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IPI calls on G20 leaders to discuss barriers to press freedom

(IPI/IFEX) - The following is a 31 March 2009 IPI press release:

With All Eyes on the Economy, Don't Overlook the Barriers to Press Freedom

VIENNA, 31 March 2009 - When leaders of the world's biggest economies gather in London on Thursday to discuss a tsunami of problems, their talks are expected to focus on preventing trade barriers, improving transparency, and strengthening financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund.

But the Group of 20 leaders should not neglect barriers to free expression and press freedom, the International Press Institute said today. At a time when people are in need of information about their economies and their future, governments are maintaining or strengthening barriers to the free flow of information, including countries like China and Russia which have seats at the G20 table.

"I think it's very important to understand that during the G20 there's going to be discussion on protectionism, in terms of economic barriers on trade", IPI Director David Dadge said. "But I think there's another protectionism that also exists that goes alongside this, and that's protection and prevention of access to information by the public.

Governments have a tendency to protect and prevent people from having access to information; and just as this discussion on protectionism is actually going on at the G20 in terms of finances, there should also be a discussion about human rights, about freedom of the press and about access to information. After all, you can't really understand the financial crisis unless you're provided with information".

At an earlier G20 meeting, on 15 November 2008 in Washington, the leaders called for strengthening transparency and accountability and "promoting integrity" in the financial markets. "While we respect and support these goals, there cannot be transparency, accountability and integrity without journalists, who play an invaluable role in keeping politicians, policymakers and bankers accountable", Dadge said.

Leaders in many developing countries in Africa and Asia also seek to muzzle journalists and control information, even at a time when there is fear of economic dislocation and a loss of aid from financially strapped rich countries. According to IPI's World Press Freedom Review and Justice Denied campaigns:

China: Progress towards liberalising the economy has not extended to free expression. The economic giant is one of the leading jailers of bloggers, and restricts reporting of economic news that is deemed negative. Beijing has also imposed restrictions on foreign journalists trying to report on the restive Tibet region.

Russia: Last year, it was the most dangerous country in Europe for journalists, with four killed. The authorities have been accused of a botched investigation into the 2006 killing of investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya, and in January, 25-year-old reporter Anastasia Baburova was killed in broad daylight as she tried to help human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov, who was also murdered on a public street.

India: Journalists in the conflict-ridden north and northeast continue to practice their professions in the line of fire. Their colleagues in the rest of the country frequently face intimidation and attacks from political parties and religious extremists. At least five journalists were killed in the country last year while covering the news.

Turkey: Laws such as Article 301, which bans insults to the Turkish state, have been amended but continue to be used to prosecute journalists and writers, while anti-terror statutes also pose potential infringements on free expression. In March, IPI expressed concern to European Commission leaders about leading politicians - including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan - using public appearances to call for boycotts of news outlets that are deemed critical of the government.

Prime Minister of Ethiopia Meles Zenawi, who will attend the London meeting as head of the New Partnership for Africa's Development, or NEPAD, launched a sweeping crackdown on journalists and politicians after the 2005 national elections, jailing dozens of leading writers, editors and opposition figures. The government continues to restrict media licenses and uses national security laws to control reporting on regional and ethnic opposition groups.

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