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INTIMIDATION AND SELF-CENSORSHIP GREATEST THREATS TO PRESS FREEDOM, SAYS CPJ

Much of the systemic violence against journalism and journalists these days is intended to "induce a climate of fear and self-censorship," said the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in its annual report.

A generation ago, the threat against journalists was easily identifiable - state sponsored censorship, says "Attacks on the Press 2008". But this old form of blacking out information no longer works.

"Today, the greatest threats to freedom of the press are more insidious than a generation ago because they are intended to induce a climate of fear and self-censorship," said well-known U.S. investigative journalist Carl Bernstein, who wrote the report's preface.

"The basic idea is intimidation? to make an example of one reporter, one institution. Kill somebody in Mexico, kill somebody in Chechnya, kill somebody in Russia.

"If the press can be intimidated? this will make reporters, editors, reporters, publishers, Internet sites, cower," Bernstein said.

Bernstein's comments are backed up by a host of examples from across the world detailed in the 341-page report.

Throughout Latin America, violent criminal gangs are causing widespread self-censorship. Governments in Southeast Asia are emulating China's model of controlling the Internet and punishing those who get around the restrictions.

In the Middle East, a regional pact threatens independent satellite television, while in Russia and Georgia last year, governments controlled television coverage of the conflict in South Ossetia to drum up support for military action.

The report also notes that reporters in Africa rely on text messaging, though the same technology is also being used to threaten them.

The report details some progress, namely that CPJ records fewer journalists killed last year than any year since 2001 (41 journalists were killed last year, down from 63 in 2007). CPJ says this is primarily because of fewer killings in Iraq, still the most dangerous country to be a reporter.

The study also found that 125 reporters around the world were jailed last year, and that more online journalists are jailed than journalists from any other medium.

Bernstein said that technology has changed the equation "so that new and more draconian means had to be found by repressive governments, by movements that are threatened by the free flow of information, and the old methodologies don't work anymore."

Country summaries and analyses from "Attacks on the Press 2008" are available at: http://cpj.org/2009/02/attacks-on-the-press-in-2008.php

(18 February 2009)

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