Archive for the 'Journalists' Category

Swazi PM threatens to censor journalists

 In a statement published last Tuesday in the state-owned Swazi Observer newspaper the Prime Minister, Sibusiso Dlamini accused news columnists of tarnishing the name of the country and taking bribes from foreign parties. He announced his intention to create a law that requires journalists to seek permission before publishing any article which is critical of the government. No further detail is provided about what the law would require or when it may be enacted.

  Continue reading ‘Swazi PM threatens to censor journalists’


The growing problem of impunity for attacks against journalists

2010 seems, so far, to be a particularly bloody year for journalists. In countries all around the world journalists have been attacked and killed by private citizens, without the States in question providing protection or conducting investigations and punishing those responsible.

In Europe, the European Court of Human Rights condemned Turkey for not preventing the death of Fırat Dink, an Armenian-Turkish reporter in 2007, despite that State being aware of the death threats against him. As yet, there have been no convictions in Mr. Dink’s murder. Meanwhile, Article XIX and International Media Support called on Belarus, Russia and the Ukraine to increase the protection of journalists and end the impunity of those who attack them. The deaths of journalists like Georgiy Gongadze in Ukraine in 2000; Anna Politkovskaya in 2006 and of Natalia Estemirova in 2009 both in Russia and the disappearance of Dmitry Zavadsky in Belarus in 2000 remain unsolved. Continue reading ‘The growing problem of impunity for attacks against journalists’

State responsibility for Mexico’s self-censored media

The current climate of self-censorship among journalists in Mexico is unusual as an example of a limit on freedom of expression, as it is born not of armed conflict or revolution, but of a government’s inability to control criminal elements such as drug traffickers and gangs. Mexico has one of the highest rates of kidnapping and violence against journalists in the world, resulting in many media sources ceasing to report upon topics that will place them at risk of retribution. Recently, one of the few newspapers that had so far stood against the trend has pled with gangs to provide guidelines on what it should and should not report, after a young photographer – the second member of the paper’s staff to be killed in two years – was shot earlier this month. Continue reading ‘State responsibility for Mexico’s self-censored media’

The Declining Freedom of Expression Situation in Honduras

Conditions for freedom of expression and journalists’ freedoms in Honduras have been in a state of decline following the military backed coup of 28 June 2009 during which former President Manuel Zelaya was removed from the country. Since March this year, this decline has accelerated: eight journalists have been killed since 1 March 2010.

For at least one of those journalists, Nahúm Palacios Arteaga of TV Channel 5, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued an order to the Honduran government to protect Palacios’ life. The government states it never received the order. However, the IACHR has a document signed by the Honduran Supreme Court attesting receipt of the directive. Continue reading ‘The Declining Freedom of Expression Situation in Honduras’

British author Alan Shadrake still awaits trial in Singapore

The 75 year old British author Alan Shadrake, who was visiting Singapore to launch his new book, ‘Once a Jolly Hangman – Singapore Justice in the Dock’, was arrested on arrival to the country on 20 July 2010. The Singapore Attorney General asserted that passages of the book scandalise the Singapore judiciary and undermine the authority of the courts.

Mr Shadrake has been charged with contempt of court and, if found guilty, could receive a sentence of up to two years in prison. His trial was originally due to start on 30 July but has been adjourned, and Mr Shadrake still awaits trial, having been released on bail.

As the title suggests, Mr Shadrake’s book criticises the death penalty in Singapore and was intended to highlight the double standards and lack of impartiality in its application. However, the reception of his book in Singapore is now also exposing broader concerns relating to constraints on freedom of speech. Singapore is a country where dissent is rare, and it has a reputation for using the courts to silence those who express what it perceives to be unfair criticism of the state. It has been found to lawfully allow ‘censorship of content and distribution of print material and films, severe limits on public processions and assemblies, and prolonged detention of suspects without trial’, in the interests of security, public order, morality, national harmony, or friendly foreign relations.

Balancing the ‘security of institutions’ with the protection of journalists’ sources

Le Monde, the French daily newspaper, has accused the office of President Nicolas Sarkozy of using the intelligence services to uncover the source of embarrassing news leaks from an investigation into allegations of high-level corruption (involving labour minister Eric Woerth) and alleged illegal party funding by France’s richest woman, L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt.

This allegation and probable legal action are particularly shocking as “reinforcing the protection of journalists’ sources” was one of President Sarkozy’s promises during his electoral campaign and a law to this end was passed in January of this year. If the newspaper’s allegations are true, a counter-espionage probe of this kind would be seen as a clear threat to press freedom and a contravention of the various existing guarantees in place that protect the anonymity of journalistic sources.

