Monday, August 31, 2009

J. S. Tissainayagam Announced as First Winner of Peter Mackler Award

NEW YORK, Aug. 31, 2009/- Global Media Forum and the US branch of Reporters Without Borders are pleased to announce that respected Sri Lankan journalist and editor J. S. Tissainayagam has been selected as the first winner of the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism. Tissainayagam will be formally awarded the prize at a ceremony at the National Press Club in Washington, DC on October 2, 2009. The key note speaker for the ceremony will be Marcus Brauchli, executive editor of the Washington Post.

J. S Tissainayagam is a respected Tamil journalist and editor who wrote for the North Eastern Monthly Magazine and the Sunday Times in Sri Lanka. And is the founder of the website Outreachsl.com. He was arrested March 7, 2008 by the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) of the Sri Lanka police. He has been charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) amid allegations of physical and emotional abuse by TID forces and got a 20 year sentence on terrorism charges today. “The imposition of this extremely severe sentence on Tissainayagam suggests that some Sri Lanka judges confuse justice with revenge,” Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said. “With the help of confessions extracted by force and information that was false or distorted, the court has used an anti-terrorism law that was intended for terrorists, not for journalists and human rights activists.”

According to RSF, Tissainayagam’s case is the first known instance in the democratic world of a journalist being charged under the provisions of an anti-terror law. Jean-Francois Julliard, Secretary General of RSF, stated that “We are happy to reward J. S. Tissainayagam in 2009, a terrible year for Sri Lanka. This country needs journalists who are determined and concerned with finding the truth. J. S. Tissainayagam is one of those and should never have been imprisoned. Sri Lanka will never know peace if the press is not free to play its role of fourth power. Sri Lankans have the right to be informed about what is happening on their island. They have the right to read words written by men like J. S. Tissainayagam.”

About the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism

The Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism was founded in June, 2008 to honor the memory of Peter Mackler, a Brooklyn-born thirty-five year veteran journalist who championed ethical journalism, freedom of expression, and who helped transform the news agency Agence France Press (AFP) into the international competitor it is today. Mackler also founded Global Media Forum, which has helped train journalists and non-profit organizations to use the media as a tool for social change, and Project Plato, which teaches journalism as a life skill to teenagers.

The Peter Mackler award rewards journalists who fight courageously and ethically to report the news in countries where freedom of the press is either not guaranteed or not recognized. The Award ceremony will take place on October 2, 2009 at 6PM at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, 529 14th St. N.W, 13th Fl.; Washington, DC 20045. The ceremony will be followed by a networking hour. There will be a silent auction.

Contact:
Camille J. Mackler
Project Director, Peter Mackler Award
Global Media Forum
Tel: +1-917-655-3548
Email: cmackler@globalmediaforum.com

Clothilde Le Coz
Director
Reporter Without Borders USA
clc@rsf.org

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

African Journalist Threatened by Government Official



According to The International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), a global organization committed to protecting freedom of expression consisting of over 80 NGOs and managed by Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, a Burundian journalist's life was threatened after he published an article critical of a government official.

Marc Niyonkuru is a correspondent for the privately-owned Radio Isanganiro, which broadcasts throughout Burundi, an impoverished central African nation of nearly nine million. On July 18th, Niyonkuru broadcast a news story that accused the country's Director General of City Planning, Pasteur Bucumi [pictured], of breaking the law by using a government-owned car to campaign for his political party, The National Council for the Defence of Democracy - Forces for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD/FDD).

According to IFEX's report, immediately after the story was broadcast Bucumi called Niyonkuru, threatening to kill him if the report was repeated or the information broadcast again. The following day, Niyonkuru was summoned to Bucumi government office, where the Director General repeated his threats. Later, Alexandre Niyungero, president of the Burundi Association of Journalists, released a statement in support of Niyonkuru, condemning Bucumi's actions. No further information is available at this time.

Friday, August 21, 2009

365th Day in Captivity for Journalists Detained in Somalia

It was one year ago Sunday when journalists Nigel Brennan and Amanda Lindhout (pictured left) were captured in Somalia, a country that has since been declared the most dangerous country in Africa for reporters.

With little media attention or government action for the freelance journalists, from Australia and Canada respectively, the Committee to Protect Journalists reports that the families of the two released this statement:

"Together, the two families continue to work tirelessly to secure Nigel's and Amanda's safe release. With little outside support, the families, who have been united as one throughout this horrendous ordeal, continue to do everything and anything to gain the earliest possible release for their loved ones Amanda and Nigel. Our thoughts and all our love are with Amanda and Nigel, today, just as they have been for the past 365 days, and just as they will be until they are safely home with us. In issuing this brief joint statement the families hope that the media will respect their wishes to be left alone during this particularly emotional time."

