Inter Press Service » Press Freedom News and Views from the Global South Mon, 24 Oct 2016 14:35:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Freedom of the Press Faces Judicial Harassment in Brazil Thu, 20 Oct 2016 23:58:14 +0000 Mario Osava Journalists working for the Brazilian newspaper Gazeta do Povo, harassed by a series of lawsuits after reporting the high remunerations of judges and prosecutors in the southern state of Paraná, during a meeting at the newspaper’s offices with Governor Carlos Alberto Richa. Credit: PSDB

Journalists working for the Brazilian newspaper Gazeta do Povo, harassed by a series of lawsuits after reporting the high remunerations of judges and prosecutors in the southern state of Paraná, during a meeting at the newspaper’s offices with Governor Carlos Alberto Richa. Credit: PSDB

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct 20 2016 (IPS)

The same justice that exists to ensure rights can become a tool to violate them and restrict freedom of the press, as seen with the recent wave of lawsuits against journalists and the media in Brazil.

The latest high-profile case involves the Gazeta do Povo, the main daily newspaper in Curitiba, the capital of the southern state of Paraná, which is facing 48 lawsuits from judges and public prosecutors who are suing the paper and several of its employees for reporting their incomes in February.

“There were weeks when four workdays out of five were spent running from one town to another in Paraná, to appear at hearings. I think overall we traveled more than 10,000 kilometres,” Rogerio Galindo, one of the three reporters facing legal action, told IPS.“This happened precisely in the midst of political upheaval in the country, jeopardising the sustainability of the newspaper and revealing a great potential (for a wave of lawsuits) to cause irreversible damage, when the press already faces serious economic difficulties.” -- Mendes Junior

Elvira Lobato, a journalist who writes for the Folha de São Paulo newspaper, went through a similar ordeal after publishing a Dec. 15, 2007 article titled “Universal celebrates its 30th birthday, with a business empire”, about the obscure dealings of the evangelical Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, which owns television and radio networks and newspapers.

Lucio Flavio Pinto, an award-winning journalist who has published the independent newsletter Jornal Pessoal since 1988 in Belém, the capital of the northern state of Pará, has faced 33 legal actions brought by the local media empire “O Liberal” since 1992, after he uncovered illegal activities allegedly engaged in by its owners, the Maiorana family.

In Gazeta do Povo, three journalists, a computer graphics artist, a systems analyst, and the newspaper publishing company face legal action, accused of causing damage to the plaintiffs, who are demanding monetary compensation.

These legal proceedings have been brought in small courts scattered through dozens of towns – civil lawsuits that do not exceed 40 legal minimum monthly wages (about 11,000 dollars).

“Counting the lawyer and the driver, seven of us had our family and professional lives disturbed” from April to June, said Galindo, who underscored the case of Euclides García, who was not able to be with his wife in the last months of her pregnancy.

Fortunately, the Federal Supreme Court ordered a suspension of all proceedings, in a preliminary ruling by Judge Rosa Weber on Jun. 30, on the eve of the birth of Garcia’s son.

The lawsuits were filed in response to a Feb. 15 Gazeta do Povo article which revealed that judges in Paraná received in 2015 remuneration averaging 527,500 Brazilian reals (165,000 dollars at the current exchange rate) – 28 per cent above the ceiling set by the constitution, which stipulates that judges cannot earn more than 90.25 per cent of what Supreme Court justices are paid.

In the case of the Paraná public prosecutors, their pay was 23 per cent above the constitutional limit.

This distortion was created by payments for different expenses, compensations, retroactive payments and subsidies, which were added to salaries.

“At no time was it stated that they were illegal remunerations, but that legal accumulations resulted in amounts that exceeded the constitutional limit,” Leonardo Mendes Junior, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, told IPS.

The information disclosed is publicly available on the government’s Transparency web site. What the newspaper articles did was put it in a legal context and point out that the judicial branch cost Brazil 1.8 per cent of GDP, compared to an average of 0.4 per cent in Europe.

Lucio Flavio Pinto has won a number of international awards for his investigative reporting on corruption in the northern state of Pará, which has led to a number of lawsuits against him. Credit:

Lucio Flavio Pinto has won a number of international awards for his investigative reporting on corruption in the northern state of Pará, which has led to a number of lawsuits against him. Credit:

But the Association of Paraná Judges said in a statement that the “offensive content” in the articles suggested the presence of illegalities in the judicial branch and led to criticism of judges. They also denied having agreed on a number of individual lawsuits by its members, and that these actions threatened the freedom of press.

However, by forcing the accused to travel from town to town, some of them up to 500 kilometres away from the newspaper office in Curitiba, Gazeta do Povo’s reporting was undermined, as three of its seven political reporters were kept away from their jobs for many days.

“This happened precisely in the midst of political upheaval in the country, jeopardising the sustainability of the newspaper and revealing a great potential (for a wave of lawsuits) to cause irreversible damage, when the press already faces serious economic difficulties,” said Mendes Junior.

“It is interesting to note the concept of ‘judicial censorship’ mentioned by Carmen Lucia Rocha, the new president of the Federal Supreme Court, to describe the sequence of actions that keep away from their jobs a significant part of (a newspaper’s) journalists,” he said.

Each trip made by the defendants around the state to appear in hearings cost the newspaper about 25,000 reals (7,800 dollars), estimated Galindo, adding up costs of transport, hotels, meals and attorney’s fees, let alone the lost hours of journalistic work.

With the suspension of the legal proceedings, the journalists expect a final decision from the Federal Supreme Court, which is to take up the case as requested by Gazeta do Povo, arguing that judges in Paraná cannot try these cases since they are interested parties.

“Some of the judges have acknowledged that they cannot decide these cases, but most have not,” said Mendes.

This is an extreme case, in which justice system officials hand down rulings in their own interest, while punishing their alleged attackers with forced trips and proceedings that limit their freedom.

But the abuse of the right to sue journalists who report on awkward issues has become a common practice in Brazil.

In 2007 and 2008, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God brought a total of 107 legal actions, filed by its followers around the country, to smother Elvira Lobato and Folha de São Paulo, Brazil’s most widely circulated newspaper. It does not really matter that the journalist and the paper won every case; the punishment preceded the judgment.

Lucio Flavio Pinto had to study law to defend himself, which took time away from his one-man publication, the Jornal Pessoal. The sales of the bimonthly newsletter, with a print run of 2,000 copies, is his source of income, since he accepts no advertising.

