Inter Press ServicePress Freedom – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Wed, 22 Aug 2018 01:30:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.7 Laws and Threats Undermine Freedom of Expression in Hondurashttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/laws-threats-curtail-freedom-expression-honduras/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=laws-threats-curtail-freedom-expression-honduras http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/laws-threats-curtail-freedom-expression-honduras/#respond Sat, 04 Aug 2018 00:26:49 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157053 A series of laws that came into force in the last five years and the petition for amparo by 35 journalists and 22 social communicators against the government’s “Secrecy Law” give an idea of the atmosphere in Honduras with regard to freedom of expression. The international organisation Reporters Without Borders (RWB) gives an account of […]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Excerpt:

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

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

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

By Aliya Iftikhar
ISLAMABAD, Jul 26 2018 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Excerpt:

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

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Social Media – the New Testing Ground for Sri Lanka’s Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/social-media-new-testing-ground-sri-lankas-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=social-media-new-testing-ground-sri-lankas-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/social-media-new-testing-ground-sri-lankas-freedom/#comments Wed, 18 Jul 2018 11:49:40 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156753 Journalists and media activists have cautioned against Sri Lanka’s newfound press freedom as the country heads to the polls in 2020. Separate incidents of hate-speech against a Muslim minority—and the subsequent shutdown of social media platforms—and the harassment of reporters critical of the country’s opposition have led some to believe that the changes in media […]

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Sri Lanka's media has been under pressure for most of the past decade and only gained some breathing space since the 2015 presidential election. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Jul 18 2018 (IPS)

Journalists and media activists have cautioned against Sri Lanka’s newfound press freedom as the country heads to the polls in 2020. Separate incidents of hate-speech against a Muslim minority—and the subsequent shutdown of social media platforms—and the harassment of reporters critical of the country’s opposition have led some to believe that the changes in media independence could reverse.

In the latest world press freedom rankings by Reporters Without Borders, Sri Lanka is listed 131 out of 180 countries across the globe—a marginal improvement from its 2014 ranking of 165.

The unexpected 2015 electoral victory for current president Maithripala Sirisena, who championed greater press freedom during his campaign, was responsible for this island nation’s rise on the index.

But Shan Wijethunge, head of the Sri Lanka Press Institute, the island’s premier media training centre, is apprehensive as he takes stock of what has transpired over the last six months.

In February, the government lost the local government elections to a resurgent opposition led by ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa, which prompted opposition supporters to increase the tempo of their anti-government campaign. Many became critical of the New York Times (NYT) and its Sri Lanka journalists who reported that Rajapaksa had allegedly received funds from Chinese state companies. In a delicately balanced national political scenario, the reporters who worked on the story were accused of working for a pro-government agenda and their independence was questioned.

“The journalists were criticised and trolled rather than [there being] any challenge on the contents of the story, because what matters right now is setting the headlines,” Wijethunge told IPS.

Family and friends of the NYT journalists in Sri Lanka said that they were shocked at the personal level of the attacks and pointed out that there had been no requests for the story to be retracted.

“They just felt so vulnerable, as if things suddenly regressed by three years. It just shows how quickly things can get bad here,” said a colleague of the harassed journalists. He requested to remain anonymous due to the fear of being targeted.

It was only less than a decade ago when the Editor-in-Chief of the Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickrematunge, was assassinated in 2009—just months before the country’s 26-year civil war ended. A year after Wickrematunge’s death, cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda disappeared.

However, there are signs that media freedom has improved on the island nation.

In 2016 when the respected regional magazine Himal Southasian came under increased bureaucratic pressure in Nepal, where it had been operating since 1996, the Sri Lankan capital Colombo became the obvious choice for relocation. In March, the magazine opened a new office in a Colombo suburb. Amnesty International also now has a regional office in the capital.

But many are concerned that if the upcoming 2020 presidential election proves to be a tight race, there will be heightened pressure on journalists to toe the line.

Not only that, the recent shut down of social media platforms across the country has left analysts concerned that freedom of speech in general could be targeted.

In March, parts of Sri Lanka’s Central Province experienced a wave of anti-Muslim riots that led to a weeklong shutdown of the social media platforms Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram and Viber. The government blamed the riots on hate speech against the minority Muslim community that was spread over the various platforms. After meeting with Facebook, which owns Whatsapp and Instagram, the government unblocked the platforms.

“It was a knee jerk reaction, but it is a reaction that is again possible in the future, especially when we are heading into elections,” Wijethunge said.

He feels that social media was targeted because that is where Sri Lankans tend be freest in airing their views and disseminating news.

Facebook data shows that there are between five to six million accounts of Sri Lankan origin, generating one billion posts on Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram each month. Even politicians like president Sirisena, ex-president Rajapaksa and his son Namal Rajapaksa have been using their Facebook and Twitter profiles as integral parts of campaigning and reaching out to their constituencies.

Sanjana Hattotuwa, a senior researcher with the think-tank Centre for Policy Alternatives, has extensively researched the impact social media has on voters. His research shows that for a quarter of the country’s eligible voters, those within the age bracket of 18 to 34, social media is the primary platform of political interaction.

“Misinformation and disinformation are clearly engineered to heighten their anxieties and anger,” he said, referring to fake news content.

Hattotuwa’s research also shows that hate speech, trolling and fake news were quite visible on accounts and groups originating in Sri Lanka long before the March riots. He said these should have been tackled in a much more organised and professional manner with technology and human vetting playing an important role. He said he feared that old political games could be at play on these new forums.

“The growth of social media and the spread of internet access, in Sri Lanka, cannot be equated with a stronger democracy, and the growth of liberal government. The weaponisation of social media needs thus to be seen as the latest strategy of an older political game.”

With its growing popularity, Wijethunge feels social media is now the main vector for political news and sentiment.

Given that there is no effective countering of fake content and misinformation other than outright blocking, “it will be the testing ground where we will see all these freedoms gained in the last three and half years are really sustainable or just an illusion.” More so as the criticism of the government increases.

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The Voice of Argentina’s Slums, Under Threathttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/voice-argentinas-slums-threat/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=voice-argentinas-slums-threat http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/voice-argentinas-slums-threat/#respond Thu, 05 Jul 2018 02:23:54 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156545 Between the dimly-lit, narrow alleyways of Villa 21, only 30 minutes by bus from the centre of the Argentine capital, more than 50,000 people live in poverty. It was there that La Garganta Poderosa (which means powerful throat), the magazine that gave a voice to the “villeros” or slum-dwellers and whose members today feel threatened, […]

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One of the offices in Buenos Aires of La Poderosa, the social organisation that publishes the magazine La Garganta Poderosa and is involved in a number of activities, ranging from soup kitchens to skills training for adults and workshops for youngsters in the “villas” or slums in the capital and the rest of Argentina. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Jul 5 2018 (IPS)

Between the dimly-lit, narrow alleyways of Villa 21, only 30 minutes by bus from the centre of the Argentine capital, more than 50,000 people live in poverty. It was there that La Garganta Poderosa (which means powerful throat), the magazine that gave a voice to the “villeros” or slum-dwellers and whose members today feel threatened, emerged in 2010.

“’Villeros’ don’t generally reach the media in Argentina. Others see us as people who don’t want to work, or as people who are dangerous. La Garganta Poderosa is the cry that comes from our soul,” says Marcos Basualdo, in one of the organisation’s offices, a narrow shop with a cement floor and unpainted walls, where the only furniture is an old metal cabinet where copies of the magazine are stored.

Basualdo, 28, says that it was after his house was destroyed by a fire in 2015 that he joined La Poderosa, the social organisation that created the magazine, which is made up of 79 neighbourhood assemblies of “villas” or shantytowns across the country.

From that time, Basualdo recalls that “people from different political parties asked me what I needed, but nobody gave me anything.”

“Then the people of La Poderosa brought me clothes, blankets, food, without asking me for anything in return. So I decided to join this self-managed organisation, which helps us help each other and helps us realize that we can,” he tells IPS.

Villa 21, the largest shantytown in Buenos Aires, is on the south side of the city, on the banks of the Riachuelo, a river polluted for at least two centuries, recently described as an “open sewer” by the Environment Ministry, which has failed to comply with a Supreme Court ruling ordering its clean-up.

Small naked cement and brick homes are piled on each other and crowded together along the narrow alleyways in the shantytowns and families have no basic services or privacy.

As you walk through the neighbourhood, you see sights that are inconceivable in other parts of the city, such as police officers carrying semi-automatic weapons at the ready.

Across the country, villas have continued to grow over the last few decades. Official and social organisation surveys show that at least three million of the 44 million people in this South American country live in slums, without access to basic services, which means approximately 10 percent of the urban population.

In this alleyway in Villa 21, a slum in the capital of Argentina, is located the house where nine-year-old Kevin Molina was hit and killed by a stray bullet in a shootout between drug gangs in 2013, and the police refused to intervene, according to reports. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

In this alleyway in Villa 21, a slum in the capital of Argentina, is located the house where nine-year-old Kevin Molina was hit and killed by a stray bullet in a shootout between drug gangs in 2013, and the police refused to intervene, according to reports. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

La Garganta Poderosa, whose editorial board is made up of “all the members of all the assemblies” of the villas, also grew, both in its monthly print edition and in its active participation in social networks and other projects, such as a book, radio programmes, videos and a film.

It has interviewed politicians such as former presidents Dilma Rousseff or Brazil and José “Pepe” Mujica of Uruguay or sports stars like Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona of Argentina, and has established itself as a cultural reference in Argentina, with its characteristic covers generally showing the main subjects of that edition with their mouths wide open as if screaming.

The writing style is more typical of spoken than written communication, using idioms and vocabulary generally heard in the villas, and the magazine’s journalism is internationally recognised and is studied as an example of alternative communication at some local universities.

The work this organisation carries out, as a means of creative and peaceful expression of a community living in a hostile environment, was even highlighted by the U.N. Special Rapporteur against Torture, Nils Melzer, who visited the villa in April.

However, recently, after the magazine denounced abuses and arbitrary detentions by security forces in Villa 21, the government accused it of being an accomplice to drug trafficking.

On Jun. 7, all media outlets were summoned by e-mail to a press conference at the Ministry of National Security, “to unmask the lies told by La Garganta Poderosa.”

 Activists from La Poderosa, on Avenida Iriarte, the main street of Villa 21 in Buenos Aires, on Jun. 1, as they leave for the courthouse to follow a trial against six police officers for alleged brutality against two teenagers from the slum. Credit: Courtesy of La Garganta Poderosa


Activists from La Poderosa, on Avenida Iriarte, the main street of Villa 21 in Buenos Aires, on Jun. 1, as they leave for the courthouse to follow a trial against six police officers for alleged brutality against two teenagers from the slum. Credit: Courtesy of La Garganta Poderosa

The next day, Minister Patricia Bullrich stated that the magazine and the social organisation that supports it are seeking to “free the neighbourhood so that it is not controlled by a state of law but by the illegal state.”

“This is a message that authorises violence against us. The minister showed images of our main leader, Nacho Levy, and since that day he has been receiving threats,” one of La Poderosa’s members told IPS, asking to remain anonymous for security reasons.

A few minutes walk from La Poderosa’s premises is the house where Kevin Molina, a nine-year-old boy, was shot in the head inside his house during a shootout between two drug gangs, in 2013.

“The neighbours called the police, but they didn’t want to get involved and said they would come and get the bodies the next day,” says the La Poderosa’s activist.

In recent weeks, the situation has become more tense.

Minister Bullrich’s accusation was a response to the repercussions from the arrest of La Garganta Poderosa photographer Roque Azcurriare and his brother-in-law. It happened on the night of May 26 and they were only released two days later.

Lucy Mercado and Marcos Basualdo, two members of La Poderosa's social organisation, pose in front of a mural in Villa 21, a slum in Buenos Aires, that pays tribute to Marielle Franco, the Brazilian politician and human rights activist who was murdered in March in Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Lucy Mercado and Marcos Basualdo, two members of La Poderosa’s social organisation, pose in front of a mural in Villa 21, a slum in Buenos Aires, that pays tribute to Marielle Franco, the Brazilian politician and human rights activist who was murdered in March in Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Using his cell-phone, Azcurriare tried to film police officers entering his house, which is located at the end of a short alleyway next to the house of Iván Navarro, a teenager who a few days earlier had testified about police brutality, during a public oral trial.

