Category Archives: Harassment

Criminal Defamation Laws Hit Press Freedom

The growing use of criminal defamation laws around the world add to the general decline in press freedom.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has a great program called Critics are not Criminals. This is a worthy effort that deserves the support of not only all journalists but all civil libertarians.

The latest case is in Honduras. A reporter looked into an alleged corrupt local police chief. Television reporter Ariel Armando D’Vicente now faces three years in prison with an additional three-year ban on working as a journalist.

Unfortunately for too many journalists, they get hammered by the use of criminal defamation laws. A recent study by CPJ and Thomson Reuters Foundation showed the use of these laws has grown in the Americas.

When governments and individuals use the defamation/libel laws to exact criminal penalties, freedom of the press is hurt.

A basic rule in the United States is that truth is an absolute defense against libel or defamation. Yet in much of the rest of the world, even if everything said in an article is true, if the subject of the article can prove anyone thinks less of that person, he/she can sue AND get the reporter tossed in jail. (See: Different libel laws cause grief around the world.)

For reporters working around the world, knowledge of these laws is vital, especially freelancers. While reporters for major news organizations may be able to get legal help from the parent organization, a freelance caught up in these bad laws could be left hanging.

And, it is important to remember, this law does not only apply to journalists. A person having a bad experience in a country and saying so on Yelp or Facebook could lead to charges being filed. And satire is definitely a problem. Just ask the producers and writers of The Simpsons:

The government of Brazil sued the producers of the The Simpsons often. In a 2002 episode the Simpsons were in Brazil.  The family was robbed, eaten by snake, kidnapped and abused by monkeys. The Brazilian government sued. And the response of the Simpson team: More jokes about Brazil. And more lawsuits. None were successful — at least in the USA.

For some fun:


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Filed under Harassment, Human Rights, International News Coverage, Press Freedom

China Continues on Road of Information Supression

One thing you have to give to the government/Communist Party leadership in China is that they are ever vigilant about ways people can get information.

In the early days it was merely controlling the newspapers and radio stations. Now, with the Internet and SMS with mobile phones, the Party has been in the forefront of keeping the outside world from informing the Chinese people.

It is almost an annual event that new regulations about online news organizations are put forward.

To back up all the rules and regulations, the government has the Great Firewall of China in an effort to block outside influences. (New York Times, twitter, Facebook, etc.) And they have a cadre (some say millions) of people hired to actively counter any “non-positive” comments about China on the Internet. This group is known as the Fifty Cents Party because people are reportedly paid 50 cents for each comment they attack with a “positive” message.

Needless to say, Chinese netizens have had some fun with the 50 Cent Party

50 Cents

Maybe censorship is the government’s way of ensuring full employment, because reportedly millions are employed to monitor and report on unauthorized information on the Internet.

All this is in addition to the pronouncements of President Xi that the role of the media (and journalists) is to be a lap dog for the Party: [Journalists] must love the party, protect the party, and closely align themselves with the party leadership in thought, politics and action,”Love the Party” first. 

Needless to say, such a position is a violation of the ethics of any independent journalist or honest news organization not matter what country.

In addition to the Chinese government and ruling party doing all they can to stop information they don’t control from coming in, they are also trying to control what news outlets outside China can and should say:

  • Australia: Chinese language newspapers in Australia: Beijing controls messaging, propaganda in press – Sydney Morning Herald
  • Hong Kong: As Beijing tightens grip on Hong Kong media, mainland journalists suffer – Committee to Protect Journalists

The communist theory of media control is as old as Lenin setting up Pravda. The difference now is that there are so many different ways to get information thanks to mobile phones and the Internet that repressive government such as the one in China must waste more and more money on monitoring and jamming sites that might carry unauthorized material.

And to be sure, China is not alone. Nor are communist countries the only ones that go in for massive intrusion into Internet freedom. Just think of Turkey (pre- and post-coup), Saudi Arabia or Thailand.

Just think about how much more these countries could do if they focused their resources on growth and development instead of repression of free expression.


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Filed under Censorship, China, Freedom of Information, Harassment, International News Coverage

Freedom House Looks at Threats in Mexico

Freedom House, one of the top human rights organizations in the world, has a program helping journalists in Mexico. Below is an introduction and link to a story about that program.

Mexico’s Embattled Journalists: An Interview with Mariclaire Acosta

mctwitterOne of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists is Mexico, where 11 reporters have been murdered since 2014. Mariclaire Acosta directs Freedom House’s program in Mexico City to improve journalists’ professionalism and safety. Acosta, Mexico’s former Deputy Secretary for Human Rights and Democracy, talks here about the interconnected crises of security, press freedom, and accountability.

