Inter Press Service » Press Freedom http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sat, 30 Apr 2016 10:54:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.10 Violence Against Women Journalists Threatens Media Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/violence-against-women-journalists-threatens-media-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=violence-against-women-journalists-threatens-media-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/violence-against-women-journalists-threatens-media-freedom/#comments Thu, 28 Apr 2016 19:38:18 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144892 A journalist from Radio Bundelkhand in India conducts an interview. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

However, many do not report their cases.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Farhana Haque Rahman

Farhana Haque Rahman

The news is constant and disheartening.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(End)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not just murders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The writer is a journalist and activist.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos: Courtesy

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

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

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

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

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

Photos: Courtesy

Photos: Courtesy


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

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

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

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

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

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(End)

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Every Day Is a Good Day to Hear More Women in the Mediahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/every-day-is-a-good-day-to-hear-more-women-in-the-media/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=every-day-is-a-good-day-to-hear-more-women-in-the-media http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/every-day-is-a-good-day-to-hear-more-women-in-the-media/#comments Mon, 07 Mar 2016 22:14:16 +0000 Farhana Haque Rahman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144102 By Farhana Haque Rahman, Director General, Inter Press Service
ROME, Mar 7 2016 (IPS)

On International Women’s Day newspapers and radio shows are filled with women’s voices. Yet too often the media’s attention is fleeting.

These are the best of times, but without a doubt also the worst of times, for journalism and journalists – especially women in the media.

Farhana Haque Rahman

Farhana Haque Rahman

According to the Global Media Monitoring Project, women still account for only 24 percent of the people “heard or read about in print, radio and television news across the world.”

Or as women’s media organisation Foreign Policy Interrupted have put it: “a woman over 65 is less likely to be cited as an expert in the media (than) a boy in the 13 to 18 age group.”

Hearing women in the media is not just about who is holding the notebook and voice recorder. Journalists also need to think about who they quote in their articles.

IPS is proud to have an editorial policy of deliberately seeking quotes from women on all topics, not just on topics that have traditionally been considered “women’s issues”.

For those women who are journalists, many face violence and harassment even as they go about their daily work. Two-thirds of more than 900 women journalists surveyed by the International Women’s Media Foundation said they had experienced some kind of threat or abuse – often by male colleagues. We all should take a deep breath.

More than one in five of the women media professionals asked said that they had experienced physical violence in relation to their work – the majority of these described it as sexual in nature – and government officials, police and apparently random people in crowds were cited as frequent perpetrators.

IPS applauds the efforts of UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova and Christiane Amanpour, the high-profile CNN correspondent who is now serving as UNESCO’s Goodwill Ambassador on freedom of Expression and Journalist Safety, on their campaign to stamp out the most existential threats to female journalists.

Yet any gains made in bringing women’s voices to the fore in the media are threatened when the news industry itself is put under pressure.

The sector is already in a commercial pinch, reducing resources available for reporters to provide their watchdog function. On top of that, there is a sense of growing censorship, taking different forms in different parts of the world.

Press freedom isn’t threatened only by violence. Esteemed scholar Partha Chatterjee denounced what he called a “McCarthyite era” wave in India. Journalists have been killed or intimidated in countries across the globe, and many deliberately avoid reporting on their nemeses. And the bad winds aren’t blowing only in developing countries. A U.S. presidential candidate fanned the flame of our concern last month when he suggested changing libel laws to make it easier to “win money” from journalists by suing them.

Free speech is widely believed to be a public good. But it is also “the most complex and controversial right,” in the recent words of Irene Khan, head of the International Development Law Organization (IDLO). It may not be an absolute right but it is one that is intimately tied up with what Khan called “the right to hear.”

We have a right to hear diverse voices and particularly women’s voices in the media every day. We – including we journalists – also have a responsibility to listen.

(End)

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Free Speech and Free Media: Help or Hindrance to Development? / Part 2http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/free-speech-and-free-media-help-or-hindrance-to-development-part-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=free-speech-and-free-media-help-or-hindrance-to-development-part-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/free-speech-and-free-media-help-or-hindrance-to-development-part-2/#comments Fri, 26 Feb 2016 19:01:10 +0000 Irene Khan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144013 IPS is publishing in two parts, the statement delivered by Irene Khan, IDLO Director-General at the 25TH Anniversary celebration of The Daily Star Bangladesh in Dhaka on February 8, 2016 ]]>

IPS is publishing in two parts, the statement delivered by Irene Khan, IDLO Director-General at the 25TH Anniversary celebration of The Daily Star Bangladesh in Dhaka on February 8, 2016

By Irene Khan
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Feb 26 2016 (IPS)

The second part: the relevance of free speech and free media to development. Freedom is the central object of development, says Amartya Sen. He argues that development cannot simply be seen as GNP or industrialization or social modernization.

Irene Khan

Irene Khan

Economic growth and social development are valuable but their value lies in what they do to the lives and freedom of the people involved. In Prof. Sen’s view, development is about the expansion of people’s freedom.

That is today increasingly becoming the international definition of development. Unlike the MDGs that dwelt solely on social indicators, the SDGs contained in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by the UN in September last year, talk about equality, equity, transparency and accountability.

During the negotiations at the UN on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development one of the most hard-fought battles was on Goal 16 which is essentially about the rule of law and good governance. Media freedom was one of the elements that many western countries wanted to include in Goal 16. After much debate, it was dropped. Nevertheless Goal 16 is a game changer. It includes public access to information, democratic participation, legal identity, access to justice and the rule of law. It is a clear acknowledgement that development and freedom are indeed inseparable.

The International Development Law Organization which I now head is a strong champion of Goal 16 – because we believe that development cannot be sustained nor be sustainable without justice and human rights.

Speech is a fundamental part of being human. Freedom of speech is essential for our spirit and our soul. That is the ultimate message of the Language Movement.

But freedom of speech – and especially freedom of the press – has also instrumental value as well as intrinsic value.

There is much anecdotal and empirical research to show that when poor people have a voice, when they are informed, when they are able to organize, speak out and take part in decisions affecting their lives and livelihoods, they are able to overcome the deprivation, exclusion and insecurity that are the hallmarks of poverty. In that process they regain their dignity and sense of self-worth.

By “voice” I do not mean only the right to speak out. I mean the right to information about the development choices that are available, including how public funds are being spent. Just as you need an investment friendly climate for economic growth, you need a voice-enabling environment for development. Such an environment is created when there is a free and vibrant press that permits the unhindered flow of information and the unencumbered debate of ideas.

Empirical evidence shows that information and participation of people lead to better development outcomes. Real participation occurs only when civil society can work without pressure, the press is not controlled and people are free to express dissident views.

Free media is good not only for people but also for governments. It directly benefits government policies by providing information on what is really happening, so that governments can adjust policies or correct any mistakes. Prof. Amartya Sen’s study of famines has shown that because of censorship Chinese officials were not aware of the full extent of the famines during Mao’s times, or even of how much grain they had. They massively miscalculated the figures – and millions of lives were lost.

For those who admire the Chinese model of economic development, it would be salutary to remember that lack of transparency has compounded China’s policy mistakes on numerous occasions, for instance about the spread of HIV/AIDS, or the use of melamine in baby food, or about control of air and water pollution. Because the government punishes harshly those who criticize its policies and practices, official corruption and corporate malpractices are not often reported until the scandal can no longer be hidden – and usually by then, considerable harm has been done.

Censorship can keep the government as well as citizens in the dark. When people are kept in the dark, there is little incentive on the part of the authorities to take corrective action. As Prof. Sen has pointed out, it is no mere coincidence that famines have rarely occurred in flourishing democracies.

Public discussion and debate is essential not only for making government more responsive but also society more open, changing attitudes and creating new social norms – for instance to fight gender-based violence, to promote pro-poor policies, to be more environmentally conscious. A free press can open the space for public debate, and can help to form public opinion.

Information is a powerful vector of change. That is why the global Right to Information Movement is so important and has dramatically shifted the burden of accountability in many developing countries. I am told by those working on RTI issues that the law is empowering the poor, making them active and empowered citizens. RTI legislation has been a powerful tool for media in developed countries, for instance it forced the UK government to release information on arms sales to Saudi Arabia that revealed large scale corruption. In Bangladesh RTI seems to be more a tool for citizens, rather than the media.

I fear we do not value our media freedom enough. Indeed, most people, especially poor people, do not care much about democracy and freedom when things are going well.

I read in the local papers that a recent survey has shown that most people in Bangladesh value economic growth over democracy and freedom. When things are going well, that is a common finding not just in this country but in many others. It is when the economy falters and unemployment falls that people come out on the streets, as we have seen in recent years in countries like Egypt or Tunisian or even in western countries like the ones that took place on Wall Street. That is when people begin to value free media.

The stability that we are enjoying now is making us complacent about our freedoms, including our media freedom, but there are grey clouds on the economic horizon – the price of oil falling, conflict and instability in the Middle East, China’s growth figures stalling, and many such factors – that could make us soon more aware of the value of transparency and accountability, public debate and a free press.

The digital age has created a greater awareness of the power of communication. It has made journalists and readers out of all us as we tweet, go on Facebook and You-Tube, or blog. We are all tasting the power of the media in our own ways, and with power comes responsibility and accountability.

Media today is more powerful than ever before. Like all forms of power, it must also be held to account. I am sure we can all tell stories of poor reporting, or unfair invasion of privacy, and false attribution. No matter how independent newspapers are rarely seen to be neutral. The private ownership of media can also be a source of concern, especially when much of it is concentrated in the hands of a few.

