Freedom of Expression in the News: Weekly round-up, 23 August 2010

Indonesia: “Indonesian president calls for religious tolerance”, August 16, 2010

Amid growing attacks by Islamic radicals on religious minorities, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono called for religious tolerance and stressed the need for greater harmony and mutual respenct within Indonesian society. Indonesia’s constitution explicitly guarantees freedom of religion and the country has ratified the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, yet rights groups such as the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace have said that there were 28 cases of religious freedom violations from January to July of this year and Human Rights Watch earlier this month said that radical Islamists have pruposely instigated inter-communal violence.

Venezuela: “Opposition group slams Venezuela for opening probe against newspaper”, August 16, 2010

Following the publication of a photograph showing “about a dozen bodies, mostly naked, sprawled on tables at a morgue in Caracas” on the front page of the newspaper El-Nacional, government prosecutors have opened an investigation to determine whether the publication of the photograph has broken any laws with specific reference to those which concern the protection of children. A coalition of opposition parties however have described this as an attack on the press and ultimately a diversion from the real problem of violent crime that the photograph served to highlight

United Kingdom: “Privacy law to stop rise in gagging orders by judges”, August 17, 2010

Since the Human Rights Act 1998, the number of injunctions in which a court orders a newspaper not to publish a story has risen. This has led some members of Parliament to suggest that in the absence of a privacy law, one is slowly being formed by judicial decisions. This is an undesirable outcome according to Lord McNally who says that a privacy law should be openly debated and freely decided by Parliament so as to clarify and consolidate the current position in law. Campaigners for freedom of speech on the other hand have expressed the fear that any new privacy law could frustrate investigations by journalists which are clearly in the public interest, such as the MPs’ expenses inquiry by The Daily Telegraph last year.

South Africa: “Cry freedom … of expression: SA media under attack”, August 18, 2010

President Jacob Zuma’s ANC has recently introduced a Protection of Information bill through Parliament, which would allow government bodies to classify information that they deem to be in the “national interest”. The meaning of the “national interest” however has not been defined within the bill and it is unclear whether or not, if passed, it could be constitutionally challenged. Some opposition politicians have likened the bill to apartheid-era legislation and censorship, as investigative journalists would allegedly find that merely possessing classified documents would be met with a 25- year jail term.

The ANC has also simultaneously resurrected a 2007 party proposal to establish a ‘Media Appeals Tribunal’, which would be constituted by parliament and would serve oversight and disciplinary functions to particularly combat journalists “who get stories wrong” or are suspected of bias towards a particular political faction. Coupled with the Protection of Information bill, members of the media and civil society groups believe that these recent actions, if successful, would foster a culture of impunity in the face of ongoing revelations regarding corruption within the government and police.,media-attack-feature.html

Iceland: “Iceland aiming to be a global press freedom haven”, August 19, 2010

In an effort to recover from its recent financial difficulties, Iceland has recently passed the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI), a resolution aimed at protecting investigative journalists and their sources. In collaboration with the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, the country seeks to become a safe-haven for international journalists and whistleblowers. According to Birgitta Jonsdottir, the Member of Parliament behind the initiative, this resolution may also have implications in countries such as China and Sri Lanka where journalists risk their lives. That is, if their work is hosted by Icelandic internet servers then they would in theory remain beyond foreign censorship. The initiative is set to take effect in 18 months.

DR Congo: “Journalist evacuated from city after receiving serious death threats”, August 19, 2010

A journalist who is believed to be the only photographer at the scene in Lwandanda when Kapuku was violently assaulted and one of his bodyguards lynched to death by the townspeople, was evacuated from Kanange by the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in the DR Congo (MONUSCO) after receiving numerous death threats and demands to return the images he has in his possession.

Italy: “Amended ‘gag law’ removes publishers’ liability – but leaves journalists still facing huge penalties”, August 20, 2010

A bill to introduce what has been described by some as a ‘gag law’ has been amended in response to criticism from domestic and international civil society groups, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression, and some of Silvio Berlusconi’s own political allies.

In its original form the bill placed restrictions on the use of phone taps as an investigative tool and imposed a ban on the publication of the transcripts of conversations obtained covertly until suspects were sent to trial – a step that critics have said would limit the ability of the press to report on investigations given the lengthy delays common in the Italian justice system.

The new bill removes publishers’ liability, but leaves journalists potentially exposed to liability if they publish leaked transcripts given to them by investigators. In addition, transcripts will now be allowed to be published when considered appropriate to do so by investigating magistrates and a judge, taking into account the privacy rights of those involved, believes that it is in the public interest to do so.

Argentina: “Argentine government clamps down on country’s largest media organisation”, August 21, 2010

Following the announcement of a merger between two companies owned by Clarin, Argentina’s largest media organisation and one of the leading critics of the government, the company’s internet service provider (ISP) has been ordered to cease operations and its customers have been instructed to find a new provider within the next three months.

The government claims that the Clarin media group’s announcement of a merger between its internet service provider Fibertel and cable television arm Cablevisión “usurped” the terms of its contract and that it was operating illegally. The Clarin group has had a confrontational relationship with both Nestor and Christina Kirchner’s presidential administrations since 2008. Clarin and opposition politicians have since denounced this move as an attack on freedom of expression whilst Mr. Kirchner, back in May, stated that the real threat to freedom of expression comes the concentration of media power and monopolistic corporations.

Azerbaijan: “Azerbaijan Supreme Court rejects bloggers’ appeal: lawyer”, August 21, 2010

Two bloggers who were arrested, tried and convicted on charges of hooliganism after a scuffle in a restaurant have had their appeals rejected by the Azerbaijan Supreme Court. Adnan Hajizade and Emin Milli were arrested shortly after satirising the government with an internet video that showed a donkey giving a press conference in order to critique recent government decisions and the national press. They were sentenced to two and half years in prison in November 2009 on charges related to the scuffle, but the bloggers and rights groups have vehemently asserted that the arrests were politically motivated.

They both are currently considering a formal application to the European Court of Human Rights.


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