The legal proceedings against him lasted four to five years on average. But four lawsuits, filed 11 years ago, are still pending. Having been convicted twice, he counted on the solidarity of people all over the country to pay the monetary penalties.

In many cases, those suing him are not seeking the implementation of the sentences, he said. “They prefer to keep the sword hanging over my head, by dragging out the proceedings,” the journalist, whose investigative reporting prevented illegal appropriations of vast extensions of land in Pará, while costing him several physical assaults, told IPS.

“Recurrent legal actions are the most efficient form of censorship,” said Pinto, recognised as an “information hero” by the Paris-based Reporters without Borders.

In his case he did not receive solidarity from business organisations such as the National Association of Newspapers, which granted the 2016 Freedom of the Press award to Gazeta do Povo, reinforcing the general reaction from the journalism sector to the harassment from judges and prosecutors in Paraná.

There have been other “attempts to curtail freedom of the press that in turn help to prevent new cases” with their strong repercussions, Ángela Pimienta, head of the Institute for Journalistic Development that maintains the internet portal Press Observatory, told IPS.

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Unexpected Eritrean Journalistic Voice Rises in Ethiopia Thu, 06 Oct 2016 09:33:30 +0000 James Jeffrey Eritrean journalist Estifo displaying Tsilal, the magazine he edits, which deals with the risks of migration and difficult reality of being in Europe. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Eritrean journalist Estifo displaying Tsilal, the magazine he edits, which deals with the risks of migration and difficult reality of being in Europe. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

By James Jeffrey
ADDIS ABABA, Oct 6 2016 (IPS)

It took Eritrean journalist Estifo* seven years to save up enough money to pay a fixer to get him and his family from the capital, Asmara, to the shared border with Ethiopia. After they crossed the border by foot, they turned themselves in to the Ethiopian authorities and claimed asylum as refugees.

Now Estifo is one of thousands of Eritreans living in Addis Ababa, where he edits a magazine that aims to dissuade other Eritreans in the Ethiopian capital and dotted around the country in refugee camps from attempting to make the risky journey north through Libya and across the Mediterranean toward Europe.“You had no rights as a journalist and it was risky even if you were working for the State TV. If you did something they didn’t like, they would call the police.” -- Beyene, an Eritrean journalist

“The magazine deals with the risks of migration and difficult reality of being in Europe,” says Estifo, the magazine’s editor. “Also once you are in Europe you can’t come back—things change too much. Whereas in Addis there’s more in common, and it’s easier to one day go back to Eritrea.”

Ever since Ethiopia’s late long-term ruler Meles Zenawi established an open-door policy toward refugees, the country’s refugee population has grown to about 700,000, the largest in Africa.

And that open door policy even extends to accepting refugees from a country viewed by Ethiopia as its arch nemesis since a catastrophic two-year war between the two that ended in 2000 but left matters unresolved and mutual antipathy only stronger.

It’s hardly surprising that among those going south over the shared border are journalists. A list compiled in 2015 by the Committee to Protect Journalists of the 10 countries where the press is most restricted ranks Eritrea as the most censored country in the world and Africa’s worst jailer of journalists.

The crackdown on media in Eritrea began in earnest in 2001, reportedly taking advantage of when the world was distracted by the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

“In September they shut down private news channels and most of my colleagues were arrested,” says Estifo, who as a sports writer avoided arrest (a friend had previously advised him to take the position to avoid undue attention).

Still fearing for his safety, however, he joined the military media operating at Sawa, the desert base where Eritrean Defence Forces recruits and national service conscripts are sent for basic military training.

Living conditions were bad, Estifo says, and he was paid only 600 Eritrean nakfa (38 dollars) a month, leaving little after his 500 nakfa rent.

Then in 2007 he managed to get paternity leave with his wife pregnant, and afterwards rather than him returning to Sawa, they went into hiding. For two years Estifo never left his home, he says.

Once he deemed it safe enough, he started to venture out and began selling shoes with the help of his wife, slowly saving money for the escape to the border. Eventually it was time.

“We didn’t sell any of our possessions before we left in case people got suspicious,” he says. “We reached the border around 2 a.m. but we waited until dawn to cross otherwise we might have been shot by patrols.”

Eritrean journalists Estifo and Beyene discussing the contents of their magazine Tsilal, the Tigrayan word for umbrella. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Eritrean journalists Estifo and Beyene discussing the contents of their magazine Tsilal, the Tigrayan word for umbrella. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Beyene is another refugee journalist working with Estifo on the magazine who recalls the arrest of 40 journalists in 2009, accused of leaking news about Eritrea to foreign media.

“You had no rights as a journalist and it was risky even if you were working for the State TV,” Beyene says. “If you did something they didn’t like, they would call the police.”

Arrests sometimes happened as journalists were relaxing in the communal tea room.

“They wanted you to see it so you became afraid,” Estifo says.

Repression of media and its means is all-consuming in Eritrean society. Fearing the spread of an Arab Spring-type uprising, Eritrea scrapped plans in 2011 to provide mobile Internet for its citizens, making it even harder to access independent information.

Internet is available but only through slow dial-up connections, and fewer than 1 percent of the population goes online, according to U.N. International Telecommunication Union figures. Eritrea also has the lowest figure globally of cell phone users, with just 5.6 percent of the population owning one.

“For the young there’s no chance to do your own thing, you can’t do anything for your family, everything pushes you to leave,” says Yonathon, 31, who left Eritrea in 2011 and spent a year in an Ethiopia-based refugee camp before relocation to Addis Ababa. “No one can stand for justice there—before you start they will capture you; such efforts are good for nothing.”

Eritrea’s authoritarian government employs a vast spying and detention network. Yonathon, while clearly not sympathetic to those involved, appreciates the realities: “It’s a matter of survival, to feed their families—the situation forces them to spy.”

Yonathon and 29-year-old Teklu sitting next to him have Eritrean friends who attempted the Mediterranean crossing from Libya. Fortunately, no one they know died. But thousands have.

And a 20-year-old niece of Yonathon died in Libya waiting to make the crossing; he doesn’t know the cause. Teklu has relatives who were kidnapped during their northward overland travels and released after ransoms were paid.

“Of course it has come to my mind,” Yonathon says of trying to make the crossing. “I’ve been here four years: what is my future going to be if I stay here?”

