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Panpa Bulletin : November 2010
www.panpa.org.au 8 | NOVEMBER 2010 | The PANPA Bulletin Ultimate sacrifice JOURNALISTS are dying at the end of a drug lord's machine gun, being murdered by politicians' henchmen, beaten by police on the street; their offices are raided, their writing is censored and can face multi-mil- lion-dollar law suits out of spite from corporations seeking revenge for adverse coverage. A free press is constantly under threat, if it is ever free at all. Even in liberal-thinking countries, a noose metaphorically hangs around its neck, ready to be pulled to throt- tle free speech by the rich and the powerful. Around the world, and in our region, journalists are killed and in- timidated every day. Some 64 have been killed this year alone, accord- ing to the International Press Insti- tute. The instances of cold-blooded gun-downs, jailings, beatings and intimidation are too numerous to cover in a single article. The greatest concerns in our re- gion are the Philippines, China and Fiji, says Virginie Jouan, executive director of Press Freedom and Me- dia Development at the World As- sociation of Newspapers and News Publishers. She is also deeply worried about the increasing number of journalists who are fleeing Iran for Turkey, hop- ing they can forge a new career in a more tolerant society, plus at least 23 other Iranian journalists who remain incarcerated. Across the world, in countries of every political hue, politicians and bureaucrats abuse power for self- interest, often using the law courts to suppress the truth, as is increasingly happening in Britain. Critics may point to the behaviour of journalists, arguing they bring it on themselves. Yet a free press is a cornerstone of a working democracy and when it is abused, suppressed or quashed, all too often so are the rights and hopes of a free society. Fiji is a classic case. General man- ager of the Fiji Times, Anne Fussell, (a NPA director) has been forced to leave the country -- a result of the military dictatorship that has censored local media for two years and has now effectively banished News Ltd, just as it banished free elections. Regime mouthpiece Sharon Smith-Johns, an Australian, calls the tawdry tale of press suppression a "win-win". Editor of now defunct Playboy in Indonesia, Erwin Arnada, is in hid- ing as his lawyers fight an indecency charge and Islamic leaders cast him as a "moral terrorist". Staff of the Wall Street Journal Asia, itself fined by the Singapore Government two years ago for editorials criticising judicial decisions, are rallying to his cause. He says he'll turn himself in, in late October. Police are openly beating Kash- miri photographers and journalists on the street as the government im- poses curfews and tries to suppress coverage of the political and social chaos. In the Philippines, trials for the alleged murders of 34 journalists, among 23 others -- the worst single killing spree of journalists -- have been delayed again. At least 70 journalists have been killed in the republic in eight years. Some 30 journalists have been killed by drug cartels in the Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez. The editor of the local newspaper, El Diario de Juarez, recently wrote an editorial begging for the assassina- tions to stop: "We ask you to explain what you want from us, what you want us to publish or stop publish- ing." El Diaro had hired armed body- guards to protect staff but police confiscated the weapons and the government said the paper had no right to communicate directly with drug lords. Fear is said to paralyse the newsroom. Mexico's National Human Rights Commission says 60 reporters have been murdered in the past decade with hundreds of others threatened by drug gangs. Of course, Iraq is lethal for media. Some 230 reporters and support staff have been killed there since 2003, according to Reporters Without Bor- ders. That is more than the number of journalists killed in World War II. Rarely are these crimes ever investigated, never mind punished, according to RWB. Even where blood does not run so freely, intimidation is common and police action is rare. The slow response by investigators to the ab- duction and thrashing of a Pakistan journalist, Umar Cheema, has also been criticised in local media as designed to scare colleagues. "The government has so far mis- erably failed to provide the much- needed protection and security even to those journalists who have been receiving regular anonymous threats to their very existence," said Bashir Assad in the Pakistan Observer. A letter writer in the Frontier Post commented: "The brutal torture . . . reminds me of the era of Sikha Shahi and the kings of medieval ages who used to tortured the people ruth- lessly. We in Pakistan take pride in violating human rights." In Senegal, the editor of the Express News has been sentenced in absentia to six months jail for defaming the chief-of-staff of Presi- dent Abdoulaye Wade. "There are two distinct aspects to this matter," Reporters Without Borders said. "One is whether the newspaper was in the wrong. The other is what penalty should be im- posed. It is clear that the comments published by Express News, which let itself be used in an exchange of insults between political rivals, were defamatory. But does that mean its editor has to go to prison?" Another editor in the dock is the Malay Mail's Irwan Abdul Rahman, who is accused of publishing false in- formation in a satirical blog post that poked fun at the national electricity company. He jokingly wrote the head of Ma- laysia's main electricity firm, Tenaga Nasional, would sue the World Wild- life Fund for urging people to switch off their lights for the annual Earth Hour initiative. The courts are used in the West, too. British judges recently granted a third footballer from the Premier League an injunction to stop a news- paper publishing details of their private lives. None of these footballers can be identified but it emerged that leading British golfer Colin Montgomerie has also managed to gain a suppres- sion order for similar reasons. Even a supposed bastion of free speech appears happy to use the courts when it suits. The BBC recently tried but failed to get an injunction to stop publica- tion of the autobiography of The Stig -- the infamous, white-suited racing driver on Top Gear -- the world's most financially successful TV show. The Stig -- aka Ben Collins -- ap- pears set to reveal the inner-most secrets of Top Gear personalities. None of this deters Fleet Street. Footballer Wayne Rooney has been the focus of stories about how he apparently slept with a prostitute in South Africa while his pregnant wife stayed home. And MP Mike Weatherley has faced a media bar- rage while dealing with the revela- tion his wife worked as a prostitute. And then there has been the ruckus over the News of the World exposé into cricket betting. All of this might have been si- lenced by an injunction had anyone outside the media known these sto- ries were about to break. British media is rightly concerned about what such court injunctions mean for the free press. Justice min- ister Lord McNally has revealed he will put forward a Defamation Bill next year that will detail for the first time a UK privacy law. He said ambiguously that he wanted the legislation to "remove some of the more dangerous aspects of the way case law has grown up". In the Rainbow Nation of South Africa, the old habits of the apart- heid regime are being compared with the recent actions of the African National Congress government. Journalist Cliff Buchler, of the Financial Mail, recently recalled a police raid on a black-run newspa- per, The World. "With a handful of white journal- ists working on a black-run newspa- per called The World, I was cutting my teeth on subediting when one cold morning all hell broke loose," he wrote. "Cops descended on the printing works, lining up black journalists with their editors, carting them off to the charge office." Apparently, the paper had criticised a recently election process. Of all the situations emerging or continuing around the world, a new media bill that is proposed by South Africa's President Zuma is one of the most carefully watched. It all began when a journalist on the Cape Argus was found to have taken money for writing favourable articles about a local politician. This gave the Government an opportu- nity to pounce, proposing a Bill and regulations that effectively shielded every politician and bureaucrat from scrutiny by media. WAN-Ifra chairman Gavin O'Reilly laments in a letter to President Zuma: "The Protection of Information Bill currently before parliament seeks to replace apart- heid-era legislation with far-reaching provisions that would virtually shield the government from press scrutiny and criminalise activities essential to investigative journalism." Reagan Malumo, of the Media Institute of Southern Africa, told the All Africa publication: "The very strategy which gave birth to the 'Ac- cess to Information and Protection of Privacy Act' in Zimbabwe, is similar to the strategy that brought about the Media Practitioner's Act in Botswana, the Media Commis- sion Bill in Swaziland, and now the Protection of Information Bill and Media Appeals Tribunal in South Africa. "All these laws have no other motive in them but to control the media through statutes . . . to muz- zle the media and suppress free expression." Reports of journalists' struggling against oppressive governments, draconian laws, drug lords and henchmen fly in from every corner of the globe daily Wayne Rooney's dealings with a South African prostitute may have not come out if a proposed UK privacy law was in affect. Image: toksuede Relatives and friends of murdered 21-year-old photojournalist Luis Carlos Santiago, who worked for El Diario newspaper, mourn next to his coffin during his funeral in Ciudad Juarez. Image: Jesus Alcazar/AFP/Getty Images Mark Hollands - NPA