Inter Press Service » Press Freedom http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Mon, 30 May 2016 18:14:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.11 Deteriorating Protection of Journalists’ Sources a Global Problemhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/deteriorating-protection-of-journalists-sources-a-global-problem/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=deteriorating-protection-of-journalists-sources-a-global-problem http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/deteriorating-protection-of-journalists-sources-a-global-problem/#comments Thu, 05 May 2016 21:31:32 +0000 Linus Atarah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144995 A journalist conducts an interview in Kenya. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

A journalist conducts an interview in Kenya. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

By Linus Atarah
HELSINKI, May 5 2016 (IPS)

The freedom of the press is a universally cherished democratic right, but what may have been overlooked as the World Day Freedom of Information was celebrated on Wednesday is that the ability of journalists to protect their source is increasingly coming under attack by authorities.

To Julie Posetti, there should be global standard adopted by all countries to protect the source of journalists, a fundamental principle to the capacity to do journalism that supports democracy.

“Journalists can draw on the universal right to freedom of expression and also right to privacy,” says Julie Posetti, editor at the Australia-based Fairfax Media, “what is lacking however, is that there is no international law that specifically enshrines the right to protect journalistic sources as part of this other international human rights framework,” Posetti told IPS.

Speaking at a UNESCO conference to mark the World Press Freedom Day in Helsinki, on Wednesday, Posetti said in some jurisdictions, for instance in Europe, there are regional laws and court judgments that uphold traditional rights to protect sources, but these protections are rather done in an “analogue way” – by which she means the laws need to be updated to take into account the digital reality of today’s world.

“The traditional rights of journalistic source might protect your right in court not to identify your source, or your notebook from proceedings, or to hand them over to the police, but not the digital information on one’s laptop or hard drive, all of which can reveal not just one source but many, many sources” -- Julie Posetti.

This year’s celebration marks the 250th anniversary of world’s first freedom of information act, due to campaign of Anders Chydenius, a member of parliament and priest, passed in modern day Sweden and Finland. Finland was part of Sweden until 1809, when it was handed over to Czarist Russia as a gift of war.

“The traditional rights of journalistic source might protect your right in court not to identify your source, or your notebook from proceedings, or to hand them over to the police, but not the digital information on one’s laptop or hard drive, all of which can reveal not just one source but many, many sources”, she said.

“It would be wonderful to have an international standard that declared that the protection of journalists sources was fundamental to the right of freedom expression”, she says, “instead what exists are piecemeal references to those right around the world, some very good laws, most are not up to date”.

The protection of a journalist’s source is an ethical principle in journalism recognised globally. People who often approach journalists with sensitive information usually do that at considerable risk, including the risk of losing their lives. Such people would wish to have their identity protected but if journalists cannot guarantee that, then it will have a chilling effect on the public right to information in general.

Some countries have legislation that provides protection to journalistic sources but such legislation is now being undermined by the use of data retention and national security and anti-terrorism policies globally.

According to findings for a book authored by Posetti and published by UNESCO last year, out of 121 countries surveyed for evidence of source protection legislation, 69 percent or 84 countries had inadequate legislation to protect journalistic sources – these laws were undermined by mass and targeted surveillance, anti-terrorism and national security policies and data retention policies.

Patrick Penninckx, Head of Information Society Department in the Council of Europe also expressed similar concerns over the violation of media freedoms in the 47-member Council of Europe, whose main objectives is upholding democracy, the rule of law and human rights.

Members of the Council of Europe include Russia and Azerbaijan but excludes Belorus. Some members are also members of the European Union.

“We are on the wrong path when it comes to freedom of the media”, Penninckx, told IPS. According to him, national legislations in 27 of the 47 members in the Council of Europe are going towards the wrong direction. These individual member countries seem to be saying, ‘why should we have any kind of European body dictate to us or oversee what we are doing if we can decide on that on by ourselves’, Pennickx, said

Therefore these countries are resorting to “legislative nationalism”, rather than accepting international best practice recommended by international institutions, even including the Council of Europe.

And this does not just apply to the “usual suspects”, he said, namely, Turkey, Russia and Azerbaijan, that are more often talked about in terms of suppressing press freedoms. Rather, it is a general tendency among member countries to use terrorism legislation, state of emergency and mass surveillance to diminish rights of individuals and through that put pressure on journalists and other media actors.

Europe is in the midst of multiple crisis – financial, refugee, migration – even some of these countries are in a conflict situation such as Ukraine, but in spite of that Pennickx insists that countries must still uphold human rights and press freedom in times of crisis.

In situations of targeted and mass surveillance there should be a higher threshold, for instance, the need to have a warrant in order to demand a journalist’s metadata. There must also be transparency and accountability in judicial measures, says Posetti.  In certain jurisdiction where judicial hearings take place in a closed court without the awareness of journalists, it is difficult for them to protect their sources.

While in favour of adopting an international standard to protect the sources of journalists, Guy Berger, Director of the Division of Freedom Expression and Media Development in UNESCO points out the difficulties faced by his organisation to bring that about.

UNESCO, being an intergovernmental organisation, he says, can only operate through diplomatic pressure. According to him, it would be considerably difficult to reach a consensus among 195 members of UNESCO to adopt a common legislation to provide journalistic sources. “In this era of concern over terrorism, governments have no appetite for a binding legislation.

“We try to influence with the power of reason and the NGOs and the media have the power of embarrassment; so you bring those together”, Berger told IPS.

“Freedom of information is not a Christmas tree, a gift to be used from time to time. It is an everyday gym exercise,” says Mabel Rehnfeldt, investigative journalist and Editor of ABC-Digital in Paraguay. To her, legislation per se, may not be enough to achieve the goal, rather it should followed advocacy and awareness raising for everyone, including journalists to fully grasp the significance of protecting journalistic sources.

“We need to be activists for the protection of our sources, because that principle is fundamental to our capacity to do journalism that supports democracy, without it we certainly are going to be unable to continue doing the kind of investigative journalism that has the capacity to effect change”, says Posetti.

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Models of Press Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/models-of-press-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=models-of-press-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/models-of-press-freedom/#comments Wed, 04 May 2016 16:11:21 +0000 Shakhawat Liton http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144969 By Shakhawat Liton
May 4 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

1760s ushered in a new dawn of freedom of the press.

Anders Chydenius, an enlightened thinker and politician of the Kingdom of Sweden, had struggled against secret and unaccountable government power, as he urged for the freedom of press and information and right of access to public records law.

Last Words - The Return of Anders Chydenius / Lauri Tuomi-Nikula

Last Words – The Return of Anders Chydenius / Lauri Tuomi-Nikula

As a member of the Swedish Parliament from 1765, his idea about freedom of press was unambiguous: “A divided freedom is no freedom and a divided constraint is an absolute constraint.” In his memoirs, he even claimed that “for nothing else did I work in the Diet [parliament] as diligently as the freedom of writing and printing”.

After his struggle for a decade, he succeeded in winning this battle, as the King of Sweden agreed to have a law guaranteeing freedom of the press. The Swedish Parliament enacted the Freedom of Press Act on December 2, 1766, which is also known as the world’s first freedom of information law. The law abolished censorship of books and newspapers, and required authorities to provide public access to all official records.

Professor Juha Mannien of the University of Helenski in Finland says that the key achievements of the 1766 legislation were the abolishment of political censorship and the gaining of public access to government documents.

This year’s World Press Freedom Day coincides with the 250th anniversary of the first freedom of press and information law covering both modern-day Sweden and Finland (at the time of the enactment of the law, Finland was still part of the Kingdom of Sweden).

Much before the Swedish legislation, the UK Parliament abolished political censorship in 1695. But it had not been replaced by a new law formulated with positive concepts, wherefore control could seek new forms. Therefore, the law enacted by the Swedish Parliament became the first to abolish political censorship and safeguard freedom of the press.

The legislation was aimed at thwarting government’s attempts to conceal, fake, distort, or falsify information that its citizens receive by suppressing or crowding out political news that the public might receive through news outlets.

The Swedish example started changing the world. The 20th century witnessed a wave of enactments of freedom of information laws, as more than 90 countries have adopted such provisions since 1766.

The United States brought the historic First Amendment to its Constitution in 1789, making provisions that the Congress will never make laws curtailing freedom of press, speech and expression. The Freedom of Information Act was introduced in 1966 in the US, and today almost all European countries have such a law. In the EU, major steps towards open governments were taken in the 1990s. A big step forward was the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union in 2000. The Charter includes both freedom of expression and the right of access to documents. In 2001, the first regulation on access to documents was adopted. Bangladesh also enacted the Right to Information law in 2008.

Undoubtedly, freedom of information is extremely important for the proper functioning of any economy. Access to government information is now seen as a human right. The principle of freedom of information means that the general public and mass media have access to official records.

However, a major challenge to open access to information is “overreach in governmental society. States should be able to keep some information confidential in line with legitimate purposes and processes set out in international human rights law,” as per a concept note of UNESCO observing World Press Freedom Day. It also states that information from administrative and executive authorities – concerning, for example, laws and public expenditure – should generally be accessible to everyone. “Hence, freedom of information both helps provide oversight over governmental bodies, as well as the possibility to hold them accountable, and this right strengthens the relevance of press freedom and independent journalism.”

Finland, the birth place of Anders Chydenius, the father of freedom of information, is now a free and open society. Its government is legally obliged to disclose information on par with the openness strategy existing in the country. In fact, like previous years, Finland has ranked first in the latest World Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders (RWB).

The country’s openness in press freedom was responsible in establishing an excellent image of Finland, as it scored the second highest in the list of least corrupt countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Index. Finland’s government has made transparency and availability of information – essentially, the factors that lead to good journalism – an institutional prerogative.

Finns are also major consumers of journalism – according to the European Center for Journalism, 483 out of 1,000 citizens of the country regularly buy newspapers. And 76 percent of the population over 10-years-old read the paper. The government is, in other words, both taking care to safeguard the role of journalism and expand it with new technologies.

A Grand Celebration
The Swedish and Finnish governments, among others, are making plans to celebrate the passage of 250 years of the world’s first freedom of information law. The main event will be the World Press Freedom Day Conference in Finland. Finland is also hosting the World Press Freedom Day for journalists and media professionals, co-organised with UNESCO, in Helsinki from May 3-4, 2016. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland says that over 800 participants from about a hundred countries are expected to attend this event. “The main event at Finlandia Hall will be opened by Prime Minister Juha Sipilä,” says the foreign ministry in a post on its website. A ‘press freedom prize’ will be awarded at the main event, while the Minister for Foreign Affairs Timo Soini will host the reception for invited guests. As expected, Anders Chydenius will be remembered for his role in achieving the first Freedom of Press Act in the world.

The ministry says Finnish commitment to freedom of expression and press freedom are long standing, adding, “The materialisation of democracy development and human rights depend on access to information and the materialisation of freedom of expression.” In Finland, the whole year of 2016 has been dedicated to the 250th anniversary of the world’s first Freedom of Information Act, the theme of the year being “Right to Know, Right to Say”. It’s only fitting that the father of freedom of information is remembered for his tireless endeavours in ensuring that the press attains this right, thereby making it accessible to the ordinary people.

