Monday, October 19, 2009

Huffington Post blogger blocked from accepting journalism award by Cuban government

Yoani Sánchez, a Cuban blogger for The Huffington Post who garnered attention in recent months for offering frank criticism of her country's Communist government, said last month that she was barred by Cuban officials from traveling to the U.S. to accept a coveted journalism award.

Sánchez has been publishing the blog Generación Y - full of social commentary on daily life and political struggles from her hometown of Havana, and offering some of the most blatant criticism of her country's one-party system found within Cuba - for the past two years. Despite strict government censorship in Cuba, she has managed to keep her blog alive and active by evading police and sometimes emailing entries to her friends in other countries to post. Time magazine listed her as one of the world's 100 most influential persons in 2008, stating that "as one of the under the nose of a regime that has never tolerated dissent, Sánchez has practiced what paper-bound journalists in her country cannot: freedom of speech."

In May, Cuban authorities denied Sanchez permission to fly to Madrid to accept the Ortega y Gasset Prize in digital journalism for creating Generation Y, which gets more than 1 million hits a month.

Then, in early October, she became the first blogger to win one of the Maria Moors Cabot Prizes given by Columbia University for journalism that advances inter-American understanding. But she was again denied an exit visa by the Cuban government, rendering her unable to attend the event where she made history.

She made a video recording in response to her visa denial, which she posted on her blog and which was played at the Cabot Prize award ceremony on October 12. “We Cubans are like small children,” she explained in the message, “who need Father’s permission to leave the house.”

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Media Freedom in Italy: The Slow and Steady Dismantling

The Italian press has a historically rocky relationship with its country's leaders, and tensions came to a head Saturday when a reported 150,000 - 300,000 came out in Rome to protest Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s recent attacks geared towards the media.

“I am gratified by the energy I can feel here. It will take this kind of energy − and much more − to push back against the forces and the trends that imperil journalism and journalists face today,” said Jim Boumelha, President of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

Berlusconi, owner of a large portion of the country's televised and print media, has been increasingly critical of journalists, prompting concerns over a conflict of interest between his role in government and the media. The media mogul turned Prime Minister is suing two left-wing newspapers over their reports of his relations with prostitutes and other young women.

He went on national television to call the media "scoundrels," urged advertisers not to buy in papers that are critical of him, and even outed as gay the editor of a Catholic paper that has been critical of him.

On The Media reporter Megan Williams says, "This kind of cult of personality approach by both supporters and Berlusconi himself triggers constant comparisons to Mussolini."

La Repubblica is one of the papers being sued and released this statement saying, "The libel action against 'Repubblica' is the last in a long list of attacks against this daily which can only be seen as attempts at silencing the free press, at benumbing public opinion, at removing us from the international information scene and ultimately at making our country the exception to the rule of Democracy."

Just three days before the rally, Reporters Without Borders warned that the leader is increasingly closer to being declared a "predator" to the free press.

Italy is currently tied with Tonga for number 73 on Freedom House's Press Freedom Index and is above only Turkey for worst offender in all of Western Europe.

Photo Credit: RSF

Monday, October 5, 2009

Peter Mackler Award Ceremony Recap

The first annual Peter Mackler Award Ceremony was a success, with attendees including a wide range of journalists from around the world, all there to honor the memory of Peter Mackler and show support for the award winner, jailed Sri Lankan journalist J. S. Tissainayagam.

Clothilde Le Coz, Washington Director of Reporters Without Borders, gave an impassioned speech, denouncing J. S. Tissainayagam's wrongful imprisonment and calling for justice to be sought in all cases where journalists have been unfairly imprisoned.

Tissa's wife, Ronnate, accepted the award on her husband's behalf.

“For the last 20 years my husband has endeavoured to pursue the goals that Mr. Mackler believed in as a journalist," she said. "Like Peter, my husband was never too busy to encourage those who wanted to learn to write and has helped many in journalism. Today my husband is continuing to teach me courage and grace in difficult times. For him no matter what the circumstances are; there is no excuse for unkindness. No matter what circumstance fellow human beings must be treated with dignity."

