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Posts tagged ‘Press Freedom’

Media Freedom And The Threat Of Impunity By Dapo Olorunyomi.


Dapo Olorunyomi
By Dapo Olorunyomi

The past half a decade has been perhaps the most challenging years since Nigeria’s return to civil rule in 1999.

Literally, the fate of some 160 million citizens have been caught between nationalist insurgents in the south, and Islamist terrorists in the north, with no relief from a distressing canopy of spectacularly poor evidence at governance, and thieving politicians left, right, and centre.

Narrating these evidently polarizing experiences on a daily basis, falls on the media, that has had a mixed bag of brilliant moments and, just putting it straight, sometimes appalling results of what looks like a Kafkaesque sequence of events.

What is clear, however, from the perspective of the media, is that these five years also represents perhaps the most dismal period in the over 150-year institutional biography of one of our most heroic national citadels.

Constrained by inter-communal, inter-faith, minority, and other diversity issues, political reporting in Nigeria can be a test for any journalist, and heightened with the added challenges posed by a swelling climate of intolerance, fueled by the reign of criminal gangs who are sustained through official corruption, oil theft, the now lucrative kidnapping business, politically-financed terror squads, ethno-national mobs, or private security gangs.

These are the notations of impunity, the hydra-headed monster that now threatens freedom, rights, and ultimately, the democratic aspirations of citizens. In all climes, reporting events like these comes at dreadful costs; and the Committee to Protect Journalists [CPJ], an independent, , nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide, has diligently followed the trails of such reporters, keenly documenting the heroism of such brave messengers, under capricious regimes, through whom daily history is brought to us.

Now, the same CPJ is alerting us in Nigeria that this wave of impunity has finally come home to roost.  In its 2013 Impunity Index release in New York today, CPJ states chillingly: “Nigeria has become one of the worst nations in the world for deadly, unpunished violence against the press.”
The CPJ global index calculates unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of each country’s population, and found this year that soaring impunity rates were also recorded in Somalia, Pakistan, and Brazil.

In the five-year matrix taken for this computation, the CPJ cites the unresolved murder of Channels TV reporter, Enenche Akogwu; the killing of Nathan Dabak and Sunday Gyang of the Christian Times in Jos; Zakariya Isa of NTA Maiduguri; and Bayo Ohu of the Guardian Newspapers in Lagos.
Blaming “militants in the north and politically inspired aggression nationwide” for the growing impunity in the land, the CPJ Impunity Index puts Nigeria in the category of a dozen countries where journalist murders occurred from January 1, 2003, through December 31, 2012, and remain unsolved. The index, published annually, considers cases unsolved when no convictions have been won.

There are strong lessons for Nigeria here. Slamming what he recently characterized as “a choreographed attempt to deliberately cast the administration in bad light,” the spokesman for the Nigerian presidency, Mr. Reuben Abati, a newspaperman and lawyer, pretentiously claimed, “This government is proud of its record on press freedom, its relationship with and promotion of access for the media and civil society.”

The administration, as Mr. Abati argues it, actually expects gratitude from Nigerians on account of “its commitment to press freedom times over [because the] Freedom of Information Bill (FOI) was signed by this President into law and under this government the Nigerian print and electronic media has grown in number, reach and in terms of freedom to practice.”

True, but it was also under the watch of this president that the most elaborate and illegal assault on the privacy and constitutional rights of citizens had been initiated in the post-independence history of this nation.

The online newspaper, Premium Times, [premiumtimesng.com], reported recently that “secretly, and in open violation of lawful contracting procedures, the Jonathan administration has awarded an Israeli firm, Elbit Systems…a $40million contract to help it spy on citizens’ computers and Internet communications.”

In case Mr. Abati missed the news, this came only weeks after the administration banned the airing and distribution of a documentary, ‘Fuelling Poverty’, a 30-minute videography that documents the massive poverty in the land and the slide towards a full blown regime of corruption and greed in the country.  To borrow the voice of Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, the film depicts “a seven billion scam perpetrated at the federal government level.”

As Nigeria approaches the 2015 corridor, the CPJ Impunity Index offers a valuable compass for advocacy groups working on human rights and media platforms, but it can also help law enforcement and security institutions map their responses to the impunity against journalists.  It is always important to stress the point that, however poorly the media do its work; a free media is pivotal to the success of any democracy.