The writer is Senior Reporter, The Daily Star.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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World Celebrates 250 Years Since First Freedom of Information Acthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/world-celebrates-250-years-since-first-freedom-of-information-act/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-celebrates-250-years-since-first-freedom-of-information-act http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/world-celebrates-250-years-since-first-freedom-of-information-act/#comments Wed, 04 May 2016 15:54:40 +0000 Milla Sundstrom http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144949 By Milla Sundström
HELSINKI, May 4 2016 (IPS)

Press freedom is not just a beautiful idea but a very concrete thing, included in the UN’s Sustainable Development agenda which is meant to lead the humankind to sustainable development, UNESCO’s director general, Irina Bokova, said at the opening of the World Press Freedom Day here Tuesday.

The meeting marked the 25th celebration of World Press Freedom Day and attracted a record audience of more than 1200 journalists from around the world.

The origins of World Press Freedom Day are in Namibia where a group of African journalists gathered at an UNESCO seminar in 1991. The call to create an international day of press freedom was endorsed by the United Nations in 1993.

Bokova and the prime minister of Finland, Juha Sipilä, both recalled another important anniversary. This year’s press freedom day is organised 250 years after Finland – then a part of Sweden – became the first country in the world to get a freedom of information act. Since then, more than hundred states have followed suit.

According to Bokova the world has changed a lot and two dramatic changes came just last year when both the UN’s Sustainable Development Agenda and the Paris climate agreement were accepted.

There is, however, turbulence and change across the world and this ”requires a strong environment of press freedom and a well-functioning system to ensure the people’s right to know,” Bokova said.

Violence haunts journalists, too. 825 professionals have been killed during the past decade and less than six per cent of the cases have been resolved. UNESCO is working to improve the safety of journalists and to end the impunity of crimes against them, she continued.

The two-day UNESCO conference includes various plenaries, panel discussions and other events. One of the panels on Tuesday ended up discussing whether neutrality is possible or even desirable in news coverage on migration. The theme of the panel was the Impact of the Refugee Crisis on Public Service Media Values.

The title of the panel referred to the recent events in Europe where the influx of about 1,3 million asylum seekers mainly from Middle East and Africa has caused a phenomenon called ”refugee crises”.

The term has also been used in the UNESCO meeting’s host country Finland which received in 2015 about 32 000 people compared to previous years with only a couple of thousand refugees arrivals.

Ali Jahangiri, a Finnish radio presenter, originally from Iran, was recently part of a team that made a television documentary called Unknown Refugee. They followed Syrian refugees from the Greek island of Lesbos through Europe.

Jahangiri is strongly against ”forced balance” where the coverage is based on the idea of ”creating debate” by picking up ”extreme ends” of opinions on controversial themes like refugees.

Charlotte Harder from Danish Broadcasting Corporation recalled that the same method of ”balancing” used to be used in climate change reporting but has since been dropped. She reclaimed ”being fair instead of being neutral” while covering these themes.

Carolina Matos, Brazilian lecturer of sociology from London City University, argued that instead of trying to balance two aspects the news coverage should include many sides, especially the positive sides which tend to be left uncovered.

Professor emerita of journalism from Helsinki University, Ullamaija Kivikuru, sat in the audience of the panel and drew a conclusion that it does not seem to be very clear to anybody how these important questions should be covered.

She has a simple message: More research is needed. ”No abstract theories but describing what has been reported and media critical analyses on that.”

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High-Level Defamation Cases Curb Critical Journalismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/high-level-defamation-cases-curb-critical-journalism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=high-level-defamation-cases-curb-critical-journalism http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/high-level-defamation-cases-curb-critical-journalism/#comments Wed, 04 May 2016 00:57:47 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144956 Timorese journalist Raimundos Oki, pictured with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, is being sued for defamation by the Prime Minister of Timor-Leste. Credit: Hikari Rodrigues.

Timorese journalist Raimundos Oki, pictured with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, is being sued for defamation by the Prime Minister of Timor-Leste. Credit: Hikari Rodrigues.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, May 4 2016 (IPS)

High-level defamation, libel and sedition cases in Asian countries are sending signals to journalists that writing critical journalism can cost millions of dollars or years in prison.

“Increasingly we’re seeing countries, especially countries that call themselves democracies, (using) this more subtle approach within the means of the law to silence criticism,” Sumit Galhotra a Senior Researcher at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) told IPS.

In two current cases in Bangladesh and Timor-Leste journalists are being sued for articles they wrote about their respective Prime Ministers.

Mahfuz Anam, editor of Bangladesh’s Daily Star, is currently facing billions of dollars in lawsuits.

“Over 70 defamation and sedition cases (have) been filed against this amazing editor at one of the largest English language papers in the country,” Galhotra told IPS. “The staggering number of them is really alarming.”

“There’s a signal being sent that this is what can happen to you,” he said. “You can also be in a court room facing financial devastation so think twice before you lift your pen to criticise.” -- Sumit Galhotra.

“Anam’s admission that he published unsubstantiated information accusing Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of corruption has led to a barrage of defamation and sedition cases against him,” Galhotra wrote in a blog post published by the CPJ.

On the other side of the Indian ocean, Raimundos Oki a journalist with the Timor Post is facing possible jail time for an article he wrote about Timor-Leste’s Prime Minister Rui Araujo.

Oki is facing a defamation case over a factual error in Oki’s reporting on a government tendering process.

Yet, according to a letter from four international journalism organisations, including CPJ, sent to Araujo, Oki and Timor Post published a correction and right of reply “in accordance with Timor Leste’s own Press Law.”

The Australian newspaper reported that Araujo’s response to the letter said that “press freedom and freedom of ­expression” should not be traded for “press irresponsibility” and “irresponsible ­expression of freedom.”

IPS spoke with Oki about what it is like to be a journalist in Timor-Leste. Timor-Leste is one of the least developed countries in Asia, according to the UN Human Development Index, and journalists there are paid less than $200 per month.

Oki said that the journalists have an important role in Timor-Leste’s development.

“To develop this country we need a journalist sometimes who pushes the government or pushes another institution in order to accelerate the development process,” he said.

Due to Timor-Leste’s oil and gas revenues, the national economy is dominated by the Timorese government, which uses this money to provide services to the Timorese people.

Oki said that it is important for journalists to follow where government spending is going, because it isn’t always known where these funds end up.

“The role of the journalist (is) to follow the money, where is the money going,” he said.

Yet, according to Galhotra, defamation cases such as the one Oki is facing send a signal to journalists who write about governments and large corporations.

“There’s a signal being sent that this is what can happen to you,” he said. “You can also be in a court room facing financial devastation so think twice before you lift your pen to criticise.”

He said that it is very hard to know exactly how many articles don’t get written because of the resulting self-censorship.

Commenting on Oki’s case, Galhotra told IPS that Oki has also received threatening phone calls telling him that he should “be careful.”

“Governments are very quick to take to courts to proceed on defamation proceedings but when it comes to affording journalists protections when we’re under threat we don’t see any action on that front,” said Galhotra.

Update:

In a letter published by several Timorese newspapers on April 29, Araujo claimed that Timor Post had not made a correction, only an apology mentioning a “technical error.”

Correction:

An earlier version of this article stated that Rui Araujo is suing Oki for defamation. However in the above mentioned letter Araujo wrote that he has only presented “the facts to the Prosecutor’s Office of a publicly disseminated false accusation against me. It is up to the Prosecutor’s Office to file or not to file a lawsuit.”

 

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On World Press Freedom Day, A View From Asiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/on-world-press-freedom-day-a-view-from-asia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=on-world-press-freedom-day-a-view-from-asia http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/on-world-press-freedom-day-a-view-from-asia/#comments Tue, 03 May 2016 17:28:52 +0000 Josette Sheeran http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144950 A commuter on the Circular Train in Yangon, Myanmar, reads a copy of the newspaper Democracy Today. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS.

A commuter on the Circular Train in Yangon, Myanmar, reads a copy of the newspaper Democracy Today. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS.

By Josette Sheeran
NEW YORK, May 3 2016 (IPS)

Travel in many parts of Asia, as I do, and you are likely to find everyone looking at their smartphones – even in remote areas – hungry for information wherever they can find it.

Certainly it is true that access to information has increased dramatically in the last few decades across Asia, as many nations have risen out of abject poverty and a greater openness has taken a foothold in previously isolated and controlled areas. Social media, in places as disparate and different as China, Iraq and Indonesia, Afghanistan and Myanmar, to name but a few has revolutionized access to information.

Yet the latest press freedom report from Reporters Without Borders is a sobering read, and a reminder of the long way many countries, including those in Asia, still have to go regarding fundamental press protections and freedoms.

Crackdowns notwithstanding, the explosion of social media in China has meant that access to information in China has grown dramatically, with literally billions of exchanges daily over ubiquitous smartphones.

Information is only as good as our access to real underlying facts, and at the root of vital information is still, often, a courageous and lone reporter trying to get to the bottom of corruption or wrong-doing.

The 2016 World Press Freedom Index ranks 180 countries according to metrics involving pluralism, media independence, the quality of legal frameworks for journalists, and the dangers faced by reporters. It’s a “snapshot of media freedom,” as its authors put it, and according to the survey, the pace-setters in Asia are New Zealand (#5) and then the tiny Pacific Island nations Samoa and Tonga (#29 and #37).

To some degree, the overall low ratings for Asian nations are unsurprising. Europe has dominated the list since it was first published in 2002; this year Finland, the Netherlands and Norway are 1, 2 and 3, and 14 of the top 20 countries are European. What Reporters Without Borders terms the “infernal trio” at the very bottom includes two Asian nations – Turkmenistan (#178) and North Korea (#179) – that have long been enforcers of a blanket censorship. (Eritrea in East Africa rounds out this infamous “trio”).

More surprising is a documented backsliding in countries where economic growth and broader freedoms have been the norm for decades. Japan fell eleven notches in the survey, to #72. “In the year since the law on the protection of specially designated secrets took effect in Japan,” said the report, “many media outlets, including state-owned ones, succumbed to self-censorship…and surrendered their independence.” South Korea dropped ten places, to #70, as “relations between the media and government became much more frayed”. Many survey responders worried about a “cloud over Hong Kong”, and China overall again came in near the bottom at #176, a notch below Vietnam.

The Asian nation that saw greatest improvement? That was Sri Lanka – jumping 24 places, to #141, thanks to a lessening climate of fear that had gripped many journalists covering the government.

Perhaps the most interesting case study in Asia is Afghanistan, which has seen both a positive sea change in press freedom, and a cautionary tale about how such change can be dangerous for reporters and editors.

No doubt the change in Afghanistan has been remarkable. In 2001, the last throes of Taliban rule, Afghans had access to fewer than 30,000 fixed telephone lines, and only one radio station; today they are served by six telecom companies, and more than 70 TV stations and 175 radio stations. Saad Mohseni, CEO of Moby Group, which runs several media properties in the country, notes that when it came time for the people of Afghanistan to vote in their third national democratic elections, in 2014, these new media platforms offered citizens the chance to engage directly with candidates in town hall-style meetings.

“Little did we anticipate the profound impact the media would have in re-shaping Afghan society,” says Mohseni, who founded the country’s first post-Taliban independent radio station – Arman FM – in Kabul in 2003. “Beyond enhancing access to information, the media has contributed significantly to making Afghan society more tolerant, open and united.” The new freedoms have helped relax social attitudes, by showcasing female presenters on television and radio. Today Afghans also frequently turn to TV or radio journalists to voice complaints about government services, and the media regularly investigates cases of corruption, holding officials accountable for their actions.