Such frustrations are addressed in the magazine, called Tsilal, the Tigrayan word for umbrella, and chosen because refugees are under the umbrella of another country’s protection, Estifo says.

Its production is funded by the Norwegian Refugee Council, and it comes out once every two months with a circulation of about 3,000 free copies, of which about 600 go to refugee camps. Each of the seven journalists working on the magazine is paid 750 birr (31 dollars) per month.

“The money’s not enough but we have to do it or we won’t be heard,” Estifo says, adding it’s important to illustrate how the reality of living in Europe is often a far cry from the more glamourous version seen on social media by young Eritreans.

The magazine also features more encouraging articles about Eritrean artists and entrepreneurial activities, while it avoids contentious issues such as politics and religion so as not to put itself and the Norwegian Refugee Council in an awkward position. Ethiopia also has its own struggles with press freedom—the same CJR survey of restricted press placed Ethiopia at number four.

“Currently we just cover soft issues but we want to go beyond to those issues we feel are more important,” Estifo says. “But we’re restrained by our funding. If we got other funding we could write independently about more topics.”

Another problem is not having enough resources to enable reporters to visit camps and talk to Eritreans there. The three largest camps—May Aini, Adi Harush and Hitsats refugee camps—are all the way in the northwest of Ethiopia’s Tigray region, close to the borders with Eritrea and Sudan, hundreds of kilometers away from Addis Ababa.

And the magazine has no office, rather it is put together on laptops in cafes with notably Italian-sounding names that have been opened by Eritreans—Eritrea used to be an Italian colony.

“Sometimes I spend the whole day in a café working on the laptop, drinking tea and eating some shiro at lunch,” Yonathon says.

But despite the Tigrayan voices amid cafes with Italian names, Addis Ababa can never replace being back in Eritrea.

“Life is difficult here, you can’t replicate home, and people’s behaviour changes here,” Yonathon says.

Hence the importance of never forgetting about Eritrea’s ongoing troubles and those left behind. Estifo harbours ambitions of one day starting a radio station that could be picked up by those in Eritrea.

“Getting out of Eritrea is one way of demonstrating against the government,” Estifo says. “But while in places like Ethiopia, Eritreans must ask themselves how they can bring about freedom with our own resources.”

*Only first names are used in this article due to the sensitive nature of the subject matter. 

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UN Resolution on Journalist Safety Passed, But Long Way to Go Fri, 30 Sep 2016 19:20:32 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage Kashmiri journalists at a rare protest against a government clampdown on freedom of expression in 2012. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Kashmiri journalists at a rare protest against a government clampdown on freedom of expression in 2012. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) advanced its commitment to the safety of journalists after adopting a groundbreaking resolution with measures for states to ensure journalist protection. But this is only the first step, many note.

Though the UNHRC has adopted resolutions on the safety of journalists in the past, some note that this year’s resolution is more comprehensive in protecting the rights of freedom of expression and the press.For the first time, UNHRC called for states to release arbitrarily detained journalists and to reform laws that are misused to hinder their work.

“[The resolution] brings up these issues more explicitly than it has been brought up in other resolutions,” Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) Advocacy Director Courtney Radsch told IPS.

She stressed that the resolution acknowledges the role that states play in committing violence against journalists and in creating a permissive environment for the safety of journalists.

“It is not simply enough to talk about the safety of journalist without also addressing the need to create an environment in which freedom of expression and press freedom can flourish,” she stated.

Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) Advocacy and Communications Officer Margaux Ewen echoed similar sentiments to IPS, noting that the resolution is a “wonderful reiteration” which calls on member states to implement their international obligations.

For the first time, UNHRC called for states to release arbitrarily detained journalists and to reform laws that are misused to hinder their work.

According to CPJ, approximately 200 journalists were imprisoned worldwide in 2015. The organisation recorded the highest number of such arrests in China, where 49 journalists were imprisoned. Most recently, Chinese journalists Lu Yuyu and Li Tingyu were detained in June 2016 on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” They had been documenting and reporting on protests across the East Asian nation since 2012.

China is among the members of UNHRC.

The newly adopted resolution also affirms the right of journalists to use encryption and anonymity tools. Journalists often rely on such mechanisms to safely impart information anonymously online. They are also used to encrypt their communications in order to protect their contacts and sources.

Radsch noted that these tools are essential for journalists “to do their job in the 21st century.”

The resolution also addresses the specific risks that women journalists face in their work, condemning all gender-based attacks.

Earlier in September, freelance journalist Gretchen Malalad and Al Jazeera Correspondent Jamela Alindogan-Caudron were subject to severe social media attacks, receiving threats of rape and death due to their coverage of the Philippine government’s controversial anti-drug war.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NJUP) Ryan Rosauro expressed his dismay of the state of journalism in the country, stating: “We will never take any threats, whether of physical harm or to silence us, lightly for we have lost far too many of our colleagues and hardly seen justice for them,” he said.

In a joint statement with NJUP, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) stated that the government must take social media threats to journalists seriously and should penalise perpetrators to ensure the safety of journalists.

In their 2016 World Press Freedom Index, RSF ranked the Philippines 138th out of 180 countries in press freedom making it one of the most dangerous countries for practicing journalists.

As in previous years, the UNHRC also highlighted the need to end violence against journalists and to combat impunity for attacks.

CPJ found that over 1,200 journalists have been killed since 1992, the majority of whom were murdered with complete impunity. Other organisations speculate that the numbers are higher, with IFJ reporting that at least 2,300 journalists and media staff have been killed since 1990.

In 2009, prominent Sri Lankan journalist and editor Lasantha Wickramatunga was beaten to death after his car was pulled over by eight helmeted men on motorcycles. Often critical of the government and its conduct in the country’s civil war, the editor had been attacked before and received death threats for months prior to his death. He even anticipated his own fate, writing an essay shortly before his death about free media in the South Asian nation.

“In the course of the past few years, the independent media have increasingly come under attack. Electronic and print-media institutions have been burnt, bombed, sealed and coerced. Countless journalists have been harassed, threatened and killed. It has been my honour to belong to all those categories and now especially the last,” Wickramatunga wrote.

Most recently, Jordanian journalist Nahed Hattar was shot dead while on his way to face charges for sharing a cartoon deemed offensive to Islam.

“The killing of Mr. Hattar is appalling, and it is unacceptable that no protection measures had been put in place to ensure his safety, particularly when the threats against him were well known to the authorities,” said UN special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression David Kaye.