It has never happened that democracy flourishes where citizens are not free to publish their ideas and receive the ideas of others; and the gospel remains valid that freedom of expression inspires all other human rights, and that famous demands like the constitutional right to life, to property, to freedom of movement, to religion, to spousal relationship, equality before the law, to non-discrimination, against arbitrary arrest, detention, etc. acquire substance only to the extent that they can be communicated freely.

Already the Nigerian political atmosphere is tense, but in these past five years, political reporting remains the most dangerous beat for journalists all over the world, according to the CPJ.

In a total of 265 murder cases documented, 30 percent of the victims were reporters covering political beats. Corruption, not an abstract reality in Nigeria, represented the second most dangerous topic to cover, and that accounted for 20 percent of the reported murder cases.
In all the cases, the killers intended to send an intimidating message to the entire press corps and in no fewer than 48 percent of cases the victims were abducted or tortured before being killed.

There is a strong reason for Nigerians to worry about the growing climate of intolerance and the advance of impunity here, 10 of the 12 worst cases of impunity globally have been listed each year since CPJ began the annual analysis in 2008.  The muted lesson here, according to CPJ researchers is that the “static nature of the list highlights the challenges in reversing entrenched impunity and high rates of anti-press violence,” which is not like saying it is all bleak news, because, indeed, impunity can be challenged and reversed.

This, however, as in all cases of repression, will require commitment and courage by citizens to push back on the reign of impunity. In Nepal, for instance, CPJ noted “declining levels of violence” in part to prosecution efforts. For those who might think there is a direct correlation between civil war and violence to reporters, in Syria, despite the high number of recent journalist fatalities, “large majority,” of the fatalities were caused by combat-related crossfire.
The Guild of editors, the union of journalists, the publishers association, and broadcast proprietors have a document in the CPJ impunity Index to guide their path towards a new offensive in strengthening democracy by designing local strategies to resist impunity.
·      

-Dapo Olorunyomi is editor-in-chief at Premium Times, www.premiumtimesng.com, based in Abuja, Nigeria.

Source: SAHARA REPORTERS.

ACN Calls Jonathan’s Plan to Spy on Nigerians ‘Evil,’ Calls on Citizens To Speak Up Before It Is Too Late.


By SaharaReporters, New York

The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) has condemned as ‘evil,’ the reported $40 million Internet Surveillance Contract that will enable the government to invade the privacy of citizens, calling on the National Assembly, civil liberties organisations, professional groups and ordinary citizens to speak out before it is too late.

In a statement issued in Lagos by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, ACN noted that since the emergence of reports of the contract, which is said to have been awarded to an Israeli firm, it has yet to be denied, an indication that it is safe to assume that it is indeed true.

Describing such a development as an unprecedented assault on the civil rights of Nigerian citizens by the Jonathan Administration, ACN said this marks the beginning of what is sure to be the curtailment of the right to freedom of speech and expression and the freedom of the press, in addition to the invasion of citizens’ privacy, among other implications.

”For a government that is increasingly paranoid, having failed to meet the yearnings and aspirations of the citizenry who are justifiably becoming restive by the day, the ability to spy on the Internet communications of citizens as well as to intercept and read private emails, not to talk of being able to suppress unwanted connections, is a potent weapon against the civil rights of Nigerians as well as the constitutionally-guaranteed rights like freedom of expression, freedom of the press and freedom of association,” the party further said.

The party pointed out that it is common knowledge that the Jonathan administration has been getting a bad rap from Nigerians in the traditional media as well as the social media, which it described as a veritable platform for the citizens to vent their frustrations at a do-nothing government.

”It is also common knowledge that journalists have borne the brunt of the administration’s increasing propensity to stifle freedom of expression and press freedom, while members of the opposition are being portrayed more and more as enemies of the administration, rather than being seen as indispensable allies in the nation’s quest to evolve a strong and enduring democracy,” the statement said.

Speculating that these factors may have been the motivation for the administration to acquire the Internet Surveillance capability, ACN warned that no government in the history of Nigeria has taken this kind of brazen measure for whatever reason, and that it must raise serious concerns among Nigerians, their political representatives as well as civil liberties organisations.

According to the party, ”Desirable as it may be for the government to be able to gather useful intelligence on the terror groups that have held a section of our country by the jugular, nothing can justify what will essentially become a weapon for harassment, intimidation and even decimation of perceived opponents by a desperate and paranoid administration that is already firing poisoned arrows at those it sees as its enemies, within and outside its fold, in the run up to the 2015 elections.