But opposition to these freedoms is a constant, and recently it has proved dangerous. On January 20th, a Taliban suicide bomber struck a bus carrying employees from the television station TOLO in Kabul, killing seven and injuring another 15. Says Mohseni: “With this attack, we were reminded of the risks of running a private media group in a country with ongoing conflict, where journalists are frequently targeted. I am not surprised when people ask me whether these risks – and the sacrifices – are worth it.”

These dangers explain why Afghanistan still sits at #120 on the Reporters Without Borders list – up only two notches (though well ahead of where it stood in 2009, second from the bottom, at #179). Even with an effort at the best surveys and metrics, such rankings can prove complicated. For an Afghan journalist, the climate is surely tough; for an Afghan consumer of information, things have markedly improved. Something similar may be said about China – which languishes near the bottom of the 2016 list. Crackdowns notwithstanding, the explosion of social media in China has meant that access to information in China has grown dramatically, with literally billions of exchanges daily over ubiquitous smartphones.

What is needed to improve Asia’s rankings, in the years to come? Obviously greater security, in Iraq and Afghanistan and other conflict zones. In other parts of the continent, political leadership will make the difference. A real analysis of the documented connection between the free flow of information and prosperity may help underscore the case. And ultimately there is the question of where valuable government resources are spent: improving the lives of citizens or expending so much energy monitoring comments on WeChat, or Facebook, or Twitter?

Afghanistan’s Saad Mohseni likes to take the long view when it comes to press freedom in his country: Look at where Afghanistan was a decade ago, Mohseni would say. In a similar vein, look at Myanmar; look at Iraq. In these countries, ordinary citizens may be furious about their daily lives (witness this weekend’s storming of the Iraqi parliament), about the slow pace of change, about any number of issues that their parents and grandparents may have been angry about as well. The difference today – and it is a profound one – is that citizens in these nations can read about these issues, watch televised news about them, or debate one another on social media. Some may write a letter to the editor, or call in to a radio or television show, or share their views via WhatsApp,  Facebook and Twitter. In so many of these places, their forebears never had that opportunity.

Josette Sheeran is the President and CEO of Asia Society since 2013. She leads the organization’s work throughout the U.S. and Asia, and across its disciplines of arts and culture, policy and business, and education. Sheeran is a former Vice Chair of the World Economic Forum and a former Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme. She is a member of the US Council on Foreign Relations and has received several honors and awards.

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Could the UN be Doing More to Protect Journalists?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/could-the-un-be-doing-more-to-protect-journalists/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=could-the-un-be-doing-more-to-protect-journalists http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/could-the-un-be-doing-more-to-protect-journalists/#comments Tue, 03 May 2016 16:17:44 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144946 A UN Security Council Debate on Protection of Journalists in Armed Conflict in 2013. UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

A UN Security Council Debate on Protection of Journalists in Armed Conflict in 2013. UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, May 3 2016 (IPS)

As the world commemorates World Press Freedom Day, a coalition of some 35 press freedom groups is calling on the 193-member General Assembly to appoint a Special Representative of the Secretary General to monitor and oversee the safety of journalists worldwide.

Asked about the proposal, UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters: “Obviously (this is) something we are aware of.”

“But we will see where the discussions go in the General Assembly,” he added.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an Asian diplomat told IPS he will be “pleasantly surprised” if the proposal is approved by the General Assembly.

He pointed out that even the appointment of Special Rapporteurs by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council is considered “politically intrusive” by some member states who refuse formal visits by these envoys to probe human rights violations.

The Special Rapporteur on Iran has not been given permission to visit the country since the post was created five years ago.

And the Special Rapporteur on Torture has been refused a visit to the US while the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women was barred from visiting prisons in the US state of Michigan

Since 2012, the United Nations has adopted several resolutions condemning the killing and imprisonment of journalists. But concrete actions have been lagging far behind public pronouncements.

A Special Representative, if approved by the General Assembly, “would bring added attention to the risks faced by journalists and, by working closely with the secretary-general, would have the political weight and legitimacy to take concrete action to protect journalists and to hold U.N. agencies accountable for integrating the action plan into their work,” says the coalition in a letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and to member states.

The 35-member coalition includes the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders, Freedom House, Index on Censorship, International Federation of Journalists, Media Watch and World Federation of Newspapers and News Publishers.

According to the New York-based CPJ, 1,189 journalists have been killed since 1992, the five deadliest countries being Iraq (174 killed), Syria (94), the Philippines (77), Algeria (60) and Somalia (59).

Still, says CPJ, the killers of journalists go free nine times out of 10 – “a statistic that has scarcely budged since 2012.”

The killings have been attributed not only to rebel forces and terrorist groups but also to governments in power.

The irony of it is that killings continue to take place in countries that are parties to some of the resolutions adopted at the United Nations.

The resolution, on the protection of journalists, was first adopted in November 2013 and reaffirmed last year, for the third consecutive year.

Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, told IPS the UN has made many of the right statements about protecting journalists, but there has been little overt action.

“We’ve seen little motion after the introduction of the U.N. Plan of Action for the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity within the U.N. or in its member states,” he said.

The Paris-based UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) was identified as the agency within the UN to promote freedom of expression and of the press, but there have been few results of its attempts to address the problem.

“And the motion the plan generated didn’t really seem to grab the attention of a wider range of U.N. agencies,” he added.

While there has been some movement within some countries to try to address the problem of the killings and attacks on the media, and the impunity with which those attacks take place, it is hard to see sustained international movement toward addressing the problem, he declared.

Dujarric told reporters the Secretary‑General’s position on press freedom is clear, and those who harass, kill and torture journalists need to face justice.

Dujarric said there are already a number of mechanisms in place in different parts of the system, whether it’s the human rights mechanisms or UNESCO that are there to help protect journalists.

Ian Williams, UN correspondent for Tribune and author of “Untold: a fUN guide to the UN”,  told IPS that the UN’s position on press freedom can seem contradictory.

So while UNESCO has given its 2016 Press Freedom Award to Khadija Ismayilova, an Azerbaijani journalist who was detained in in September 2015, and sentenced to seven and a half years’ imprisonment on spurious charges, UNESCO has not rescinded, and indeed actively celebrates, its UNESCO Goodwill ambassadorship to  Mehriban Aliyeva, the wife of Azeri President Ilam Aliyev, even though it awarded its prize to yet another persecuted Azeri journalist Eynulla Fatullayev in 2012.

On a more general level, it is probably true, that where the media are persecuted, so are the people.

“It should remind journalists who stay silent over breaches of other people’s rights that they are putting themselves in the frame”.

In particular, nine years after Wikileaks released the 2007 video footage of a US helicopter gunship team shooting down a Reuters crew and then the civilians who tried to succour them, the silence of Western media over the event is deafening, with complete impunity for the perpetrators and their commanders, said Williams.

Ban admits journalists face growing efforts to silence their voices — through harassment, censorship and attacks.

“Journalists are not criminals.  But they are often mistreated or even killed because they have the courage to expose criminal acts,” he said.

Last year alone, 105 journalists lost their lives.  The murders of Western journalists by Da’esh and other violent extremists claimed global attention.  But 95 per cent of the journalists killed in armed conflict are locally based, said Ban.

Last month, Mexican journalist Moisés Dagdug Lutzow was killed in his home in the city of Villahermosa.  Elvis Ordaniza, a crime reporter in the Philippines, was shot.  So was Karun Misra, a district bureau chief at the Jan Sandesh Times in India.

“Each time a journalist is killed, each time the press is silenced, the rule of law and democracy get weaker,” he said, appealing to member states “to participate in the United Nations Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists.”

“During the past nine years as Secretary-General, I have been working hard to defend the press, both publicly and behind the scenes through discreet diplomatic efforts to free journalists who have been unjustly detained.”

“We must all do our part to preserve the freedom of the press, civil society and human rights defenders to do their work,” the secretary-general declared.

The writer can be contacted at thalideen@aol.com

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Analysis: The Role of the Free Press in Sustainable Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/analysis-the-role-of-the-free-press-in-sustainable-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=analysis-the-role-of-the-free-press-in-sustainable-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/analysis-the-role-of-the-free-press-in-sustainable-development/#comments Tue, 03 May 2016 15:54:05 +0000 Maddie Felts http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144944 Newspapers on sale in Istanbul. But the freedom of Turkish journalists is seriously threatened. Credit: Jillian Kestler-D’Amours/IPS.

Newspapers on sale in Istanbul. But the freedom of Turkish journalists is seriously threatened. Credit: Jillian Kestler-D’Amours/IPS.

By Maddie Felts
May 3 2016 (IPS)

This year’s World Press Freedom Day marks the 250th anniversary of the first-ever freedom of information law, enacted in what are now Sweden and Finland. 3 May, 2016 is more than just an important anniversary, however; this is the first celebration of World Press Freedom Day since the adoption of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Securing a free press is essential for progress towards achieving these ambitious goals for people and planet by the year 2030.

To reach development targets, a free press must identify areas in which nations and the world are lacking, from access to education and healthcare to sustainable industrialization and consumption. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals seek to address the real and most pressing issues facing the people of this planet, and development efforts will only be effective if they have reliable benchmarks upon which to improve.

A key difference between the Sustainable Development Goals and their predecessor the Millennium Development Goals is a new emphasis on environmental protections that have a clear impact on human development. Environmental crimes and simple mismanagement of natural resources remain pressing issues worldwide.

Developing countries are faced with a trade-off between lower-cost industrialization using fossil fuels or sustainable economic production, and often, they choose the former. Developed nations, who achieved industrialization by consuming fossil fuels and producing pollution, criticize industrializing nations while still contributing to growing global carbon emissions themselves.

Through the efforts of a free press, all nations in any stage of development are held accountable for promoting global sustainability. Known for wielding a tight grip on its news media, China has recently expanded censorship over information regarding pollution. In a nation with sixteen of the world’s twenty most polluted cities, the Chinese government releases incomplete or misleading information on its air quality. The World Health Organization uses two air quality guidelines, one for the developed world and a less rigid standard for developing nations. China’s pollution standards are lower than both. Meanwhile, industrial pollution has resulted in cancer becoming China’s leading cause of death, and the globally shared ozone layer is continually depleted by man-made emissions.

The media must expose the human suffering resulting from environmental abuses across the world so that individuals with the power and the means to demand change can do so. This imperative extends far beyond one nation’s environmental practices; society is at its best when journalists are unafraid and free to discover and expose the truth.

April brought the release of the Panama Papers, an unprecedented leak of information linking global political and business leaders to offshore tax havens. This development is a victory for free press worldwide and supports the tenth Sustainable Development Goal to reduce inequality within and among countries. Citizens have become aware of a great dichotomy between the richest and the average individuals within nations and worldwide. The fight to close the gap between the immensely rich and the general populace has new relevance due to fearless journalism.

In the political sphere, press freedom is necessary to expose misuse of power. Contexts in which a free news media is needed most, however, are usually times when repressive rule works its hardest to silence journalists.

2015 was a challenging year for news media, with press freedom at its weakest in 12 years. While typically high-risk regions for journalists like the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and Latin America continued to limit the press, the democracy advocacy group Freedom House found that media freedom decreased in Europe in the past year, largely due to surveillance and security measures in response to terrorism.

While fear and legitimate safety concerns often understandably overshadow calls for press freedom, those of us who can demand the truth must do so for others who cannot. In the Middle East and North Africa in particular journalists can risk death for speaking out against the ideology of oppressive regimes and violent extremism.

We must pursue the sixteenth Sustainable Development Goal and “ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms” for all, appreciating the and utilizing the freedom we do have to fight for universal press freedom.

