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Blog: Syria, Somalia, Bahrain–where fathers bury their sons

10 Aug

From left: Anas al-Tarsha, 17, Syria; Ahmed Addow Anshur, 24, Somalia; Mahad Salad Adan, 20, Somalia; Hassan Osman Abdi, 24, Somalia; Mazhar Tayyara, 24, Syria.

The 17-year-old videographer Anas al-Tarsha regularly filmed clashes and military movements in the city of Homs in Syria, and posted the footage on YouTube. On February 24, he was killed by a mortar round while filming the bombardment of the city’s Qarabees district, according to news reports. The central city had been under attack for more than three weeks as Syrian forces stepped up their assault on opposition strongholds.

Al-Tarsha was the youngest of all of the journalists killed on duty this year, and he is one of at least seven journalist killed in 2012 that fall within the United Nations’ definition of youth (age 15 through 24). To mark International Youth Day on Sunday, I took a close look at each of the seven cases to determine why we are losing journalistic talent at such a young age.

At least three young journalists were killed while covering the uprising in Syria and three while working in war-torn Somalia. One was killed in Bahrain. While the context of the deaths in Syria and Bahrain appears similar–young citizen journalists stepping in to record unrest as foreign journalists are restricted–the background in Somalia is different, reflecting the exit or increasing cautiousness of an older generation worn down by decades of conflict.

Last month, the International Committee for the Red Cross categorized the Syrian conflict as a civil war, according to news reports. Reuters cites opposition sources saying that at least 18,000 people have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime began in March 2011. CPJ research shows that at least 13 journalists have been killed this year while covering the conflict, making it the most dangerous place for journalists in the world.

All of the journalists who lost their lives in Syria this year, except one–the internationally renowned journalist Marie Colvin–were 30 or younger. Often, they were local citizen journalists like al-Tarsha. (CPJ was unable to confirm the age of Mohammad Shamma, a journalist killed in Doursha, Syria, on June 27.)

As has been the case in past conflicts and wars, young journalists seem drawn to the frontlines, eager to cover a story that might give them their big breakthrough. Several veteran war photographers and journalists covering the Arab uprisings have observed an increase in the number of young, inexperienced reporters covering war-torn regions.

Because foreign journalists have been virtually banned from the uprising in Syria and the protests in Bahrain, news coverage has relied heavily on citizen journalists and international reporters working with sources inside the country. Academic research has repeatedly shown that young people are quicker to embrace technological innovations–and it seems safe to assume that this is also the case in journalism.

With high demand and low cost combined with a desire to amplify the civilian populations’ cry for help, young journalists in Syria have been given an unprecedented opportunity to document and share the atrocities with the outside world. But along with that opportunity comes the great risk of being on the ground in armed conflict. At least three young Syrian journalists, including the 17-year-old al-Tarsha, faced that risk and paid the ultimate price.

In their effort to impose a media blackout of the uprising, Bahraini authorities have obstructed and harassed foreign journalists, making video footage from citizen journalists like the 22-year-old videographer Ahmed Ismail Hassan vital in informing news coverage of the unrest, CPJ research shows. Hassan was shot while filming a pro-reform protest on March 31 in Salmabad, a village southwest of the capital, Manama, according to local journalists and news reports. After the protest was dispersed by riot police with tear gas and rubber bullets, unknown assailants in a Toyota land cruiser began shooting live ammunition at the protesters, news reports said. Hassan was shot, and died in a hospital later that morning.

Six journalists in Somalia have also paid the ultimate price this year. Half of them fall under the definition of “youth.” Five out of six are under 30.

Unlike Syria and Bahrain, where all but one journalist killing documented by CPJ has happened within the past year and a half, Somalia has a long history of being a deadly country for the press. Without an effective central government since President Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991 and with years of fighting in between rival warlords, Somalia is often categorized as a failed state haunted by famine and disease. With 11 unsolved journalist murders in the past 10 years, Somalia ranks second for the third year in a row on CPJ’s Impunity Index, topped only by Iraq. The Somali press corps has faced an onslaught of attacks, most coming from Al-Shabaab militants, but transitional government forces have also menaced Somali journalists.

I asked Sahal Abdulle, exiled veteran Somali journalist and former correspondent for The New York Times and Reuters, why so many young journalists have been killed this year. “In Somalia, everyone over 30 fled the country,” was his short answer.

