Thursday, May 03, 2012

World Press Freedom Day . . . even in Iraq?

Today is World Press Freedom Day.  The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's resource page for World Press Freedom Day is here.  On this day honoring press freedom, the International Women's Media Foundation will announce their Courage in Journalism Award and Lifetime Achievement Award winners.  The day comes as the Committee to Protect Journalists counts 17 journalists killed so far this year.  Among those recently murdered is Regina Martinez.  Reporters Without Borders notes that the correspondent for Proceso "was found strangled in her home in the Veracruz capital of Xalana on 28 April.  She joins the list of 80 journalists killed and 14 disappeared in Mexico in the past decade, a toll exacerbated by the disastrous federal offensive against trafficking during the past five years."  The International Press Institute will join with others tomorrow in Tunisia for a UNESCO panel discussion about journalists safety.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova issued the following joint-statement to mark the day:

Freedom of expression is one of our most precious rights. It underpins every other freedom and provides a foundation for human dignity.  Free, pluralistic and independent media is essential for its exercise.
This is the message of World Press Freedom Day.  Media freedom entails the freedom to hold opinions and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers, as stated in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  This freedom is essential for healthy and vibrant socieites.
Change in the Arab world has shown the power of aspirations for rights when combined with new and old media.  Newfound media freedom is promising to transform socieites through greater transparency and accountability.  It is opening new ways to communicate and to share information and knowledge.  Powerful new voices are rising -- especially from young people -- where they were silent before.  This is why this year's World Press Freedom Day is centred on the theme of New Voices: Media Freedom Helping to Transform Societies.
Media freedom also faces severe pressures across the world. Last year, UNESCO condemned the killing of 62 journalists who died as a result of their work.  These journalists must not be forgotten and these crimes should not remain unpunished.  As media moves online, more online journalists, including bloggers, are being harassed, attacked, and killed for their work.  They must recieve the same protection as traditional media workers.
The first UN Inter-Agency Meeting on Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity met at UNESCO on the 13 and 14 September 2011.  We produced a Plan of Action for the UN to build a more free and safe environment for journalists and media workers everywhere.  At the same time, we will continue to strengthen the legal foundations for free, pluralistic and independent media, especially in countries undergoing transformation or rebuilding after conflict.  At a time of information overload, we must help young people especially to develop critical skills and greater media literacy.
World Press Freedom Day is our opportunity to raise the flag in the fight to advance media freedom.  We call on Sates, professional media and non-governmental organisations everywhere to join forces with the United Nations to promote online and offline freedom of expression in accordance with internationally accepted principles.  This is a pillar of individual rights, a foundation for healthy societies and a force for social transformation.

Iraq is among those struggling (to put it kindly) to embrace press freedom.  From yesterday's snapshot:

And Alsumaria notes TV reporter Rashid Majid Hamid was injured by a sticky bombing of his car in Baghdad
Hurriyet Daily News observes, "From Somalia to Syria, the Philippines to Mexico, and Iraq to Pakistan, journalists are being targeted for death in record numbers, and in brutal ways. In fact, this year is shaping up to be the most lethal for journalists since the International Press Institute (IPI) began keeping count 15 years ago."   The attack on the journalist comes as a new report on the attack on journalism in Iraq is released.  The Journalistic Freedoms Observatory has released the report covering the last twelve months and they've found an increase in violence and restrictions and attempted restrictions on journalists.   They note an American journalist was arrested and helf for five days without any legal justification while Iraqi journalists were detained in various ways and also attacked and kidnapped by armed groups.   At least 3 journalists were killed in the 12 months and at least 31 were beaten  -- usually by military and security forces who were sometimes in civilian clothes.  65 journalists were arrested.
It's a very bleak picture.  In addition there are various bills proposed that supposedly 'protect' journalists but actually erode the rights of journalists.  The Ministry of the Interior's spokesperson Adnan al-Asadi declared that journalism can be "a threat to domestic security" and that journalsits shouldn't report on any arrests or killings without the express permission of the Ministry of the Interior.  (Clearly, Retuers must agree with that policy since they abolished their daily Factbox that used to cover violence in Iraq.)
The three journalists who died in the 12 months were:  Hadi al-Mahdi who was killed by a gunshot to the head while in his Baghdad home, Kameran Salah al-Din who was killed by a sticky bomb attached to his car (in Tikrit) and Salim Alwan who was killed by a bombing in Diwaniya. 
AFP notes the report states.  "JFO has documented a noticeable increase in the rate of violence against journalists/media workers and restrictions imposed on their work."Multiple bills are being introduced by the government, which threaten to severely limit freedom of the press, general freedom of expression and Internet use."

The Newseum has an interactive global map you can use to call up an overview on press freedom in various countries.  This is what they note of Iraq:

Freedom House rates Iraq’s news media “not free” with 69 points on a scale of 0 to 100. Higher scores signal greater restrictions on a country’s news media.
Behind the Rating: Iraq remained one of the world’s most dangerous places for journalists in 2010, according to Freedom House.

Increasing government restrictions and the use of lawsuits against media outlets also posed significant challenges to media freedom during the year. While Iraq’s 2005 constitution guarantees freedom of the press, courts continued to rely on a highly restrictive penal code to prosecute reporters and media outlets on charges including libel and defamation.

Journalists also faced harassment, faring especially poorly in the run-up to the March 7 national elections. Journalists seen as critical of the government were denied media accreditation and various reporters were beaten, intimidated and detained by police and rival political forces.

Aswat al-Iraq notes UNESCO's Baghdad coordinator Dhia al-Sarai said "that Human Rights Office in Baghdad shall be partner to the UNESCO in organizing this celebration, in addition to Iraqi parliament and some human rights organizations and NGOs' connected with the press."

Nouri and his State of Law political slate are 'celebrating' World Press Freedom Day.  Al Rafidayn notes that they are insisting that Gulf newspapers are attempting to prevent Iraq from reaching a better relationship with Kuwait.  It's always a conspiracy with Nouri.

Today was supposed to be a media frenzy in Baghdad.  Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi was supposed to be on trial for terrorism.  The trial has been delayed.  Al Mada notes that yesterday his defense team began insisting that international observers be present in the courtrooom.  Alsumaria notes that his attorneys have also asked that the trial be moved from criminal court to federal court and that State of Law MP Hussein Assadi has declared it doesn't matter because al-Hashemi will be put to death regardless.  And it's that kind of talk that guarantees al-Hashemi can remain in Turkey as long as he wants to.  As Sinem Cengiz (Sunday Zaman) reported this week, even if Nouri filed a formal request for Turkey to hand al-Hashemi over, the Turkish government would have to refuse: "The legal obligations of Turkey stemming from being a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) prohibit it from handing any person over to another country if the suspect will likely be executed."  Al Arabiya notes that the start of the trial has been postponed until next Thursday.  Sinan Salaheddin (AP) adds that "his lawyers filed motions to have Iraq’s Supreme Court direct parliament to set up a special tribunal for high-ranking officials. No opening arguments or evidence were presented on Thursday, and reporters sat in the empty courtroom for several hours before being told the case was postponed until May 10."

The e-mail address for this site is