Archive | 10:19 pm

Nigeria train passengers attack journalists, seize equipment

20 Aug

On August 13, 2012, unidentified passengers illegally sitting on and hanging from rail cars of a moving train in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, assaulted two photojournalists for taking pictures of them from a pedestrian bridge, according to news reports

Idowu Ogunleye, photo editor of TheNews/P.M. NEWS, lost the memory card of his camera, his employers said. Tunde Ogundeji, a freelance photojournalist and former editor of Nigerian Compass, told CPJ he sustained head wounds after about six assailants pinned him down, then kicked and hit him when they didn’t find his camera, which he had managed to hand off to someone else.

Police officers on traffic duty at the time of the assault refused to help the journalists, according to news reports. Ogundeji told CPJ he reported the case at the railway police station, but police and railway officers told him the pictures would have embarrassed the railway service and police for condoning the illegal passengers.

The Nigeria Union of Journalists condemned the attack.

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Blog: Censors stymy reporting on China’s biggest news stories

20 Aug

The Taiwanese flag was obscured or erased in some Chinese publications that published photos like this one, of activists being arrested by Japanese police as they landed on islands claimed by China, Japan, and Taiwan. (AP/Yomiuri Shimbun, Masataka Morita)

It’s a big news day in China, and state-controlled media are purposely dropping the ball to escape controversy and censorship. 

Anywhere in the world, the murder conviction of the wife of a senior official would be a big story, but state news agency Xinhua is glossing over patent inconsistencies in the trial, rather than seeking to explain them. And Chinese demand for stories on the spat between China and Japan over the uninhabited Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea reached a peak this weekend as anti-Japanese protests broke out around the country, according to news reports. But domestic news outlets were uncertain how to present the third claimant to the island chain–Taiwan.  

Gu Kailai was convicted Monday of murder, and handed a death sentence with a two-year reprieve, which California-based Chinese prisoner rights group Dui Hua reports could be commuted to as few as nine years behind bars. The official narrative explaining her reasons for poisoning British citizen Neil Heywood in Chongqing last year is full of holes. Chinese Internet users and international journalists are asking questions, but the official media is going out of their way to evade them.

For example, does the economic dispute that supposedly soured relations between Gu and Heywood implicate Gu’s husband, Bo Xilai, in illegal dealings that would have implications for the Party’s anti-corruption stance, and the lack of transparency surrounding top leaders’ financial holdings? The details of the trial published by Xinhua avoid even mentioning Bo’s name.  Or, if Gu really killed Heywood for threatening her son, Bo Guagua, why did Guagua’s written testimony deny having met or associated with Heywood in recent years, as The Washington Post reports? Even if the legal system has accepted this explanation, why does a convicted murderer stand a significant chance of spending less time in jail than imprisoned journalists like Shi Tao and Liu Xiaobo, who are serving 10 and 11 years respectively?

Gu is at once a victim of a system struggling to gloss over her husband’s likely involvement in her crimes, and a privileged defendant, handed a soft sentence due to her high profile which others–like Memetjan Abdulla, a Uighur website manager imprisoned for life on undisclosed charges after giving interviews to foreign media over riots in Xinjiang–do not enjoy. Chinese journalists could follow the example of Hu Shuli, the Caixin editor who penned an op-ed criticizing the trial’s narrow focus: “[Gu’s] brazen sense of immunity from the law was supported by a network of high-level officials in the Chongqing Ministry of Public Security.” But most will swallow Xinhua’s line that “She played the main role…and was the principal criminal.” 

Interestingly, the state-run English language Global Times was more direct than less influential publications when it came to the other major news story of the moment, the Diaoyu islands, according to an analysis by the Hong Kong-based China Media Project. The Times published a photo of a Chinese landing on the island on the front page, despite the fact that it included a symbol generally unacknowledged on the mainland–the Taiwanese flag. Other news outlets get less credit; they blocked out the offending image with large headlines, or in at least one case, simply removed it altogether with photoshop, the Media Project reported.

