Inter Press ServicePress Freedom – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Thu, 17 Jan 2019 16:51:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.8 Journalism in Nicaragua Under Siegehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/159604/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=159604 http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/01/159604/#respond Tue, 15 Jan 2019 08:31:06 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159604 Eight months of social and political crisis in Nicaragua have hit the exercise of independent journalism in the country, with 712 cases of violations of the free exercise of journalism, one murdered reporter, two in prison and dozens fleeing into exile, in addition to several media outlets assaulted by the security forces. A report by […]

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Presentation of the Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Prize for Excellence in Journalism by the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation on Jan. 9 in Managua, where a report was also launched on the harsh repression of journalism in 2018. Pedro Joaquín Chamorro (1924-1978) gave birth to a journalistic dynasty in Nicaragua. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

Presentation of the Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Prize for Excellence in Journalism by the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation on Jan. 9 in Managua, where a report was also launched on the harsh repression of journalism in 2018. Pedro Joaquín Chamorro (1924-1978) gave birth to a journalistic dynasty in Nicaragua. Credit: José Adán Silva/IPS

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Jan 15 2019 (IPS)

Eight months of social and political crisis in Nicaragua have hit the exercise of independent journalism in the country, with 712 cases of violations of the free exercise of journalism, one murdered reporter, two in prison and dozens fleeing into exile, in addition to several media outlets assaulted by the security forces.

A report by the non-governmental Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation, called “2018 Year of Repression against Press Freedom in Nicaragua”, published on Jan. 9, states that between April and December there were 712 violations of press freedom and the exercise of journalism.

Guillermo Medrano, author of the report, told IPS that the study reflects that journalism has become a high-risk profession in Nicaragua, “to the extent that journalism has been officially criminalised by charging two journalists who criticised the government with terrorism.”

Medrano refers to journalists Lucía Pineda and Miguel Mora, press director and owner of the television news channel 100% News, respectively.

They were arrested on Dec. 21 at the station’s headquarters and later charged with “provocation” and “conspiracy to commit terrorist acts”.

Before they were arrested and were incomunicados for several days, sympathisers of Daniel Ortega’s government filed a report against Pineda, Mora and other journalists from the channel at the Public Prosecutor’s Office, accusing them of “promoting hatred” because of their critical editorial line.

Their families and lawyers have not been able to see the journalists, who are to be tried later this month. The TV station was shut down, its signal taken off the air and its accounts and assets seized by the authorities.

The arrests of the two journalists triggered protests by international human rights and press freedom groups.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued a statement backed by 300 leading journalists from around the world condemning the arrests and demanding their prompt release.

The document also includes a strong condemnation of the Nicaraguan government for the assault and seizure of the newsrooms of the Confidencial magazine, the Niú website and the television programmes Esta Semana and Esta Noche.

The magazine and TV programmes belong to journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro and the Dec. 14 seizure marked the beginning of Ortega’s last, radical offensive against independent journalism.

Apart from the criminalisation of the two journalists, the report details that a reporter was killed in April, at least 54 have been exiled because of threats and political persecution, and 93 were beaten and injured.

In addition, 102 media outlets and journalists were censored, 21 suffered judicial harassment or investigative processes and 171 have faced different forms of intimidation.

A policeman guards the closed building of the Confidencial magazine and other digital and television media owned by Carlos Fernando Chamorro, which was seized by the Nicaraguan police on Dec. 14. Credit: Jader Flores/IPS

A policeman guards the closed building of the Confidencial magazine and other digital and television media owned by Carlos Fernando Chamorro, which was seized by the Nicaraguan police on Dec. 14. Credit: Jader Flores/IPS

“It’s a situation we haven’t seen since the years of the Somoza (dictatorship), not even during the contra war against the United States. It’s terrifying,” writer Gioconda Belli, president of the Nicaraguan chapter of PEN-International, told IPS.

According to the writer, the regime of Ortega, a former Sandinistaguerrilla, “has surpassed the horrors of the dictatorships of the past that Latin America remembers” by targeting peasant farmers, students, feminists, religious sectors and, finally, journalists and the media.

“He has committed the atrocity of accusing journalism of terrorism; he has kidnapped and prosecuted two journalists, Miguel Mora and Lucía Pineda, as criminals; he has assaulted newsrooms and confiscated private media outlets, such as the Confidential,” she denounced.

In addition, “now he wants to strangle La Prensa by denying it paper,” Belli warned.

The newspapers with the largest circulation in Nicaragua, La Prensa and El Nuevo Diario, both opposition papers, have reported that their paper reserves will be exhausted in a few months and that the customs authorities are blocking imports of raw material.

A small newspaper, Q´hubo, published by ND Medios, closed down in December due to a lack of paper.

The building where the Confidencial magazine operated was taken over by the National Police, after the legislature eliminated the legal status of several non-governmental organisations.

The government links the media to the Centro de Investigaciones de la Comunicación, one of the nongovernmental organisations whose legal status was repealed along with eight others on charges of “fomenting terrorism.”

However, Chamorro stated that both the office building and the censored media outlets belong to the company Invermedia and Promedia and have no relation whatsoever with the NGO that was shut down.

Carlos Fernando Chamorro (C), among a group of fellow journalists, filed a complaint with the Attorney General's Office of the Republic of Nicaragua on Dec. 19 regarding the seizure of Confidencial and other media facilities and equipment by police officers five days earlier. Credit: Jader Flores/IPS

Carlos Fernando Chamorro (C), in the middle of a group of fellow journalists, filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office of the Republic of Nicaragua on Dec. 19 regarding the seizure of Confidencial and other media facilities and equipment by the police five days earlier. Credit: Jader Flores/IPS

The raid and the confiscation of their equipment and facilities were, he denounced, “a direct attack against journalism and private enterprise.”

Arlen Cerda, editor-in-chief of Confidencial, who was granted precautionary protection measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), said the publication is the victim of an “unprecedented” escalation of repression against modern-day Nicaraguan journalism, while he said its journalists planned to continue reporting, “even with their fingernails.”

“In the raid, the equipment, files and databases were taken away, we didn’t have a roof over our heads in order to work,” he said. “But also from the beginning we have maintained the firm conviction that we will not be silenced, and that we will do everything possible to continue to provide quality material to our public.”

In crisis since April

Ortega, 74, ruled the country between 1985 and 1990 as leader of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), which defeated dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979. After the triumph of the Sandinista revolution, he was also a member of the government junta.

The current crisis in this Central American country of 6.4 million people began in April 2018, triggered by a controversial social security reform that was later withdrawn, revealing broad discontent with the government.

The protests, led by university students, lasted until July, and according to the IACHR, 325 people were killed during the unrest, mainly at the hands of police and irregular forces organised by the government.

The government puts the number of casualties at 199, and blames “terrorist groups attempting to mount a coup d’état.”

Voices in exile

Luis Galeano, director of the program Café con Voz, which was broadcast on the 100% Noticias channel, left the country in December after the government issued an arrest warrant against him for “fomenting terrorism.”

“The accusations are absurd, they seek to silence critical voices, but they won’t succeed, because we as journalists are going to continue reporting from anywhere, from exile, from prison, from social networks, from clandestinity, from everywhere,” he told IPS from Miami.

Journalist Jeniffer Ortiz, director of the digital platform Nicaragua Investiga, told IPS that she left the country because of direct threats against her for her journalistic work.

“I have been away from Nicaragua for a couple of months. I left because of the constant threats and sieges of our house. They were also sending us messages through the social networks,” she said from San José, Costa Rica.

She said that due to the increasing repression, many of her sources stopped talking to her media outlet which, added to the economic crisis and threats, forced her to continue her work from outside Nicaragua.

“We are now in exile aware that our colleagues there are finding it increasingly difficult to do their work because of threats. The sources are afraid, and from here we can continue our work and contribute to the daily flow of information that people are asking for,” she told IPS.

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Brazil Will Test a Government in Direct Connection with Votershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/12/brazil-will-test-government-direct-connection-voters/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazil-will-test-government-direct-connection-voters http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/12/brazil-will-test-government-direct-connection-voters/#respond Fri, 14 Dec 2018 18:47:07 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=159261 The government that will take office on Jan. 1 in Brazil, presided over by Jair Bolsonaro, will put to the test the extreme right in power, with beliefs that sound anachronistic and a management based on a direct connection with the public. “People’s power no longer needs intermediation, new technologies allow a new direct relationship […]

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Jair Bolsonaro and his vice president-elect are retired military officers, and the president-elect will appoint seven other officers to the ministerial cabinet. Since he was elected president of Brazil, the far-right politician has shown his predilection for participating in military ceremonies, such as the graduation of Navy officers in Rio de Janeiro seen in this photo. Credit: Tânia Rêgo/Agência Brasil-Fotos Públicas

Jair Bolsonaro and his vice president-elect are retired military officers, and the president-elect will appoint seven other officers to the ministerial cabinet. Since he was elected president of Brazil, the far-right politician has shown his predilection for participating in military ceremonies, such as the graduation of Navy officers in Rio de Janeiro seen in this photo. Credit: Tânia Rêgo/Agência Brasil-Fotos Públicas

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Dec 14 2018 (IPS)

The government that will take office on Jan. 1 in Brazil, presided over by Jair Bolsonaro, will put to the test the extreme right in power, with beliefs that sound anachronistic and a management based on a direct connection with the public.

“People’s power no longer needs intermediation, new technologies allow a new direct relationship between voters and their representatives,” Bolsonaro said when he received the document officially naming him president-elect by the Superior Electoral Tribunal on Dec. 10 in Brasilia.

It is no secret what role was played by the social networks, especially WhatsApp, in Brazil’s October elections, which led to the election of a lawmaker with an obscure 27-year career in Congress."Democracy is not in crisis because of WhatsApp, but because of the lack of a social pact, because trade unions and political parties are no longer representative…He (president-elect Jair Bolsonaro) knew how to use the social networks to present himself as the solution (and) they may or may not help him once he's in the government." -- Giuseppe Cocco

But now he has to govern. Based on his speeches and recent experience, Bolsonaro, 63, will continue to turn to the social networks as president and successful disciple of U.S. President Donald Trump.

“But they are two very different realities, the elections and governing. The president-elect has shown that he is still campaigning, but now it’s not about promises, it’s about presenting results,” said Fernando Lattmann-Weltman, professor of political science at the Rio de Janeiro State University (UERJ).

“Without satisfactory results, the greatest risk is that the government will become unviable, if its relations with the other branches of power and with institutions and organised groups deteriorate,” and the strong expectations of change created in the elections are frustrated, he said.

Bolsonaro also made the usual promise that he would govern for all, as “president of Brazil’s 210 million people.” But experts agree that direct communication with voters is biased and tends to fuel antagonism that lingers after the elections, as in the case of the United States of Donald Trump.

Social networks expand the possibilities of dialogue between people, as interactive media accessible to growing parts of the population. But they are not public like the press, radio and open television. They are limited to family, friends or circles of common interest.

As a political tool, they often give rise to groups of shared opinions and beliefs, or digital sects. They do not promote debate, argumentation and confrontation of ideas, also because in general they are used for short messages, slogans and “fake news”.

In this sense, they aggravate polarisation and antagonism. A government based on these connections would tend to accentuate conflicts, crises and threats to democracy, analysts argue.

“Democracy is not in crisis because of WhatsApp, but because of the lack of a social pact, because trade unions and political parties are no longer representative,” said Giuseppe Cocco, a professor at the School of Communication at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

Social networks do have a “club effect,” but today they are “an indisputable aspect of our lives” in their various dimensions, whether it be material production, communication, services or even politics, he told IPS.

In Cocco’s view, “its use in the election campaign does not explain Bolsonaro’s triumph,” which he said was due to the desire of the majority of Brazilian voters for a change against corruption, a political system that has lost credibility, the economic crisis and growing crime and insecurity.

“He knew how to use the social networks to present himself as the solution,” he said, adding that “they may or may not help him once he’s in the government,” depending on how he uses them.

Jair Bolsonaro receives the document officially naming him president-elect of Brazil, next to his wife, two of his five children - one of whom is a member of the lower house and the other a senator - and their wives. A staunch defender of the traditional family, his will have a strong presence in his government, which has already begun to spark conflicts and scandals involving some of his offspring. Credit: Roberto Jayme/Ascom/TSE-Fotos Públicas

Jair Bolsonaro (C-L) receives the document officially naming him president-elect of Brazil, next to his wife, two of his five children – one of whom is a member of the lower house and the other a senator – and their wives. A staunch defender of the traditional family, his will have a strong presence in his government, which has already begun to spark conflicts and scandals involving some of his offspring. Credit: Roberto Jayme/Ascom/TSE-Fotos Públicas

But there are a number of researchers around the world who say the social networks have had a negative effect on democracy, due to their use in the wide dissemination of “fake news”.

They also refer to foreign interference in elections, such as the suspected Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, and to pressure exerted by directly connected voters as if they were “the voice of the people.”

At the same time, Whatsapp has become the most widely utilised instrument when it comes to organising major social mobilisations, such as the truck driver strike that paralysed Brazil in May and the “yellow vest” uprising in France, which began on Nov. 17 as protests against fuel price hikes and ballooned into a much broader movement.

In the past that role was played by the landline telephone, now almost completely replaced by the cell phone. Social networks like Twitter and Facebook became decisive in elections like Trump’s in 2016 and mobilisations such as the “Arab Spring” in North Africa, said Cocco, an Italian who has lived in Brazil since 1995.

But it is not only a technical evolution; WhatsApp is a “closed network” that does not allow the provenance of the messages to be identified, or whoever is responsible when messages that could be criminal are disseminated, in contrast with other media.

This warning comes from Alessandra Aldé, postgraduate professor of Communication at UERJ and coordinator of a research group on this application, who repeated it in interviews given to local media after the October elections.

Bolsonaro used WhatsApp massively in his election campaign.

In addition, businessmen allegedly used their own money to spread false accusations on WhatsApp against the candidate of the leftist Workers’ Party, Fernando Haddad, in violation of the country’s election laws, reported the daily Folha de São Paulo on Oct. 18, 10 days before the presidential runoff election.

Many analysts point to similarities between Trump and Bolsonaro because of their electoral success driven by social networks and their extreme right-wing policies.

But the Brazilian leader was elected with “a more fragile support base,” without the backing of a party like Trump’s Republican Party, or of experienced lawmakers, Lattman-Weltman told IPS.

Bolsonaro comes from a military background. In 1988, the retired army captain became a city councillor in Rio de Janeiro. Two years later he was elected to the lower house of Congress, and was eventually re-elected six times. He never held an executive branch position and was not a leader of any political party.