Full report, click here.

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Call for more safety measures for journalists

The following item was initially posted at the SPJ International Community site, Journalism and the World.

Roy Greenslade at The guardian published an open letter from the director general of Swedish Radio, Cilla Benkö, calling for the safety of journalists to be taken more seriously by the international community.

He put the whole letter in his latest March 11 column. A portion of that letter is posted below. To see the whole letter and Greenslade’s column, click here.

Cilla Benkö

Enough is enough. Every policy initiative that can be taken to secure the safety of journalists, both here in Sweden and internationally, through bodies such as the UN and the EU, must now be implemented. This is an urgent matter if we want to protect the freedom of the press and the freedom of expression.On Wednesday (9 March), our correspondent, Maria Persson Löfgren, was attacked while on assignment in the Russian state of Ingushetia. On 11 March 2014, our Asia correspondent, Nils Horner, was murdered in Kabul. Two completely unacceptable events.

Both Maria and Nils were engaged in normal assignments for a foreign correspondent. The job is demanding, tough and sometimes associated with danger.

We should be thankful that there are people who want to engage in this kind of journalism, because it’s through them that the rest of us learn about a reality that is often more complicated than those governing in a country would suggest.

The issue of the safety of journalists must be taken more seriously at an international level. Ceasing to cover troubled areas is not an option. In an increasingly digitised world, it is very easy for extremist groups and others to spread their propaganda.

For rest of letter click here.

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

Turkey takes dark turn

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has always had a thin skin and low tolerance for anyone criticizing him. He has now taken the dramatic step of not only attacking a newspaper that has regularly opposed his actions, but Erdogan ordered the paper seized by the government. (See list of articles below.)

The take over is just another in a series of actions by Erdogan and his government that has earned Turkey a status not having free media from Freedom House.

According to the Freedom House report, news organizations that criticized the Erdogan government were harassed and often individual journalists were targeted with death threats.

In its report on Turkey, Freedom House laid out the steady decline of press freedom in Turkey ever since Erdogan became a national leader — prime minister and now president:

The government enacted new laws that expanded both the state’s power to block websites and the surveillance capability of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT). Journalists faced unprecedented legal obstacles as the courts restricted reporting on corruption and national security issues. The authorities also continued to aggressively use the penal code, criminal defamation laws, and the antiterrorism law to crack down on journalists and media outlets.

turkey_5years_capture_updated-445x480All this happens while the Turkish constitution claims free press is a guarantee. Unfortunately for the Turkish media, the government has pushed through a number of laws that get supported by the courts, all in the name of fighting terrorism.

Press freedom in Turkey has been in a steady decline for the past five years. The latest move by Erdogan is perhaps the most blatant attack on free press.

The highly popular Zaman was taken over by the government when police raided the offices late Friday, March 4. The paper was only barely able to get its last indpendent edition out before the takeover.

Zaman was tied to Erdogan former ally and now political foe Fethullah Gulen. The two had a falling out as Erdogan moved toward a more militant Islamic style government. Gulen — who lives in the United States in self-imposed exile — preaches a tolerant Islam and promotes dialogue among Christianity, Judaism and Islam, the so-called Faiths of the Book.

The latest Freedom House report of political freedom puts Turkey in the PARTLY FREE category, but with a downward trend. It is nestled in with other PARTLY FREE societies such as Zambia, Tanzania and Nicaragua.

Now, why should we, in the United States, care about what goes on in Turkey.

There is the basic humanitarian issue, that people should have political freedom and with it, press freedom. But on a larger issue, Turkey controls the Bosporus Strait. Through this narrow strip of water millions of dollars of goods flow in an out of the Black Sea. If turkey were to take a dislike to a country, it could prevent vessels bound to/from that from passing through.

Then there is the refugee issue. Thousands of Middle East refugees pass through Turkey on their way to Greece and western Europe. The European Union needs help in dealing with this complicated humanitarian issue.

And, Turkey is a member of NATO. It is bound to North America and western Europe by treaty. What Turkey does inside its own borders has a direct impact on U.S. foreign policy — diplomatic and military. It is a vital partner in the fight against ISIS and in dealing with the Syrian civil war.

If the Turkish government shuts down the independent media, then the only way the rest of the world will know what is going on in that country will be what the government wants the world to know. Given the volatility of the region and important role Turkey plays in the area, we need to know as much as possible about not only what the government is thinking but also the reactions of the country’s citizenry.