Click here to read our earlier post about the kidnapping and the reported conditions under which they are being kept.

Click here to sign the petition for their release.

When The U.S. Is The One To Detain Foreign Journalists

We write a lot about Western journalists being jailed, detained, censored, and even killed while in countries that put minimal value on freedom of speech.

But when Pakistani journalist Rahman Bunairee, 34, sought refuge in the United States, he found himself denied access and detained for 10 days in U.S. custody.

Bunairee covered the actions of Islamic militants in Pakistan while reporting for Voice of America, and it was after these reports that he began receiving threats. According to The Washington Post, Bunairee's home was destroyed with explosives by militants before they came looking for him at his work.

Contrary to the Pakistani government's claims that the Taliban was no longer occupying the North Western region of the country, Bunairee reported that militant gunmen were still patrolling in several of the villages; reports that apparently angered the militant group enough to send them after him.

VOA quickly arranged for a visa to get him out of the country, but because the visa did not mention asylum (it was a for a 1-year scholarship program, which, although related to the work Bunairee was involved in, did not match his story when he arrive in the U.S.), he was detained upon arriving in Dulles International Airport.

After 10 days with out comment from U.S. customs officials or the Department of Homeland Security (who cited privacy concerns) Bunairee was finally released. Although he is out of custody, he is still working with lawyers to secure his asylum here in the United States.

Relieved by his release, the Committee to Protect Journalists released a statement saying, "Bunairee worked as a reporter on the front lines of a conflict of strategic importance to the United States and was brought to Washington by the US-funded Voice of America. We hope that his status in the US will be resolved quickly so he can resume his work as a journalist."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Why China Backed Down on the Green Dam

After the June elections in Iran, the color green was used to symbolize freedom, protest, and the desperate desire for regime change. But in China, attempts at the most expansive internet censorship initiative also aligned itself with this color.

The Green Dam filtering system was supposed to be a part of a mandated program to be installed on every new computer in China, blocking out "harmful" content that would range from pornography to, say, the history of events taking place in Tiananmen Square. But after clear disagreement was voiced by the Chinese, the government is now backpedaling, saying that its intentions were misunderstood and it never planned to take the Green Dam so far.

"[China] floats new laws to gauge reaction. If the reaction is negative, the law oftentimes never comes into being,"said Dan Harris on his site, China Law Blog (as noted by CPJ). The government's decision to back off instead of pushing forward with even more force is a good sign that the country might be more willing to listen to its people.

Although the program will not be required on every computer, it will still be installed on public computers. And even without Green Dam, China's censored web will still ensure that any searches on Tiananmen Square won't suggest it is anything more than the largest urban plaza in the world.

"China is the benchmark, the gold standard, of Internet censorship," says Ken Berman whose company is working on a program called "feed over email" which will help users around the world get around internet censors. He told AFP, "The idea is to extend freedom of the Internet; freedom of the press, freedom of inquiry to those that want to know more." (Click here to read more about the project.)

The Chinese people will remain blocked from certain news and accurate information, but this latest move by the Chinese government can still be seen as a rare moment of progress in freedom and free speech.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Corruption in Russia Increasingly Deadly for Journalists and Activists

The headline on the Reporters Without Borders homepage today read "Russia: From Bad to Worse." And certainly after the deaths of activist Nataliya Estemirova and journalist Anna Politkovskaya (pictured above) that made international headlines last month, the situation in Russia seems to be quickly deteriorating.

Two human rights activists, Alik Dzhabrailov and his wife Zarema Sadulayeva, were found shot dead in Chechnya on Tuesday, the same day journalist Malik Akhmedilov was found murdered. The deaths have lead to greater government scrutiny and even harsh words from EU representatives.

"It is important that an investigation into these latest murders is conducted promptly, transparently and thoroughly." said the Swedish president. "The perpetrators must be brought to justice."

It is a point that needs to be addressed in a country that has been unable to find or prosecute many human rights and journalism victims, in some cases undoubtedly because of government involvement. Such was the case in the investigation and trial that went no where for slain journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

The EU Observer reports that two Chechen newspapers pulled out of the country in recent days due to safety concerns. Two NGOs have also left in recent days.