The party he joined in May, the Liberal Social Party (PSL), only won a single seat in the lower house of Congress in 2014. But in October it garnered 52 of the 513 seats, and gained a foothold in the Senate for the first time, taking four seats – five percent of the total. A large part of its success was due to the sudden popularity of Bolsonaro.

Another risk, with perhaps more serious and immediate consequences, is the beliefs of the two central power groups in the next government, one deeply religious and the other military. “God above all” was the slogan of Bolsonaro’s campaign and of the government that begins its four-year term on Jan. 1.

Seven armed forces officers will form part of the 22-member ministerial cabinet. In addition there is the president and his vice president, retired General Hamilton Mourão, making up the most militarised government in the history of Brazil’s democracy.

Bolsonaro has rejected, for example, the holding of the world climate conference in Brazil in 2019, and threatens to pulls out of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, saying it jeopardises Brazil’s sovereignty over 136 million hectares of Amazon rainforest, because of a plan to turn it into an ecological corridor, the Triple A.

This type of fear is widespread among the Brazilian military, who also suspect that land reserved for indigenous people may become part of the international domain or independent, which is why they resist the demarcation of indigenous reserves.

But actually the Andes-Amazon-Atlantic (Triple A) ecological corridor was proposed by a Colombian environmental organisation, Gaia Amazonas, and was neither approved by nor is part of the climate talks.

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Ignoring the Murder of a Journalist in the Name of National Interesthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/ignoring-murder-journalist-name-national-interest/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ignoring-murder-journalist-name-national-interest http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/ignoring-murder-journalist-name-national-interest/#respond Fri, 30 Nov 2018 11:16:06 +0000 Jan Lundius http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158953 A foreign citizen – well-known journalist, author, university lecturer and regime critic – with residence in the US is abducted by a group of professionals employed by a foreign Government – depicted as a stout US ally – and subsequently tortured and killed. In spite of the case being thoroughly investigated by both the CIA […]

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By Jan Lundius
Stockholm/Rome, Nov 30 2018 (IPS)

A foreign citizen – well-known journalist, author, university lecturer and regime critic – with residence in the US is abducted by a group of professionals employed by a foreign Government – depicted as a stout US ally – and subsequently tortured and killed. In spite of the case being thoroughly investigated by both the CIA and the FBI, which verified that a crime had been committed, the US Government did not take any steps to rebuke the rulers of the allied country.

This is not a description of the Khashoggi case. It is another story commencing 10 PM on March 12, 1956, when Jesús de Galíndez Suárez, lecturer at Columbia University, entered the subway station at 57th Street and disappeared forever.

Galíndez, a Basque nationalist who after supporting the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, had in 1939 fled to the Dominican Republic. Galíndez became legal adviser to the Labour Department and befriended members of the almighty Trujillo family, though Trujillo soon found that Galíndez carried out discrete investigations about his dictatorial rule.

Self-proclaimed five star general and Benefactor of the Fatherland, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo had the Dominican Republic´s capital and highest mountain peak named after him. Trujillo´s power and influence was not exclusively enjoyed by himself, he shared it with his entire family, which controlled almost 60 percent of the fertile land. Trujillo´s bust could be seen everywhere, while every hotel room exhibited a Bible and a Trujillo biography. All published books were dedicated to him, every religious celebration blessed him. All Dominican homes had a plaque declaring: “In this house Trujillo is the boss (El Jefe)”. Trujillo´s influence was not limited to his small island nation. He spent much money to foster goodwill within allied nations.

When Trujillo learned about Galíndez´s inquiries, the Dominican Republic had for 25 years been subdued by his feared secret service, Servicio de Intelligencia Militar (SIM); torturing, jailing and killing opponents, including massacring at least 20,000 immigrants from neighbouring Haiti. Trujillo´s power was maintained by fear, nationalism and racism.

Galíndez fled the country, settled in the US and was going to submit his investigation of Trujillo´s power abuse as a Ph.D. thesis at Columbia University. It was practically finished when Galíndez was abducted by SIM, drugged and in an ambulance brought to a private airfield, where a US pilot and a privately hired plane waited to take him to the Dominican Republic.

Arriving in Ciudad Trujillo, Galíndez was brought to Trujillo´s private residence where El Jefe received his victim, dressed in riding habit and with a whip in his hand. He lashed Galíndez shouting: “Pendejo! Pendejo!” Asshole/idiot. Then he stuffed Galíndez´s mouth with pages from his thesis. “Eat it!” shouted Trujillo before delivering Galíndez to his executioners. Rumours have it that Galíndez was either boiled to death in a cauldron at a sugar plantation or, like many others of the Regime´s victims, was fed to sharks in the sea by Ciudad Trujillo´s biggest slaughterhouse.

In the US, concerns about Galíndez´s fate were raised by the press, but the interest soon died down. However, when Gerald Murphy, the US pilot who had brought Galíndez to the Dominican Republic, where he later settled, proved to be too outspoken and was murdered by SIM, members of the US Congress demanded further investigations of the case. When it was proved that the Trujillo regime had ordered both murders, severe US sanctions were demanded. Trujillo countered these threats by having Murphy´s friend, the hot-blooded Captain Octavio de la Maza, accused of killing Murphy after being subjected to homosexual advances. de la Maza denied all accusations and was as a result found hanged in his cell. Authorities claimed it was suicide. Protests from the US Government forced Trujillo to allow an FBI investigation, which found that de la Maza´s and Murphy´s deaths were a cover-up for the Regime´s murder of Galíndez.

The Galíndez affair resulted in dual disgrace. First, Galíndez´s disclosure of the abuses of the Trujillo regime proved to be accurate. Furthermore, the murder of de la Maza caused a schism within the Trujillo family, since the victim had been a good friend of Trujillo´s oldest son and chosen heir, Ramfis. It was also a disgrace for the US Government, which in spite of vociferous opposition refused to condemn a regime considered to be an important ally in the struggle against Communism. A nation where influential politicians had made investments and which dictator spent vast amounts on public relations, bribes to US policy makers and made generous contributions to electoral campaigns of US presidential candidates.

Similarities with the Khashoggi murder might serve as a reminder that a blatant attack on free speech may prove to be fatal. During his long reign of terror, Trujillo had planned and ordered several murders, though with his wealth and PR machinery he had been able to smoothen international criticism. The ruthless killing of a regime critic, its cover-up and the reluctance of a powerful ally, like the US, to acknowledge a horrendous crime, ignore evidence from its own intelligence agencies, siding with a dictator to protect national interests, resulted not only in the loss of the dictator´s credibility, but also in an erosion of the US´s moral stance in the Western hemisphere.

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Shahidul Alam: Freedom at lasthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/shahidul-alam-freedom-last/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=shahidul-alam-freedom-last http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/shahidul-alam-freedom-last/#respond Wed, 21 Nov 2018 10:39:32 +0000 The Daily3 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158774 After 107 days in jail, acclaimed photographer Shahidul Alam was finally released last night, five days after he had secured permanent bail from the High Court. He walked out of Dhaka Central Jail in Keraniganj around 8:20pm, following a daylong confusion over his release. Shahidul hugged his wife Rahnuma Ahmed who, along with their relatives, […]

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Eminent photographer Shahidul Alam walks out of Dhaka Central Jail in Keraniganj last night, five days after the High Court granted him bail in a case filed under the ICT Act. Photo: Palash Khan

Eminent photographer Shahidul Alam walks out of Dhaka Central Jail in Keraniganj last night, five days after the High Court granted him bail in a case filed under the ICT Act. Photo: Palash Khan

By The Daily Star, Correspondent
Nov 21 2018 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

After 107 days in jail, acclaimed photographer Shahidul Alam was finally released last night, five days after he had secured permanent bail from the High Court.

He walked out of Dhaka Central Jail in Keraniganj around 8:20pm, following a daylong confusion over his release.

Shahidul hugged his wife Rahnuma Ahmed who, along with their relatives, his students, well-wishers and lawyers, had been waiting at the jail gate since 11:00am.

He raised his fist in the air as they welcomed him with bouquets.

In an instant reaction, Shahidul said, “We expect that in independent Bangladesh, people will be able to speak freely. If that does not happen, being inside [jail] or out in the open is the same.”

Asked how he had been in jail, he said, “I was so-so. Others’ conditions were much worse.”

A smiling Shahidul then thanked all those who spoke for his freedom at home and abroad.

His lawyers said the release order reached jail authorities around 11:30am. However, around 2:30pm, the authorities said the address on the document did not match with that on the jail documents.

They then sent the order back to a Dhaka court for correction. The corrected copy came back around 5:55pm, they said.

Talking to The Daily Star, Rahnuma said a jail official called them over phone around 7:30pm and said her husband would not be released. The official told them to come again around 10:00am today.

However, the official again called them around 8:00pm and told them to go near the jail gate. By that time, many of those waiting outside had left, she said.

Shahidul came out around 20 minutes later.

Rahnuma also said both the addresses were correct. One was the present address while other was the permanent one.

Senior Superintendent of Dhaka Central Jail Iqbal Kabir Chowdhury said they received the release order from a Dhaka court yesterday morning, but could not let Shahidul go as the order had “some mistakes”.

Shahidul, also the founder of Drik Gallery and Pathshala South Asian Media Institute, was picked up on August 5 from his Dhanmondi home in the capital during a widespread demonstration for safe roads.

Police filed a case against the 63-year-old under section 57 of the ICT Act and produced him before a Dhaka court the following day. He was then placed on a seven-day remand. Police charged him with “spreading propaganda and false information against the government”.

His arrest and imprisonment sparked outrage and condemnation at home and abroad.

The noted photographer obtained permanent bail from the High Court on November 15 following a petition by him.

On Monday, the government filed a petition with the Supreme Court seeking a stay on the High Court verdict that granted him permanent bail.

Meanwhile, in response to Shahidul’s release, Saad Hammadi, Amnesty International’s Regional Campaigner for South Asia, in a statement, said, “Shahidul Alam is a bold representation of Bangladesh through his lens. He should not have been detained in the first place.

“Bangladesh authorities must immediately drop charges against Shahidul Alam and uphold its international commitments to protect the right to freedom of expression,” he added.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Trump’s Anti-Media Rhetoric Resonates Worldwidehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/trumps-anti-media-rhetoric-resonates-worldwide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trumps-anti-media-rhetoric-resonates-worldwide http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/trumps-anti-media-rhetoric-resonates-worldwide/#comments Wed, 14 Nov 2018 07:44:05 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158659 A former French president once remarked: Never pick a fight with a little kid or the press. The kid will throw the last stone at you and the press will have the last word. But that obviously does not apply to a teflon-coated Donald Trump because nothing apparently sticks on him – even as he […]

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Donald J. Trump. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 14 2018 (IPS)

A former French president once remarked: Never pick a fight with a little kid or the press. The kid will throw the last stone at you and the press will have the last word.

But that obviously does not apply to a teflon-coated Donald Trump because nothing apparently sticks on him – even as he survives a barrage of criticisms from the mainstream media while he continues to utter falsehoods and mouth blatant lies.

As the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan never said: Trump may be entitled to his own opinions but not to his own facts.

The leader of the free world, according to some critics, is fast emulating the authoritarian lifestyle of a tin pot third world dictator.

At a highly confrontational press conference last week, Trump lashed out at Jim Acosta, the chief White House correspondent for Cable News Network (CNN) for his sharp questioning of the US president– specifically on Trump’s deliberate mischaracterizations of the Central American migrant caravan.

As a result, the White House, in an unprecedented move, suspended Acosta’s press credentials while also threatening to blacklist other reporters —including Peter Alexander of National Broadcasting Company (NBC), April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks and Yamiche Alcindor of Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)– “if they did not treat the White House with respect”.

Trump’s decision is a violation of the basic right of journalists to cover the government. He characterized one reporter as “very nasty” and dismissed another reporter for asking “a stupid question”.

But Trump’s authoritarian tactics and his hostility towards the mainstream media—dismissing negative stories as “fake news” – are increasingly influencing other right wing and dictatorial leaders, including in the Philippines, Hungary, Egypt, Myanmar, Turkey, China, Poland and Syria, who are following in his footsteps.

Barbara Crossette, a former New York Times UN Bureau Chief, told IPS “it isn’t only authoritarian regimes that may be taking heart from Trump — in fact it may be the other way around.”

She said Trump admires their strong-man behavior. And more democracies are also putting journalists and intellectuals in many fields into harm’s way, she added.

Maria Ressa is right now under extreme pressure and legal threats in the Philippines, and in India, which prides itself on its democratic credentials, journalists and academics have been threatened, assaulted and in some cases killed by extreme Hindu nationalist mobs spawned in a way very similar to Trump’s unleashing of white supremacists.

Among the victims killed in India was Gauri Lankesh, an internationally known journalist who had been critical of the Hindu nationalists, said Crossette, who was a former New York Times chief correspondent for South and Southeast Asia.

CNN, which has filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration for the suspension of Acosta’s press credentials, said “if left unchallenged, the actions of the White House would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers elected officials.”

In a statement released November 13, CNN demanded the return of Acosta’s credentials arguing that “the wrongful revocation of these credentials violates CNN and Acosta’s First Amendment rights of freedom of the press, and their Fifth Amendment rights to due process.”

Zeke Johnson, senior director of programs at Amnesty International USA, told IPS Trump’s contempt for the press and his decision to bar certain reporters from the White House not only is an affront to the right to free speech, and anathema to good governance, but also sends a dangerous signal to other leaders.

“We have seen governments around the world try to silence journalists just for reporting on uncomfortable truths or expressing a difference of opinion from the ruling power,” he pointed out.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been imprisoned in Myanmar for nearly a year for exposing crimes against humanity against the Rohingya.

Johnson said President Erdogan of Turkey has a history of shutting down outlets and imprisoning journalists. Trump’s actions are especially galling coming so recently after the horrifying disappearance and murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“While Khashoggi’s case may be an extreme example of the dangers reporters face, Trump’s insistence that reporters show him deference or face consequences only emboldens those who see a free press as a threat to authoritarian rule.”

Courtney Radsch, Advocacy Director at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said journalists should be able to do their job without fear that a tough series of questions will provoke retaliation.

“The White House should immediately reinstate Jim Acosta’s press pass, and refrain from punishing reporters by revoking their access–that’s not how a free press works.”

“In the current climate, we hope President Trump will stop insulting and denigrating reporters and media outlets, it’s making journalists feel unsafe,” added Radsch.

