Monday, September 30, 2013

Rappers Latest Victims Of Tunisia's Crackdown On Free Expression

Rapper Klay BBJ (Photo courttesy BBC)
Freedom of expression in Tunisia, the womb of the Arab Spring, is under increasing peril with rapper Klay BBJ’s six-month jail sentence for “insulting the police” with his songs, becoming the latest example. Klay’s fellow-accused, rapper Weld El 15 is in hiding and did not appear in court.

Meanwhile, Zaid El Hani, editor and president of the National Union of Tunisian Journalists, could be jailed for two years on charges of defamation and “fabricating evidence” for publicly defending a journalist who was arrested earlier, also on criminal charges.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Angolan Journalists Interviewing 'Magnificent Seven,' Arrested And Assaulted

Seven activists re-arrested by police (Photo courtesy Maka Angola)

Three Angolan journalists were detained in Luanda on September 19 by the police, and assaulted for interviewing members of the Angolan Revolutionary Movement who had been just released from custody. Although the journalists were later freed, the activists who were rearrested while being interviewed remain in detention. The account of the incident by one of the journalists, Rafael Marquez de Morais, is an eloquent testimony to the perils of journalists and other human rights defenders in a country that systematically violates the rule of law.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Chinese Authorities Retreat As They Confront Internet Realities

Yang Hui 

Two methods of censoring media in China – by regulation, and by targeting citizen journalists – came under attack recently. The country witnessed the authorities’ growing realisation that the world’s second largest economy cannot function without the internet despite the web's use by dissidents to challenge the Communist Party-dominated state.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Whose Interested In International Media Freedom Anyway?

Accurate news, responsibly reported, is indispensable for a functioning modern democracy. And when there is an assault on democracy, imperiled institutions and processes are sometimes rescued by discussion and debate these events and trends generate. Sometimes debates are international bringing a global focus onto local events.

Stimulating and sustaining discussions on media freedom globally is the raison d’être for international media watchdogs such as Reporters without Borders, Committee to Protect Journalists, International Federation of Journalists. They believe that by raising issues of censorship, attacks on journalists or the impunity of their killers, international pressure could be brought on the transgressors to become more accountable and eventually for a freer media.

A blog in Wednesday’s Huffington Post raises an issue which, while not focused directly on media freedom, speaks about dwindling interest in international news in general despite our interconnected world.

Falling interest in international news inevitably resonates on what organisations such as RSF or CPJ try to foster: a debate on the importance of media freedom for the world to stay informed of what is happening within countries and in other parts of the world.

But if there is scant interest in world events and processes, what would be the corresponding interest in a free, international media? If there is so little interest in foreign news, why should anyone bother to take media freedom overseas as important enough to invest time or money in crusading for it?
The article does not answer these questions. However, it shows the importance of foreign news and why it matters. The reader can think for herself if foreign news matters, why people should bother about media freedom that enables news to be gathered and transmitted, within as well as outside countries.

You can read the article here

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Fate of Editors in Africa's Poster-child Democracy

Rodney Sieh (Photo courtesy CPJ)

Liberia’s Rodney Sieh, editor of FrontPage Africa, who was hospitalised after he fell sick with malaria in prison was sent back to jail after 22 days in Monrovia’s J. F. Kennedy Hospital said the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF) in a statement on September 18.

“The harassment of this journalist by the Liberian legal system is totally underserved and we call for his immediate release. Rodney Sieh was only carrying out his job as a journalist. We call once again on the 
government to take action to decriminalise media offences, in particular to stop imposing disproportionate fines on journalists in order to intimidate them, since the media play an important role in the fight against corruption,” RSF said.

Sieh began a hunger strike on August 20, protesting a Supreme Court sentence detaining him pending the payment of US$ 1.6 million as damages to former agriculture minister Chris Toe for defamation. The detention and damages imposed by the court was widely condemned by media freedom monitors. (Please see this blog)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

What it Took to Free China's Shi Tao

Shi Tao (Pic courtesy PEN)

Chinese journalist, poet and dissident Shi Tao, was released on September 7, 15 months before his 10-year prison term was due to expire. One of the pieces of evidence that was instrumental in Shi’s conviction in 2004 was information released by the US-based internet company Yahoo.

Issues of web companies releasing information on content and the identity of users resonates deeply in the United States gripped by the debate on internet surveillance by government spy agencies. While the Yahoo angle is important in the Shi Tao case, a posting on the PEN/America website offers a glimpse of the work international organisations dedicated to releasing political prisoners have to do to reach their goal.

In a post titled ‘Welcome Home,’ Sarah Hoffman who was one month into her job at PEN, remembers the Congressional hearing where Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang  made “a tearful public apology” to the imprisoned journalist’s mother.

“That act alone did not free him, but it, along with years of international pressure from governments, individuals, and organizations, including a concerted and prolonged campaign from PEN centers around the world, certainly helped. Today, 15 months before the end of his sentence, Shi Tao is free,” Hoffman writes.

You can read the post here

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Navy Yard Shootout and Navigating the Social Media

Hypercompetitive news networks and social media racing to report as events unfolded at the shootout at the Navy Yard in Washington DC yesterday that left 13 dead, added to the confusion by misreporting the incident, says the Washington Post.

But according to a commentary in the newspaper that is not unusual. Writing on the coverage of the Navy Yard incident, the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012 and the Boston Marathon bombing in April this year, Paul Farhi says, “Mistaken reporting on big, breaking events has become almost standard in the social-media age.”

But the problem is not desperate reporters covering fast-evolving events concocting details to make a good story. It is that they have to rely on sources such as the police who are also constrained by only a partial view of events.

“Reporters are no better than their sources, and as sources, police scanners aren’t very reliable. Although they are often the first public reports of a police or other public safety agency’s response, scanner conversations usually contain numerous uncertainties in the fog of breaking events,” Farhi writes.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Three Indian journalists killed in One Month

Hindu-Muslim clashes in Muzaffernagar (Pic courtesy CPJ)  

The rape of a female photojournalist and the deadly assault on her male colleague in an abandoned mill in Mumbai, India on August 23 rightly received international condemnation and led swiftly to arrests by the Indian police. Within the last month however, there have been at least three other journalists killed in different parts of northern India, which have, unfortunately, not received the publicity they warrant.

The reasons for the killings the journalists ranged from one whose writings abhorred superstition in favour of rational thinking, to another who was killed while covering Hindu-Muslim clashes, while the third was targeted by criminal elements because he was reporting on corruption.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Timely Publication on Freedom of Information

Freedom of information and freedom of the media go hand-in-hand. The second facilitates the first. As such, this blog which is devoted to compiling current developments on political and other constraints on the freedom of the media, is deeply interested in strengthening FoI where it remains stifled. 

The Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) at the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy (NED) published earlier this month a practical handbook on FoI. Titled ‘Breathing Life into Freedom of Information Laws: The Challenges of Implementation in the Democratizing World,’ it is authored by Craig L. LaMay, Robert J. Freeman, and Richard N. Winfield. The International Senior Lawyers Project is associated with the publication.

“Often when people seek information under FOI laws and are refused, they are denied on grounds that have no basis in law, or, if denied under a statutory exemption, without explanation of why the exemption applies. Sometimes requesters are denied for reasons that amount to official inconvenience, told that the request is too time- or resource-consuming to fulfil, or that the records they want do not exist,” write the authors. The handbook is a practical guide to navigate these obstacles.

Craig LaMay is an associate professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, where he teaches communications law, and a faculty associate at Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research. Richard N. Winfield leads the Media Law Working Group of the International Senior Lawyers Project, an NGO he co-founded in 2000. Bob Freeman is executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government.

You can access the document here.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Using Interpol to Crackdown on Journalists, Activists

Dodojon Atovulloyev (Photo courtesy RSF)

As they grow increasingly intolerant of dissent, two Central Asian countries have used Interpol to track down and deport dissident activists, including journalists, who fearing reprisals by their governments, have sought refuge overseas. On August 20, Tajik authorities asked the Georgia to deport well-known journalist Dodojon Atovulloyev, while in the past year Kazakhstan has used Interpol to arrest opposition political figures from Poland, Spain and the Czech Republic. 

Many countries involved in crackdowns are part of the European Union, while Interpol is headquartered in Lyons, France.

Atovulloyev, who was held at Tbilisi airport from August 20 was however allowed to fly back to Germany next day where he has refugee status, said the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF).

“The Georgian interior ministry said he was detained by airport border guards… at Interpol’s request,” RSF said.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Charm Offensives Through Twitter

President Hassan Rouhani

 As social media becomes popular in repressive societies with pro-democracy activists using it as a platform in their confrontation with governments, autocrats too have been quick to learn the use of such technology to push forward their version of things and regime propaganda.