Navarro said that one night in September 2016, he and his friend Ezequiel were detained without cause in a street in the villa. He said the police beat them, threatened to kill them, stripped them naked, tried to force them to jump into the Riachuelo, and finally ordered them to run for their lives.

In connection with this case, which has been covered and supported by La Poderosa, six police officers are currently being held in pretrial detention awaiting a sentence expected in the next few weeks.

“Ivan Navarro was arrested because he was wearing a nice sports jacket. That’s how things are here in the villa. When someone is wearing brand-name sneakers, the police never think they bought them with their wages, but just assume that they’re stolen,” says Lucy Mercado, a 40-year-old woman born in Ciudad del Este, on the Triple Border between Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina, who has lived in Villa 21 since she was a little girl.

“It’s no coincidence that this is happening now. In April we had filed six complaints of torture by the police. And this very important oral trial. Never in the history of our organisation have we achieved anything like this,” another La Poderosa activist told IPS, who also asked not to be identified.

Azcurriare’s arrest gave more visibility in Argentina to the trial of the six police officers, to the point that on Jun. 1 there was a march from Villa 21 to the courthouse, in which hundreds of members of human rights organisations participated.

“We will no longer stay silent because it is not a question of harassing a charismatic reporter, but of systematically clamping down on all villa-dwellers,” La Garganta Poderosa stated on its social network accounts.

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From Fake News to a Fake Deathhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/fake-news-fake-death/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fake-news-fake-death http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/fake-news-fake-death/#respond Thu, 14 Jun 2018 00:01:38 +0000 Ed Holt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156225 When news broke on May 29th that journalist Arkady Babchenko had been murdered in Ukraine, serious questions about the safety of journalists in the country were raised. When news broke less than 24-hours later that Babchenko’s murder had been staged by the Ukrainian security service, serious questions about the credibility of journalists in the country […]

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Arkady Babchenko. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

By Ed Holt
KIEV, Jun 14 2018 (IPS)

When news broke on May 29th that journalist Arkady Babchenko had been murdered in Ukraine, serious questions about the safety of journalists in the country were raised.

When news broke less than 24-hours later that Babchenko’s murder had been staged by the Ukrainian security service, serious questions about the credibility of journalists in the country were raised."Now we know we should check everything the authorities say not twice, but three or four times." --Anna Babinec

Now, say global press freedom advocates, efforts to keep journalists in Ukraine and other parts of the world safe have only been hampered by the deception.

Johann Bihr, Head of the East European and Central Asian Desk at Reporters Without Borders (RSF), told IPS: “This discredits journalists and hampers efforts to effectively protect them.

“The global impact of this story means that it will have an effect in other countries. Whenever something similar happens, doubts will be raised.”

Babchenko, a former Russian soldier who had fought in Chechnya, had been a vociferous critic of the Kremlin for years. He fled Russia last year fearing for his life and eventually moved to Kiev where he had been working for the Tatar TV channel ATR.

When reports of his death first emerged, there was immediate speculation of Russian involvement – a theory Ukrainian authorities swiftly confirmed.

In the hours after the killing was reported, Moscow denied any involvement and, after Babchenko appeared alive, claimed it was evidence of Kiev’s anti-Russian propaganda.

But as soon as Babchenko appeared at a press conference held by the Ukrainian security services (SBU) the day after his apparent death, revealing he had been co-operating with the SBU in an operation to expose people apparently planning to kill him, press freedom watchdogs were outraged.

In a statement, Philippe Leruth, President of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), described it as a “complete circus” and told the Ukrainian authorities it was “intolerable to lie to journalists around the world and to mislead millions of citizens”.

RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said there “could be no grounds for faking a journalist’s death”. He said staging the killing “would not help the cause of press freedom,” adding in a tweet: “It is pathetic and regrettable that the Ukrainian police have played with the truth, whatever their motive…for the stunt.”

And the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) warned it could potentially “undermine public trust in journalists and to mute outrage when they are killed”.

The SBU, and Babchenko, have continued to defend the operation. In posts on Facebook, Babchenko said he did not care about criticism questioning the journalistic ethics of what he and the SBU had done, saying he was grateful that the operation had saved his life.

But groups like RSF, CPJ and IFJ say while they are relieved Babchenko is alive, they question whether the mass deception, and subsequent damage to journalists’ and the Ukrainian authorities’ credibility, was worth it.

“We are glad that Babchenko is alive and are in no doubt that the threats he had been facing were real. However, what we are waiting for is the Ukrainian government to present hard evidence that this was worth it and it has really led to some results. So far, they have failed to do so,” Bihr told IPS.

Ukraine has a poor record on journalist safety. Journalists regularly face harassment and physical attacks as well as ‘doxing’ – the publication of their personal information.

Seven journalists have been killed in the last four years in Ukraine, the most recent being Belarusian-born Russian journalist Pavel Sheremet who died in a car bomb assassination in July 2016.

The investigation into his murder has stalled amid claims of a lack of effort from investigators and Ukrainian involvement in the killing.

After Babchenko’s staged murder, Larysa Sargan, spokesperson for Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko, drew up a list on her Facebook page of journalists she claimed had been “traitorous” for criticising the operation.

In the wake of the faked murder, while all local journalists have been quick to stress their relief that Babchenko is alive, their opinions on the merits of the operation differ.

Some have praised it as the best way to save a threatened journalist’s life and expose a Russian plot, but many others have been critical of it and some have linked it back to what they say are serious shortcomings among institutions of power towards journalists‘ safety and freedom of speech.

Olga Rudenko, deputy editor-in-chief at the Kyiv Post newspaper, told RFE/RL: “Ukrainian journalists feel even less safe than they used to. To make it a safer place for journalists, the authorities need to investigate crimes against journalists.

“The whole plot to kill Babchenko, if we presume there was one, was only possible in the first place because so many earlier murders and attacks on journalists remain un-investigated, making for an atmosphere of impunity. Who’d sign up to kill a high-profile journalist if they knew all previous killers had been found and punished?”

Anna Babinec, co-founder of the investigative journalism agency Slidstvo.Info, said the incident had, for many journalists, stripped them of what trust they had left in Ukrainian authorities.

She told IPS: “Many journalists who lacked trust in the Ukrainian government before now have absolutely no trust in it.

“As an investigative journalist, working the whole night at the scene of the ‘crime’ was a great test of my skills. Now we know we should check everything the authorities say not twice, but three or four times. We need to check not only if the police are doing their work properly, but whether they are lying about crimes.”

She added: “As a journalist and human being I’m happy that my colleague is alive, but there are still a lot of questions that the security service and Arkady [need to answer] about this special operation.”

This distrust has deepened in the days since the operation with the SBU reluctant to give further details and both the alleged killer and man who hired him claiming to have been working with the SBU all along.

The leak of a reported ‘hit list’ of 47 people, supposedly discovered by the SBU during the operation, has added to the confusion.

The list, which includes journalists and political activists, contains the names of many critics of the Ukrainian authorities, among others, but, pointedly, does not include Babchenko.

Some local journalists believe it is genuine, but others doubt its veracity. Speaking to RFE/RL, three journalists on the list said they had been contacted by the SBU and shown a list with their names on. They said what they had been shown was similar to the list leaked in Ukrainian media, but had a different order of names and, in some cases, spellings.

One of the journalists said they had been questioned by the SBU about their political opinions.

Whether the SBU will give any further details on the operation and show it was, as the RSF said ‘worth it’, anytime soon is uncertain.

But the fact that local and global media were misled by authorities, with the willing help of a journalist, means this is likely to be a boon for those looking to repress free speech or spread propaganda as it leads to questions about the skills and credibility of those who are supposed to be presenting unbiased facts, critics say.

Russian journalist Tanya Felgenhauer told British daily newspaper The Independent: “This story has been a victory of the post-factual world and it makes our jobs even more difficult.

“One of the only advantages we have over social media and state media is accuracy and fact-checking. Here, our fact-checking model wasn’t sufficient, and our credibility has suffered badly.”

The RSF’s Bihr told IPS: “It provides help for organisations who sow doubt and spread misinformation, who blur the lines between truth and fiction. It provides fuel for repressive governments and propaganda media working to hamper freedom of speech.”

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Lesotho Constitutional Court declares criminal defamation unconstitutionalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/lesotho-constitutional-court-declares-criminal-defamation-unconstitutional/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lesotho-constitutional-court-declares-criminal-defamation-unconstitutional http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/lesotho-constitutional-court-declares-criminal-defamation-unconstitutional/#respond Tue, 22 May 2018 17:48:38 +0000 Editor CPJ http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155903 The Committee to Protect Journalists today welcomed yesterday’s ruling by Lesotho’s Constitutional Court that criminal defamation is unconstitutional, calling it a significant step toward safeguarding press freedom in the country. The Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) supported an application by Lesotho Times owner and publisher Basildon Peta to have Section 104 of the penal code […]

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A woman casts her ballot in general elections at a polling station in the village of Nyakosoba, Lesotho, on June 3, 2017. Lesotho's Constitutional Court declared criminal defamation unconstitutional on May 21, 2018. (Gianluigi Guercia/AFP)

By Editor, CPJ
NEW YORK, May 22 2018 (CPJ)

The Committee to Protect Journalists today welcomed yesterday’s ruling by Lesotho’s Constitutional Court that criminal defamation is unconstitutional, calling it a significant step toward safeguarding press freedom in the country.

The Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) supported an application by Lesotho Times owner and publisher Basildon Peta to have Section 104 of the penal code declared unconstitutional, the center said in a statement yesterday. Peta had been charged with criminal defamation on July 6, 2016, according to CPJ research.

“Journalists should never face criminal charges for doing their job and yesterday’s ruling by Lesotho’s Constitutional Court is the latest victory in the fight to abolish criminal defamation throughout the African continent,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Angela Quintal. “Criminal defamation is too often used to target critical journalists and we welcome Lesotho joining a growing group of countries that have found that criminal defamation is incompatible with constitutional guarantees for a free press.”

In Peta’s application before the court, he argued that the offense of criminal defamation violated the right to freedom of expression. He further argued that the use of criminal sanctions was a disproportionate response to protect individuals’ reputations because, among other reasons, a less-restrictive mechanism–civil defamation–was available, the SALC said.

The court agreed, and declared criminal defamation unconstitutional with retrospective effect, the SALC said. The three judges held that criminalizing defamation had a chilling effect of journalistic freedom of expression, resulting in self-censorship by journalists and a less-informed public.

The ruling was in keeping with a 2010 resolution from the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights calling on member states to repeal criminal libel laws, referring to them as “a serious interference with freedom of expression.” African countries where criminal defamation has been ruled unconstitutional since 2010 include Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Gambia.

This story was originally published by CPJ Committee to Protect Journalists

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Media Watchdogs Fear a Chill in Slovakiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/media-watchdogs-fear-chill-slovakia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=media-watchdogs-fear-chill-slovakia http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/media-watchdogs-fear-chill-slovakia/#respond Tue, 22 May 2018 00:03:37 +0000 Ed Holt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155863 International media watchdogs, EU politicians, journalists and publishers have condemned Slovak police investigating the murder of a local journalist after one of his colleagues claimed she was interrogated for eight hours before being forced to hand over her telephone – potentially putting sources at risk. Czech investigative journalist Pavla Holcova had travelled from Prague to […]

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Mass protests in Slovakia in the wake of the killing of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova led to the resignation of the country's Prime Minister, Interior Minister and head of police. Credit: Ed Holt/IPS

Mass protests in Slovakia in the wake of the killing of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova led to the resignation of the country's Prime Minister, Interior Minister and head of police. Credit: Ed Holt/IPS

By Ed Holt
BRATISLAVA, May 22 2018 (IPS)

International media watchdogs, EU politicians, journalists and publishers have condemned Slovak police investigating the murder of a local journalist after one of his colleagues claimed she was interrogated for eight hours before being forced to hand over her telephone – potentially putting sources at risk.