Meanwhile, in a New York Times piece last week, Megan Specia pointed out how Trump’s words have justified aggressive and undemocratic actions by several political leaders worldwide.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly invoked “fake news” to denounce his critics. So has Poland’s right wing government.

Responding to an Amnesty International report on thousands of deaths in Syrian prisons, President Bashar al-Assad was quoted as saying: “You can forge anything these days. We are living in a fake news era.”

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

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Climate of Repression a Dark Cloud over Upcoming Elections in Fijihttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/climate-repression-dark-cloud-upcoming-elections-fiji/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-repression-dark-cloud-upcoming-elections-fiji http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/climate-repression-dark-cloud-upcoming-elections-fiji/#respond Tue, 13 Nov 2018 12:45:58 +0000 Josef Benedict http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158651 Josef Benedict is a civic space research officer for global civil society alliance, CIVICUS.

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A semi-submerged graveyard on Togoru, Fiji. The island states in the South Pacific are most vulnerable for sealevel rise and extreme weather. Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

By Josef Benedict
JOHANNESBURG, Nov 13 2018 (IPS)

Powdery white beaches. Crystal clear turquoise water. Palm trees swaying in the breeze.

This is the postcard picture of paradise that comes to mind when tourists think of Fiji. But for many citizens of the South Pacific’s largest island nation, and its media, the reality is anything but blissful.

And the repressive climate in which elections are about to take place serves to highlight the decline in democracy there in recent years.

In fact, since incumbent Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama seized power a coup in 2006, Fijians have seen their civic freedoms increasingly restricted through repressive laws and policies.

The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society across the globe, says these restrictions have also created a chilling effect within Fijian media and civil society.

Voters in this country of 900,000 people go to the polls on November 14 in the second national elections since the return to parliamentary democracy in 2014. But given the state of afffairs, serious questions have been raised about the poll’s legitimacy.

Bainimarama’s FijiFirst government took the reins democratically following the 2014 vote – after eight years of ruling by decree. To hold on to power, Bainimarama has tried to muzzle the media and any criticism.

For several years after the coup, a regime of heavy censorship was imposed, where officially-appointed censors roamed newsrooms, deciding what could and could not be published.

In 2010, the government introduced a media decree that imposed excessive restrictions on the right to freedom of expression with hefty penalties. It also barred foreign investors from owning more than 10 percent of a Fijian media outlet.

That law has since become a noose around the neck of the media sector, giving the authorities the license to imprison journalists or bankrupt editors, publishers and news organisations.

Three years ago, the noose tightened when the decree was amended to prohibit the airing of local content including news by subscription-based television services. Early this year, the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein raised concerns about this law saying it “has the effect of inhibiting investigative journalism and coverage of issues that are deemed sensitive, as well as discouraging a plurality of views.”

Some outlets have tried to challenge the official suppression and paid for it. In 2012, The Fiji Times, one of the very few independent news outlets that has refused to toe the government line, and its editor-in-chief, Fred Wesley, were found guilty of contempt of court for reprinting an article first published in New Zealand, that criticised Fiji’s judiciary.

Four years later, four Fiji Times officials, including Wesley, were charged with sedition for a letter published in the weekly vernacular Nai Lalakai newspaper, that authorities found to contain inflammatory views about Muslims.

This, even though the letter was not written by any Fiji Times staff. Human rights groups believe the charges were politically motivated. Despite the judicial harassment, they were acquitted by the Fiji High Court in May 2018.

The sedition law has also been used by the Fijian authorities to target opposition politicians. In March, the Fiji United Freedom Party’s former leader, Jagath Karunaratne and former opposition parliamentarian, Mosese Bulitavu were convicted of spray painting anti-government slogans in 2011 – charges they have denied. Both were sentenced to almost two and a half years in prison.

The government has also in recent years tried to systemically weaken the power of trade unions, which has a strong voting bloc. Felix Anthony, the Fiji Trade Union Congress (FTUC) National Secretary, has blasted Bainimarama for preaching respect for human rights and painting a picture of Fiji for the international community that is in stark contrast to the reality on the ground.

Anthony has accused the government of ignoring workers’ collective bargaining rights and imposing individual contracts on civil servants, teachers, nurses and other workers in direct violation of labour laws and international conventions that Fiji has ratified. Over the last year, the trade union has been denied permission to hold peaceful marches on at least three occasions, without a valid reason.

Fiji’s draconian laws have compelled civil society organisations (CSOs) to tread carefully, fueling frustration at a narrow civic space and the suppression of dissenting voices. Nevertheless, rights groups have continued bravely to organize and demand reforms and accountability for rights violations.

While CSOs often play a crucial role in election preparations and promoting participatory democratic culture in many countries, this is not the case in Fiji. A 2014 Electoral Decree, which does not allow any CSO that receives foreign funding “to engage in, participate in or conduct any campaign, including organising debates, public forum, meetings, interviews, panel discussions, or publishing any material that is related to the election”, has effectively barred civil society participation in elections.

Clearly unjustified, this ban is a violation of freedom of expression and undermines civil society, a key pillar of any democratic society.

Despite these worrying restrictions, Fiji was elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in October 2018 for a three-year term. Among its commitments was that Fiji ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – a treaty that clearly outlines legal obligations to respect and protect the right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and freedom of association. Demonstrated respect for these rights must begin with the upcoming elections and upheld by the winning party after it.

The next administration must take steps not only to ratify all human rights treaties but to ensure that all laws and decrees – such as the sedition and media laws – are revised or repealed to keep national legislation in step with international human rights law and standards.

Law enforcement officials, such as the police, who are seen to be controlled the executive, must be re-trained to ensure that they operate independently, respect the right to free speech and assembly and allow peaceful protests.

The incoming administration must take steps to foster a safe, respectful and enabling environment for civil society and swiftly remove measures that limit their right to participate in elections.

During the pledging event by candidate states to the UNHRC in Geneva in September, Fiji’s representative at council, Nazhat Shameem, committed to giving the South Pacific region a voice in world’s main human rights body.

A lofty promise for a government not in the habit of giving voice to interests beyond its own. Fiji should start by allowing its own citizens to speak out and express themselves at home, without fear of reprisals.

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Excerpt:

Josef Benedict is a civic space research officer for global civil society alliance, CIVICUS.

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Truth Never Dies: Justice for Slain Journalistshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/truth-never-dies-justice-slain-journalists/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=truth-never-dies-justice-slain-journalists http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/truth-never-dies-justice-slain-journalists/#comments Sun, 04 Nov 2018 21:51:46 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158507 Violence and toxic rhetoric against journalists must stop, say United Nations experts. Marking the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, U.N. Special Rapporteurs David Kaye, Agnes Callamard, and Bernard Duhaime expressed concern over the plight that journalists are increasingly facing. “Journalists around the world face threats and attacks, often instigated by government […]

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Journalists around the world face threats and attacks, often instigated by government officials, organised crime, or terrorist groups said U.N. Special Rapporteurs David Kaye, Agnes Callamard, and Bernard Duhaime, expressing concern over the plight that journalists are increasingly facing. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 4 2018 (IPS)

Violence and toxic rhetoric against journalists must stop, say United Nations experts.

Marking the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, U.N. Special Rapporteurs David Kaye, Agnes Callamard, and Bernard Duhaime expressed concern over the plight that journalists are increasingly facing.

“Journalists around the world face threats and attacks, often instigated by government officials, organised crime, or terrorist groups,” their joint statement said.

“These last weeks have demonstrated once again the toxic nature and outsized reach of political incitement against journalists, and we demand that it stop,” they added.

While Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal death and the subsequent lack of accountability has dominated headlines, such cases are sadly a common occurrence.

According to the U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 1010 journalists have been killed in the last 12 years.

Nine out of ten such cases remain unsolved.

Latin America and the Caribbean has among the highest rates of journalists killed and impunity in those cases.

Between 2006-2017, only 18 percent of cases of murdered journalists were reported as resolved in the region.

In the Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) annual impunity index, Brazil, Mexico, and Colombia make the top 14 countries in the world with the worst records of prosecuting perpetrators.

Out of the 14 journalists murdered in Mexico in 2017, there have been arrests in just two cases.

In an effort to raise awareness of crimes against journalists, UNESCO has launched the #TruthNeverDies campaign, publicising the stories of journalists who were killed for their work.

“It is our responsibility to ensure that crimes against journalists do not go unpunished,” said UNESCO’s Director-General Audrey Azoulay said.

“We must see to it that journalists can work in safe conditions which allow a free and pluralistic press to flourish. Only in such an environment will we be able to create societies which are just, peaceful and truly forward-looking,” she added.

Among the journalists spotlighted in the campaign is Paul Rivas, an Ecuadorian photographer who travelled to Colombia with his team to investigate drug-related border violence. They were reportedly abducted and killed by a drug trafficking group in April, and still little is known about what happened.

Similarly, Mexican journalist Miroslava Breach Valducea was shot eight times outside her home, and gunmen left a note saying: “For being a loud-mouth.” She reported on organised crime, drug-trafficking and corruption for a national newspaper.

U.N. experts Kaye, Callamard and Duhaime urged states to conduct impartial, prompt and thorough investigations, including international investigation when necessary.

“Staes have not responded adequately to these crimes against journalists…impunity for crimes against journalists triggers further violence and attacks,” they said.

They also highlighted the role that political leaders themselves play in inciting violence, framing reporters as “enemies of the people” or “terrorists.”

Recently, over 200 journalists denounced President Donald Trump’s attacks on the media in an open letter, accusing him of condoning and inciting violence against the press.

“Trump’s condoning of political violence is part of a sustained pattern of attack on a free press — which includes labelling any reportage he doesn’t like as ‘fake news’ and barring reporters and news organisations whom he wishes to punish from press briefings and events,” the letter stated.

The letter came amid Trump’s comments during a rally which seemingly praised politician Greg Gianforte who assaulted Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs in May 2017.

“Any guy who can do a body slam, he’s my kind of—he’s my guy,” he told supporters.

Similar rhetoric is now being used around the world, including in Southeast Asian countries where the “fake news” catchphrase is being used to hide or justify violence.

For instance, when speaking to the Human Rights Council, Philippine senator Alan Peter Cayetano denied the scale of extrajudicial killings in the country and claimed that any contrary reports are “alternative facts.”

“We call on all leaders worldwide to end their role in the incitement of hatred and violence against the media,” the rapporteurs’ joint statement concluded.

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Sudan’s Journalists Face Continued Extortion and Censorship by National Security Agencyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/sudans-journalists-face-continued-extortion-censorship-national-security-agency/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sudans-journalists-face-continued-extortion-censorship-national-security-agency http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/sudans-journalists-face-continued-extortion-censorship-national-security-agency/#respond Fri, 02 Nov 2018 17:29:27 +0000 Zeinab Mohammed Salih http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158493 The day before Amnesty International released a statement calling on the government of Sudan to end harassment, intimidation and censorship of journalists following the arrests of at least 15 journalists since the beginning of the year, the head of the National Intelligence Security Services (NISS) Salah Goush accused Sudanese journalists, who recently met with western […]

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Sudanese journalists at a press conference in Khartoum in this picture dated 2012. Credit: Albert González Farran - UNAMID

By Zeinab Mohammed Salih
KHARTOUM, Nov 2 2018 (IPS)

The day before Amnesty International released a statement calling on the government of Sudan to end harassment, intimidation and censorship of journalists following the arrests of at least 15 journalists since the beginning of the year, the head of the National Intelligence Security Services (NISS) Salah Goush accused Sudanese journalists, who recently met with western diplomats, of being spies.

Goush made the statement before parliament where he signed the code of conduct for journalists.

“They were called and interrogated to let them know that this [meeting with Western diplomats] is a project of spying,” said Goush to Sudan’s parliamentarians on Thursday Nov. 1. He then announced that the NISS was dropping all complaints against the journalists.

But Amnesty International said in its statement issued today, Nov. 2, that “the Sudanese government have this year been unrelenting in their quest to silence independent media by arresting and harassing journalists and censoring both print and broadcast media.”

“This just shows that Sudanese officials have not changed their ways- they still accuse journalists and activists of being spies and other trumped up accusations,” Jehanne Henry, a researcher on Sudan and South Sudan at Human Rights Watch, told IPS about Goush’s comments to parliament.

On Tuesday, a Reuters stringer in Khartoum and two other local journalists were questioned by the state security prosecutor about their earlier meetings with European Union diplomats and the United States’ ambassador to Sudan.

At the time they were told that they might face charges when the investigation is completed. Prior to Tuesday, five other journalists were also interrogated for meeting the same diplomats and the NISS stated that two more journalists were to be questioned on the same matter.

“What the NISS is doing to us is a form of extortion and it’s a terror act to stop freedom of the press. Journalists have the right to meet diplomats, government officials and opposition and anyone else and they can talk to about freedom of speech or anything else. Journalists are not spies,” Bahram Abdolmonim, one of the three journalists interrogated by the NISS on Tuesday, told IPS. He added “journalism is a message”.

Prior to Abdolmonim’s questioning three female and two male journalists were summoned to the NISS prosecutor’s office and where questioned for meeting with western diplomats and discussing freedom of speech.

These are not the only incidents of clampdown against journalists. On Oct. 16 five journalists were arrested in front of the Sudanese parliament for protesting against the barring of one of their colleagues from parliament.

“Since the beginning of 2018 the government of Sudan, through its security machinery, has been unrelenting in its crackdown on press freedom by attacking journalists and media organisations,” said Sarah Jackson, Amnesty international Deputy Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.

Amnesty International also said that there was an increase in print censorship and that editors receive daily calls from NISS agents to question them about their editorial content. The editors have to then justify their storylines. NISS agents also show up at printing presses and either order editors to drop certain stories or confiscate entire print runs.

“Between May and October, the Al Jareeda newspaper was confiscated at least 13 times, Al Tayar was confiscated five times and Al Sayha four times. A host of other newspapers including Masadir, Al Ray Al Aam, Akhirlahza, Akhbar Al Watan, Al Midan, Al Garar and Al Mustuglia were each confiscated once or twice,” the statement said.

Broadcast media have also been subjected to censorship. Earlier last month, NISS suspended a talk show on Sudania24 TV after it hosted Mohamed Hamdan, the leader of the Rapid Support Forces, formerly the Janjaweed troops, who are accused of committing atrocities in Darfur.

Across the country reporting is tightly restricted. Conflict zones like Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan states, are especially difficult to report from.

“The Sudanese authorities must stop this shameful assault on freedom of expression and let journalists do their jobs in peace. Journalism is not a crime,” said Jackson.

