4 April 2000
Volume 09 - 2000 Issue 14 (04 Apr.)
Of the 53 African nations that participated in the first Africa-Europe summit, 22 do not respect press freedoms, states Reporters sans frontières (RSF). These countries are: Algeria, Angola, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya, Libya, Mauritania, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Swaziland, Togo, Tunisia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. While the countries have varying degrees of violations, all of their governments share "the fact that they do not respect the African Charter for Human and Peoples' Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights" and yet they have each signed and ratified at least one of these agreements, emphasises RSF. Since 1 January 1999, 15 journalists have been murdered and more than 150 journalists have been arrested in the aforementioned countries.
Amnesty International invites entries for its Global Award for Human Rights Journalism 2000, which "recognises excellence in human rights journalism in the written media anywhere in the world." The award is given to a writer or journalist for an article that has contributed to raising awareness and understanding of human rights issues locally, nationally or internationally. The entry must have been published between 31 March 1999 and 31 March 2000 in a newspaper, journal, magazine, other print media, or the Internet. Entries should comply with Amnesty International's mandate to "promote the values of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to work worldwide for the release of prisoners of conscience, fair trials for political prisoners and an end to torture, extrajudicial executions, 'disappearances' and the death penalty."
The media in Papua New Guinea is thriving and managing to reach the country's diverse population, reports Erin Phelan in PINA Pacific Media NIUS, the online news service from the UNESCO / Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Pacific Journalism Development Centre. While threats against journalists and media workers exist, Phelan notes that "the general consensus is that media freedom is respected" and that the country boasts one of the healthiest press freedom records in the region. Journalists, who are covering a wide range of political, social and economic issues, have a wide and supportive audience from citizens all over the country, says Phelan. The media has this far reach even though there are over 800 indigenous languages spoken and high illiteracy levels in the country. Papua New Guinea also has a media council, composed of a diverse group of media workers, which meets regularly to discuss media freedom and improving media standards. The council is drawing from Fiji's example to come up with a media code of ethics. The media council has also played a key role in protecting media rights against government's threats.
The United Kingdom's Freedom of Information Bill, which goes before the House of Commons on 4 and 5 April, still contains some areas of concern for free expression, says ARTICLE 19. While the bill has undergone some positive amendments with respect to public interest disclosures, it still fails to meet international standards and best practice in this area. The bill extends the powers of the Information Commissioner, however, it also stipulates an "excessively broad regime of exemptions," which enables government officials to veto the Commissioner's decisions and to define what constitutes public interest. Moreover, according to ARTICLE 19, "several exemptions are not subject to any form of public interest override." In addition, the bill will be subject to "any secrecy, or other laws which may preclude disclosure."
The Romanian parliament is presently considering the proposed "State Secrets Act", which the World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC) says is reminiscent of policies under the long and repressive dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaucescu. WPFC, which recently co-sponsored a workshop on Romanian press law with the Center for Independent Journalism, states that the legislation clearly violates the European Convention of Human rights. This occurs at a time when the parliament is attempting to "harmonise" its national legislation with the European Union to meet membership requirements. According to WPFC, even the chair of Romania's Senate Committee on Arts, Culture and Mass Media has called the law "very bad." The legislation is expected to be voted on in April.
ARTICLE 19 is demanding the immediate release of the 18 leaders of the Zanzibar opposition party, the Civic United Front (CUF), who are up on charges of treason.
On 3 April, the well-known radio journalist Jean Léopold Dominique was shot and killed by two assailants, report Reporters sans frontières (RSF), the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) and the European Journalism Centre (EJC). Dominique, who was former owner and director of the private pro-governmental radio station, Radio Haïti Inter, was killed after parking his car in the station's parking lot, says RSF. A radio station security guard was also killed during the attack. Dominique was a friend of President René Préval's and was known for his political commentaries in speaking out against the dictatorship, reports RSF. During one of his broadcasts, Dominique often criticised international politicians.
On 30 March 2000, freedom of expression groups, journalists, publishers and broadcasters launched the international campaign "Prime Time for Freedom" for the defence of independent media and free journalism in Serbia, announced the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM).