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Press Freedom News and Views

May 2013 Archives


"Incredible," "staggering," "enormous," "out of time"--the expressions of outrage have been flying in Italy since a Milan magistrate sentenced to prison three journalists for the weekly magazine Panorama. On May 24, Andrea Marcenaro and Riccardo Arena were each condemned to a one-year jail term for a 2010 article discussing Palermo magistrate Francesco Messineo's alleged family connections to the mafia. The editor-in-chief of the center-right news magazine, Giorgio Mule, was sentenced to eight months in jail for "having failed to check the article." The three journalists must also pay 20,000 euros (US$26,000) in compensation to the defendant.

After high school, Bhekitemba Makhubu's father wanted him to study for a law degree. He refused, insisting on following in his father's footsteps as a journalist. Now, aged 43, he doesn't regret his choice, but besides his job as editor of the privately owned monthly magazine, The Nation, he is also studying for a law degree. On April 17, the Swaziland high court sentenced Bheki Makhubu, to two years imprisonment or a fine of US$20,000 for comments published in The Nation about the head of the country's supreme court. On a recent visit to Cape Town he spoke to CPJ about Swaziland's media environment, what motivates him, and the upcoming election. The interview has been edited for length.

Leopoldo Castillo, center, pauses during his daily broadcast  of 'Alo Ciudadano' Tuesday on Globovisión. (Reuters/Jorge Silva)

That didn't take long.

Nine days after the pro-opposition TV station Globovisión was sold to businessmen rumored to have close ties to the Venezuelan government, the station's new leader was welcomed to Miraflores Palace for a cordial sit-down with President Nicolás Maduro.

A memorial to Polenghi (Reuters)

EDITOR'S NOTE: A court in Thailand ruled today that Italian photojournalist Fabio Polenghi was shot and killed by a bullet fired by a soldier during a government crackdown on street protesters on May 19, 2010.  The inquest ruling established the circumstances surrounding his death but failed to apportion blame to any individual military commanders or politicians in power at the time.

Elisabetta Polenghi, Fabio's sister, indicated after the trial that she will pursue criminal charges to bring those directly responsible for her brother's death to account. CPJ Senior Southeast Asia Representative Shawn Crispin was in attendance at today's verdict and at an evening press conference with Elisabetta Polenghi at the Foreign Correspondent's Club of Thailand. The following are excerpts of Crispin's statement at the press conference:

(Pan African Parliament)

The Pan African Parliament's (PAP) launch of a media freedom campaign through a "Dialogue on Media Freedom in Africa" in mid-May marks an important and welcome starting point. For too long, media freedom has been divorced from the debate around development and democratization when it has an integral role to play in promoting transparency, underpinning good governance, and enabling citizens to make informed decisions.

CPJ recognized jailed Tibetan filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen in 2012. (Michael Nagle/Getty Images for CPJ)

In a better world, it is usually a time for joy when a prisoner nears his or her release date. Jailed Tibetan journalists and their families do not live in that world. They live in a crueler place, where freedom is a distant mirage that might never be reached, and exhaustion or death is the reality.

Colombian police display weapons confiscated during a raid on a criminal gang in the town of Tarazá. (Reuters/Fredy Amariles)

Next to the mayor's office in the northern Colombian town of Caucasia sits a monument to government dysfunction: a half-built public library with broken windows, a water-stained floor, and rusting reinforcement rods protruding from concrete pillars.

A protester holds up a photo of Turkish-Armenian editor Hrant Dink in Istanbul. (AFP/Bulent Kilic)

A decision last week in the murder case of Hrant Dink will lead to a retrial, but Dink's supporters are still not satisfied. The ruling on May 15 by Turkey's Supreme Court of Appeals in Ankara acknowledged that there was a criminal conspiracy to murder the ethnic Armenian journalist, but stopped short of opening the way to a deeper investigation into potential involvement by Turkey's powerful institutions.

Police arbitrarily arrested Michael Koma, the managing editor of South Sudan's daily Juba Monitor, on May 2 and detained him for four days following the publication of an article critical of the deputy security minister. A veteran journalist, Koma has experienced firsthand the poor state of press freedom within Africa's newest country. CPJ spoke with him briefly this week.