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Sudan 174th out of 180 countries on its 2018 World Press Freedom Index, charging that the NISS “hounds journalists and censors the print media.”

Journalists in Sudan are often arrested and taken to court where they face complaints that range from lying to defamation.

Amnesty International called on the Sudanese government to revise the Press and Printed Materials Act of 2009.

“We work in fear in here, when I write something I’m not sure if I will end up going to jail or be interrogated by the NISS,” one journalist who preferred to remain anonymous for fear of their safety told IPS.

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Editorial Changes at Cumhuriyet: the Loss of a Major Independent Voice in Turkey?http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/editorial-changes-cumhuriyet-loss-major-independent-voice-turkey/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=editorial-changes-cumhuriyet-loss-major-independent-voice-turkey http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/editorial-changes-cumhuriyet-loss-major-independent-voice-turkey/#comments Thu, 01 Nov 2018 22:02:55 +0000 Christopher Shand http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158484 Censorship, controversial judicial proceedings and imprisonment: such is the current risk run by independently-thinking journalists in Turkey. Reporters Without Borders ranks Turkey 157th out of 180 countries in its World Press Freedom Index, describing the country as the ‘biggest jail for journalists in the world’. The authorities have raided and closed many media outlets, censored […]

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Cumhuriyet's headquarters dressed up for Victory Day, which commemorates Turkish victory against Greek forces at the Battle of Dumlupınar (August 26-30, 1922).

Cumhuriyet's headquarters dressed up for Victory Day, which commemorates Turkish victory against Greek forces at the Battle of Dumlupınar (August 26-30, 1922). Credit: Christopher Shand

By Christopher Shand
ISTANBUL, Nov 1 2018 (IPS)

Censorship, controversial judicial proceedings and imprisonment: such is the current risk run by independently-thinking journalists in Turkey.

Reporters Without Borders ranks Turkey 157th out of 180 countries in its World Press Freedom Index, describing the country as the ‘biggest jail for journalists in the world’. The authorities have raided and closed many media outlets, censored social networks and the internet, even ignoring decisions of the Constitutional Court after a state of emergency was established post the failed military coup in July 2016.

Cumhuriyet has been Turkey’s oldest and much trusted newspaper for almost a century. This editorial change may lead to a shift in the reporting of issues such as human rights, gender equality, secularism and protection of the environment.

One of the latest changes believed to be part of this transition happens to be the change in leadership of the independent newspaper Cumhuriyet. On September 7, 2018, following the meeting of the new board, former editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu resigned along with several other journalists who questioned its impartiality.

Several sources confirmed that the new administration was elected with the help of public authorities and that they started turning a blind eye on events critical of current government. They have already been scrutinized for underreporting on issues related to the Kurdish people or past prison massacres.

Cumhuriyet has been Turkey’s oldest and much trusted newspaper for almost a century. This editorial change may lead to a shift in the reporting of issues such as human rights, gender equality, secularism and protection of the environment.

These issues have been fearlessly reported by Murat Sabuncu and his editorial board during recent times. In 2015 Cumhuriyet was awarded the Freedom of the Press Prize by Reporters Without Borders in recognition of its defence of liberal values in the face of Turkish Government pressure. The year after, the newspaper received the Right Livelihood Award for its ‘commitment to freedom of expression in the face of oppression, censorship, imprisonment and death threats’.

In October 2016, four months after the coup and following a denunciation from members of the current board, Mr Sabuncu, along with other colleagues, was detained and imprisoned without charges. He was then convicted of collusion with terrorists and sentenced to seven and a half years in prison. Mr Sabuncu and colleagues were released in March this year, pending the result of their appeal to the Turkish Supreme Court.

This is the last interview of Mr Sabuncu as editor-in-chief.

Murat Sabuncu in Cumhuriyet’s headquarters, in front of Atatürk’s portrait. The newspaper defends the secularism and democracy Turkey first president stood for.

Murat Sabuncu in Cumhuriyet's headquarters, in front of Atatürk's portrait. The newspaper defends the secularism and democracy Turkey's first president stood for.

Murat Sabuncu in Cumhuriyet’s headquarters, in front of Atatürk’s portrait. The newspaper defends the secularism and democracy Turkey’s first president stood for. Credit: Christopher Shand

Interviewer

As a part of the government’s reaction to the 2016 ’coup d’état’ the media in Turkey have suffered from shut-downs and the arrest of journalists. What exactly are the accusations that the government has made against the media? And what is the nature of the evidence to support those accusations?

Each and every time its democracy was interrupted, Turkish intellectuals have paid the price, with journalists taking first place. This process was at work during past military coups, and it is now taking place under the current AKP government, which has increased its pressure in recent years. Lately, several journalists have been arrested, charged and convicted for being members of a terrorist organization or of helping organizations associated with terror. Evidence varies from case to case, but they all have in common their involvement in the communication of “news stories, articles or social media posts”. As a journalist, I am appalled and saddened that accurate reporting of “news” should be considered as constituting a “crime”.

Furthermore, the charges were shown to be unfounded. As a whole, our newspaper was incriminated for having “supported every terrorist organization in Turkey”. Everything private, our belongings, our houses, our bank accounts (our own but also those of our partners or ex-partners over the previous 30 years) were controlled. Of course, the authorities found nothing that was incriminating.

To give you an example, one of the charges levelled against our columnist Hakan Kara and cartoonist Musa Kart was that of having telephoned the ETS Tour agency to book holidays. It turned out that this company was under investigation for links with the Gülenist organization, former allies of the government and now held responsible for the coup attempt. As a consequence, the telephone call was used to incriminate the two journalists.

Are there any aspects of the process that distinguish the case of Cumhuriyet from that of other press outlets?

When I appeared for the first time in court after nine months of imprisonment, I began my plea as follows: « What an interesting and tragic coincidence it is that today is Press Freedom Day in my country. As the editor-in-chief of a century-old newspaper, I am pained to have to be defending journalism and newscasting on such a day, but not for my personal imprisonment. »

After that plea, I remained imprisoned for another nine months. In April of this year, I was sentenced to 7½ years in prison. If the Supreme Court approves the sentence, I will spend three more years in prison. However, there are many journalists who were tortured, imprisoned or assassinated at different periods in Cumhuriyet’s history.

Perhaps what distinguishes Cumhuriyet from other news outlets in Turkey is our determination to tell only the truth, no matter how difficult the circumstances.  Now we are paying the price for doing that, just as we have in each previous, non-democratic era.

Do the authorities want to make an example of you in order to intimidate any independent investigation media?

Without false modesty, Cumhuriyet is potentially Turkey’s most influential newspaper. Foreign and domestic ambassadors, politicians or journalists regard it as the most neutral and enlightened medium outlet here. They read it to be informed on what is really happening. As it always defends democracy and freedom, it is de facto perceived as an opponent to any party violating these values.

Consequently, it is logical that an anti-democratic and illiberal authority will want to stifle such a journal.  As happened for example with Hürriyet, another newspaper which was financially sanctioned for a while, then bought by a mogul close to the president such that its reporting is now aligned with that of government opinion.

However, there are still many independent media in Turkey. Although less influent, some like Evrensel and Birgun remain important. But with the current economic crisis, Cumhuriyet ends up by being the only one able to cover certain stories, like the 700th gathering of the ‘Saturday mothers’, families of people who forcibly disappeared after the military coup in 1980.

Some would say that Cumhuriyet keeps strong links with political parties, threatening its neutrality?

Ahmet Şık, with whom I shared my prison cell, one of our main investigative journalists, has just joined the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which is left-wing and pro-minority. As long as he worked for Cumhuriyet, he did so as a journalist, and exclusively as a journalist. As soon as he announced his decision to engage himself politically, we immediately stopped his collaboration with us just as we had done with another of our correspondents in Ankara right after he joined the CHP, Turkey’s main opposition party.

No doubt they won’t be the only journalists to engage themselves politically in Cumhuriyet’s history, as can happen with any other media organisations. But I refute the accusation of Cumhuriyet as possessing any political affiliation.

Going back to the trials that lasted from July 2017 to April 2018, on what basis have you lodged your appeal?

We describe what news reports we conveyed. We argue the case that journalism should not be considered as a criminal activity. We state that the charges are an attempt to intimidate journalism through us.

Is there any distinction between the basis of your appeal and that of your colleagues?

I have not read the appeals of others. But I have always said the same thing since the first day. We do not want freedom and the delivery of rights just for ourselves. We demand that everyone be judged independently, on a level where the principles are dominant, not the people. There are still journalists, lawyers, deputies, and rights advocates in prisons. We were lucky to be from Cumhuriyet newspaper. But many people, unknown and unmentioned, are still in prison only for their opinions. We want everyone to benefit from our country’s laws.

What elements do you consider might influence the outcome of your appeal(s)?

On September 9th, it is six months since I left prison. Since then, I have been working at the newspaper every day, weekends included. Neither the sentence I was given nor the court’s upcoming decision crosses my mind. I do my job. I do it with love. The appeal is not my problem. It is the problem of my country. I will bow to the will of my readers and of democracy, not to that of a few powerful men. I won’t leave the country out of fear but will remain among my fellow citizens.

Are we to be a country that believes in the rule of law, or are we going to create traitors in each era, to exploit them for political ends? Those who sentenced us know very well that we are only newsmen, people engaged in journalism for 30 to 60 years in this land. In any case, History will make its own judgement.

What do you see as being the key points that describe the current state of your journal/the media in general within Turkey?

Ninety-five per cent of the media in Turkey is under government control. There are 2-3 newspapers, including Cumhuriyet, 4-5 news websites and a few TV channels that continue to resist. The price of resistance is to either lose one’s freedom or go bankrupt because advertisers fear the government. But news is a necessity. True and accurate news is indispensable for any real democracy. So, the media will sooner or later create a model in which it can breathe more easily.

I needed to cross a strong security barrier to enter your building. Is that related?

It is. Defying the authorities can create many enemies. But we especially had to adopt strict security precautions after we published the Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons in 2015.

What are your hopes and fears for the future of the Press within Turkey over the immediate future?

I have no fears, but I do have a great amount of hope, because there is a majority of young people believing in democracy for my country. There can be no room for fear if my country is to see happier days, when no one is alienated and the rule of law is respected. Hope and struggle are needed.

How do you consider that the current economic difficulties in Turkey might influence the situation of the press?

The Turkish press must buy its paper from abroad. Now both paper prices have increased, and the lira has lost value. An already difficult economic sustainability has become even more difficult. The news websites and TV channels lose commercial support if they are not close to the government. The economic crisis will make conditions even more challenging.

Beyond the current economic crisis, Cumhuriyet itself is suffering from an advertisers’ embargo for fear of potential government retaliation. We have almost no advertising revenue right now and our sales have dropped to approximately 40,000 copies/day, although 1.3 million persons still check-out our web pages every day.

Do you consider that the current situation of the Press will change now that the ‘state of emergency’ is being terminated?

Turkey is in a perpetual state of emergency. Nothing has changed in terms of freedom. But this is not limited to my country. The whole world is going through a crisis because of the actions of autocratic leaders such as Trump, Putin, Orban… But are others so innocent? What about the European leaders negotiating over the lot of immigrants, each of whom is a human life? Only the people and those who strive to uphold freedom will change the world for better. Don’t expect this to come through the politicians.

Do you see the current situation as being a systemic illness in the state of Turkey or the result of individual political decisions?

Both are true. Democracy has never functioned fully in Turkey. Every political period and government conducted its own witch-hunt. Now we’re going through such a time. But it is also a fact that the most recent years are among the most oppressive that Turkish democracy has had to withstand.

What factors do you think influenced most the outcome of the recent elections within Turkey, resulting in the confirmation of the current government?

It resulted from several weaknesses within the opposition. Another point was a lack of strategy from the opposition CHP, the social-democratic party’s most brilliant candidate trying unsuccessfully to imitate Erdogan’s style and populism. Why would Turkish people have chosen another party with similar rhetoric and style?

Do you believe that the current government could improve the position of the press within Turkey and even the country as a whole within the current political set-up

I have enough experience to know that it is wrong to expect change from the government alone. The public must embrace freedom by engaging in civil society organizations, by entering politics, and expressing more of their democratic demands. The situation of the opposition parties is taking the country to an even more difficult stage. We will see new political entities and leaders in the upcoming period.

What do you consider that the Right Livelihood Award might have/has done to change the situation of yourself and press colleagues in your predicament?

When we found out that we’d received the award, we were still at liberty. We felt so proud. We set up a delegation, which included me, to receive the award. Then we were arrested and unable to travel. Orhan Erinc, the president of the Cumhuriyet foundation, was also under a travel ban and so he couldn’t make it either. While in prison, I read the message he sent through Zeynep Oral in the newspaper. Somewhere he said:

The editorial principles, set out by our founder and first lead author Yunus Nadi in Cumhuriyet’s first issue published on May 7, 1924, are found in the preamble to the Official Deed of the Foundation: “Cumhuriyet is an independent newspaper; it is the defender of nothing but the Republic, of democracy in the scientific and broad sense. It will fight every force that tries to overthrow the Republic and the notion and principles of democracy. It will endeavour for the embracing by society of the principle of secularism along the path of ‘Enlightenment’ ushered in by Ataturk’s revolution and principles. Cumhuriyet, which adopts the “Declaration of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms” as the universal constitution of democracy, deems by way of basic principle that its goals may only be attained within the independence and integrity of the Republic of Turkey established by Atatürk.” 

We will continue our struggle to keep those principles alive. The award gave us strength to do so.

 

This article was originally written for the Right Livelihood Award Foundation

Established in 1980, the Right Livelihood Award Foundation honours and supports courageous people and organisations offering visionary and exemplary solutions to the root causes of global problems. Up to the moment, there are 174 Laureates from 70 countries. Do you know the next recipient? Anyone can propose a candidate!

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Keeping Journalists Safe Benefits Whole Societieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/keeping-journalists-safe-benefits-whole-societies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=keeping-journalists-safe-benefits-whole-societies http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/keeping-journalists-safe-benefits-whole-societies/#comments Thu, 01 Nov 2018 07:12:19 +0000 Sarah Lister and Emanuele Sapienza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158464 Sarah Lister is Director, UNDP’s Oslo Governance Centre, and Emanuele Sapienza is, Policy Specialist, Bureau for Policy and Programme Support, UNDP.

