INTERESTING TIME
A coordination group of national and international news media organizations
World Press Freedom Committee

May 31, 2012

IFEX-TMG calls for seven-year sentences to be overturned in Tunisia

(IFEX-TMG) - 25 May 2012 - Ahead of a court of appeal hearing on 28 May, the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) Tunisia Monitoring Group (IFEX-TMG), a coalition of 21 IFEX members, urges the Tunisian judiciary to quash the seven-year prison terms handed down in late March to Ghazi Ben Mohamed Beji and Jaber Ben Abdallah Majri.

Both men were convicted on 28 March by the First Degree Court of Mahdia for publishing online satirical writings about Islam and the Prophet, materials deemed "liable to cause harm to public order or public morals." Majri has been in prison since 5 March, while Beji, who fled to Europe where he is seeking political asylum, was convicted in absentia. Lawyers launched an appeal only in Majri's case, because they said they feared they would lose an appeal for Beji in absentia. The Monastir Court of Appeal is expected to make its ruling on Monday.

"An important free speech case in Tunisia seems to have slipped through the cracks," stated Robert Russell, Director of Cartoonists Rights Network International, an IFEX-TMG member. "There is an undercurrent of fear. Fear that extremists, having threatened these men and their families, are sending a message to the Tunisian authorities that their views should not be challenged," he added.

This case against social media users also flies in the face of the statement by Minister for Human Rights and Transitional Justice Samir Dilou that "the Internet was a partner in the revolution so the government would not punish this partner." The Minister made this comment before the UN Human Rights Council on 22 May in Geneva, where he led the Tunisian delegation at the Universal Periodic Review of Tunisia. The IFEX-TMG is calling on Minister Dilou to stand firm by his words and protect free speech in Tunisia.

"People have every right to dislike certain content that they deem offensive and to express their dislike peacefully. What cannot be accepted is when magistrates appointed to protect fundamental rights choose to infringe them in the name of their personal beliefs," stated Riadh Guerfali, a lawyer and co-founder of the participatory website Nawaat.org.

"After the case against Nasreddine Ben Saïda, director of the daily newspaper Ettounsiyya, and the one against Nabil Karoui, director of Nessma TV, this is at least the third case in which the new Tunisian authorities have brought charges for speech deemed offensive to Islam or morality, using Ben Ali's autocratic laws," stressed Virginie Jouan, IFEX-TMG Chair. "Tunisians have paid a high price to enjoy and exercise their full right to free expression, not a downgraded version of it," she added.
IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group
Virginie Jouan, Chair
on behalf of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA)
jouanvirginie (@) gmail.com
http://www.facebook.com/IFEXTMG
@IFEXTMG
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
ARTICLE 19
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Cartoonists Rights Network International
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
Freedom House
Index on Censorship
International Federation of Journalists
International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions
International Press Institute
International Publishers Association
Journaliste en danger (JED)
Maharat Foundation (Skills Foundation)
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Norwegian PEN
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC)
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA)
World Press Freedom Committee
Writers in Prison Committee, PEN International

May 22, 2012

WPFC Lamenta el Fallecimiento del Periodista Español José Luis Gutiérrez

JLG

Washington, DC, EE.UU., 21 de Mayo, 2012
— El Comité Mundial de Libertad de Prensa —una organización que aúna a 45 grupos de libertad de prensa de todo el mundo— lamenta profundamente el fallecimiento del legendario periodista José Luis Gutiérrez, uno de los pilares del periodismo español y un gigante de la libertad de expresión en todo el mundo.


En 2004, nuestro Comité comenzó su apoyo explícito, moral y legal a la causa de José Luis en el contencioso que la Corona de Marruecos interpuso contra él a raíz de la publicación en el desaparecido Diario 16, del cual él era director, de un artículo sobre un decomiso de drogas en el sur de España ocurrido en 1995.

Tras 15 años de calvario legal —acentuado por la confirmación de culpabilidad de todas las instancias judiciales españolas, incluido el Tribunal Constitucional— José Luis finalmente prevaleció ante la Corte Europea de Derechos Humanos, la cual reconoció su derecho a la libertad de expresión y reprendió al Estado español por negarle ese derecho fundamental.

Durante esta larga batalla legal —en la cual José Luis se jugaba no sólo su prestigio profesional sino también su patrimonio personal— nos mostró a todos su fe inquebrantable en el triunfo final y su compromiso irrevocable con los principios universales de libertad de expresión y prensa.