Failing to question a murky legal trial and photoshopping a news image are serious journalistic sins, and do everyone a disservice. There are smart people working for Chinese publications, but the risk of their reporting being blocked, or the risk of being punished, is holding them back. Once again, media control is the Chinese media’s worst enemy.  

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Burma ends pre-publication censorship; harsh laws remain

20 Aug

Two men chat at a roadside weekly journal shop in Rangoon on Monday. Burma's government said it would abolish the practice of censoring publications before they are printed. (AP/Khin Maung Win)

Bangkok, August 20, 2012–Burma should dismantle its censorship agency and repeal all laws that continue to allow suppression of news in the name of national security, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The government announced today that it would abolish pre-publication censorship, a step CPJ welcomes but considers a partial measure in addressing the country’s restrictive practices.

Tint Swe, the head of the Burmese government’s censorship arm, the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD), told a group of newspaper editors in Rangoon that they would be no longer required to submit advance copies of their publications for government review, according to international news reports.  An announcement was also carried on the PSRD’s website.

The time-consuming requirement forced all news publications in Burma to publish on a weekly rather than daily basis and resulted in the censorship of a wide range of topics deemed as sensitive by the previous military and current quasi-civilian governments, according to CPJ research. News journals will now be required to submit copies of their publications to the PSRD after publication.

Authorities had earlier vowed to abolish the PSRD after ending pre-publication censorship, but today’s official announcement indicated the censorship body will remain in place and wield the same powers to sanction and suspend publications after the fact for violations of the government’s press scrutiny policies and other laws, according to the reports.

The move surprisingly came ahead of the passage of a new media law, which was originally scheduled to be passed by parliament and come into force by the end of June, but has been repeatedly delayed for unknown reasons.

“As long as laws that stifle press freedom remain on the books, today’s vow to stop pre-censoring the media is a half-measure at best ,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Until the Burmese government undertakes thorough reform, journalists are still at risk of censure and the free flow of information cannot be guaranteed.”

President Thein Sein’s government has sent mixed signals in the run-up to the law’s highly anticipated passage, including the temporary banning of two news publications recently for running stories without the PSRD’s prior approval. In June, authorities temporarily banned and filed a lawsuit against the local Snapshot news journal for publishing photos of a victim of communal rioting between Muslim and Buddhists groups in the country’s Rakhine State.

Local journalists and editors have complained in press interviews with exile-run news groups that the yet-unveiled media law was drafted by authorities without input from media members. A proposed new Press Council, designed to function as a government agency tasked with managing and regulating the media rather than an independent organization dedicated to safeguarding press freedoms, has also come under journalists’ criticism, according to the reports.

CPJ has consistently advocated for the government to repeal restrictive laws including the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Act and the 2004 Electronics Act–vague and draconian legislation that has been used to jail journalists and curb Internet freedoms.

CPJ ranked Burma 7th on its list of the world’s 10 most censored countries in May of this year, noting that the PSRD regularly censors news that could reflect poorly on the military or the government. The survey also noted that the Burmese government dominates national radio and television, which it consistently deploys to disseminate pro-government and pro-military propaganda. 

from Committee to Protect Journalists–burma.php

Burma abolishes pre-press censorship of reporters

20 Aug



Burma has abolished pre-publication censorship of the country’s media, the information ministry has announced.

The Press Scrutiny and Registration Department (PSRD) said that as of Monday, reporters would no longer have to submit their work to state censors before publication.

However, strict laws remain in place which could see journalists punished for what they have written.

Burma has kept tight control over all aspects of its media for some 50 years.

But the civilian government has been gradually easing restrictions since taking office last year.

“Censorship began on 6 August 1964 and ended 48 years and two weeks later,” Tint Swe, head of the PSRD, told AFP news agency on Monday.

“Any publication inside the country will not have to get prior permission from us before they are published.

“From now on, our department will just carry out registering publications for keeping them at the national archives and issuing a license to printers and publishers,” he said.