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Journalists covering the arrival of delegations to address the General Assembly’s seventy-second general debate. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas - Matthew Lee, Journalist Banned from UN for Misconduct, Plans to Fight Back

Journalists covering the arrival of delegations to address the General Assembly’s seventy-second general debate. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Sarah Lister and Emanuele Sapienza
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 1 2018 (IPS)

Safety of journalists has featured prominently in international news in recent weeks. And yet, while some cases grab the headlines, many more do not, and the scale of the issue often goes unremarked. On this International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, it is worth pausing to reflect on some facts.

Over the period 2006-2017, UNESCO has recorded 1,010 killings of journalists. A total of 80 journalists and media workers were killed in 2018 as of 9 October. On average, every five days, a journalist is killed for bringing information to the public. Many people operating in the new media ecosystem – such as citizen journalists and bloggers – are experiencing growing harassment, in part due to their ambiguous status under national legislation.

Women journalists and media personnel have also been increasingly exposed to violence, with the number of women journalists killed worldwide rising steadily since 2010. But despite all of this, legal impunity for perpetrators of crimes against journalists remains the norm, as a staggering 90 percent of cases are unresolved.

Journalists are targeted for many reasons, and by many people. Some are investigating corruption and abuse of power. Some are expressing political or social views which others wish to silence. Some simply stand as a voice of peace in times of war. Irrespective of the motive, however, the systematic targeting of journalists is a telling reflection of how important – in fact, vital – their work is.

The intimidation, harassment and killing of journalists are – no doubt – extreme forms of censorship, and a violation of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which, among other things, recognizes the freedom to “seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers”.

But they also erode the conditions for peaceful and inclusive societies. For this reason, Goal 16 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – agreed in 2015 by more than 150 world leaders – has an indicator that tracks cases of killing, kidnapping, enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention and torture of journalists and associated media personnel.

United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, has spoken out on many occasions about the importance of governments ensuring accountability for crimes against journalists and the UN, across its agencies, funds and programmes, has committed to a comprehensive Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) engages in work to strengthen free and independent media, including in places where the media and journalists face pressures and threats of all sorts. In fact, a stock-taking exercise currently underway shows that, in the past few years alone, UNDP has implemented over 100 interventions in 60 different countries to enhance the media’s role in peace and development.

This work has taken many forms: from facilitating a “Journalists’ Pact for Strengthening Peace” in Lebanon, to promoting a balanced media coverage of elections in Georgia; from supporting insightful reporting on the extractive sector in Kenya, to providing training to journalists on how to make the most of open data in Moldova – just to mention a few examples.

A free and independent media sector is the bedrock of informed societies. It can support accountable and plural governance, it can provide a space for healthy public debate and dialogue and, under appropriate circumstances, can also play a role in reducing violent conflict.

In recent years, technological developments, including the rise of social and digital media, and the liberalization of media markets have fuelled a significant change, with profound implications on how people are informed and ways they can participate in governance.

Growing manipulation of public opinion is distorting political incentives in ways that are contrary to the public interest. Divisions in society are likely to become more easily exploited for political gain and the prospects for social cohesion look less promising, as public spaces become more fragmented and echo chamber effects become more intense.

These trends are extremely worrying and must be addressed urgently. But how can we protect the quality of public debate, and ensure the broader benefits to societies, if we do not defend independent media and public service journalism?

Journalists and other media workers must be protected from threats, violence, arbitrary detention and death. And those who perpetrate crimes against them must be brought to justice. Because information and ideas should be shared freely, without fear of repercussion for the benefit of whole societies.

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Excerpt:

Sarah Lister is Director, UNDP’s Oslo Governance Centre, and Emanuele Sapienza is, Policy Specialist, Bureau for Policy and Programme Support, UNDP.

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Don’t “Whitewash” Khashoggi’s Murderhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/10/dont-whitewash-khashoggis-murder/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dont-whitewash-khashoggis-murder http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/10/dont-whitewash-khashoggis-murder/#respond Fri, 19 Oct 2018 08:50:18 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158257 In the midst of international outrage over the alleged murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, human rights groups have called for a United Nations investigation into the incident. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Reporters Without Borders joined efforts to appeal for an independent investigation into the alleged torture […]

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According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 44 journalists have been killed so far in 2018 alone, 27 of whom were murdered. Courtesy: UN Geneva

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 19 2018 (IPS)

In the midst of international outrage over the alleged murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, human rights groups have called for a United Nations investigation into the incident.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Reporters Without Borders joined efforts to appeal for an independent investigation into the alleged torture and murder of Khashoggi to avoid a “whitewash.”

“This sends an incredibly chilling signal to journalists around the world that their lives don’t matter and that states can have you murdered with impunity,” said CPJ’s Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney at a press conference at the U.N.

“We believe that the only way to ensure that there is no whitewash in the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi is that the United Nations take on an independent, transparent and international investigation,” he added.

Human Rights Watch’s U.N. Director Louis Charbonneau echoed similar sentiments, stating: “We need accountability and in order to have accountability, we need credible information and an investigation.”

Originally hailing from Saudi Arabia, Khashoggi was a permanent resident in the United States and worked as a columnist for the Washington Post.

He was last seen visiting a Saudi consulate in Turkey and leaks from Turkish sources have painted a gruesome picture of the incident including the dismemberment of his body.

Audio and visual recordings have also suggested that Saudi officials close to the crown prince Mohammed bin Salman are the perpetrators.

Sadly, this is not an isolated incident as journalists continue to be killed around the world for their work.

According to CPJ, 44 journalists have been killed so far in 2018 alone, 27 of whom were murdered.

“This incident didn’t happen in a vacuum. Jamal Khashoggi is not one case that is an anomaly. It happened in a context of an increased crackdown on dissent since June 2017 when the crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman took his position,” said Sherine Tadros, Amnesty International’s head of the New York U.N. office, pointing to Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.

Since the crown prince took power, the detention of dissidents has increased including human rights defenders such as Samar Badawi, a prominent women’s rights advocate.

The Middle Eastern country is also ranked at third in CPJ’s Most Censored Countries list, just behind North Korea and Eritrea.

Khashoggi’s last column for the Washington Post was aptly on the need for freedom of expression in the Arab world where he stated: “The Arab world needs a modern version of the old transnational media so citizens can be informed about global events…through the creation of an independent international forum, isolated from the influence of nationalist governments spreading hate through propaganda, ordinary people in the Arab world would be able to address the structural problems their societies face.”

Mahoney highlighted the need to act against the threats that journalists face.

“We have to fight back on this because if we don’t, that space will continue to be shrink. Countries like Saudi Arabia, which has wealth and influence, will continue to suppress journalism,” he said.

The four human rights groups called on Turkey to ask U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to establish an independent investigation.

Though both Saudi Arabia and Turkey are conducting their own investigations, many fear the findings will not be credible.

“This is what the U.N. was created for, this is why we need it. We need credibility,” said Charbonneau.

“If in fact it’s true, that the most senior members of the Saudi government were behind the execution and dismemberment of Mr. Khashoggi, then we don’t want the culprits investigating themselves. This is now how we run criminal investigations,” he added.

Despite Turkey’s similarly poor record on protecting journalists, the human rights groups said that it is President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s time to step up.

“We want the Turkish Government…to step forward, to use this as an opportunity to move forward into the future and out of the past…to send a message to the world that we want reporting, we want credible information and we will protect journalists,” Charbonneau said.

It wouldn’t be the first time at the U.N. was requested to conduct an investigation.

In 2009, Pakistan requested then Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to probe into the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. The inquiry found a whitewash of the incident by the country’s authorities.

U.N. officials such as new U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet have also called for an impartial, transparent investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance and death.

“His family and the world deserves to know the truth,” she said.

The organisations urged for quick action, and for other governments to press Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

“It is gathering momentum and we hope that the momentum will be such that Turkey will not be able to say no and will actually have to step forward and do this and the Saudis would be under so much pressure that they will have to cooperate,” Charbonneau said.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited the two countries and their heads of state on the case and has since pushed to give Saudi Arabia some more time to finalise their investigation before acting.

Before the trip, U.S. president Donald Trump initially lambasted journalists for treating Saudi Arabia as guilty before being proven innocent.

“If we are looking for proving Saudi Arabia’s innocence, we believe that there is no other way—our best shot for a credible investigation, a transparent investigation, and an investigation that wont be politicised is for the U.N. to conduct it and is for Turkey to make this request,” Tadros said.

She additionally appealed to the U.N. Secretary-General to step up and act boldly.

“We cannot live in a world where governments can use chemical weapons against their own citizens and nothing happens. Where a military can ethnically cleanse, torture, and rape an entire community and no one is held into account. Where a journalist in a major city walks into a consulate and is tortured and killed and nothing happens,” Tadros said.

“Every time the U.N. system and particularly the U.N. Secretary-General fails to speak up, he enables another tragedy, another person who is killed, another population that is ethnically cleansed every single time,” she added.

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Journalism’s darkest hour and a roadmap to its survivalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/10/journalisms-darkest-hour-roadmap-survival/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=journalisms-darkest-hour-roadmap-survival http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/10/journalisms-darkest-hour-roadmap-survival/#respond Sun, 07 Oct 2018 15:05:56 +0000 Badiuzzaman Bay http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158051 Director Steven Spielberg’s 2017 newsroom thriller The Post, set in the 1970s America when a group of journalists try to expose a massive cover-up of government secrets about the Vietnam War, beautifully captures the tension between the press and a corrupt administration. It’s a standard theme for a movie on journalism—defenders of truth vs enemies […]

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SOURCE: LINKEDIN

By Badiuzzaman Bay
Oct 7 2018 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Director Steven Spielberg’s 2017 newsroom thriller The Post, set in the 1970s America when a group of journalists try to expose a massive cover-up of government secrets about the Vietnam War, beautifully captures the tension between the press and a corrupt administration. It’s a standard theme for a movie on journalism—defenders of truth vs enemies of truth—but there’s a twist: The Washington Post faces an existential threat if it publishes the Pentagon Papers. So it must choose between a heroic stand to assert its right to publish and an about-turn to avoid threats of retributions. Tom Hanks, who plays the hard-charging editor of the newspaper, chooses the former: “The only way to protect the right to publish is to publish.”

Journalism, by its very definition, is conflictual as it exposes what is expected to be hidden. The Post, based on a true story, lays bare the tension that arises from this exercise but also, importantly, unearths the inherent vulnerability of the profession. There are always threats of retribution in the pursuit of truths. The Internet and other modern instruments may have revolutionised how news is gathered and shared today, but threats remain constant although the nature of threats has evolved over time.

For example, before the Internet, journalists rarely had to worry about virtual violence. The main risks they faced were in the field: the physical and psychological safety concerns of reporting on, for example, disasters and conflicts. But today’s media battlefields, according to Hannah Storm, director of the International News Safety Institute, are increasingly shifting online, resulting in hitherto unheard-of consequences and often extending to family members and even those remotely benefitting from their reportage. The result is a “blurring of virtual, physical, and psychological frontlines of safety” all rolled into one big, multidimensional threat.

And Bangladesh is as much vulnerable to this threat as any other country plagued by weak democratic institutions and restrictive media laws.

The country’s drift toward digital absolutism looks all but certain after the passing of the controversial Digital Security Bill 2018 in parliament, on September 19, which now awaits approval from the president to be enacted as law. As the Editors’ Council showed in a section-by-section analysis of the act, in trying to prevent crimes in the digital sphere, it “ends up policing media operations, censoring content and controlling media freedom and freedom of speech and expression as guaranteed by our Constitution.”

The act gives unlimited power to the police who can raid a place and arrest anyone on suspicion without any warrant or permission. It also “suffers from vagueness,” using many terms that can be misinterpreted and used against the media. The result? The editors believe it will “create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation” and make journalism, especially investigative journalism, “virtually impossible.” Their verdict? What we have here is a law that’s basically “anti-free press” and “antithetical to democracy.”

The manner in which this act has been drafted, promoted and eventually passed helps us understand the dynamics of state-media relations in Bangladesh. It’s a fragile, uneasy relationship, fraught with distrust. The state wants the media to be subservient to it. The media has to walk a tricky tightrope between divergent expectations. Not willing to entertain criticism, the overriding political narrative tends to isolate sceptics in the press and portray them as “the enemy of the people”—“enemy” being the keyword. It heightens fear of potential threats and justifies the action to contain them. Just in August this year, one influential ruling party leader said that “a section of the media is conspiring to thwart the government.” More recently, another wrote a commentary vilifying the editors for asking for reformation of the eight disputed sections of the Digital Security Act. He even appeared to suggest that any amendment to the act, while very unlikely, will depend on the editors rectifying their “amoral” ways.

In all fairness, such bellicose rhetoric does little to calm the frayed nerves. It only turns the spotlight on the supposed “unfairness” of the journalists rather than the unfair treatment being meted out to them.

The crisis for the journalists, however, didn’t begin with this law and will not end with it either. Already, Bangladesh stands 146th among 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index 2018 prepared by the Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF), which cited growing media self-censorship amid the “endemic violence” against journalists and “the almost systematic impunity” enjoyed by those responsible. The true extent of this impunity can be understood from the Global Impunity Index 2017 released by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Bangladesh ranked 10th in the index, preceded by countries such as Somalia, Syria, Iraq, South Sudan and Pakistan—an irony given that Bangladesh far outranks these very countries in various development indicators.

How to make sense of Bangladesh’s appalling press freedom records? How to prevent it from further backsliding on democracy and people’s fundamental rights? More importantly for the journalists, how to continue their work with the integrity and responsibility expected of them despite the obstacles that have been put in their way?

Leon Willems, director of Free Press Unlimited, argues that while there are myriad pressures and challenges confronting the profession, resistance is possible. In a column published on the eve of this year’s World Press Freedom Day, he shows how journalists around the world are fighting back, navigating all sorts of dangers including physical and reputational harm. Even in countries where there is strict online censorship and few legal protections, creative use of social media and other journalistic tools is paying dividends. Willems cited the example of the Philippines, where independent news organisations have become targets of slander by politicians and online trolls but “reporters are turning the tables with devastating effect.” For example, in a recent series of reports identifying people making threats against the media, the news website Rappler uncovered a network of trolls tied directly to government insiders.

But I think the old, traditional concept of unity can achieve what few modern strategies can. In Bangladesh, perhaps the only silver lining to the recent debacle was the unprecedented display of solidarity by the Editors’ Council, an association of 20 newspaper editors, who united in ardent opposition to the Digital Security Act and published the section-by-section analysis of the act (as mentioned above) in their newspapers on the same day. This momentum needs to be kept alive and supported by other representative bodies within the wider news network.