Kaye urged authorities to bring the perpetrator to justice and to ensure legislation that allows a culture of diverse expression.

However, both Radsch and Ewen noted that the resolution is only the first step as it must be translated to action on the ground.

“We continue to see the failure of states to adequate investigate the murders of journalists…so while resolutions are important, we need to see actual concrete actions to accompany these normative statements,” Radsch told IPS.

Ewen stated that UN resolutions are “strong and strongly worded” but it still remains to be seen for states to implement measures to protect journalists and the right of freedom of expression. She pointed to RSF’s campaign to create a Special Representative to the UN Secretary-General for the safety of journalists as a way to ensure states comply with their international obligations.

Led by RSF, the Protect Journalists campaign has brought together over a 100 media organisations and human rights organisations including CPJ, the Guardian and the United Nations Correspondents Association to push for the establishment of a special representative.

During a press conference, RSF Secretary General Christophe Deloire noted that a special representative could act as an early warning and rapid response mechanism to give journalists, when threatened, access to authorities and protective measures as laid out in the resolution. He also added that a special representative with political weight can make sure the safety of journalists is integrated in all UN programs and operations.

“Every week, there are new names on new graves in journalist cemeteries…we cannot let anymore journalists be killed because of this lack of political will,” Deloire told press.

The 47-member state council adopted the resolution on the safety of journalists by consensus, expressing a deep concern for the increased number of journalists and media workers who have been killed, tortured and detained. Nations beyond the UNHRC including Austria and the United States also joined the initiative as cosponsors.


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Murders, Crackdown Create Lingering Climate of Fear in Bangladesh Thu, 29 Sep 2016 13:03:15 +0000 Amy Fallon Maruf Rosul, a Bangladeshi writer and activist who has received death threats from Islamic militants for his blog posts. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Maruf Rosul, a Bangladeshi writer and activist who has received death threats from Islamic militants for his blog posts. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
DHAKA, Sep 29 2016 (IPS)

Like the living room of any proud family, the one in Ajoy Roy’s house boasts photos of the eldest son, Avijit.

A large framed portrait which has a powerful presence in the room hangs on the mint-coloured wall as Ajoy, a retired physics professor who at the age of 80 is frail but still very mentally alert, sits in a chair below it, sipping tea.

It is the image of a popular Bangladeshi writer and bio-engineer, tragically murdered for his beliefs along with scores of other atheist writers, bloggers, publishers, gay activists and religious figures by suspected Islamist militants in the predominantly Muslim country over the past few years.

“Avijit wasn’t an activist on the streets, but he used his pen to protest against social injustice, religious fanaticism and propagate the idea of secularism, the main theme of his writing,” Ajoy, wearing a traditional lungi around his waist, told IPS. “It’s a terrible loss. It cannot be compensated for.”

Ajoy Roy, the father of Bangladeshi writer Avijit Roy, who was murdered in 2015. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Ajoy Roy, the father of Bangladeshi writer Avijit Roy, who was murdered in 2015. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

More than 50 writers, activists and others have been killed in Bangladesh since 2013, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Avijit, 42, a U.S. citizen who lived in America with his wife Rafida Ahmed, was hacked to death after the pair went to the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka for a book festival in February 2015.

There have been many more killings since then.

This July, 23 people, including 17 foreigners, were killed at a bakery in the diplomatic zone of Dhaka, in one of the worst terror attacks ever in Bangladesh.

Five of the involved suspects were killed in a police operation at the eatery, while one survivor was arrested and remanded, and another jailed, the Dhaka Tribune later reported.

The suspected ringleader of the attacks and his two affiliates died in a police raid in August, but the search is still on for a coordinator, the arms suppliers and funders of the attacks.

After the murders of two other activists, LGBT campaigners Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy, in April, the government, under international pressure over the spate of killings, arrested about 14,000 people.

Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at HRW, said despite no further attacks since the brutal bakery murders, there were “concerns” that the crackdown was leading to “an arbitrary rounding up of usual suspects”.

The drop in incidents meanwhile “suggest that the state could have acted effectively earlier” to prevent the killings, she said.

There was still a “climate of fear” in Bangladesh among writers and members of minority groups, said Ganguly.

“Some have been able to leave the country, but many more, still in Bangladesh, fear that the government will not do enough to protect them,” she said.

Maruf Rosul, 29, a secular writer, photographer, filmmaker and activist who pens for various outlets, including freethinking site Mukto-Mona, set up by Avijit and now being run by his successors, said Islamic extremists in the country had been silenced.

“But the government has not taken the proper action to uproot these evil forces,” Rosul, who said he was on an extremist group’s hit list, but as a “frontier activist” couldn’t go into hiding, told IPS. “I am worried about the future.”

His anxiety was growing ahead of the Durga Puja, the biggest religious festival for south Asia’s Hindu community, which will begin next week, on Oct. 7.

Rosul said “every year” during the festival there were attacks by Islamic extremist groups in Bangladesh, yet officials did nothing but issue “sympathetic statements”.

“As there is no strong law enforcement, we are worried about our Hindu friends,” he told IPS. A Hindu tailor, hacked to death in April, is among those who have been killed in the country.

The sixth edition of Dhaka Literary Festival (DLF) is also due to take place in mid-November. Director Ahsan Akbar told IPS that preparations were in “full-swing”.

“We have had only a couple of cancellations so far, citing security fears, but the encouraging news is our speakers are really looking forward to the event and we expect no more cancellations,” he said.

Given the recent wave of murders though, Akbar said “writers in the country today are unfortunately self-censoring and thinking twice about what they write and publish”.

“Bangladeshi writers outside of the country are deeply sympathetic and doing many things to raise the awareness amongst the international community, such as engaging with PEN International,” he said.

“It is astonishing how we sometimes forget the interconnectivity in of all this: an attack on a writer in Bangladesh is – in a way – an attack on a writer in the West or anywhere else for that matter.”

Olof Blomqvist of Amnesty International told IPS that “the investigations into the targeted killings are ongoing, and there have been arrests made in some of the cases. Genuine justice will of course take time, but it is worrying that the perpetrators have so far only been held to account in one case, the killing of Rajib Haider in 2013.

“The authorities must ensure that those responsible are held to account, but also do more to protect those people at risk,” he said, adding that, “We still get desperate pleas on a weekly basis from people who have received threats and are afraid for their lives if they stay in Bangladesh.”