Czech investigative journalist Pavla Holcova had travelled from Prague to Bratislava on May 15th believing she was going to help Slovak police with their investigation into the murder of her former colleague, Jan Kuciak, and his fiancée, Martina Kusnirova, in February this year."It starts with a phone, then a laptop, then interview notes and what is next?...Journalism is the canary in the coal mine. If it dies in these countries, then ‘European-ness’ will have died." --Drew Sullivan

But she said after she arrived she was questioned for eight hours by officers from the Slovak National Crime Agency (NAKA) repeatedly asking about the investigative reporting network she works with, her past work and links between Slovak business people and senior politicians.

They also demanded she hand over her mobile phone so they could access data on it.

When she refused she says she was threatened with a 1,650 Euro fine and police produced a warrant to confiscate the phone. She said she agreed to give them the phone but having failed to retrieve data from it when Holcova refused to give them passwords, they took it saying they would use Europol forensic resources to get past its passwords and access the information inside.

News of the interrogation and requisition of Holcova’s phone brought widespread condemnation from groups like Reporters Without Borders, the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), which Holcova, and previously Kuciak, has worked with, MEPs and other groups.

Meanwhile, in Slovakia, publishing houses and dozens of editors from local newspapers and media outlets put out a joint statement demanding Holcova’s phone be returned to her immediately, reiterating the legal right to protection of journalists’ sources and calling on Slovak police to explain their conduct.

However, they say it is not just Holcova they are defending.

Beata Balogova, Editor in Chief of the Slovak daily newspaper ‘Sme’, told IPS: “This isn’t just about Pavla, it goes further than that. We need to know whether they [the police and prosecutor] think what they have done is in line with the laws of this country.”

As in some other countries in Central Europe, media watchdogs have pointed to an alarming erosion in press freedom in Slovakia in recent years with journalists facing denigration and abuse from the government and intimidation by local businessmen.

Meanwhile, many local media outlets have been bought up by oligarchs and there are serious doubts about the political independence of the country’s public broadcaster. Criminal libel prosecutions are also a permanent threat to journalists’ work.

Kuciak was shot dead by a single bullet to his chest and his fiancée by a single bullet to the head in his home east of the capital Bratislava in late February.

At the time of his death, Kuciak and Holcova had been working on a story about the links between the ‘Ndrangheta mafia and people in Smer, the senior party in the Slovak governing coalition.

In the days after the killing, there was feverish speculation about mafia or political involvement in the murder and that it had been carried out as a clear warning to other journalists.

Balogova and other Slovak journalists believe that by taking Holcova’s phone, police may have been sending a signal to journalists.

“It could have been to tell journalists that they are being watched or to try and frighten them,” she said.

There has also been speculation that the police may have been trying to get information so they can move to try and cover up links between failings in the investigation and senior figures in the Slovak police and judicial system.

In their statement, Slovak publishers and editors said: “Taking into account that many suspicions which arose after the murder of Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova point directly to representatives of criminal justice institutions, the rigorous protection of sources is more important than ever, especially when there is a risk this information could be abused.”

Drew Sullivan, Editor at the OCCRP, told IPS that the police may have been acting on orders from politicians.

“Justice is still political in Slovakia,” he said. “It is possible the ruling political party, which is more concerned about the news stories which created the protests [after Kuciak’s murder and which forced the Prime Minister’s resignation] than they are with Jan’s murder, is dictating the police‘s approach.”

And Marek Vagovic, editor in chief at Slovak news site Aktuality.sk, Kuciak‘s former employer, told the Slovak daily ‘Novy cas’: “Looking at the nature and links between those in power who control the criminal justice institutions, I don’t believe this is about investigating a double pre-meditated murder.

“I fear that in taking Pavla Holcova’s mobile phone they have a different aim: tracking down her informants so they can find out what she was working on and can warn politicians, oligarchs and members of organised crime under suspicion.”

In a statement, the Special Prosecutor’s Office, which issued the warrant to take Holcova’s phone, said that Holcova had willingly given up her phone to police and that the device had been taken solely to try and find Kuciak’s killers.

It stressed that the warrant was issued to help the investigation and not to impinge on any of Holcova’s rights as a journalist.

But Slovak lawyers and constitutional experts have questioned the police’s approach, arguing that any information relating to Kuciak’s murder found on the phone would probably not be admissible as evidence if it was accessed without Holcova giving them the password to it.

Following media attention, the Special Prosecutor’s Office said on May 18th it would send the phone back to Holcova as soon as possible and that after it was taken no attempt was made to bypass its security and access its data. But it defended the police’s conduct, saying that looking to obtain data in the phone was “a necessary and logical” step in the investigation.

It also said that Holcova would be asked to attend further questioning in the future as a witness in the investigation. Holcova, though, has said she will “consider very carefully” any future meetings with Slovak investigators.

Whatever the intentions of the Slovak police were, their actions will have had an effect, although perhaps not the one they would have been expecting if they were attempting to frighten journalists.

“It may affect how sources interact with us,” explained Balogova. “Sources speak to journalists because they believe that we can and will protect their identities. But now they may be worried that journalists cannot protect their sources. So, will they still talk to us?

“But [the police’s actions] may also have the opposite effect – journalists will just be more careful now in how they communicate with people and go about their work.”

The incident made headlines abroad and was noted in the European Parliament which has been closely following the Slovak media environment since Kuciak’s murder and the subsequent mass protests which forced the Slovak Prime Minister, Interior Minister and, eventually, the head of the police force to resign.

MEPs suggested it would have further damaged the reputation of the Slovak police, which is widely perceived as endemically corrupt and at senior level linked to powerful local business figures suspected of criminal activity.

Manfred Weber, leader of the European People’s Party in the European Parliament, said in a statement: “We thought that after the murders of Jan Kuciak and Martina Kusnirova that the Slovak government would do all it could to allow journalists to carry out their daily work and that we would see them as partners in the common fight against corruption and crime.

“Unfortunately, today we can see that, despite the Slovak government’s assurances, the opposite is happening.”

But perhaps just as importantly, the treatment of Holcova could have ramifications beyond Slovakia, potentially emboldening neighbouring governments which, critics say, are leading their own crackdowns on critical media.

Press freedom in Poland and Hungary has receded dramatically over the last few years, according to local and international media groups, with both countries’ rankings in Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index plummeting.

Governments seen as populist, increasingly authoritarian and corrupt have used legislation, taxes on independent media, takeovers, forced closures and, some believe, security service surveillance, to try and silence critical news outlets, they claim.

When asked whether he thought other governments in the region could start using similar methods following what happened to Holcova, OCCRP’s Sullivan told IPS: “Absolutely. It starts with a phone, then a laptop, then interview notes and what is next?

“There is an increasing erosion of journalism rights in the East of Europe. Hungary, Slovakia and Poland have become problematic states where independent journalism is dying.”

He added: “We’ve seen this [Slovak police treatment of Holcova] and worse in Eastern Europe, Russia and the CIS states. It is something we kind of expect from drug states, captured states and the autocracies in those regions. But we haven’t seen it with a European Union member.”

And he called on the EU to act to uphold its core values. “This is a growing splinter in the eye of Europe and the European Union needs to act decisively if it doesn’t want to lose its European values. It can’t have members denying basic values.

“If this is allowed to continue, it will lead to …. further repression of journalism. Journalism is the canary in the coal mine. If it dies in these countries, then ‘European-ness’ will have died. These are states that are fundamentally becoming undemocratic. We need media there chronicling this.”

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Protests Fuel Harassment Faced by Media in Nicaraguahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/protests-fuel-harassment-journalists-nicaragua/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=protests-fuel-harassment-journalists-nicaragua http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/protests-fuel-harassment-journalists-nicaragua/#respond Fri, 11 May 2018 22:38:39 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155741 Assaults on journalists, persecution of press workers’ unions, direct censorship and smear campaigns are a high cost that freedom of expression has paid in Nicaragua since demonstrations against the government of Daniel Ortega began in April. It is the culmination of “a process of degradation of the practice of journalism and of freedom of expression” […]

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Steady Old Hand of Repression Seeks to Strangle New Media in East Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/steady-old-hand-repression-seeks-strangle-new-media-east-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=steady-old-hand-repression-seeks-strangle-new-media-east-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/steady-old-hand-repression-seeks-strangle-new-media-east-africa/#respond Thu, 03 May 2018 13:48:28 +0000 Teldah Mawarire and Grant Clark http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155606 Teldah Mawarire is an Advocacy and Campaigns Officer with global civil society, CIVICUS. Grant Clark is the organisation’s Senior Media Advisor.

 

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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Teldah Mawarire is an Advocacy and Campaigns Officer with global civil society, CIVICUS. Grant Clark is the organisation’s Senior Media Advisor.
 
This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

By Teldah Mawarire and Grant Clark
JOHANNESBURG, May 3 2018 (IPS)

In African countries where journalists are targeted with killings and beatings while traditional news outlets have been muzzled by governments and other actors unhappy with criticism, bloggers and social media users have become the new independent media by providing much-needed coverage, commentary and analysis.

Credit: UNESCO

The new frontier for clampdowns on free expression is now social media. The same repressive tactics are being transferred from traditional media as we know it to private citizens who dare share information and news. In East Africa, some administrations, done with decimating independent traditional media, are now moving to crush dissent online in new ways — using economics as the weapon of choice.

In Tanzania, the government of President John Magufuli last month craftily enacted legislation requiring all online publishers, including bloggers and podcasters to pay around US$920 — unaffordable for most of the country’s bloggers — for the privilege of posting content online.

From May 5, just two days after World Press Freedom Day, all online publishers have to register with the authorities and fork out about US$480 for a three-year licence, as well as US$440 every year to operate a blog.

However, bloggers tend to make very little from blogs, posting mostly out of passion and earning little if not nothing from advertising, which is usually the revenue source for this media. So there is precious little to be made from online advertising, which is not a widely used form of advertising in Tanzania. So, the required fees make blogging a very expensive affair.

The Electronic and Postal Communications (Online) Regulations 2018, which came into effect in March, not only imposes the exorbitant fees to post content online but also requires anyone publishing online content to carry out extensive data reporting such as keeping a log of visitors to the platform, information on investors and staff, future plans, among other requirements.

Blogs are also usually solo operations, run with no staff or resources to keep up with these onerous obligations. The law also requires internet café’s to install surveillance cameras and to record and archive activities inside their premises.

The new law defines a blog as “a website containing a writer’s, or group of writer’s own, experiences, observations, opinions including current news … images, video clips and links to other websites”. This basically covers all forms of posts from the personal to public affairs matters and news items.

According to the new law, publishing content that “causes annoyance, threatens harm or evil, encourages or incites crime, or leads to public disorder”, can lead to the license being revoked, a fine of no less than 5million Shillings (about $2 000) or no less than 12 months’ imprisonment or both.

The interpretation of what is “annoying” or “evil” leaves the law wide open to abuse by those in power. For example is a fashion blog commentary on a politician an annoyance? Is questioning the use of public funds an annoyance?

The government’s Communication Ministry spokesman Innocent Mungy defended the law, telling Al Jazeera that it serves to “protect those who were being victims of slurs”. However, the deliberately vague and broad nature of the regulation, and the sweeping powers given to the Tanzanian Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) to keep a register of bloggers, online forums, radio and television online and to take action against non-compliance of the regulations, including ordering the removal of content is a cause for raising red flags for freedom of expression in the country.

There is no doubt that this policy will deal a fatal blow to freedom of expression and an open internet in Tanzania as well as to diversity in the media space.

The new regulations attack fundamental human rights of Tanzanians in two main ways. First it excludes most from being able to express themselves online through the increasingly popular format, blogs. It also discourages internet use by instilling fear in users.

And for the precious few bloggers who might be able to afford the prohibitively expensive fees, the sweeping, ambiguous restrictions give authorities power to declare much of what they say as criminally offensive and liable to prosecution and criminal conviction.

While proponents of the law might also invoke the “curbing the spread of terrorism via social media” argument, it is clear these regulations are beyond threats of terror. Not only are the fees intended to prevent ordinary bloggers and journalists from posting editorial content online, but it severely restricts their freedom of expression as well as the public’s access to information at large.

