Tag Archives: media freedom

World Press Freedom on the Decline

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Saturday, May 3 was World Press Freedom Day, when we celebrate the vital contributions of free media around the world. Unfortunately, journalists, independent media outlets, and the legal and constitutional freedoms they depend on to do their jobs are all under attack in many parts of the world.

Freedom of the press is one of the cornerstones of democracy — without a free media to provide citizens with the information they need to hold elected leaders accountable, the institutions of democracy simply cannot function.

The latest edition of Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press index, released on Friday, shows that the proportion of the global population living in countries with a free press has declined to its lowest level in over a decade — just 14 percent. The growth of new online and social media outlets in particular has triggered an authoritarian backlash as countries from Russia to Turkey to Venezuela to Thailand crack down on these new forms of communication.

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Pakistan’s Changing Media Landscape

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“Social media has no reins. I believe soon deprived people will learn how to express their feelings effectively through social media” – Shabbir H Kazmi, Senior Business Journalist 

According to the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index, Pakistan stands at 159th position among 179 countries. After independence from British India in 1947, media in Pakistan was fully controlled by the government. Successive dictatorships and also democratic governments used censorship and other means to gag media in the country.

In 2002, after the formation of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, broadcast media flourished, with large numbers of FM radio stations and TV channels starting to operate throughout the country.

In the past five years of democratic government, the media has become more liberal and vibrant. However, A 2012 report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan expressed the rising incidences of violence against the news media.

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Freedom of the Press in Latin America: A Challenge for Democracy

A reporter mourns the death of his colleague. (Photo: Vanguardia)

After leaving (or trying to leave) years of dictatorships and civil wars behind, it seemed as if Latin America was finally on the right path towards democracy. However, in the last decade Latin America has been held up on that path due to increased violence, deteriorating legal climates, and media — including internet — censorship. If the trend continues in the same direction, not only is “Mexico’s future as a democracy at risk,” as Joel Simon from the Committee to Protect Journalists stated, but so is the democratic future of many other Latin American countries.

At a time when many Latin American countries are attempting to work on strengthening their democracy, can they really afford to set freedom of press to the side? Can democracy truly be achieved while governments censor the media? These questions and more related to the current situation of freedom press — or the lack thereof — in many, if not most Latin American countries were discussed last month at a briefing on freedom of the press in Latin America hosted by U.S. Representative Sam Farr. At the event, Commissioner Dinah Shelton from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights; Joel Simon, Executive Director from the Committee to Protect Journalists; and Delphine Halgand, Washington, D.C. Director from Reporters Without Borders, discussed downward trends of press freedom in Latin America.

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A-tax on the Press

Recently, the Tax Ministry in Turkey slapped a record $2.5 billion lira fine on the country’s largest media conglomerate, Dogan Media Group (DMG). While the government insists that the company is guilty of tax evasion, opponents of the Justice and Development party (AKP) claim that this is further evidence of Prime Minister Erdogan’s penchant for authoritarianism. Yes, the DMG has most likely violated tax laws, but the disproportionately high penalty (the fine is nearly as much as the value of the company) and the selective application of the law (other media conglomerates are also guilty of similar activities), suggests that the DMG may have been targeted because of long-standing tension between DMG’s owner, Aydin Dogan, and Erdogan. Indeed, the staunchly secular Dogan, has been an outspoken critic of the Prime Minister since his days as mayor of Istanbul (1994-1998) and his newspapers have often disparaged the government for taking Turkey in an Islamist direction. The dispute between the two came to a head last fall in the lead-up to provincial elections when Dogan newspapers reported on links between the AKP and a Turkish charity based in Germany, Deniz Feneri, that had been indicted for fraud. In response, an indignant Erdogan urged his supporters to boycott newspapers that he said “stand by others rather than stand by the prime minister of the Turkish Republic.”  

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A Fear Mongering Media and Educational Reform in Venezuela

By now, most people have read or heard about the Venezuelan government’s constant attempts to shut down media outlet Globovisión, including back in May 2009 after Globovisión reported on an earthquake that had taken place in the towns of Miranda, Vargas, and Aragua. At the time, the government accused Globovisión of destabilizing the country by reporting on the earthquake and creating fear among the people. It should be no surprise then that in August the National Assembly passed a new Institutional Education Act (Ley Orgánica de Educación) that may have severe consequences for independent media in Venezuela. As noted in a recent article in the Economist, President Hugo Chavez sees the mass media as one of the three most important institutions in educating children, reason enough to include several articles affecting it in his education reform. Among other things, the new law gives the government the authority to “immediately suspend” the publication of content that “causes terror in children,” promotes “indiscipline,” or goes against “the mental and physical health of the people.” Anywhere these days it’s hard to imagine the news showing anything that wouldn’t fit into one of these categories based on Chavez’s judgment call.

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Not So Free Speech

The Economist reports that President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela is contemplating another move to curb what he sees as the “excesses” of the media. The latest target is Globovisión, a 24-hour news channel that for now faces increasing pressures but shortly may end up with a government-imposed closing.

    Globovisión is the last remaining national channel that is critical of the government. It was one of four such channels that during Venezuela’s political conflict of 2002-04, to varying degrees, egged on an opposition that was determined to oust Mr Chávez.

Yet some believe that this move could have the opposite effect:

    Some officials think that shutting down Globovisión would be a big mistake. It commands less than 10% of the audience (partly because it is free-to-air only in Caracas and Valencia). The damage to Mr Chávez’s “revolution”, these officials say in private, would outweigh the benefits.

Curiously, the official justification for the anti-Globovisión legal assault coming in a form of unexpected tax fines, investigations, and night-time raids is the one in which the government portrays itself as the victim of media:

    The president claims his popularity would reach 80% (rather than its current 50% or so) were it not for “media lies”. Globovisión must mend its ways, he insists. “Its time is running out”.

Free Press in Sri Lanka?

In a democratic country, freedom of the press is typically taken for granted. In Sri Lanka, the events of the past few days call that freedom into question. It was reported on May 9, that three journalists were arrested and ordered to leave Sri Lanka for tarnishing the image of Sri Lankan government security forces. These journalists, part of the London-based Channel 4 television news, had been covering the fighting on the northeastern part of the island between government forces and the rebel group the Tamil Tigers.

Nick Paton Walsh, one of those arrested and the channel’s Asian correspondent, believes the arrests to be connected to a recent report he, along with producer Bessie Du and cameraman Matt Jasper, filed on conditions for war refugees and alleged sexual abuse in camps for those Tamils who left the war zone. The government denied that report, which included references to food and water shortages, dead bodies littering the camps and the separation of children from their parents. The report aired on May 5 and featured the first material shot independently at an internment camp.

The government has been accused by media rights groups of suppressing media in the war zone, despite recent military successes against the rebels. The government claims the northern area of the country is too dangerous for civilians and has largely banned journalists from the area, making it nearly impossible for independent journalists to confirm claims from either the government or the rebels.

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