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

Freedom of Expression in the News: Weekly round-up 15-21 October 2011

Canada: Former homosexual’s freedom a high court issue

A controversial case has come before Canada’s Supreme Court involving a formerly homosexual man who is now an anti-“gay” activist. When he was younger, he was gay, but then he became religious and renounced a homosexual lifestyle. Now he is known in his community for “distributing pro-family materials in people’s mailboxes, urging them to keep homosexuality out of the public schools. […] He also distributes leaflets, and has placed a newspaper ad, that quotes the Bible on homosexual conduct.” Naturally, people have complained and the Human Rights Commission of Saskatchewan has ordered him to cease this activity and pay a fine of $17,500. Now that the case is before the Supreme Court, interestingly enough, he has gained a lot of support from the homosexual community. Though they find his comments offensive, they feel that his right to freedom of speech is more important. The case is set to be decided within the year.

Sudan: Sudan’s parliament witnesses heated discussions over press censorship

The Sudanese Parliament organised a seminar this Monday to discuss proposed amendments to the country’s Press and Publication Act (2009). An intense debate took place between parties. The Sudanese constitution guarantees freedom of expression, however in practice, ‘[Sudanese] security authorities routinely censor and confiscate newspapers to prevent publication of information deemed sensitive’ and ‘the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) still contact newspapers by phone prior to printing and conveys a list of issues that should not be covered.’ Much to everyone’s surprise, the leading member of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), Fathi Shilah, made statements in favor of freedom of press, ‘he described press censorship as an act of backwardness regardless of the authority that implements it.’ The Sudanese Journalists Union (SJN) was adamant that amendments must be made to the press law to ‘accommodate “the forthcoming era of freedom and democratic transformation,” in Sudan,’ but some say it will take more than that; some believe the real problem lies with the National Security Act that grants NISS the power to censor the press.,40458 

UK: A crucial week for the cause of free expression

This week, the UK Supreme Court will hear the Times’ appeals concerning the outcome in the libel case brought against them by Metropolitan Police Officer Gary Flood. Allegations that Flood had taken bribes was found to be untrue; “Flood was found to have done no wrong, he alleged that the continuing presence of the report of allegations on the Times’ website impugned his reputation, and sued”. Continue reading ‘Freedom of Expression in the News: Weekly round-up 15-21 October 2011’

Social networking communication: has the line on free speech been Drawn too far?

“Smash down in Northwich Town,” the name of a Facebook event page which has cost its creator, Jordan Blackshaw, four years in prison. The sentence followed the Chester Crown Court’s verdict that the event page, created during the London riots, was capable of inciting others to commit riot. However, given that the event went unattended, the town of Northwich left undisturbed, Brendon O’Neill, editor of Spiked, an independent online forum, questions whether the courts were justified in criminalising the defendant’s behaviour and considers whether the convictions were in fact a violation of the defendant’s right to freedom of expression. Continue reading ‘Social networking communication: has the line on free speech been Drawn too far?’

Freedom of Expression in the News- Weekly Round Up: 13 – 19 August

Angola: Journalist arrested for reporting on ‘mass fainting’.

Angolan journalist Adão Tiago was detained following a report on Radio Ecclesia on the fainting of 20 students at the local school where he teaches English. Toajo questioned the national wave of ‘mass fainting’ since April 2011. Over 800 people, most of them teenagers, fainted after complaining of sore throats and eyes, shortness of breath and coughs. The media has been blamed for exacerbating the problem by creating mass hysteria. Tiago was released after 23 hours of questioning.

Northern Ireland: News organisations claim police are putting journalists at risk

Chief Constable Matt Baggott was warned by Northern Irish editors that demands from police for media riot footage could endanger journalists. This followed a court order that media companies, including the BBC, must hand over images of the recent riots in Belfast. Seven media groups were concerned that such an order impinged on their duty to be impartial and they feared reprisals from rioters.

Vietnam: Blogger jailed for attempted subversion

A French Vietnamese professor was found guilty of trying to overthrow the government and sentenced to three years imprisonment. He was charged for being a member of a banned pro-democracy group – US based Viet Tan – and editing an anti-communist blog, where he posted 33 articles against the current one-party community government. Continue reading ‘Freedom of Expression in the News- Weekly Round Up: 13 – 19 August’

Apple and Net Neutrality – Relevant?

In recent months the legal and ethical debate over net neutrality and its implications for freedom of expression has drawn quite a bit of attention. Net neutrality is of utmost cultural, societal, and legal significance. Net neutrality regulation is one of the most important decisions the world’s lawmakers will have to make in the upcoming years. A prominent example can be found in Apple, the company famous for its computers, mp3 players, and most recently the iPhone. The quarrel over the submission and review policy for publishing an application on the Apple App Store has become highly controversial. Now, the actual review policy is too long to include in this blog but the gist is explained quite well in Apple’s official summary:

‘The app approval process is in place to ensure that applications are reliable, perform as expected, and are free of explicit and offensive material. We review every app on the App Store based on a set of technical, content, and design criteria…’ Continue reading ‘Apple and Net Neutrality – Relevant?’

Freedom of Expression in the News: Weekly Round Up, 29 July- 5 August

Dominican Republic: Critical Journalist Murder

Director of the magazine La Voz de la Verdad and host of Caña TV programme, José Agustín Silvestre, was brutally murdered after he accused members of the government and a priest of being involved in drug trafficking and money laundering. This follows a local prosecutor’s filing of a defamation complaint against the deceased, Silvestre, in May.


Saudi Arabia: Stop Trial of Journalist

Human Rights Watch has called for the head of the Saudi Judiciary to cease all criminal proceedings against a Saudi journalist who has been charged with defaming a local official. The journalist wrote an article about alleged attempts by an official health inspector to extort money from shopkeepers in Huta, a town south of Riyadh. Christoph Wilcke, senior Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch stated, “Silencing reporters who try to expose corruption sends the wrong message to Saudi officials and the public.”


Africa: Windhoek +20 Draft Declaration Released

The African Platform on Access to Information Working Group has released the second draft of its declaration. The declaration sets out minimum standards for access to information on a national scale and is part of an intercontinental initiative to promote access to information in Africa. It can be found online at


Continue reading ‘Freedom of Expression in the News: Weekly Round Up, 29 July- 5 August’

Burma: Liberalisation to conceal repression?

Burma, also known as Myanmar, held its first elections in 20 years in November 2010, and the new ‘civilian’ government took office in March 2011. However, as many international observers have reported, the elections were fraudulent and undemocratic. A quarter of the seats on Parliament are reserved for the military, and a military-backed party controls 80% of the rest. According to reports, the government continues to imprison political opponents,  use convicts as human shields for the military, violently repress ethnic minorities, silence critics through censorship of the press, and limit access to information through surveillance of the internet, among other claims. The result is absolute military rule wearing the mask of democracy; a mask that the government thinks it can continue to wear as long as it controls the press and the internet. Continue reading ‘Burma: Liberalisation to conceal repression?’

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