U.S. President Barack Obama and President Thein Sein of Burma meet in the White House. (AFP/Saul Loeb)

Burmese President Thein Sein made a historic visit to the White House on May 19, the latest in a series of high-level symbolic exchanges between the two nations. While Thein Sein has been regularly commended by U.S. officials for his broad democratic reform program, President Barack Obama's praise this week overlooked a significant backtracking on promised media-related reforms.

Today's vote in the European Parliament was based on a report by Romanian MEP Renate Weber. (Reuters)

The European Parliament, meeting in a plenary session in Strasbourg, France, adopted today a resolution stating that "changes in EU member state's media laws that make it easier for governments to interfere in the media should be monitored every year at EU level."

Blog | USA
James Goodale speaks at the luncheon at CPJ's offices. (CPJ/Sumit Galhotra)

Forty-two years ago next month, The New York Times published the first of the Pentagon Papers, a trove of classified documents on U.S. military involvement in Vietnam, sparking a landmark legal case on press freedom.

The mother of a victim of a bombing in Reyhanli near the Turkish-Syrian border mourns during her funeral. (Reuters/Umit Bektas)

When twin car bombs shook the district of Reyhanli in Turkey's southeastern province of Hatay near the Syrian border last Saturday, killing at least 51 people and wounding dozens of others, a local court issued a gag order on all news coverage of the attack. The ban was unprecedented in scope and in the way by which it came about.

Ali Abdel Imam (AP/Hasan Jamali)

For two years, Bahrainis have been asking "Where is Ali Abdel Imam?" And now finally, they have an answer.

The prominent opposition blogger suddenly emerged from hiding last week, announcing he had been granted asylum in the United Kingdom, news sources reported. 

He had not been heard from since March 17, 2011, when he cryptically tweeted, "I get tired from my phone so I switched it of no need for rumors plz." The Bahraini government had just declared a state of emergency, as massive reform protests rocked the island country. Abdel Imam, who had already been arrested twice before for his work, feared the government would arrest him again in an impending crackdown. So when they came for him the following day, Abdel Imam made sure he wasn't there. He had not been heard from since--until last week.

When President Obama meets with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyp Erdoğan today, he needs to deliver the message that Turkey's failure to improve its record on press freedom is eroding the country's strategic relationship with the United States and sabotaging its regional leadership ambitions, CPJ's executive director, Joel Simon, and Reporters Without Borders' director general, Christophe Deloire, write in an opinion piece in Foreign Policy.

Blog | USA

On June 3, when the long-anticipated court-martial of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning begins in Fort Meade, Md., journalists will crowd the courtroom. But at some point the press and the public likely will be ordered out while confidential testimony--including from State Department officials and active military personnel-- is heard. If the pre-trial proceedings are any indication, the press will also be denied access to written submissions deemed sensitive. 

The wife of Philippines journalist Gerardo Ortega looks at his picture. (AFP/Noel Celis)

We received an unusual email last week. Michaella Ortega wrote to tell us that Marlon Recamata, who confessed to shooting her father, Philippine journalist Gerardo Ortega, in 2011, had been convicted and sentenced to life for the crime.

Gen. David Sejusa (Facebook)

While Uganda's politicians and social media are abuzz over a sensational letter reportedly written by a top security official about a high-level assassination plot, police have dutifully harassed the mainstream press in a bid to suppress the chatter.

Liberian newspapers protest threatening remarks by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's security chief. (Wade Williams/FrontPage Africa)

Most governments, even repressive ones, at least give lip service to supporting freedom of the press--especially on World Press Freedom Day, May 3. But in Liberia this month, Othello Daniel Warrick, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's chief security aide, shocked local journalists by threatening them and calling them "terrorists" at a public event to mark the occasion, according to news reports and local media groups.

Check out the full video of "Censorship and Power in Iran," a panel discussion on imprisoned journalists in Iran that was held on May 8 at the School of Visual Arts in New York. The panel, featuring Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari and CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon and moderated by political satirist Jon Stewart, was followed by a lively Q&A.

The discussion followed a special screening of Bahari's film, called "Forced Confessions," and a short video, called "Iran's Journalists in Chains" about the deterioration of press freedom in the country.