“Police must create a climate where activists who have been threatened feel safe to approach police and not fear further harassment,” Blomqvist said.

Ganguly also said in order to prevent more attacks, the Bangladeshi authorities needed to deliver a message that they believe in “peaceful free expression”.

“They should not recommend to those at risk that they self-censor to avoid hurting religious sentiment and becoming targets for retribution,” she said.

In 2015, after the killing of writer Niladri Chatterjee Niloy, Bangladesh’s police chief warned bloggers that “hurting religious sentiments is a crime”.

Police killed one of the key suspects involved in Avijit’s murder in June, but two others escaped, they said, and are still at large.

Following his son’s death, Ajoy, who said Avijit had been targeted by extremists in the few weeks before his death, and that he had warned him not to return to Bangladesh, could be forgiven for going into hiding.

But he said he was continuing “my activism” against fundamentalist groups, and had been invited to speak at various institutions.

“I’m not scared,” said Ajoy. “I have lost my son, after that I have nothing to care about.”

Ajoy said he wanted Avijit to be remembered as a “courageous young man who would face any hard situation for democracy, for secularism, for free-thinking”.

It was his wish that “the younger generation follow in his footsteps”.

“I would not discourage these courageous young people to quit blogging, speaking your mind, because Bangladesh is constitutionally a secular, democratic country so we must uphold the constitution,” said Ajoy.

“We have to make the common people understand that this is not an anti-Muslim country, it is liberal,” he said. “Although a large number of Muslims are here, they’re also liberal.”

IPS made several attempts to contact the Bangladeshi police and government for comment, but they did not respond.

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UN Shaky on Protection of Journalists and Right to Information Tue, 13 Sep 2016 17:11:23 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, one of the strongest advocates of press freedom, is facing two politically-sensitive issues which are beyond his decision-making jurisdiction: a proposal for a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) aimed at providing journalists with the right to access information, and the creation of a UN Special Envoy ensuring the safety of journalists worldwide.

Asked about the FOIA, UN deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq told IPS: “The Secretary-General supports the idea of transparency. But this would be an issue for member states.”

Under applicable Staff Regulations and UN policies, disclosure statements are confidential and will be accessible to, and used by the Secretary-General, the Ethics Office or by offices or persons specifically authorized in writing by the Secretary-General, according to the United Nations.

Still, the Paris-based UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which is mandated to oversee press freedom, defines Freedom of Information (FOI) as the right to access information held by public bodies.

According to UNESCO, the FOI is an integral part of the fundamental right of freedom of expression, as recognized by Resolution 59 of the UN General Assembly adopted in 1946, as well as by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), which states that the fundamental right of freedom of expression encompasses the freedom to “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.

FOI has also been enshrined as a “freedom of expression” in other major international instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) and the American Convention on Human Rights (1969), says UNESCO.

Asked about the proposal for a UN Special Envoy to deal with the safety of journalists, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told IPS that In order to appoint such a person, the General Assembly or the Security Council would have to give the Secretary-General a mandate.

“I know that a number of non-governmental organisations (NGO’s) have spoken to member states about the drafting of such a resolution,” he added.

But since most member states remain undecided, there has been little progress on either of the two proposals, according to diplomatic sources.

In a letter to the Secretary-General, a coalition of over 100 NGOs has said, a Special Envoy, if approved by the General Assembly, “would bring added attention to the risks faced by journalists and, by working closely with the Secretary-General, would have the political weight and legitimacy to take concrete action to protect journalists and to hold U.N. agencies accountable for integrating the action plan into their work.

The media and human rights organizations in the coalition include the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Freedom House, Index on Censorship, International Federation of Journalists, Media Watch and World Federation of Newspapers and News Publishers.

Asked if there are any member states who have openly declared their support for the proposal for a Special Envoy, Delphine Halgand, US Director for the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF), told IPS: “Yes, we met a lot of member states these last few months.”

“A permanent group of friends of UN Ambassadors was created in the Spring and are now working continuously on the proposal”. This Group is co-chaired by France, Greece and Lithuania. “And that’s an important step.”

Spain declared its support publicly but many others have supported it in private, Halgand said.

Ian Williams, UN correspondent for Tribune and a senior analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus, told IPS while impunity is one of the managerial prerogatives of senior UN officials, Freedom of Information will be honoured as much in the breach as the observance—whatever the official policy.

Time and time again the response of UN bodies like the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) to the release of embarrassing information has been to launch an investigation into who leaked the news, he noted.

“And it has not been to honour them for efforts for FOI. Nonetheless, it should be repeated as often as possible to remove any excuses,” he added.

“The Haitian cholera debacle should be a warning that keeping the lid on often just builds up steam and causes explosions,” said Williams, who was President of the UN Correspondents’ Association (UNCA) in 1995 and 1996 and who is planning to release his next book titled “UNtold: the Real Story of the UN.”

But even then, there would be exclusions, he pointed out. Successful diplomacy, for example, depends upon exchanges of hypothetical offers, which could easily be derailed, if the details are leaked.

“But while it is a diplomat or UN official’s job to keep things secret, it is the media’s job to deliver information, so there will always be a tension. There are personnel matters that should be confidential, but preserving staff confidentiality should not be½ a cover for hiding unethical or criminal behavior, said Williams, who also writes for Salon, AlterNet and MaximsNews, among many others.

Jim Wurst, a former president of UNCA and author of the newly-released book titled ‘The UN Association-USA: A Little Known History of Advocacy and Action,’” told IPS FOIA is a good idea because the UN, like other large institutions, has serious transparency problems.

“Anything that forces the UN to fulfill its obligations to the people of the world is worth pursuing,” he added

On the proposal for a UN Special Envoy, Wurst said: “I’m torn on this one.”

He said journalists — like so many other non-combatants including medical professionals and aid workers — are increasingly being deliberately targeted by combatants. “It’s not a new problem but it is getting worse. It’s basically become standard behavior.”

On the other hand, anything that gives off the whiff of outsiders manipulating the actions of journalists is a non-starter. “I trust CPJ and RSF will always put the integrity of journalists first,” said Wurst.

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

Still, says CPJ, the killers of journalists go free nine times out of 10 – “a statistic that has scarcely budged since 2012.” The killings have been attributed not only to rebel forces and terrorist groups but also to governments in power.

Chakravarthi Raghavan, a veteran journalist and a former UN Bureau Chief for Press Trust of India (PTI), told IPS FOIA raises the question whether it is to apply to the UN Secretariat, or all UN organs, and the UN system as a whole.

If it applies to all UN organs, he pointed out that the UN Security Council (UNSC) has its own rules of procedures – for public sessions, meetings only of members, and its actions under Chapters VI and VII (decisions and actions under VII is binding on all members, and non-members) of the charter are independent of the UN General Assembly (UNGA).

Would an FOIA try to encompass UN System, UN Specialised Agencies, and those with some ambiguous status vis-a-vis the UN (the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, the World Trade Organisation?, he asked.

An FOIA (whether in the US, or in India where there is a right to information law, or UK etc) comes with some judicial authority getting jurisdiction to ensure observance when information is not provided, said the Geneva-based Raghavan, editor-emeritus, South-North Development Monitor SUNS, who has been covering trade, finance and development issues since 1978.

And who will be the authority to ensure that the UN Secretariat observes the FOIA, and adjudicate on the disputes?, he asked.

As for a UN Special Envoy to ensure safety of journalists, he said, such an envoy could raise the profile and draw and mobilise public attention and that of all governments – and will undoubtedly be of some utility.

But it also raises the question how the institution will recognise and distinguish between genuine journalists and those engaged in other activities under the guise of journalists, and whether it will involve some kind of license to practise journalism?, said Raghavan.

“These were questions that arose here a few years back when the idea of ‘protecting’ journalists, and issuing them badges or some identification to recognise a “journalist” arose.”

These are difficult questions, and one has to take care that either initiative does not end up in fact as a barrier or problem for the professionals, he warned.

However, a UN Special Envoy, focussing on these issues and reporting to the UNGA, and to the Human Rights Council will provide high visibility, particularly if the media, in its own self-interest, reports on and publicises them.

The writer can be contacted at

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Addressing the Dangers of Freelance Journalism Fri, 26 Aug 2016 21:38:20 +0000 Valentina Ieri 0 UN Spotlight for Dark Shadow over Civil Society Rights Wed, 03 Aug 2016 05:28:00 +0000 Tor Hodenfield Tor Hodenfield works on the Policy and Research Team at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance - @Tor_Hodenfield]]> Indigenous rights protestors bundled away from COP 16 climate change negotiations in Cancun by police. Credit: Nastasya Tay/IPS

Indigenous rights protestors bundled away from COP 16 climate change negotiations in Cancun by police. Credit: Nastasya Tay/IPS

By Tor Hodenfield

With more and more governments narrowing space for dissent and activism, the UN has emerged as a key platform to air concerns about acute rights violations and develop protections for civil society and other vulnerable groups.

The core freedoms that enable civil society to conduct its work are under threat across the world. A report recently released by CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, documented serious violations of the freedoms of association, expression and peaceful assembly in 109 countries. Individual activists and journalists are also increasingly being targeted to prevent them from exercising their legitimate rights and undertaking their vital work. In 2015, Global witness documented the killing of three environmental activists per week – while the Committee to Protect Journalists identified 199 journalists who were behind bars at the end of 2015.

Worryingly, restrictions on the exercise of civil society freedoms are being experienced in democracies as well as authoritarian states. In the US, Black Lives Matter demonstrators are facing serious challenges to their right to protest peacefully both from overzealous law enforcement agents as well as from divisive right wing politicians. In South Korea, security forces have violently repressed popular protests and judicially harassed civil society and union leaders advocating for greater transparency of the government’s ongoing investigation of the 2014 Sewol Ferry disaster. On July 4th, the President of the Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union (KPTU), Han Sang-gyun, was sentenced to five years in prison for his role in organizing the protests.

Ethiopia’s totalitarian state apparatus has brutally suppressed grievances about access to land, adequate health services and education in the Oromia region, precipitating mass protests since November 2015. Over 400 protestors, including scores of children have been killed in one of the most egregious crackdowns on the right to protest in Sub-Saharan Africa in the 21st century. In Bahrain, the absolute monarchy continues to imprison human rights defenders, revoke the citizenship of outspoken critics and prevent activists from attending UN human rights conferences.

Due to the narrowing of political space in many countries around the world, there are fewer and fewer avenues available to individuals and groups to express their grievances at home. This makes the United Nations (UN) an important arena to highlight the importance of rights and to articulate international human rights standards.

The UN Human Rights Council, the UN’s preeminent human rights body, which recently concluded its 32nd Session in Geneva, took a number of critical steps to address restrictions on human rights and expand protections for civil society and other vulnerable groups. Notably, over the course of this three-week session, the UN decided to appoint the first-ever independent expert to monitor sexual orientation and gender identity rights, renewed the appointment of a similar expert to report on violations of the rights to freedom of assembly and association, and adopted a landmark resolution on the key principles necessary to protect and promote the work of civil society.

Last month at UN headquarters in New York, civil society, businesses and governments met to discuss the implementation and monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals. The 17 universal goals provide an important platform for civil society to frame their government’s development and policies for the next 15 years and mitigates against many government’s reluctance to engage with civil society at the national level. The design of the goals has been lauded for its unprecedented levels of public participation and the recognition that civil society must be a co-partner in the delivery of international development agreements.

However, despite the admirable steps taken by the UN to address civic space restrictions and create a safe and enabling environment for NGOs to engage on important human rights issues, states are replicating repressive tactics to undermine the access and potency of civil society at the UN. The Committee to Protect Journalists, a civil society organisation mandated to document violations against press freedom, was recently granted consultative status with the UN’s Economic and Social Council, which allows NGOs to formally address UN bodies and processes, only after a decision to block them for the fourth year running was overturned. In another worrying attempt to suppress civil society participation at the UN, weeks earlier dozens of member states blocked over 20 LGBTI advocacy groups from attending the UN Global Aids Summit.

While the UN has emerged as an increasingly vital nexus to ensure that civic society grievances are considered, concerted efforts among the UN, States and civil society need to be made to ensure that decisions and norms the UN develops reach the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. The UN, and its allies in civil society, must work together to help demystify the work of the UN and ensure that countries across the world are domesticating and delivering on these important human rights initiatives.