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Odd Situation in the “Paradise” of Press Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/odd-situation-in-the-paradise-of-press-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=odd-situation-in-the-paradise-of-press-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/odd-situation-in-the-paradise-of-press-freedom/#comments Mon, 02 May 2016 16:54:45 +0000 Milla Sundstrom http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144930 By Milla Sundström
HELSINKI, Finland, May 2 2016 (IPS)

A strange situation has emerged in Finland where some people feel that the press freedom is currently jeopardised. The small Nordic country is a press freedom celebrity leading the index kept by Reporters Without Borders since 2009 and hosting the UNESCO World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

The case is related to the so-called Panama Papers that were recently leaked by The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). The papers originate from the Panama based law company Mossack Fonseca and include information about over 210,000 companies that operate in fiscal paradises.

The Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE) was involved in publishing the leak and fiscal authorities of Finland now insist that the company has to hand the material over to them. The dead line expired on Friday but YLE has refused.

The company is appealing the tax authorities’ decision and stating that it’s basic freedom is to protect the news sources. Besides YLE emphasised that it does not possess the material but a few journalists just have access to it.

What has most surprised both journalists and the public here is the fact that this happens in Finland while no other country whose media is involved in the Panama case has experienced same kind of threat from the authorities.

“We understand very well about why the tax office and politicians are interested in the documents leaked from Mossack Fonseca”, the responsible editors of YLE investigative group, Ville Vilén and Marit af Björkesten, said in their statement referring to the possible tax evasions and their social consequences.

They admit having partly shared purposes with the authorities but refuse to violate old principles that have been followed for decades in the European countries that respect press freedom.

“Despite their wideness the Panama papers are not a reason to endanger the protection of the news source and the possibilities of Finnish journalists to practice influential investigative journalism on a longer run,” they continue.

“Surprisingly we are not here to celebrate press freedom but instead to ponder an amazing situation”, the president on the Finnish Council of Mass Media, Elina Grundström, said Monday on YLE’s morning television.
The Council of Mass Media is an organ of the Finnish media’s self-regulation meant to supervise the ethics of the press from all stakeholders’ angle. Grundström gave her support to YLE’s decision not to give up the Panama papers to the tax authorities.
Susanna Reinboth, the law reporter of the biggest national daily, agreed while Pekka Mervola, editor-in-chief of the regional paper Keskisuomalainen, thinking that the material could be delivered with certain reservations that are meant to protect the sources.
The problem may be at least partly solved on May 9th when the ICIJ has promised to publish part of the Panama material.

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Free Press a Casualty of Pakistan’s Terror Warhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/free-press-a-casualty-of-pakistans-terror-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=free-press-a-casualty-of-pakistans-terror-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/free-press-a-casualty-of-pakistans-terror-war/#comments Mon, 02 May 2016 14:59:49 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144927 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/free-press-a-casualty-of-pakistans-terror-war/feed/ 0 Grilled for a Retweet: Press Freedom in Kenyahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/grilled-for-a-retweet-press-freedom-in-kenya/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=grilled-for-a-retweet-press-freedom-in-kenya http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/grilled-for-a-retweet-press-freedom-in-kenya/#comments Mon, 02 May 2016 12:28:51 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144925 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/grilled-for-a-retweet-press-freedom-in-kenya/feed/ 0 Media Freedom in Africa Remains Under Attackhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/media-freedom-in-africa-remains-under-attack/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=media-freedom-in-africa-remains-under-attack http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/media-freedom-in-africa-remains-under-attack/#comments Sat, 30 Apr 2016 16:24:12 +0000 Zubair Sayed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144916 Journalists in Zambia protest against attacks on the media. Credit: Kelvin Kachingwe/IPS

Journalists in Zambia protest against attacks on the media. Credit: Kelvin Kachingwe/IPS

By Zubair Sayed
JOHANNESBURG, Apr 30 2016 (IPS)

Imagine a world without the media, where we have no verified information about what’s going on around us. Where everything is hearsay and gossip, where there are no trusted sources of information. It would be hard to operate in a world like that: to make decisions about what to do about the things that affect our lives.

Think for a minute too about what it would mean for those in power; they would be able to act as if we, the people, did not exist. It would be impossible to hold them to account, to know that they’re keeping the election promises they made in their wordy manifestos, and it would be impossible for our voices to be heard. Similarly, it would be difficult to know how companies are behaving, how they are treating their workers and the environment, and whether they are colluding to extract ever more from our pockets.

The role of the media in providing credible information, of giving voice to the people and holding those in power to account is fundamental to the realisation of our freedom and human rights. Whilst there are differences of opinion about whether the media are part of civil society, what is undisputed is the key role that they play in social and economic development, democracy, human rights and the pursuit of justice. Organisations and activists that work on social issues and help articulate public opinion need the media to disseminate the voices they represent. Without a plurality of voices, ideas are diminished, debate is stifled and tolerance is weakened.

Yet, or perhaps because of their role in giving voice and speaking truth to power, the media are increasingly under attack from both governments and corporate interests.

In its recently released World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders say that there has been a “deep and disturbing decline in respect for media freedom at both the global and regional levels” and that there is a “climate of fear and tension combined with increasing control over newsrooms by governments and private-sector interests.”

This assault on journalistic freedom takes many forms, including regular harassment of journalists, censorship, confiscation of equipment, closure of media outlets, arrests and in some cases direct and dire attack. Research by the Committee to Protect Journalists is quite chilling: 72 journalists were murdered in 2015 and a further 199 imprisoned.

In Africa, the situation for media varies in different countries across the continent. Alongside Eritrea and Ethiopia as two of the most censored countries in the world – in first and fourth place respectively – there are countries like Namibia, Ghana, Cape Verde and South Africa that score highly when it comes to freedom of information (even though those countries too experience challenges to media freedom). However, in far too many African countries the media come under regular attack and freedom of information remains a distant right.
                              
There is perhaps no clearer indication of both the importance of the media and the assault it faces than when governments crackdown on journalists and media houses in the run up to and during elections. In January this year, Ugandan officials shutdown an independent radio station after it broadcast an interview with a leading opposition candidate. A few months earlier, police shot and injured radio journalist Ivan Vincent as he covered squabbles between supporters of the leading opposition candidate and the police. Between October 2015 and January 2016, the Human Rights Network for Journalists–Uganda documented about “40 election-related incidents in which journalists have been shot at, assaulted, their gadgets damaged, detained and released without charge and blocked from accessing news scenes.”

The situation for media in Burundi following the violence and repression that started ahead of last year’s election has not improved, and some say that the country has seen the near complete destruction of independent media with journalists and civil society being targeted. Facing shutdowns and direct attacks, many journalists have fled the country out of fear for their lives.

Similarly, during the last year in Djibouti and the Republic of Congo, the desire of leaders to hold onto power and to silence voices opposing them, contributed to election-related violence and media repression.

Of course, the media don’t only face attack during elections. In Angola, the government has kept a decades-long close watch on the media, frequently arresting and harassing those it disagrees with. Currently, journalist Domingos da Cruz is one of 17 activists in prison for his participation in a private gathering to discuss non-violent strategies for civil disobedience.

An Ethiopian human rights advocate that spoke with CIVICUS recently reiterated that “Ethiopia has for a long time severely restricted press freedom and the work of civil society. It is one of the top countries when it comes to jailing journalists, many of whom it charges under the 2009 anti-terrorism law.”

This attack on the media is itself part of a broader attack on the fundamental freedoms of expression, association and assembly that CIVICUS has been documenting during the last few years (in 2015 there were serious violations of these freedoms in more than 100 countries). Attacks on the media often go hand in hand with those on activists and organisations that challenge or question the powers that be. In many countries, this crackdown happens with impunity and attacks often go unpunished.

While governments are the main culprits when it comes curtailing media freedom, the private sector also often seeks to control or manipulate media outputs in ways that favour them and their narrow interests: putting profit before people. This takes place in multiple ways, from the concentration of media ownership and the power that allows corporates to yield, to bribing journalists and influencing editorial content in exchange for paid advertising.

Often caught between state repression and corporate influence, media in many African countries face huge challenges. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to these challenges a key part of the solution must be to support independent media, including citizen-journalism; for regional governance institutions to hold African countries accountable and for African countries to hold each other accountable; and for education and awareness about rights related to freedom of information and expression.

With regard to the latter, recent research shows that there is widespread support for media freedom and freedom of expression in Africa but that support for these rights is not universal.  In some contexts, journalistic ethics need to be strengthened; media outlets need to invest more in their journalists and support for independent media amongst civil society and the general public needs to be amplified. We need to look towards innovation too, to think of ways to use inexpensive technology to produce people-powered information and data.

Media that is accurate, credible, ethical and impartial is crucial to development, freedom, human rights and justice in Africa – as it is elsewhere. A study on freedom of expression across 34 African countries in 2013 showed the link between this most basic right and a range of factors, stating that “freedom of expression is also consistently linked to better ratings of government performance, especially with respect to government effectiveness in fighting corruption, but also in other sectors such as maintaining roads and managing the economy.”

Given the challenges we face on the continent, the current media crackdown is untenable and dangerous, and does nothing to facilitate the progress so many are working hard to achieve. As citizens of Africa, we need to increase our efforts to protect those that give us voice and help us realise the full scope of our rights.

Zubair Sayed is the Head of Communication and Campaigns at CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society organisations.

Follow him on Twitter @zubairsay

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Media Ethicshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/media-ethics/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=media-ethics http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/media-ethics/#comments Sat, 30 Apr 2016 10:50:24 +0000 Asfiya Aziz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144919 By Asfiya Aziz
Apr 30 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

When young Bisma died in a traffic jam en route to Civil Hospital in Karachi last December, there was a media frenzy. To onlookers it looked like frenzy, devoid of principles – a burgeoning show of power by the media, the right to information overshadowing all other rights. Lately, media debate on similar issues often cross the same boundaries. The gap between what a decent society expects from their media, and what media is able to provide, appears to be widening under the myriad pressures of business and political interests.

Media organisations` business models often appear to determine to what extent basic journalistic skills of accuracy, objectivity and timeliness are stretched or strained.

Step-by-step codes of ethics are often seen as `stifling` and `inadequate` for the mercurial field of 24-hour news reporting. Regardless of business pressures, one must recognise that there is little distinction between the media`s and an individual`s responsibilities.

Both share the same societal responsibilities, and must also share a mutual understanding of ethics. A principle-based approach, therefore, may be a viable alternative framework for journalists to practise in the line of duty. Perhaps we might borrow from other fields to develop an ethics code for journalism.

Bioethics is a subject that devises standards of behaviour when dealing with living beings. One of many theories in this field is Principlism, articulated by T.L. Beauchamp and J.F. Childress in The Principles of Biomedical Ethics. The principles put forward in this book, and currently most practised, include: respect (for individual autonomy); justice; beneficence; and non-maleficence.

For practical purposes, these are rephrased as: be respectful; be fair; be kind (do good); and do no harm. Like medicine, journalism also requires constant (often quick) judgement calls to be made, and therefore needs to develop a set of principles to apply to daily situations.

Analysing the unfortunate case of Bisma from a bioethical standpoint leads us to some interesting observations. The core principles stated here were (in some form) already at work but there still remains a need to formalise such principles, to inculcate them into journalists` decision-making processes.

That day, the principle of `respect` for an individual was absent despite the intention to adhere to it. While the media protested the lack of respect for an average person`s life, they were themselves disrespectful by being invasive; evident in the coverage of her body, and her father`s distress on being pressed to comment seconds after his child had passed away.