According to CPJ’s annual report on exiled journalists, a whopping 78 Somali journalists facing threats, attacks, and harassment have gone into exile over the past five years. The high number puts Somalia in first place among countries like Iran and Ethiopia, where journalists are forced to flee their homes. The exodus has decimated the local press corps and left a significant void in news coverage.

Even when a veteran reporter is able to stay in Somalia, the younger reporters are still at greater risk. “While youth are taking risks to report the story,” said Abdulle, “the older generations have grown more cautious and practice self-censorship.”

One thing characterizing the situation for many young reporters these days is the lack of institutional backing by a large news organization. Previously, reporters covering war would have an employer to call on if they ran into trouble. Likewise, the traditional news organizations could provide basic security training or, at least, a space where journalists could meet and learn from their older colleagues. Today, young journalists are often on their own.

When acclaimed photojournalist Tim Hetherington returned in March 2011 from a reporting trip to Libya, he told his colleague, Michael Kamber, “There are an unbelievable number of young kids running around Libya with cameras.” (A month later, Hetherington, 40, returned to Libya, where he died in an explosion in the western city of Misurata).

As Kamber notes, before smartphones and digital cameras were made available to the average consumer, the number of photojournalists that could potentially cover a conflict was limited to the few that had the institutional backing and “who could keep their wits while taking pictures, process film in the field, and work out the tricky logistics of shipping film from a war zone to stateside.” Today, the situation has completely changed, as anyone equipped with an iPhone can cover a story and later upload photos and videos to sites like YouTube.

Still, anyone heading out on a dangerous assignment should heed some simple advice:  Make sure you are prepared. A starting point could be CPJ’s newly updated Journalists Security Guide. I am not sure that it would have saved al-Tarsha or the many other brave young journalists who are no longer with us. But it would be a start.

As Herodotus put it long before the invention of the printing press, the fundamental problem is: In peace, sons bury fathers, but in war, fathers bury sons.

So, on Sunday, International Youth Day, let’s honor the sons that have been buried, and also celebrate the youthful eagerness to go out, explore, document, and ultimately change the world.

from Committee to Protect Journalists–where-fathers-bury-their-so.php

Tunisia – Draft media regulation must be revised, says IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group

10 Aug

10 August 2012

IFEX-TMG presents its report

IFEX-TMG presents its report “Spring into Winter” to Tunisia’s Constituent Assembly in July 2012

(IFEX-TMG) – 10 August 2012 – As Tunisia’s Constituent Assembly prepares to review a draft Constitution in the coming days, the International Freedom of Expression Exchange Tunisia Monitoring Group (IFEX-TMG), a coalition of 21 IFEX members, expresses its concern about a draft proposal to regulate the media. The IFEX-TMG considers that the references to media regulation in the draft Constitution are not in compliance with Tunisia’s international obligations to respect, protect and promote freedom of expression and media freedom.

The Special Draft Chapter on media regulation creates the structure of a centralised regulatory body with a wide range of duties and unlimited power and control over all media, which violates the basic principles of democracy. The proposed draft lacks sufficient safeguards for media freedom and was drafted without public debate.

The IFEX-TMG calls on the Committee that authored the draft to recall it and subject it to a public debate. It also urges the Tunisian government and Constituent Assembly to take all necessary steps to implement Decree 2011-116, adopted on 2 November, 2011, which laid the groundwork for a newly independent broadcast media with the creation of the Independent High Authority for Audiovisual Communications (HAICA).

Media professionals open to persecution and censorship

The IFEX-TMG is alarmed that the National Constituent Assembly’s draft articles related to media freedom and freedom of expression lack the clarity of language that as a consequence opens them up to vague interpretation. The draft constitution also ignores the demands of journalists and media professionals who fear they may be persecuted as a result of what they publish. According to information gathered by the IFEX-TMG, the Rights, Freedom and Duties Committee within the Constitutional Assembly suggested 38 articles; four of them have been written already and the rest have yet to be dealt with.

Article 9 states that “Freedom of expression is guaranteed in the forms of speaking, writing, photographing and any other form of publication.” Local partners assert that the language is ambiguous and that the initiators should have clearly stated that freedom of expression is guaranteed in all forms of publication, without reservations.

