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Media control and intimidation a reality for 5.5 billion, says WAN-IFRA

This year, 44 journalists have already been murdered, says the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), which launched a review of press freedom around the world during World Newspaper Week, held from 10 to 15 October in Vienna, Austria. During the events, which included its Congress and World Editors Forum, WAN-IFRA presented the Golden PEN of Freedom to Dawit Isaak, jailed in Eritrea since 2001.

The Golden Pen of Press Freedom 2011 was accepted by Esayas Isaak on behalf of his brother, who has not been heard from since 2005. "It is unknown if he is still alive," says WAN-IFRA, noting that "for Esayas, it was a very emotional ceremony." For more info, see freedawit.com, as well as a compelling video interview with Esayas.

"World Press Freedom Review 2011" describes the frightening and enraging level of violence, censorship and intimidation journalists have struggled against between January and September 2011. Forty-four journalists were murdered around the world for trying to expose information in the public's interest during this period, and assaults against journalists took place daily. Worst of all, the review notes that in the majority of the world, those who attack and kill members of the media go unpunished.

WAN-IFRA also released a powerful film to accompany the review. "Imagine a world in which there is no right to inform, report, investigate, challenge or express an opinion," the film narrates, while depicting the horror of attacks against the media. "For over 5.5 billion people, this is the reality of their world today." Watch it below.



Increasing rates of repression of the media were especially noted in Asia and America. In Asia, there has been "no let-up" in the killing of Pakistani media members since last year, the most deadly year for journalists in the country. Eight Pakistani journalists were slain in the review's time period. In the Philippines, meanwhile, President Benigno Aquino III has refused to act on resolutions required for a free press.

In the Americas, populist governments are censoring media and criminalising journalists "more than ever," says the report. In Ecuador, for example, the President and government officials have sued journalists for outrageously high damages, while in Venezuela, newspaper publisher Leocenis García has been jailed for two months now due to an offending cartoon. In other countries, notably Mexico, drug trafficking gangs are censoring much of the airwaves and newspapers with the ever-present threat of brutal and fatal executions.

In the Middle East and North Africa, the site of numerous pro-reform movements this year, media blackouts and army attacks on journalists have been frequent, in failed attempts to reign in popular dissent. In Yemen, journalists have been attacked by pro-government armed thugs who have not been arrested nor prosecuted. In Syria, censorship during the army's deadly crackdown on protests was so severe that the only footage available was coming from protesters and social media.

In Africa, harassment and intimidation of reporters was especially common during elections, says WAN-IFRA. However, the tabling of the African Platform on Access to Information was one positive development that will be an important standard from which to measure African governments against, the report noted.

Finally, in Europe and Central Asia, draconian press laws, such as that passed in Hungary in July, and the frequent use of defamation, continue to stifle free expression. Impunity still reigns in Russia and Ukraine, despite long-delayed progress in the killings of prominent journalists Georgy Gongadze in Ukraine and Anna Politkovskaya in Russia.

"Impunity prevails in many parts of the world for the perpetrators as they seek to influence or mislead public opinion by targeting a free press," says the report. The lack of justice in attacks on the media encourages violence and makes it more challenging for journalists to serve the public interest.

The trend of impunity, and its dangerous effects, has inspired IFEX to launch the inaugural International Day to End Impunity on 23 November.

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