Freedom of Expression in the News: Weekly round-up 31 December 2011 – 6 January 2012

Panama: Panama president on warpath against independent media, opposition claims

5 January 2012

 “He is a prosperous businessman who made his fortune through a chain of supermarkets, proving himself to be ruthless with his competitors. Now President Ricardo Martinelli is showing the same cut-throat pattern with the press in Panama. Media owners and opposition politicians last week accused Martinelli of trying to curtail press freedoms in the isthmus nation by threatening to impose fines and taxes on radio stations and newspapers that have been reporting on a string of political scandals affecting his administration.

Martinelli ‘has a bad dermatology problem – he has thin skin when it comes to tolerating criticism and dissent,’ says Guillermo Adames, owner of Radio Omega Stereo in Panama City. ‘They sent the taxman to come see me after I questioned the government in a radio commentary and in the newspaper La Prensa. I think this was part of a campaign of intimidation so that there would be no such criticism from journalists or media owners.’

Panamanian Popular Party lawmaker Milton Henríquez accused the government of trying to “silence the voices of dissent.” “This is what a typical fascist would do to gain absolute power,” said the opposition lawmaker.”

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Rwanda: Proposed media law fails to safeguard free press

5 January 2012

“A revised media law promised by the Rwandan government prior to and during its Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council in 2011 fails to safeguard the right to freedom of expression and a free media. ARTICLE 19 welcomes several improvements in the draft, but calls on the government to bring the law into full compliance with international legal standards on the right to freedom of expression.

The State retains its control over the media in the draft Law by determining rules for its operation and defining journalists’ professional standards. Media freedoms and the right to freedom of expression are not safeguarded and can be restricted in violation of international law due to overly broad definitions and the creation of vaguely defined prohibitions. The Minister in charge of information and communication technologies (ICT) is given unlimited powers to determine the requirements for establishing media outlets and conditions for accepting foreign audio-visual media to operate in Rwanda. ARTICLE 19 is also concerned that the proposed amendments leave untouched problematic provisions in the current Media Law that are not in compliance with international standards.”

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UK: The tabloids should not live in fear of the Leveson Inquiry

5 January 2012

“Before Christmas, Lord Justice Leveson told his inquiry that he was sure “there has been a lot of reflection” in the newspaper industry on the methods used to secure certain stories. As proof, he cited my suggestion that front-page scoops were going unpublished by the tabloids for fear of a public outcry or censure at the inquiry. “The real question,” he added, “is, will it last?”

I hope and pray it doesn’t. Right now, I’m either involved with or know of at least half a dozen stories that, pre-Leveson, would have dominated the front pages for days. But tabloid editors are on the back foot now, worried about upsetting their readers and causing more adverse comment at the inquiry, even if a story has been generated by legitimate means. We’ve gone from one extreme to the other: for years, virtually all that has mattered to these editors is whether a story is going to sell papers and not cost them heavy legal bills. But the Leveson accusations, be it from the Dowlers and McCanns or Hugh Grant and Steve Coogan, have created an atmosphere of fear in which the tabloids are scared of breaking big scoops – and that’s not healthy in any democracy.”

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Iran: Iran clamps down on internet use

5 January 2012

Iran is clamping down heavily on web users before parliamentary elections in March with draconian rules on cybercafés and preparations to launch a national internet. Tests for a countrywide network aimed at substituting services run through the World Wide Web have been carried out by Iran’s ministry of information and communication technology, according to a newspaper report. The move has prompted fears among its online community that Iran intends to withdraw from the global internet.

The police this week imposed tighter regulations on internet cafes. Cafe owners have been given a two-week ultimatum to adopt rules requiring them to check the identity cards of their customers before providing services. “Internet cafes are required to write down the forename, surname, name of the father, national identification number, postcode and telephone number of each customer,” said an Iranian police statement, according to the news website Tabnak.”