Tint Swe said the likelihood of permission being granted for private newspapers to be set up was “closer than before” and could happen after a new media law is enacted.

A ministry official told AFP films would still be subject to censorship.

Internet rules relaxed

The head of the BBC’s Burmese Service, Tin Htar Shwe, says journalists in Burma are cautiously optimistic about the reforms, but that the end of the law does not necessarily mean the end of the censorship altogether.

Many laws still exist under which journalists can be punished for writing material which angers or offends the government, she says.

Wai Phyo, editor of the Weekly Eleven journal, told Reuters the move was “a big improvement on the past”, but that editors would now be under increasing pressure to ensure their publications remained legal.

In the past, entire newspapers have been shut because of their reports and many reporters have been jailed.But in recent months, journalists had been given guidelines allowing them to write about controversial topics, something that would have been unthinkable under the previous military rule.

Some 300 newspapers and magazines covering less sensitive issues had already been given permission to print without prior censorship and restrictions were lifted on 30,000 internet sites, allowing users unrestricted access to political content for the first time.

In October last year, Mr Swe said censorship should be abolished as it was incompatible with democratic practices, while warning that all publications should accept the responsibilities that go with press freedom

BBC News



Blog: The long shadow of Spanish politics over public media

20 Aug

A recent wave of personnel changes at Spanish state-owned broadcaster Radio Televisión Española (RTVE) has raised concerns about political and ideological influence, with many fearing that journalists closer to the current conservative government are being promoted at the expense of those with alleged progressive views. It is the latest controversy in a long debate about the model for Spain’s flagship public broadcaster and, especially, its relations with the government of the hour.

On Aug. 4, Ana Pastor, a popular anchor of the channel’s breakfast news program, announced on her Twitter account that she had been removed from “Los Desayunos de TVE.” Pastor, one of Spain’s most well-known journalists, had built a reputation for asking frank questions of politicians from across the spectrum. A common journalistic style in the United States and United Kingdom, such intense interviews are not as widespread in Spain. In April 2011, months before the Popular Party (PP) won a landslide election victory over José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s Socialists in November, Pastor had clashed with María Dolores de Cospedal, the PP’s secretary-general, after the party accused the state broadcaster of bias. “I think we are not seeing the news impartiality one would expect from public TV,” de Cospedal said at the time.

Pastor had clashed on air, too, with Esperanza Aguirre, the PP president of the Madrid regional government–but also with then-Parliament Speaker José Bono and former Home Affairs Minister José Alfredo Rubalcada, both Socialists. Her departure came a day after another TVE journalist, Xabier Fortes, was told he would not be anchoring the late program at TVE-owned news channel “24 horas,” and after Alicia Montano, another TVE veteran, ceased directing the nearly 40-year-old Saturday news magazine, “Informe Semanal.” Since the appointment of News Director Julio Somoano in June, most desk editors and program directors have changed.

According to TVE’s statement, “Pastor has turned down an offer to conduct a weekly night show (…), thus ending her brilliant career at TVE.” The 34-year-old journalist from Madrid, however, said she was not offered an alternative when Somoano called her to explain his decision to remove her from “Los Desayunos.”

“They got rid of me for acting as a journalist,” Pastor told CPJ. “Unfortunately, politicians in Spain don’t like it when they face tough questions from a journalist, but I still believe it was the right way to fulfill my duty,” she said.

Somoano himself had been removed from prime-time programming after Zapatero won the general elections in May, 2004. Now, critics argue that Somoano–a former morning news anchor for Telemadrid (a Madrid TV channel controlled by the PP-led regional government)–is taking revenge and promoting those at the losing end of the 2004 changes. Others simply see the routine staffing changes of a new boss. In any case, such in-house gerrymandering has been a feature of the Spanish public broadcaster for years, under both left-wing and conservative governments.

“RTVE has two main problems–its financing model and its feeble autonomy from political power,” said Fernando González-Urbaneja, an economics journalist and professor and former president of Asociación de la Prensa Madrileña (Madrid Press Association).

