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IPI General Assembly resolutions highlight urgent press freedom issues worldwide

(IPI/IFEX) - The following is an abridged 16 June 2008 IPI press release:

IPI Resolutions Adopted by the 57th IPI General Assembly in Belgrade

Belgrade, 16 June 2008 - Meeting at their 57th General Assembly in Belgrade, Serbia, on 16 June 2008, the IPI membership adopted the following Resolutions:

Meeting at their Annual General Assembly on 16 June 2008 in Belgrade, Serbia, IPI members expressed concern over the fact that the perpetrators of killings of journalists in Serbia are still at large, and called on Serbian authorities to intensify their investigations into these cases. (. . . )

Failure to bring to justice the perpetrators of such attacks sends dangerous signals, with journalists increasingly seen as easy targets. IPI members urge Serbian authorities to take active steps to investigate vigorously these committed murders and attacks.

IPI members also hold that the Serbian authorities should improve the climate which militates against journalistic investigations of corruption. Companies and public agencies should refrain from using their placing of advertising to influence the editorial views of media outlets.

Meeting at their Annual General Assembly on 16 June 2008 in Belgrade, Serbia, IPI members criticized measures diluting journalists' right to protect the confidentiality of their sources everywhere, and particularly in Europe.

This most fundamental journalistic right has recently been subjected to attacks, both blatant and relatively subtle, in many of Europe's established democracies. In France, authorities attempted to coerce at least five journalists into revealing their informants over the last twelve months alone, with reporter Guillaume Dasquié, accused of publishing state secrets and threatened with pre-trial detention should he refuse to reveal the source of a government leak, detained for two days by a French intelligence agency.

Long-awaited draft legislation intended to offer journalists better protection, submitted to Parliament in mid-May, provided little comfort. Its vague wording, obliging journalists to reveal information when a "pressing need requires it," is unlikely to offer strong support for journalists with information of interest to law enforcement.

More subtle threats are posed by the implementation of a European Union (EU) directive in 2006, requiring telecommunications companies to retain, from between 6 months and two years, certain information regarding all telephone calls, e-mails and short messages, for potential use in criminal investigations. (. . . )

Meeting at their Annual General Assembly on 16 June 2008 in Belgrade, Serbia, IPI members called on governments to respect journalists' right to report freely on natural catastrophes and their aftermaths, permitting them to collect and disseminate information about such events.

When earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and other disasters strike, media coverage serves many essential purposes. In their immediate aftermath, it can save lives by supporting the proper coordination of rescue and relief efforts. In the longer run, unrestricted reporting submits to public scrutiny the efficacy of government responses to disasters, as well as any malfeasance that may exacerbate damage. (. . . )

Meeting at their Annual General Assembly on 16 June 2008 in Belgrade, Serbia, IPI members expressed alarm over the growing number of missing journalists in Mexico, and the continuing failure of the authorities to bring to justice those who perpetrate attacks against members of the country's news media.

In the latest case, Mauricio Estrada Zamora, a crime reporter for La Opinión de Apatzingán, was last seen on 12 February 2008 as he left his newspaper's offices in Apatzingan, Michoacán state. The journalist's car was found the next day with the doors open and engine running. His camera and laptop were missing. Estrada's disappearance brings to eight the number of journalists missing in Mexico since 2003.

The other missing journalists are Gamaliel López and Gerardo Paredes of TV Azteca Noreste in Monterrey, Nuevo Léon, missing since 10 May 2007; Rodolfo Rincón Taracena of Tabasco Hoy in Villahermosa, Tabasco (20 January 2007); José Antonio García Apac of Ecos de la Cuenca in Tepalcatepec, Michoacán (20 November 2006); Rafael Ortiz Martínez of El Zócalo, Monclava, Coahuila (8 July 2006); José Alfredo Jiménez Mota of El Imparcial in Hermosillo, Sonora (2 April 2005); and Jesús Mejía Lechuga of Radio MS-Noticias in Martínez de la Torre, Veracruz (10 July 2003).

Mexico has become the most dangerous country in the Americas for journalists, who increasingly find themselves the target of corrupt officials, drug traffickers and other criminals. The Special Prosecutor's Office for Crimes against Journalists (FEADP), set up by the Mexican government in February 2006, has proven ineffective in stemming the surge of attacks against journalists and has yet to prosecute a single case successfully.

The apparent inability or lack of political will to bring to justice those responsible for crimes against journalists has created a climate of fear and increased self-censorship in Mexico, thereby limiting the public's access to information. (. . . )

Meeting at their Annual General Assembly on 16 June 2008 in Belgrade, Serbia, IPI members expressed alarm at the growing number of arrests of journalists and photographers reporting on or photographing the actions of the police at scenes of crime or other incidents in South Africa.

On several occasions in the last year journalists have been summarily bundled into police vans and imprisoned sometimes for a night. In all instances the alleged crimes they had committed - never clearly spelled out at the time of their arrest - have been thrown out of court mainly on grounds that there was no evidence on which to base a prosecution.

Media organizations in South Africa have perceived this conduct by the authorities as an attempt to prevent the public from being informed about official conduct and to intimidate journalists.

At the same time IPI members have noted increasing complaints from journalists and others about the refusal of government officials and local authorities to supply information in answer to questions, certain authorities refusing to deal with newspapers which have criticized official conduct to the extent of refusing to place advertisements in those papers, clearly designed to harm the financial viability of the papers and to coerce editors into being less critical.

IPI members condemn these actions as attempts to impose censorship by indirect means and call on the government to order its staffs and others in authority to abide by the freedom of expression and freedom of the media principles in the country's constitution. IPI members are deeply distressed that South Africa, which was lauded when it introduced its new enlightened constitution in 1996 after years of censorship by the previous apartheid regime, should allow flagrant deviation from those fine principles so soon after it began playing a leadership role in the continent.

For the full press release, see:

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