The answer to the power of the media is not to censor or seek regulation but to expand the media – encourage more papers, broader ownership, more free press, not less. Let us trust the reader to choose his or her paper, just as the voter chooses his or her government.

Freedom of the net and the press thrives on competition and confrontation – let’s accept

In a democracy, free expression allows citizens to challenge political leaders, journalists to uncover information for the public, and the public to ensure the accountability of their government. Without free media and free speech, there can be no development or democracy. That is why in the end, the power of the press always overcomes the power to suppress.

The International Development Law Organization (IDLO) enables governments and empowers people to reform laws and strengthen institutions to promote peace, justice, sustainable development and economic opportunity.

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Free Speech and Free Media: Help or Hindrance to Development? / Part 1http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/free-speech-and-free-media-help-or-hindrance-to-development-part-1-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=free-speech-and-free-media-help-or-hindrance-to-development-part-1-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/free-speech-and-free-media-help-or-hindrance-to-development-part-1-2/#comments Thu, 25 Feb 2016 16:43:24 +0000 Irene Khan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143996 IPS is publishing in two parts, the statement delivered by Irene Khan, IDLO Director-General at the 25TH Anniversary celebration of The Daily Star Bangladesh in Dhaka on February 8, 2016 ]]>

IPS is publishing in two parts, the statement delivered by Irene Khan, IDLO Director-General at the 25TH Anniversary celebration of The Daily Star Bangladesh in Dhaka on February 8, 2016

By Irene Khan
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Feb 25 2016 (IPS)

The greatness of a newspaper is not measured by the size of its readership but by its influence and credibility. That is why the New York Times or the Guardian are better known and more respected than the tabloids in their respective countries with ten times their circulation. Like those broadsheets, The Daily Star too strives for quality over circulation, influence over income and credibility over sensationalism.

Irene Khan

Irene Khan

I have chosen to speak today about freedom of expression and free media and the value they bring to democracy and development.

February is the month in which we mark our Language Movement and recall the martyrs and activists who marched to establish Bangla, our mother tongue, as our national language. But their demand was not simply for a language, it was a demand for voice, for free speech, for freedom. They paid for freedom with blood – can we preserve that freedom with courage today?

Of all human rights, freedom of speech is possibly the most complex and controversial right. We all love our own right to free speech, but many of us change our minds about how free speech should be when those with whom we disagree begin to talk.

Freedom of speech is not an absolute right and so drawing boundaries raise many dilemmas, never more so than right now with religious intolerance on the rise, political dissent under pressure, and greater technological possibilities than ever before to access, process and disseminate information.

I want to focus on two questions:

• how absolute is freedom of expression, in other words what are the limits of free speech?

• how relevant is freedom of expression, in other words what value does it bring to democracy and development?

I will examine both questions from the global as well as local perspectives. There is much for Bangladesh to learn from what is happening elsewhere.

On Friday, Professor. Yunus began his speech by invoking the image of Paris, with millions of activists marching during the recent Climate Conference. I too begin with the image of millions of people marching in Paris – not last December but in January, 2015, days after the violent killings at the office of Charlie Hebdo – a satirical French weekly – in which 8 journalists, including 4 cartoonists and the editor were shot dead by extremists linked to ISIS. Over 3.7 million people, including President Hollande of France and other top European leaders, marched through the center of Paris, vowing to protect the right of people to think what they wish and speak what they think, without fear or favor.

That was a year ago. Since then there have been more attacks and killings in Paris, and other cities in Europe and the U.S., as well as other parts of the world, from Bamako to Jakarta, not excluding the targeted killings in this country of bloggers, foreign aid workers and religious minorities.

Fear is stalking freedom, once again, as it did in the early part of this century. France has introduced a new surveillance law, and extended its state of emergency. Security laws are being tightened in a number of countries in ways that infringe free speech and access to information. Twitter has suspended some 125,000 accounts. The U.S. Presidential hopeful, Donald Trump has threatened to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S. Around the world fundamentalist beliefs about blasphemy and secular beliefs about democracy and freedom are clashing head on, creating tensions among communities and countries. Many people are saying: “I believe in freedom of expression but…” Salman Rushdie has called them the “but brigade.”

As we mull over that precious gift of democracy – our right to speak freely – and as each country and each of us considers what is permissible, feasible or advisable, it is worth taking a quick look at what history has to say about free speech.

It is commonly said that free speech is an essential pillar of democracy – but it was not quite so clear in ancient Greece, the cradle of democracy. The Greek epic poet Homer supported free expression, but Solon, the first great lawmaker of Athens, banned what he described as “speaking evil against the living and the dead.” Pericles, the leader of democratic Athens, extolled freedom of speech but after the defeat of Athens by Sparta in the Peloponnesian Wars, the Athenian Assembly ordered Socrates to drink poison as punishment for lecturing about unrecognized gods and encouraging young men to question authority.

Censorship was a common practice in Europe for centuries and became even stronger in the sixteenth century after the invention of the printing press which allowed books and papers to be printed challenging the Church and the State. In 1559, the Vatican produced the Congregation of the Index – a long list of banned books that were considered to be heretical. It included Nicolaus Copernicus’ De revolutioni bis orbium coelestium (The revolution of the heavenly spheres, 1543) which challenged the belief of the Catholic Church that the Earth was stationary. The great scientist Galileo Galilei was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Vatican because he confirmed Copernicus’s theories of planetary motion around the Sun. Galileo’s sentence was commuted to house arrest without any visitors only after he knelt before the Pope to recant his belief in Copernican theory. Galileo’s punishment, his recantation and the banning of his books set back scientific research by a hundred years.

During the Reformation, Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I banned all publications that were opposed to the Church of England and invoked the Court of Star Chamber (that bypassed the regular English Courts, rather like our special courts) – the purpose of the Star Chamber was to prosecute “slander.”

After the Star Chamber was abolished in 1637, the British Parliament introduced a censorship law called the Licensing Act. It was against that Act, that John Milton wrote his famous political essay Areopagitica in1644, as a defense of free expression. To paraphrase his essay in one sentence: “Truth is most likely to emerge in a free and open encounter.”

Milton was followed by other thinkers of the Enlightenment like Voltaire who promoted freedom of thought and expression and most importantly, the notion of tolerance through wit and political satire. Voltaire’s beliefs can effectively be summed up as, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Sweden became the first European country to abolish censorship in 1766, followed by Denmark and Norway in 1770. In France, the Declaration of the Rights of Man, adopted after the French Revolution, included not only the right to free speech but also the right to own a printing press!

Shortly after that, came American Independence and the U.S. Constitution with its Bill of Rights. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution embodies to this day the strongest guarantee of free speech and secularism in the world:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The struggle for freedom and civil rights, including free speech, continued through the nineteenth century. John Mills’ work, On Liberty, published in 1859, became a classic defense of the right to freedom of expression. Mills argued that without human freedom and free discussion there could be no progress in science, law or politics.

While all this was happening in the West, our part of the world was being colonized by the British Empire, with the law introducing one restriction after another. The titles speak for themselves:

First Censorship Law (1799); Censorship Law Modifications (1813); Regulations for Registration (1823); Metcalfe’s Act of 1835 (Registration of the Press Act); New Regulations on Printing Presses (1857); Indian Penal Code (1860); Press and Registration Act 1867; Vernacular Press Act (1878); Criminal Procedure Code (1898); Newspapers (Incitement to Offences) Act (1908); Indian Press Act (1910); Official Secrets Act (1923); and Indian Press (Emergency Power) (1931).

It was not until after the Second World War, and the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations in 1948 that freedom of speech came to be seen as a universally recognized human right. Article 19 of the UDHR proclaims: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Although a universal right, individual countries vary enormously in their interpretation of what constitutes free speech. Every country limits free speech to a greater or lesser extent.

Indeed, the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights itself provides room for restriction, stating in article 19 (3) that the right “may be subject to certain restrictions provided by law and (that) are necessary: (a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; (b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.”

These restrictions must be narrowly defined and interpreted, according to international law. But does that happen in practice? In actual fact, there are wide variations even among western democracies.

The US remains the strongest champion of freedom of speech. The only restrictions that the First Amendment recognizes are obscenity, child pornography, defamation, incitement to violence and true threats of violence, and they too are interpreted very restrictively by the courts.

Let me share with you three leading decisions of the US Supreme Court which have protected and expanded media freedom as an essential element of democracy.

New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964), during the days of the Civil Rights movement, concerned a full-page ad in the New York Times which alleged that the arrest of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. for perjury in Alabama was part of a campaign to destroy King’s efforts to integrate public facilities and encourage blacks to vote. Sullivan, the Montgomery city commissioner, filed a libel action against the newspaper and four black ministers who were listed as endorsers of the ad, claiming that the allegations against the Montgomery police defamed him personally. Because of factual errors in the ad, NYT could not claim truth as a defense and Sullivan won a $500,000 judgment in the first instance. NYT appealed to the US Supreme Court, claiming that the case had been brought to intimidate news organizations and prevent them from reporting illegal actions of public employees.

The Court held that the First Amendment protects the publication of all statements, even false ones, about the conduct of public officials except when statements are made with actual malice (with knowledge that they are false or in reckless disregard of their truth) Before this decision, there were nearly US $300 million in libel actions outstanding against news organizations by various Southern states in the U.S, and caused many publications to exercise great caution when reporting on civil rights breaches by official in the Southern States, for fear that they might be held accountable for libel. After The New York Times prevailed in this case, news organizations were free to report the widespread disorder and civil rights infringements.