Twenty-four-year-old Bai Lu was just four days into her new job as a journalist at the Urumqi Evening Post when she was killed. She and her colleague, Chen Aiying, were struck by a bulldozer while reporting at a major construction project on April 18 in the city of Urumqi in Xinjiang province. Chen was seriously injured.

A Red Shirt protester holds a portrait of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra at a rally in Bangkok on May 8. (Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha)

To head off rising tensions between supporters of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and cartoonist Somchai Katanyutanan, who faces possible criminal defamation charges for critical comments he posted on his personal Facebook page, Thailand's government has to make sure police fully investigate this weekend's attack on Thai Rath, the country's largest circulation daily newspaper. The government's public sensitivity to expression such as Somchai's has spurred recent political violence in Thailand, including threats against journalists. 

The letter "Z," painted on a hill in the state of Coahuila, refers to the Zetas drug cartel. (Reuters/Tomas Bravo)

The Durango state governor was on his way to meet with reporters. Before he arrived, the reporters huddled to decide the question of the moment. It seemed obvious: Why had a former mayor been arrested the day before in what clearly seemed to be a political move? "That was the only question," a reporter said later. "Did the governor have the ex-mayor arrested? Because, behind that move, you can feel a crackdown coming against the opposition." Yet, this reporter added, "It was too dangerous to ask. No one was brave enough."

CPJ joined with the PEN American Center and the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran on Wednesday night to host a film screening and panel discussion on the deterioration of press freedom in Iran. Moderated by political satirist Jon Stewart, the panel featured Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari and CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. CPJ and our followers live-tweeted the event, which we have curated below using the social networking tool Storify.


Editorial cartoons play a principal role in every newspaper and magazine in Iran, providing news, analysis, and satire in visual form. Since the presidential elections in 2009, when Iranian authorities launched an intense crackdown against journalists, civil society activists, and lawyers, many political cartoonists began to leave Iran. Those who stayed have adjusted their work to be more ambiguous, to communicate their message while attempting to evade government censorship and arrests.

In advance of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's visit to Moscow this week, Freedom House, the National Endowment for Democracy, and the Committee to Protect Journalists sent him a letter to call attention to the ongoing crackdown in Russia on non-governmental organizations--including those that support press freedom and freedom of expression. 

Nigeria's press freedom record is on the decline.

For the first time since 2008, when CPJ began publishing its annual Impunity Index, Nigeria has made the list of the "worst nations in the world for deadly, unpunished violence against the press."

Patrick Paggio
Niyonkuru is recovering from a bullet wound to the arm. (Courtesy Patrick Paggio
Niyonkuru)

Burundi's government took unusually swift action last week in response to the police shooting of a radio reporter, after the journalist sought information at a roadblock in the capital Bujumbura where market vendors were allegedly being "taxed" for passage. Perhaps the shooting could have been averted if authorities had bothered to discipline officers involved in previous attacks on journalists.

Rodrigo Neto was killed after investigating possible police involvement in a series of local murders. (Diário Popular)

One month after their colleague Rodrigo Neto was gunned down on the street after eating at a popular outdoor barbecue restaurant, the journalists of Vale do Aço, Brazil, were indignant. Denouncing a sluggish investigation and the possibility of police involvement in the murder, they strapped black bands to their wrists in a sign of solidarity, put on T-shirts bearing Neto's name, and took to the streets to demand justice. Six days later, Walgney Assis Carvalho, a photographer who claimed to have knowledge of the crime, was shot twice in the back by a masked assassin as he sat at a fish restaurant. The journalists of Vale do Aço are still indignant, but now they are terrified.

Six patients, front, who have recovered from the H7N9 strain of bird flu pose for photographs with doctors and nurses before being discharged from a hospital in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province on April 27. (Reuters/China Daily)

Almost two months have passed since President Xi Jinping took office. Despite expectations for greater transparency, Beijing continues to try to suppress information on a broad range of issues from human rights to public health.

Blog | UK

Some years back during a visit to the Gambia--the West African nation ruled by a thin-skinned and mercurial president, Yahya Jammeh--I holed up in the sweltering Interior Ministry and pressed officials to release imprisoned journalists and ease up on the country's brutal media crackdown. The officials resisted, arguing that the press in Gambia was "reckless and irresponsible," that it made unfounded accusations, published falsehoods, and destroyed people's lives, and therefore the government had no choice but to step in and impose order and regulation.

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