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China: China claims it has successfully curbed ‘excessive entertainment’ on TV

4 January 2012

“Dating and talent shows among targets after President Hu Jintao warned that western culture was out to attack China. A campaign to curb “excessive entertainment” by cutting the number of racy programmes on Chinese satellite television channels has been successful, state media reported, after President Hu Jintao warned that western culture was out to attack China.

The broadcast regulator ordered the cutback in entertainment programmes in October, taking particular aim at dating and talent shows, programmes featuring “emotional stories” and those of “low taste”. Channels are now showing programmes that “promote traditional virtues and socialist core values”, Xinhua news agency said.”

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India: ‘Clean up your website’: Indian court orders Facebook and Google to remove ‘anti-religious’ content

2 January 2012

“Social websites including Google and Facebook have been ordered by an Indian court to remove all ‘anti-religious’ and ‘anti-social’ content within six weeks. On Saturday a Delhi Court ordered 22 social networking sites, including Yahoo and Microsoft, to wipe the objectionable and defamatory contents and file compliance reports by February 6, 2012.

Additional Civil Judge Mukesh Kumar passed the order on a suit filed by Mufti Aijaz Arshad Qasmi seeking to restrain the websites from circulating objectionable and defamatory contents. Qasmi had objected to a number of images on the websites which he complained would cause ‘irreparable loss and injury to the people who are offended by them’. He argued that some of the images defamed Hindu gods, Prophet Mohammed and other religious figures, India Today website reported.”

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Sudan: Sudan continues raid on media freedom

“In an attempt to further paralyse its media industry and gag government critics, Sudan has shut down a newspaper linked to the country’s main opposition party.  As Sudanese security forces are occupying the offices of the daily al-Rai al-Shaab newspaper, the Popular Congress Party is still waiting for an explanation behind the raid and the confiscation of the newspaper’s assets.  “They haven’t given us any reason for the decision. They are now occupying the newspaper’s building,” said party spokesman Naji Dahab in an interview with news agency Reuters. “We think it’s because the government cannot handle press freedom.”

IT’s the second time the publication has been raided and shut down. The state-linked Sudanese Media Center (SMC) however stated that the closure was due to newspaper’s violation of “professional and ethical standards.”  It is not the first time the Sudanese authorities are giving local journalists a hard time.  Since South Sudan became an independent state last year, media organisations have experienced growing pressure by security forces – especially those who are critical of the government and covering sensitive issues such as human rights and the economic crisis that sprouted since the South Sudan split.”

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Nigeria:Thugs Attack Media Trust Office in Kano

4 January 2012

“A large number of armed thugs yesterday attacked the Regional Office of the Media Trust in Kano, publishers of Daily Trust Newspapers, allegedly protesting a story published by the newspaper in which the state government was reported to have supported Federal Government’s position on fuel subsidy withdrawal.

The newspaper had in its yesterday’s edition, reported that the state government had at a press briefing addressed on Tuesday by the state’s deputy governor, Dr Abdullahi Ganduje, supported the Federal Government’s measure at withdrawing fuel subsidy, calling for public understanding of the new policy. The subsidy removal had sparked up protests across the country.

The rampaging thugs had destroyed in the process, the office’s transportation van and injured one of the office security guards, Malam Mukhtar Muhammad, who is receiving treatment at the Murtala Muhammad Specialist Hospital, Kano.”

Democratic Republic of Congo: RFI broadcasts suspended over election coverage

4 January 2012

“Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo shut down broadcasts of the French government-funded Radio France Internationale over its coverage of the aftermath of the November 2011 presidential elections, news reports said. On Monday, Communications Minister Lambert Mende said the Council of Ministers had ordered the “temporary” measure of switching off RFI’s six FM broadcast frequencies until the Congolese Broadcasting and Communications Superior Council, the new state-run media regulatory agency, had issued a decision.