In the famous Pentagon Paper case, New York Times Company v. United States (1971), the government tried to block the New York Times from publishing official documents showing that the Nixon administration had lied about the Vietnam War to Congress and the public.

The Supreme Court set an even higher burden on the government and it could not obstruct the newspaper from publishing.

“Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people …” said Justice Black.

Going beyond press freedom the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed the notion that even unpopular speech enjoys full First Amendment protection. In Brandenberg v. Ohio (1969) the US Supreme Court held that under the Constitution, speech can be banned as incitement to violence only when it is intentional, illegal and the violence or harm is imminent, not just likely. If any of the three elements — intention, imminence, or lawlessness — is absent, the speech in question cannot be constitutionally forbidden.

Neither marches of the Ku Klux Clan, nor holocaust denial can be easily stopped in the U.S. Even burning the US flag is considered to be part of one’s freedom of speech! As the late Justice William Brennan put it, in a case involving flag burning, “If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.

It is a far cry from the way in which courts have treated issues that the public in Bangladesh may find offensive on religious or political or ideological grounds.

European countries, while also protective of freedom of expression, do not go as far as the U.S. Most European countries have laws that ban “hate speech”, i.e. speech that incites racial or religious hatred. A number of them have laws that outlaw holocaust denial, and increasingly European countries are adopting laws banning speech or writing that is an “apology for terrorisms”.

Most European countries however do not ban speech that offends religious feelings. They do not recognize blasphemy as a crime. They see the criticism of religion – even in an offensive manner as was done by the Danish magazine and Charlie Hebdo – as part of their secular freedom.

In practice, however, the lines are not easy to draw between what is religious hatred and therefore banned, and what might be considered as blasphemous but nevertheless permissible as free speech in secular democracies. Recent laws banning speech that is considered to be “apology for terrorism” have added further to the confusion.

The state of freedom of expression in other parts of the world is very different. In Africa, Asia and many other parts of the world, blasphemy is on the statute books and enforced vigorously to silence any criticism of religion, whether Islam, Hinduism or Christianity. It is sometimes also used to silence political dissent and gain support from hardline religious.

In fact, look around the world and you see the slippery slope – restrictions on free speech introduced in the name of security or religion or public sensitivities but that become tools of repression favoring political incumbents. For instance, human rights groups say that in Rwanda, any statement that does not follow the official line on genocide is banned –ostensibly to avoid ethnic hatred but in reality to stifle criticism of the government.

In many countries the constitution guarantees freedom of expression and of the press, but laws on treason, counter-terrorism, blasphemy, criminal libel, publication of false news, even contempt of court are used to suppress media freedom and political criticism. If the law is not enough to chill free speech, then extremist violence acts as a veto, threatening, attacking and killing the critics, the bloggers or the zealous journalists with impunity.

In the words of the Economist, “When it is too risky even to report on restrictions to free speech, there is little left for the censors to do.”

Freedom of expression is the right to speak, it is also the right to hear. Informed political debate requires that this right be strongly protected, and it is only through free expression that individuals can take action to ensure that our governing institutions are held accountable. Restrictions on free speech must be very limited. Otherwise, if the government is allowed to decide which opinions can be expressed and which cannot, an open, vibrant and diverse society quickly breaks down. Similarly, when our court system is used to silence those with unpopular views, we all lose the opportunity to hear all sides of an issue and come to our own conclusions.

(End Part 1)

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Will We One Day Reunite as ‘Akhand Bharat’?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/will-we-one-day-reunite-as-akhand-bharat/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-we-one-day-reunite-as-akhand-bharat http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/will-we-one-day-reunite-as-akhand-bharat/#comments Tue, 23 Feb 2016 17:41:30 +0000 the daily2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143963 By The Daily Star - Bangladesh, Muhammad Azizul Haque
Feb 23 2016 (IPS)

INDIA’S ruling BJP’s General Secretary, Mr. Ram Madhav, recently said in an interview to Al Jazeera that the RSS, his core organisation, still believes that one day Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, “which have for historical reasons separated only 60 years ago, will again, through popular goodwill, come together and ‘Akhand Bharat’ will be created”. The idea of Akhand Bharat is a dream of the RSS, and of the BJP, which is a right-wing party with close ideological and organisational links to the former, and of other Hindutvadi organisations and their adherents. I am not going to speak for Pakistan. But, whether future generations of Bangladeshis will reunite their country with India will depend fully on those generations that are probably yet to be born.

If we recall history, we see that despite innumerable attempts by the Muslims of the unpartitioned India, they failed to ensure and protect their politico-economic, socio-religious, cultural and other rights in the midst of the overwhelming Hindu majority population, and under the 27-month-long Congress rule following the general election of 1937. In every Hindu majority province, the Muslims were victims of serious riots and oppression.

A separate State was not in the minds of the Muslims at the beginning. But the Congress’ intransigent opposition to any measure by the British Government aimed at benefiting the minority Muslim population – like the 1905 partition of Bengal, grant of separate electorate for the Muslims, giving power to the Muslims in those provinces where they were in majority – compelled them to demand a separate homeland. The Congress repudiated all British government plans that stipulated power-sharing with the Muslim League – the party that at those times epitomised the aspirations of almost all Muslims of India.

Have the basics of the Hindu-Muslim relations changed in India over the last 68 years? One proof that they have not changed much is the fact that right-wing Hindutvadi cultural and political organisations such as the Hindu Mahasabha, RSS, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, BJP, etc., that envision India as a Hindu country, still wield enormous popular support and influence. In effect, they regard Muslims as outsiders. Even after about 70 years of existence of the democratic and constitutionally secular India, Muslims are killed there for eating beef. The Muslims in India could still be coerced into converting back to Hinduism under the Ghar Wapsi programme. Celebrity actors like Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan felt insecure and alienated in an atmosphere of growing religious intolerance in India in recent months; and they faced severe backlashes for voicing their sense of insecurity.

At the behest of the then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a High Level Committee, chaired by Justice Rajindar Sachar, prepared and submitted a report on the socioeconomic and educational status of the Muslims in India in November 2006. It’s not possible to mention all of the findings of that committee in the extremely limited space of this article. But some key ones were: the unemployment rate among Muslim graduates was the highest among all the socio-religious categories and participation of Muslims in jobs in both the public and private sectors was quite low. The number of Muslims in Central Government departments and agencies was “abysmally” low at all levels. “There was not even one state in which the representation of Muslims in the government departments matched their population share (around14 percent)”, states the report.

Behind the impressive façade of some VVIPs and key positions held by Muslims, there existed a pitiable scenario of near total absence of Muslims in superior cadre jobs (IAS 3 percent, IFS 1.8 percent, IPS/Security Agencies 4 percent). Employment of Muslims was also very low in the universities, banks and central public sector undertakings. The access of Muslims to bank credit was low and inadequate.

About one third of small villages with high concentration of Muslims did not have any educational institutions. About 40 percent of big villages with a substantial Muslim concentration did not have any medical facilities.

There has been no perceptible improvement in the conditions of the Muslims since the Sachar Committee Report.

Do the communal policies of the RSS and other Hindutvadi organisations help make an impression in favour of envisaging reunification of Bangladesh with India at some point of time in the future? With these organisations’ declared Hindu-centric policies and their recent activities against Muslims, and other religious minorities, Mr. Ram Madhav is not in a position to speak of reunification of the three countries. Their communal, divisive, non-inclusive policies do not advance Mr. Madhav’s great expectations or dream of an Akhand Bharat.

Until Indian politics truly rises above communal parochialism, until there occurs a paradigm shift in India’s politics to ensure politico-economic, socio-religious, cultural and other equity and equality for all religious and ethnic communities regardless of their size, unless India’s constitutional secularism truly finds its roots in the society, and until the minority Muslim communities across India are seen to be happily living in honour, prestige and security in India, I do not visualise any reason why the future generations of Bangladeshis should decide to reunite their country with India.

The writer is a former Ambassador and Secretary.

This piece was originally published in The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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EP worried over rights situationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/ep-worried-over-rights-situation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ep-worried-over-rights-situation http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/ep-worried-over-rights-situation/#comments Mon, 15 Feb 2016 21:15:24 +0000 The Daily Star http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143886 Delegation says European Parliament concerned about freedom of speech, urges 'agreed mechanism' for 2019 polls ]]>

Delegation says European Parliament concerned about freedom of speech, urges 'agreed mechanism' for 2019 polls

By The Daily Star- Bangladesh, Diplomatic Correspondent
Feb 15 2016 (IPS)

A European Parliament (EP) delegation has expressed concern over the human rights situation in Bangladesh, and called for an impartial investigation into all the cases of blogger killings.

Jean Lambert

Jean Lambert

Jean Lambert, who led a four-member EP delegation to Bangladesh, yesterday said they during a meeting with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Wednesday had raised four specific issues including human rights, murder of bloggers and rise of violent extremism at international level.

“We have serious concerns about the human rights situation in the country and raised the issue of the murder of bloggers,” said Lambert, the chair of the EP delegation on relations with the countries of South Asia, at a press conference in Dhaka.

“The life of every Bangladeshi citizen is important and we requested the full and impartial investigation of all the cases.”

She also urged the government to make an environment where bloggers and other free thinkers feel that their freedom of expression was “valued”.

European Union (EU) Ambassador in Dhaka Pierre Mayaudon was also present at the press conference yesterday afternoon before the four-member delegation concluded its three-day Bangladesh visit and left the country.

On the state of press freedom in Bangladesh, Lambert said they had “some concerns” about what was happening to some newspaper editors in the country.

“I think it is fair to say that we have some concerns about what is happening to a number of editors of the newspapers.”