“No government should have the right to play a ‘Big Brother’ role in the lives of the citizens, because this will ultimately herald the return to autocratic rule and sound the death knell of our democracy,” it warned.

SERAP Seeks African Commission Intervention Over Attacks Against Journalists And The Media.


By Adetokunbo Mumuni/SERAP

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has petitioned Ms Pansy Tlakula, Commissioner and Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa over the “increasing level of attacks against journalists and media houses in the country.”

In the petition dated 16 April 2013, and signed by SERAP Executive Director Adetokunbo Mumuni, the organization said that, “We ask the Honourable Commissioner to urgently intervene to stop the Nigerian government from further intimidation and harassment of journalists and media houses and to prevail on the government to respect internationally recognized right to freedom of expression and press freedom in the country.”

The organization also said that, “the attack against journalists and the media by the government is coming at a time the government’s effort to fight corruption is waning; and when the government continues to perform poorly in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index. The government’s anti-corruption agenda cannot work effectively without the important contribution of the media. Without press freedom, it is much easier for the government to take away other human rights and to perpetrate official and large scale corruption.”

The organization also expressed concern that “the recent arrests of Leadership newspapers journalists, and the harassment of some radio stations for simply allowing and airing critical views against the government illustrates the government increasing intolerance of critical views, and its policy of attack against the media, and reminds the citizens of the tactics used during the dark days of military dictatorship in Nigeria.”

“SERAP is seriously concerned that the action by the Nigerian government contravenes the country’s international legal obligations, including under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Convention against Corruption to which Nigeria is a state party, and also directly violates Section 22 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended), which requires the Press to hold the government accountable to the people.” the organization said.

According to the organization, “the government’s action specifically undermines and limits the citizens’ right to freedom of opinion and expression; including the right to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

SERAP also contends that the guarantee of freedom of expression applies with particular force to the media. Indeed, the right to freedom of expression and peoples’ right to seek and receive information cannot be meaningful unless the media plays its key role in a democratic society without political interference or influence.

States are required not only to refrain from interfering with rights but also take positive steps to ensure that rights, including freedom of expression, are respected. In effect, governments are under an obligation to create an environment in which a diverse, independent media can flourish, thereby satisfying the public’s right to know,” the organization also added.
SERAP therefore requested the Commissioner to:

Publicly condemn and express concerns about the increasing level of attacks against journalists and media houses

Urge the Nigerian government to end all intimidation and harassment of journalists and allow the media to function without any restrictions whatsoever

Urge the Nigerian government to fully comply with its international legal obligations including under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights

Propose and facilitate the adoption of a resolution on the issue by the African Commission at its ongoing 53rd Ordinary Session in Banjul, The Gambia

Signed

Adetokunbo Mumuni
Executive Director

Source: SAHARA REPORTERS.

Myanmar press still fighting for true freedom.


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Although unshackled from decades of direct censorship, journalistsin Myanmar still face repressive laws that can land them in prison and say they will not stop fighting for greater freedom.

The end of pre-publication checks is the latest reform by a regime seeking the lifting of Western sanctions, but there are concerns that without wider changes a climate of fear will persist and self-censorship prevail.

“Many of the restrictions, laws and regulations that were applied under the old regime will continue to apply under this new system,” said Shawn Crispin, Southeast Asia representative for theCommittee to Protect Journalists.

“Journalists still run the risk of being imprisoned, harassed and intimidated for their journalism, so for us it’s a half measure at best.”

Myanmar’s censorship board itself has not been abolished and weekly newspapers — independent dailies are still banned — will have to submit their content to the Press Scrutiny and Registration Department after they go to print.

Journalists still live under the shadow of the 1962 Printing Act, which saw many publishers, editors and journalists as well as activists sent to jail during almost half a century of military rule that ended last year.

The law ordered publishers to register all printing presses, empowered police to seize material published without approval and a carried a maximum three-year prison term — and a fine — for anyone in breach.

“As long as the 1962 law stands without being amended, real press freedom will always be in question,” said Nyein Nyein Naing, executive editor at the 7Days News weekly paper.

Until the junta-era media laws are scrapped, journalists in the country — ranked 11th worst in the world for press freedom by Reporters Without Borders — say they will continue to seek greater rights.