At the risk of sounding trite, a united press is more powerful than one that is divided, and stands a better chance of surviving with dignity. There are historic precedents that show how a united front works better than journalists fighting separately. In 1971, after The Washington Post began to publish reports based on the leaked Pentagon Papers, braving threats from the Nixon administration, 15 other newspapers decided to publish copies of the study. It was a glorious moment in the history of journalism when one newspaper’s fight to protect its right to publish suddenly became everyone’s. Finally, the threats to their rights were removed.

Again, in August of 2018, nearly 350 news outlets united to run coordinated editorials denouncing President Donald Trump’s “dirty war” on the media. Trump routinely derides media reports as “fake news” and attacks journalists as “enemies of the people”. The call for a united pushback by the Boston Globe, which had launched the campaign using the hashtag #EnemyOfNone, was joined by major US national newspapers, smaller local outlets, tabloids—even pro-Trump ones—and international publications like the UK’s The Guardian. One of the editorials read: “It may be frustrating to argue that just because we print inconvenient truths doesn’t mean that we’re fake news, but being a journalist isn’t a popularity contest. All we can do is to keep reporting.”

“Unity, quality and creativity”—this can be our motto as we move into the Dark Age of Journalism.

Badiuzzaman Bay is a member of the editorial team at The Daily Star. Email: badiuzzaman.bd@gmail.com

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Impunity and Harsh Laws Trouble Journalists in South Asia as Protesters March on the U.N. For Release of Bangladeshi Journalisthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/impunity-harsh-laws-trouble-journalists-south-asia-protesters-march-u-n-release-bangladeshi-journalist/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=impunity-harsh-laws-trouble-journalists-south-asia-protesters-march-u-n-release-bangladeshi-journalist http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/impunity-harsh-laws-trouble-journalists-south-asia-protesters-march-u-n-release-bangladeshi-journalist/#comments Fri, 28 Sep 2018 14:47:57 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157847 It has been six and half years since the killing of Bangladeshi journalists Meherun Runi and Sagar Sarwar in Dhaka. Runi, a senior reporter from the private TV channel ATN Bangla, and her husband Sarwar, news editor from Maasranga TV, were hacked to death at their home on Feb. 11, 2012. Years later, with no […]

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A student walks by a board displaying names of freedom fighters. The New Digital Security Act 2018 makes speaking against any freedom fighter leader a punishable offence. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
HYDERBAD, Sep 28 2018 (IPS)

It has been six and half years since the killing of Bangladeshi journalists Meherun Runi and Sagar Sarwar in Dhaka. Runi, a senior reporter from the private TV channel ATN Bangla, and her husband Sarwar, news editor from Maasranga TV, were hacked to death at their home on Feb. 11, 2012.

Years later, with no official updates on the progress of the investigation, their families wait for justice as the fear of impunity looms large.

The atmosphere in Bangladesh’s journalism today is one of trepidation and caution.

It has witnessed a series of attacks against students and journalists in the capital city of Dhaka, followed by the passing of a cyber law that has come under scathing criticism.

The Digital Security Bill 2018, passed on Sept. 19 has been strongly criticised by journalists, who have called it a tool designed to gag the press and freedom of speech.

The draft bill had been actually introduced last year, and there had been strong demands for amending several provisions of the law. The government had publicly promised to consider the demands. However, on the advice of the law makers, the government decided to go ahead without any changes and passed it last week. 

IPS Journalists worldwide stand in solidarity for press freedom and join the Nobel Laureates and 17 eminent global citizens, and British MP Tulip Siddiq as they call for the immediate release of Shahidul Alam. IPS also calls for the release of journalists who have been detained in the course of duty across the globe, including those in the Congo, Turkey, and Myanmar.

IPS has noted with concern the increasingly repressive environment that our reporters are working in and call on governments to review their media laws and support press freedom. It is incredibly important for IPS that our reporters are safe as they do their work in holding governments and institutions to account.

One of the most worrying provisions of the law (section 43) is that it allows the police to arrest or search individuals without a warrant.

Other provisions of the law includes 14 years of imprisonment for anyone who commits any crime or assists anyone in committing crimes using a computer, digital device, computer network, digital network or any other electronic medium.

As expected, the new law has come under scathing criticism of the media.

“The act goes against the spirit of the Liberation War. Independent journalism will be under threat in the coming days. We thought the government would accept our [Sampadak Parishad’s] suggestions for the sake of independent journalism, freedom of expression and free thinking, but it did not,” said Naem Nizam, editor of Bengali news daily Bangladesh Pratidin, in a strongly-worded public statement.

The Editor’s Council, known as Shampadak Parishad, also was unanimous in labelling the law as a threat to press freedom and independent media in the country.

To protest against the law, the council has called all journalists and media bodies to join a human chain on Sept. 29 in Dhaka.

The legislation “would violate constitutional guarantees of freedom of the press, and would create extensive legal dangers for journalists in the normal course of carrying out their professional activities,” Steven Butler, the Asia programme coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), said in a statement.

Interestingly, the new law was originally developed in response to the media’s demand for scrapping Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act, 2006—a broad law against electronic communication.

Under Section 57, intentionally posting false, provocative, indecent or sensitive information on websites or any electronic platforms that was defamatory, and can disrupt the country’s law and order situation, or hurt religious sentiments, is a punishable offence, with a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment and a fine of USD120,000.

It was under this section 57 that Shahidul Alam, an award-winning independent photographer, was arrested.

Alam was arrested on Aug. 5 from his home in Dhaka and has been charged with inciting violence by making provocative statements in the media. He has been held without bail since the arrest, despite repeated appeals by the media, human rights groups and the international community for his release.

IPS contacted several local journalists and academics but everyone declined to comment on the issue of Alam’s arrest. However, last month, British MP Tulip Siddiq, and the niece of Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina, called on her aunt to release Alam saying the situation was “deeply distressing and should end immediately”.

Protestors demanded the unconditional release of Shahidul Alam, and for charges against him, and others held in similar circumstances, to be dropped. Courtesy: Salim Hasbini

Alam’s family organised a protest in New York on Sept. 27 to coincide with prime minister Hasina’s address to the United Nations General Assembly.

The protest was endorsed by human rights groups and journalist associations, rights activist Kerry Kennedy, actress/activist Sharon Stone, and attended by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, among others.

At the demonstration, Columbia University professor Gayatri Spivak pointed out, “What is really important for the state is that if one silences the creative artists and intellectuals, then the conscience of the state is killed because its the role of the creatives artists and intellectuals to make constructive criticism so that the state can be a real democracy.”

According to Meenakshi Ganguly, Asia director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Bangladesh government wants to show that no one who dares criticise or challenge its actions will be spared.

“Newspaper editors face being charged with criminal defamation and sedition. Journalists and broadcasters are routinely under pressure from the authorities to restrain criticism of the government,” Ganguly said.

“As a photographer, Alam documents the truth; his work and his voice matter now more than ever,” she said. 

In Bangladesh, the media has been demanding the scrapping of Section 57, explains Afroja Shoma, an assistant professor of Media and Mass Communication at American International University of Bangladesh.

“However, the Digital Security Act left this untouched and so this new law is nothing but ‘old wine in a new bottle,’” Shoma told IPS.

“Section 57, in the past, has been misused several times. The media wanted the government to scrap this. The government then brought this whole new law [the Digital Security Bill 2018]. But it has retained the same old provisions of the section 57. As a result, the law has created an atmosphere of fear among the journalists of the country,” said Shoma.

Digital security breeding insecurity

However, digital laws are not just threatening press freedom in Bangladesh. Several countries in south Asia have had similar punitive laws passed.

India had its own “Section 57” known as the Section 66A of the Information Technology Act 2000.

Section 66A in the act made provisions for “punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service” and included information shared via a “computer resource or a communication device” known to be “false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will.”

In March 2015, the Supreme Court of India struck it down, calling it “open ended, undefined, and vague.”

However, of late, India has also seen a spate of vicious attacks on journalists. These include the murder of journalists Gauri Lankesh and Shujat Bukhari as well as online attacks on investigative journalist Rana Ayyub who authored the book Gujarat Files. No arrests have been made in any of these cases so far.

Nepal, a country not known for attacks on the press, has just passed a new law  that makes sharing confidential information an offence resulting in a prison sentence. The code criminalises recording and listening to conversations between two or more people without the consent of the persons involved, as well as disclosing private information without permission, including private information on public figures.

Under the law, a journalist could face fines of up to 30,000 rupees (USD270) and imprisonment of up to three years, according to the CPJ. The CPJ has released a statement asking the government to repeal or amend the law.

Badri Sigdel, Nepal’s National Press Union president, said in a recent press statement: “The NPU condemns the Act with provisions that restrict journalists to report, write and take photographs. Such restrictions are against the democratic norms and values; and indicate towards authoritarianism. The NPU demands immediate amendment in the unacceptable provisions of the law.”

Pakistan, which ranks 139 in the Press Freedom Index (India ranks 138, while Bangladesh and Nepal rank 146 and 106 respectively), has witnessed the killings of five journalists while working between May 1, 2017 to Apr. 1, 2018.

Also, according to a study by local media watchdog the Freedom Network there have been:

• 11 cases of attempted kidnapping or abduction,

• 39 illegal detention and arrest,

• 58 physical assault and vandalism,

• and 23 occurrences of verbal and written threats.

The country has just, however, drafted the Journalists Welfare and Protection Bill, 2017, which aims to ensure safety and protection of journalists. The draft, once adopted, will be the first in the region to provide physical protection, justice and financial assistance for all working journalists—both permanent and contractual.

 

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The Shrinking Space for Media Freedom in Ugandahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/shrinking-space-media-freedom-uganda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=shrinking-space-media-freedom-uganda http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/shrinking-space-media-freedom-uganda/#respond Thu, 27 Sep 2018 18:37:38 +0000 Wambi Michael http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157825 Last month, a horrifying video circulated on social media in Uganda. It shows Reuters photographer, James Akena, surrounded by Uganda Peoples Defence Force soldiers who beat him as he raised his hands in the air in surrender. He was unarmed and held only his camera.  Akena suffered deep cuts to his head and injuries on […]

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Uganda Police Force manhandle a journalist covering a demonstration in Kampala, Uganda. Courtesy: Wambi Michael

By Wambi Michael
KAMPALA, Sep 27 2018 (IPS)

Last month, a horrifying video circulated on social media in Uganda. It shows Reuters photographer, James Akena, surrounded by Uganda Peoples Defence Force soldiers who beat him as he raised his hands in the air in surrender. He was unarmed and held only his camera. 

Akena suffered deep cuts to his head and injuries on his hands, neck and fingers for which he had to be hospitalised. He is yet to resume work.

But a month after Akena’s torture, there is no evidence that the soldiers who assaulted him have been punished, despite the Ugandan army issuing a statement against the soldiers’ unprofessional conduct, saying orders had been issued for their arrest and punishment.

Uganda’s Chief of Defence Forces General David Muhoozi insisted in an interview with IPS that action was being taken against his soldiers.

“We don’t need anyone to remind us that we need to [hold] those who commit torture to account. Those ones who assaulted the journalist, we are going to take action. They have been apprehended. So it is within in our DNA to fight mischief,” Muhoozi told IPS.

Akena was photographing protests against the arrest and torture of popular musician turned politician Robert Kyangulanyi, popularly known as Bobi Wine. He had been in the process of taking photographs that would expose the brutal conduct of the army and the police while they dispersed demonstrating crowds.

A week later, president Yoweri Museveni told members of parliament from his ruling National Resistance Movement party that his security had told him Akena had been mistaken for a petty thief taking advantage of the demonstration.

Human Rights Network For Journalists – Uganda (HRNJ) executive director Robert Sempala told IPS that the abuse of journalists has continued despite assurances from the army and Uganda Police Force. He said about 30 journalists have been beaten by the army between Aug. 20 and Sept. 22, 2018.

“They insist that they arrested those soldiers but the army has not disclosed their identities. So we are still waiting to see that they are punished or else we shall seek other remedies, including legal action,” Sempala said.

Maria Burnett, an associate director at Human Rights Watch in charge of East Africa, expressed doubt whether the arrest of those who tortured Akena would mean that journalists would not be beaten in the future. 

“Security forces have beaten journalists with limited repercussions for years in Uganda. Other government bodies then censor coverage of army-orchestrated violence. 

“Beating journalists serves two purposes: It scares some journalists from covering politically-sensitive events, and, at times, it prevents evidence of soldiers beating or even killing civilians from reaching the public,” Burnett said in a statement.

She said threatening and intimidating journalists curtailed the public’s access to information – information they could use to question the government’s policies.

“With more and more cameras readily available, beating or censoring the messenger isn’t feasible in the long term. It will only lead to more fodder for citizen journalists and more questions about why the government resorts to violence in the face of criticism,” observed Burnett.

The Ugandan government uses its national laws to bring charges against journalists, revoke broadcasting licenses without due process of law, and practice other forms of repression. In this dated picture Laila Mutebi, 26, presented the Evening Voyage, on Uganda’s 101.7 Mama FM. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Dr. Peter Mwesige, a media scholar and head of the African Centre For Media Excellence, said: “This is unacceptable. We call upon the government to rein in members of the armed forces who are now presiding over this frightening erosion of press freedom and free expression in Uganda. As we have said before, press freedom and freedom of expression are not just about the rights of journalists and the media to receive and disseminate information.”

He said stopping journalists from covering political protests and violence denied citizens access to information about what was going on in their country.

“No degree of imperfections in our media ranks can justify the wanton abuse that security forces have visited on journalists,” said Mwesige.

Sarah Bireete, the deputy executive director at the Centre for Constitutional Governance, told IPS that the violence against journalists was part of the shrinking civic space in Uganda. 

She said there were efforts to silence civil society groups who worked in the areas of governance and accountability.

“Such abuses also continue to extend to other groups such as journalists and activists that play a key role in holding governments and their bodies to account,” said Bireete.

The Ugandan government uses its national laws to bring charges against journalists, revoke broadcasting licenses without due process of law, and practice other forms of repression.

The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has used ill-defined and unchecked powers to regulate the media. 

The UCC, for instance, issued on Sept. 19 a directive to radio and TV stations in Uganda restricting them from carrying live coverage of the return of Kyangulanyi to the country. The legislator was returning from the United States where he had gone for treatment after he had been tortured by the army. Most of the media outlets heeded the directive.

The government has moved further to restrict press freedom by restricting the number of foreign correspondents in Uganda.

The Foreign Correspondent’s Association in Uganda (FCAU) on Sept. 12 issued a statement calling on the Uganda government to stop blocking journalists from accessing accreditation. 

