THE PRESS: 2009
• Main Index
• As fighting surges,
so does danger to press
• Makings of a Massacre
• North Korea
• Sri Lanka
• Other developments
India’s Border Security Force detained Shahidul Alam, chief editor of the Bangladesh-based photo agency DrikNEWS, on June 16 in Kurigram district on charges of illegally crossing Bangladesh’s northern border, according to local news reports. Alam, an internationally known photojournalist who served on the advisory board of the National Geographic Society, told local journalists that Indian officials had lured him across the border. Alam was transferred after six hours to Bangladesh, where a local court charged him with illegally entering India. He was granted bail, and the charges were later dropped.
On September 10, unidentified gunmen shot computer technician Hasan Chowdhury in the offices of Fulki, a newspaper in Savar, Dhaka district. Chowdhury suffered serious injuries to the abdomen. On September 16, a man claiming to be a leader of a local criminal gang telephoned Fulki Editor Nazmus Shakib and said he had carried out the attack on behalf of an unnamed “influential quarter.” Local press freedom groups, including the Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists, said the shooting was part of a pattern of criminal attacks targeting critical newspapers.
A Cambodian court sentenced Hang Chakra, editor-in-chief of the opposition Khmer-language daily Khmer Machas Srok, to one year in prison on June 26 for his reports on alleged government corruption. The court said Chakra had violated criminal disinformation laws by publishing a series of articles accusing officials under Deputy Prime Minister Sok An of corruption, according to the South East Asian Press Alliance. He was also fined 9 million riels (US$2,194), the alliance said. A three-judge appellate panel upheld the sentence on August 11, the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Asia reported. Chakra apologized for the articles in September, local news reports said, but he remained in jail.
In September, a court in Phnom Penh fined Cambodian Daily Editor-in-Chief Kevin Doyle, an Irish national, and reporter Neou Vannarin 4 million riels (US$960) apiece, according to Radio Free Asia. The two had been found liable in a civil defamation case stemming from an April report quoting opposition leader Ho Vann as being critical of certification earned by Cambodian military officials after a yearlong program in Vietnam. Several officials with close ties to Prime Minister Hun Sen had received the certification. Ho Vann later claimed that he had been misquoted in the Daily report.
Fiji’s interim government declared a state of emergency on April 10, overthrowing the constitution and imposing severe reporting restrictions, after a court of appeal called caretaker Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama’s military rule illegal. The emergency regulations, repeatedly extended and still in effect in late year, banned “negative” reports about the military regime. Government officers were stationed in newsrooms with authority over content, according to international news reports. Bainimarama had promised to restore democracy in 2009 after toppling the former government in a 2006 coup, but he has deferred elections until 2014.
Officials expelled Sean Dorney, Pacific correspondent for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and Sia Aston and Matt Smith of New Zealand’s TV3 television station, in April because of their reporting on the wave of censorship, according to news accounts. Two journalists who reported on Dorney’s expulsion were themselves detained, according to the Pacific Freedom Forum, a press freedom group, and local Web sites. Authorities held Fiji Television journalist Edwin Nand for 36 hours, and freelancer Pita Ligaiula, who worked for news outlets including The Associated Press and the regional news agency PACNEWS, for 24 hours.
Karnataka State Police arrested B.V. Seetaram, chairman and editor-in-chief of the media group Chitra Publications, and his wife, Rohini, the group’s director, in the state’s Udupi district on January 4. The arrests were connected to two-year-old criminal charges of offending a religious group, filed against Chitra’s Kannada-language newspapers, Karavali Ale and Kannada Janantaranga, according to local news reports. Seetaram said the detentions were part of a campaign of harassment against Karavali Ale for reports criticizing local authorities, according to news reports. The couple were freed on February 3 and the Karnataka High Court later awarded them damages for illegal arrest, the reports said.
Police detained Ravindra Kumar, editor of the Calcutta-based daily The Statesman, and Anand Sinha, its publisher, on February 11 and charged them under the penal code with “outraging religious feelings” after complaints by local Muslim groups, local and international news reports said. The newspaper had republished an article from the British newspaper The Independent that asked in the headline: “Why Should I Respect These Oppressive Religions?” The two men were released on bail February 25, according to the newspaper’s Web site. The case was pending in late year.
Political activists for the Trinamool Congress party attacked freelance photographer Jay Mandal on May 5 while he was covering an election rally in Nandigram in the state of West Bengal, the New York-based South Asian Journalists Association (SAJA) reported. The attackers struck Mandal, smashed his camera equipment, and confiscated his memory cards, the photographer told SAJA.