An initiative that gained much publicity recently was Iran’s newly-elected leader President Hassan Rouhani wishing Rosh Hashanah on twitter. Although there is some confusion as to whether he actually tweeted Jewish New Year greetings (Wall Street Journal reported he had not), the political implications of autocratic regimes messaging using twitter was featured in a recent article in the New Republic.

“I don’t want to rain on anyone’s New Year’s parade, but it’s worth pointing out that Twitter hasn’t reformed the other unsavory political leaders who have used it as a mouthpiece,” writes Nora Caplan-Bricker.

You can access the article here

Sudan Journalist Faisal Salih and Peter Mackler Award on VOA

Faisal Salih

Faisal Salih a leading journalist and editor in Sudan and director of the Teeba Press who has won this year's Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism will be featured in a programme on Voice of America today, Tuesday, at 12.30 p.m., ET. You can view the programme here

Camille Mackler, project director of the Award, will be interviewed by Africa 54 programme of VOA.   

Announcing the Award on August 22 Camille Mackler said, “As we get ready to celebrate our fifth anniversary, we could not be prouder to recognize such a journalist as Mr. Faisal Salih. Our goal for the last five years, as we have built this award program, has always been to shine a light on the courage and commitment to human rights and dignity that Mr. Salih exhibits every day through his work.  When a young woman was raped by Government forces, he could have simply chosen to look the other way and not risk his own life.  Instead, he reported about it until the same forces tried to silence him as well.  This courage and attachment to journalistic ethics is what the Peter Mackler Award seeks to encourage and reward every year.”

The Award will be presented at the National Press Club in Washington DC on October 22.

Monday, September 9, 2013

No Distiction Between Big and Small as China Cracksdown on Internet Dissent

Charles Xue (Courtesy The Economist)

The Bo Xilai trial in China has not only exposed the Beijing government’s desperate attempts to obfuscate deep-seated fissures within the ruling elite, but that the internet has become as decisive a battleground in the contest between the regime and pro-democracy activists as physical space.

Although there was brief optimism that permitting selected journalists to cover court proceedings in the trial of the disgraced former party boss of the Chongqin city-province demonstrated a new openness of recently-elected President Xi’s drive to fight corruption, such views are amazingly naïve.

The Economist in a recent article quoted the Legal Evening News saying that the police “consider the online world as much a public space as the real one.” The crackdown has targeted two types of internet activists The Economist said – those it describes as “small fry” and the really important ones – “the Big Vs.”

Friday, September 6, 2013

Potential for Collective Action is China Censors' Top Target - Harvard Study

Photo courtesy

What do closed, autocratic regimes fear most? As the world gets better connected through the internet, and the media’s role in publicising corruption and abuse of power becomes more widespread, it might be beneficial to look at what governments which restrict the freedom of expression actually fear. Is it criticism of abuse of power by their leaders, or of institutions that are expected to be independent such as the judiciary? Or is it criminal behaviour by the military and law enforcement arms of the government?

China clamps down on any independence of the formal media. Its absence was inevitably filled by the internet and social media. But Beijing cracked down on the social media too by imposing harsh punishments on critics who targeted government policy, the CCP, or the abuses by military and police against pro-democracy activists.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Kharlamov's House Arrest In Kazkhstan Should Only Increase Vigilance

Alexander Kharlamov (Courtesy RSF)

Kazakh journalist Alexander Kharlamov, who has been detained from March this year allegedly for “inciting religious hatred,” was placed under house arrest yesterday. While this is certainly welcome news for any person detained under Kazakhstan’s signature method of confining dissidents – keeping them in psychiatric hospitals – it is also a ruse whereby the regime wards off international scrutiny, while effectively keeping dissent in check. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Marie Colvin's Mission: Reporting Horrors of War

In February last year, Marie Colvin of the Sunday Times, London, was killed in Homs, Syria doing what she did best – reporting from the battlefield. She and photographer Remi Ochlik died as the building where they were came under rocket fire by the Syrian military.

Covering the horrors of the war in Syria, she wrote about a particular scene she had witnessed, the death of a little child. She described it in an interview with Anderson Cooper of CNN: “We just watched this little boy, his little tummy, heaving and heaving as he tried to breathe. It was horrific. My heart broke.”