Inter Press ServicePress Freedom – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 23 Oct 2018 09:14:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.7 Don’t “Whitewash” Khashoggi’s Murderhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/10/dont-whitewash-khashoggis-murder/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dont-whitewash-khashoggis-murder http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/10/dont-whitewash-khashoggis-murder/#respond Fri, 19 Oct 2018 08:50:18 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158257 In the midst of international outrage over the alleged murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, human rights groups have called for a United Nations investigation into the incident. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Reporters Without Borders joined efforts to appeal for an independent investigation into the alleged torture […]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SOURCE: LINKEDIN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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

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

By Stella Paul
HYDERBAD, Sep 28 2018 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Digital security breeding insecurity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• 11 cases of attempted kidnapping or abduction,

• 39 illegal detention and arrest,

• 58 physical assault and vandalism,

• and 23 occurrences of verbal and written threats.

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

 

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

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

By Wambi Michael
KAMPALA, Sep 27 2018 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smale explained the reasons behind Lee’s pass withdrawal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A minimum jail sentence of 12 months

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

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

This is what the law states:

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

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

Terrified of saying something wrong online

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A challenge to Tanzania’s freedom of expression

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

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

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

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

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

Last year alone, three newspapers were suspended:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uganda just as repressive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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.

The post Steady Old Hand of Repression Seeks to Strangle New Media in East Africa appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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.

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

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