Later, commentary shifted to speculations on the family`s economic conditions, some newscasters affecting pity when describing their modest dwelling. They disrespected mourners, zooming in on women struggling to hide their faces from the media glare. The right to information and freedom of the press are poor defences when in conflict with vulnerable parties` rights to respect, privacy and choice.

The principle of `justice` was present, as this story became newsworthy due to a perceived lack of justice and accountability. Whether the media was fair to all parties is, however, a moot point. The coverage drew attention to the state of reporters` skills of maintaining objectivity and taking all parties` positions into account. As surfaced later, some doctors and the administration of Civil Hospital denied there was any obstruction to the hospital that day. Their position was hardly part of the day`s coverage. As journalists demand justice for the people, they still need to remain judicious or `be fair` in their own decision-making. One can also argue that central to the media campaign was the principle of `beneficence`; the media advocating for the individual in particular and the public at large, suffering at the hands of perceived VIP cul-ture. `Non-maleficence` (or `do no harm`) is often a tricky principle to negotiate. The incident had escalated into a full-scale media frenzy forcing the provincial government to do damage control at a time when they were already receiving flak on other issues of governance. The question of media`s intent arises: were they doing this for the benefit of the victim and the public, or to do harm to the government and those VIPs involved? Objective analysis is an essential skill for a journalist if analysis points towards a party`s negligence or incompetence, the journalist bears a responsibility to expose such misdemeanours. However, this still remains a judgement call, which must be guided by the principle of non-maleficence and by examining one`s intent, to determine the limits of reporting.

Perhaps if journalists were to test and adapt bioethical principles in their own practices, and media organisations could reach consensus on the most ef fective and relevant principles in the field, journalism in Pakistan may finally adopt a code of ethics which practitioners could own and uphold.• The writer is a joumalist with a special interest in bioethics.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Violence Against Women Journalists Threatens Media Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/violence-against-women-journalists-threatens-media-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=violence-against-women-journalists-threatens-media-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/violence-against-women-journalists-threatens-media-freedom/#comments Thu, 28 Apr 2016 19:38:18 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144892 A journalist from Radio Bundelkhand in India conducts an interview. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

A journalist from Radio Bundelkhand in India conducts an interview. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
NEW YORK, Apr 28 2016 (IPS)

For women journalists, violence and intimidation don’t just happen in conflict zones, they are every day experiences.

“You don’t even have to be in a conflict zone to be violated anymore,” New York Times reporter and author of the Taliban Shuffle Kim Barker said Wednesday at the launch of a new book documenting the daily violence and harassment which women journalists experience.

After writing an opinion-editorial on her experience of sexual harassment in the field, Barker said that an online commenter called her “fat” and “unattractive” and told her that “nobody would want to rape you.”

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) chose to focus its 2016 edition of the Attacks on the Press book series on the gender-based online harassment, sexual violence and physical assault experienced by women journalists, because of the impact of this violence on press freedom.

“In societies where women have to fight to have control over their own bodies, have to fight to reassert their right in the public space—being a woman journalist is almost a form of activism,” said Egyptian broadcast journalist Rawya Rageh who also spoke at the launch.

Much of the abuse takes place online where attackers can hide behind the anonymity of online comments.

“Our words, our will, can prevent the silencing of voices, the violation of our freedom of expression…and we, as journalists, have a huge responsibility in this regard." -- Jineth Bedoya Lima.

According to the Pew Research Center, 40 percent of Internet users have experienced some form of online harassment. Though men are also subject to harassment, online abuse towards women tends to be more severe, including sexual harassment and threats of violence.

For example, one journalist reported to the The International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) that a troll had threatened to “human flesh hunt” her.

Alessandria Masi, a Middle East correspondent for the International Business Times, recalled the comments she received in an essay in CPJ’s book: “I have been hacked by the Syrian Electronic Army for writing an article that was critical of Syrian President Bashar Assad and asked how many people I have to have sexual relations with to get my article published.”

Online abuse is a symptom of deep-seated and pervasive sexism, many note. University of Maryland Law Professor and Author of “Hate Crimes in Cyberspace” Danielle Keats Citron stated that online gender harassment “reinforce(s) gendered stereotypes” where men are perceived as dominant in the workplace while women are sexual objects who have no place in online spaces.

But the threats do not just stay online, they also often manifest in the real world.

Deputy Editor of a Colombian Newspaper Jineth Bedoya Lima was kidnapped and raped in 2000 after exposing an underground network of arms trafficking in the country.

In 2012, after reporting on the dangers of female genital mutilation, Liberian journalist Mae Azongo received death threats including that she will be caught and cut if she does not “shut up.” She was forced to go into hiding with her nine-year-old daughter.

A year later, Libyan journalist Khawlija al-Amami was shot at by gunmen who pulled up to her car. Though she survived, she later received a text message warning her to “stop your journalism” or be killed.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) journalists also face similar threats, CPJ added. Most recently, Xulhaz Mannan, editor of Bangladesh’s only LGBT magazine, was hacked to death in his home.

However, many do not report their cases.

“It was almost like this dirty little secret, you didn’t talk about it…because you had to seem like you were just like one of the guys,” Barker said. She pointed to Lara Logan’s case as the dividing point.

While covering the Egyptian Revolution for CBS, Logan was violently sexually assaulted by a mob of men. During an interview on “60 Minutes,” she described how she was pulled away from her crew, her clothes ripped off, beaten with sticks and raped.

When asked why she spoke out, Logan said that she wanted to break the silence “on what all of us have experienced but never talk about.”

One key reason that many journalists do not speak out is the fear of being pulled out of reporting because of their gender or sexual orientation.

“It’s a catch-22,” said Rageh to participants. “I don’t want to reinforce this idea of who I am or what I am is going to curtail my ability to cover the story, but of course there’s an issue that needs to be addressed,” she continued.

CPJ’s Vice Chair and Executive Editor of the Associated Press Kathleen Carroll noted that the threat of sexual violence has long kept women out of the field of journalism. But there are ways to handle such threats that do not lead to the exclusion of women, she said.

Carroll stated that good tools and training should be provided to journalists, both women and men alike. IWMF established a gender-specific security training, preparing women to be in hostile environments. This includes role-play scenarios, risk assessments and communication plans.

Effective, knowledgeable and compassionate leaders are also needed in news agencies in order to help staff minimize threats, Carroll added.

Panelists urged for reform, noting that women are needed in the field.

“The more women you have out there covering those stories, the more those stories get told,” Barker said.

In an essay, Lima also reflected on the importance of women’s voices, stating: “Our words, our will, can prevent the silencing of voices, the violation of our freedom of expression…and we, as journalists, have a huge responsibility in this regard. Our words can stir a fight or bury the hope of change forever.”

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How We Can Keep Press Freedom from Withering Away?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/how-we-can-keep-press-freedom-from-withering-away/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-we-can-keep-press-freedom-from-withering-away http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/how-we-can-keep-press-freedom-from-withering-away/#comments Thu, 28 Apr 2016 18:37:05 +0000 Farhana Haque Rahman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144887

While a free press means that a journalist has rights, it does not mean that she or he is right.

This article forms part of a series by IPS for World Press Freedom Day, May 3.]]>


While a free press means that a journalist has rights, it does not mean that she or he is right.

This article forms part of a series by IPS for World Press Freedom Day, May 3.

By Farhana Haque Rahman, Director General, Inter Press Service
ROME, Apr 28 2016 (IPS)

Media freedoms appear increasingly under siege around the world, with concerning signs that achieving middle-income status is no guarantee for an independent political watchdog in the form of the press.

Farhana Haque Rahman

Farhana Haque Rahman

The news is constant and disheartening.

The death this week of a LGBT magazine editor in Bangladesh shows that around the world, those who speak up are too often themselves tragically silenced.

In Mexico, journalists are knocked off – by criminal gangs, or maybe by colluding public authorities – and only rarely is their death punished. The fact that the government has a special prosecutor for such crimes does not seem to have any impact.

In South Africa, a new bill on national security allows for whistle blowers to be jailed for decades – the first legislation since the end of apartheid that curtails a freedom many once fought for.

The arrest of newspaper editors in Turkey is alarming. In Tunisia, the media’s main enemy is no longer tyranny in the form of a dictator, the new constitution tried to make defamation and libel – often flexible categories – punishable by fines only, but those the government often insist on use the penal code. A pending bill that would criminalize “denigration” of security forces.

Security threats, not always well-defined, are increasingly cited to promote further restrictions – in France, Belgium and beyond. The U.S. Senate has proposed requiring Internet companies to report “terrorist activity” and a UN Security Council committee recently called for Internet platforms to be liable for hosting content posted by extremists – even though the Islamic State alone posts an estimated 90,000 posts a day and has been known to taunt the social media platforms they use for trying to stop them.

Proposed Internet regulations are not just about terrorism or alleged civil war. They can be used to muffle news about deadly industrial accidents, government corruption and more. China wants to forbid foreign ownership of online media.

Censorship can use commercial pressure. Many feel the reason a major Kenyan daily sacked its editor was out of fear criticism of the government would lead to an advertising boycott and the risk of bankruptcy. The recent purchase of Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post by Alibaba’s founder, widely seen as close to Beijing, will be watched closely.

Looser defamation laws – proposed in the U.S. by a presidential candidate – have a long history of being used to silence people through long Kafka-esque judicial action.

One of the stranger cases – yet no less symptomatic of the trend – was the Indian government’s firing of an educational newspaper’s editor for having published a story suggesting that iron is an important nutritional element and can be obtained from beef or veal – a taboo food according to the ideological Hinduism championed by the current ruling party.

What to do?

There is a broadly-agreed narrative that claims a free and independent press is an essential part of any genuine democracy. It has long been held that while there may be stages along the way for developing countries, upholding media freedom is a strong sign of commitment that bodes well for improved governance across the board and thus better human welfare for all.

I have not heard one coherent argument claiming that this is no longer the case. Political leaders should be pressured to state publicly that they do not believe in media freedom’s merits – which few will do – rather than hide behind vague security threats that often sound like the rumour mill that preceded the guillotines of the French Revolution. This can work, as shown last year when international pressure led President Joko Widodo of Indonesia to force a senior minister to drop new rules curtailing the rights of foreign journalists in the country.

Public pressure on governments to make sure legislative threats to the press are reversed and threats against media freedom properly policed are essential. A Swedish law that makes it illegal for a reporter to reveal an anonymous source warrants consideration for emulation. And this highlights how journalists themselves must help achieve the goal.

Self-regulation can work, as Scandinavian countries show. Independent press councils can serve as a powerful forum – ideally enhanced with a public code of ethics that all parties can invoke – both for journalists themselves and readers and other stakeholders who may complain about their work.

After all, while a free press means that a journalist has rights, it does not mean that she or he is right.

To prove effective, a whole ecosystem must be set up. Sweden’s Freedom of the Press Act is now several centuries old, and the country has a constitutional principle requiring that all public records be available to the public. It is true that the experience of the Nordic countries is historically linked to the absence of feudalism, but it is an implicit goal of all democracy to overcome such legacies, so setting up institutions that mutually reinforce the free flow of information is part of any sustainable development in the interest of all – and not a perk upon arrival.