“The censorship body must be abolished. The Electronic Act must be abolished. The 1962 Printing Act must be abolished. Only after that we can get real freedom of press,” said Hlaing Thit Zin Wai, editor of the Venus Weekly.

Organisers of a journalists’ rally planned for Tuesday to call for wider press freedom said police had rejected their application to protest and they were considering whether to appeal the decision.

The media also complain that there was not enough consultation about a new press law that was drafted by the information ministry in secret and is awaiting approval by the cabinet before being sent to parliament.

Pre-publication censorship was a hallmark of life under the generals who ran the country for decades and applied in the past to everything from newspapers to song lyrics and even fairy tales.

But in recent months private weekly news journals have been allowed to publish an increasingly bold range of stories, most notably about opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Reporters jailed under the junta have also been freed from long prison terms.

“Five years ago we couldn’t write about politics and democracy. Aung San Suu Kyi was not part of our media coverage. We couldn’t use the phrase ‘military regime’. Now we can!” said Nyein Nyein Naing.

But in what campaigners criticised as a backward step, two journals were recently suspended for a fortnight for printing stories without prior approval from the censors.

And the mining ministry has filed a criminal defamation suit against The Voice Weekly, which reported that the auditor-general’s office had discovered misappropriations of funds and fraud at the government division.

Under the 1962 act, both individuals and organisations can sue publications for defamation, in a country where for decades the judiciary was seen as a close ally of the junta.

“This is not only a matter of concern for the Voice. We’re facing a case that is against the whole media industry,” said Voice editor-in-chief Kyaw Min Swe after a court hearing Thursday.

A ruling on whether the case will proceed is expected on September 6.

Earlier this month the authorities announced the creation of a “Core Press Council” including journalists — the majority with close links to the government — a former supreme court judge and retired academics to study media ethics and settle press disputes.

But some observers fear the moves are largely superficial changes by a regime seeking international acceptance.

“We question still the sincerity of these moves,” said Crispin. “They seem to be giving just enough to try to win the next concession from the West and then, when they get that, resorting to their old wicked ways.”

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

AFPBy Shwe Yinn Mar Oo | AFP 

Myanmar journalists protest against censorship.


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Dozens of journalists marched in Myanmar’s main city Saturday to protest the suspension of two journals amid fears officials are rowing back on pledges to ease strict junta-era censorship laws, an AFP reporter said.

The Voice Weekly and The Envoy were suspended last week for failing to submit stories for pre-publication scrutiny, the chief censor told AFP Saturday, adding the “temporary suspension” may last for a fortnight.

The reporters, many wearing black T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “Stop Killing (the) Press” in Burmese and English marched to several sites across Yangon, including the two publishing houses behind the suspended weeklies.

Stifling censorship was one of the key symbols of junta-led Myanmar, where even seemingly innocuous details were scrubbed from public discussion and publications were frequently pulled for comments deemed damaging to the authoritarian rulers.

The government had recently taken a lighter touch on some of the less controversial publications as part of reforms sweeping the former army-ruled nation, prompting some editors to test the boundaries of the new found freedoms.

In June Tint Swe, head of the Press Scrutiny and Registration Department (PSRD), told AFP there “will be no press scrutiny job” from the end of that month, also insisting there will “be no monitoring” of local journals and magazines.

A petition by the newly-formed press freedom committee called for an end to all “oppressive” media laws.

“We have seven demands which we are sending in a letter to the president to remove the oppressive laws covering the media,” Zaw Thet Htwe, a spokesman for the independent committee told AFP on phone.

The demands include an immediate lifting of suspensions of the publications, scrapping censorship and a promise to consult journalists on the crafting of a new media law, he added.

The editor of the Voice Weekly, Kyaw Min Swe, last week said the ban on his publication related to the front page story on a cabinet reshuffle and cartoons criticising the current media freedoms in the country.

A more open climate has seen private weekly news publications publish an increasingly bold range of stories, including those about opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose very name was taboo in the past.

On Saturday Tint Swe refuted accusations the suspensions were a backwards step.

“We temporarily suspended the publishing of two journals as they didn’t submit some of their stories to the scrutiny board according to the rules,” he told AFP.

“We have cooperated with the local journals lately as we didn’t want to take any actions against them. It is completely untrue that we are turning back.”

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

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