In a country where the media historically holds strong ties to government interests, and where a sustained campaign of media repression has been underway for years – and intensified since the election of Magufuli in 2015 – blogging has given a voice to many Tanzanians who would not otherwise be heard and has given content to an audience that is searching for it.

The government has wasted no time exploiting the law’s vaguely-worded terms to put online users on notice. Hugely popular rapper, Diamond Platinumz (Nasseb Abdul), was arrested in mid-April for posting an Instagram picture of himself kissing a woman — considered a violation of the regulation’s ban on “indecency”.

The government held public consultations on the proposed policy last year but pushed it through without any changes despite objections from various stakeholders to aspects of the legislation. Three Tanzanian NGOs in March filed a complaint at the East Africa Court of Justice over the law, arguing it violates press freedom.

Ordinary users of blogs are also not spared. For, example, those who post content or comment on Facebook are subject to the same rules meaning even personal political opinions are at risk.

But Tanzania is not alone in this kind of crackdown. Uganda is also drafting its own plan of attack on freedom of speech online. From July this year, users of social media applications such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp will have to pay a daily tax of about USD0.05 to reduce what longtime President Yoweri Museveni calls “gossip”. Of Uganda’s 41 million people, more than half are mobile phone subscribers and 17 million use the internet. The policy is currently before parliament after approval by the cabinet.

In neighbouring Rwanda, a 2016 law makes it broadly illegal to cause “annoyance, inconvenience, or needless anxiety” with a digital device.

Worldwide, the CIVICUS Monitor, which tracks threats to civil society, has found that journalists are the biggest group on the receiving end of violations for their work. Citizen journalists, bloggers and general social media users need special attention if the right to access information and freedom of expression are to be protected.

Civil society and traditional media have a duty to diligently highlight these violations and stand in solidarity with those being persecuted and hindered from freely using new forms of media.

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Excerpt:

Teldah Mawarire is an Advocacy and Campaigns Officer with global civil society, CIVICUS. Grant Clark is the organisation’s Senior Media Advisor.

 

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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A Free Press Is Indispensable for Good Governance and Transparent Societies Chair of the Geneva Centre for Human Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/free-press-indispensable-good-governance-transparent-societies-chair-geneva-centre-human-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=free-press-indispensable-good-governance-transparent-societies-chair-geneva-centre-human-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/free-press-indispensable-good-governance-transparent-societies-chair-geneva-centre-human-rights/#respond Thu, 03 May 2018 07:40:02 +0000 Hanif Hassan Al Qassim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155573 This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

By Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim
GENEVA, May 3 2018 (IPS)

On the occasion of the 2018 World Press Freedom Day commemorated on 3 May 2018, the Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue, Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim, highlighted the importance of promoting freedom of the press to facilitate “good governance and transparent societies.”

Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim

Dr. Al Qassim noted that media, often referred to as the fourth estate, plays a central role in promoting the plurality of opinions and ideas in open and tolerant societies. “A free press acts as a voice for the public and as a watchdog. It provides checks and balances and holds leaders accountable to the public. A free press is indispensable for facilitating good governance and transparent societies,” Dr. Al Qassim said.

The Geneva Centre’s Chairman likewise cautioned against the rise of hate speech and online bigotry targeting religious communities. The “misconceived conflation between terrorism and Islam” – he noted – “has given rise to marginalization, bigotry and discrimination threatening the social harmony of multicultural societies worldwide. It has contributed to exacerbating animosities and artificial divisions between people.

“Media must play a more influential role in addressing prevailing misconceptions and misunderstandings that exist between people. Press freedom should not be used as a vector and catalyst for hate speech, bigotry and fear of the Other. The rise of hate speech and online bigotry – encompassing inflammatory and discriminatory smear campaigns singling out religious and ethnic groups – is a threat to press freedom and tests the boundaries of free speech.

“In the context where social media contributes to the dissemination of fake news without accountability, traditional media have an important role to play to promote awareness of false and inaccurate information. They may enlighten world public opinion by offering alternative narratives on contentious issues contributing to plurality of views and offering a voice to the voiceless,” Dr. Al Qassim asserted.

The Chairman of the Geneva Centre also noted that the lack of protective mechanisms for whistle-blowers challenges the concept of a free and open press. “The practice of silencing whistle-blowers constitutes a threat to press freedom and justice,” Dr. Al Qassim said.

The Geneva Centre’s Chairman added that the return to the founding principles of press freedom – encompassing inter alia accountability, liability and transparency – is key to addressing the challenges to press freedom. Dr. Al Qassim said respect for press freedom and the safety of journalists are key pre-requisites to promote peace, justice and strong institutions as stipulated in SDG 16 on Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Geneva Centre’s Chairman said:

“This year’s annual theme ‘Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and The Rule of Law’ illustrates the importance of the interplay between access to information, freedom of expression and access to justice. Journalists have the right to work free from the threat of violence so they can carry out their important duties on behalf of the public. They must not be subjected to censorship, restrictive legislation, intimidation and violence.

“Societies that demonstrate respect for press freedom and the safety and freedom of journalists will make a valuable contribution to the fulfilment of the provisions set forth in SDG 16.”

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Excerpt:

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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African Governments Mark World Press Freedom Day with Crackdown Against Online Journalismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/african-governments-mark-world-press-freedom-day-crackdown-online-journalism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=african-governments-mark-world-press-freedom-day-crackdown-online-journalism http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/african-governments-mark-world-press-freedom-day-crackdown-online-journalism/#respond Thu, 03 May 2018 07:11:02 +0000 Muthoki Mumo and Jonathan Rozen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155590 Muthoki Mumo/Committee to Protect Journalists* East Africa Correspondent & Jonathan Rozen/CPJ Researcher

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This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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By Muthoki Mumo and Jonathan Rozen
ACCRA, Ghana, May 3 2018 (IPS)

When Uganda in April ordered Internet service providers to shut down all news sites that had not been authorized by the communications regulator (pdf), it was the latest attempt by President Yoweri Museveni’s government to constrict the space for independent media.

The regulator said that only 14 online publishers had met the requirements to remain online, including a USD 20 fee and an interpol clearance certificate (pdf). If the directive is implemented in full, millions of websites would become inaccessible and Ugandans would be thrown into a virtual information blackout.

Uganda is not alone in its ambition to control online journalism.

Across Sub-Saharan Africa, governments are taking aggressive steps to control what their citizens do and say online, justifying their suppression as necessary for public order and morality or security.

Unless this repressive trend is stemmed, Africa’s young but robust and diverse online media will wither. As journalists today meet in Accra, Ghana, to mark World Press Freedom Day, openness of online journalism in Africa hangs in the balance.

In similar fashion to its northern neighbour, the government of Tanzanian president John Magufuli now requires bloggers to register, a privilege that could cost an initial USD 484 and another USD 440 annually. The government will also license those streaming content online, though at a reduced fee.

Tanzania’s steep registration fee is most certainly impossible for many people in a country where gross national income per capita is USD 900. Those who have not applied for registration by May 5 face, upon conviction, a fine of five million Tanzanian shillings (USD 2,200), a prison term of a minimum 12 months, or both.

Registration requirements pose a barrier to entry for those who want to have their voices heard online. Free expression has flourished on the Internet precisely because users are unencumbered by infrastructure, regulatory or financial demands that weigh so heavily on traditional media like newspapers, radio, or television.

Although CPJ advocates for transparency in media ownership, there is fear that governments are collecting this information with the intention of being better able to target critical reporters and outlets.

This intention was laid bare in Tanzania, where the March 2018 Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) regulations would effectively strip Internet users of anonymity that often protects whistleblowers and dissenters. Yet it’s not just registration that is stifling online journalism.

On January 1, 2018, Timothy Elombah, editor-in-chief of Elombah.com, was arrested with his brother, Daniel, at their home, and charged in Abuja under Sections 24 and 26 of Nigeria’s 2015 cybercrime act. Although Daniel was released, Timothy spent 25 days in detention.

During a meeting with the Committee to Protect Journalists in Abuja, Timothy said he believes they were arrested and charged in reprisal for their critical reporting on Nigeria’s government. A court hearing for their case is scheduled for today, May 3.

Nigeria’s cybercrime act and its vaguely worded offenses have been repeatedly used against journalists, according to CPJ research. For example, Section 24 (1-b) criminalizes “grossly offensive” messages sent using a computer and Section 26 (c) may find guilty anyone that “insults publicly through a computer system or network.” These offenses are punishable by imprisonment for up to three years and five years respectively, and/or a multi-million-Naira fine.

Ambiguously defined crimes can also be found in South Africa’s Film and Publications Amendment Bill. In March 2018, South Africa’s National Assembly approved amendments to the Films and Publications Act, also dubbed the Internet Censorship Bill, that would grant authorities wide powers to regulate online media content, including newspapers and social media.

While the government has argued it will protect children from explicit content and fight hate speech and revenge pornography, the South African Freelancers’ Association (SAFREA) has criticised the bill for its “vague definitions and impractical requirements” that would grant the state power to dictate what content can be posted online, crossing the “fine line between protection and censorship”.

South African intentions to control online media are not new. During a June 2017 meeting in Durban, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers expressed concern over South Africa’s cybercrime bill’s “vague language that affords opportunity for repressive implementation, as well as enhanced investigative and surveillance powers for security agents.” If passed into law, both these bills would imperil online journalism in South Africa.

During the Internet Freedom Forum held last month (April) in Abuja, Wakabi Wairagala, the executive director of Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), warned of copy-cat legislation, in which African governments adopt similar versions of the problematic regulations. The crafters of Nigeria’s cybercrime act did not sufficiently consider the negative ramifications for press freedom and free expression online. South Africa’s lawmakers may yet avoid this mistake.

Across Africa, governments have sought to close the internet as an open space for journalism. Ethiopia, Cameroon, Chad, DR Congo, Uganda and Somaliland have shut down Internet access, in whole or in part, to control public debate during elections or public demonstrations. Yet it is during these moments of political tension that citizens most need accurate information to make decisions.

This is not to say that the Internet does not pose governance challenges. Citizens and government have reason to be concerned about disinformation, hate speech, and incitement to violence. It is in this context that responsible journalism remains as important as ever.

But heavy-handed regulation or legislation that unduly curbs press freedom and free expression is not the appropriate response. Instead of silencing dissenting ideas, laws ought to protect the digital rights of citizens and nurture press freedom online.

For example, Nigeria’s National Assembly and Senate have passed the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill. If signed into law by the president, the law would guarantee (pdf) the rights of expression and information online, protect whistleblowers, and limit government censorship to specific, narrowly defined circumstances as mandated by a judge.

The proposed law in Nigeria shows that it is possible for African governments to write regulations and laws that work for, not against, journalists. But unfortunately this bill is the exception to a repressive norm.

(The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide. It defends the right of journalists to report the news without fear of reprisal. www.cpj.org )

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Excerpt:

Muthoki Mumo/Committee to Protect Journalists* East Africa Correspondent & Jonathan Rozen/CPJ Researcher

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This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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Free Media Under Threat Globallyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/free-media-threat-globally/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=free-media-threat-globally http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/free-media-threat-globally/#comments Wed, 02 May 2018 16:35:27 +0000 Will Higginbotham http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155586 This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

By Will Higginbotham
UNITED NATIONS, May 2 2018 (IPS)

Buoyed on by the likes of United States’ President Donald Trump, a growing number of political leaders are encouraging hostility towards news media and journalists across the globe are finding it harder than ever to do their jobs.

This is among the main findings in Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) annual World Press Freedom Index which examines 180 countries and their relationship with the media.

Mr. Trump signs the UN Secretary-General’s guest book. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

While launching the report, RSF’s Secretary General Christopher Deloire reflected on the erosion of one of free societies’ most treasured principles: a free press.

“The unleashing of hatred towards journalists is one of the worst threats to democracies. To dispute the legitimacy of journalism today is to play with extremely dangerous political fire,” Deloire said.

U.S. Ranking Drops

According to the report, the U.S. is partly responsible for the downward trend of the media’s image globally.

The report highlights the impact of Trump’s “Fake News” slogan- a reference used to discredit and deny news reports.

“Trump’s ‘fake news’ phenomenon has certainly had a global impact. Leaders of countries both democratic and authoritarian have taken advantage of this language to conflate any critical news coverage with false news coverage or misreporting,” RSF’s North America Director Margaux Ewen told IPS.