Digital publishing has, to be sure, raised thorny questions, notably about whether expressions that insult cultural sensitivities – whatever they may be – contribute to the culture a free press needs and is meant to foster. Opinions may vary on where appropriate limits may lie. But all authorities – precisely because they hold power – should accept the principle that the free press exists to hold them accountable, and that suppressing journalists will not bolster their power but ultimately erode it.

(End)

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Times of Violence and Resistance for Latin American Journalistshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/times-of-violence-and-resistance-for-latin-american-journalists/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=times-of-violence-and-resistance-for-latin-american-journalists http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/times-of-violence-and-resistance-for-latin-american-journalists/#comments Wed, 27 Apr 2016 22:15:37 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144856 Demonstrators in a protest held to commemorate murdered reporter Regina Martínez at the Angel of Independence monument in Mexico City. Mexico accounted for 14 of the 43 journalists killed in Latin America in 2015. Credit: Lucía Vergara/IPS

Demonstrators in a protest held to commemorate murdered reporter Regina Martínez at the Angel of Independence monument in Mexico City. Mexico accounted for 14 of the 43 journalists killed in Latin America in 2015. Credit: Lucía Vergara/IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
MEXICO CITY, Apr 27 2016 (IPS)

Mexico is the most dangerous country in Latin America for journalists. In 2015 it accounted for one-third of all murders of reporters in the region, and four more journalists have been added to the list so far this year.

The latest, Francisco Pacheco Beltrán, was shot dead outside his home in the southern state of Guerrero on Monday Apr. 25. Pacheco Beltrán regularly covered crime and violence, which have been on the rise in connection with organised crime and drug trafficking. He worked for several local media outlets in Mexico’s poorest state, which is also one of the most violent.

His murder adds one more chapter to the history of terror for the press in Mexico in this new century, which has not only included the killings of 92 journalists, but also a phenomenon that is almost unheard-of in democratic countries around the world: 23 journalists have been forcibly disappeared in the last 12 years, an average of two a year.

And every 22 hours, a journalist is attacked in Mexico, according to the latest report by the Britain-based anti-censorship group Article 19.

“Violence against the press in Mexico is systematic and widespread,” said the former director of the organisation’s Mexico branch, Darío Ramírez, on the last International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, celebrated each Nov. 2.

But violence and impunity are not the only problems faced by journalists in Mexico and the rest of the region.

Ricardo González, Article 19’s global protection programme officer, told IPS that freedom of the press in Latin America faces three principal challenges: prevention, protection and the fight against impunity; the de-concentration of media ownership; and improving the working conditions of journalists.

“For us, the red zones are Mexico, Honduras and Brazil,” González said.

According to the Federation of Latin American Journalists (FEPALC), 43 journalists were killed in the region in 2015, including 14 in Mexico (besides two that were forcibly disappeared). Mexico is followed by Honduras (10), Brazil (eight), Colombia (five) and Guatemala (three).

Brazil’s National Federation of Journalists reported a 60 percent rise in journalists killed between 2014 and 2015. The highest-profile case was the murder of investigative reporter Evany José Metzker, whose decapitated body was found in May 2015.

Honduras and Mexico have a similar problem: the violence against journalists is compounded by a culture of impunity.

Honduran journalists protest an official secrets law that undermines their work. By means of laws and other mechanisms, some governments in Latin America have restricted access to information, the theme of World Press Freedom Day this year. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Honduran journalists protest an official secrets law that undermines their work. By means of laws and other mechanisms, some governments in Latin America have restricted access to information, the theme of World Press Freedom Day this year. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

“In the first half of 2015, the Commission registered a worrying number of unclarified murders of communicators and media workers,” says the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ (IACHR) annual report on Honduras.

Not just murders

But violence is not the only threat faced by the media in Honduras. One of the Central American country’s leading newspapers, Diario Tiempo, which stood out for its defence of democracy during the 2009 coup that overthrew President Manuel Zelaya, was recently shut down.

The closure of the newspaper is linked to the downfall of one of the most powerful families in the country: the family of banking magnate Jaime Rosenthal, who is accused by the U.S. Treasury Department of laundering money for drug traffickers.

The freezing of the accounts of businesses in the family’s Grupo Continental conglomerate, as a result of that accusation, led to the closure of the newspaper, announced in October. As a result, the government was accused of taking disproportionate measures against the outspoken publication.

In a public letter, Rosenthal said “the circumstances that led to this suspension are very serious with regard to freedom of speech, social communication and democracy in our country, to the extreme that this is an atypical case in the Western world.”

A newspaper with a similar name, in Argentina, is an example of the other side of the coin in the region. On Monday Apr. 25, journalists from Tiempo Argentina, a Buenos Aires daily that closed down in late 2015, relaunched the publication, this time as a weekly.

Under the slogan “the owners of our own words”, the Tiempo Argentino reporters got their jobs back by forming a cooperative, similar to the format used by factory workers to get bankrupt companies operating again after Argentina’s severe 2001-2002 economic crisis.

“It’s really good to see that the more people organise, the more the competition between companies is overcome,” Cecilia González, a correspondent for the Notimex agency in the countries of Latin America’s Southern Cone region, told IPS from Buenos Aires.

But González said that in Argentina there are plenty of problems as well, and few positive answers like Tiempo Argentino. One of the big problems was President Mauricio Macri’s modification by decree of a law pushed through by his leftist predecessor in 2015 that outlawed monopolies by media companies.

On Apr. 18, Macri, who took office in December, told the IACHR that he would draft a new law with input from civil society. But reporters in Argentina are sceptical.

“Besides the more than 300 media outlets owned by the Grupo Clarín and which it will avoid losing, another monopoly is being built in the shadows, associated with La Nación, and they plan to get hold of the entire chain of magazines,” the Orsai magazine wrote.

But for the IACHR and its special rapporteur for freedom of expression, conservative governments are not the only ones causing problems.

In Ecuador, to cite one example involving a left-leaning administration, President Rafael Correa, in office since 2007, used the strength of the state to sue executives of the El Universo newspaper – Carlos, César and Nicolás Pérez – and its then editorial page editor, Emilio Palacio.

The president sought 80 million dollars in damages and three years in prison for libel after an editorial by Palacio alleged that he ordered police to open fire on a hospital full of civilians during a September 2010 police rebellion.

In December 2015, the IACHR accepted a petition accusing the government of the alleged violation of legal safeguards and freedom of thought and expression, and requesting legal protection.

Correa also took aim against one of Latin America’s best-known cartoonists. In 2014 a cartoon by Xavier Bonilla – who goes by the pen name Bonil – that depicted a raid by police and public prosecutors on the home of a political opposition leader enraged Correa, who launched a campaign against the cartoonist.

“Ecuadoreans should reject lies and liars, especially if the liars are cowards and haters of the government disguised as clever, funny caricaturists,” was one of the president’s outbursts against Bonilla.

As journalists in the region get ready for World Press Freedom Day, celebrated May 3, there are signs of resistance in some countries, although the climate is not the best for media workers.

One example is Veracruz, the Mexican state that has been in the international headlines for the alarming number of reporters who have been assaulted or killed.

On Apr. 28, the fourth anniversary of the murder of Regina Martínez, a correspondent for the local weekly Proceso, journalists belonging to the Colectivo Voz Alterna, who have battled hard in defence of the right to inform, in the midst of a climate of terror, will place a plaque in her honour in the central square of the state capital.

“We cannot forget, and we cannot just do nothing,” Vera Cruz reporter Norma Trujillo told IPS. Similar sentiments are voiced by reporters working in dangerous conditions around the region.
Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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When Only Men Make the Newshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/when-only-men-make-the-news/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-only-men-make-the-news http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/when-only-men-make-the-news/#comments Wed, 20 Apr 2016 16:10:10 +0000 Sushmita Preetha http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144730 men_news_

By Sushmita S. Preetha
Apr 20 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

On the onset, it seems women are everywhere in the media. You switch on the TV, there is inevitably an attractive woman luring you into buying a product. On the radio, there is the ‘young new thing’ vivaciously flirting with her male co-host while shuffling through songs; and in print, the entertainment pages would simply not sell without a titillating image of a female celebrity and a scoop on her latest rendezvous. But take a closer look, beyond the objectified and stereotypical images of women, being manufactured and mass consumed ad nauseam, and where are the women, really? Take a look at the news media, for instance. Where are the women in the newsrooms, in the bylines on the front and back pages, in the column spaces of our opinion pages, in the talk shows, not simply as hosts, but as commentators on so-called hard issues such as politics and foreign affairs? Where are the women in our news (discounting the PM and her alter-ego), except as wailing victims of violence, natural disasters and such and as muses of our male photographers during cultural festivals?

A recent report by the Gender Media Monitoring Project 2015 – a project initiated since 1995 to analyse news media in 71 countries – presents some alarming, but not altogether shocking, statistics on representation of women in news media in Bangladesh. Analysing the content of 12 newspapers (8 national, 4 local), 8 TV channels, three radio channels, and two online platforms, the Project found that the presence of women in radio-TV-newspapers have actually decreased compared to the last decade. In sharp contradiction to our loud proclamations of women’s equality and progress, women are mentioned as little as one-fifth of the time in news. The number of bylines by women has remained stuck at 8 percent over the last five years. Women reporters in radio constitute only one-third of all reporters, while the condition of women reporters in TV is even worse. Since 2010, the number of TV women reporters has increased by only 1 percent, but overall, they still constitute less than one-fifth of reporters. The only instance where women overshadow men is at hosting shows; in two-thirds of the cases, the hosts are women.

These statistics are downright embarrassing for us who work in news media. At a day and age when women are making their mark in all sectors, no matter how challenging, why is it that journalism remains, still, a male-dominated profession? Why, even today, do the newsrooms remain hostile to female reporters, comfortable to designate “soft” bits to women, such as social welfare, women’s issues or at best health or education, while “hard” bits, such as politics, remain the prerogative of men? Women, in the logic of patriarchy, make sense in the supplements, but not in news and business which are “manly” serious affairs. Opinions, too, are apparently a “male” thing, with an overwhelming majority of commentators, whether in print or electronic media, being old, privileged and male.

Yes, it’s true that journalism in a country like Bangladesh can pose added security risks to women, when they go out to collect information at random places at random hours of the day, or meet and interview unknown sources; it’s also true that the ungodly working hours are not what many women with families can negotiate with ease, in a society where women, even if and when they work outside, are expected to take care of the household and children single-handedly. But rather than enable its women colleagues to face these challenges, for instance, by providing safe transport support and flexible work hours, media houses seem content with the status quo. Even if and when they make these adjustments, such as allowing women to leave early, there is the obvious implication that women just aren’t as adept at the job as their male counterparts (how many times have we heard, “This job is just too demanding for women!”), as if the only marker of efficiency is one’s ability to stay late in the office (even if staying in the office means smoking cigarettes and discussing the ongoing IPL match). On the other hand, the “protective” regime of the office can be equally stifling, such as when bosses think that women shouldn’t be given challenging tasks with the supposedly good intention of protecting them from harm.

While the NGO, banking and public sectors have made considerable progress in instituting gender-friendly policies, our media houses seem to be stuck in the days of horse shoe tables, copy boys and typewriters. It is unfortunate that most media houses, which should lead by example, do not have a gender policy or strict guidelines on how to institute gender equality within the organisation. Most of them don’t even have a sexual harassment policy, or a designated committee to oversee complaints, despite a HC ruling making it mandatory for print and electronic media houses to have a committee in their respective organisations as per Article 9 of the guideline.