The president of the public corporation RTVE was traditionally appointed by an absolute-majority vote in Parliament, a formula that granted control to the party in power. In June 2006, a new law put forward by Zapatero introduced a two-thirds majority vote, with the express goal of turning a political appointment into one of consensus. The president has day-to-day operational control, appoints the news director and chairs a management board of 12 members–eight appointed by Congress and four by the Senate. But a political standoff followed, with parties unable to reach agreement on the renewal of half the management board or a new president.

In May, further reform was introduced by the PP government, establishing an absolute-majority vote to elect the president of RTVE in the absence of a two-thirds majority. And the board was reduced to nine members, allocated to political parties based on their proportion of parliament seats. Five board members are now designated by the PP, three by the Socialists, and one by the largest Catalan nationalist party, CiU, in exchange for its support of the government’s proposal. Political control over RTVE was thus enshrined.

The latest jockeying has received some attention from foreign media. “Madrid accused of media interference,” said the Financial Times on Aug. 9. “Spanish government accused of purging critics from national radio and TV,” said the Guardian on Aug. 5. However, it has not been addressed by the Spanish Federation of Press Associations (FAPE), its president, Elsa González, told CPJ. “We have always asserted the need for independent public media, notably RTVE and EFE [state-owned news] agency,” she said. “At this point, we are particularly worried by the negative impact of budgetary cuts in the network’s quality, by the break in the transmission of professionalism with the heavy losses of jobs, and by the absence of a clear financing model,” she said.

Ironically, Spanish politicians on both the right and left have often said RTVE should aspire to emulate the BBC. Operating under a royal charter reviewed every 10 years, the BBC is managed by 12 trustees appointed by the British monarch on advice of government ministers. It is currently chaired by Chris Patten, a conservative politician and a former European Commissioner and governor of Hong Kong. Trustees are drawn from different sectors of society with the mandate to uphold the BBC’s mission “to inform, educate and entertain.” Among the current trustees are former journalists and editors, a banker, a lawyer, and a theater producer.

Such profiles indicate a diversity and independence from politics that is at the heart of the BBC’s successful formula. “In 12 years I have not seen a single political interference in the newsroom, not one,” said Hernando Álvarez, editor of BBC Mundo, the Spanish-language service of the BBC World Service. “The reason is a very simple one–British society understands the BBC belongs to the state and not the government, and a royal charter and our diverse trust prevent any such interference,” he told CPJ.

In France, most analysts and media historians agree that political tutelage of the three main public media–France Télévision, Radio France Internationale (RFI), and the agency Agence France-Presse (AFP)–was eliminated under President François Miterrand in the 1980s. “The idea of respecting the independence of public media is globally accepted by politicians in France, but we must remain vigilant given the risk of regression as seen under President Nicolas Sarkozy,” said Augustin Scalbert, a documentary film producer and former journalist at the digital daily Rue89. “Generally speaking, reporters and editors at French public audiovisual media are not submissive to political pressure and most grassroots journalists would not pay attention to such attempts,” he told CPJ.

In 2008, Sarkozy re-established presidential appointments of the heads of public media. “Sarkozy’s staff had a true desire to meddle with the public media,” said Scalbert, the author of “La voix de son maître” (Their master’s voice), a recently published book about public radio France Inter. Socialist President François Hollande has pledged not to oust the personnel appointed under Sarkozy but has committed to reviewing the presidential appointment mechanism. Many analysts agree that the risk of political interference is higher among French private media, most of which are owned, fully or partially, by large industrial conglomerates.

In the U.K., also, public inquiries into the hacking scandal at News Corp. publications and other newspapers have led to increased concern about cozy relations between private media and top politicians. To some extent, close relationships are unavoidable; but clear lines must be drawn and institutional transparency must be in place to prevent those relations from stepping into the realm of editorial direction. Every political landscape is different, but the British and French cases offer experience with public media management for countries such as Spain that need to find a sustainable formula for keeping politics away from the press room.

from Committee to Protect Journalists

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