It said at least 10 journalists wishing to report in Uganda had not been given government accreditation even after they had fulfilled all the requirements.

“Preventing international journalist from working in Uganda adds to a troubling recent pattern of intimidation and violence against journalists. Stopping a number of international media houses from reporting legally inside Uganda is another attempt to gag journalists,” read the statement. 

Section 29(1) of the Press and Journalists Act requires all foreign journalists who wish to report from Uganda to get accreditation from the Media Council of Uganda through the Uganda Media Centre. The journalists are required to pay non-refundable accreditation fees depending on their duration of stay in the country. 

IPS has learnt that a number of journalists have since returned home after failing to secure accreditation.

Uganda Media Centre director Ofwono Opondo told IPS that the government has not stopped the accreditation of foreign journalists but was reviewing the guidelines.

Magelah Peter Gwayaka, a human rights lawyer with Chapter Four, a non-profit dedicated to the protection of civil liberties and promotion of human rights, told IPS: “Not long ago we had a BBC reporter, Will Ross, who was deported. The implication is to force journalists to cower down, to stop demanding accountability, to stop demanding all those things that democracy brings about.”

“So if the army is going to stop demonstrators and it beats up journalists like we saw the other day, no civil society [can stand] up to say please can we account? Can we have these army men arrested?” Gwayaka said.

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Journalism for Democracy, Caught Between Bullets and Censorship in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/journalism-democracy-caught-bullets-censorship-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=journalism-democracy-caught-bullets-censorship-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/journalism-democracy-caught-bullets-censorship-latin-america/#respond Sun, 23 Sep 2018 01:27:30 +0000 Humberto Marquez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157723 The murder of journalists and changing forms of censorship show that freedom of expression and information are still under siege in Latin America, particularly in the countries with the greatest social upheaval and political polarisation. Journalism “maintains a central role in the work for democracy in the region, although it suffers persecution of the media, […]

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Lee, Journalist Banned from UN for Misconduct, Plans to Fight Backhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/lee-journalist-banned-un-misconduct-plans-fight-back/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lee-journalist-banned-un-misconduct-plans-fight-back http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/lee-journalist-banned-un-misconduct-plans-fight-back/#respond Fri, 24 Aug 2018 14:14:33 +0000 Carmen Arroyo and Emily Thampoe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157339 The United Nation’s Department of Public Information (DPI) last week withdrew UN press credentials from Matthew Lee, a longstanding journalist who reported for his blog, Inner City Press (ICP). Although UN officials have argued that the reason for the withdrawal was his lack of adherence to guidelines every reporter has to follow for UN coverage, […]

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Journalists covering the arrival of delegations to address the General Assembly’s seventy-second general debate. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas - Matthew Lee, Journalist Banned from UN for Misconduct, Plans to Fight Back

Journalists covering the arrival of delegations to address the General Assembly’s seventy-second general debate. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Carmen Arroyo and Emily Thampoe
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 24 2018 (IPS)

The United Nation’s Department of Public Information (DPI) last week withdrew UN press credentials from Matthew Lee, a longstanding journalist who reported for his blog, Inner City Press (ICP).

Although UN officials have argued that the reason for the withdrawal was his lack of adherence to guidelines every reporter has to follow for UN coverage, Lee’s accreditation predicament is not as straightforward as it may seem.

Throughout a running battle leading to his ban, he has argued he did not have the opportunity to be heard.  “This is a new low for the UN: no due process for journalists, no freedom of the press,” he told IPS.

Lee is perhaps only the third journalist to be banned from the UN, the other two being barred in the 1970s, one of them for harassing colleagues, and the other losing his credentials when Taiwan lost its UN membership to the People’s Republic of China in 1971, according to a veteran UN correspondent who has been covering the world body for over four decades.

Since his beginnings as a UN correspondent over 10 years ago, Lee has been known for asking thought-provoking questions during daily briefings and at press stakeouts. He has reported on global conflicts such as those in Sri Lanka, Congo, Somalia, and others, as well as news coverage within the UN.

For many people who worked within the UN framework, and even those who were simply fascinated by the unfolding events in the world body, Lee’s blog posts have been well-read and well-received, for the most part.

However, the incidents with Lee started back in 2012, when he was warned by the DPI to treat his fellow journalists with respect. At that time, nothing was done to affect his access to meetings and to his physical presence in the UN premises.

"Even if Lee was technically in violation of the UN's rules for non-resident correspondents, there was no reason for UN security guards to grab him and forcibly escort him out of the building, ripping his shirt in the process. It is never appropriate for security guards to use force against journalists."

Two years ago, things changed: he was in an interpreter’s booth recording a closed-door meeting of UN correspondents, without their consent. Then, DPI’s Media and Liaison Unit (MALU) made the decision to downgrade his accreditation from “resident correspondent” to “non-resident correspondent”, which means he was deprived of his own office space, barred from going to the UN on weekends and prevented from staying late hours and restricted from some areas in the building.

Although Lee believes this was “bogus reason” for the treatment he received, Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary General, told IPS: “Matthew has come up with his own version on his website. But in that case I know to be true what I saw with my eyes”.

Despite the downgrading of his credentials, Lee continued reporting and asking abrasive questions during the noon press briefings.

Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary General, along with the UN officer that had to deal with Lee’s questioning, has constantly repeated that they had no problem with his reporting, but with his behavior. It seemed that the change in his accreditation pass had no effect. “After that, the problems with his behavior did not subside”, said Haq.

On June 22nd, Lee had to be removed from the UN premises as he stayed long after his accreditation permitted him, and on July 3rd, he was similarly found long after 9 pm within a restricted area of the complex. UN Security removed him from the premises, but he apparently resisted.

According to Lee, that was an invalid reason, since he can cover specific meetings past 7 pm but UN representatives insist this situation was in breach of the UN press guidelines. UN Security grabbed Lee, who resisted, escorted him forcefully to the exit, ripping his shirt in the process. Lee also claims his laptop was damaged and his arm twisted by a UN security officer.

After that incident, his press accreditation was put under review and he was temporarily banned from UN headquarters. Many sympathized with him.

Peter Sterne, senior reporter at Freedom of the Press Foundation and managing editor of the US Press Freedom Tracker, told IPS: “Even if Lee was technically in violation of the UN’s rules for non-resident correspondents, there was no reason for UN security guards to grab him and forcibly escort him out of the building, ripping his shirt in the process. It is never appropriate for security guards to use force against journalists.”

Since that day, Lee has defiantly continued working outside the UN premises, with interviews being conducted in the sidewalks, with delegates and other officials on their way in or out of the building.

He also sends emails on a daily basis to the Office of the Spokesperson. His questions include policy matters, his suspension, and other issues.

On August 17, his press accreditation was permanently withdrawn, banning him from UN premises, and detailed in a four-page letter sent by Alison Smale, Under Secretary General for Global Communications.

Smale explained the reasons behind Lee’s pass withdrawal.

Four mis-behaviours stood out: staying inside the complex past the hours he was allowed to, going to areas he was not supposed to be in, questionable behavior towards delegates and fellow journalists, “including videos/live broadcasts using profanities and derogatory assertions towards them without due regard to their dignity, privacy and integrity”.

In an interview with IPS, Haq said: “Of course, we respect his press rights, but we also want to respect other’s press rights. And some journalists feel their press rights have been impeded by his actions.”

At the noon press briefing on August 20, in the latest development in the ongoing saga, Dujarric was asked about Lee’s expulsion.

“Mr. Lee’s accreditation was — as a correspondent here – was revoked due to repeated incidents having to do with behaviour, with violation – violating the rules that all of you sign on to and accept when you receive your accreditation, rules that are, by far, self-policing.  We trust journalists to respect the rules.  The rules are clear, and they’re transparent.”

He added: “The removal of his accreditation had nothing to do with the content of his writing. The allegations include recording people without their consent, being found in the garage ramp late at night, using abusive and derogatory language towards people.”

On the same day, Lee shared with IPS his thoughts over Dujarric’s responses: “What he said today in the briefing makes it clear how little a case the UN has – I was in a garage? When? If so, my non resident correspondent pass worked to get there. ”

However, Haq told IPS: “The fact is that what we’ve been able to see is that he has a track record of different types of behavior that impede the activities of other journalists and members of member states, and he has created difficulties with security”.

He went on by stating: “I know for a fact that he has his own version of these events, but we have security records and cameras that do not coincide with his version of events”.

But Lee believes there is a conspiracy from the top of the United Nations to keep him silent: “They dug up everything they could, a real hit job, which I’m told comes right from the top: Guterres, who didn’t like my questions and writing that he was weak on the killings in Cameroon because he needed or wanted the support of the chair of the UN budget committee, Cameroon’s ambassador Tommo Monthe.”

Accusing the UN of conspiring against him, Lee said: “I am not going to allow Antonio Guterres, Alison Smale and Dujarric to prevent me from covering the UN. This is a shameful period for the UN, and I don’t intend to stop”, he claimed.

“I think large institutions like the UN need to be held accountable, including by journalists who daily ask them questions using information from those impacted (and sometimes injured) by the institutions.”

He added:  “This explains the approach I take with my reporting and I think it is appropriate and needed and that the UN has no right to try to hinder or prevent it.”

Meanwhile, in an interview with IPS, a veteran journalist in the UN press corps, speaking on condition of anonymity, said:  “Coverage of the United Nations is very important for the peoples of the world and the organization must facilitate journalists to do their job. After all, the UN is a tax-payer funded organization and its activities should be open and transparent.”

“But some rules have been devised, in consultations with the United Nations Correspondents’ Association (UNCA), the representative body of journalists, for orderly coverage of events.”

It is important to note, he said, that Lee is not a member of UNCA, and he has consistently criticized it. The veteran journalist went on: “There are do’s and don’ts for correspondents — for instance, journalists trying to get into closed-door or restricted meetings will be stopped. The elected president of UNCA will always put the first question at press conferences/news briefings. Journalists should not make statements, just ask questions, etc.”

Lee has not been the first journalist to be denied press accreditation, he pointed out. On the contrary, there have been more than two previous cases.

The veteran correspondent recalled that in the late 1970s, a journalist called Judy Joy sued UNCA for alleged irregularities in handling its funds. After a long and arduous process, UNCA was cleared of any mishandling but the association was left bankrupt due to lawyer fees.

Joy was not satisfied, and she said that the then UNCA president had threatened her for going to court, so the police picked up the president from his apartment early in the morning. But the case was proved bogus, as the president completely denied talking with Joy and she lacked any evidence. After that, the UN correspondents asked the UN to expel her to prevent her from further harassing her fellow journalists.

Another case he recalls was a political one: “After China’s entry to the UN in 1971, Beijing demanded the expulsion of Taiwan’s correspondent at the UN as its push for recognition of its goal of one China. Some western journalist protested, but the UN couldn’t do anything as it was also the demand of majority of member states.”

Other UN sources have mentioned another case during their time at the headquarters, in which a reporter’s accreditation was withdrawn for misbehaviors.

Nevertheless, Lee’s questions, directed to the Spokesperson’s Office, have been answered via email since he was expelled from the complex.

Haq explained: ““He sends us questions by email and we try to get them answered as best as we can. And we’ll keep doing that regardless where he is.”

However, Lee insisted: “Today’s UN is so corrupt they just look for a pretext to throw a critical journalist out. For life.”

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When Being ‘Offensive’ or ‘Morally Improper’ Online Carries an Indeterminate Jail Sentence in East Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/offensive-morally-improper-online-carries-indeterminate-jail-sentence-east-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=offensive-morally-improper-online-carries-indeterminate-jail-sentence-east-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/offensive-morally-improper-online-carries-indeterminate-jail-sentence-east-africa/#respond Fri, 24 Aug 2018 09:38:43 +0000 Erick Kabendera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157334 JamiiForums was Tanzania’s largest whistleblowing online platform, with one million visitors each day. But now some 90 percent of staff has been retrenched and the owners are considering shutting down their offices since the June implementation of the country’s online content communication law. Across this East African nation, social commentators and celebrities have shut down […]

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The enforcement of the online content regulations has scared people from stating their opinions online in Tanzania. Credit: Erick Kabendera/IPS

By Erick Kabendera
DAR ES SALAAM, Aug 24 2018 (IPS)

JamiiForums was Tanzania’s largest whistleblowing online platform, with one million visitors each day. But now some 90 percent of staff has been retrenched and the owners are considering shutting down their offices since the June implementation of the country’s online content communication law.

Across this East African nation, social commentators and celebrities have shut down their blogs as many cannot afford the hundreds of dollars required in licence fees to register them. And internet cafes may start closing down too as the new law requires them to install expensive security cameras.

A once-famous blogger in Dar es Salaam tells IPS he was forced to close down his blog because he couldn’t afford paying USD 900 in licence fees to register it in compliance with the new regulation.

A minimum jail sentence of 12 months

In June many bloggers and content providers were contacted by the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) and asked to immediately shut down their services and apply for a license within four days.

It was the beginning of the enforcement of the country’s Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations 2017. Civil society and digital rights activists have condemned the regulations as draconian.

This is what the law states:

  • All blogs, online forums, content hosts and content producers must register online and pay licence fees of up to USD 900;
  • Internet cafes must install surveillance cameras to monitor people online;
  • Material deemed “offensive, morally improper” or that “causes annoyance,” is prohibited and a minimum fine of USD2,230 or 12 months in jail as a minimum sentence is recommended for anyone found guilty;
  • Social media comments are even subject to the new regulations.

The regulation, however, doesn’t provide a maximum jail term, meaning a magistrate could send an offender to prison for an indeterminate period of time.

Terrified of saying something wrong online

The source, who wished to remain anonymous, tells IPS that other bloggers he met in recent weeks who have paid the licence fees and registered with the TCRA have complained that they are registering a low number of visitors to their blogs. In addition, visitors have stopped leaving comments as they are afraid of being arrested and taken to court.

“The ordinary people are scared to make comments on blog posts. They are scared because a single post could either land a blogger or their followers in the hands of authorities,” Maxence Melo, one of the founders of JamiiForums, tells IPS. He adds that authorities are focused on implementing the law but have not educated bloggers about what is deemed “offensive, morally improper” or “causes annoyance”.

In addition, people can be charged for not having passwords on their computers, laptops and smartphones.

A senior government attorney tells IPS on the condition of anonymity, because he wasn’t authorised to speak on the matter, that this act will be used against people who post defamatory content or hate porn online but claim that a third party had access to their mobile phone or devices and posted the content without their consent.

Since the June implementation of the act, the impact has been far-reaching across the country.