Police in Lalgarh, Bengal, beat at least seven photographers in two separate episodes on June 18 while they were covering a paramilitary offensive to break a four-day siege by Maoist insurgents, according to local news reports. Security forces beat Sanat Kumar of The Telegraph in one attack. Shubham Datta, principal photographer of The Indian Express, and at least five colleagues were assaulted in the other, according to local reports. They sustained minor injuries.
Assailants stormed the offices of the Kannada-language daily Samyukta Karnataka in Gulbarga, southern Karnataka state, on July 31, according to local news reports. About 15 attackers seriously injured three employees, including the daily’s circulation manger, Vilas Deshpande, who was admitted to the hospital. News reports said attackers were protesting the paper’s “vulgar words” and “indecent allegations” about an official with a local Sufi shrine.
Members of the Hindu nationalist political party Shiv Sena attacked two IBN TV network channels in Maharashtra state on November 20, according to local and international news reports. The groups, armed with iron rods and baseball bats, smashed windows and furniture in the offices of Marathi-language IBN Lokmat in Mumbai, and vans belonging to Hindi-language IBN7 in the nearby city of Pune, saying the channels had been “too critical” of Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray. Several journalists and staff sustained minor injuries and two were hospitalized, news reports said. Police made seven arrests in Mumbai and eight in Pune but were looking for at least 15 other suspects, according to the reports. Shiv Sena denied planning the assault but did not condemn it, the reports said.
Anak Agung Prabangsa, 41, a reporter for the Indonesian-language Radar Bali daily, was murdered in February on the island of Bali, according to local news reports. Police arrested a local politician and several alleged accomplices in the killing, which they said was motivated by the reporter’s coverage of a local government project, news accounts said. Police alleged that I. Nyoman Susrama, a legislative council member, and others abducted Prabangsa from his home and later dumped him in the sea, The Jakarta Globe reported. Prabangsa’s reporting had alleged corruption in a local education department project under Susrama’s jurisdiction, according to the Alliance of Independent Journalists in Indonesia. Court proceedings were pending in late year.
Police arrested Law Tech Hao, editor of Suara Keadilan, and Josh Hong, a political columnist for the online news service Malaysiakini, on May 6 while they were covering a candlelight vigil for detained writer Wong Chin Huat outside a Kuala Lumpur police station, according to the local Centre for Independent Journalism. Wong, a writer, academic, and chairman of the local Writer’s Alliance for Media Independence, was among more than 80 people arrested for opposing the ruling party’s efforts to regain control of the state legislative assembly in the northern state of Perak, according to international news reports. The party lost the state in 2008 general elections but later secured a majority after several opposition politicians defected, local reports said. Both reporters were released without charge after several hours in custody.
The news Web site Malaysiakini in September defied a government order to remove two videos about a dispute between Muslims and minority Hindus over the relocation of a Hindu temple in Kuala Lumpur. The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission had called the videos “provocative” and in violation of the country’s 1998 Communication and Multimedia Act. Muslim protesters were shown delivering the severed head of a cow—sacred to Hindus—to a government office in the first clip, filmed by Malaysiakini reporters. The second recorded Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein describing the protesters as “victims” in a September 2 press conference. The commission launched an investigation of the site after its refusal, but no further measures were announced, according to international news reports.
A three-member Court of Appeal upheld a 2008 ruling that the Far Eastern Economic Review had defamed Singapore’s founder, Lee Kuan Yew, and his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in a 2006 article that touched on the country’s record of politicized defamation cases. Damages were set at $200,000 plus $30,000 in legal fees. The Lees have won hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages or out-of-court settlements from legal actions against foreign publications, according to CPJ research. Dow Jones, the 63-year-old magazine’s owner, announced in September that it would close the Review in December 2009 due to losses in advertising revenue.
In April, a Seoul court acquitted Park Dae-sung, who used the name Minerva to make financial predictions on the Web site Daum, on a charge of “spreading false information with the intent of harming the public interest.” The government took issue with a claim, made by Park in a December 2008 posting, that it was trying to dissuade local bankers from buying U.S. dollars. Authorities had wanted an 18-month jail term.
Authorities indicted four producers and a staff writer for the current affairs television program “PD Notebook” in June on charges of defaming the former agriculture minister and disrupting U.S. beef imports in an April 2008 broadcast, according to local news reports. The show alleged that U.S. beef had spread mad cow disease in humans, a report that sparked public outcry. The meat importing firm A Meat sued the show’s network, Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation, in August, seeking 300 million won ($260,000) in damages for lost business.