Trump’s method of dismissing media has been picked up by a growing number of world leaders, the report found.

“More and more democratically-elected leaders no longer see the media as part of democracy’s essential underpinning, but instead as an adversary. Trump himself has called reporters ‘enemies of the people,” Ewen said.

“It’s sad that the U.S. – often seen as a shining beacon of press freedom and democracy is slipping, it’s no longer the gold standard,” she continued.

Unsurprisingly, this year’s report saw the United States drop to number to 45 in the index, down two spots from its 2017 rank.

Europe “Not Perfect”

Whilst European countries Sweden and Norway ranked the freest media environments in the world, the region as a whole had more nations drop down the list than any other.

European nations such as Malta, Slovenia, Czech Republic, and Serbia all fell considerably.

“With the rise of populist politics and strongmen leaders, Europe’s downward trend will likely continue,” the report stated.

In Europe, recent high profile journalist killings – the murder of Daphne Galizina in Malta and the Jan Kuciak in Slovakia – have been attributed to the region’s dip in rankings.

The report highlighted several cases where countries have slid in the ranks due to ‘strongmen’ leaders.

For example, Philippines dipped to 133 on the list largely due to its President, Rodrigo Duterte, who often justifies the killing of journalists.

Last year, four journalists where killed in the country for their work, earning it the reputation of the most dangerous country in Asia for journalists.

Turkey also fell in this year’s ranking to 157. Its president, Recap Tayyip Erdogan has long held the media in contempt.

The country now has more reporters in jail than anywhere else in the world.

Similarly, Eritrea came in at at the bottom of the ranking. The report noted that the media are subject to the whim of President Isaias Afeworki who has overseen a deterioration in human rights and global freedoms.

After questioning the government’s authoritarian tendencies, Swedish-Eritrea journalist Dawit Isaak was arrested in 2001. He has been detained for the past 17 years without ever being brought to a court.

The UN has since called on his release, and RSF recently submitted a report to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights with concerns over the state of press freedom in the East African nation.

However, RSF found that press freedom in Africa has improved—though the variation from country to country is still considerable.

Whilst Ewen admitted that there was not many positives to draw from the report, she says a silver lining is the future appointment of United Nations special representative for journalists.

“That will mean that we can immediately coordinate international efforts for the press when a journalist is in danger. That’s something RSF has been leading for the past few years, along with more than 130 supporting NGOs and media outlets,” Ewen told IPS.

“That’s something we can look forward to,” she continued.

The post Free Media Under Threat Globally appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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Press Freedom & Enforced Disappearances: Two Sides of the Same Coin in Sri Lankahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/press-freedom-enforced-disappearances-two-sides-coin-sri-lanka/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=press-freedom-enforced-disappearances-two-sides-coin-sri-lanka http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/press-freedom-enforced-disappearances-two-sides-coin-sri-lanka/#respond Mon, 30 Apr 2018 14:20:52 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155540 Kanya D’Almeida* is a Sri Lankan writer, journalist and editor.

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This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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Kanya D’Almeida* is a Sri Lankan writer, journalist and editor.
 
This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

By Kanya D'Almeida
NEW YORK, Apr 30 2018 (IPS)

When Sri Lankan journalist Richard de Zoysa was abducted from his home in Colombo on the night of February 18th, 1990, his family knew there would be dark days ahead. The population was still reeling from one of the bloodiest episodes in the island nation’s history – a government counterinsurgency campaign to crush a Marxist rebellion in southern Sri Lanka, which left between 30,000 and 60,000 people dead at the hands of government death squads.

The late Richard de Zoysa, former IPS UN Bureau Chief in Sri Lanka.

Even more disturbing than the extrajudicial killings was the wave of enforced disappearances that took place between 1988 and 1990: tens of thousands of Sinhalese men and boys suspected of being members or sympathizers of the People’s Liberation Front, or JVP, went missing, never to return.

At the time of his kidnapping, de Zoysa was a stringer for this publication, filing regular reports on the political violence plaguing the country. He was on the verge of accepting the post of Bureau Chief of the agency’s Lisbon-based European desk when the goons came knocking.

For hours that bled into days, his mother, Manorani Saravanamuttu had no idea what had become of him. High-ranking officials assured her that he was alive, in police custody, but refused to give her exact coordinates when she asked to be allowed to bring him some clothing – he had been wearing only a sarong when he was kidnapped – or a meal.

It later transpired that while she was making frantic phone calls and searching for answers, de Zoysa was already dead, shot in the head at point blank range, and his body dumped in the Indian Ocean, a tactic that had become a common feature of the government’s systematic abductions.

A fisherman happened to recognize his face – de Zoysa was also a well-known television personality at the time – when his body washed up on shore in a coastal town just south of the capital. He alerted the authorities who in turn contacted de Zoysa’s mother.

According to a 1991 Washington Post interview with Saravanamuttu, the discovery of her son’s body was a turning point, for her personally, and for the nation as a whole. When she walked out of the inquest a few days after de Zoysa’s abduction, she found herself surrounded by reporters, to whom she made a statement that resonated with countless families across the island: “I am the luckiest mother in Sri Lanka. I got my son’s body back. There are thousands of mothers who never get their children’s bodies back.”

Mothers of the Disappeared

Saravanamuttu’s statement quickly catalyzed a movement known as the Mother’s Front, which had been a long time coming. Perhaps due to her privileged status as a member of the country’s English-speaking elite, she became a kind of totem pole around which women from the poorer, politically marginalized and largely Sinhala-speaking rural belt could gather, and from which they could draw strength. By 1991, according to the Post, the Mother’s Front counted 25,000 registered members.

The movement did not succeed in bringing justice to many of its victims. To this day, not a single person has been convicted for de Zoysa’s murder. Ministers who opposed Saravanamuttu and others’ attempts to seek answers in the murders or disappearances of their loved ones continue to hold positions of power within the government – Ranil Wickremesinghe, who the Post quoted as brushing de Zoysa’s murder off as “suicide or something else”, now serves as the Prime Minister, the second-highest political office in the country.

Amnesty International estimates that since the 1980s, there have been as many as 100,000 enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka.

The Mother’s Front movement did, however, make a crucial contribution to the country’s political landscape, one which continues to have ramifications today: it tied together forever the plight of Sri Lanka’s disappeared with the fate of its journalists and press freedom – or the lack thereof.

Exactly 20 years after de Zoysa was assassinated, another journalist’s disappearance prompted a woman to step into the global spotlight, much as Saravanamuttu did back in the 90s. This journalist’s name is Prageeth Eknaligoda, and he was last seen on January 24th, 2010. He telephoned his wife, Sandhya around 10 p.m. to inform her that he was on his way home from the offices of Lanka eNews (LEN), where he was a renowned columnist and cartoonist. He never arrived.

From local police stations all the way to the United Nations in Geneva, Sandhya has searched for answers as to his whereabouts. It is only in the last two years that some information regarding his abduction and detention by army intelligence personnel has been revealed.

Both Saravanamuttu and Sandhya Eknaligoda have received international recognition for their tireless campaigning. In 1990 de Zoysa’s mother accepted IPS’ press freedom award at the United Nations on her son’s behalf, and last year Sandhya was honored with a 2017 International Woman of Courage Award. But back in Sri Lanka, she faces a government and a public that is at best indifferent, and at worst openly hostile to her continued efforts to find her husband.

A New Front: Tamil Women in the North

Sandhya has also been one of the few women, and one of the lone voices, connecting the issue of press freedom with the movement of families of the disappeared led by Tamil women in Sri Lanka’s northern province, where the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) waged a 28-year-long guerilla war against the Government of Sri Lanka for an independent homeland for the country’s Tamil minority.

Since January 2017, hundreds of Tamil civilians have observed continuous, 24-hour roadside protests in five key locations throughout the former warzone – Kilinochchi, Mullaithivu, Trincomalee, Vavuniya and Maruthankerny (Jaffna district) – demanding answers about their disappeared loved ones.

Like the Mother’s Front in the 1990s, this movement too has been several years in the making. When the civil war ended in 2009, some 300,000 Tamil civilians were rounded up and detained in open-air camps, while hundreds of others – particularly men who surrendered to the armed forces – were taken into government custody under suspicion of being members or supporters of the LTTE.

But while the camps have closed and a large number of people reunited with their families, an estimated 20,000 people are still unaccounted for, including those who disappeared in the early years of the conflict, as well as others who have been abducted as recently as 2016 and 2017.

In 2016, Parliament passed a bill to establish an Office of Missing Persons (OMP) tasked with investigating what Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera called “one of the largest caseloads of missing persons in the world.”

However, rights groups like Amnesty International raised concerns about the bill, including the government’s failure to consult affected families throughout the process. This past March, the government passed a bill that would, for the first time in the country’s history, criminalize enforced disappearances.

But these cosmetic measures have failed to yield concrete results.

In an interview with IPS, Ruki Fernando, a Colombo-based activist who has been visiting the protests in the northern province, noted that Tamil families’ decision to spend day after day in the burning sun by the side of polluted, dusty highways and roads is indicative of their lack of faith in government mechanisms like the OMP and the judiciary to bring them relief. He also called attention to the dismal levels of support or solidarity they have received from Sri Lanka’s broader civil society, including from English and Sinhala-language media or women’s groups in the capital.

“It’s not fair that these families – particularly elderly Tamil women who are leading the protests – should have to carry this burden alone. They have already suffered heavily during the war – they starved in bunkers, they didn’t have medication for their injuries, they have lost family members. All these factors have made them physically weak and emotionally vulnerable, yet now they are also shouldering the burden of keeping these protests going.”

He recalls meeting women as old as 70, adding that protestors sometimes don’t have food, and must endure the vagaries of the weather in the arid northern province. Some of the younger women are forced to bring their children with them. And most, if not all of these families, face the additional financial hardship of having lost their primary breadwinner, or losing out on livelihoods in order to participate in the protests for long periods.

“In my memory, such a strong movement led by women, occurring simultaneously in five locations across the North and East, or any region, is unprecedented,” Fernando said. “And yet it has not become a priority for the rest of the country.”

He called Sandhya Eknaligoda’s participation in the protests as a Sinhala Buddhist ally an “exception” to the rule of general indifference, which he chalked up to a combination of political and ideological issues.

“Some people believe these protests are too radical, too politicized, that there should be more cooperation with, and less criticism of, the government,” he explained. But as Fernando himself noted in an article for Groundviews, one of Sri Lanka’s leading citizen journalism websites, Tamil families have met repeatedly with elected officials, including President Maithripala Sirisena, to no avail.

No Closure

Fernando is not the only one to draw attention to Tamil families’ disadvantaged position with regard to both deaths and disappearances.

Another person to make this connection was Lal Wickrematunge, the brother of journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge, former editor-in-chief of the Sunday Leader who was murdered in broad daylight in 2010, and whose killers still haven’t been brought to justice.

Lal pointed to the ongoing investigation by the Criminal Investigation Department into military intelligence officers’ involvement in the kidnapping and torture of former deputy editor of The Nation newspaper, Keith Noyahr – and the arrest earlier this month of Major General Amal Karunasekera in connection with multiple attacks on journalists, including Noyahr, and Lasantha Wickrematunge – as a possible avenue of closure for the families.

According to a recent report in the Sunday Observer, “The assault on former Rivira Editor Upali Tennakoon and the abduction of journalist and activist Poddala Jayantha are also linked to the same shadowy military intelligence networks, run at the time by the country’s powerful former Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa.”

But Lal Wickrematunge told IPS in a phone interview that while his family, along with international rights groups, are “keenly watching the progress of the investigation, which will determine if the government is serious about law and order”, he is concerned about those who may never receive answers – such as the families of two Tamil journalists who were assassinated in 2006.

Suresh Kumar and Ranjith Kumar were both employees of the Jaffna-based Tamil-language daily Uthayan, whose employees and offices have been attacked multiple times, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Other disappeared Tamil journalists whose cases receive scant attention include Subramanium Ramachandran, who was last seen at an army checkpoint in Jaffna in 2007.