Asked if her delegation had touched the issue during the meeting with the prime minister, Lambert replied in the negative.

She also said nothing related to elections had been discussed in the meeting either.

But “it is very clear that there is a need for some agreed mechanisms,” Lambert said, adding that such a mechanism was required in Bangladesh to ensure participation of “many parties” in the elections.

She also made it clear that neither the European Union nor the European Parliament will make any recommendation on the polls-time administration.

“Neither the EP nor anybody else would be coming and saying that ‘This is what you do’ … We will not make any recommendation.

“It’s something to be decided by the people of Bangladesh. It’s your decision,” Lambert added.

However, in a press statement distributed at the press conference, the EP said, “Concretely, the delegation expressed its desire for free and fair elections in 2019.”

Though the election issue was not discussed with Hasina, the delegation discussed the issue of “an independent and strong” Election Commission in meetings with different other stakeholders, according to Lambert.

She said the EP delegation welcomed Hasina’s commitment for further joint collaboration with the EU on better understanding the causes of radicalisation internationally, “bearing in mind the important role Bangladesh plays in the OIC (Organisation of the Islamic Cooperation)”.

During the February 10-12 visit, the delegation met Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed, Law Minister Anisul Huq, Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali and State Minister for CHT Affairs Bir Bahadur Ushwe Sing.

It also had talks with BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia, National Human Rights Commission Chairman Prof Mizanur Rahman, officials of Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, and representatives of different business and civil society platforms.

In the meetings, the EP delegation discussed several issues, including improvement of the workers’ rights and safety in the garment sector, promotion of European investment in Bangladesh and boosting economic cooperation.

This piece was originally published in The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Extremism Threatens Press Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/extremism-threatens-press-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=extremism-threatens-press-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/extremism-threatens-press-freedom/#comments Fri, 05 Feb 2016 13:06:41 +0000 Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143811 Member journalists of Karachi Union of Journalists and Karachi Press Club stage a protest demonstration against flurry of attacks on press freedom and killing of journalists across Pakistan. The journalists are holding banners and placards inscribed with slogans “Attacks on Press Freedom Unacceptable”, “Long Live Press Freedom” and “Attempt to muzzle free press will be opposed”. Credit: Saleem Shaikh/IPS

Member journalists of Karachi Union of Journalists and Karachi Press Club stage a protest demonstration against flurry of attacks on press freedom and killing of journalists across Pakistan. The journalists are holding banners and placards inscribed with slogans “Attacks on Press Freedom Unacceptable”, “Long Live Press Freedom” and “Attempt to muzzle free press will be opposed”. Credit: Saleem Shaikh/IPS

By Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan , Feb 5 2016 (IPS)

Pakistan continues to remain one of the most dangerous countries for journalists, where frequent attempts to restrict press freedom are commonplace and challenges to expanding media diversity and access to information abound.

Tense and uncertain security conditions, looming risks of terrorism and extremism-related activities, rampant political influence and the feeble role of the country’s democratic institutions, including parliament and judiciary, constitute the main reasons behind the sorry state of press freedom in Pakistan.

To address this issue, editors and news directors of a large number of Pakistani newspapers and television channels formally established ‘Editors for Safety’, an organisation focused exclusively on issues pertaining to violence and threats of violence against the media.

The organization would work on a core philosophy that an attack on one journalist or media house would be deemed as an attack on the entire media. The body would also encourage media organizations to speak with one voice against the ubiquitous culture of impunity, where journalists in the country are being frequently attacked while perpetrators are rarely brought to justice.

Former Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Mr. Javed Jabbar, welcomed the formation of Editors for Safety and said “today, militants alone do not target press freedom and journalists in the country. Political, religious, ethnic and the law enforcement agencies also attack them.”

In 2015, the country was ranked 159th out of 180 countries evaluated in the World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Pakistan has been a “frontline state” for almost four decades, which has polarised society and ruined people’s sense of security. Because of the Afghan war, the areas bordering Afghanistan, including Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and tribal areas in the country’s northwest region, are the most troubled areas for journalists to report from.

Media freedom across the country – and particularly in the terrorism-hit northwest region – has deteriorated over the last several years in part because of extremist groups who hurl threats to journalists for reporting their activities. Religious extremists go after media persons as they believe the latter do not respect their religion and harm it on the pretext of press freedom.

On March 28, 2014, Raza Rumi, a TV anchor, blogger and widely-acclaimed political and security analyst in Pakistan, narrowly escaped death when gunmen opened fire on his car in an attack that left his driver Mustafa dead. He moved to the U.S. soon after the attack on his life, which was triggered by his liberal and outspoken voice on politics, society, culture, militancy, human rights and persecution of religious minorities.

Last year on November 30, one journalist and three other employees of Lahore-based Din Media organization, which runs a TV channel and daily Urdu language newspaper, were killed when unknown miscreants lobbed a hand grenade on the office of the media organisation in Lahore, Pakistan’s second largest urban city of 20 million people. The attack drew countrywide condemnation protests by journalists. The Prime Minister announced his pledge to bring those behind attack to the book and boost security measures for media offices and journalists.

Afzal Butt, president of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) told IPS,
“We have conveyed the deep concern of the journalist community about the deteriorating state of press freedom to the Prime Minister and federal and provincial information ministers. We have also reminded them of their commitments made for protecting lives of journalists and press freedom in the country. But it has fallen on deaf ears.”

International media watchdogs including the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and RSF have kept highlighting the dismal state of press freedom in the country in their [annual] reports from time to time. Around 57 journalists have been killed in the line of the duty between year 1992 to 2015 and hundreds other harassed, tortured and kidnapped, according to recent data compiled by CPJ, a New York-based independent, non-profit organisation dedicated to the global defence of press freedom. In its 2015 report, CPJ ranked Pakistan as the sixth most deadly country for journalists.

Pakistan is ranked ninth out of 180 countries on CPJ’s Global Impunity Index, which spotlights countries, where journalists are slain and the killers go free.

“Incidents of threats, attacks and killings of journalists in Pakistan are the clear evidence of how critical the situation has become due to thriving culture of impunity,” said Mazhar Abbas, former deputy news director at the Ary News TV in Karachi and well-known champion of press freedom.

The good news is that the country has battled against impunity through judicial actions and institutionalisation of mechanisms to tackle this problem. For instance, two landmark convictions and arrests brought relief to the aggrieved families of slain TV journalists Wali Khan Babar, murdered in 2011 in Karachi, and Ayub Khattak, murdered in Karak district in conflict-prone Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan’s northwest.

The cases made progress thanks to relentless efforts by families of journalists, journalist unions and civil society pressure groups with cooperation from government and justice system, Khursheed Abbasi, PFUJ’s secretary general, said. The judicial commission set up to probe the attempt to murder Islamabad-based eminent television journalist Hamid Mir associated with the Geo News TV is part of this movement forward. Further to this was the announcement in April 2015 by the provincial government of Balochistan to establish two judicial tribunals to investigate six murder cases of journalists since 2011.

In another positive development, on March 9, 2015, the Islamabad High Court upheld the conviction of Mumtaz Qadri, the killer of publisher of English newspaper Daily Times Mr. Salman Taseer, under Section 302 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). Qadri, his official guard in Islamabad in January 2010, killed Taseer, who was governor of Punjab province at that time.

“A free press is a fundamental foundation of sustainable and effective democracy. Any effort aimed at scuttling press freedom will only weaken democracy and democratic institutions,” warned journalist-turned Pakistani parliamentarian Mushahid Hussain Syed. He said that politicians need to realise that supporting endeavours for press freedom at any level would benefit the democratic political leaders themselves.

(End)

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Press Crackdown Is Likely to Worsenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/press-crackdown-is-likely-to-worsen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=press-crackdown-is-likely-to-worsen http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/press-crackdown-is-likely-to-worsen/#comments Fri, 05 Feb 2016 08:08:46 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143807 Ugandan journalist Andrew Lwanga, who is still recovering more than one year after allegedly being battered by a police commander while covering a protest. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Ugandan journalist Andrew Lwanga, who is still recovering more than one year after allegedly being battered by a police commander while covering a protest. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
KAMPALA, Uganda, Feb 5 2016 (IPS)

On October 2015, the day that Ugandan journalist Enoch Matovu, 25, was allegedly shot by the police for simply “doing my job”, the police had “run out of tear gas”, he claimed.

“So they had to use live bullets,” this journalist for broadcaster NTV Uganda told IPS. Matovu was injured in the head while covering the apparent vote rigging by contestants during the ruling party’s — National Resistance Movement (NRM) — elections in Mityana, central Uganda. “I only realised when I woke up in hospital what had happened,” he added.

Shockingly, since party elections in October, over 40 Ugandan journalists have been detained, beaten, had their tools and material taken, blocked from covering events and have lost employment, according to Robert Sempala, the National Coordinator for Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ) Uganda. Two other journalists besides Matovu have allegedly been shot by the police.

Ahead of the February 18 elections, in which President Yoweri Museveni, 71, and already in power for 30 years, is standing, there’s a “likelihood” the press crackdown “is going to get worse”, said Sempala. “The contest is neck-to-neck,” he told IPS, adding there was “stiff competition” from the three-time presidential challenger Kizza Besigye and former Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi. “According to our statistics, most of the victims have been those that cover either Besigye or Mbabazi, as opposed to the rest of the contestants,” he emphasised.

On January 20, Endigyito FM, a privately owned radio station in Mbarara, about 170 miles outside the capital Kampala, was shut down, purportedly over unpaid licence fees of $11,000. Mbabazi’s campaign team claimed that an interview with him two days earlier had been disrupted 20 minutes into the show, after officials from the Uganda Communications Commission stormed the building. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and others have called for the broadcaster to be allowed to resume operations.

