Saturday, May 03, 2008

The fight for press freedom continues

Today marks World Press Freedom Day. Ironically, global press freedom continues to decline, according to international press freedom groups.

According to the US-based Freedom House:

"Global press freedom underwent a clear decline in 2007, with journalists struggling to work in increasingly hostile environments in almost every region in the world, according to a new survey released today by Freedom House. The decline in press freedom—which occurred in authoritarian countries and established democracies alike—continues a six-year negative trend."

Read more here.

There is no shortage of shortage of press freedom predators around the world, according to Paris-based Reporters Without Borders.

For the past seven years Reporters Without Borders has exposed the world's "predators of press freedom" - men and women who directly attack journalists or order others to. Most are top-level politicians (including presidents, prime ministers and kings) but they also include militia chiefs, leaders of armed groups and drug-traffickers. They usually answer to no-one for their serious attacks on freedom of expression. Failure to punish them is one of the greatest threats to the media today.

There are 39 "predators of press freedom" this year. Five have disappeared from the previous list. Fidel Castro is one of them, as the "lider maximo" has definitively transferred power to his brother Raúl. Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf lost February's parliamentary elections and, in the process, his ability to harm press freedom. In Ethiopia, the situation seems to have stabilised and imprisoned journalists have been released, so Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has been taken off the list. The same goes for Swaziland's King Mswati III, who has not committed any serious press freedom violation for several years. Finally, Young Patriots leader Charles Blé Goudé in Côte d'Ivoire has stopped calling for violence against foreign journalists or opposition journalists.

But 10 new predators have entered the list. In the Palestinian Territories, the armed wing of Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority's security forces in the West Bank were guilty of serious press freedom violations. Each faction systematically hounded journalists suspecting of siding with the other camp.

Read more here.

The Philippines remains one of the most dangerous countries for journalists, despite a few positive steps taken--which are eager to claim by the government--to address media murders. The culture of impunity still reigns in the country, and not just for journalists but for many others as well such as political dissenters, activists, social and human rights advocates, lawyers, development workers.

Here's Joel Simon and Sheila Coronel of the Committee to Protect Journalists on how the problem of impunity in the Philippines has had an effect on journalism and coverage of critical issues of human rights and corruption:

The (Marlene) Esperat case has been justly hailed a milestone in the fight against impunity. What is shocking, however, is that such convictions are so rare. There are 24 other murders carried out since 2000 in the Philippines in which no one has been brought to justice.

This dubious record helped earn the Philippines a top ranking in the Impunity Index devised by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) as a measure for assessing the safety and protection of journalists worldwide.... In fact, the only countries in the world that have a worse record of bringing journalists to justice have endured years of violent conflict – Iraq, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sri Lanka and Colombia.

This nearly perfect record of impunity in the Philippines has had a devastating impact on the free flow of information and has inhibited coverage of human rights and corruption issues in the communities affected by violence."

Read more here. For more information about the CPJ and Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists campaign, click here. For CPJ's Impunity Index, click here.

Local press groups, among them the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, held activities today to observe the May 3 event. There was a wreath-laying ceremony earlier at the National Shrine of Marcelo H. del Pilar, a beloved hero of the Philippine revolution and editor of La Solidaridad. The event was followed by a jamming session of members of media tonight at Freedom Bar.

Eternal vigilance to fight for press freedom, therefore, is certainly needed. Expect the struggle to be a long and arduous one because of--and especially under--a government that has shown no qualms in being brazen in committing wrongdoing, discarding laws, throwing delicadeza out of the window, repressing the media and destroying democratic institutions just to cling to power.

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