Tag Archives: Iraq

Iran and Cuba tops for exiled journalists

The Committee to Protect Journalists released a study today about the number of journalists who are in exile because of the repressive nature of their home countries.

The CPJ survey was released  to mark World Refugee Day, June 20.

Given the number of refugees around the United States, it strikes me that this is a perfect hook for LOCAL news organizations to do stories about the LOCAL impact of refugees in their areas. But for now, let’s focus on the CPJ report.

About 70 journalists have been forced into exile because of repressive government policies. More than half of the exiles came from Iran and Cuba.

“I feel unstable because there is nothing for us here,” said Cuban reporter Victor Rolando Arroyo Carmona, 59, who served more than seven years in prison on baseless charges before being freed last September and forced into exile in Spain. There, he has experienced significant professional and economic challenges, a common experience among the 67 journalists forced into exile worldwide in the past 12 months. “We don’t even have our professional titles,” Arroyo Carmona said. “We live in limbo.”

The CPJ examined cases between June 1, 2010 and May 31, 1011. The organization only recorded cases it could document. In its statement June 20, the CPJ said other groups may use other criteria to come up with higher numbers of exiled journalists.

For its part, Iran topped the list of countries driving journalists into exile for the second consecutive year as the government continued an assault on free expression that began with the disputed 2009 election. CPJ’s 2010 survey found at least 29 Iranian editors, reporters, and photographers had fled into exile; the country’s total exodus over the last decade is 66, behind only Ethiopia and Somalia.

According to the CPJ study, the leading cause journalists fled their home countries was imprisonment or the threat being jailed. The survey only counted journalists who fled

  • because of work-related persecution,
  • who remained in exile for at least three months, and
  • whose current whereabouts and activities are known.

It does not include those who left their countries for professional or financial opportunities, who left due to general violence in society, or those targeted for non-journalism related activities, such as political activism.

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Filed under Connections, Harassment, International News Coverage, Press Freedom

Latest journalists killings: Brazil and Iraq

Irina Bokova, the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, condemned the recent killings of journalists in Brazil and Iraq.

The dangers to journalists in Iraq go beyond just being caught in a war zone.  Iraqi television executive Taha Hameed was shot down with Iraqi human rights activist Abed Farhan Thiyab while driving in the south of Baghdad on 8 April.

Brazilian journalists face danger from exposing the cozy relationships between criminal elements and local governments.

The latest victim was radio and television journalist Luciano Leitão Pedrosa. He was known for his critical coverage of local authorities and criminal groups and received frequent threats. Pedrosa was shot in a restaurant in Vitória de Santo Antão in north-eastern Pernambuco state.

So far this year 14 journalists world wide have been killed because they were doing their jobs, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Reporters Without Borders puts the number at 16.

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Filed under Corruption, Killings

Of computers, corruption and free press

In cleaning up some articles I saved for reference, I came across one from the Sept. 25 New York Times — U.S. Gift for Iraqis Offers a Primer on Corruption.

Simply put the article looked at the theft of 8,000 computers from the United States  destined for school children in Iraq, most likely by government officials in Iraq.

I held on to the article for a few reasons, not the least was the corruption angle and the lackluster response of the U.S. embassy to the situation.

But for purposes here, the events laid out in the article provide another example of the importance of free and independent news media.

Author of the article Steven Lee Myers points out in the third to last graf:

Today’s Iraq may be corrupt, saddled with a bureaucracy from Saddam Hussein’s era that has changed little, and hobbled by a political impasse that has blocked the formation of a new government nearly seven months after parliamentary elections. But Iraqis — the media, politicians, average citizens — are freer than ever to denounce the wrongdoing of bureaucrats and thieves, even if to little effect.

It is that last sentence that tells the whole story of how to fight corruption. Freedom of press, speech and assembly are vital to keeping a government honest.

For now the Iraqis may be feeling that their complaints have “little effect” when it comes to corruption. But if the Iraqi media stand up against corruption by relentlessly investigating it and reporting it, then they might see some changes.

It really is no surprise that the 10 most repressive governments in the world are also among the list of top 10 corrupt governments. A free press is the best hope for people looking for accountability in their governments. And that is why dictators from Beijing to Tehran to Havana fear a free press.

See New corruption list out. Still a link between corruption and media suppression for more info.

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Filed under Censorship, Corruption, International News Coverage, Press Freedom

The killings continue: Young Iraqi journalist killed at home

One more journalist was added to the list of media workers killed in Iraq.

