Wednesday, 27 June 2012 02:30
By Colin James
Antigua St John's - A top media executive has painted a grim picture for journalists working in troubled spots in the world as more than 70 of them have lost their lives in the line of duty.
Alison Bethel McKenzie, the Bahamian-born executive director of the International Press Institute, in an emotional report at times holding back tears and wiping them away while pausing to compose herself expressed concern and sadness over what she said is “shaping up to be the worst on record for journalist killings” since the IPI began keeping count 15 years ago.
“Today I am highly concerned and deeply saddened,” she told the opening of the Vienna-based organisation’s World Congress in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad last Sunday.
“From Somalia to Syria the Philippines to Mexico and Iraq to Pakistan reporters are being brutally targeted for death in unparalleled numbers,” McKenzie told the more than 400 participants.
“So far this year 72 journalists have died because of their work. Last year was the second-worst on record with 102 journalists killed. And 2009 was the grimmest ever with 110 deaths – 32 of them in a single election convoy massacre in the Philippines in which another 26 civilians were slain,” she said in her report titled: The State of Press Freedom Worldwide.
“It is deeply disturbing that in a year still massively impacted by the once-unimaginable the overthrow of brutal Arab regimes through people, and media power - journalists are dying on the job in record numbers.
“The most lethal country in the world for journalists so far this year has been Syria where a largely-peaceful ‘Arab Spring’ uprising has morphed into a violent conflict at the heart of which remains a demand by citizens that their fundamental human rights be respected.
“So far in 2012 a total of 20 journalists and citizen reporters both foreign and local have been killed in Syria. Two of the foreign journalists killed died in shelling that reportedly zoned in on their makeshift media bureau which was emitting traceable satellite signals. Local reporters have been savagely eliminated. Many have been brutally tortured.
“The media killings in Syria have made the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) one of the two most dangerous regions in the world for reporters in 2012 with a total of 22 killed.”
The IPI chief administrative officer listed a litany of journalist killings that gave a chilling account of dangers associated with their media in troubled areas.
“Although the killing rate appears to have receded in Libya and no journalists have yet been killed in 2012 in Iraq where dozens died in a single year following the 2003 invasion, in Bahrain a cameraman was shot dead covering protests … and in Lebanon another cameraman suffered the same fate as he filmed on the Lebanese-Syrian border,” she said.
Adding: “throughout the Middle East and North Africa journalists continue to be targeted for assault arrest harassment and intimidating criminal defamation suits including in countries where things are supposed to be getting better such as Tunisia. In Egypt the army has continued to display the brutality that typified it under the Mubarak regime.
“ASIA which has also seen a total of 22 journalists killed so far this year shares with the Middle East and North Africa the dubious distinction as one of the two most lethal regions in the world for journalists in 2012.”
The Caribbean also came in for special regarding the issue of press freedom with Cuba, Venezuela and the Dominica Republic singled out for their oppression against journalist.
“In Cuba repression of the independent media continued despite the release last year of all the remaining journalists in prison,” McKenzie reported.
“Although much of the Caribbean was marked by a positive free media climate criminal defamation laws remain on the books and were the subject of discussions held by an IPI press freedom mission delegation that visited Barbados, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago just before this Congress.
“Indeed here in Trinidad & Tobago, media concerns were raised by a now-lifted curfew order and state of emergency…and by a raid on the offices of a media outlet. Concern also continues over the use of contempt of court charges.
“Journalists in the Caribbean also reported self-censorship as a result of advertising and other pressure.
“In a positive development, an appeals court in the Dominican Republic … where press freedom has been backsliding in early June threw out the criminal defamation conviction of a radio journalist who in January was sentenced to six months in prison for allegedly libeling a local lawyer. The move followed intense advocacy by IPI.”
Europe and the United States did not escape the IPI’s official microscope.
From the killing of a Belgian journalist who died when the test driver of a vehicle he was reviewing crashed to the imprisonment of “dozens of journalists” in Turkey although the release of two press freedom heroes were brought to the fore.
“Although the press freedom environment in much of Europe was positive overall some Council of Europe countries continue to prompt consternation,” McKenzie said.
“In Azerbaijan so far this year journalists have been brutally attacked and a number remain in prison on dubious charges.
“In Turkey, despite the release of IPI World Press Freedom Hero Nedim Sener and his colleague Ahmed Sik (both in attendance) from prison dozens of journalists remain jailed on vague anti-terror charges.
“Sener and Sik still face trial and a possible sentence of seven-and-a-half to 15 years in prison if convicted.
“In Russia, just a few weeks before this Congress a journalist miraculously survived a stabbing attack after being lured out of his house,” she added.
The Barack Obama administration also came into focus because she said…“the government argued that the Constitution did not afford journalists the right to protect the identity of sources who leak information the government deemed a national security secret.”
She added: “In May, a federal judge struck down part of the National Defense Authorization Act which gives the government wide powers to regulate the detention interrogation and prosecution of suspected terrorists because of the Act’s “chilling impact on First Amendment rights”.
“Some journalists who have spoken to alleged terrorists in the course of reporting on them argued that they faced indefinite detention under a vague provision targeting anyone who “substantially” or “directly” provides “support” to terrorist groups.
“In multiple cities across the United States, journalists covering the Occupy Movement protests were arrested in violation of their right to bear witness as members of the media.”
On another issue, McKenzie said, “the financial crisis that is still ravaging the media industry continued to take a toll on the profession of journalism.
“As reporters continue to be laid off bureaus are closed advertising revenue drops and news budgets shrink journalists are finding it ever more difficult to fulfill that most noble of duties: to satisfy the people’s right to know.”
Notwithstanding the challenges, she said the IPI “will remain steadfast and determined in its mission to defend and promote press freedom everywhere.”