For Fernando, the task of keeping the torch lit for Sri Lanka’s dead and disappeared cannot be laid at the feet of their family members alone – it is a responsibility that the entire country must share.

“What we need first and foremost are independent institutions capable of meting out truth and justice and winning the confidence of the families. And secondly, there is a need for stronger support for victims’ families from civil society – activists and professionals like lawyers, journalists and women’s groups.”

“Pushing for answers about what happened, and demanding prosecutions and convictions requires an exceptional degree of commitment,” he added. “Not everyone has the strength to wage such a battle, on a daily basis, against extremely heavy odds.”

*Kanya D’Almeida was formerly the Race and Justice Reporter for Rewire.News, and has also reported for IPS from the UN, Washington DC, and her native Sri Lanka. She is currently completing an MFA in fiction writing at Columbia University, New York.

The post Press Freedom & Enforced Disappearances: Two Sides of the Same Coin in Sri Lanka appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Kanya D’Almeida* is a Sri Lankan writer, journalist and editor.

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This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

The post Press Freedom & Enforced Disappearances: Two Sides of the Same Coin in Sri Lanka appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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In Beacon of Press Freedom, Dark Spots Persisthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/beacon-press-freedom-dark-spots-persist/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=beacon-press-freedom-dark-spots-persist http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/beacon-press-freedom-dark-spots-persist/#respond Mon, 30 Apr 2018 00:02:04 +0000 Kwaku Botwe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155524 This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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Vendors pick up newspapers from a distribution center in Accra, Ghana. Credit: Kwaku Botwe/IPS

Vendors pick up newspapers from a distribution center in Accra, Ghana. Credit: Kwaku Botwe/IPS

By Kwaku Botwe
ACCRA, Apr 30 2018 (IPS)

Ghana is a living contradiction, at least in the arena of freedom of expression, free speech and press freedom.

It is touted as one of the continent’s best atmospheres for media workers and does have a highly free media space, being ranked number one in Africa and number 23 in the World Press Freedom Index 2018 by Reporters Without Borders.

But that only gives half the picture of the culture of freedom of speech, information and the press in the country. Just last month a journalist from one of the country’s top media houses was beaten to near death by the police.

His crime was that he was doing his job as a journalist and had asked a police officer who had been deployed to disperse a demonstrating crowd the name of one of the anti-riot vehicles. That harmless question was enough to provoke the officer, who pounced on the journalist and was later joined by other officers who had no clue what crime the journalist had committed.

Latif Iddrisu suffered facial, neck and rib injuries and has been experiencing intermittent pain since. He was diagnosed with a fractured skull after four X-ray examinations and a CT Scan. The journalist, who has been recovering at home for close to a month now, says he’s been traumatized as he awaits doctors’ final verdict about whether “I will be in a position to work actively again”.

“For now, all that I have been praying for is a good outcome so that I can get back to work and do even much better, much more ground-braking documentaries and impactful investigative stories to help build the nation,” he told IPS.

Latif Iddrisu in the hospital after being assaulted by police. Photo Courtesy of Latif Iddrisu

The vicious attack on Iddrisu was not an isolated incident. It adds to a long list of attacks on journalists by politicians and their supporters as well as ordinary people, with personnel from the security forces, especially the police, leading the onslaught.

Such abuses against journalists are commonplace in the West African sub-region in particular and Africa in general. The Media Foundation for West Africa’s compilation of abuses against journalists in the region gives a very gloomy picture of press freedom culture. In the past 15 months alone, the Foundation has compiled 12 such assaults with a total of 17 journalist victims in Ghana. And these are just the cases that caught the attention of the Foundation.

In the sub-region, the Foundation says it recorded “nine violations in six countries during its monitoring of the freedom of expression environment in February 2018. Five incidents of physical assaults were recorded in four countries – Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, and Ghana. Mali, Togo and Nigeria recorded one incident each of arrests and detentions, while Benin recorded one incident of suspension of a media house. The violations affected ten journalists, 11 citizens and one media organisation”.

Colonial-era laws persist despite new constitutions

These abuses continue despite the embrace of democracy and the rule of law by all countries in the sub-region. New constitutions guaranteed basic human rights, including freedom of expression and, in many cases, freedom of the press. But many countries still maintain what some have described as colonial-era laws that restrict free press and expression which are inconsistent with their constitutions.

A typical example is the use of criminal defamation laws – laws which criminalise the publication of untrue statements, reports or rumors that are likely to alarm the public – in African countries to harass, detain and imprison journalists, as well as impose hefty fines.

In the sub-region, countries such as Sierra Leone and Liberia have long promised to repeal the laws, but this is yet to happen. Liberia, for instance, attracted the world’s attention in 2013 in what is arguably the most infamous libel defamation judgment in West Africa. The Supreme Court on August 20, 2013, sentenced Rodney Sieh, the Managing Editor of the FrontPage Africa newspaper, to 5,000 years in prison after the journalist was unable to pay a fine of 1.5 million dollars in a civil suit for defamation brought by then Minister of Agriculture, Chris Toe.

Of course the jailing of two editors of the Independent Observer within hours of publishing a column comparing Sierra Leone’s President Ernest Bai Koroma’s behaviour to that of a rat also attracted global attention and condemnation. The 10-court-appearance case dragged out for six months (October 2013 to March 2014) and eventually saw the cautioning and discharge of the journalists after they were forced to plead guilty to conspiracy to defame the president as part of a deal to end the case.

Commenting on the case, Reporters Without Borders said, “The government’s policy of harassing the media is a threat to fundamental freedoms. The authorities use criminal defamation and sedition charges to intimidate journalists and then allow the proceedings to drag on in order to keep up the pressure.”

The story could only be worse in countries like Guinea, Mali, Niger and Nigeria which have for a long time remained adamant in refusing to repeal criminal defamation laws.

And this is where Ghana stands tall. The West African country has distinguished itself on the continent and in the sub-region, having repealed its criminal libel law since 2001, beating its colonial master the United Kingdom which repealed its law in 2009. This accolade makes Ghana the only country in the sub-region to have done so with a clear 17-year margin. But even here, journalists and media houses are not out of the doghouse yet.

Ghana enjoys a thriving press and is ranked number one in Africa in terms of media freedom. Credit: Kwaku Botwe/IPS

Politicians, public office holders and businessmen can still press for civil charges, which may bring hefty fines. In February 2014 the General Secretary of the then political party in power, Johnson Asiedu Nketia, was awarded 250,000 dollars in defamation damages (25% of what Ntetia demanded) against the Daily Guide newspaper by an Accra Fast-Track High Court.

It was in respect to a story which alleged that Nketia used his position in government to divert building materials for his personal building project. In spite of this, it is still refreshing to note that no journalist would ever spend a day in prison for what they publish, a fact journalists Kweku Baako and Haruna Atta who were imprisoned in 1998 using the libel law will appreciate.

Lip service to RTI law

Ghana has not been able to consolidate its commitment to free press with a right to information (RTI) law which is a fundamental human right guaranteed by the country’s constitution. This is against the backdrop of several treaties and agreements the country has signed which require that such a law be passed.

In Africa, RTI is guaranteed in the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights; African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance; African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption; African Union Youth Charter; among others. For years CSOs, NGOs, academics, journalists have been advocating for an RTI law without success.

Ghana’s RTI bill was drafted and reviewed by government in 2003. Since then parliamentarians have discussed it, referred it, reviewed it and published it – anything but pass it. Interestingly parliamentarians have passed about 300 bills into law since 2003, with one of the latest being the special prosecutor law which was a campaign promise by President Akufo-Addo.

More than 15 African countries, including seven in West Africa, have passed the RTI law since Ghana first drafted its own in 2003. And yet the West African country ranks higher in press freedom among all these countries. The reluctance of politicians to pass the RTI bill has left many to conclude that successive governments dread what the passage of an RTI will mean for their corrupt deals.

The executive director of the Media Foundation for West Africa, Sulemana Braima, says “It is regrettable that we are hosting this global event without the RTI,” adding that “the absence of the law remains one of the darkest spots on our democracy, freedom and human rights credentials.”

Ghana hosts 2018 World Press Freedom Day

When Ghana was selected as the host of this year’s World Press Freedom Day, having beaten India and other prominent countries, there were some who thought the nonexistence of an RTI law was a big blot on an otherwise reputable event. But Ghana is not the first country to host the event on the continent.

It becomes the sixth country to host the event in African and the second in the West African sub-region (Uganda, Namibia, Senegal, Monzambigue, and Tunisia have all hosted the event in the past). It appears what determines a host country is not based solely on press freedom practices.

When Colombia hosted the event in 2007 it was in recognition of the 10th Anniversary of the establishment of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. Cano was a Colombian journalist who was killed by hired assassins in 1986. Since the inception of the Prize in 1997, two African journalists have won it (Christina Anyanwu, Nigeria in 1998 and Geoffrey Nyarota, Zimbabwe in 2002). Tunisia seem to have won the host in 2012 because of the theme: 21st Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers, New Voices with the Arab Spring as a main focus.

And so with this year’s global theme: Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and The Rule of Law, Ghana definitely fits in. Again, going by milestones and anniversaries it looks as if Ghana’s celebration of 25 years of uninterrupted democratic governance and the rule of law (1993 – 2018) has coincided with the 25th Anniversary of the establishment of the World Press Freedom Day. A good reason to celebrate it on Ghanaian soil.

The post In Beacon of Press Freedom, Dark Spots Persist appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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“Fake News” a Growing New Threat to Press Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/fake-news-growing-new-threat-press-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fake-news-growing-new-threat-press-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/fake-news-growing-new-threat-press-freedom/#respond Thu, 26 Apr 2018 12:01:27 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155477 This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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US president Donald Trump addressing the UN General Assembly in September 2017. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 26 2018 (IPS)

When a Malaysian politician of a bygone era was asked about the “leading newspapers” in his country, he shot back: “We don’t have any leading newspapers in our country because all our newspapers are misleading.”

But that comment, perhaps uttered half-jokingly about two decades ago, underwent a reality check recently when the Malaysian government passed legislation to impose prison sentences up to six years in jail if journalists are found guilty of spreading “fake news”.

The bill defines fake news as “any news, information, data and reports which is, or are, wholly or partly false, whether in the form of features, visuals or audio recordings, or in any other form, capable of suggesting words or ideas.”

And ever since President Donald Trump repeatedly used the term last year – more so to deny even the most verifiable facts and figures— some of the developing nations have followed in his jackbooted footsteps trying to muzzle the press, primarily on negative stories.

A president in perpetual denial, Trump has been described as a “serial liar” by his former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) James Comey – and some of the lying is meant to denigrate journalists whose stories and exposes are dismissed as “fake news.”

Steven Butler, Asia Program Coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) told IPS: “Many Asian governments – including Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines – have jumped on the “fake news” bandwagon started by President Trump.”

But more broadly, he pointed out, the lack of a strong U.S. voice promoting the basic value press freedom at the heart of the U.S. constitution has emboldened governments – from China to Pakistan.

“Governments that wish to suppress freedom of expression know that the U.S. President will give them a free pass, something they could not count on in the past. Citizens of these countries need to find their own way to struggle for press freedom,” declared Butler.

In early April, India threatened to penalize journalists for spreading “fake news”. But in less than 48 hours the government had second thoughts and annulled the announcement without an explanation.

Norman Solomon. executive director of the Washington-based Institute for Public Accuracy and co-founder and coordinator of RootsAction.org, told IPS powerful demagogues in many parts of the world hate a free press and want to curb or crush whatever independent media outlets might get in the way of power.

“Trump’s denunciations of “fake news” amount to a new rhetorical wrinkle in centuries-old techniques of blaming the messengers for unwanted news,” he added.

Governments, like large corporations, are in the business of news management, Solomon said, pointing out that “they use powerful megaphones and an array of leverage to gain favorable media coverage and suppress or discredit unfavorable coverage.”

In some societies, he noted, the repression takes the form of threats, raids, prosecution and imprisonment. In more democratic societies, the repression is apt to take the form of “soft power” inducements, economic carrots and sticks, massive public-relations campaigns and nonstop floods of propaganda.

In the midst of all this, journalists constantly face a challenge of pursuing facts and underlying truths no matter where they might lead, he argued.

In some countries, the obstacles induce fear of imprisonment or even death, while in other countries the fears are along the lines of stalled careers and loss of employment, said Solomon, author of “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death”

In an oped piece titled “Mr. Trump’s War on the Truth”, the New York Times said in early April that when Trump calls every piece of information he does not like “fake news”, he also encourages politicians in other countries, who are not constrained by constitutional free speech protections or independent judiciaries, to more aggressively squelch the press.

“They know that there will be little international condemnation of their actions because one of the most important standard bearers for a free press – the American government—is led by a man trying to discredit the free press.”

Ian Williams, author of “UNtold: The Real Story of the United Nations in Peace and War*, told IPS that to some extent all news is “fake” but some are flakier than others. But there are degrees of objectivity.

“Fake News” is a real problem – more as an accusation that kills serious debate than as a category of news in itself. Ideologues of both right and left use it to block acceptance of inconvenient information. The main stream media (“MSM”) are particularly reviled, he added.

As Pontius Pilate said, “What is truth?”

“I have a hierarchy of veracity. I would rather believe my own lying eyes than any media source! I watched the planes hit the WTC for example. Do I trust the MSM? Not much, and I would examine its content critically.”

In general, Williams said, the MSM is more conspicuous for what it ignores than for its lies, and it often reveals its biases. In particular the American media depends on government sources and is often naively trusting of them although Trump’s behaviour might be altering that.

For all its faults, he said, the MSM has competition and the fear that it might be scooped by rivals. On the other hand that means it has a herd mentality, so it collectively and uncritically bought into the Iraq WMDs and spurious scandal of “Oil for Food”, said Williams, a senior analyst who has written for newspapers and magazines around the world, including the Australian, The Independent, New York Observer, The Financial Times and The Guardian.

“But I would trust them before Fox, Murdoch tabloids and Breitbart, and above all before authoritarian state news agencies where an editor would lose his or her job and possibly head for not toeing the line”.

He pointed out that the BBC sometimes criticises its government. SANA and Russia Today never!

“And I also mistrust “Independent” journalists, who have permission and help to enter totalitarian states so they can tell the “truth” and expose MSM lies, sometimes at government organised press conferences. I scour their work assiduously but vainly for any hint of criticism of their hosts!”

Is the UN reliable?, he asked.

“Largely so, because it is so leaky that when reports are doctored, word leaks out and there are 193 missions checking for bias and rushing in with corrections”, said Williams, a former UN correspondent for The Nation, and author of Rum: A Social and Sociable History of the Real Spirit of 1776; The Deserter: Bush’s War on Military Families, Veterans and His Past; The Alms Trade; and The UN For Beginners.

Solomon, of the Institute for Public Accuracy, told IPS that in every society, there is a vital need for ongoing truth-telling that can make democracy real as the informed consent of the governed.

Right now, in the United States, Russia and China, and scores of other nations, people at the top of the governmental and economic power structures are eager to gain and maintain the uninformed acquiescence of the ruled.

“No matter how different the social, political and media systems may be, journalists face the challenge of overcoming the overt or tacit censorship efforts by government, corporate owners or wealthy individuals. The imperative goal is to make good on the potential of press freedom,” declared Solomon.

Meanwhile, a Joint Declaration by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, David Kaye, along with his counterparts from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the Organization of American States (OAS), and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), reads: “Fake news” has emerged as a global topic of concern and there is a risk that efforts to counter it could lead to censorship, the suppression of critical thinking and other approaches contrary to human rights law.”

“In this Joint Declaration, we identify general principles that should apply to any efforts to deal with these issues,” said a statement released in March.

The Declaration identifies the applicable human rights standards, encourages the promotion of diversity and plurality in the media, and emphasizes the particular roles played by digital intermediaries, as well as journalists and media outlets.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

The post “Fake News” a Growing New Threat to Press Freedom appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

The post “Fake News” a Growing New Threat to Press Freedom appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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World Press Freedom Day 2018http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/world-press-freedom-day-2018/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-press-freedom-day-2018 http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/world-press-freedom-day-2018/#respond Wed, 25 Apr 2018 13:08:05 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155456 The theme for the 25th celebration of World Press Freedom Day is “Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and The Rule of Law,” focussing on the importance of an enabling legal environment for press freedom, and gives attention to the role of an independent judiciary in ensuring legal guarantees for press freedom and prosecution of crimes […]

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World Press Freedom Day 2018

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Apr 25 2018 (IPS)

The theme for the 25th celebration of World Press Freedom Day is “Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and The Rule of Law,” focussing on the importance of an enabling legal environment for press freedom, and gives attention to the role of an independent judiciary in ensuring legal guarantees for press freedom and prosecution of crimes against journalists..

Only 13% of the world population enjoys a free press, where coverage of politics is robust, the safety of journalists is guarateed, and state intrusion in media affairs is minimal. A partly free press to 42% of the world population. The remaining 45% lives in countries where a free press is non-existent (“New Report: Freedom of the Press 2017”). Political and economic transformations of some countries alongside their technological developments place new restrictions on press freedom.

 

 

Governments of these countries tend to implement restrictive laws and censorship on freedom of press, usually justifying these actions as a necessary tool for national security against terrorism. Apart from violating the right of freedom of expression, these restrictions place higher risks of violence, harassment and death on journalists.

Since the year 2000, annual incarceration of journalists has continued to increase globally, with many of them never seeing the inside of a courtroom.  In 2017, 81 journalists died whilst committed to their jobs – 66% of them were murdered.

According to the 2017 World Press Freedom Index, violence and restrictions against media freedom has risen by 14% in the time period of 2012-2017. At the same time, since 2016, media freedom in countries where it was ranked as “good” decreased by 2.3%.

Among the countries that suffered the largest declines on the report’s 100-point scale in 2016 were Poland (6 points), Turkey (5), Burundi (5), Hungary (4), Bolivia (4), Serbia (4), and the Democratic Republic of Congo (4).

The world’s 10 worst-rated countries and territories were Azerbaijan, Crimea, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Syria and Turkmenistan.

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Authoritarian Govts Tighten Grip on Press Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/authoritarian-govts-tighten-grip-press-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=authoritarian-govts-tighten-grip-press-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/authoritarian-govts-tighten-grip-press-freedom/#respond Sun, 22 Apr 2018 11:39:30 +0000 Sopho Kharazi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155386 The 25th celebration of World Press Freedom Day will be led by UNESCO and the government of Ghana in Accra on May 2-3. The theme is “Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and The Rule of Law,” covering the issues of media in respect to the judicial system and transparent political processes. At the same time, […]

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

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

By Sopho Kharazi
ROME, Apr 22 2018 (IPS)

The 25th celebration of World Press Freedom Day will be led by UNESCO and the government of Ghana in Accra on May 2-3. The theme is “Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and The Rule of Law,” covering the issues of media in respect to the judicial system and transparent political processes.

At the same time, the conference will discuss state institutions’ accountability towards their citizens.

• Politicians in democratic states launched or escalated efforts to shape news coverage by delegitimizing media outlets, exerting political influence over public broadcasters, and raising the profile of friendly private outlets.

• Officials in more authoritarian settings such as Turkey, Ethiopia, and Venezuela used political or social unrest as a pretext to intensify crackdowns on independent or opposition-oriented outlets.

• Authorities in several countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and Asia extended restrictive laws to online speech, or simply shut down telecommunications services at crucial moments, such as before elections or during protests.

• Among the countries that suffered the largest declines on the report’s 100-point scale in 2016 were Poland (6 points), Turkey (5), Burundi (5), Hungary (4), Bolivia (4), Serbia (4), and the Democratic Republic of Congo (4).

• The world’s 10 worst-rated countries and territories were Azerbaijan, Crimea, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Syria and Turkmenistan

The day takes place in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015, which includes 17 goals for achieving sustainable development for all, including ending inequalities between men and women. Among the goals, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 focuses on promoting just, peaceful and inclusive societies.

Peace, justice and strong institutions allow for good governance as well as other sustainable development efforts to thrive, facilitated further by an independent and enabling media environment.

Today, the number of countries with right to information laws is steadily increasing. The international normative framework regarding the safety of journalists, and particularly women journalists, has been significantly bolstered through the adoption of resolutions at the UN General Assembly, Security Council, Human Rights Council and UNESCO, and there is greater recognition of the right to privacy.

Still, according to Freedom House, a free press is accessible to only 13% of the world population and a partly free press to 42% of the world population. The remaining 45% lives in countries where a free press is non-existent (“New Report: Freedom of the Press 2017”). Political and economic transformations of some countries alongside their technological developments place new restrictions on press freedom.

Governments of these countries tend to implement restrictive laws and censorship on freedom of press, usually justifying these actions as a necessary tool for national security against terrorism. Apart from violating the right of freedom of expression, these restrictions place higher risks of violence, harassment and death on journalists.

According to the 2017 World Press Freedom Index, violence and restrictions against media freedom has risen by 14% in the time period of 2012-2017. At the same time, since 2016, media freedom in countries where it was ranked as “good” decreased by 2.3%.

The level of restriction on press freedom has been one of the highest in MENA countries such as Syria. Even though article 43 of Syria’s Constitution guarantees freedom of the press while a 2011 media law bans monopolistic media alongside with “the arrest, questioning, or searching of journalists,” these laws are not practiced in the government-held areas of the country. According to the media law, publication of any information on armed forces and spread of information that might affect national security and provoke “hate crimes” is forbidden in Syria. In case of violating this law, journalists are held accountable and fined with 1 million Syrian pounds ($4,600).

At the same time, despite the fact that article 3 of the media law guarantees freedom of expression as stated in the Syrian Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 4 of the same law declares that the media must practice this freedom with “awareness and responsibility”.

Consequently, this broad wording allows the Syrian government to restrict press freedom in multiple ways and in case of disobedience, punish journalists for anti-state crimes. For instance, in December 2016, the government imprisoned seven Syrian journalists through security-related legislation and used torture to receive their confession.

From the political perspective, Syrian authorities spread propaganda and false information while forcefully restricting publication of news in the government-controlled areas. Distribution of “all printed material” has been led by the General Corporation for the Distribution of Publications, responsible for censorship in Syria. This, alongside the economic problems caused by war, has decreased media diversity in the government-controlled area, leaving only a few dozen print publications which rarely deal with the political issues.

From the economic perspective, most of the print publications are owned by the government-allied businessmen who also control editorial policy. This, on the other hand, intensifies the problem of the non-existent free press in Syria.

However, despite this fact, in the opposition-controlled territory new print and broadcast outlets have emerged, funded by volunteers and some of them based abroad. For instance, the opposition TV channel – Orient TV owned by Ghassan Aboud, an exiled Syrian entrepreneur – broadcasts from Dubai while having correspondents in Syria.

According to Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House, “when politicians lambaste the media, it encourages their counterparts abroad to do the same…[undermining] democracy’s status as a model of press freedom.”

The case of Syria demonstrates how the absence of press freedom and an independent judiciary triggers development of authoritarian governments. The “just, effective and independent judiciary” is a base for an effective rule of law which builds a strong democratic system, guaranteeing the right of freedom of information, expression and safety of journalists.

This, on the other hand, provides free press that is compulsory for representing political will and needs of people, and for establishing good governance. Press freedom allows journalists to monitor and report about the on-going events taking place in different sectors of the state. As a result, this makes it possible to hold governments accountable towards their people and helps to accomplish the 2030 agenda of Sustainable Development Goals.

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Keeping Power in Check – Media, Justice and the Rule of Lawhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/keeping-power-check-media-justice-rule-law/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=keeping-power-check-media-justice-rule-law http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/keeping-power-check-media-justice-rule-law/#respond Tue, 17 Apr 2018 14:02:58 +0000 Alison Small http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155311 Alison Small is a communications expert and a former United Nations official.

 
This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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Newspaper kiosk in Istanbul's Kadiköy district. Credit: Joris Leverink/IPS

By Alison Small
NAPIER, New Zealand, Apr 17 2018 (IPS)

Rarely has the press been as powerful as it is today. Thanks to the advent of social media, the use of which has grown exponentially, the combination of the formal press, newspapers, television and radio is now strengthened, and itself even kept in check by social media. Jo and Joanne citizen have found a voice, not infrequently with the power of a political and social tsunami.