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Small Win for NGOs as UN Members Try to Exclude Critical Voices Mon, 01 Aug 2016 12:08:28 +0000 Aruna Dutt 0 Kashmir on Fire Tue, 19 Jul 2016 16:10:17 +0000 TAIMUR ZULFIQAR By Taimur Zulfiqar, second secretary embassy of Pakistan Manila
Jul 19 2016 (Manila Times)

Kashmir is bleeding once again. Many innocent civilians have been brutally killed and many more injured by the Indian security forces. Surprisingly, there is a deafening silence in the local media. No views, no comments whatsoever have appeared. Strangely, the media, which is otherwise very active and springs into action on the slightest violation of human rights, kept mum as if Kashmiris are not human, their blood carries no importance and is cheaper than water. Many nowadays are voicing serious concerns about the rights of drug addicts killed by the police but not a single word for Kashmiris.

Views and opinions apart, there was a complete blackout in the local print media about the recent incidents of human rights violations in the Indian-occupied Kashmir by the Indian military and paramilitary forces against those protesting the killing of Kashmiri leader Burhan Wani, who was extremely popular among the masses. As a result, dozens of innocent Kashmiris were killed, over 2,100 have been injured, 400 of whom critically. People have been denied access to basic emergency services and right to health. There have been incidents of violence, harassment and shelling of teargas in hospitals to prevent access to hospitals and restrict the movement of ambulances. The brutality can be gauged from the fact that Indian Security Forces used pellet guns above waist-height, resulting in many injured, including those who lost their eyesight.

The use of excessive force against innocent civilians, protesting over extrajudicial killings, is deplorable and a blatant violation of the right to life, right to freedom of expression and opinion, right to peaceful protest and assembly, and other fundamental human rights. In fact, Indian forces have since long employed various draconian laws like the Jammu and Kashmir Disturbed Areas Act, and the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act and Public Safety Act in killing the Kashmiri people, and for the arbitrary arrest of any individual for an indefinite period.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have pointed out grave human rights violations in the Indian-controlled Kashmir. In its July 2, 2015 report, Amnesty International highlighted extrajudicial killings of the innocent persons at the hands of Indian security forces in the Indian-held Kashmir. The report points out, “Tens of thousands of security forces are deployed in Indian-administered Kashmir … the Armed Forces Special Powers Act allows troops to shoot to kill suspected militants or arrest them without a warrant … not a single member of the armed forces has been tried in a civilian court for violating human rights in Kashmir … this lack of accountability has in turn facilitated other serious abuses … India has martyred 100,000 people. More than 8,000 disappeared (while) in the custody of army and state police.”

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, after his visit to India in March 2012, called on the government of India to continue to take measures to fight impunity in cases of extrajudicial executions, and communal and traditional killings. In his report he stated, “Evidence gathered confirmed the use of so-called ‘fake encounters’ in certain parts of the country … the armed forces have wide powers to employ lethal force.” A high level of impunity enjoyed by police and armed forces exacerbate such a situation, owing to the requirement that any prosecutions require sanction from the central government—something that is rarely granted. “The main difficulty in my view has been these high levels of impunity,” the Special Rapporteur stressed.

India has been justifying these atrocities under various pretexts, such as by portraying these as internal affairs, stating that Kashmir is part of India. In addition, it tries to equate Kashmiris’ struggle with terrorism and blames Pakistan for fomenting militancy.

India is wrong on both counts. First of all, Kashmir is not and had never been part of India. It is a disputed territory with numerous UN Security Council Resolutions outstanding on its agenda. A series of UNSC Resolutions have been issued reiterating the initial ones issued in 1948 and 1949. Calling it an internal matter to India is a violation of UNSC Resolutions. The current situation in the Indian Occupied Kashmir and the indigenous movement for self-determination, which is going on for a long time in IOK, is a manifestation of what the Kashmiris want. They are resisting against the Indian occupation of their territory and want to exercise their right to self-determination. They want UNSC to implement Resolutions on the Kashmir dispute and fulfill their promise.

In addition, the disputed status of Kashmir is also supported by the Indian leadership in the past. Prime Minister Nehru, of India, in his Statement on All India Radio on Nov. 3, 1947, said: “We have declared that the fate of Kashmir is ultimately to be decided by the people. The pledge we have given not only to the people of Kashmir but to the world. We will not and cannot back out of it.”

Later, while addressing the Indian Parliament, on Aug. 7, 1952, he said, “I want to stress that it is only the people of Kashmir who can decide the future of Kashmir. It is not that we have merely said that to the United Nations and to the people of Kashmir; it is our conviction and one that is borne out by the policy that we have pursued, not only in Kashmir but everywhere. …

“I started with the presumption that it is for the people of Kashmir to decide their own future. We will not compel them. In that sense, the people of Kashmir are sovereign.”

There are plenty of statements by Indian leadership and the UN to the effect that Kashmir is a disputed territory and its future is to be decided by seeking the wishes of the Kashmiris through a plebiscite under the auspices of the UN.

India’s portrayal of Kashmiri’s struggle as terrorism is another farce, which unfortunately has been taken at face value by the international community. Most probably, such a stand is driven by economic/commercial and other similar interests in total disregard of the moral principles contained in their Constitutions, the UN Charter, etc.

None seem to have asked India as to what necessitates deployment of more than 600,000-strong army in the occupied Kashmir with a population of 10 million, i.e., one soldier for every 16.6 natives. And why such a huge deployment, despite its repressive policies, has been unable to check the freedom struggle. As per some estimates, more than 80,000 have died and thousands are missing since 1989. Moreover, it is a fact that every year, when India celebrates Independence Day on Aug. 15, Kashmiris on both sides of the Line of Control and the world over observe it as Black Day, to convey the message to the international community that India continues to usurp their inalienable right to self- determination. This very day is being marked by complete shutdown, as deserted streets, closed businesses and security patrolling the streets could be seen in the Indian-held Kashmir. To express solidarity with Pakistan, Kashmiris hoist the Pakistani flag on Aug. 14, the Pakistan Independence Day. Indian-occupation authorities often impose stringent restrictions in Srinagar and other towns, and deploy heavy contingents of police and troops to prevent people from holding anti-India demonstrations on these days. All this is a clear manifestation that the struggle is predominantly indigenous, and equating it with terrorism is nothing but a gross injustice on the part of India. India should realize that such tactics would never be able to change the basis of the just struggle that has been waged by the Kashmiri people since 1947. Had India fulfilled its duties toward the Kashmiri people, all these killings would have been avoided.

