Monthly Archives: June 2010

CPJ and IFJ call on President Aquino to deal with murders of journalists

The Committee to Protect Journalists and the International Federation of Journalists sent letters to incoming Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino, asking him to deal with the issue of the murders of journalists in his country. The groups want real investigations and an end to the protection of the murderers.

What is going on against journalists in the Philippines is not unique to the Southeast Asian nation. Journalists are being killed with impunity in Mexico and Colombia as well.

From the International Federation of Journalists

30 June 2010

Open letter

IFJ Action Plan for President Aquino to End Impunity in the Philippines

President Benigno S. Aquino III

Malacañang Palace

1610 J.P Laurel St.

San Miguel

Manila

RE: Journalists’ Rights and Impunity in the Philippines

Dear President Aquino,

Congratulations on taking office today.

We write regarding the ongoing violations facing journalists in the Philippines on the eve of your inauguration. We are saddened to learn from our affiliate, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), of three murders of media personnel in recent weeks. The killings are especially disturbing in consideration of the 32 journalists and media personnel killed in the Ampatuan Town Massacre last November and the 140 media personnel killed in your country since 1986.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), representing more than 600,000 members in 125 countries, has a long and close working relationship with the media community in the Philippines, through the work of the NUJP. In the Philippines, we promote the rights of professional journalists, especially on issues of safety and press freedom. It is our view that a robust and independent media sector is essential to democracy and assurance of respect for universal human rights.

However, the long-running culture of impunity surrounding the deaths and violent assaults and intimidation of Filipino journalists pervades the Philippines, and is a significant impediment to the full realisation of these rights.

With respect, the IFJ reminds the Government of the Philippines of its obligations as a signatory to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 and to the 1997 Additional Protocol on the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II) to ensure the protection of journalists as civilians. Article 13 of Protocol II states: “The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack. Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited.”

In addition, we draw your attention to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1738, which was adopted in 2006 and stresses the civilian status of journalists reporting in war zones and crisis areas within national borders. The resolution stipulates: “… that all parties to an armed conflict comply fully with the obligations applicable to them under international law related to the protection of civilians in armed conflict, including journalists, media professionals and associated personnel.”

Therefore, the Philippines Government is required by international law to remedy the current situation and redress the past injustices carried out against journalists. The recommendations that follow are based on close engagement with local organisations and the findings of an emergency mission the IFJ led in the immediate aftermath of the Ampatuan Town Massacre.

These recommendations serve as indicators which will be used by the IFJ and the NUJP, other international press freedom organisations, and the international community to assess the progress of the Government of the Philippines in meeting its responsibilities to protect journalists as civilians and to ensure justice is done for past gross abuses of the rights of media personnel.

  1. Immediate prosecution of all perpetrators of the Ampatuan Town Massacre in Maguindanao on 23 November 2009. The trial or trials must be fully open and transparent so that the public may observe the proceedings without hindrance. There is to be no political interference in any aspect of the conduct of the cases.
  2. The Government of the Philippines initiates immediately a full and open investigation into the involvement of Filipino military, police and government officials in the Ampatuan Town massacre. An independent and impartial investigator, endorsed by the Human Rights Commission of the Philippines, is appointed to lead the inquiry. All appropriate resources, including protection, are provided to ensure the investigator can do his/her work without hindrance. The investigator’s final report is completed by 1 December 2010 and tabled in the Congress.
  3. The Government of the Philippines establishes an independent commission with full judicial powers to call witnesses to publicly inquire into repeated and ongoing instances of assaults, threats, intimidation, abductions, illegal detention and murder of journalists in the Philippines, and the reasons for the failure of authorities to take action against perpetrators. The terms of reference will be devised in consultation with the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, the Human Rights Commission of the Philippines and other media groups. The commission’s recommendations will be made public and acted upon by the Government of the Philippines. The commission will be established by 1 October 2010 and will report to Congress by 30 June 2011.
  4. Noting that 140 media personnel have been murdered in the Philippines since 1986, the Government of the Philippines in consultation with the Department of Justice, the Philippines National Police together with the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists, establishes an independent taskforce to implement credible judicial proceedings, endorsed by the Human Rights Commission of the Philippines and international legal experts, to fully investigate these cases and conduct prosecutions. Action initiated by 1 October 2010. The task force and proceedings will be funded by the Government of the Philippines. There will be full public disclosure of all evidence and official records.
  5. Any new attacks on media personnel and human rights defenders (murder, assault, abduction, threats and intimidation) are immediately and credibly investigated. Perpetrators are swiftly brought to justice.
  6. Where any new attacks on media personnel and human rights defenders (murder, assault, abduction, threats and intimidation) are reasonably suspected of links to state actors or associates, the Government of the Philippines will direct that such actors be stood down from their positions pending full and credible investigations. All information on such cases is publicly available. Perpetrators are swiftly brought to justice. The IFJ, its associates and other international organisations will closely monitor such cases.
  7. The Government of the Philippines will issue a congressional statement in defence of the rights of journalists and the media, recognising the Philippines’ commitment to the Geneva Conventions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and United Nations Security Council Resolution 1738 and acknowledging the vital role journalists play in strengthening democracy by informing communities and scrutinising power.
  8. The Government of the Philippines will legislate national laws that enshrine the sentiments of the above congressional statement, with specific reference to the Government’s commitment and responsibility to protect and defend the rights of journalists and the media, in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and United Nations Security Council Resolution 1738.
  9. The Government of the Philippines provides financial resources, with full transparency, to the families of all killed journalists for legal support and ongoing trauma counselling.
  10. The Government of the Philippines acts to ensure the Freedom of Information Bill is passed by the Congress at the first sitting of the new Congress.
  11. The Government of the Philippines commits itself not to pass any legislation or issue any executive order that will curtail press freedom and freedom of expression, and it will move to decriminalise libel at the first sitting of the new Congress.
  12. The Government of the Philippines cooperates with the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, the Human Rights Commission of the Philippines and media owners to develop and implement a sustained training program for police, military and government employees and elected office holders on the rights of journalists pursuant to the above international legal instruments. The program is fully resourced and activated by 1 December 2010.
  13. The Government of the Philippines, in cooperation with the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, the Human Rights Commission of the Philippines and media owners, initiates and conducts a series of public meetings in all provinces of the Philippines to raise awareness among the broader public of the rights of journalists in serving the public interest, and the Government’s commitment and responsibility to defend and uphold these rights. The meetings will form the basis of a national public awareness campaign in support of media freedom, democracy and human rights in the Philippines.