In a January report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned of a media clampdown, saying radio reporters working in local dialects with an audience in rural areas particularly faced intimidation and threats from government. “Looking over the last decade, its clear that violations of press freedom have clearly increased during elections and also during times of political tension in Kampala,” Maria Burnett, HRW senior researcher for Africa, told IPS.

“For journalists working outside Kampala, in local languages, my sense is that media freedom has been very difficult during political campaigns and elections in recent times,” she added. Burnett said in terms of what is happening outside Kampala, HRW’s research indicated that “the patterns are fairly similar” to the 2011 elections: “Perhaps the only real difference is that some radio journalists are more able to state the pressure they are under and the problems they face, either via social media or other media platforms as the Kampala-based media houses expand coverage country-wide.”

Sempala said “on the whole” there were more cases of violations against the press outside Kampala, according to HRNJ’s statistics. Most journalists attacked anywhere in Uganda claim it is hard to get justice. “Each morning I wonder what to do,” said Andrew Lwanga, 28, a cameraman with local WBS station, who was assaulted last year by the then Kampala district police commander Joram Mwesigye, leaving him with horrific injuries and unable to work. His equipment was also damaged.

“I loved covering the election so much. I would love to be out there,” he added. He is now fund-raising for a spinal operation in Spain — Ugandan doctors told him he had no option but to go abroad – and spends his days sitting in a lounge, watching his colleagues on the TV doing what he most wants to be doing.

Lwanga, a journalist of eight years, was injured while covering a small demonstration involving a group called the Unemployed Youths of Uganda in January 2015. Online, there is footage of Mwesigye assaulting Lwanga, of the cameraman falling down and then being led away by police, holding his head and crying in pain. “Now I can’t walk 50 metres without crutches,” said Lwanga, who has a visible scar on one side of his head and a bandage on one hand. “For the past 90 days I haven’t been able to sleep more than 40 minutes… All of this makes me cry,” he added.

More than a year after the assault, Lwanga’s case is dragging on. Mwesigye has been charged with three counts including assault and occasioning bodily harm, and suspended from his role. But at the last hearing, when Lwanga had to be carried into court by two others, it was revealed that the journalist’s damaged camera – an important exhibit – had disappeared and still hasn’t been found. “(The police) are trying to protect Joram, he wants to retain his job and he (has) always confronted me saying ‘you’re putting me out of work’,” said the cameraman.

Recently, Museveni pledged to financially help this journalist. But Lwanga said he hadn’t received any communication as yet when the money was coming. The last state witness in the trial was due to be heard on February 4 but has been adjourned to the 29th. Despite his ordeal, if he eventually has the operation and recovers, Lwanga said he will get back to work: “I miss my profession”.

Matovu is back at work, but still suffers a lot of headaches after his alleged attack, and admitted “sometimes I’m scared to do my job” “The police are not doing anything about this, only my bosses,” he said of his case.

Sempala said so far HRNJ had only managed to take “a few” cases involving journalists being assaulted to court. More advocacy is required to put pressure on police to investigate cases, he said. Burnett said it was “important that journalists who are physically attacked by police share their stories and push for justice”.

Police spokesperson Fred Enanga told IPS that Lwanga’s case was an “isolated” one, but the fact that police had “managed” to charge Mwesigye was “one very good example” that the authorities did not take human rights breaches against journalists lightly. “Over the years there’s been this very good working relationship with the media,” insisted Enanga.

(End)

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Media Come Together to Discuss Safety of Journalists, Fight Against Impunityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/media-come-together-to-discuss-safety-of-journalists-fight-against-impunity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=media-come-together-to-discuss-safety-of-journalists-fight-against-impunity http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/media-come-together-to-discuss-safety-of-journalists-fight-against-impunity/#comments Wed, 03 Feb 2016 06:33:10 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143766 By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Feb 3 2016 (IPS)

Amid continuing attacks on journalists, media representatives from around the world will meet in the French capital this week to discuss how to reinforce the safety of those working in the sector.

Organized and hosted by the United Nations cultural agency, UNESCO, this “unprecedented” meeting between media executives and the agency’s members states on Feb. 5 is an attempt to “improve the safety of journalists and tackle impunity for crimes against media professionals”, UNESCO said.

Journalism is one of the deadliest professions in the world. Credit AD Mckenzie/IPS

Journalism is one of the deadliest professions in the world. Credit AD Mckenzie/IPS

“As everyone knows, the problem has been increasing over the past five years of killing of journalists in different parts of the world, and the UN system as a whole has become more concerned about this in parallel,” said Guy Berger, director of UNESCO’s Division of Freedom of Expression and Media Development.

He told IPS that the UN has been putting “a lot of effort” into trying to get more action against these killings and that UNESCO has been working to create greater cooperation among various groups concerned with journalists’ safety.

But Berger said that the conference wanted to focus on what media organizations themselves could do “to step forward” and bring attention to the matter.

The day-long meeting – titled “News organizations standing up for the safety of media professionals” – will “foster dialogue on security issues with a view to reducing the high number of casualties in the profession”, UNESCO said.

The number of media workers killed around the world totaled 112 last year, according to the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), whose president Jim Boumelha will speak at the conference.

The IFJ, which represents some 600,000 members globally, said that among the deaths, at least 109 journalists and media staff died in “targeted killings, bomb attacks and cross-fire incidents”. This number marks a slight decrease from 2014 when 118 media personnel were killed.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a group that defends freedom of expression, said in its report that the deaths were “largely attributable to deliberate violence against journalists” and demonstrates the failure of initiatives to protect media personnel.

The slayings included those of cartoonists working for the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in January 2015. Following those attacks, UNESCO organized a conference then as well, under the heading “Journalism after Charlie”.

In the year since, many other media workers have lost their lives, in both countries at peace and those experiencing civil war.

Calling on the UN to appoint a special representative for the safety of journalists, RSF’s Director General Christophe Deloire says that the creation of a specific mechanism for enforcing international law on the protection of journalists is “absolutely essential”.

Deloire will present a safety guide for journalists at the conference, in association with UNESCO. This is part of the aim to “share good practices on a wide range of measures including safety protocols in newsrooms … and innovative protective measures for reporting from dangerous areas”, according to the UN agency.

Some 200 media owners, executives and practitioners from public, private and community media are expected to attend the conference, UNESCO said.

“The diversity of media represented, in terms of geography, size and type of threat encountered, is unprecedented and should contribute to the conference’s ability to raise awareness of and improve preparedness for the full range of dangers the media face worldwide,” the agency added.

Berger will moderate the first session, while debates in the second will be led by Christiane Amanpour, chief international correspondent for the broadcaster CNN and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Freedom of Expression and Journalism.

Diana Foley, founder and president of the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, is also scheduled to be among the speakers. The institution honours the work of American journalist James Foley, her son, who was abducted while covering the Syrian war and brutally killed by his captors in 2014.

One of the conference’s high-level sessions will focus on “ending impunity together” and will comprise “dialogue” between the media industry and UNESCO member states, according to the programme.

UNESCO says it has been advocating and implementing measures to improve the safety of journalists and to end impunity for crimes against media workers. The agency’s Director-General issues press releases to condemn the killing of journalists and media workers, for instance.

In addition, UNESCO publishes a biennial report that takes stock of governments’ replies to the organization’s request for information about “actions taken to pursue the perpetrators of these crimes”.

In its 2015 report, “World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development”, UNESCO noted that some member countries were not submitting requested updates on investigations into attacks against the media. However, the response rate had still risen to 42 percent (24 out of 57 countries) from 22 percent in 2014.

One of the issues not on the agenda at the conference is the number of UNESCO member states that imprison journalists or attempt to suppress freedom of expression. Experts acknowledge that this is also a topic that needs addressing, but some say that a distinction between the issues needs to be made.

“You can have freedom of the press and journalists are not safe,” Berger told IPS. “And in other places, you can have a lack of freedom of the press, and journalists are safe, even if they face consequences under laws that may be out of line with international standards.”

He said that governments have “the primary responsibility to protect everybody and to protect their rights,” but that not all governments live up to this task.

“That doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t,” he added. “If you sign up to these international declarations, you actually have to match your words with your actions.”

The public, too, could be more aware of the challenges that media workers face and support the calls for safety and protection.

“Nobody wants to be out of line with public opinion, and the stronger public opinion is, the more governments actually see that it’s important to act,” Berger said. “Governments need journalists, even if they don’t like them, and they need them to be safe.”

(End)

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The Fearful World of Network News in 2015http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/the-fearful-world-of-network-news-in-2015/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-fearful-world-of-network-news-in-2015 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/the-fearful-world-of-network-news-in-2015/#comments Tue, 26 Jan 2016 12:33:48 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143698 Andrew Tyndall

Andrew Tyndall

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Jan 26 2016 (IPS)

If your view of world events outside the U.S. was shaped in substantial part by watching the evening news shows on the three major U.S. networks last year, you’d probably want to stay home.

Terrorism and the bloody wars of the Middle East dominated the network news coverage of the world outside our borders last year, according to the latest annual summary of the authoritative Tyndall Report, which was released just last week. Domestically, it was pretty scary, too, with two of the year’s three top domestic stories featuring Donald Trump’s ugly presidential primary campaign and last month’s San Bernardino massacre, which was allegedly inspired by the Islamic State (ISIS or IS).