The Elysée Palace has responded with an unequivocal denial of Le Monde’s claims: “the presidency…never gave any instructions to any service at all,” an Elysee spokesperson told news agency AFP. Yet Le Monde’s editorial also highlighted intelligence officers reportedly obtained telephone records and confirmed that a senior government official, David Sénat, an adviser to justice minister Michèle Alliot-Marie, had spoken to the newspaper’s journalist Gérard Davet. Sénat has apparently been asked to step down and was offered a post in Cayenne, the capital of French Guyana.

Meanwhile, France’s national police chief, Frederic Pechenard, confirmed that a ministerial aide had been accused of releasing restricted information, but he stressed that evidence against the suspect was collected through a “legitimate investigation of the origin of leaks” performed under the auspices of the domestic intelligence service’s “mission to protect the security of institutions”. This latest chapter in the so-called Bettencourt-Woerth affair has undeniably mounted further pressure on President Sarkozy at a time when his approval rating is close to a record low.

The deteriorating freedom of expression situation in Fiji

Three months after the Media Industry Development Decree was issued by Fijian Prime Minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama, the objects of the Decree are beginning to feel its effect. Australian-owned News Limited are having to sell their newspaper, Fiji Times, targeted by a clause in the Decree which requires all media outlet directors and 90 percent of shareholders to be citizens and permanent residents of Fiji. The Decree also prohibits news broadcasts ‘against the national interest or public order.’

The Decree follows the deportation in 2008 of two staff of the Times, with government officials citing work permit problems. In 2009 a court ruled that Bainimarama’s 2006 coup was illegal, leading him to step down in an apparent prelude to restoring democracy. However, he returned, re-appointed as Prime Minister until 2014, and suspended the Constitution. The Public Emergency Regulations 2009 was decreed on 10 April 2009 and remains in effect.

First the prolonged state of ‘emergency’ enabled government restrictions on media freedom, such as sending ‘information officers’ into newsrooms to prevent ‘negative’ stories being reported. Now with the issuing of the Media Industry Development Decree, the rules of property ownership have also been enlisted potentially to squeeze out critical commentary. Both can be utilised as indirect attacks on media freedom, making public space an inhospitable landscape where free expression may ultimately be inoperable.

South African media regulation poses threat to its constitutional values

The ruling African National Congress is pushing through measures for greater state control of the media in South Africa, by way of a Protection of Information Bill, currently being debated by the legislature, and a proposed Media Tribunal, which would make the country’s press answerable to parliament.  The Protection of Information Bill would introduce criminal offences such as publishing classified information, with a broad definition of “national security”, and minimum prescribed prison sentences for breaches.  The justifications offered by the ANC – that the media is imbalanced, resistant to change and cannot regulate itself – raise questions when set against a background of long-running tension between the ruling party and the press, the latter of which is perceived as taking an ‘anti-ANC’ stance. 

The proposals have been met with outrage from South Africa’s media, free speech defenders and opposition parties, who have branded the measures as “Orwellian”, and highlighted the dangers of the slippery slope of censorship.  The 1996 South African Constitution is internationally praised as one of the most progressive in the world, particularly its Bill of Rights, which sought to redress the endemic injustices of the Apartheid era, and includes a detailed guarantee of freedom of expression, including freedom of the press and other media.  The current government must ensure those constitutional protections are upheld.  Accusations of censorship must be countered by ensuring the protection of freedom of expression for all, including opposition journalists, and the highest safeguards must be put in place against abuse of any media measures that enter into force, so that they protect only legitimate national interests, and not political ones.

Wikileaks: Freedom of Information v National Security

In April this year, Wikileaks posted a video of US Military personnel celebrating after launching an airstrike that killed a dozen Iraqi civilians, including two Reuters journalists. The Pentagon had initially blocked an application by the Reuters News Agency to obtain the video on the grounds that it would compromise US national security; however, Wikileaks director Julian Assange was leaked the video and able to view the recording after breaking through military encyption protecting it. The US has since released an arrest warrant for Mr Assange, who has been advised not to travel to the States.

Since Wikileaks posted the video a soldier has been charged. However, not for the attack on the Iraqi civilians, in direct violation of international law, but rather for leaking the video itself. Army Specialist Bradley Manning was charged with two criminal counts including disclosing classified national defence information, exceeding his authorised access to US computers and transferring classified data onto his personal computer. Continue reading ‘Wikileaks: Freedom of Information v National Security’

The Quest for the ‘Right to Truth’ in Colombia

‘Colombia presents the worst human rights and humanitarian crisis in the Western Hemisphere’.  So said the principal specialist on Colombia for the non-profit group Human Rights Watch, Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno, to the United States Congress, on 23 April 2007.  You can read the full testimony here.

Colombia has the highest level of impunity in journalists’ crimes in Latin America, according to CPJ’s 2010 Impunity Index, which calculates the number of unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of a country’s population. Continue reading ‘The Quest for the ‘Right to Truth’ in Colombia’

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