Beijing 2008

So far, my blog seems to have only emphasised the depressing fact that journalists have died. It’s about time I mentioned other undermining forms against press freedom like journalists and media workers being imprisoned for doing their job.

 

According to Reporters without Borders, 132 journalists have been imprisoned so far this year along with 62 cyber dissidents (internet users, bloggers). Video-sharing and internet websites have been victims of censorship, especially in China.

 

Recent events (this week’s interrupted torch run in London) signified how close the Olympic Games are. I was also reminded that whilst the Olympic Games open in Beijing on 8 August, around 100 journalists, internet users and bloggers will remain in the country’s prisons. The International Olympic Committee seems to stand alone in believing that the government will actually make a human rights compromise before the Games begin.

 

When the International Olympic Committee assigned the 2008 summer Olympic Games to Beijing in 2001, the Chinese police increased the detaining of internet users and journalists. Six years later the repression continues. Blogger Hu Jia is among those arrested in the country for suggesting that the Games should not be held in China. Other arrests are expected to follow.

 

The Olympic summer this year is definitely a matter of concern for press freedom defenders. Press freedom in general this year is a major concern.

 

 “ It looks like 2008 will be an even tougher year for the media, we have to say it is very unlikely the job of journalists will get any easier in the months ahead.”-Reporters without Borders

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Daniel Pearl is known to the world as the Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and murdered by terrorists in Pakistan in 2002-four months after 9/11. The fact that his horrifying beheading is recorded on video makes me feel sick. Daniel Pearl’s death is a good example of the dangerous side of a journalist’s life-a death which shook the world. It definitely awakened public concerns on the effects of terrorism AND the high price of truth. Pearl went to Pakistan to find out the truth about Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, who allegedly had links with Al Qaeda.

Pearl’s widow, Mariane Pearl, wrote a memoir called “A Mighty Heart” which tells the full story of her husband’s kidnapping and about his life. The book was adapted into a film which was released last year starring Angelina Jolie, who played the role of Mariene Pearl and Dan Futterman, as Daniel Pearl.

Just four months after the horrific kidnapping and beheading of Daniel Pearl, Tim Lopes of Globo TV, who had been investigating drugs and under-age sex in a Rio de Janeiro slum, endured the exact same fate but without the same outcry. It brings me to a statement by former editor of Sunday Times and The Times, Sir Harold Evans, in which he claims that unless the life lost is that of a well-known Western correspondent, the world barely notices.

Here is the trailer for the film “A Mighty Heart.” It’s received generally very positive reviews and it’s a must-see for those interested in the story of Daniel Pearl. Ok, so I actually haven’t seen it myself, but I plan to see it very soon because it actually does look good. Rent it. Watch it.

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The Death toll of Iraqi journalists rose to 272 as of last Thursday when an Iraqi media executive was killed in Baghdad.

Qassem Abdul Hussein, aged 36, was head of public relations and distribution for an Iraqi political daily newspaper. He was shot dead on March 13th by an unknown gunman.

Sadly, this event doesn’t come as a shock to me. Iraq is home to countless journalist media killings and kidnappings, earning its title of being the most dangerous place for Journalists to work in. The fact that Hussein was shot doesn’t surprise me either (The most common cause of death from 1996-2006 was shooting-almost half of the overall number of deaths, according to the International News Safety Institute’s (INSI) report).

The International federation of journalists (IFJ) condemned his murder.“This latest death again shows the precarious security conditions that Iraqi media continue to face,” said the IFJ general secretary, Aidan White. “The Iraqi government must investigate this case and all the other attacks on journalists to prosecute those responsible and send the message that journalist can work freely and safely.”

Two weeks before Hussein was killed the President of the Iraqi Union of Journalists (INJ), Shihab Al-Timimi died after being a target of a shooting attack in Baghdad.

Last year 63 Iraqi journalists were killed. The majority died in ambushes set by unidentified armed groups.  WHY are so many Iraqi journalists being killed? The war on Iraq obviously comes to mind. Since the US-led invasion, many have lost their lives whilst on assignments. According to Reporters Without Borders, “the political or ethnic affiliation of the media outlets they work for seems to link to the choice of most targets. Employees are exposed to the violence and hatred of groups that oppose their employers’ affiliation.” But other than that, the motives of killers remain unknown because of a lack of serious investigations-a shortage, which by the way, echoes in many other countries around the world.