Mazin al-Baghdadi, a reporter and anchor for al-Mousiliyya TV in Mosul was killed when  gunmen in civilian clothing showed up at his home around 6 p.m. They identified themselves as intelligence officers.

When al-Baghdadi came out to to speak with the men, they shot him.

So far this year seven journalists and media workers have been killed, according to Reporters Without Borders. Iraq remains one of the most deadly countries for journalists.

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Iraq gov’t making life difficult for journalists

Good piece this morning on NPR Morning Edition on the new regulations the Iraqi government is forcing on journalists.

In Iraq, Getting The Story Gets Tougher For Reporters

The government office that oversees the press in Iraq is the Communication and Media Commission. It was set up by the U.S., just after the 2003 invasion.

The commission recently announced that all news organizations, both Iraqi and foreign, are now required to register, pay hefty licensing fees, and sign a pledge that they won’t ignite sectarian tensions or encourage terrorism.

To be honest, this should not be surprising.

The tradition of free media independent of government control is not something seen in that part of the world.

Earlier this year, the government proposed a series of rules that severely restrict journalists.

Among the proposal submitted in February, media organizations must submit lists of their employees to the government.

Forget the privacy concerns. Think about safety of the journalists. Of the 140 journalists killed in Iraq since 2003, at least 89 were targeted for murder, according the Committee to Protect Journalists. The CPJ showed that these journalists were targeted because of sectarian or work affiliations.

And in July the government proposed a special press court to deal with complaints against journalists.

The government — as noted in the NPR piece — also keeps reporters away from attacks sites.

It is not surprising that the Iraqi government is doing these things — traditions are hard to break — but what is upsetting is that the U.S. government is not speaking out more aggressively against these restrictions of the very freedoms that were supposed to have been brought to the Iraqi people with the fall of the dictatorship.

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Chavez moves to restrict media — again

Last week a Venezuelan court banned print media from publishing violent images. The court ordered all Venezuelan media to stop publishing “images, reports and publicity of any type that contain blood, guns, terrifying messages or physical attacks, images that incorporate warfare content and messages about killings and deaths that could upset the psychological well-being of children and adolescents.”  Officially the move is to protect children from harmful images. What really appears behind the move, however, is censoring items that are critical of the Chavez government.

The Committee to Protect Journalists released a statement last week condemning the action.(Venezuelan censorship over morgue photos is selective)

The New York Times used the court order to look at the larger picture in Venezuela. In a Sunday story it pointing out that it is safer living in Baghdad or Mexico than in Venezuela.

In Iraq, a country with about the same population as Venezuela, there were 4,644 civilian deaths from violence in 2009, according to Iraq Body Count; in Venezuela that year, the number of murders climbed above 16,000.

Even Mexico’s infamous drug war has claimed fewer lives.

Needless to say Chavez was not happy that a Venezuelan newspaper — actually two newspapers — ran a graphic picture that showed the failings of his government. The government saw the use of a picture of bodies piled up at a morgue as part of a campaign against his government. The newspaper saw it as part of their job to inform the public.

The director of El Nacional, Miguel Henrique Otero made no bones about the purpose of the picture. He told CNN, “The editorial aim of the photo was to shock people so that in some way they react to the situation, since the government does nothing.”

No doubt the picture was shocking. The SPJ Code of Ethics calls for journalists to “Do No Harm.” part of the Code states journalists should “Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.”

The picture — as described — was no doubt hurtful to the families of the deceased and it most likely pandered to lurid curiosity. But that is no excuse for a government to engage in censorship.

Reporters Without Borders called the order “too broad and imprecise.”

Reuters reported on the ban — Venezuela bans papers from printing violent photos — on the 18th.

Venezuelan publishers denounced the court order as part of a concentrated attack on independent media outlets in the country.

In an editorial, El Nacional said:

<Google Translation>”The measure of censure issued by the regime of President Chávez against the independent press in Venezuela has ratified its totalitarian vocation and its decision to prevent criticism of the country’s social reality in all its dimensions and gravity, goes beyond the knowledge of the people.”

<Original Spanish text>”La medida de censura dictada por el régimen del presidente Chávez contra la prensa independiente de Venezuela ha ratificado su vocación totalitaria y su decisión de impedir que la crítica realidad social del país, en toda su dimensión y gravedad, trascienda al conocimiento del pueblo.”

Chavez has never been friendly to independent media. He has followed a totalitarian line on media policy that mirrors the policies of Fidel Castro and Adolf Hitler.

And he moves on many fronts.

