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Press freedom concerns grow around the world in first six months of 2011

(IPI/IFEX) - 4 July 2011 - Six months into the year, there has been very little improvement in media freedom around the world, and in many parts, the losses far outweighed the gains, according to the Vienna-based International Press Institute.

The IPI, a global press freedom organization, today released a report outlining press freedom developments across the world in the first six months of 2011.

According to the report, 51 journalists have been killed so far in 2011. Sixteen of those journalists were killed in Latin America and 21 in the Middle East. Eight journalists were killed in Iraq, (as opposed to 6 in the whole of 2010) prompting fears of a backslide in journalists' safety in the beleaguered country.

54 journalists were killed in the first six months of 2010, and 102 in the entire year.

Pakistan, which was the world's most dangerous country for journalists in 2010, saw 4 journalists lose their lives for doing their jobs, while 5 journalists were killed in Mexico, all in what appear to be targeted killings related to their work.

Events in the Middle East and North Africa, the so-called Arab Spring revolutions, had profound implications for media in the region and beyond.

"Throughout the region, a pattern of media repression has emerged" says the IPI report. "Government leaders tried to hack or block electronic communications, particularly social media websites Facebook and Twitter, even resorting to the wholesale shutdown of the Internet and electricity, in Syria, to stop news from being transmitted. Throughout the region, journalists covering the unrest remain subject to threats and attacks, imprisonment on national security charges, or expulsion."

The repercussions of the Arab Spring movements had impacts in other parts of the world.

In President Teodoro Obiang's Equatorial Guinea, there was a "total news blackout on the MENA events," according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The group said that one state radio presenter was forced off the air by censors after referencing Libya in a live program, and later received an indefinite suspension.

In the Gambia, Taranga FM was taken off the air because of a program that translated international news reports into the local language, journalists told IPI in January. It was allowed to resume broadcasts only after agreeing to cancel the program, IPI was told.

In Sudan, protests against the Khartoum government in January were met with violence, and protestors were reportedly subjected to physical and sexual assault. Security forces confiscated copies of newspapers that reported on these attacks, and other sensitive matters, and journalists reporting on these issues face detention and criminal charges of defamation.

In Swaziland, pro-democracy protests were subdued by non-lethal force, and journalists covering the events were attacked or had their equipment confiscated.

In China, journalists were harassed, censored, imprisoned and denied visas in an effort to pre-empt a "jasmine revolution" inspired by anti-government protests in the Middle East.

Violence against journalists continued in other parts of the world. Censorship, harassment and impunity emerged as the main problems facing journalists in many parts of Asia. Official censorship, arrest and detention continue to greatly hinder press freedom in significant parts of Asia, where non-democratic governments clamped down on independent media to retain their grip on power.

"Events in the Middle East have demonstrated that people want access to information and accountability from their leaders, and the lengths they will go to achieve these goals. A free media is integral to all of these, and to democracy as a whole, " said Alison Bethel McKenzie, IPI Director. "However, these events have also demonstrated the lengths that governments will go to, to prevent damaging truths from emerging, and to clamp down on free speech. This report is proof that around the world, there remain many lessons to be learned about respecting free speech and defending a free media."

The threat of physical attack remains high in Central American countries, particularly in Honduras, where a number of journalists have been attacked by police while covering demonstrations. The country saw the third-highest number of journalists killed – 10 – in 2010, and two deaths have been reported this year.

In Europe, which saw relatively fewer physical attacks against journalists, media legislation and judicial harassment of journalists continued to be a source for concern.

Impunity for attacks on journalists remained a major issue from Russia to the Balkans, and bright spots like the release of jailed journalist Eynulla Fatullayev in Azerbaijan in May were often overshadowed by a climate of repression.

Turkey presented one of the worst pictures on the continent. According to the Freedom for Journalists Platform, an umbrella group representing national and local groups in Turkey, the government holds approximately 70 journalists in jail, apparently more than any other country in the world. A study released in April by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)'s Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovic, found that the country was then holding at least 57 journalists in prison, most under anti-terrorism laws or laws against membership in an armed criminal organization.

The situation in Belarus was similarly disappointing, as President Alexander Lukashenko unleashed the forces of the state against journalists following protests against his disputed re-election to a fourth term in office in December.

Hungary, which joined the European Union in 2004, drew negative attention with the implementation of a media law that critics alleged was intended to muzzle a media that was not sufficiently deferential. Parliament later narrowed the law's scope, but international observers charged that it could still be misused to curb alternative and differing voices.

"We remain concerned about the number of deaths so far this year. In Iraq alone, eight journalists were killed in six months, as opposed to six in the whole of last year," said Bethel McKenzie. "Based on the data so far, 2011 does not appear to be a good year for press freedom."

Click below to download the report
IPI_Six_Month.pdf (275 KB)

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