Alison Small

What does this mean for the greater good? Is this helpful to governments to have so much feedback, so quickly?

The role of global policeman has changed from one powerful government or several governments to what used to be called the Fourth Estate, the press frequently on the back of social media.

In many developed and developing countries public opinion has rarely been so vocal, gone are the days of the so called silent masses.

From the Arab spring to the near independence of Catalonia, the plight of Rohingha refugees to name just a few, the negative effects of climate change, the driving force has been the voices of ordinary people, fleshed out by effectively 24-hour analysis by news agencies, newspapers, blogs and just about anyone with access to the internet.

This new role of public opinion is weighty, often meaning that the weight of opinion can condemn before due process has had a chance to examine both sides of an argument.

At this point it is up to the media to step in and to try to analyse with some objectivity the groundswell from so many voices pronouncing on an event or events. It means that only the most determined governments, those determined to censor or limit both traditional and social media, can make laws without the huge onslaught of public opinion holding sway.

We need the media to raise awareness to help governments create, regulate and enforce laws but we also need to ensure that uninformed opinion does not dominate and cause as much if not more harm than is already possible at the government level.

That said, the latest scandal that has hit social media giant Facebook and the abuse of data provided by users, whether voluntary or involuntary, means that the integrity of social media platforms is now heavily in question.

On the other hand, the formal media come into their own at this point as newspaper, TV and radio revel in a blow by blow analysis of the problems facing the governance and security of social media, thus the press versus the informal press creates a degree of self regulation.

Facebook is now obligated by the US and other governments to provide more security to users. Thus even the social media has its own checks and balances. Whether they will be sufficient to self-regulate in the future will depend on how vigilant users are themselves and the ethics of the platform administrators, owners and big business which through advertising keeps social media alive.

The fact remains that despite actual and potential abuses of press freedom to influence voters and the public in general or governments to change policies or address issues, we have effectively gone too far to turn back.

More to the point, with political parties everywhere dependent on their ability to influence voters through their appeal to the media and more lately social media, or for that matter, the public to lobby governments and or the private sector to raise awareness about anything from politics to environmental, social and health issues, we rely on the media to convey information, whether the traditional media or social media platforms.

The real issue is whether or not the media at large has sufficient ability to self-regulate or has it already spiralled out of control in terms of influencing opinion, be it about the evils of unlimited plastic consumption or mass migration, to bringing down governments and major private interests.

We need the media to raise awareness to help governments create, regulate and enforce laws but we also need to ensure that uninformed opinion does not dominate and cause as much if not more harm than is already possible at the government level.

If we limit the power of social media, we are limiting citizens’ rights to make their voices heard and yet in all things a degree of control is needed. Can we therefore trust those who would undertake such controls not to go too far so that social media, as has happened with the traditional media, is not used as a weapon in itself. This is the dilemma that Facebook is confronting, the outcome of that debate will be the ultimate litmus test for scial media, and in a sense for traditional media as well.

The post Keeping Power in Check – Media, Justice and the Rule of Law appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Alison Small is a communications expert and a former United Nations official.

 
This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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Getting Away with Murder in Slovakiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/getting-away-murder-slovakia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=getting-away-murder-slovakia http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/getting-away-murder-slovakia/#comments Mon, 16 Apr 2018 00:57:17 +0000 Ed Holt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155283 This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

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World Press Freedom Day: A protester in the Slovak capital, Bratislava holds up a picture of murdered journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova. Hundreds of thousands of people took part in protests across the country in the weeks after the killing, eventually forcing the resignation of the Prime Minister and Interior Minister. Credit: Ed Holt/IPS

A protester in the Slovak capital, Bratislava holds up a picture of murdered journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova. Hundreds of thousands of people took part in protests across the country in the weeks after the killing, eventually forcing the resignation of the Prime Minister and Interior Minister. Credit: Ed Holt/IPS

By Ed Holt
BRATISLAVA, Apr 16 2018 (IPS)

Sitting in a cafe in the Slovak capital, Bratislava, Zuzana Petkova admits that like many other investigative journalists in the country today, she is scared.

She explains how she and colleagues investigating possible links between the country’s politicians, businessmen and the Italian mafia, have started using special methods to remain as anonymous as possible in their work – encrypting emails, using anonymous communication groups and foregoing bylines, among others.“The rising authoritarianism and illiberalism of countries, such as Poland and Hungary for example, will lead to more censorship and, in the long term, increase the likelihood of violence.” --Ilya Lozovsky

She recalls how just days before she had been walking down a dimly-lit alley when she heard footsteps behind her and turned to see a man in a hooded top walking towards her. Scared, she froze until he had walked past her and she realized he was just a passerby.

Until a few weeks ago, Petkova, a well-known investigative journalist at the Slovak current affairs and news weekly ‘Trend’, would probably not have paid any attention to the footsteps.

A seasoned reporter – “I’ve been through a few things,” she says – she has been taken to court numerous times, had the country’s serious crime squad investigate her, and had anonymous threats made to her in the past. However, she has brushed all these off with little real fear for herself.

But the murder in late February of her some-time colleague Jan Kuciak, and his fiancée, Martina Kusnirova, both 27, at Kuciak’s home in Velka Maca, 40 miles east of Bratislava, changed things.

Across Central Europe, media watchdogs have pointed to an alarming erosion in press freedom in recent years, highlighting how governments in some countries have used legislation, takeovers and shutdowns of media outlets, criminal libel cases, crippling fines and repeated denigration of media and individual journalists to silence critics.

In Slovakia, investigative journalists had got used to what some dub ‘psychological’ pressure from the government in the form of repeated police hearings and court summonses over articles into corruption, as well as public attacks on their integrity.

But few had really thought that anyone would use physical force to try and stop them doing their work. After Kuciak’s murder, they fear that may no longer be the case.

“None of us ever thought something like this would happen. Doing investigative journalism, there’s always some kind of risk, I knew that. But it’s only now that I, that all of us doing it, are fully aware of it,” she tells IPS.

At the time of his death, Kuciak had been working on a story about the links between the ‘Ndrangheta mafia and people in Smer, the senior party in the governing coalition. In the days after the killing, there was feverish speculation about mafia or political involvement in the murder and that it had been carried out as a clear warning to other journalists.

Investigating police say they are working on the assumption the killing was connected to Kuciak’s work.

But while local journalists have their own varied theories about who may have been behind the murder, they largely agree that years of government hostility towards journalists and public attacks on critical media may have emboldened the killers.

Just after the murder, the Slovak Section of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) released a statement saying the killing had been “a dire consequence of the climate engendered by systematic long-term aggressive verbal attacks on journalists by various leading state representatives“.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, who was forced to resign in a political crisis in the wake of the murder, had repeatedly insulted and criticised journalists while in office. Just last year he was attacked by international press watchdogs for labelling local journalists “dirty, anti-Slovak prostitutes” and only days after Kuciak’s murder publicly insulted one of the dead journalist’s colleagues.

Ilya Lozovsky, Managing Editor of the international investigative reporting platform, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), told IPS the problem of hostile rhetoric against journalists should not be underestimated.

He said: “When a politician publicly mocks or threatens journalists, often other actors will take things into their own hands, without the government having to do anything. Russia is well known for this – various independent actors -(individuals, institutions – will often do something as a ‘gift’ to Putin, without him having to direct anything himself. Journalists and opposition leaders are often killed this way.”

Worryingly, verbal attacks and other intimidation of journalists by politicians are far from uncommon in other parts of Central Europe, especially in countries with governments widely seen as populist, increasingly authoritarian, and corrupt.

In Hungary, critics say that since coming to power in 2010, the government led by populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban has taken a tight grip on the media, using legislation, taxes on independent media and takeovers and forced closures of opposition media outlets to silence critics.

After a political rally last summer at which Orban spoke of the need to “battle” local media outlets which he said were actively working against his party, government-friendly media launched a campaign against individual journalists, publishing lists of reporters who had been critical of the government and denigrating them and their work.

Local journalism associations said the list was reminiscent of the practices under the communist regime.

In Poland, where since the ruling conservative Law and Justice Party (PiS) came to power in 2015 the country’s ranking in Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index has plummeted from 18 to 54 out of 180, local journalists have spoken of facing unprecedented state pressure.

The PiS has issued reporters with threats of legal action, cut off their access to some officials, taken control of public media, and cut advertising and subscriptions to various news publications. Some Polish journalists also believe they are being spied on by state security agencies.

Meanwhile, Czech President Milos Zeman has never tried to hide his antipathy for journalists. He has sparked controversy with comments likening journalists to animals, jokingly calling for them to be “liquidated” during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and appearing at a press conference last October soon after investigative journalist Daphne Galizia was killed in Malta with a Kalashnikov and the words “for journalists” written on it.

Recent comments accusing public broadcaster CT of bias also infuriated many, prompting thousands of Czechs to join street protests demanding he respect journalists.

The attacks are not, though, simply politicians getting angry with critics, experts say.

Drew Sullivan, Editor at the OCCRP, told IPS: “Populist and nationalist politicians like those who run Slovakia and the Czech Republic do not like journalists acting as watchdogs.

“They’ve learned from [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and others that the best way to deal with them is to publicly blame the journalists, attack them, demean them and try to undermine their credibility.”

Corruption scandals are far from uncommon across the region and the links between government corruption and intimidation of those trying to expose it are clear, says Lozovsky.

“As a government grows more authoritarian and secretive, journalists come under more pressure. At the same time, that government will almost always become less accountable to its people and more corrupt. When it becomes more corrupt, there will be greater entanglement with organized crime, and when a corrupt government has connections with organized crime, that’s when the threat of physical violence against journalists starts to grow.

“Both Jan Kuciak and Daphne Galizia were working on the same theme – the nexus between corrupt politics and organized crime. This is no coincidence. When criminals ‘buy’ politicians, they feel more empowered to intimidate and attack journalists because they feel immune from the consequences. “

And he warned: “The rising authoritarianism and illiberalism of countries, such as Poland and Hungary for example, will lead to more censorship and, in the long term, increase the likelihood of violence.”

In Slovakia, investigative journalists are determined to continue their work, despite having to operate in a new climate of fear. Petkova says some journalists considered walking away from the profession after the killing and while none have left yet, many had considered police protection.

However, issues of trust between journalists and police have complicated matters.

There is a widespread perception among the Slovak public that police and other justice institutions are endemically corrupt. Indeed, the mass protests across the country after Kuciak was killed and which eventually forced Fico out of office were driven in large part by the fact many felt the murder would never be investigated properly as any links between the killers and government would be covered up by politically-nominated senior police chiefs.

After Kuciak was killed, it emerged that he had contacted police over a threat made to him by a local businessman with links to the government. Kuciak had said in a Facebook post months after contacting them that the police never investigated.

And Petkova is adamant that the perception of a corrupt or politically-influenced police executive may have prompted the killers to act. “They probably came to the conclusion that they could get away with anything and that they’d get away with this murder,” she says.

Sullivan questioned what effect this has on local journalists’ willingness to approach police for either protection or giving up information to investigators in sensitive criminal cases.

“Many journalists know that elements of their governments are protecting criminal groups, drug traffickers, arms traffickers and others. Nobody knows who is on whose side. The Slovak government is corrupt and has been corrupt. There are many Eastern European and Balkan criminals operating out of Bratislava and the police do nothing.  [A journalist] cannot feel safe in that environment,” he said.

While a new government has been appointed in Slovakia, journalists hold little hope of any improvement in politicians’ approach to them. The new Prime Minister, Peter Pelligrini, was directly appointed by his predecessor, who will now head the ruling Smer party.

Juraj Porubsky, former Editor in Chief of the Slovak daily Pravda, told IPS: “Will politicians treat journalists better after this? No, why would they?”

Meanwhile, as the investigation into Kuciak’s murder continues, Slovak journalists are sceptical anyone will be brought to justice for the killing.

“I don’t think it will ever be properly investigated,” Petkova says, shaking her head sadly. “I don’t think Jan’s killer will ever be found.”

The post Getting Away with Murder in Slovakia appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

The post Getting Away with Murder in Slovakia appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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