Besides getting his rubber-stamp courts to hand down edicts, he is also using government funds to buy control of media outlets critical of his government.

According to a report from Reporters Without Borders over the weekend, the Venezuelan government is buying 48.5 percent of the ownership of Globovision and is heading for majority ownership of its stock.

President Hugo Chávez announced on 20 July that his government is about to acquire a majority stake in Globovisión, a privately-owned TV station that is very critical of his administration. By acquiring the shares of some of the station’s directors, the government says it will be able to control 48.5 per cent of its capital.

Federal Bank chairman Nelson Mezerhane stepped in last month at the government’s request and bought 20 per cent of Globovisión’s shares, plus another 5.8 per cent acquired through another company, Chávez revealed during a televised ceremony on 20 July. He also announced that the 20 per cent of shares owned by Luis Teófilo Núñez, one of the station’s founders, who died in 2007, would “pass to the state.” Chávez then did the sum: “25.8 per cent plus 20 per cent makes 48.5 per cent, amigo.” This was not an expropriation, he insisted. The government just wanted to “participate in this business.”

And I love that last line. The government just wants to “participate in this business.”

I would say that the years-long efforts by the Chavez government to close, intimidate and otherwise control media outlets in the country should mean that they have already been “participating” in the news business.

Just to be clear: Venezuela is the ONLY country in South America that is listed as NOT FREE by the Freedom House Press Freedom Report. And its only partner in the entire Western Hemisphere with this “honor” is Cuba, which has jailed more journalists than any other country in the world.

And if anyone was wondering what the impact of censorship has, Venezuela is only marginally less corrupt than Haiti, which means Venezuela is the second most corrupt country in the Western Hemisphere. In general, free media are a good way to keep track of corrupt officials. (Why do you think so many governments want to control the media?)

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Filed under Corruption, Harassment, Press Freedom, South America

Why was call for freedom of information law in Afghanistan ignored by media?

With all the to-do about the International Donors Conference in Kabul this week, one item got little (dare I say, no) mention in the media reports and government statements: the need for a freedom of information law.

One of the key points of the conference was the need to reduce corruption in the Afghan government. (Let’s face it, no one expects to eliminate corruption. The best anyone could do is limit it.) In response to that call, several Afghan civil society groups and media organizations launched a campaign highlighting the need to have access to government documents. And the best way to do that is to enact a freedom of information law.

AFGHAN CIVIL SOCIETY LAUNCHES ACCESS TO INFORMATION CAMPAIGN

Too bad no one in the West reported on it.

The issue of corruption in Afghanistan is indeed serious.

According to Transparency International, Afghanistan is just one point away from being the most corrupt country in the world. Only Somalia is more corrupt — and that is a country that barely has a functioning civil society. That makes Afghanistan more corrupt than well-know spots of corruption such as Sudan, Iraq and Haiti.

So, how does one combat corruption?

The idealists and political science modelers will say: “Enact anti-corruption legislation and then enforce it.” But the very people who depend on corruption for their standard living are also the ones in charge of enforcing the law. How serious do you think they will be in enforcing the law?

What is needed is a way to shine sunlight (the best disinfectant) on government projects. And that is where an FOI law comes into play.

The Afghan civic and media groups explain the need for an FOI law succinctly:

Citizens will be able to know essential information about the provision of public services, such as land distribution and its criteria, timeframe for issuing passports or identity cards, school construction costs and electricity distribution.

Where ever FOI laws are enacted and enforced, one thing is true, more citizens and citizen groups than journalists ask for the data. It makes no difference if it is the USA or the Dominican Republic, the story is the same. Requests under the FOI laws come overwhelmingly from individuals or civic organizations rather than journalists.

And yet it is journalists who argue the loudest for freedom of information laws.

Promises to put data on the Internet — as Afghanistan has promised to do — is all well and good. IF people have access to a computer and the Internet. Posting on the Internet is not the same as having an open government and making data available to people

In Afghanistan, population 29 million, only 500,000 people have access to the Internet.

So tell me again, how posting everything on the Internet in a country where less than 2% of the population has access to that data is helpful. It reminds me of how people praise the near 100% literacy rate in Cuba, while at the same time failing to note that WHAT the people can read is severely limited by the government under pain of long jail sentences.

It is indeed a pity that so many people focused on the speeches by the big participants in the Kabul conference and all the talk of development aid while ignoring some simple basic things that Afghans are calling for to help make their own government more accountable.

Would it really have taken that much time to add the FOI message to a story about the conference?

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Filed under Corruption, Freedom of Information, International News Coverage, Middle East