While Article 10 states that media freedom is guaranteed and censorship over the press has been lifted, Article 21 states that journalists are liable to be detained if they defame or attack persons or call for violence or discrimination. Criminal defamation cases could continue to be lodged with the resurgence of moralising censorship and an ensuing climate of legal uncertainty, in which the courts have continued prosecuting journalists using the 1975 Press and Criminal Codes.

In addition, this proposal comes at a time when a draft law to criminalise offenses against “sacred values” was proposed by Ennahdha in the National Constituent Assembly. The bill, put forth on 1 August 2012, would allow prison terms and fines for those convicted of insulting or mocking the “sanctity of religion.”

Centralised regulatory control with unlimited powers

The IFEX-TMG is also concerned with the Chapter suggesting the entire information sector should be under the centralised control of a single regulatory body. This structure of information control is incompatible with the basic principles of democracy. The media, telecommunications and postal sectors should be regulated by separate bodies with different powers and duties, without the intervention of the government.

The government has failed to provide the legal framework for broadcasting licensing, spectrum assignment and media diversity and pluralism. It has also failed to establish the promised HAICA, which was designed to strengthen democracy.

However, the press should be self-regulated by independent, voluntary press councils established by print media outlets themselves, whose members would be elected from among major stakeholders such as journalists, media owners, publishers and representatives of civil society. Furthermore, the proposed regulatory body would have a wide range of duties and potentially unlimited powers, as the Chapter fails to specify its limitations.

Finally, while Article 20 of the Special Draft Chapter on media regulation, guarantees access to information, it excludes information that “affects Military Security,” effectively permitting the army to take a role in imposing censorship.

IFEX-TMG members reiterate their concerns that freedom of expression must be fully protected in the new Constitution, and there must be no caveats that can drag Tunisia backwards. In July, the IFEX-TMG issued a report with a full set of recommendations on freedom of expression, freedom of association and the independence of the judiciary. See: Spring into Winter? Fragile achievements and exceptional challenges for Tunisian free expression defenders.

The IFEX-TMG calls on the Tunisian authorities and the Constitutional Assembly to:

• Guarantee in the Constitution freedom of expression, media independence and access to information, including online, and guarantee the independence of public service media.

• Re-adopt Decree 2011-115 (also known as the new Press Code) which guarantees the protection of journalists from harassment and abolishes prison sentences for criminal defamation and a number of other speech offences; which would therefore mean Decree 115 supersedes any previous and relevant provisions or laws, especially the 1975 Press Code.

• Re-adopt Decree 2011-116, which laid the ground for a newly independent broadcast media with the creation of the Independent High Authority for Audiovisual Communications (HAICA).

• Recall the Draft media regulation and initiate more comprehensive media reform to bring Tunisia fully in line with its obligations under international human rights law.

• Fully involve public bodies and civil society organisations as members of the regulatory body to represent the full spectrum of society.

via IFEX

Togolese authorities ban radio station’s call-in programs

10 Aug

Lagos, Nigeria, August 10, 2012–Togo’s media regulatory body has suspended the call-in shows of a leading private radio station without giving the station an opportunity to defend itself in court, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on authorities to immediately allow Légende FM to resume broadcasting all of its programs.

On July 17, a magistrate in Lomé, the capital, told Légende FM to stop broadcasting call-in shows, including Dounegnon and À vos Reactions, on the orders of Togo’s Broadcast and Communications High Authority (HAAC), according to news reports. In a press conference on July 20, HAAC accused the programs of “inciting racial and ethnic hate,” news reports said.

Guy Mario, Légende FM‘s news director, told CPJ that the station was being punished for its shows in June in which callers had criticized the violent crackdown by security forces on anti-government protests in Lomé. Several thousand protesters have clashed with security forces ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled in October, according to news reports. Mario said that the programs, which ran for nine days, featured participants criticizing the government in uncensored language.

The station was suspended indefinitely without being able to defend itself in court, which should have been allowed according to HAAC’s statutes, local journalists said. “We were never informed, invited, or summoned to the tribunal–neither us nor our lawyers,” Mario told CPJ. The station is appealing the tribunal’s decision, Mario said.

HAAC’s president, Kokou Tozoun, told CPJ that the tribunal was not mandated to listen to all parties. He said that the radio station had been warned in the past and that the call-in programs had been “abusive and incit[ed] hatred and insurrection.” Tozoun also told CPJ that recordings of the radio programs had been given to the tribunal’s president, who gave the order to suspend them.