As in virtually every year since 9/11, Latin America, Africa, and East Asia (which includes China, Japan, and the Koreas) barely registered in the networks’ universe. Global warming—arguably the greatest existential threat facing our way of life—made only a cameo appearance in the guise of last month’s Paris climate summit, despite today’s New York Times headline: “2015 Was Hottest Year in Historical Record.” Unfortunately, the Paris summit coincided with the San Bernardino massacre, which received eight times the coverage.

As noted by Andrew Tyndall, the Report’s publisher, in an email exchange today,

This last year has been especially narrow in the range of international stories, in that few stories that are unrelated either to terrorism or to the Middle East (or both) have attracted attention. No Ebola. No Fukushima. The excitement around the new pope is starting to subside. No royal wedding. No Olympic Games. …Europe has received prominent coverage. However, the three biggest European stories (Charlie Hebdo, the refugee crisis, the Paris concert massacre) can be portrayed as spillovers from Mideast tensions. All three of these major European storylines fit neatly into fearful narratives made by domestic politicians.

Aside from the tragic death of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, sub-Saharan Africa, the world’s largest continent with a population of a billion people, didn’t exist in the evening news universe
Tyndall has been tracking and cataloguing the evening news broadcasts of ABC, CBS, and NBC each weekday since 1988. That comes to roughly 22 minutes for each network per evening, or nearly 15,000 minutes a year for all three weekday evening shows combined. (The total this year was 14,574 minutes.) His findings are considered the most authoritative publicly available source on network news coverage.

Although citizens increasingly rely on the Internet for national and international news, the network evening news remains the single biggest source, attracting a nightly audience of around 24 million viewers, according to the latest report by the Pew Research Center on Journalism and the Media. By comparison, the average primetime audience for all cable news channels combined is a mere 3.5 million. Thus, the news priorities reflected in the amount of attention the three networks devote to national and international trends and events exert a significant influence on how much of the U.S. citizenry sees the world. In other words, the nightly evening network news offers the closest thing we have to a collective national window on what is happening beyond our borders. Which is why it’s important.

 

The Highlights

Each year, Tyndall publishes a one-page summary of highlights, including the 20 stories to which the three networks devoted the most time in their coverage. The summary also notes more general findings. In 2015, for example, the three networks provided a combined total of 941 minutes to foreign policy coverage (not to be confused with coverage from overseas). Not only was that a mere 6.5% of total news coverage, it was slightly less than half of the annual average between 1988 and 2014. This could reflect the gravitational pull of the 2016 presidential campaign and/or the perception by network news gatekeepers that the public is increasingly uninterested in or fed up with foreign policy issues.

In any event, here are the top 20 and the combined number of minutes they received from the three networks. Together, they accounted for 3,422 minutes of the three networks’ coverage, or less than 25% of total evening news coverage.

Winter weather                                     377

Donald Trump campaign                     327

San Bernardino shootings                     237

Islamic State declared by ISIS             220

Terrorism in Paris: concert massacre   188

Refugees to the European Union         174

Police: lethal Baltimore arrest             174

Forest fires in western states                161

Boston Marathon bombing trial           160

NFL post-season: deflated balls           145

Pope Francis visits to Cuba and USA   142

Syria civil war                                       136

Iran nuclear program negotiations       132

Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris         132

New York prison escape                       131

Republican presidential debates           123

Hillary Clinton campaign                     121

AMC church massacre in Charleston   117

Germanwings jet crash in Alps              114

Iraq civil war/ISIS in Iraq                     113

 

Some of the top stories are obviously related to each other, although Tyndall is very careful about not double-counting stories. For example, Trump clearly factored heavily in the Republican presidential debates, but the minutes devoted to his contribution to that debate would not have been included in the category of the Trump campaign itself. The EU’s refugee crisis was obviously related to the wars in Syria and Iraq, not to mention IS.

Thus, among the 20 most-covered stories, the 2016 campaign garnered 571 minutes (Trump, Republican debate, Clinton). But terrorist acts or organizations claimed five of the top 20, at nearly 1,000 minutes (San Bernardino, the Islamic State, two Paris stories, the Boston Marathon trial), and that doesn’t count the civil wars in Syria and Iraq or the Charleston church massacre. Those, plus the Germanwings jet crash, alleged police brutality in Baltimore, the prison escape, and the huge refugee influx into Europe, make for a pretty scary world (not to mention the heavily fear-based Trump campaign itself or other fear-mongering Republicans).

Indeed, the only good news that featured in the top 20 last year was the Pope’s visit, the Iran nuclear agreement (albeit not for Bibi Netanyahu and his followers here), and deflated footballs if you care passionately about Tom Brady. Of course, as Tyndall suggests, by depicting such a frightening world, the networks are—presumably unconsciously—propagating a fundamentally far-right narrative that can only benefit Republicans during this year’s campaign.

 

A Closer Look at the Numbers

To help draw a more complete picture of the networks’ view of the world outside the United States, I asked Tyndall for the statistics on the top foreign stories of the year. They comprised 41 of the top 150 stories, including nine that appeared in the top 20 cited above. The results:

 

Islamic State in Middle East declared by ISIS220
Paris terrorism: stadium, restaurant, concert attacks188
European Union faces influx of refugees and migrants174
Pope Francis I visits Cuba and United States142
Syria politics: rebellion designated as civil war136
Iran nuclear weapons program prevention talks132
Paris magazine offices assassination: 12 dead132
Germanwings 9525 crash in French Alps: 150 dead114
Iraq: combat resumes after US troops pull out113
Afghanistan’s Taliban regime aftermath, fighting85
Nepal earthquake levels Kathmandu: Richter 7.870
Metrojet charter flight crash over Sinai Desert59
Moslems in western nations recruited by terrorists48
Malaysia Airlines 370 missing: Indian Ocean search43
Cuba-US diplomacy: relations normalized42
Air Asia 8501 crash over Java Sea kills 16239
Zimbabwe nature preserve celebrity lion killed37
Soccer: FIFA Women’s World Cup won by USA33
Yemen civil war32
British royals coverage32
Global warming climate change: Paris Summit30
High-speed train on-board attack foiled in Belgium30
International Space Station mission in orbit30
Libya: US diplomats assassinated in Benghazi29
Belgium terrorism: surveillance in Brussels suburb28
Ukraine civil war: secessionist fighting in east28
Tunisia terrorism: beach resort shooting spree26
El Nino current forms in Pacific Ocean25
Syrian-American immigration: seek refugee status25
CIA drone kills Americans in raid on Pakistan25
Diesel engine pollution tests rigged by Volkswagen24
Cargo ship SS El Faro founders off The Bahamas23
Israel-Palestinian conflict22
Cuba-US sanctions relaxed: more trade, travel22
Syria refugees flee abroad to overcrowded camps21
Greece politics: referendum on fiscal austerity20
Hurricane Patricia forms in Pacific off Mexico20
Syria archeology: antiquities looted, vandalized20
Vietnam War remembered20
Nazi Holocaust remembered19

 

This is essentially the image that most Americans received from their most popular source of international news. Is it any wonder that so many foreigners are shocked by how little Americans know about their home countries or regions?

There’s obviously some good news in this list—including the normalization of relations with Cuba, the climate treaty in Paris, the International Space Station, the perennial British royals story (maybe that’s bad news, I don’t know), the US women’s victory in the World Cup. Again, this picture is pretty scary. But there are a few things worth noting (and I’m sure you will find many more):

 

  • The list contains absolutely nothing about China, including its economic troubles, its build-up in the South China Sea, its environmental or minority problems, its crackdown against outspoken dissidents and lawyers— or really the rest of East Asia.
  • A grand total of 22 minutes is devoted to the Israel-Palestine conflict despite the violence that has been going on since October and shows no sign of abating, not to mention the increasingly right-wing nature of the Israeli government or the clear disdain in which Obama and Netanyahu mutually hold themselves.
  • Aside from Cuba, there’s no real mention of anything related to Latin America. And normalization with Cuba—a historic development that effectively ended nearly 60 years of hostility—rated a grand total of 66 minutes on all three networks. By comparison, deflate gate and the NFL got 145 minutes, more than twice as much! At least, the Pope gave it some additional attention, albeit not much.
  • Aside from the tragic death of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, sub-Saharan Africa, the world’s largest continent with a population of a billion people, didn’t exist in the evening news universe. Not even for acts of terrorism carried out by Boko Haram or any other group affiliated with al-Qaeda or IS! This, of course, upholds the long-enduring Victorian notion that the only good things about Africa are its animals.
  • Despite the increased threat posed by the Taliban, as well as the belatedly reported death of Mullah Omar and the decision by Obama to put off a final withdrawal, Afghanistan didn’t make the top 20, receiving a grand total of only one hour and 25 minutes in the evening news for all of 2015.
  • Yemen’s devastating war garnered a total of 32 minutes, ten minutes more than the Israel-Palestine conflict.

 

Tyndall on the News

I asked Andrew Tyndall to comment on some of these observations, and here are some excerpts of our emailed interview:

Lobe: Did you see any greater effort on the part of the newscasters in 2015 to link the weather or weather-related disasters to global warming than in previous years?

Tyndall: I see no evidence of it. First, because gradual, secular weather events (the drought in California, El Nino in the Pacific) received less coverage than extreme, sudden weather events (winter storms, tornadoes, wildfires, flash floods). Second, because the Paris Summit on Climate Change was undercovered, since it coincided with the San Bernardino office party massacre, which eclipsed it.

Lobe: East Asia appears to have been almost entirely ignored in 2015, despite tensions between China and its neighbors in the South and East China Seas? Was this different than or consistent with coverage of the last few years when these territorial claims became more salient? What do you think are the implications of the lack of coverage?