The run-up to the presidential elections saw anti-press violence, including arson attacks, against journalists and media outlets supportive of opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, according to CPJ research. On November 28, incumbent President Joseph Kabila defeated Tshisekedi although he took less than 50 percent of the votes in the election, which was marred by deadly violence and allegations of irregularities, news reports said. Security forces cracked down on subsequent protests by pro-opposition supporters, but Tshisekedi declared himself president-elect and staged a swearing-in ceremony and a new year’s national address, according to news reports. RFI reported on both of these events.”


Syria: Recent deaths of Syrian journalists cement Arab world’s ranking as deadly region for journalists in 2011, say IFEX members

4 January 2012

“Citizen journalist Basil al-Sayed was fatally shot in the head by Syria’s security forces while filming the 29 December bloodbath in Homs. Four days later, state journalist Shukri Ahmed Ratib Abu Burghul died in a Damascus hospital from a gunshot wound to the head received on 29 December while on his way home from work. Their murders – amid political unrest – cement the Middle East and North Africa’s ranking as one of the world’s most dangerous region for journalists in 2011. At least 18 work-related fatalities occurred in the volatile region last year, according to IFEX members.

“Journalists working in this environment are in no less danger than war correspondents covering an armed conflict,” Ahmed Tarek, a reporter for the Middle East News Agency who was assaulted by police while covering protests in Alexandria, Egypt, told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). “The greatest danger journalists are facing today in post-revolution Arab countries is the targeting of journalists by political forces hostile to anyone who exposes them.”

Hungary faces squeeze on freedoms

5 January 2012

Huge crowds protest Hungary’s new constitution, as the country’s political elite celebrates legislation which cements their power. Sándor Orbán reports “Viktor Orbán is the captain of Titanic. The iceberg is already there; the iceberg is us,” exclaimed Péter Kónya of the Hungarian Solidarity movement to a crowd of tens of thousands gathered in central Budapest on 2 January to protest against the new constitution . The rally was organised by civil society groups and opposition parliamentary parties. It took place near the Opera House where Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his supporters were attending an extravagant gala celebrating the new constitution coming in effect.

The new constitution put an end to liberal democracy in Hungary. It was pushed through the parliament without any public discussion by a populist prime minister, who used his party’s super-majority to rush the legislation,  passed in only few weeks last spring.”


Trinidad and Tobago Police Raid Broadcaster

1 January 2012

“More than 20 armed police officers on Thursday raided the offices of a private television broadcaster in Trinidad and Tobago’s capital city Port of Spain.  Local media reported that police came to the offices of Caribbean Communications Network Television 6 (CCN) to execute a search warrant for a videotape containing footage depicting an alleged sexual assault on a mentally-disabled 13-year-old girl.

Representatives of CCN reportedly met with police officers at the offices and handed over the videotape. Local observers said that police carrying out the raid blocked both entrances to the compound where CCN’s offices are located and searched both staff and visitors. Authorities last year opened an investigation into complaints that the broadcaster may have breached the Sexual Offences Act when it aired the footage in October during reporter Ian Alleyne’s controversial Crime Watch program. Alleyne apologised on air and CCN suspended him, but he and the show returned to the station’s airwaves in November.”

Germany: German president tried to block home loan story: reports

“German President Christian Wulff came under renewed fire Monday over a report he tried to stop a newspaper revealing details of a private home loan that has prompted widespread criticism.Wulff allegedly left an answerphone message for Bild’s chief editor threatening to break all contact with the paper’s publishers if the story appeared, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily said. It said the call to the editor-in-chief of the mass circulation Bild daily took place on December 12, a day before the paper broke the story about the 500,000-euro ($646,000) loan.

Bild later Monday published its version of events in a statement on its website confirming Wulff had left a long message on the mobile phone of editor-in-chief Kai Diekmann.”The president was outraged over the research on the house loan and threatened among other things criminal consequences for the Bild journalist responsible,” it said. Before running the initial article Bild said it had asked Wulff, whose role is largely ceremonial but who acts as a kind of moral compass for the country, for a statement, which he gave, before later withdrawing it.”


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