“We condemn the suspension of all call-in programs of Légende FM as an act of censorship of commentary critical of the government,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita from New York. “The station should be allowed to resume broadcasting immediately, and authorities must stop censoring outlets that allow critical voices to be heard.”

  • For more data and analysis on Togo, visit CPJ’s Togo page here.

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Ethiopian authorities crack down on Muslim press

10 Aug

Ethiopian Muslims are staging protests every Friday. (Hayat Se)

Nairobi, August 9, 2012–Ethiopian authorities must release a journalist who has been detained for almost three weeks, and allow three Muslim news outlets to resume publishing immediately, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Local journalists believe the Muslim press in Ethiopia is being targeted for its coverage of protests by the Muslim community.

In recent months, Ethiopian Muslims have begun staging protests on Fridays to oppose government policies they say are interfering with their religious affairs, according to news reports. These protests are a highly sensitive issue for the government, which fears a hardline Islamist influence within the predominantly Christian country, news reports said. Local journalists believe the recent harassment of Muslim journalists and newspapers are part of an attempt by Ethiopian authorities to quell coverage of the ongoing protests in the capital.

At least eight police officers raided the home of Yusuf Getachew, editor of YeMuslimoch Guday (Muslim Affairs), in the evening of July 20 in the capital, Addis Ababa, and took the journalist to the Maekelawi Federal Detention Center, according to local journalists. The police also confiscated four of Yusuf’s mobile phones, his wife’s digital camera, books, and 6,000 birr (US$334), the same sources said.

Yusuf was charged the next day with treason and incitement to violence, but the state prosecutor did not cite any YeMuslimoch Guday articles as evidence, local journalists told CPJ. Yusuf has not been granted family visits, and his defense lawyer saw him for the first time on Wednesday, the journalists said.

Two other YeMuslimoch Guday journalists, Senior Editor Akemel Negash and Copy Editor Isaac Eshetu, have gone into hiding, local journalists told CPJ. The police have had the homes of both journalists under surveillance since late July, and stopped only recently, local journalists said. YeMuslimoch Guday, which actively covered the Muslim protests in the capital, has not been published since Yusuf’s arrest, the same sources said.

On July 20, police also raided the offices of the privately owned Horizon printing press in Addis Ababa and confiscated copies of Selefiah and Sewtul Islam, two Muslim weeklies, according to news reports. Authorities detained Horizon’s owner overnight, and neither Selefiah nor Sewtul Islam has been published since, according to reports and local journalists. Local journalists told CPJ that the government had ordered the printer to stop publishing the newspapers.

Ethiopian government officials did not immediately return CPJ’s calls for comment.

“Ethiopia has reached a high level of harassment of the press by attempting to censor coverage of the protests,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. “This harassment of journalists and news outlets must stop, and Yusuf Getachew should be released immediately.”

Also in late July, authorities blocked 30,000 copies of the critical weekly Feteh, which contained front-page coverage of the Muslim protests and the health of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, according to CPJ research. The weekly’s printer, the state-run Barhanena Selam, has suspended all further publications of Feteh until further notice, local journalists told CPJ.

  • For more data and analysis on Ethiopia, visit CPJ’s Ethiopia page here.

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Panamanian daily’s offices blockaded after critical reports

10 Aug

About 30 trucks from Transcaribe Trading (TCT), a local construction company in Panama City, surrounded the offices of the daily La Prensa on August 2 from around 10 p.m. until 1:30 a.m., preventing the paper’s trucks and employees from leaving the premises, according to news reports. TCT workers told local journalists that they were there because the daily’s reports were jeopardizing the future of the company, and thus their jobs, according to news reports.

News accounts reported that La Prensa had recently published reports alleging TCT had been favored in contracts awarded by the Panamanian Ministry of Public Works. Both David Ochy, one of the owners of the company, and Federico Suárez, director of the Ministry of Public Works, denied the allegations in interviews with Telemetro Reporta, according to news reports.

Police said they could not get the trucks to leave because they were private property, La Prensa reported. The trucks dispersed only when Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli arrived at the scene and called for them to withdraw, news reports said.

The president’s office released a statement on August 3 saying Martinelli “deplored” the actions of the construction workers, according to news reports.

from Committee to Protect Journalists

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