Marcus Brauchli, a friend to Peter Mackler and the executive editor of The Washington Post, was the keynote speaker at the ceremony and gave credit to reporters who face everyday challenges in developing nations or in countries which do not value freedom of speech.

“Doing such good journalism as the Peter Mackler Award encourages takes courage,” said Brauchli.

J. S. Tissainayagam's is a Tamil reporter and editor cited by President Barack Obama as an “emblematic example” of the struggle for press access and freedom worldwide. He was arrested on March 7, 2008 by the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) of the Sri Lanka police and has been sentenced to 20 years in jail for inciting “communal disharmony”. He is the first journalist in his country to be convicted under terrorism laws.

You can view a video of the ceremony here.

Pictured (from left to right): Clothilde Le Coz of Reporters Without Borders, Lauren Mackler, daughter of Peter Mackler, Catherine Antoine, wife of Peter Mackler, Ronnate Tissainayagam, wife of J. S. Tissainayagam, and Camille Mackler, daughter of Peter Mackler

Photo Credit: Adrian Winter/PMA, Parameswaran Ponnudurai/AFP

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Statement by Condoleeza Rice on the Peter Mackler Award

I am delighted to hear that you are honoring Peter's legacy by recognizing courageous and ethical journalists with the Peter Mackler Award.  Throughout his distinguished thirty-three year career in journalism, Peter was a champion of the freedom of the press who fought tirelessly to defend the rights of reporters to publish stories without fear of retribution.

I always welcomed the chance to speak with him when he was a correspondent for Agence France-Presse.  As an educator myself, I was especially inspired by his work to establish the Global Media Forum to train journalists in developing countries so that they too could contribute to an informed citizenry that is at the center of a vibrant democracy.

I can think of no better way to honor the work of such a passionate journalist - and dedicated husband and father - than through the Peter Mackler Awards.  Although I regret not being able to join you at the awards ceremony, I am delighted to join you in celebrating the legacy of Peter Mackler.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Tunisian Opposition Leader Beaten by Cops

Hamma Hammami, the former editor of the banned newspaper Alternatives and spokesman for the illegal Communist Party of Tunisian Workers (PCOT), was badly beaten by police yesterday after criticizing the country's government in an interview for Al Jazeera, according to Reporters Without Borders.

Hammami was returning to Tunis from Paris, where he had given the interview - in which he criticized Tunisia's electoral system, human rights abuses, censorship of the press - on September 25th.

Hammami’s wife, Radhia Nasraoui, a lawyer and human rights activist, told Reporters Without Borders that she had taken a taxi to meet her husband at the Tunis airport, because her car's tires had been slashed. “I saw Hamma arrive, his mouth covered with blood, his glasses broken, bruises on his face, surrounded by about 20 policemen who were continuing to hit him," she said, "A policeman came up to me, snatched my mobile phone and threw it away with great force.” Nasraoui added that after returning home they learned that the Tunisian authorities had told France 24 - a 24-hour French news syndicate - that Hammami had arrived back in Tunis without any problem.

“We no longer have the right to express our views in Tunisia,” she said.

According to the BBC, "Human rights activists in Tunisia and abroad accuse the government of widespread abuses, including the torture and harassment of dissidents," and of "using the courts to silence political opponents."

In 1999, Mr. Hammami was handed a nine-year prison sentence for belonging to an illegal organization (PCOT), in what he called an unfair trail. He went into hiding with two colleagues for four years, eventually coming forward in February 2002. Before his court appearance he told reporters that he and his colleagues were not extremists or outlaws, but had "refused to submit to dictatorship... and repressive laws." He said that even if imprisoned "we will continue the struggle from the darkest corners of our cells." His nine-year sentence was confirmed, but he was released in September 2002.