Amnesty International says, "The light of public scrutiny is gradually being turned off in Chechnya. First, international organizations and journalists were banned from the region, and now, local civil society is being eliminated."

Press intimidation can no longer be considered a rare occurrence in the region. Reporters Without Borders ranks the country 141 out of 173 for press freedom.

For an interesting way to grasp the corruption that occurs in the country, this unique graph from Information is Beautiful breaks down how billions of dollars is spent around the world. According to the chart, bribes to Russian officials come in at a staggering $316 billion. That is just under the $320 billion spent on worldwide drug trafficking, not to mention the $54 billion it would take to feed every child in the world for a year, according to the chart.

Photo Credit: AFP

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Americans Captured at Iranian Border

Their timing could not have been worse. Three American hikers found themselves in Iranian territory while the country was continuing its clampdown on the international community in response to the deadly post-election protests.

Shane Bauer, 27, Sarah Shourd, 30, and Joshua Fattal, 27 were visiting the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniya when they were arrested for crossing the Iraqi border into Iran. Shane Bauer is a journalist who has written for The Nation, Christian Science Monitor, Aljazeera.net, and has an article in this month's Mother Jones magazine.

The Committee to Protect Journalists says that all three of the hikers had interests in writing and photography although the reason for this hike was purely sightseeing.

"There is no Lonely Planet Iraqi Kurdistan," said their friend, Shon Meckfessel, who stayed behind on that day's hike to recover from a cold. He said the spot they picked to hike was highly recommended by the locals they consulted and they had no idea it would lead them near the border.

The U.S. has stepped in to seek the release of the three, after over a week of just trying to confirm they were in fact in Iranian custody. Since the U.S. does not have diplomatic relations with Iran, Iraq has pleaded on behalf of the United States for the prisoners' release.

Shane Bauer, the freelance journalist, speaks Arabic and has been based in the Middle East and Northern Africa for six years. You can see a sampling of his work on his webpage.

Photo Credit: AFP

Monday, August 10, 2009

AFP Announces First Winner of Peter Mackler Scholarship

Agence France Press (AFP) has announced Charlotte Turner of Cardiff University as the first winner of the AFP-Peter Mackler Scholarship. The program, the only current English-language scholarship offered by AFP, was created in honor of Peter Mackler who died suddenly on June 20, 2009. Mackler spent the majority of his career as a journalist working for AFP and was serving as the North Americas chief editor at the time of his death. Mackler is largely credited with having built AFP's English language service and transforming the news agency into a large-market competitor.

The AFP-Peter Mackler Scholarship is not affilated with the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism, which is managed by Global Media Forum and the US branch of Reporters Without Borders. The Peter Mackler Award seeks to recognize the contributions made and risks taken by journalists working in countries where freedom of the press is either not recognized or not guarantied. The first winner of the Peter Mackler Award will be announced August 22, 2009. Please check back on this blog or on our website for more details on the winner and the award ceremony.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Not to be Forgotten: Amanda Lindhout's Latest Plea

As the five month captivity of American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee finally ended today, due to the help of former US President Bill Clinton who traveled to North Korea late Monday August 3, 2009, thousands of supporters worlwide let out a collective sigh of relief. Yet, another desparate plea by another captured journalist went relatively unnoticed.

Canadian freelance reporter Amanda Lindhout has been detained for nearly a year by Somali rebels, along with Australian photographer Nigel Brennan. Lindhout and Brennan's captors have demanded a ransom of over $1 million dollars, but so far neither the Canadian nor the Australian government have made visible attempts to negotiate the two journalists' release.

There has been a large outcry over the detention of several American reporters over the last few months, most notably Roxana Saberi who detained by Iran for 100 days before being freed in April, and Ling and Lee, mentioned above. Lawlessness in Somalia itself has been covered extensively since Somali pirates captured an American ship in April, 2009. Yet Lindhout and Brennan's plight has barely been reported in mainstream media and a petition set up to demand their release has only amassed 1,780 signatures (compare to 88,249 for Ling and Lee or 10,669 for Saberi).

You can watch here to hear excerpts of Lindhout's emotional call, in which she describes severe medical issues she is suffering from and where she describes why she fears for her life.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Breaking: North Korea Pardons Euna Lee and Laura Ling

After today's visit by former president Bill Clinton, the North Korean government has agreed to a "special pardon" for the two journalists sentenced to 12 years hard labor.