Para nosotros, su perseverancia y fortaleza moral no sólo convirtieron a José Luis en un admirado colega sino también en un entrañable amigo. Hoy ya no está con nosotros. Pero su legado perdurará y nos recordará que con coraje y convicción llevaremos las de ganar en la lucha por la libertad de expresión y prensa en el mundo.

Descanse en paz, José Luis Gutiérrez.

May 03, 2012

IFEX-TMG launches new initiatives on World Press Freedom Day

(IFEX-TMG) - 3 May 2012 - Members of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange Tunisia Monitoring Group (IFEX-TMG) gathered in Tunis for World Press Freedom Day to mark the launch of four new initiatives to support Tunisian rights to freedom of expression, which remains under threat despite the gains of the past year.

The new work includes a literary anthology edited by the president of PEN Tunisia Naziha Rejiba, a training manual on online advocacy, a workshop for cartoonists, and a national newspaper and billboard campaign championing free expression rights as Tunisia's Constituent Assembly continues to negotiate a new national constitution.

With hundreds of press freedom campaigners in Tunis alongside the IFEX-TMG to attend UNESCO's annual World Press Freedom Day conference, the timeliness of these events was underlined by the sentencing of two young Facebook users to lengthy prison sentences and the fining of the head of a TV station for broadcasting the award winning film Persepolis.

"Things have improved since the fall of the old regime, but there's no question that the right to freedom of expression in Tunisia is not yet secure or safe," said Rohan Jayasekera from IFEX-TMG member Index on Censorship.

The anthology, Fleeting Words, edited by Rejiba, the veteran dissident best known as Om Ziad, is published in partnership with IFEX-TMG, PEN Tunisia and Atlas Publications. Now available in Arabic, with French and English editions to be published in June.

The IFEX-TMG also launched a training manual on online free expression campaign strategy developed by the IFEX-TMG member, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), with local partner, the Tunisian Centre for Freedom of the Press (CTPJ). This follows a series of training workshops, held in Gafsa, Sidi Bouzid, Sousse and Tunis.

This week also sees the launch of a major multi-media campaign in support of free expression rights developed in partnership with the Tunisian online media group Nawaat.org. Using 75 street billboards and adverts in national print and broadcast media, it will be seen by hundreds of thousands of Tunisians across the country.

Also this month, IFEX-TMG and the Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI), in partnership with CTPJ, organised a two-day workshop in the coastal Tunisian city of Sousse.

Sixteen digital and ink cartoonists from across Tunisia and the region, as CRNI Executive Director Dr Robert Russell put it, "all on the cutting edge of free speech," gathered to exchange techniques and experiences.

The initiatives are part of the IFEX-TMG project Monitoring & Advocacy in Support of Independent Human Rights Defenders in Tunisia (2010-2012), managed by Index on Censorship, supported by the European Union and Oxfam Novib.

The need for continuing work in the sector was underlined by the prosecution of Nabil Karoui, director of privately-owned Nessma TV for blasphemy and disturbing public order. The charges followed the station's screening of the animated film Persepolis in October 2011. Karoui was fined 2400 Tunisian dinars (1184 Euros) on the charge of disturbing the public order, after protesters stormed Nessma TV.

"That Nabil Karoui avoided jail is not cause for celebration, the case should not have been brought to a court of law to begin with," said Virginie Jouan, IFEX-TMG Chair.

The IFEX-TMG also expressed concern about the sentencing of Ghazi Ben Mohamed Beji and Jabeur Ben Abdallah Majri to over seven years in prison after Beji posted an online manuscript critical of the Prophet, and Mejri reposted some of it.

For more information:
IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group
Virginie Jouan, Chair
on behalf of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA)
jouanvirginie (@) gmail.com
http://www.facebook.com/IFEXTMG
http://ifex.org/tunisia/tmg/
@IFEXTMG

April 10, 2012

IFEX-TMG Alarmed by Attacks on Demonstrators, Media, Performers, Academics

(IFEX-TMG), April 10, 2012 — The International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) Tunisia Monitoring Group (IFEX-TMG), a coalition of 21 IFEX members, including the World Press Freedom Committee, is alarmed by ongoing attacks targeting journalists, artists, performers and women for the "crime" of freely expressing their opinion as well as by the Tunisian security forces' alleged inaction during most of these instances in the past year. Furthermore, the IFEX-TMG condemns the use of force by police or other parties against journalists covering demonstrations, as well as long sentences for Facebook users on religious morality charges.

In an extremely alarming development, on 28 March, Ghazi Beji and Jabeur Mejri were sentenced to over seven years in prison for posting online manuscripts critical of Islam which included caricatures of a naked Prophet Mohammed. This comes just a fortnight after authorities announced 13 March would be marked as the national day for internet freedom.

A recent string of attacks have been carried out by individuals, some of whom have been allegedly identified as Salafists, a conservative group of Sunni Muslims who approach Islamic theology from a literal point of view.

Amongst those targeted were artists, academics, journalists as well as media personnel and institutions. The most recent attack based on religious motivations, occurred on 22 March, when a theatre group performing on Habib Bourguiba Avenue in Tunis was attacked by Salafists. The police are said to have intervened much later and rather than protect the thespians and their equipment from the attack, moved them into the nearby Municipal Theatre.

Rather than protecting freedom of expression, the authorities have since banned demonstrations on Habib Bourguiba, the city's main street, which was a symbolic place of resistance for the revolution. On 28 March, the Ministry of the interior banned "all demonstrations, marches and any other form of collective expression" on the Avenue.

Furthermore, police violently attacked peaceful demonstrations held in different cities on 7, 8 and 9 April to protest unemployment and social injustice. Police beat demonstrators with batons and fired teargas at them during a protest on 9 April on Avenue Habib Bourguiba by around a thousand people, defying the ban on protests on the capital's main thoroughfare. Journalists were reportedly beaten during a demonstration in Sfax on 8 April, and then 14 journalists were beaten in Tunis on 9 April.

This follows a pattern of police abuse. In January 2012, two women journalists Sana Farhat and Maha Ouelhezi were physically assaulted by plainclothes police in Tunis as they were covering a demonstration organised by university teachers calling for academic freedom outside the Ministry of Education. Journalists were also attacked violently by police while covering a union protest in Tunis on 28 February.

Meanwhile, Director of the privately-owned Nessma TV, Nabil Karoui, is facing charges of blasphemy and disturbing public order for the screening of the animated film Persepolis in October 2011. The trial has been postponed a number of times and is now set for 19 April 2012.

The airing of Persepolis in October led to protests in Tunis because it contained a scene depicting God, which is considered forbidden by Islam. A week later, a crowd damaged Karoui's home in Tunis with Molotov cocktails.

There has been little protection for those being attacked, including during a sit-in at Manouba University protesting the banning of niqab-wearing students from sitting for their exams that became violent. Not only did security forces fail to intervene to prevent demonstrators from becoming violent and disrupting classes, but there were no arrests made. Professor Fatma Jegham was attacked with impunity by Salafists last year at the Fine Arts University in Tunis for teaching a subject deemed "offensive to God."

Not all recent violations of the right to free expression have been motivated by religious doctrine. On 24 March, celebrated journalist and Al-Jazeera journalist Lotffi Hajji was attacked physically and verbally as he was reporting from a meeting organised by supporters of the former Interim Prime Minister Caid Essebsi.

While all citizens reserve the right to protest against speech or an act they deem offensive, the IFEX-TMG and its local Tunisian partners have been campaigning to raise awareness that obstructing or interfering with their fellow-citizens' rights to express their views is a violation of free expression, an intrinsic right and a basic building stone for any democracy, and one that must be enshrined in the Constitution.

While Said Ferjani, a leader in the ruling Ennahda political party, said they aim to protect the choice of wearing "the bikini or the Burqa", more is needed to protect all citizens from the intolerant acts of individuals and groups.

"We call on the government to put its rhetoric into action by taking practical steps such as training their security forces on positively interacting with protesters, sensitising them on how to work with the media and on actively stepping in to protect the right to free expression so that citizens can enjoy this fundamental right without the fear of retribution," said Virginie Jouan, Chair of the IFEX-TMG.

For more information:
IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group
Virginie Jouan, Chair
on behalf of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA)
jouanvirginie@gmail.com
http://www.facebook.com/IFEXTMG


http://ifex.org/tunisia/tmg/
@IFEXTMG


Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
ARTICLE 19
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Cartoonists Rights Network International
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
Freedom House
Index on Censorship
International Federation of Journalists
International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions
International Press Institute
International Publishers Association
Journaliste en danger
Maharat Foundation (Skills Foundation)
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Norwegian PEN
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC)
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
World Press Freedom Committee
Writers in Prison Committee, PEN International

March 09, 2012

WPFC's Statement on the Implementation of UNESCO's Obiang Prize

Statement prepared for delivery by Ronald Koven, European Representative, World Press Freedom Committee, during UNESCO executive board deliberations, 8 March 2012
 
As the European Representative of the World Press Freedom Committee, I’d like to focus on the implications for the cause of press freedom of implementing the Obiang Prize or the Equatorial Guinea Prize.
 
There are those who fear that such a prize would rub off negatively on the great work that UNESCO has been doing in championing press freedom. Protecting that major contribution by UNESCO to freedom of expression is an important concern of the World Press Freedom Committee. Anything that tarnishes that bright record under three Directors General in succession would be a problem for the UNESCO image.
 
The members of this Board were just recently all sent a letter reflecting such concerns by two dozen African journalists. They weren’t just any African journalists. I know their personal dedication and the sacrifices thay have made for press freedom for democracy, and for Africa. They are heroes of African journalism.
 
They include such courageous editors and publishers as Kenneth Best of The Gambia and Liberia, Gwen Lister of Namibia, Ray Louw of South Africa, Fred M’membe of Zambia, and Trevor Ncube of Zimbabwe.
 
They all joined in their letter to remind you that in Equatorial Guinea “domestic and foreign journalists are routinely harassed, detained and censored.” That country is one of only two in sub-Saharan Africa that are on the annual listing by the press freedom rating organization Freedom House of the 10 countries with the world’s worst press freedom records.
 
The journalists I cited have been in the forefront of movements for independence of their countries —and of their media outlets— against Apartheid and against police and judicial harassment of media, and other abuses of power. They have paid high personal prices in their struggles, with imprisonment, heavy fines, physical abuse, exile. They have been formally recognized by the organizations of the global press freedom community with major awards and commendations for their journalistic and personal heroism.
 
You would do honor to Africa and its heroes if you did not let the good name of UNESCO be used —I should say, abused— in a futile exercise to burnish a discredited reputation.
 
Thank you.

March 06, 2012

African NGOs Sign Protest Letter Opposing Controversial UNESCO Prize

February 29, 2012

Members of the Executive Board
The United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO)
UNESCO Headquarters
7, Place de Fontenoy
75352 Paris 07 SP
France

Cc: Director-General Irina Bokova

RE: UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences

Dear Executive Board Delegates,

We, the undersigned Africa-based press freedom organizations and journalists, write to express our firm opposition to the UNESCO Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences and to call on you to revoke the prize at your upcoming session.

UNESCO, as an organization that champions freedom of expression and promotes press freedom in particular, should never have accepted the $3 million donation that President Obiang of Equatorial Guinea made to fund a prize. President Obiang’s regime, in power for 32 years, has routinely stifled press freedom and silenced critical voices. Although a small percentage of the local population is able to access foreign news via internet and satellite broadcasts, the government tightly controls most forms of media, limiting citizens’ access to information. The government or members of President Obiang’s family control the country’s television and radio stations, and all regularly produced print media are controlled by the state or the president’s close associates.

Both domestic and foreign journalists are routinely harassed, detained, and censored. In February 2011, the government banned local broadcasters from reporting on the Arab Spring uprisings. A presenter of the state-controlled radio station was subsequently suspended for mentioning Libya on air. In June 2011, a German television crew had their footage destroyed by authorities before being deported from the country, after filming in poor neighborhoods of the capital and interviewing a human rights lawyer and an opposition party member.

We understand that President Obiang has offered to remove his name from the prize, but that does not erase our serious concern that his $3 million donation links him and the abuses of his government to UNESCO, thereby undercutting the organization’s worthy mission. We also are aware of concerns that the funds may be tainted by the high-level corruption for which Equatorial Guinea is well-known. It is public record that ongoing corruption investigations in France and the U.S. have led to the seizure of assets belonging to President Obiang’s son, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue. Documents released as part of separate investigations by the U.S. Senate and the U.S. Department of Justice suggest a pattern of systematic corruption at the highest levels of President Obiang’s regime. Unfortunately, journalists inside the country are not able to report on these developments, given the severe restrictions they face.

As an organization that advocates “access to information and knowledge,” UNESCO should not accept money from a leader whose decades-long record represents an affront to those principles. We urge you to definitively abolish the UNESCO Obiang prize and implement new guidelines that will prevent in the future the creation of prizes that directly or indirectly, through their association with individuals or governments, contradict UNESCO’s core mandate.

Sincerely,

Donat Mbaya, President
Tshivis T. Tshivuadi, Secretary General
Journaliste en danger (JED)
(Democratic Republic of Congo)

West African Journalists Association
(International)

Trevor Ncube
Executive Deputy Chairman & C.E.O. of the Mail & Guardian newspaper
Chairman of Alpha Media Holdings
(Zimbabwe)

Gabriel Baglo
Director, International Federation of Journalists Africa Office
(International)

M. Omar Faruk Osman Nur
President, Federation of African Journalists
(International)

Cheriff Moumina Sy
Chairperson, African Editors' Forum
(International)

Makan Kone
President, Maison de la Presse du Mali
(Mali)

Stéphane Goué
Secretary General, Comité Ivoirien pour la Protection des Journalistes
(Cote d’Ivoire)

Alex Gustave Azébazé
Secretary General, Syndicat national des journalistes du Cameroun
(Cameroon)

Fatou Jagne Senghore
Regional Representative, ARTICLE 19 West Africa
(International)

Célestin Lingo
Secretary General, Réseau Médias pour les Elections
(Cameroon)

Kader Diop
Retired Journalist
(Senegal)

Kenneth Y. Best, Sr.
Managing Director, Liberian Observer Corporation
(Liberia)

Gwen Lister
Founding Editor of The Namibian
(Namibia)

William Saidi
Retired journalist
(Zimbabwe)

Boubacar Diallo
President, la Maison de la presse du Niger
President, l'Association nigérienne des éditeurs de la presse indépendant
(Niger)

Stanis Nkundiye Angalikiyana
President, L’Union des Syndicats des Professionnels de la Presse d’Afrique Centrale
(Central African Republic)

Peta Thornycroft
Freelance journalist
(Zimbabwe)

Kwame Karikari
Executive Director, Media Foundation of West Africa
(Ghana)

Andrew Mwenda
Managing Editor of The Independent
(Uganda)

Fred M’membe
Editor in Chief of The Post
(Zambia)

Raymond Louw
Veteran journalist
Former Editor of Rand Daily Mail and Southern Africa Report
(South Africa)

Rafael Marques de Morais
Award-winning investigative journalist and human rights activist
(Angola)

February 17, 2012

WPFC Letter to EU's High Representative Ashton on Outrageous Sentence in Ecuador

Feb. 16, 2012

Ms. Catherine Ashton
High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
Council of the European Union
Rue de la Loi 175
B-1048 Brussels
Belgium

Dear Ms. Ashton:

The World Press Freedom Committee urgently calls your attention on a new attack on freedom of expression and of the press carried out by Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa that could cost four members of that country’s independent news media three years in prison each and the payment of a total fine of US$40 million.

The National Court of Justice —the land’s highest— today upheld a July 2011 lower court decision in favor of President Correa, who had sued El Universo newspaper, its three publishers —brothers Carlos, César and Nicolás Pérez— and columnist Emilio Palacio for insulting the office of the president in an opinion piece.

The piece, published Feb. 6, 2011, did indeed include tough language, and even unsubstantiated allegations. Palacios wrote that President Correa ordered to open fire on "a hospital full of civilians and innocent people." He also accused Correa of "crimes against humanity." The Pérez brothers offered a public apology to Correa and asked him to set its terms. But he rejected that offer and vowed to appeal the sentence to demand the full $80 million in damages he had originally sought.

Today, President Correa has finally prevailed sending a chill down the spines not only of the four plaintiffs but also of all independent journalists in Ecuador. César and Nicolás Pérez and Palacio have fled to Miami, with the latter requesting political asylum in the US. And Carlos Pérez has taken refuge in the Panamanian Embassy in Quito, where his political asylum request has been granted. They all have said they are terrorized by the most severe criminal defamation sentence in the history of the Americas.

“Freedom belongs to everyone, not just those who can afford to buy a printing press. This has been a struggle for true freedom of expression," said a triumphant President Correa after attending the court proceedings for 14 hours in a new show of contempt for the independence of the judicial power.

If President Correa can personally litigate the country’s largest newspaper out of existence, the rest of Ecuadorian independent journalists must be wondering what could stop him from doing just the same to anyone who defies him in the news media.

In a Feb. 8 letter to you and other European and Inter-American institutions regarding another case of abuse of power against the authors of a book critical of President Correa’s brother, our Committee took a positive note of your recent statement regarding the potential repercussions on the EU-Ecuador relations of the El Universo case. “If the Court rules in favor of the appeal of the newspaper, it would reach a solution through the judicial process,” you said. “Otherwise there are obligations in the bilateral agreement EU-Ecuador, we would have to see what action to take.”

Ms. Ashton, as you know those obligations include the respect for fundamental human rights, such as freedom of expression and of the press. President Correa's chronic inability to deal with criticism, even misguided or inaccurate, reveals a stubborn rejection of some of the most basic tenets of democracy. His fondness of jousting with his critics and all-out offensives to put them out of business and out of the public arena denotes unwillingness to accept democratic rules of the game.

Therefore, the European Union needs to take these undeniable facts into consideration and demand from Ecuador that it indeed fulfills its obligations in the bilateral agreement.

Respectfully
Javier Sierra
Projects Director
World Press Freedom Committee

February 10, 2012

WPFC Organizes International Conference about New Journalism in a Digital World

Paris, 10 February 2012 – News professionals and executives from some of the world’s leading media, academics, media law experts and representatives of press freedom organizations will explore the future of professional journalism in the digital environment at a conference at UNESCO’s Headquarters on 16 and 17 February.
 
The Media World after Wikileaks and News of the World is organized by the international non-governmental organization World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC) in cooperation with UNESCO. It will assess the impact on professional journalism - with its established practices, traditions and standards - of new approaches and actors working in a digital environment.
 
An estimated 2 billion people were using the internet in 2011 and producing 156 million public blogs, constituting a new type of communication by so-called citizen journalists.
 
Participants will examine the fallout from the Wikileaks episode and the News of the World phone hacking scandal in the UK, and try to map a way forward to promote professional and ethical standards in the digital environment.
 
Speaking about UNESCO’s goal, enshrined in its Constitution, to promote the “free flow of ideas by word and image”, the Organization’s Director-General Irina Bokova said in a message to participants: “Dedication to this goal today still needs constant renewal in response to events, political developments and new media environment […] All of this raises important questions – questions about regulation and security, about the balance between expression and responsibility, about accountability and credibility.”
 
The Director-General will open the conference. The two-day programme includes six panel debates that will examine how professional media deal with the digital environment; professionalism and ethics in the new media environment after WikiLeaks and News of the World; freedom of expression on the internet; and more.
 
The range of speakers from all parts of the world will ensure that these questions are considered from the different perspectives of the global media village.
 
This is the second WPFC conference at UNESCO on the challenges posed by digital media to journalism. The first, held five years ago, focused on The Press Freedom Dimension  of new media.
           
Both events are part of UNESCO’s Communication and Information activities to promote freedom of expression, press freedom and access to information, which are central to the Organization’s constitutional mandate.
 
The conference is co-sponsored by the World Association of Newspapers & News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), the World Editors Forum and the International Press Institute with the support of: JP-Politiken Publishing Group (Copenhagen, Denmark); Open Society Foundation’s Network Media Program (London, UK) and the Nicholas B. Ottaway Foundation (New York, USA).
 
The Conference will be livestreamed at mms://stream.unesco.org/live/room_4_en.wmv
 
Journalists wishing to cover the event may require accreditation by contacting:
Isabelle Le Fournis, i.le-fournis@unesco.org +33(0)1 45 68 17 48
Djibril Kébé, d.kebe@unesco.org +33(0)1 45 68 17 41

February 08, 2012

WPFC Denounces New Exorbitant Ruling Against Journalists in Ecuador

Feb. 8, 2012
Washington, DC, USA

TO:
The High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Union
The Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe
The Human Rights Subcommittee of the European Parliament
The Ambassadors to the Organization of American States
The Secretary General of the Organization of American States
The Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the OAS
The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the United Nations
Members of the News Media
 
Excellencies and Colleagues:
 
The World Press Freedom Committee strongly reproves a new attack on freedom of expression in Ecuador, manifested this time with an exorbitant sentence against the authors of a book critical of the behavior of President Rafael Correa’s brother. Judge Mercedes Portilla yesterday ruled that Carlos Calderón and Christian Zurita, authors of the book “El gran hermano” (Big Brother) —an exposé of the allegedly corrupt activities of Fabricio Correa— must pay US$1 million each plus US$100,000 in legal costs for having “damaged the honor” of the president.
 
Judge Portilla made her ruling —the culmination of a US$10-million defamation lawsuit brought by President Correa— neglecting the fact that the only evidence used against the defendants was the president’s affirmations. Also it was never proven that the contents of the book were inaccurate or defamatory. In fact, according to press reports, the judge herself acknowledged there were no documents that proved that any “anguish, or psychological or physical damage” was inflicted on the plaintiff.
 
“Confronted with the inability to disprove our evidence, the judge concluded that the president’s sensibility was injured by just taking his word at face value. In other words, the president’s sensibility is worth US$2 million,” said Ramiro Aguilar, the defendants’ attorney.
 
This new abuse of authority and undue influence over the country’s justice system is yet another addition to a long list of lawsuits brought or supported by President Correa against Ecuador’s independent news media. Perhaps the most notorious one is the criminal defamation charges he pressed against the publishers of El Universal newspaper and their opinion page editor that could cost each of them US$10 million and three years in prison.
 
These abuses have been denounced by the international press freedom community, including the World Press Freedom Committee, and by the inter-American justice system, specifically by OAS Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression Dr. Catalina Botero. Dr. Botero’s well-documented objections have received the support of the region’s civil society —and a virulent reaction by President Correa’s government. In a recent letter to the ambassador to the OAS, our Committee condemned the Ecuadorian State’s attempts to undermine this Rapporteurship, whose viability is crucial for the advancement of freedom of expression in the Americas. 
 
We must also take positive note of the recent statement by the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, regarding the El Universal case and its potential repercussions on EU-Ecuador relations. “If the Court rules in favor of the appeal of the newspaper, it would reach a solution through the judicial process,” High Commissioner Ashton said. “Otherwise there are obligations in the bilateral agreement EU-Ecuador, we would have to see what action to take.” These obligations include the respect for fundamental human rights, such as freedom of expression.
 
Therefore, we urge High Representative Ashton, the human rights system of the European Union and of the Council of Europe, the ambassadors to the OAS and the inter-American justice system to act decisively to stop the Ecuadorian government’s continued attacks on freedom of expression and of the press in contradiction with its international obligations.
 
Respectfully,
Javier Sierra
Projects Director
World Press Freedom Committee

January 24, 2012

WPFC Open Letter to OAS Ambassadors on Dangerous Proposal by Ecuador

Washington, DC, USA
January 24, 2012

Your Excellencies:

 
The World Press Freedom Committee —an organization bringing together 45 press freedom groups from throughout the world— urges you to reject the three recommendations made by the government of Ecuador, which would gravely endanger or even eviscerate one of the most prestigious OAS institutions: the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
 
The recommendations, included in the report of the Special Task Force charged with analyzing the future of the IACHR, are to be submitted tomorrow, January 25, at this year’s first meeting of the Permanent Council of Ambassadors of the OAS. The international press freedom community has unanimously rejected these recommendations calling them a deliberate attack on these fundamental freedoms of expression and of an independent press in the Americas.
 
The initiative proposes the following:
1. For the Office of the Rapporteur to cease publishing its independent annual report on freedom of expression in the region.
2. To bar the Office of the Rapporteur from raising its own funds.
3. For the Office of the Rapporteur to be subjected to a “code of conduct” dictated by the member countries.
 
The annual report of the Office of the Rapporteur has become the inter-American standard regarding freedom of the press and of expression, which includes both attacks on this fundamental right and the press freedom progress in the region. To try to do away with this fundamental document would be tantamount to silencing the messenger.
 
In recent years, thanks largely to the efforts of Rapporteur Catalina Botero, her office has consolidated its financial base and raised the necessary funds to fulfill the obligations set forth in its 1997 founding charter. Without this autonomous ability to maintain sound financing, the Office of the Rapporteur would be relegated to ostracism.

And finally, to force the Office of the Rapporteur to obey a code of conduct dictated by the very same member states it is required to monitor would establish an unacceptable conflict of interests that would end up gagging this indispensable institution.
 
International press freedom organizations are in general agreement that Latin America and the Caribbean are experiencing a recession regarding this fundamental human right. Attacks on the news media —censorship, judicial and physical intimidation, physical attacks or assassinations— have experienced an alarming increase in the region.
 
One of the countries that has exemplified this trend is precisely Ecuador, where the offensive led by the government of President Rafael Correa against media outlets that he perceives as critical of his acts and decisions has reached unprecedented levels in that Andean country. The Office of the Rapporteur has both recorded and denounced these attacks as it is required by the founding principles set forth when it was that established 15 years ago.
 
Therefore, our Committee urges Your Excellencies to reject this unacceptable attempt to silence an institution whose existence and vitality is essential for the respect of freedom of the press and of expression in the Western Hemisphere. Weakening those basic freedoms would seriously undermine continued observance of the other human rights in the Americas.
 