Tyndall: Yes, the military tensions over marine territorial rights have barely been mentioned. The driving force to make such tensions newsworthy is usually not an editorial decision by news executives, but a political decision by an administration in power. In other words, the news tends to follow the Pentagon, reacting to its initiatives, rather than alerting the public, so that it can understand the issues at stake in advance of a debate over such initiatives.

Over the past 25-or-so years of my database, it is a rule of thumb that Republican administrations tend to be more bellicose in addressing overseas disputes, which leads to newscasts being more active in following them. In other words, we can expect coverage of the South China Seas to escalate if and when the US Navy is dispatched to confront the Chinese military in those waters. Lack of coverage, therefore, is a reassuring sign that we are not gearing up for a war with the People’s Republic.

Lobe: And what do you make of the absence of Africa coverage except for the lion?

Tyndall: Yes, given that terrorism and Islamist insurgencies are popular themes for the newscasts to cover, I would have expected more attention paid to Boko Haram and al-Shabaab. I have no problem with the attention paid to Cedric the lion and the Minnesota dentist [who killed him]. A perfect summer sensation.

Lobe: And Latin America except for Cuba?

Tyndall: With reference to Spanish-speaking Latin America, one of the unfortunate consequences of the success of Univision in providing news to Hispanic-Americans is that the Anglophone newscasts act as though their coverage would be duplicative. Thus, the end of the civil war in Colombia was hardly mentioned. The crisis of legitimacy and narco-corruption of the Mexican government only broke through onto English-speaking airwaves through the figure of El Chapo.

One of the advantages to the publicity and promotion around the Olympic Games is that resources and personnel are on site to cover non-sporting-related issues that would normally be ignored. I anticipate that the Zika virus will be the first of several stories to come out of Brazil this year, to coincide with the Rio Olympic Games.

For Mexican-US immigration policy: see Trump, D.

Lobe: Yemen got only 32 minutes despite the fact that it’s in the most heavily covered foreign region, its depiction as a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and the presence (and apparent expansion) there of al-Qaeda and IS? Any comment?

Tyndall: Logistically, Yemen is a very difficult country to cover. Its undercoverage belongs in the same category as Boko Haram and al-Shabaab. The rumblings of a possible third intifada on the West Bank also received surprisingly little airtime. I ascribe the lack of interest in covering the proxy Iran-Saudi war to two factors. First (as with the South China Sea) is the Pentagon’s lack of enthusiasm for getting involved. Second, the true anxieties associated with turmoil in the region are associated with symptoms (the spread of terrorism and refugees) not underlying causes (struggles for sectarian and regional hegemony).

 

This piece was originally published in Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy Lobelog.com

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Time to Repeal Anti-Terrorism Law in Ethiopiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/time-to-repeal-anti-terrorism-law-in-ethiopia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=time-to-repeal-anti-terrorism-law-in-ethiopia http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/time-to-repeal-anti-terrorism-law-in-ethiopia/#comments Mon, 25 Jan 2016 16:52:04 +0000 Anuradha Mittal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143689 Anuradha Mittal is the Executive Director of the Oakland Institute. ]]>

Anuradha Mittal is the Executive Director of the Oakland Institute.

By Anuradha Mittal
OAKLAND, California, Jan 25 2016 (IPS)

With the African Union celebrating the African Year of Human Rights at its 26th summit, at its headquarters in Addis, Ethiopia, the venue raises serious concerns about commitment to human rights.

Anuradha Mittal Credit:

Anuradha Mittal

Ethiopia’s so called economic development policies have not only ignored but enabled and exacerbated civil and human rights abuses in the country. Case and point is the ongoing land grabbing affecting several regions of the country. Under the controversial “villagization” program, the Ethiopian government is forcibly relocating over 1.5 million people to make land available to investors for so called economic growth. Since last November, the country’s ruling party, EPRDF’s, “Master Plan” to expand the capital Addis has been the flashpoint for protests in Oromia which will impact some 2 million people. At least 140 protestors have been killed by security forces while many more have been injured and arrested, including political leaders like Bekele Gerba, Deputy Chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress, Oromia’s largest legally registered political party. Arrested on December 23, 2015, his whereabouts remain unknown.

Political marginalization, arbitrary arrests, beatings, murders, intimidation, and rapes mark the experience of communities around Ethiopia defending their land rights. This violence in the name of delivering economic growth is built on the 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, which has allowed the Ethiopian government secure complete hegemonic authority by suppressing any form of dissent.

A new report, Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Law: A Tool to Stifle Dissent, by the Oakland Institute and the Environmental Defender Law Center, authored by lawyers including representatives from leading international law firms, unravels the 2009 Proclamation. It confirms that the law is designed and used by the Ethiopian Government as a tool of repression to silence its critics. It criminalizes basic human rights, like the freedom of speech and assembly. Its definition of “terrorist act,” does not conform with international standards given the law defines terrorism in an extremely broad and vague way, providing the ruling party with an iron fist to punish words and acts that would be legal in a democracy.

The law’s staggering breadth and vagueness, makes it impossible for citizens to know or even predict what conduct may violate the law, subjecting them to grave criminal sanctions. This has resulted in a systematic withdrawal of free speech in the country as newspaper journalists and editors, indigenous leaders, land rights activists, bloggers, political opposition members, and students are charged as terrorists. In 2010, journalists and governmental critics were arrested and tortured in the lead-up to the national election. In 2014, six privately owned publications closed after government harassment; at least 22 journalists, bloggers, and publishers were criminally charged; and more than 30 journalists fled the country in fear of being arrested under repressive laws.

The law also gives the police and security services unprecedented new powers and shifts the burden of proof to the accused. Ethiopia has abducted individuals from foreign countries including the British national Andy Tsege and the Norwegian national, Okello Akway Ochalla, and brought them to Ethiopia to face charges of violating the anti-terrorism law. Such abductions violate the terms of extradition treaties between Ethiopia and other countries; violate the territorial sovereignty of the other countries; and violate the fundamental human rights of those charged under the law. Worse still, many of those charged report having been beaten or tortured, as in the case of Mr. Okello. The main evidence courts have against such individuals are their so-called confessions.

Some individuals charged under Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism law are being prosecuted for conduct that occurred before that law entered into force. These prosecutions violate the principles of legality and non-retroactivity, which Ethiopia is bound to uphold both under international law as well as the Charter 22 of its own constitution.

A few other key examples of those charged under the law, include the 9 bloggers; Pastor Omot Agwa, former translator for the World Bank Inspection Panel; and journalists Reeyot Alemu and Eskinder Nega; and hundreds more, all arrested under the Anti-Terrorism law.

It has been a fallacious tradition in development thought to equate economic underdevelopment with repressive forms of governance and economic modernity with democratic rule. Yet Ethiopia forces us to confront that its widely celebrated economic renaissance by its Western allies and donor countries is dependent on violent autocratic governance. The case of Ethiopia should compel the US and the UK to question their own complicity in supporting the Ethiopian regime, the west’s key ally in Africa.

Given the compelling analysis provided by the report, it is imperative that the international community demands that until such time as Ethiopian government revises its anti-terrorism law to bring it into conformity with international standards, it repeals the use of this repressive piece of legislation.

Case and point is the controversial resettlement program under which the Ethiopian government seeks to relocate 1.5 million people as part of an economic development plan. Research by groups including the Oakland Institute, International Rivers Network, Human Rights Watch, and Inclusive Development International, among others, as well as journalists.

Perhaps there is hesitation to confront this because it would implicate the global flows of development assistance that make possible rule by the EPRDF. Receiving a yearly average of 3.5 billion dollars in development aid, Ethiopia tops lists of development aid recipients of USAID, DfID, and the World Bank. Staggeringly, international assistance represents 50 to 60 per cent of the Ethiopian national budget. Evidently, foreign assistance is indispensible to the national governance. At the face of this dependency, the Ethiopian government exercises repressive hegemony over Ethiopian political and civil expression.

It is the responsibility of international donors to account for the political effects of development assistance with thorough and consistent investigations and substantive demand for political reform and democratic practices as a condition for sustained international aid. This will inevitably mean a new type of Ethiopian renaissance, one that seeks the simultaneous establishment of democratic governance and improving economic conditions.

(End)

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Despite its History and Reputation, Finland Has to Guard Press Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/despite-its-history-and-reputation-finland-has-to-guard-press-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-its-history-and-reputation-finland-has-to-guard-press-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/despite-its-history-and-reputation-finland-has-to-guard-press-freedom/#comments Mon, 11 Jan 2016 13:44:38 +0000 Jan Lundius http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143550

Jan Lundius, a Swedish national, is a professor and former UNESCO associate.

By Jan Lundius
Helsinki, Jan 11 2016 (IPS)

The year 2015 was a sad one for journalists around the world, with approximately 60 journalists killed, more than 200 imprisoned and more than 400 exiled.

In many countries, people speaking up against abuse and violations have a rational fear for their lives and wellbeing. To address this issue, UNESCO and the Government of Finland will co-host a conference on journalists´ safety the week of International Press Freedom Day, 3 May 2016.

The choice of Finland to organize such an event is no mere coincidence. When Reporters Without Borders presented its World Press Freedom Index for 2015, Finland topped the list for the fifth year in a row. And Finland´s government has taken its commitment further by making transparency and information an institutional concern, for example by making broadband access a legal right and easing the way for citizens to participate in the legislative process through online means.

