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IFJ "Journalism in the Shadow of Terror Laws" conference urges restoration of journalists' role in terrorism discourse

(IFJ/IFEX) - 10 September 2011 - Journalists need to claim back their role in the discourse about terrorism and refuse to remain side-lined by the rhetoric of national security which has been used to stifle scrutiny of governments' policies following the 9/11 attacks in the US. The call was made at the opening of the Anti-Terror laws Conference organised by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its European group, the Federation of European Journalists (EFJ).

Leading journalists and human rights advocates told the conference that legislation enacted in the aftermath of the attacks as part of the war on terror has had a chilling effect on journalism in many countries, allowing governments to evade public scrutiny.

"The role of media as democracy watchdog has been chipped away even in advanced democracies," said IFJ President, Jim Boumelha in his opening remarks. "Restrictions on press freedom have been introduced under the cloak of national security."

The conference was told that anti-terror laws have empowered governments' law enforcement agencies to conduct surveillance on journalists, some of whom have been compelled to reveal their sources, produced records and faced charges for publishing information alleged as prejudicial to national security. This new media environment has limited journalists' ability to report independently on issues related to terrorism.

"There has been unwillingness to report on the governments' policies out of fear of being on the wrong side," said Arne Konig, EFJ President. John Nichols, American journalist and author, said that journalism in the US after the attacks was reduced to raw information complemented by political commentary from "talking heads" with vested political interests.

Human rights experts urge governments to address the challenge to fight terrorism while remaining true to the core values of respect for rule of law and fundamental human rights.

"The language of war on terror has made it easier for governments to introduce measures which repress media freedom and fundamental rights," said Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. "The anti-terror legislation after 9/11 has undermined journalistic integrity and discouraged critical voices."

The war on terror has also increased the risks to journalists who face arrests and kidnappings while covering conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Hervé Ghesquière, the French reporter for France 3 and former hostage in Afghanistan, said that the work of journalists who cover wars waged against terror has become very
difficult, including for those who are embedded with combat troops as their independence is compromised.

"There can be no press freedom without a secure environment," added Dunja Mijatovic, OSCE High Representative for Media Freedom. "There is a risk of the rule of law being replaced by the rule of fear."

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