As we wrote in yesterday's update, Euna Lee and Laura Ling were arrested on the border of China and North Korea and charged with initiating a "politically motivated smear campaign". It is unclear whether they were arrested on the Chinese side or the North Korean side, or whether their confessions of guilt were real, coerced, or if they ever actually occurred.

The harsh punishment sent down by leader Kim Jong-il is widely believed to be an attempt at gaining worldwide attention and perhaps political leverage.

Click here for the New York Times' update on the story.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon

Monday, August 3, 2009

Update on Laura Ling and Euna Lee

We posted last month on Laura Ling and Euna Lee, American journalists who were arrested on March 17 by North Korean forces while filming refugees on the China/North Korea border and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor. The families of both women have stated that they worry that this era of the 24-hour news cycle, their story will fade and the urgency of the situation forgotten. So - while the tight-lipped North Korean media has offered little to report in terms of concrete developments - we bring you an update on their situation and some reactions to their imprisonment:

*A few days after their arrest, North Korean officials announced that Ling and Lee had confessed to a "politically motivated smear campaign" against the communist regime. No one knows, however, the circumstances surrounding the confession, or whether it happened at all.

*On July 10, Secrety of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made a statement to North Korean officials, asking that the two be granted amnesty and returned home. Later, she commented to ABC News that North Korea's leadership of late has behaved like "teenagers demanding attention." An unnamed North Korean official quoted by the state-run KCNA news agency fired, bacl, calling Clinton unintelligent and "funny." The war of words seems to have gotten Ling and Lee nowhere.

*On July 29, reportadly fed up that US State Department efforts seemed to be making little progress, UN chief Ban Ki Moon said that he has "taken [his] own initiative to free the journalists," though he refused to discuss details.

*On July 28 Mallika Chopra, a friend of Lee (and daughter of Deepak Chopra) posted a blog entry on the website Intent, stating that based on "press accounts, briefings by the US State Department and his limited correspondences with Euna in the last 4 months, Michael [Sladate, Euna Lee's husband] believes that Euna and Laura are currently being held in a Medical Detention Facility ... Michael is confident that his wife and Laura are being treated “fairly,” and have not been transported to the infamous North Korean labor camps as their sentence deems."

*Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times offers his insight about the experience of reporting in the region, and posits a (generally hopeful) theory about the circumstances of their arrest and what will happen from here. Disturbingly, however, Kristof thinks that "Ling and Lee may have been sold to North Korea by a local guide. If the guide said that it was safe to cross, or that they were still on Chinese territory, they would have believed him ... at a time of crisis, when it is undergoing a leadership transition and a confrontation with the West, North Korea would probably pay well for a few extra bargaining chips in the form of American journalists."

*And, most importantly, an updated link (the previous one crashed) to the petition to free Ling and Lee.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Chavez Claims Media Violated Free Speech, Shuts Down 34 Broadcasters

Protesters rallied on Saturday to object to the government shutdown of 34 radio and television stations. Crowds of at least 200 gathered outside Contatel, the country's communications regulator who broke the news. This move follows the shut down of two oppositional television stations just two years earlier.

“In any country that respects the rule of law, a broadcast media suspected of using a frequency in an irregular manner would have been warned in advance that proceedings were being initiated against it and its representatives would have been given a chance to defend themselves or file an appeal,” says Reporters Without Borders.

The crowds outside Contatel in Caracas called Chavez a dictator, while the president says that the outlets are to blame for abusing free speech. "Freedom of expression must be limited,"said Luisa Ortega, Venezuela's Attorney General.

The government is also claiming that the move serves to "democratize" the media and take it out of the hands of the elite. And for yet another inconsistent excuse, a representative from Contatel says the shut downs were due to administrative errors where the stations failed to update their licenses or let them expire.

This assortment of explanations come just one day after Chavez expressed support for new legislation that could further restrict journalists and send them to jail for "media crimes." According to the Latin American Herald Tribune, one area of the proposed bill states that "any person who divulges false news through the media that upsets public peace ... will be sentenced to between two and four years in prison." "False", "manipulated" or "distorted" reports that "harm the interests of the state" would be reason enough to jail journalists for six months to four years.

Government interference isn't a new tactic for silencing media critics; In 2007 RCTV, a known government critic, was not allowed to renew its license. Self censorship was apparent in at least two other stations that noticeably modified their programing after the 2007 incident.

"With the exception of Cuba, Venezuela is the only country in the region that shows such flagrant disregard for universal standards of freedom of expression," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch.