faced while reporting the presidential campaigns in balancing neutrality and truth, but said that this cannot continue.

“I learned long ago, covering the ethnic cleansing and genocide in Bosnia, never to equate victim with aggressor, never to create a false moral or factual equivalence, because then you are an accomplice to the most unspeakable crimes and consequences. I believe in being truthful, not neutral and I believe we must stop banalising the truth,” she said.

She added that the media can either contribute to a more functional system or to deepen the political dysfunction.

“This above all is an appeal to protect journalism itself…we have to stand up together–for divided we will all fall,” she concluded.

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Journalism in Honduras Trapped in Violencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/journalism-in-honduras-trapped-in-violence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=journalism-in-honduras-trapped-in-violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/journalism-in-honduras-trapped-in-violence/#comments Mon, 28 Nov 2016 20:38:47 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147989 Reporters in Tegucigalpa staged a demonstration in April this year with coffins outside the office of the public prosecutor, to protest the murders of media workers in Honduras in the last decade. Credit: Courtesy of Proceso Digital for IPS

Reporters in Tegucigalpa staged a demonstration in April this year with coffins outside the office of the public prosecutor, to protest the murders of media workers in Honduras in the last decade. Credit: Courtesy of Proceso Digital for IPS

By Thelma Mejía
TEGUCIGALPA, Nov 28 2016 (IPS)

It was in the wee hours of the morning on October 19 when journalist Ricardo Matute, from Corporación Televicentro’s morning newscast, was out on the beat in San Pedro Sula, one of the most violent cities in Honduras.

He heard about a vehicle that had rolled and was the first on the scene of the accident. When he saw four men in the car, he called the emergency number, for help. Little did he know that they were members of a powerful “mara” or gang.

Furious that he was making the phone call, they shot and wounded him, and forced him to get back into the TV station’s van, along with the cameraman and driver, and drove off with them.

But other journalists who also patrol the city streets each night saw the kidnapping and chased the van until the gang members crashed it and fled. If they hadn’t been “rescued” this way, the three men would very likely have been killed, because the criminals had already identified Matute and they generally do not leave loose ends, the journalists involved in the incident told IPS.“Now it turns out that reporters not only have to avoid commenting or giving news that affect the country’s groups of power, but also common criminals, and meanwhile the authorities don’t give us any real assurance of protection” -- Juan Carlos Sierra

Matute, who is part of TV5´s so-called Night Patrol, was wounded in the neck with an Ak-47. The reporters lamented that in spite of the fact that the accident occurred near military installations and that they asked for help, the military failed to respond.

“The state does not protect us, but rather attacks us,” one journalist told IPS on condition of anonymity.

Now Matute, a young reporter who was working for Televicentro, the biggest broadcasting corporation in Honduras, is safeguarded by a government protection programme, under a new law for the protection of human rights activists, journalists, social communicators and justice system employees.

Some 10 journalists, according to official figures, have benefited from the so-called Protection Law, in force for less than a year.

Matute sought protection under the programme after the authorities released, a day after the accident, a video showing the gang members who attacked him, captured by a local security camera. They were members of Mara 18 and carried AK-47 and AR-15 rifles.

Mara 18 and MS-13 are the largest gangs in Honduras. Mara 18 is the most violent of the two. Through turf wars they have basically divvied up large towns and cities for their contract killing operations, drug dealing, kidnappings, money laundering and extortions, among other criminal activity.

The authorities recommended that Matute take refuge under the protection programme and leave his job, since after the video was broadcast, the gang members felt exposed and could act against him in retaliation.

The young reporter Mai Ling Coto, who patrolled with Matute in search of night-time news scoops, told IPS that reporting in Honduras is no longer a “normal” job but is now a dangerous occupation.

This is especially true in a belt that includes at least eight of the country’s 18 departments or provinces, according to the Violence Observatory of the Public National Autonomous University of Honduras.

“Now the only thing that is left is to entrust ourselves to God. We used to report normally without a problem, but now things have changed, especially for those of us who work at night. We have to learn new codes to move around danger zones in the city and the outskirts,” she said.

“If we go to gang territory, we have to roll down our windows and flash our headlights; we move around in groups so they see that we are not alone,“ said Coto from San Pedro Sula, describing some of the security protocols they follow.

Reporters protested in seven cities in Honduras in May 2014 for the kidnapping and murder of Alfredo Villatoro, a reporter with Emisoras Unidas, the country’s main radio station. Credit: Courtesy of Proceso Digital for IPS

Reporters protested in seven cities in Honduras in May 2014 for the kidnapping and murder of Alfredo Villatoro, a reporter with Emisoras Unidas, the country’s main radio station. Credit: Courtesy of Proceso Digital for IPS

San Pedro Sula, 250 kilometres from the capital, is the city with the most developed economy in Honduras. It has a population of 742,000, and in 2015 had a homicide rate of 110 per 100,000 people.

This Central American nation of 8.8 million people is considered one of the most violent countries in the world.

The Commission for Free Expression (C-Libre), a coalition of journalists and humanitarian organisations, reported that between 2001 and 2015 63 journalists, rural communicators and social communicators were murdered.

In 2015 alone, C-libre identified 11 murders of people working in the media: the owner of a media outlet, a director of a news programme, four camerapersons, a control operator, three entertainment broadcasters, and one announcer of a religious programme. Most of them occurred outside of Tegucigalpa.

Ana Ortega, director of C-Libre, believes that journalism is not only a victim of violence, but also of laws and impunity.

She stated this in the group’s annual report on freedom of expression, observing that a secrecy law obstructs the right of information, while new reforms to the criminal code are planned with references to the press.

“Now it turns out that reporters not only have to avoid commenting or giving news that affects the country’s power groups, but also common criminals, and meanwhile the authorities don’t give us any real assurance of protection,” Juan Carlos Sierra, director of the news broadcast where Matute worked, told IPS in Tegucigalpa.

Another journalist from San Pedro Sula who asked to remain anonymous added: “We are helpless because we cannot trust the authorities, the police or the public prosecutors, since when they see us, they attack us and sometimes send us as cannon fodder to certain scenes, and they arrive afterwards.”

“We feel like neither the state nor the authorities respect us,” he said.

The state, Sierra added, “has not had any interest, now or before, in resolving murders of journalists, let alone violations of freedom of expression.”

For human rights defender and former judge Nery Velázquez, the vulnerability faced by reporters, “far from dissipating, is growing, and we have come to accept tacitly that the impunity surrounding these murders becomes the norm, while freedom of the press is restricted.”

Of the 63 documented murders, legal proceedings began in just four cases, and of these, only two made it to the last stage – an oral public trial – and ended with the conviction of the direct perpetrators, but not of the masterminds who ordered the murders.

“Investigation in Honduras is a failure, everything is left in prima facie evidence, and not only the press is trapped here by violence, but also human rights activists and lawyers,” Velázquez told IPS.

According to reports by human rights groups, corruption and organised crime are the main threats to freedom of speech in Honduras, where being a journalist has become a high-risk occupation over the last decade.

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