Again, we respectfully request that you use your authority as President to act on the grave concerns held by the IFJ and its affiliates around the world for the welfare of our colleagues in the Philippines, in the spirit of serving the best interests of all citizens of the Philippines.

Finally, the IFJ believes that media employers must commit themselves to providing journalists, especially those in the provinces, with fair treatment. Collective agreements between managements and workers in all media organisations should be concluded to provide for stability, safety and security in employment conditions. Structures of self-regulation and accountability toward the media audience should be strengthened. The media should aim to speak for all of the Philippines communities, rather than cater to narrow constituencies and special interests.

Yours respectfully,

Aidan White

General Secretary, IFJ

From the Committee to Protect Journalists

June 9, 2010

Senator Benigno S. Aquino III

Rm. 526, 5th Floor

GSIS Building

Financial Center

Roxas Blvd, Pasay City

Manila

Philippines

Via fax: (632) 552-6601

Dear President-elect Aquino:

With your recent election to office, we are looking forward to engaging with your administration on press freedom-related issues in the years ahead. It is our particular hope that you will translate your strong electoral mandate into a firm commitment to end the culture of impunity that has resulted in the extraordinarily high number of media killings in the Philippines.

In your campaign speeches and press interviews, you promised repeatedly to break from the corruption that has plagued previous governments and create an independent commission to investigate the various allegations of corruption and misgovernance leveled against outgoing President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration.\

We recommend that you immediately launch a probe into the circumstances surrounding last November’s Maguindanao massacre, the single deadliest attack against the press anywhere in the world since CPJ started monitoring violations in 1981. Thirty-two journalists and media workers were among the 57 people killed in the election-related violence that has implicated members of the politically influential Ampatuan clan.

Despite the local and international outcry condemning the killings, indications are that the judicial process may be compromised by political considerations. In April, acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra dropped charges against two top suspects—Zaldy Ampatuan, the former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and his uncle, Akmad Ampatuan, former mayor of Mamasapano—against the advice of the public prosecutors working on the case.

Although Agra later reinstated the charges on the basis of newly submitted evidence, his willingness to intervene by overruling the Quezon City Regional Court that is hearing the case underscored how vulnerable judicial processes can be to political pressures in the Philippines. There have also been reports by a highly regarded press group, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, that family members of victims have been approached with offers of money to drop charges against Ampatuan clan members.

With these developments in mind, we urge you to provide full support and ample resources to the relevant Justice Department agencies to ensure a free, fair, and speedy trial in this landmark case. It is our strong belief that convictions of the masterminds and the assailants involved in the Maguindanao massacre would be a meaningful first step in breaking the cycle of murder and impunity that has taken so many media members’ lives in the Philippines.

Our concerns about the deteriorating press freedom situation in your country unfortunately are not confined to the Maguindanao killings. Unpunished media killings are endemic: CPJ’s Global Impunity Index, released in April, ranked the Philippines as having the third-worst record in the world for bringing the killers of journalists to justice—trailing only Iraq and Somalia. It is a record unbefitting Asia’s oldest democracy, and should be addressed immediately.

Your predecessor initiated a unit of the Philippines National Police, known as USIG, dedicated to investigating and resolving media and other extrajudicial killing cases. Regrettably, the USIG has been unsuccessful in achieving substantial convictions in 62 of the 68 journalist murder cases recorded since 1992, according to CPJ research. CPJ believes that only partial justice was reached in the other six cases.

Task Force USIG member Police Chief, Henry Libay told CPJ in July 2009 that the mishandling of evidence and a lack of witnesses willing to testify were major impediments to serving justice. He said that witnesses shied from the courtroom out of fears of reprisal, lack of financial support, and a general distrust of law enforcement.