Pakistan unequivocally extends political, diplomatic and moral support to Kashmiris in their struggle for self-determination. Pakistan’s principled position on the issue of Kashmir is that it should be resolved according to UN Resolutions. Kashmir is a universally recognized dispute with numerous UNSC Resolutions outstanding for almost seven decades. Wars have not succeeded in resolving the issue of Kashmir. Dialogue is the best option to amicably resolve all issues between India and Pakistan, including the dispute of Kashmir. Pakistan remains ready for dialogue. It is for the international community to urge India to resolve issues through dialogue.

Kashmiris are resisting against the Indian occupation of their territory and want to exercise their right to self-determination. Nothing can deter the Kashmiris’ resolve to continue their struggle. For a people alienated and wronged for decades, any provocation will set them aflame. India should realize that the Kashmir dispute will not vanish unless their aspirations are met. Oppressive brutalities and inhuman measures cannot stop them from claiming their right to self-determination, in accordance with the UNSC Resolutions.

The international community should rise from its slumber and tell India that the treatment being meted out to the Kashmiris is simply unacceptable. India should honor its human rights obligations, as well as its commitments under the UNSC Resolutions to resolve the Kashmir dispute in a peaceful manner.

This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

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Civil Society Organizations Worried About Declining Involvement Thu, 14 Jul 2016 02:48:29 +0000 Phillip Kaeding 0 Journalists Face Unprecedented Violence Mon, 27 Jun 2016 21:41:33 +0000 Aruna Dutt 0 From Somalia to Afghanistan: The Dangers Local Journalists Face Sat, 11 Jun 2016 00:22:33 +0000 Valentina Ieri 0 Of GPA 5 and Journalistic Ethics Tue, 07 Jun 2016 14:37:27 +0000 Akhtar Sultana By Akhtar Sultana
Jun 7 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

We can all agree that in recent years, there has been a tremendous increase in the number of Bangladeshi students who achieved GPA 5 in both the secondary and higher secondary school level. It is no doubt heartening to see that our young people are doing so well in their studies, but it also raises a pertinent question as to the standard of education that is being imparted in our schools and colleges. The question that has been frequently asked is “Do so many deserve GPA 5 or is it being handed out to them?” This issue undoubtedly requires serious reflection.

journalism_and_gpa__A few days ago, a well-known television channel carried a report on GPA-5 achievers and their level of knowledge on various topics. The reporter picked a handful of GPA 5 achievers and asked them general knowledge questions, both on national and international topics, which most of the students were unable to answer. My question today, however, is not about these students and their level of knowledge or lack thereof – rather it is about how this was portrayed in the media. The reporter asked students questions in quick succession, “rapid fire” style. While the reporter hammered on, these young people avoided making eye contact with the camera, clearly embarrassed about their inability to answer the questions. The topics were without doubt very relevant and appropriate, but these children were humiliated on national television for all of Bangladesh to see on the 7 o’clock news.

Here arises the important question regarding the ethics of journalism. Does the TV channel, or any media for that matter, have the right to humiliate anyone, especially children, in a public domain? Was the reporter aware of the damage he was causing to these children, both emotionally and psychologically and the embarrassment, taunting and humiliation they would have to face among their peers? These youngsters perhaps agreed to be interviewed, hoping to tell their friends and family that they were featured on television, absolutely unaware of what was to follow.

My question is to the television channel that aired this report. How could a responsible television channel air this report? Shouldn’t it have been edited? As I watched the six and a half minute long video, I kept wondering what the reporter was trying to establish. Was it the GPA 5 achievers’ lack of knowledge, their inability to answer general knowledge questions or the standard of education that is being imparted in our schools? The reporter perhaps had good intentions, but the way it was carried out was far from right.

Students alone cannot be held responsible for their lack of knowledge. We have to dig deeper into the issue. It is the education system that is responsible, and as long as we do not pay heed to changing our system, this will not end. Our education system emphasises memorisation, rather than active learning and creativity. Attending coaching classes and running around from tutor to tutor has become the norm. Our society cares more for the scores you have obtained in an exam rather than the knowledge you have gained in the long run. As a result, parents, teachers, private tutors and schools all focus on students achieving higher GPAs. The schools are rated with the students’ GPA – the higher the GPA, the better the school or the coaching centre is thought to be. When a school’s students score GPA 5, they proudly display this information – and why shouldn’t they? This is the parameter by which the success of the school is decided. As a result, parents too, are forced to give in to this pressure to get their youngsters into a college where GPA matters most. This is a toxic cycle from which we all need to break free. For the sake of better education, a better system, and most of all, for the sake of the youth of Bangladesh.

Whatever the cause, it needs to be addressed but not in a manner which humiliates young people in front of the nation. The youth have the right to their privacy which must be respected. It is time for our reporters to pay more heed to the ethics of journalism, and high time for our media to be more conscious of the content and the people they are portraying.

The writer is Professor, Department of Mass Communication and Journalism, University of Dhaka.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Deteriorating Protection of Journalists’ Sources a Global Problem Thu, 05 May 2016 21:31:32 +0000 Linus Atarah A journalist conducts an interview in Kenya. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

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

By Linus Atarah
HELSINKI, May 5 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Models of Press Freedom Wed, 04 May 2016 16:11:21 +0000 Shakhawat Liton By Shakhawat Liton
May 4 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The writer is Senior Reporter, The Daily Star.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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World Celebrates 250 Years Since First Freedom of Information Act Wed, 04 May 2016 15:54:40 +0000 Milla Sundstrom By Milla Sundström
HELSINKI, May 4 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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On World Press Freedom Day, A View From Asia Tue, 03 May 2016 17:28:52 +0000 Josette Sheeran A commuter on the Circular Train in Yangon, Myanmar, reads a copy of the newspaper Democracy Today. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Could the UN be Doing More to Protect Journalists? Tue, 03 May 2016 16:17:44 +0000 Thalif Deen A UN Security Council Debate on Protection of Journalists in Armed Conflict in 2013. UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

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

By Thalif Deen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The writer can be contacted at

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Analysis: The Role of the Free Press in Sustainable Development Tue, 03 May 2016 15:54:05 +0000 Maddie Felts Newspapers on sale in Istanbul. But the freedom of Turkish journalists is seriously threatened. Credit: Jillian Kestler-D’Amours/IPS.

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

By Maddie Felts
May 3 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Odd Situation in the “Paradise” of Press Freedom Mon, 02 May 2016 16:54:45 +0000 Milla Sundstrom By Milla Sundström
HELSINKI, Finland, May 2 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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