Friday, July 11, 2014

Ten Years Hard Labour For Exposing Burma's Chemical Weapons Factory

Journalists offer prayers for sentenced colleagues (CNN).

International press freedom and human rights organisations reacted sharply to the 10-year prison sentences imposed on the CEO and four journalists of Burma’s Unity Weekly newspaper after they were convicted, Thursday, under the country’s Official Secrets Act for a story on a chemical weapons factory linked to top generals of the military-backed government. It was published in January.

The 10-year terms for CEO Tint San and reporters Lu Maw Naing, Yarzar Oo, Paing Thet Kyaw (Aung Thura) and Sithu Soe came with hard labour, prompting Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RWB/RSF) to remark that after “considerable progress since 2012, the harsh sentences confirmed that Burma has done a U-turn on freedom of information.”

“This decision by the Magway court is a grave setback for press freedom,” said Benjamin Isma├»l, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific Desk. “Progress had been made but this case marks a return to a dark time when journalists and bloggers who did their job were jailed on national security charges or for allegedly trying to overthrow the government.”

Meanwhile, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) urged the international community to make known its disapproval of the Burmese government’s censorship by bringing to bear “diplomatic pressure” and reconsidering “economic support.”

“This conviction should shatter any illusions that President Thein Sein’s government grasps the role of a free press in a democracy. The international community should act quickly to not only get this decision reversed, but to impress upon the government that its anti-media stance will jeopardize future economic assistance,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia Programme coordinator.

Commenting on the sentence, Rupert Abbott, deputy director, Asia Pacific, of Amnesty International said, “Amnesty International considers all five men to be prisoners of conscience and calls for their immediate and unconditional release.”

The Unity Weekly story implicating the military and the secrecy surrounding its operations, as well as the harsh sentence handed down by the court, led human rights organisations to upbraid at the international community for embracing Naypyidaw’s assurances that the country was on the path of democratic reform. The international community began softening its stance on Burma following general elections of November 2011 and the release of Aung San Suu Kyi weeks later. Many journalists held in custody were released in 2012.

“Today’s sentences expose the government’s promises to improve the human rights situation in the country as hollow ones. They reflect a wider crackdown on free media since the beginning of the year, despite government assurances that such practices would end,” said Abbott in the Amnesty statement.

Similarly, CPJ said, “CPJ has cautioned against premature praise for Burma’s pledge for media-related reforms after the country emerged from decades of international isolation in 2011.”

Thursday’s incursion into media freedom comes days after Burma detained for interrogation three editorsKo Ye Min Aung, Ko Win Tin and Ko Naing Sai Aung – working for the daily Bi Mon Te Nay over a story that appeared on the publication’s front page that Suu Kyi had become part of an interim government. The government said the editors would be prosecuted.

RSF said that six more editors were interrogated between June 20 and 23 about their newspapers’ income, circulation and other details.

“Amid continuing political, ethnic and religious tension, the actions of the Burmese authorities have betrayed a certain desperation. By adopting an authoritarian and repressive attitude with the media, the government is neither protecting national security nor solving problems related to news coverage,” said Ismail.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Journalist Shot Dead Covering Egypt Clashes

A reporter was killed covering anti-government protests in Cairo. Mayada Ashraf reporting for Al-Dostour newspaper and Masr Al-Arabiya website was shot in the head by an unknown gunman during clashes that followed Egypt’s army chief Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s announcement that he was contesting the country’s presidential election. 

The Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RWB/RSF) said the last thing Asharaf had reported was that the army was using live rounds to control the protestors. Four other civilians were also killed.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Bloomberg Abandons "Politically Risky Reporting on China"

Protestors in Paris (Pic. courtesy RSF)

Even as French citizens and international press freedom monitor Reporters without Borders (RSF/RWB) mounted protests against visiting Chinese president, Xi Jinping in Paris, US financial news giant Bloomberg decided the “company was abandoning politically risky reporting on China.”

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

How Governments Misuse Advertising To Censor Media

The Centre for International Media Assistance (CIMA) in partnership with the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) has published a study on the misuse of government advertising to censor freedom of expression and information. Titled, Buying Compliance: Governmental Advertising and Soft Censorship in Mexico, the research “demonstrates how Mexico’s federal and state governments deploy financial power to pressure media outlets and penalise critical reporting.”

The report is the third by CIMA in a series of studies on soft censorship or “indirect government censorship, includes a variety of actions intended to influence media – short of closures, imprisonments, direct censorship of specific content, or physical attacks on journalists or media facilities.” The earlier reports were Soft Censorship: Strangling Serbia's Media and Capturing Them Softly: Soft Censorship and State Capture in the Hungarian Media.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

White House To Authorise Phone Companies Hold Call Data

US media reported White House moves to legally transfer responsibility for the storage of call data to telephone companies from the practice today, where it is collected and held by National Security Agency.

Under the proposed system, NSA can access data from the companies if required. Phone companies are authorised to hold records up to 18 months unlike now where NSA holds records it collects up to five years.

Friday, March 21, 2014

What Makes Beijing Paranoid?

Paul Mooney (Pic Business Insider)

Veteran reporter Paul Mooney was denied a visa to enter China to work as a journalist by Beijing in November. He was getting ready to cover China as correspondent for Reuters. He was earlier correspondent for The South China Morning Post.

“China has been my career,” Mooney told the New York Times. “I never thought it was going to end this way. I’m sad and disappointed.”

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Another Assault On Hong Kong's Media

Banner at a rally for press freedom in Hong Kong (Pic courtesy BBC)

Two senior executives of a media organisation about to launch a Chinese-language newspaper in Hong Kong were attacked in broad daylight on March 19 provoking disturbing questions about press freedom in this semi-autonomous region of China, while memories of the attack on Ming Pao editor Kevin Lao remained fresh in people’s mind.