Given that it is men in the management positions, it is hardly a surprise that there is severe resistance to the idea of gender sensitivity trainings, even though as members of the media community, we hold tremendous power over the masses to disseminate and reproduce gender stereotypes and harmful discourses about women and children through what we write (or don’t write). So forget that many reporters, subeditors and even editors don’t realise that there’s something severely problematic in using the word “dishonoured” when referring to rape or in revealing the name and details of the survivors; they fail to see that by circulating the seemingly harmless image of a “violated” and “victimised” woman hiding her face in fear while strong male hands grip her, they are reproducing the idea of women as helpless and weak; they do not comprehend that they reinscribe gender inequality when they only interview male sources or experts, or when they decide a story with a gender dimension is just not “news-y” enough to make a lead story. Within the organisations, these esteemed male colleagues do not seem to understand that it is inappropriate to make crude jokes about women, objectifying them, that unwarranted sexual attention is “sexual harassment” not flattery, that they take up way too much space during meetings when their voice rings the loudest and for the longest, silencing others who may not feel quite as comfortable to challenge the hierarchical power structure of a media house, and that it’s institutionalised sexism when you pay the male staff more than the female staff even when they do the same amount of work.

If the media is really to change the world for the better, and play a progressive role in transforming how women are perceived in society, then we must begin by changing our institutions from within. And this task of gender sensitisation should not fall on the women alone, but on the editor, management, board of directors and department heads, who must assess the ways in which their institutions sustain inequality and play a proactive role to recruit more women, promote qualified women to important positions, and ensure a respectable workplace for all. Pretending we’re all equal while retaining the same old patriarchal mindsets and structures simply won’t do if we want women to also make the news.

The writer is a journalist and activist.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Historic Victory for Investigative Journalismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/historic-victory-for-investigative-journalism-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=historic-victory-for-investigative-journalism-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/historic-victory-for-investigative-journalism-2/#comments Sat, 16 Apr 2016 20:00:18 +0000 Editor Sunday Times http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144650 By Editor, Sunday Times, Sri Lanka
Apr 16 2016 (The Sunday Times - Sri Lanka)

The world was shaken up this week with the leaks of the ‘Panama Papers’ exposing the financial shenanigans of world leaders, past and present. They showed how such leaders of men, women and nations and their business side-kicks hid their embezzled wealth in tax havens around the world and thereby avoided paying taxes in their respective countries. They enjoyed the good life with their monies stacked in offshore banks, some using shell companies with front-men as the account holders, while their fellow countrymen and women were asked to pay their taxes.

This was an instance of cross-border journalism taken to a new level. A ‘whistleblower’ first providing a German newspaper with the original leak; the newspaper then contacting the New York-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) for assistance, and after two years of research by a team of as many as 400 journalists worldwide poring over an incredible 11.5 million internal documents and 2.6 terabytes of data spanning 40 years, more data than the Wikileaks that exposed US diplomatic messages, the Snowden Intelligence files, the Luxembourg tax files and the HSBC files combined — came up with these astounding revelations.

It was a stupendous achievement in journalism – a new version of Watergate – and a great embarrassment to political leaders worldwide. It has blown the lid off hidden wealth and corruption in countries across the globe even though some of these companies and accounts are legitimate ones.

Heads have already begun to roll, while others are fighting with their backs to the wall. The Prime Minister of Iceland has already thrown in the towel as the leaks showed his wife to have hidden undeclared wealth in an offshore company avoiding taxes in her country. Iceland faced a major economic slump a few years ago and Icelanders were sent reeling into economic recession –and this is what their political leaders were up to. The British Prime Minister is in an embarrassing situation with evidence that his rich father operated an offshore company for 30 years without paying taxes in the UK and the PM was a direct beneficiary as a share-holder. The Russian President is accused of having such overseas accounts through a business oligarch and the Pakistan PM is answering questions about his children’s offshore accounts. The President of Ukraine has been named. In China, the official word is “no comment” to questions about its own leadership, the emirs of several Gulf states are on the list, and the list continues to unfold.

The question in this country is; are any Sri Lankans on the list? Whether that is the case is yet to surface. This week websites erroneously ran a list of Sri Lankans named by the ICIJ. This list was not from the ‘Panama Papers’. Panama is a notorious tax haven very much under the influence of the US. Those in the shipping industry are familiar with the fact that the Panama flag is used on vessels that have no nationality. Sri Lankans are likely to have invested their monies in the tax havens of Europe (Gibraltar, Virgin Islands, Luxembourg), West Asia (Dubai) and Hong Kong, not so much in the Caribbean or Latin American countries.

The latest revelations have shown a dis-connect between the rulers of many countries and the people – even in western democracies, and a growing resentment and frustration against the political and business elites by the ordinary citizen; the gulf between the political set and the ordinary members of society has indeed widened.

The news of politicians and businessmen spiriting out money and parking them in shell companies or offshore banks is not an entirely new phenomena. Sri Lanka’s police have investigated cases that have ended up as far as a ‘B’ Report, but it has not proceeded further. Sri Lankan courts were not long ago briefed of a case involving a businessman who ran a web of companies and was found guilty by the Supreme Court of Gibraltar of holding US$ 200 million (Rs. 3,000 million) in an account illegally. Even though Presidents past and present have been informed of such transactions nothing has been done to bring to book the persons involved, nor to see that the country got the monies back. Why? Because these businessmen are too entrenched with the political leaders of Sri Lanka – and vice versa – from all sides of the political divide – paragons of virtue otherwise, who just cannot buck the ‘system’; political leaders who are the recipients of the largesse of a part of this undeclared wealth, by way of what is euphemistically called ‘party donations’ or ‘political contributions’.

These businessmen are fond of boasting how the country’s political leadership is in their pockets and already the new Government is beginning to face accusations that it is old hooch in new bottles; it is ‘business as usual’.

It has something to do with the country’s political system; in fact, it is the ugly side of democracy and elections and electioneering. Politicians need money for politicking and the country has no in-built mechanisms to control the purchase of politicians. It is a well-known fact that the biggest bribe-takers in this country are the mainstream political parties.

Years ago, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike speaking in the State Council supporting a resolution brought to impeach six councillors for bribe-taking said that only the small man is sent to “ravenous wolves” for bribes while everything is done to protect the influential. More recently, President J.R. Jayewardene sacked a fairly innocent MP from Hewaheta for getting involved with a gold smuggler. A more powerful minister was also sacked for interfering in a tender, only to be brought back as the Speaker. Nowadays, politicians protect themselves from investigations by jumping to the governing party that is looking for a majority in Parliament and corrupt businessmen are insulated from prosecution by insuring themselves by hiring powerful politicians and making ‘party donations’.

Even if the ‘Panama Papers’ disclose the names of Sri Lankan political and business hot-shots, it will only be of titillating news value to the public. The mud will not stick for long and a public anaesthetised to such happenings will not be in for too great a shock.

In the wake of the ‘Panama Papers’, the US President referred to tax evasion (illegal) – and tax avoidance (legal but unethical) as being a major issue for his country’s economy. How much more then in economically developing countries like Sri Lanka.

In the face of all that is going on, when well-known business leaders are holding advisory positions in Government ministries – and only past administrations rogues who do not have entre’e to the current political leadership are being hounded, it is justifiable for people to ask why there are sacred cows still roaming free. That is why Bribery Commissions and FCIDs all put together are fast losing their credibility as effective anti-graft vehicles.

When this newspaper revealed a previous ICIJ investigation into Sri Lankans with Swiss bank accounts in violation of the Banking Act, the Money Laundering Act and all the Central Bank and Inland Revenue laws, Government leaders conferred on what to do – how to at least bring the money back – and decided – to do nothing.

But the ‘Panama Papers’ was a moral victory for investigative journalism the world over. In our increasingly digital world, a pen-drive is enough to obtain gigabytes of hidden information about hidden wealth. And at least that ought to be an element of a deterrent to the world’s political and business leaders creaming the fat off the land of their birth.

This story was originally published by The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka

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Stepping Out of the Cocoonhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/stepping-out-of-the-cocoon/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=stepping-out-of-the-cocoon http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/stepping-out-of-the-cocoon/#comments Tue, 12 Apr 2016 16:10:28 +0000 Nilima Jahan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144583 Photos: Courtesy

Photos: Courtesy

By Nilima Jahan
Apr 12 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

To encourage more young women into community media and journalism, and to work for the development of rural communities, in 2013, Bangladesh NGO’s Network for Radio and Communication (BNNRC), in partnership with Free Press Unlimited (FPU), launched a three month fellowship programme entitled “Youth women in Media and Journalism”. In the programme, an experienced mentor trains the attendees how to produce news, reports, features, case study and human profiles.

“We believe that the story of rural underprivileged women can be best depicted by these journalists, as they can bring out their prospects and problems”, says AHM Bazlur Rahman, CEO of BNNRC. BNNRC has a special focus on ‘Dalit’ young women too.

According to a statistics of BNNRC, at present, more than 350 female journalists and volunteers are working in 16 community radios in Bangladesh and they are bringing tremendous success in their own fields. They are mainly covering issues related to women and children- importance of family planning, pre-primary education system, awareness against child marriage, employment of indigenous women in the forest department, violence against women, suicidal tendencies among women, children being victims of pornography, healthcare facilities in local maternity hospitals and many more.

The journey of these promising young women is not smooth at all. Many of them are from very conservative families that don’t accept their daughters’ participation in media. “I was born and brought up in a family plagued with religious bigotry and superstitions. No woman before me here had stepped out of the house, let alone have a job”, says 23 years old Shahrina Sultana Jui, Head of News at Borendra Radio, Naogaon, the one and only female journalist of Naogaon and a fellow of BNNRC’s fellowship programme.

Photos: Courtesy

Photos: Courtesy


“Coming from that family, and becoming a journalist today– it’s like a dream”, she adds. She has produced a number of news stories depicting the miseries of the people of her community and has been able to draw the attention of her community, local administration and law enforcers.

Like Shahrina, many female journalists in different community media are struggling to make a change in the male-dominated rural areas. But very often, they are interrupted by the encirclements. “Some girls joined our radio without informing their parents. But when their parents come to know about it, they take them back”, says Parvin Nahar, station manager of Radio Jhenuk, Jhenaidah.

Apart from these, there are bigger problems in the working areas. Sometimes they need to go a long way on foot for collecting information, sometimes people don’t want to talk to them about sensitive issues, and give wrong information, as they are not aware of their rights. The local administration makes them wait for days for data collection, many a times they don’t provide the data at all.

“When I went to cover a report on family planning issues, people of my community didn’t even want to talk to me. For them, it’s a very private issue to talk about”, says Baishakhy Khatun, presently working as a programme host at Bangladesh Betar (started her career at Radio Jhenuk, under the fellowship of BNNRC). “But later on, that programme got the family planning media award from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare”. Apart from these, Baishakhy received a number of national and international awards for her outstanding achievements for Radio Jhenuk.

Conquering all obstacles, rural women journalists are now creating a platform for people of different communities, by picking up the stories of success and sorrow. They demand an indiscriminate environment for performing their duties properly and yearn to move a long way in future with the help of the initiators.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Historic Victory for Investigative Journalismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/historic-victory-for-investigative-journalism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=historic-victory-for-investigative-journalism http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/historic-victory-for-investigative-journalism/#comments Sun, 10 Apr 2016 12:03:38 +0000 Editor sunday http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144546 By Editor, Sunday Times, Sri Lanka
Apr 10 2016 (The Sunday Times - Sri Lanka)

The world was shaken up this week with the leaks of the ‘Panama Papers’ exposing the financial shenanigans of world leaders, past and present. They showed how such leaders of men, women and nations and their business side-kicks hid their embezzled wealth in tax havens around the world and thereby avoided paying taxes in their respective countries. They enjoyed the good life with their monies stacked in offshore banks, some using shell companies with front-men as the account holders, while their fellow countrymen and women were asked to pay their taxes.