The owner of a famous internet café in Tanzania’s commercial capital says he has at least 50 customers a day but he wasn’t aware of the new requirement for internet café operators to install CCTV cameras on their premises.

He tells IPS that one hour of computer use costs 35US cents, which is not enough to sustain his business. So he supplements this with a stationary business in the cafe.

“Installing CCTV cameras would cost about USD500, which is a lot for a small business like mine. So if the authorities come and ask me to do it, I will have to shut down the business,” he tells IPS, requesting to remain anonymous.

A challenge to Tanzania’s freedom of expression

These regulations together with other laws aimed at curtailing freedom of expression and press freedom are one of the reasons for Tanzania’s poor performance in the latest Freedom Index rankings. The country ranks 93 out of 180 countries across the globe.

There is also the Cyber Crime Act, which can be used to arrest dissenting journalists and citizens and the Statistics Act, which limits the publication of data to the government’s Bureau of Statistics. Both acts were passed before the 2015 elections and activists are worried that worse is yet to come as the country prepares for the 2019 local governments elections and the 2020 general elections.

Rugemeleza Nshala, a prominent Tanzanian lawyer, tells IPS that freedom of expression is facing the biggest challenge in recent times here.

“We have reached a point where former Ugandan president Idi Amin’s famous quote when he said ‘there is freedom of speech, but I cannot guarantee freedom after speech’ is becoming relevant in Tanzania.

“Newspapers are shutdown unconstitutionally, and citizens criticising the president are arrested and magistrates, who want to please the president, jail suspects without hesitation,” Nshala tells IPS.

Last year alone, three newspapers were suspended:

  • In June 2017, the Tanzania Information Services banned a weekly Swahili newspaper Raia Mwema for 90 days after it had published a story claiming that president John Magufuli would fail in his job as president;
  • In September 2017, another weekly newspaper, MwanaHalisi, was suspended for 24 months;
  • In June 2017, the Mawio newspaper was also banned for 24 months.

Nshala says that enforcement of the online content regulations has scared people from giving their opinion openly according to Article 18 of the Constitution of Tanzania, which grants citizens freedom of expression and opinion without interference.

And it seems that for now the online content laws have succeed in squashing the voice of JamiiForums.

Melo says that the impact of the country’s new online content law, together with three cases JamiiForums is facing in court—which has resulted in them appearing 122 time in court over the last two years—has made them retrench 64 employees. They have only eight now, and are considering closing down their physical offices.

In the past JamiiForums has been threatened and forced to share user data with the regulator or the police. In one incident, the TCRA forced them to reveal the identity of users who had leaked details of mass corruption in the country’s biggest port and the case has been pending since 2016.

That case, together with two other lawsuits that are pending against JamiiForums, made Melo cautious when the TCRA wrote requiring blogs to shut down before applying for a licence. Melo and his team decided to voluntarily shut down their website for 21 days and registered within four days. They have since had an opportunity to sit down with the regulator to express their concerns about the new law.

“We were concerned with sections of the law, which gives content providers only 12 hours to remove content deemed inappropriate from online. In one case, the regulator had submitted a letter to us at 5 pm asking us to take down content failing to do so could result in us ending up in court. The law doesn’t give us a room to consult with the source of information and your lawyers before removing the content,” Melo tells IPS.

Maria Sarungi, director of the social media citizen movement Tsehai, the Change Tanzania, tells IPS that prior to the enforcement of the regulations, the ability to freely post content online had liberated the media industry.

“Some online TV [platforms] such as Millard Ayo started off as bloggers and have grown into full-fledged media houses because of the [former] liberal policies for online content,” Sarungi says.

Uganda just as repressive

However, Tanzania isn’t alone in establishing such repressive legislation against freedom of expression. Its neighbour Uganda introduced a daily fee of USD0.5 to anyone accessing social media after its president Yoweri Museveni had suggested the introduction of the law to curb online gossiping.

However, activists and lawyers have challenged the law in court. Uganda’s Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda said in parliament on Jul. 11 that the government was in the process of reviewing the tax, which is commonly referred to as the “gossip tax”.

Rosebell Kagumire, a Ugandan blogger, says despite many young urban Ugandans using virtual private networks to avoid their location being detected and to bypass the tax, recent statistics show that Facebook usage went down by 75 percent in the first weeks.

She further says that apart from limiting access to information and freedom of expression, the tax has prevented young unemployed Ugandans from getting online in search of employment. In addition, small enterprises that have their base on social media have declined.

“Besides limiting access to information and expression, this tax is economically punishing the poor. Recent pressure against the legislation has seen the government come up with amendments but the fees (including the mobile money transfer tax) are anti-freedom of expression and hinder digital inclusion,” Kagumire tells IPS.

In Tanzania, for Nshala, it is not all doom and gloom.

He says the constitution gives final say to citizens about how they want the government to be governed and therefore citizens have to stand firm to protect the country’s democracy. He finally says political leaders must understand that they are servants of people and have to accept criticisms.

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Laws and Threats Undermine Freedom of Expression in Hondurashttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/laws-threats-curtail-freedom-expression-honduras/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=laws-threats-curtail-freedom-expression-honduras http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/laws-threats-curtail-freedom-expression-honduras/#respond Sat, 04 Aug 2018 00:26:49 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157053 A series of laws that came into force in the last five years and the petition for amparo by 35 journalists and 22 social communicators against the government’s “Secrecy Law” give an idea of the atmosphere in Honduras with regard to freedom of expression. The international organisation Reporters Without Borders (RWB) gives an account of […]

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Trump’s Attacks on Media Violate Basic Norms of Press Freedom, Human Rights Experts sayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/trumps-attacks-media-violate-basic-norms-press-freedom-human-rights-experts-say/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trumps-attacks-media-violate-basic-norms-press-freedom-human-rights-experts-say http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/trumps-attacks-media-violate-basic-norms-press-freedom-human-rights-experts-say/#comments Fri, 03 Aug 2018 13:16:41 +0000 David Kaye and Edison Lanza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157047 David Kaye is the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression for the United Nations and Edison Lanza is Special Rapporteur for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

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David Kaye is the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression for the United Nations and Edison Lanza is Special Rapporteur for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

By David Kaye and Edison Lanza
GENEVA / WASHINGTON, Aug 3 2018 (IPS)

U.S. President Donald Trump’s repeated attacks on the free press are strategic, designed to undermine confidence in reporting and raise doubts about verifiable facts.

The President has labelled the media as being the “enemy of the American people” “very dishonest” or “fake news,” and accused the press of “distorting democracy” or spreading “conspiracy theories and blind hatred”.

Journalists wait for the arrival of official delegations at the Geneva II Conference on Syria, in Montreux, Switzerland. Credit: UN Photo/Violaine Martin

These attacks run counter to the country’s obligations to respect press freedom and international human rights law. We are especially concerned that these attacks increase the risk of journalists being targeted with violence.

Over the course of his presidency, Mr. Trump and others within his administration, have sought to undermine reporting that had uncovered waste, fraud, abuse, potential illegal conduct, and disinformation.

Each time the President calls the media ‘the enemy of the people’ or fails to allow questions from reporters from disfavoured outlets, he suggests nefarious motivations or animus. But he has failed to show even once that specific reporting has been driven by any untoward motivations.

It is critical that the U.S. administration promote the role of a vibrant press and counter rampant disinformation. To this end, we urge President Trump not only to stop using his platform to denigrate the media but to condemn these attacks, including threats directed at the press at his own rallies.

The attack on the media goes beyond President Trump’s language. We also urge his entire administration, including the Department of Justice, to avoid pursuing legal cases against journalists in an effort to identify confidential sources, an effort that undermines the independence of the media and the ability of the public to have access to information.

We urge the Government to stop pursuing whistle-blowers through the tool of the Espionage Act, which provides no basis for a person to make an argument about the public interest of such information.

We stand with the independent media in the United States, a community of journalists and publishers and broadcasters long among the strongest examples of professional journalism worldwide. We especially urge the press to continue, where it does so, its efforts to hold all public officials accountable.

We encourage all media to act in solidarity against the efforts of President Trump to favour some outlets over others.

Two years of attacks on the press could have long term negative implications for the public’s trust in media and public institutions. Two years is two years too much, and we strongly urge that President Trump and his administration and his supporters end these attacks.

The post Trump’s Attacks on Media Violate Basic Norms of Press Freedom, Human Rights Experts say appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

David Kaye is the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression for the United Nations and Edison Lanza is Special Rapporteur for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

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Silence from Judiciary Increases Self-Censorship, Pakistan’s Journalists sayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/silence-judiciary-increases-self-censorship-pakistans-journalists-say/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=silence-judiciary-increases-self-censorship-pakistans-journalists-say http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/silence-judiciary-increases-self-censorship-pakistans-journalists-say/#respond Thu, 26 Jul 2018 14:53:33 +0000 Aliya Iftikhar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156901 Aliya Iftikhar* is Asia Research Associate at the Committee to Protect Journalists

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Journalists in Pakistan protest against the killing of their colleagues. Credit: Rahat Dar/IPS

By Aliya Iftikhar
ISLAMABAD, Jul 26 2018 (IPS)

When it comes to the military and the judiciary, Pakistan’s journalists are “between a rock and a hard place,” Zohra Yusuf, of the independent non-profit Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, told CPJ.

In recent months the judiciary, which has a history of siding with Pakistan’s powerful military, has remained largely silent amid attempts to censor or silence the press.

Ahead of yesterday’s elections, CPJ documented how journalists who are critical of the military or authorities were abducted or attacked, how the army spokesman accused journalists of sharing anti-state and anti-military propaganda, and how distribution of two of Pakistan’s largest outlets–Geo TV and Dawn–was arbitrarily restricted.

The judiciary, which has power to take up cases on its own, did not intervene on behalf of the press. But it has continued its practice of threatening legal action against its critics.

Some journalists and analysts said that by not taking action, the judiciary has added to a climate of fear and self-censorship.

The judiciary has at times been seen as a strong supporter of democratic values, but Yusuf said the perception among many people in Pakistan is that the judiciary and the military “seem to be on the same page on certain aspects of our democracy.”

“Now … democracy and media are being presented as a problem,” Yusuf said, adding that journalists are bending over backwards to avoid provoking either institution.

Madiha Afzal, an adjunct assistant professor of global policy at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and the author of Pakistan Under Siege: Extremism, Society, and the State, told CPJ she thinks the judiciary is an “all too willing pawn in the military’s hands.” Afzal added, “I also think that it is in broad agreement with the military in its stance on Pakistan’s politics.”

The judiciary did not respond to CPJ’s email and calls requesting comment. Pakistani authorities certainly appear to be taking a tougher stance toward the press.

The country’s media regulator issued a statement this month warning news channels not to air any statements “by political leadership containing defamatory and derogatory content targeting various state institutions, specifically judiciary and armed forces.”

And Ahmad Noorani, a senior journalist with The News, told CPJ that some media houses received instructions from “certain forces” not to cover anything that favored former prime minister Nawaz Sharif or went against the judiciary. Noorani did not provide further details.

Owais Ali, the founder of the Pakistan Press Foundation, said a free media was crucial for free and fair elections. “Whatever the political issues are, they need to be discussed. These include criticisms of the judiciary and the military in the forthcoming elections. The media should not have a price to pay simply for reporting what is being discussed by the politicians and political parties.”

The lack of judicial support does not appear to be linked to court capacity. Pakistan’s chief justice came under criticism from political analysts this year for “judicial activism” — taking on suo motu cases, cases taken on the court’s initiative, Reuters reported. The court has launched inquiries on issues ranging from water shortages, police encounters, and milk prices.

Suo motu cases seem to be taken up “at the drop of a hat,” but when Geo asked the Supreme Court to take on its case, the court refused, Imran Aslam, president of Geo TV, told CPJ, referring to how cable operators arbitrarily blocked the broadcaster’s transmission earlier this year. “I certainly think the judiciary could have done something about Geo.”

The judiciary is supposed to provide justice to the media houses and media workers, but failed to take notice of the situation that the leading news channel of the country was facing, Noorani said. The court could easily have issued an order or at least asked for a report from the relevant regulatory authority, but they didn’t provide any relief to Geo, he said.

Afzal said she thinks the restrictions on Geo and Dawn undermined the outlets’ credibility. “[It] means that many in Pakistan don’t get to hear liberal voices or voices that are critical of the military, which in turn ensures that they remain pro-military and skeptical of liberal voices,” she said.

News outlets that criticize the judiciary often find themselves threatened with legal action. Nearly every major news organization has been served contempt of court notices, Yusuf said.

Last year, Noorani and his paper’s publisher, Jang Group, were served two notices, including one over Noorani’s report on the Inter-services Intelligence. Noorani said the court withdrew the notice after he presented records of his communication and evidence backing the story.

A contempt of court order brought against TV journalist Matiullah Jan and Waqt TV in February, over claims the higher court was insulted on Jan’s talk show, was dropped after the station’s management apologized and Jan said he would exercise more caution, according to Dawn.

Fakhar Durrani, a reporter at The News, said that when he reported last year on judges who were allegedly vying for plots of land that were part of a housing scheme case they were hearing, his organization came under pressure to stop reporting. Durrani, who did not specify where the pressure came from, said he was not able to publish any follow-up stories.

“During that era, my organization was facing contempt of court notices on other issues so they tried not to indulge in any other legal matter,” Durrani said.

Issuing a contempt of court notice to just one news outlet in Pakistan is a sufficient message to all the media houses because it comes from the highest court in the country and there is no way to appeal a Supreme Court order, Noorani said. If the Supreme Court orders the closure of a news station it sends a message to all other media houses to either fall in line or face the consequences, Noorani said.

The uncertainty over what could draw a contempt of court notice exacerbates the situation.

Aslam, of Geo TV, said criticism of any kind is looked upon as almost treasonous. He added, “It’s a scary situation because you don’t know when you’ll be called up in the courts, and this has led us to tread more carefully.”

He added that objective reporting has been skewed in Pakistan because of the constraints “looming” over the media all the time. “What it induces is self-censorship, even if word doesn’t go down to reporters and everybody else, they are looking over their shoulders.”

*Prior to joining CPJ, Aliya Iftikhar was a research assistant at the Middle East Institute and interned at the U.S. Department of State. She has worked with Amnesty International and written for Vice News.

The link to the original article: https://cpj.org/blog/2018/07/silence-from-judiciary-over-media-attacks-increase.php

The post Silence from Judiciary Increases Self-Censorship, Pakistan’s Journalists say appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Aliya Iftikhar* is Asia Research Associate at the Committee to Protect Journalists

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