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New OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media releases first regular report

(IPI/IFEX) - Vienna, 29 July 2010 - New OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic on Thursday released her first regular report to the OSCE Permanent Council, noting that in many OSCE member countries media freedom remains under threat.

In opening remarks, Mijatovic highlighted the threats posed by criminal defamation and tight Internet control, as well as the cases of recently-murdered Greek journalist Socratis Giolias, imprisoned Azerbaijan bloggers Adnan Hajizada and Emin Milli and recently-attacked Serbian journalist Teofil Pancic.

Mijatovic's report notes: "The freedom to express ourselves is questioned and challenged from many sides. Some of these challenges are blatant, others concealed; some of them follow traditional methods to silence free speech and critical voices, some use new technologies to suppress and restrict the free flow of information and media pluralism; and far too many result in physical harassment and deadly violence against journalists. We regularly receive reports of threats, intimidation, administrative harassment (registration and re-registration requirements, alleged tax violations, cancelled contracts for printing or distribution of papers and the like). It adds: "Authorities have yet to understand that media are not their private property and that journalists have the right to scrutinize those who are elected."

Among the areas of concern highlighted by the report are: the recent adoption by the Hungarian parliament of parts of a media package containing elements threatening media freedom; an Italian draft law on wiretapping which jeopardizes investigative reporting; "serious infringements" on media pluralism in Kyrgyzstan; a series of attacks against journalists in Russia; and the "high number" of criminal prosecutions against journalists covering sensitive topics in Turkey.

In response to the suggestion by IPI Press Freedom Manager Anthony Mills that the Hungarian parliament's adoption of troubling media package elements just a month after an official letter by Mijatovic to the Hungarian authorities urging them to halt the package could be considered a setback, Mijatovic said she would "continue knocking at Hungary's door," but noted that it is "the responsibility of participating [OSCE] states to abide by their commitments." The report does contain some positive elements. Mijatovic says she "warmly welcomes" the unanimous passing, by Iceland's parliament, of a resolution requiring the government to draft media regulations to strengthen the protection of journalists' sources, shield reporters from foreign libel judgments, boost access to information provisions and exempt intermediaries, such as Internet service providers, from content responsibility. "If passed, these measures would become the world's strongest protection for free speech and journalism," the report states.

Commenting on the report, IPI Deputy Director Alison Bethel McKenzie said: "While we note with satisfaction some areas of progress, it is clear that media freedom remains under serious threat across the OSCE member countries. We urge these countries to respect their commitments to upholding independent journalism, which is a cornerstone of any free, democratic society."

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