We understand that your administration will face obstacles in reversing these trends and breaking the culture of impunity that has resulted in so many media killings, but this should not be an excuse for inaction. A sincere government commitment to press freedom and the protection of journalists is essential to achieving the democratic aspirations embodied in your strong mandate to rule and reform.

Again, we look forward to working with you and your administration on protecting journalists and journalism in the Philippines.

Sincerely,

Joel Simon

Executive Director


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Filed under Asia, Corruption, International News Coverage, Killings, South America

New Course: Reporting Global Issues Locally

It is so nice to see the Poynter News University run a self-guided course on the very thing I (and a few others) have been harping on for so many years.

Local and global issues are linked. Editors and publishers who fail to see these links and who fail to allow reporters the leeway to report on those connections do readers/viewers/listeners a disservice.

No the News University is running a class to help established journalists see the links.

Reporting Global Issues Locally

I particularly like the second and third grafs of the class description:

Every day, reporters and editors in small- and medium-sized newsrooms miss opportunities for great stories because they don’t know how to take ownership of major international news.

Most big international stories have ripples that reach even the smallest of communities. “Reporting Global Issues Locally” will show you how to find the local angle in the broadest of international stories.

Again, this is the kind of stuff many of us have been saying is important to not only good local journalism, but also to the survival of local media outlets.

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Filed under International News Coverage, Jobs, Story Ideas

Now this is creative thinking: Censorship=Unfair Trade!

The censorship squad in Beijing has got to be going crazy right now.

The European Community made the case earlier this year that censorship is a trade barrier. That means governments that engage in censorship of the Internet are in violation of trade agreements from simple bilateral accords to the whopper World Trade Organization.

Countries like China fought to get into the WTO to ease their sales into other trading countries. At the time, China said it was willing and ready to play by the rules of the rest of the world.

Of course, they only meant the “build cheap, sell expensive” and “Buy from me but I don’t have to buy form you” rules. Nobody mentioned anything about opening up access to information.

It was inevitable, however. Free and fair trade can only exist when there is also free exchange of information and data. The Chinese government understands that somewhat. They loosened some controls over foreign media access to China. More Western — non-Chinese government — publications are available to more Chinese people. And even some Chinese pubications are able to report more freely about economic and business issues. (But not social or political ones.)

But the Old Guard continues to hold enough power in the government to keep trying to control Internet access in China. But there has been push-back they never expected.

  • The government failed to force all computers in China to install the stolen software Green Dam.
  • Google refused to play ball by self-censoring information through its web site
  • Hackers who provide ways around the Great Chinese Firewall are treated like rock stars by computer users.

And now trade, the lifeblood of economic well-being in China is under attack.

Basically the Europeans have told China: “Censor the Internet and we will file unfair trade practices against you.”

And now the U.S. has joined in. And Google is helping. (Google helps build trade case over Web censorship)

The usually boring trade issue stories now have GEEK APPEAL. It would be nice to see if some U.S. reporters — national and local — pick up on this technology and trade issue.

  • How is censorship unfair trade?
  • What does it mean for U.S. and local businesses?
  • How has the Internet made getting cheaper goods easier? Harder?
  • How has the Internet affected how people do business with suppliers from around the globe?

Just a few questions. Let’s see if anyone asks them.

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No surprise: Hanoi wants to control info on the Internet

Thanks to a feed from IFEX we continue to see how dictators hate the idea of access to information other than spoon-feed government propaganda.

Vietnam is following in the footsteps of China in requiring Internet cafes to install monitoring software to limit and track users’ Internet experience.

Internet café owners ordered to install applications blocking certain websites

And, like in China, Google is the one making the order public. Now we have to see if Google will raise a fuss as they did in China.

So far, the issue is Vietnamese Internet cafes being ordered to install monitoring software. The government is not ordering Google to censor itself. So maybe Google will stay out of this fight.

And Digital Kismet asks an interesting question:

So why isn’t this regulation getting much press?

The media has remained distant from this issue in a surprising way. Besides a few articles being written when the Vietnamese government first released this regulation, there has been little chatter or commentary about the issue. Last week, Computer World re-introduced the topic with an article, but it’s hard to ignore this vacuous space existing around this in the press.

Vietnam’s new Green Dam.

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Filed under Asia, Freedom of access, International News Coverage, Press Freedom

Kidnapped journalists a public cause in France

Just got back from holiday in Normandy. While in Bayeux — to view the most excellent tapestry depicting the Norman invasion of England in 1066 — I noticed a large banner on the city hall.

The banner called for the release of two French journalists from captivity in Afghanistan.

Hervé Ghesquière and Stéphane Taponier were captured December 2009 along with their driver and translator by the Taliban northeast of Kabul.

Since then journalism groups have called for their release. But I have not seen much concern for these and other journalists being held by the general public. (Yes, there have been calls from presidents and foreign ministers but no concentrated effort.)

Nice to see some local support for journalists being held so far from home.

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Filed under Asia, International News Coverage