This was an instance of cross-border journalism taken to a new level. A ‘whistleblower’ first providing a German newspaper with the original leak; the newspaper then contacting the New York-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) for assistance, and after two years of research by a team of as many as 400 journalists worldwide poring over an incredible 11.5 million internal documents and 2.6 terabytes of data spanning 40 years, more data than the Wikileaks that exposed US diplomatic messages, the Snowden Intelligence files, the Luxembourg tax files and the HSBC files combined — came up with these astounding revelations.

It was a stupendous achievement in journalism – a new version of Watergate – and a great embarrassment to political leaders worldwide. It has blown the lid off hidden wealth and corruption in countries across the globe even though some of these companies and accounts are legitimate ones.

Heads have already begun to roll, while others are fighting with their backs to the wall. The Prime Minister of Iceland has already thrown in the towel as the leaks showed his wife to have hidden undeclared wealth in an offshore company avoiding taxes in her country. Iceland faced a major economic slump a few years ago and Icelanders were sent reeling into economic recession –and this is what their political leaders were up to. The British Prime Minister is in an embarrassing situation with evidence that his rich father operated an offshore company for 30 years without paying taxes in the UK and the PM was a direct beneficiary as a share-holder. The Russian President is accused of having such overseas accounts through a business oligarch and the Pakistan PM is answering questions about his children’s offshore accounts. The President of Ukraine has been named. In China, the official word is “no comment” to questions about its own leadership, the emirs of several Gulf states are on the list, and the list continues to unfold.

The question in this country is; are any Sri Lankans on the list? Whether that is the case is yet to surface. This week websites erroneously ran a list of Sri Lankans named by the ICIJ. This list was not from the ‘Panama Papers’. Panama is a notorious tax haven very much under the influence of the US. Those in the shipping industry are familiar with the fact that the Panama flag is used on vessels that have no nationality. Sri Lankans are likely to have invested their monies in the tax havens of Europe (Gibraltar, Virgin Islands, Luxembourg), West Asia (Dubai) and Hong Kong, not so much in the Caribbean or Latin American countries.

The latest revelations have shown a dis-connect between the rulers of many countries and the people – even in western democracies, and a growing resentment and frustration against the political and business elites by the ordinary citizen; the gulf between the political set and the ordinary members of society has indeed widened.

The news of politicians and businessmen spiriting out money and parking them in shell companies or offshore banks is not an entirely new phenomena. Sri Lanka’s police have investigated cases that have ended up as far as a ‘B’ Report, but it has not proceeded further. Sri Lankan courts were not long ago briefed of a case involving a businessman who ran a web of companies and was found guilty by the Supreme Court of Gibraltar of holding US$ 200 million (Rs. 3,000 million) in an account illegally. Even though Presidents past and present have been informed of such transactions nothing has been done to bring to book the persons involved, nor to see that the country got the monies back. Why? Because these businessmen are too entrenched with the political leaders of Sri Lanka – and vice versa – from all sides of the political divide – paragons of virtue otherwise, who just cannot buck the ‘system’; political leaders who are the recipients of the largesse of a part of this undeclared wealth, by way of what is euphemistically called ‘party donations’ or ‘political contributions’.

These businessmen are fond of boasting how the country’s political leadership is in their pockets and already the new Government is beginning to face accusations that it is old hooch in new bottles; it is ‘business as usual’.

It has something to do with the country’s political system; in fact, it is the ugly side of democracy and elections and electioneering. Politicians need money for politicking and the country has no in-built mechanisms to control the purchase of politicians. It is a well-known fact that the biggest bribe-takers in this country are the mainstream political parties.

Years ago, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike speaking in the State Council supporting a resolution brought to impeach six councillors for bribe-taking said that only the small man is sent to “ravenous wolves” for bribes while everything is done to protect the influential. More recently, President J.R. Jayewardene sacked a fairly innocent MP from Hewaheta for getting involved with a gold smuggler. A more powerful minister was also sacked for interfering in a tender, only to be brought back as the Speaker. Nowadays, politicians protect themselves from investigations by jumping to the governing party that is looking for a majority in Parliament and corrupt businessmen are insulated from prosecution by insuring themselves by hiring powerful politicians and making ‘party donations’.

Even if the ‘Panama Papers’ disclose the names of Sri Lankan political and business hot-shots, it will only be of titillating news value to the public. The mud will not stick for long and a public anaesthetised to such happenings will not be in for too great a shock.

In the wake of the ‘Panama Papers’, the US President referred to tax evasion (illegal) – and tax avoidance (legal but unethical) as being a major issue for his country’s economy. How much more then in economically developing countries like Sri Lanka.

In the face of all that is going on, when well-known business leaders are holding advisory positions in Government ministries – and only past administrations rogues who do not have entre’e to the current political leadership are being hounded, it is justifiable for people to ask why there are sacred cows still roaming free. That is why Bribery Commissions and FCIDs all put together are fast losing their credibility as effective anti-graft vehicles.

When this newspaper revealed a previous ICIJ investigation into Sri Lankans with Swiss bank accounts in violation of the Banking Act, the Money Laundering Act and all the Central Bank and Inland Revenue laws, Government leaders conferred on what to do – how to at least bring the money back – and decided – to do nothing.

But the ‘Panama Papers’ was a moral victory for investigative journalism the world over. In our increasingly digital world, a pen-drive is enough to obtain gigabytes of hidden information about hidden wealth. And at least that ought to be an element of a deterrent to the world’s political and business leaders creaming the fat off the land of their birth.

This story was originally published by The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka

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Press Freedom in Perilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/press-freedom-in-peril/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=press-freedom-in-peril http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/press-freedom-in-peril/#comments Wed, 30 Mar 2016 07:05:35 +0000 Moyiga Nduru http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144409 s_sudan_newspapers_

By Moyiga Nduru
JUBA, South Sudan, Mar 30 2016 (IPS)

A single phone call from an irate security official is enough to shutdown a newspaper in Sudan. Security agents sometimes employ unorthodox methods: they storm the premises of a newspaper or a printing press and confiscate print runs in full view of employees. No reasons are provided. And there is no legal recourse.

Sudan’s widely criticised 2010 national security law enables the country’s dreaded security agents to operate with complete impunity.

The latest journalist to fall into the trap of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) is Faisal Mohamed Salih, who is no stranger to state harassment. Salih said security agents prevented him from travelling to Britain on March 25. “They told me that my name was placed on a travel-ban list and my passport was seized,” he posted on his Facebook page, after he was turned away from Khartoum International Airport.

A fierce critic of the Islamic regime, Salih is the winner of the Peter Mackler Award for courageous and ethnical journalism in 2013. Salih’s predicament is just the tip of an iceberg in a country where journalists and media houses are constantly under attack. Al-Ayam, Al-Mustaqilla and Al-Sudani are the latest newspapers to face the wrath of the security organs.

In one of the most brazen raids, security agents, under the cover of the early hours, tormed a printing house in the national capital, Khartoum on March 15 and seized 20,000 copies of Al-Sudani newspaper, without giving reasons.

Sources within Al-Sudani say the newspaper incurred a loss of 70,000 SSG (US$5,800) as a result of the raid. Such raids weaken newspapers economically and prevent the public from reading what the authorities want to be kept secret, journalists and media watchdog say.

The raid on Al-Sudani happened as journalists at Al-Tayar, another daily that has been closed since December 2015, were staging what has now become a daily open hunger strike to force the authorities in Khartoum to permit the newspaper to resume operations.

Few journalists believe that the hunger strike will work. “Hunger strike may work in the West where the spectre of such an activity always hangs heavily on the conscience of society. But in Sudan, if you go on a hunger strike you may be considered abnormal and your action will be regarded as un-Islamic. Perhaps only human rights groups, friends and members of your family may sympathise with you but not the government,” Victor Keri Wani, author of ‘’Mass Media in Sudan, Experience of the South 1940-2005’’, told IPS in an interview.

This is not the first time that Al-Tayar, a critic of the regime, has been closed by the security agents since it began publication in 2009.

International media watchdog, Reporters Without Borders, said eight issues of the newspaper have been seized since the start of 2015, four of them in February 2015 alone.

The watchdog said security agents also briefly shutdown the newspaper in 2012 after it blasted the NISS for illegally using electronic gadgets to spy on opposition groups. In the same edition, Al-Tayar also ruffled the feathers of some of the most powerful Islamists by publishing a report on corruption in local governments.

Reporters Without Border recorded a total of 35 newspaper issues seized by the security agents in 2014 alone. A week never passes without seizure of print runs or closure of a newspaper by security agents.

“The media in the Sudan is heavily censored and strictly controlled by the security organs,” professor William Hai Zaza, the head of the Department of Mass Communications at the University of Juba, told IPS in an interview.

The bad blood between the media and security agents began after the junta, led by Omar al-Bashir, usurped power in a military coup, effectively deposing an elected civilian government, in June 1989.

The junta set up pro-government publications to promote its vision of Islam and Arabism.

Journalists who refused to share the junta’s views were either jailed or fled the country.

It is an open secret in the Sudan that the Islamic government continues to fund some publications to toe its strict policy line. “The newspapers are allowed limited space for mild criticism of the government. These criticisms are used by the government to howcase its commitment to uphold the freedom of expression in the country,” Zaza said.

Reporters Without Borders has condemned the closing of Al-Tayar. “We call for Al-Tayar to be reopened at once so that it can continue providing the public with news coverage,” said Clea Kahn-Sriber, the head of the body’s Africa desk, in a statement posted on the group’s website.

In the 2000s, Sudanese journalists had feared that state agents were bent on a policy to eliminate them. This perception was influenced by the 2006 incident in which unknown gunmen kidnapped and beheaded the editor-in-chief of Al-Wifag newspaper, Mohamed Taha, sending a chill in the media fraternity in Khartoum. The case has remained unsolved to this day in a city known for its watertight security network. Then journalist Lubna Mohamed al Hussein, whose case attracted international media attention in 2009, was detained and fined for wearing a pair of trousers, under Sudan’s decency law.

Sometimes local problems tend to override the loyalty of pro-government journalists, landing them in trouble. “For example, people around Katjabas Dam in the north of the country are always protesting against the construction of the dam. And if you happened to be a journalist from that area, surely, you’ll get sympathetic and publish the story, and your paper will be closed,” Wani explained.

That is why Khartoum’s several private FM radio stations have chosen to play it safe by broadcasting entertainment or sports 24 hours a day. Security agents, who don’t pay much attention to them, deem entertainment and sports as less sensitive.

“Journalism is a dangerous profession in the Sudan. Media practitioners must protect their lives,” Zaza said.

Sudan is ranked 174th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

Media experts say they do not see the light at the end of the tunnel soon. “Media space will not open as long as the Islamists are in power in the Sudan,” Wani said.

Zaza agreed: “The repression of journalists will not go away soon. It will take time”.

Too often, government employs dangerous blackmail tactics to scare journalists. The Islamists accuse critical journalists of being Israeli spy, Mossad, or CIA agent, a euphemism for traitor, which is punishable by death in the Sudan, Zaza said.

(End)

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