Articles and commentaries about the take over of Zaman:


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Filed under Censorship, Harassment, International News Coverage, Middle East, Press Freedom

Turkish media ordered to conform to “family values”

Many thanks to Roy Greenslade at The Guardian for point out the latest attack on free press by the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkish media output must conform to ‘traditional family values’

The Turkish government wants to ensure that the output of the country’s media conforms to “traditional family values.”

It is to take unspecified “measures” aimed at countering what it regards as the “negative effects” on family of material in newspapers, on television and even on social media.

A statement from the government said “measures will be taken to ensure that visual, aural and social media, news, tabloids, films and similar types of productions conform to our traditional family values.”

turkey_5years_capture_updated-445x480Ever since Erdogan took the reigns of power, press freedom in Turkey has been slowly but steadily eroded. in 2010 Freedom House ranked Turkey’s media as Partly Free. By 2013, however, the country was pushed into the Not Free category because of government policies hostile to independent media.

Constitutional guarantees of press freedom and freedom of expression are only partially upheld in practice. They are generally undermined by provisions in the penal code, the criminal procedure code, and the harsh, broadly worded antiterrorism law that effectively leave punishment of normal journalistic activity to the discretion of prosecutors and judges.

The constitutional protections are also subverted by hostile public rhetoric against critical journalists and outlets from Erdoğan and other government officials, which is often echoed in the progovernment press. Since the Gezi Park protests of 2013, Erdoğan has accused the foreign media and various outside interest groups of organizing and manipulating unrest in the country. He has also blamed foreign-based conspiracies for corruption allegations against his family and ministers. In August 2014, during a speech at a campaign rally just prior to the presidential election, Erdoğan denounced Economist correspondent Amberin Zaman as a “shameless militant” and told her to “know [her] place.” In the following months, Zaman was deluged with threats of violence on social media. In September, New York Times reporter Ceylan Yeğinsu suffered a similar verbal attack over a photograph caption that accompanied her piece on Islamic State recruiting in Turkey. Progovernment media depicted her as a traitor. The U.S. State Department criticized Turkey for such attempts to intimidate and threaten her.



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Dark days ahead for China’s media

French journalist Ursula Gauthier faced the wrath of Beijing censors when she wrote about China’s policy toward the Muslim Uighur minority in China.part-del-del8393516-1-1-0

First, Beijing accused her
of being sympathetic to the Uyghurs and promoting the violent actions taken by a few radicals. Then, to make sure she could not follow up on her stories, the foreign ministry refused to renew her visa to work in China. That meant she had to leave by December 31, 2015.

Denying visa renewals or sitting on the applications for a long time has become a standard move by the central government.

In 2014 the reporters from The New York Times and Bloomberg did not know until the last minute if they would be allowed to stay. Seems their articles about how family members of the ruling elite use their connections to get incredibly wealthy ticked off a few folks in Beijing.

The ruling Communist Party has always been hostile to Western media. Even though more reporters are being licensed to work in China, the harassment they face from national to local government officials is daunting.

The Foreign Correspondents Club of China regularly assembles stories and complaints about how the government is hindering journalists. The reports used to be posted on the FCCC website. Now, however, one has to specifically request the reports or sign in as a member.

The reason is pretty clear, the club is afraid if they are too public, the government will shut them down:

To ensure the continued operation of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China we are not currently making such material openly accessible on the website.

And it is not like anyone could blame them. At least the reports are available in one form or another.

And lest anyone think this is aimed at just the media, remember that the Canadian contestant for the Miss World competition was blocked from entering China because she spoke out about human rights violations in China.

What made it worse for Beijing, of course, was that the woman is Chinese-Canadian. It is one thing for a round-eyed foreign devil to be critical of China’s policies, but a whole other thing when the critic looks like any other Chinese person.

Beijing passed a new anti-terrorism law, in part to allow them to get Western nations on their side against the Uyghurs, but also to have a legal basis for their actions inside the country.

Under the new law, “terrorism” is now defined as any idea or activity that generates “social panic, undermines public security, infringes on personal and property rights, and menaces government organs and international organizations, with the aim to realize certain political and ideological purposes.”

And for Beijing, anything that challenges the supreme authority of the ruling Communist Party has the potential to generate social panic. And, it goes without saying, has “certain political and ideological purposes.”

Things are not likely to get better in China for reporters — foreign or domestic. The rhetoric against free press is clearly not letting up and the hostility aimed at foreign media representatives from doing their job of fairly and accurately reporting events in China is expected to continue unabated

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