Is freedom of speech determined by culture? And, if so, did cultural forces help mold the Finnish government´s liberal attitude toward press freedom?
Often when rulers silence the media they do it in the name of security or preserving national culture or unity. So is freedom of speech determined by culture? And, if so, did cultural forces help mold the Finnish government´s liberal attitude toward press freedom?

Until 1809, Finland was part of Sweden, a country that in 1766 was the first nation in the world to abolish censorship and guarantee freedom of the press. But after subsequent conquest by the Russian Empire, growing Russian patriotism demanded a closer integration of Finland and, by the end of the 19th century, harsh censorship of the press was introduced. This and other measures, including Russian promotion of the Finnish language as a way to sever the country’s longstanding cultural ties with Sweden, fueled an already growing Finnish nationalism.

When the Russian tsar abdicated in 1917, the Finnish legislature declared independence, leading to a civil war between the country’s “Reds”, led by Social Democrats, and “Whites”, led by the conservatives in the Senate. Thirty-six thousand out of a population of 3 million died. The Reds executed 1,650 civilians, while the triumphant Whites executed approximately 9,000. The war resulted in an official ban on Communism, censorship of the socialist press and an increasing integration to the Western world economy. The new constitution established that the country would be bi-lingual, with both Finnish and Swedish taught in schools and at universities.

During World War II, harsh press censorship was introduced – this time by the Finnish government itself – as the country fought two wars against the Soviet Union and the subsequently fought to drive out its former German allies in those conflicts.

The development of the current Finnish freedom of speech probably has to be considered in relation to this arduous history, particularly the difficult aftermath of the wars with the Soviet Union and, through all of it, the Finnish people´s struggle to maintain their freedom and unique character as a nation.

Today, Finland has a lively press and a thriving culture production in both languages, even if Finnish people with Swedish as a mother tongue constitute only about 5 per cent of a population of 5.4 million. Even in the Internet Age, Finns remain avid newspaper readers, ranking first in the EU with almost 500 copies sold per day per 1, 000 inhabitants, surpassed only by Japan and Norway.

During the Cold War years, Finland’s efforts to cope with is proximity to Soviet Russia had grave repercussions on freedom of speech in the country. Due to Soviet pressure, some books were withdrawn from public libraries and Finnish publishers avoided literature that could cause Soviet displeasure. For example, the Finnish translation of Solzhenitsyn´s The Gulag Archipelago was published in Sweden. On several occasions, Moscow restricted Finnish politics and vetoed its participation in the Marshall Plan.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to Finland’s expanded participation in Western political and economic structures. Finland joined the EU in 1994 and the euro was introduced in 1999. Restrictions on the media were relaxed and today, probably in reaction to its previous experiences with censorship, Finland is widely recognized having the most extensive press freedom of any country.

However, the rise of anti-immigrant political sentiment, as evidenced by the rise of the Finns´ Party, has cast a pall over popular media. Now the country’s second largest party after success in this year’s elections, the Finns´ Party combines left-wing economic policies with conservative social values, as well as a heavy dose of xenophobia, euro scepticism and Islamophobia, leading it to attract nationalistic fringe groups that are vociferous in public media.

One example is the group Suomen Sisu, which has an openly crude racial approach, disguised as “ethnopluralism,” an ideology stating that ethnic groups have to be kept separated and that Swedish speaking Finns’ influence on politics and culture has to be limited and that immigration has to be radically restricted, or even halted completely.

Finland´s most popular web site Homma is spreading this message, which also accuses Finnish media of being left-leaning and eroding Finnish national pride. The Finns’ Party´s leader, Timo Soini, is currently the country´s foreign minister and vice prime minister. While the party occasionally reacts harshly to criticism in media it states that it honors freedom of the press. Even when Soini was recently was attacked by the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, he stated that it was quite OK since it was an expression of the press freedom.

Nevertheless, with Finland now scheduled to host an international conference on press freedom, we should be watchful of the dangers to free expression that lurk in uninhibited nationalism and xenophobia. Nordic people often take their excellent record in human rights for granted and, in so doing, dismiss these dangers. Let’s hope that the May conference will serve as a reminder to us all that freedom of the press and of expression is something that has to be jealously guarded and vigorously protected through thick and thin.

(End)

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Caribbean Journalists Prepare to Report on Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/caribbean-journalists-prepare-to-report-on-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caribbean-journalists-prepare-to-report-on-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/caribbean-journalists-prepare-to-report-on-climate-change/#comments Wed, 06 Jan 2016 03:09:45 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143521 Dominican journalist Amelia Deschamps addressing a workshop in Santo Domingo on the role of reporters with regard to climate change. Researchers and journalists from Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic took part in the event. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

Dominican journalist Amelia Deschamps addressing a workshop in Santo Domingo on the role of reporters with regard to climate change. Researchers and journalists from Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic took part in the event. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

By Ivet González
SANTO DOMINGO, Jan 6 2016 (IPS)

Environmentally committed journalists in the Caribbean point to a major challenge for media workers: communicating and raising awareness about the crucial climate change agreement that emerged from the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris.

“Scientific information must be published in clearer language, and we must talk about the real impact of climate change on people’s lives,” journalist Amelia Deschamps, an anchorwoman on the El Día newcast of the Dominican channel Telesistema 11, told IPS.

She was referring to the communication challenges posed in the wake of COP21 to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, held Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 in Paris to produce the first universal agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions and curb the negative impacts of global warming.

“So far good intentions abound, but there are few practical steps being taken in terms of mitigation and adaptation,” said Deschamps.

In the view of this journalist who specialises in environmental affairs, media coverage of global warming “has been very weak and oversimplified,” which she said has contributed to the public sense that it is a “merely scientific” issue that has little connection to people’s lives.

“People are more concerned about things that directly affect them,” said Deschamps, who is also an activist for risk management in poor communities, and considers citizen mobilisation key to curbing damage to the environment.

The 195 country parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting in the French capital adopted a binding universal agreement aimed at keeping a global temperature rise this century “well below 2 degrees Celsius” with respect to the pre-industrial era.

Scientists warn that the planet is heating up as a result of human activity, and this is causing extreme weather events such as heat waves, lengthy droughts and heavy rainfall. In addition, clean water, fertile land and biodiversity are all being reduced.

Coastal areas are already suffering the consequences of rising sea levels, a process that according to scientific sources began 20,000 years ago, but has been accelerated by global warming over the last 150 years.

Small island nations such as those of the Caribbean are among the most vulnerable to climate change, while their emissions have contributed very little to the phenomenon.

“As journalists and communicators we have not managed to identify the right messages to make the public feel involved in this issue,” said Deschamps at a workshop organised by the Cuban Environmental Protection Agency, the Dominican Chapter of the Nicolás Guillén Foundation, the Norwegian Embassy and the Inter Press Service (IPS) international news agency.

Marie Jeanne Moisse, a reporter and environmental educator who works in the climate change office in Haiti’s Environment Ministry, spoke during a workshop in Santo Domingo about the media’s role in reporting on and raising awareness about global warming. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

Marie Jeanne Moisse, a reporter and environmental educator who works in the climate change office in Haiti’s Environment Ministry, spoke during a workshop in Santo Domingo about the media’s role in reporting on and raising awareness about global warming. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

To train reporters from the Caribbean, a group of experts from Cuba, Mexico and the Dominican Republic offered a Nov. 23-26 course on “Social Communication for Risk Prevention, Gender and Climate Change” in the Dominican capital.

The course was attended by 41 journalists from Haiti and the Dominican Republic. It included three talks that experts gave to students from two rural schools and to a group of 25 Haitian-Dominican women.

“The media need to be trained to provide more information at a national level on the phenomenon and about the agreement reached at COP21,” said Marie Jeanne Moise, an official in the climate change office in Haiti’s Environment Ministry.

According to Moise, a communicator and educator on the environment, “there is alarming talk today about global warming, and people are scared. But that doesn’t mean they know about the phenomenon or about how to protect themselves, to reduce the impacts on their lives.”

Moise urged journalists and reporters to “go to the roots of the problem.”

“News coverage focuses on catastrophes and on how vulnerable we are. But little is said about what contribution the media should make to help bring about a positive change in attitude towards the environment.”

The Haitian official said COP21 “created greater unity among the Caribbean as a vulnerable region that needs to adopt a common position.”

The countries in the region that took part in COP21 are negotiating as part of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), made up of 15 mainly island nations, and as part of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).

Ahead of COP21, CARICOM launched the “1.5 to Stay Alive” campaign to raise awareness on the effects of climate change, especially on small island states, while strengthening the region’s negotiating position.

CARICOM estimates that inaction could cost its member countries 10.7 billion dollars in losses by 2025, or five percent of GDP, and some 22 billion dollars by 2050, or 10 percent of GDP.

Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which share the island of Hispaniola, are on the list of the 10 countries most vulnerable to natural disasters, according to the Climate Change and Environmental Risk Analytics report published in 2012 by Verisk Maplecroft, a global risk analytics and forecasting company based in Britain.

Besides physical and economic exposure to events like earthquakes and hurricanes, these countries are vulnerable due to social inequality, a lack of preparedness, and unequal distribution of local and regional capacities, said the study, which compared 197 countries using 29 indices and interactive maps analysing major natural hazards worldwide.

Dominican blogger and human rights activist Yesibon Reynoso said that in his country “quite a lot is known and talked about, with regard to the environment, because of the current circumstances.”

But, he said, “for example, deforestation is not always punished. Impunity reigns through exploitation with the support of corruption in the state.”

In his view, “environmental rights are not addressed in accordance with how essential they are to life, in the country and around the globe. There is no traditional social and political respect for the environment.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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