What IS being done about these media killings and the perpetrators? Not much according to research led by free press organizations and journalist safety supporters such as the International News Safety Institute (INSI).

In many countries around the world killers of journalists have remained unidentified. Let’s take Sri Lanka for example, which has been described as one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. Since August 2005, 11 media workers have been killed in Sri Lanka. Ten of them were killed in government-controlled areas and no one has been brought to justice in connection with the killings.

In Philippines, where the court case of the 2004 murder of Filipino broadcaster Herson Hinolan took place last week, such killings are common. According to research carried out by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 17 out of 22 journalists murdered from 2000-2005 were radio commentators like Hinolan and no convictions have been made for these crimes. CPJ research also found that finding witnesses to testify for the prosecution in the cases is a difficulty.These attacks against journalists remained unsolved leading to fears that media freedom is being held back through death threats, kidnappings and attacks.

A shocking news media safety report by the International News Safety Institute (INSI) highlights the absence of proper investigations when journalists are killed. The report contains details of the deaths of journalists and media workers from 1996 to 2006. They discovered that 1000 journalists and media workers have died whilst working around the world between 1996 and 2006-two journalists a week. In two thirds of cases, the killers were not identified.

The graphs below come from the INSI report. They are the statistics which I found to be the most important and most shocking, merely because of the vast number of deaths and the proven lack of justice!

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This week I found out that Amnesty International (AI) has expressed severe concerns on the press freedom situation in Somalia. Since last year, nine Somali journalists have lost their lives whilst reporting the war between the Ethiopian-supported Transitional Federal Government forces (TFG) and various armed opposition groups in the country. As well as this, at least fifty journalists have been forced to leave their country due to arrests and death threats. An example of this was found by Amnesty International:

“I wrote a story that two insurgents were killed. I was called on my mobile, and the caller said, ‘Why did you write that?’ I said, ‘It is the truth, I have to write it’. He said, ‘You are going to be in the list which we are going to kill’,” said one journalist.

Somalia has been named “Africa’s deadliest country for journalists” in Reporters Without Borders 2008 annual report.

The killings, arrests and death threats targeting Somali journalists are not just another unfortunate by-product of the conflict and general insecurity in Somalia – they are a deliberate and systematic attempt by all parties to the conflict to stem the flow of information out of the country”, said Michelle Kagari, Deputy Director of AI’s Africa Programme.

It is the journalists that are telling the world what is happening… This is why everyone wants to silence us. I have thought I will die in this job, but even when I am scared I can’t be silent because, if I do not tell these stories, no one will protect the civilians. We are their only advocates.” – A Somali journalist

This qoute pretty much repeats what I mentioned in my first post about journalists having “a sense of duty.” Here, we see a different agenda of some Somali journalists which is not only to tell a story but to tell the truth FOR the people, and with this they are putting their own lives at risk. 

Below, is a video clip of the views on the journalist killings in Somalia and the fight for press freedom (you might have to wait abit for it to load though)

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Journalists’ first obligation is to the truth. However, for journalists, searching for the truth has a high price which has only come to our attention within the recent years.

While pursuing their careers, many journalists receive death threats. Many have lost their lives through assassinations and some have been killed in war zones.

Last year for the third year running, the International Federation for Journalists (IFJ) reported a shockingly high number of deaths of journalists and media staff. In 2007, the total of journalists killed came up to 172, again dominated by the number of Iraqi journalists in a war that has now accounted for more than 250 media killings. With this in mind, it’s easy to see why the release of BBC journalist Alan Johnston after being held hostage by Palestinian extremists last March gave light in an otherwise bleak year for journalism.

After Iraq, Philippines is said to be the second most dangerous place for journalists to work thanks to its terrible press freedom and journalist safety situation. Many were murdered for reporting on government corruption. As a Filipino journalism student, I can’t help but feel a tad discouraged. Hopefully I’ll develop the same attitude as those surviving journalists who believe that it is not bravery that motivates them to find the truth, but a sense of duty. The governments, on the other hand, have a duty to do more to protect journalists and with the deaths of journalists rising, they must act now.

Yes, like everyone else journalists are just doing their job, however the major risk which comes with the job seems to be less acknowledged…and perhaps less important.