Respectfully,
Javier Sierra
Projects Director
World Press Freedom Committee
jsierra@wpfc.org

January 18, 2012

Tunisian Monitoring Group Calls for Press Freedom Protections on 1st Anniversary of Revolution

(IFEX-TMG) - 16 January 2012 - On the anniversary of the revolution, the International Freedom of Expression Exchange Tunisia Monitoring Group (IFEX-TMG), a coalition of 21 IFEX members, including the World Press Freedom Committee, urges the Tunisian government to revoke its recent controversial appointments giving media personnel close to the deposed President key posts in the public service media. The IFEX-TMG also further reiterates its call for journalists to be allowed to freely carry out their work, after another journalist was attacked during a demonstration last week.

A year ago when they swept the dictatorship of President Zine Abidine Ben Ali from power, Tunisian people set an extraordinary precedent throughout the region and beyond. By supporting free and independent media, the country's leadership would live up to the society's genuine aspirations and send a strong signal to other Arab Spring countries.

Tunisian journalists today won't accept the revival of either old corrupt practices or of patronage appointments of cronies of the former regime. A truly democratic and transparent media must be based on genuine consultations with all stakeholders.

On 9 January, the National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT) organised a demonstration in the Casbah protesting the controversial announcements. A number of civil society organisations and political parties also condemned the appointments made by Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali.

According to the Tunis Centre for Freedom of the Press, which also denounced the appointments, Sadeq Al-Bou'ban was appointed manager of the National TV Channel 1 after having managed the "purple" (or pro-Ben Ali) La 7 station. Amongst the other posts announced, Adnan Khathar, who engineered Ben Ali's 2009 "election" campaign, was appointed general manager of Tunisia's public television.

One of the key recommendations put forth by Tunisian free expression stakeholders during a conference organised by the IFEX-TMG in December in Tunis emphasised the importance of an independent public media and "the non-alignment" of those managing it.

"Rather than transform the public media into free, independent and professional institutions after it had served for years as merely a tool in the hands of the Ben Ali regime, the government's appointments has honoured Ben Ali's men in the media sector by awarding them key posts in the public service media. Many have perceived these appointments as the authority's attempt to instate individuals it can control in its effort to domesticate the media," said journalist Fahem Boukaddous of the Tunis Centre for Freedom of the Press.

"The government's decision is flawed and disturbing. Public service media exist to serve the public rather than political agendas, and those who lead public media must be nominated for their very ability to develop and defend independent information and programming," said Virginie Jouan, IFEX-TMG Chair.

The IFEX-TMG last week protested about assaults by plainclothes police on two women journalists during a demonstration on 4 January. The IFEX-TMG is further alarmed to hear reports that on 11 January, Sofiane Bin Hmida of Nessma TV was attacked by Ennahda activists while covering a sit-in at the interior ministry, according to the Agence Tunis Afrique Presse (TAP). Protesters wanted the head of internal security, another person associated with the former regime, to be fired.

For more information:
IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group
Virginie Jouan, Chair
on behalf of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA)
jouanvirginie@gmail.com

http://www.facebook.com/IFEXTMG
http://ifex.org/tunisia/tmg/

Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
ARTICLE 19
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Cartoonists Rights Network International
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
Freedom House
Index on Censorship
International Federation of Journalists
International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions
International Press Institute
International Publishers Association
Journaliste en danger
Maharat Foundation (Skills Foundation)
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Norwegian PEN
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC)
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
World Press Freedom Committee
Writers in Prison Committee, PEN International

January 11, 2012

Tunisia Monitoring Group Concerned by Attacks on Journalists, Academics

(IFEX-TMG) - 11 January 2012 - Despite promises by Tunisia's new government to uphold free expression, the International Freedom of Expression Exchange Tunisia Monitoring Group, a coalition of 21 IFEX members including the World Press Freedom Committee, is concerned that not enough is being done to effectively uphold this right in light of recent attacks on journalists and academics.

On 4 January, two women journalists Sana Farhat and Maha Ouelhezi were physically assaulted by plainclothes police in Tunis as they were covering a demonstration organised by university teachers outside the Ministry of Education. The teachers from Manouba University were protesting the month-long sit-in organised by Salafists campaigning for the right of niqab-clad women students to attend classes at the university. The month-long sit-in was lifted on 6 January with the niqab-wearing women vowing to continue their campaign.

While the prohibition on the hijab, the headscarf, was reversed after the revolution, the niqab, the face veil, remains prohibited in universities and public institutions.

Fatma Jegham, a professor at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Tunis was also assaulted for teaching a subject deemed by them "offensive to God." The professor was also targeted online and labelled immoral and an atheist. This follows a number of attacks by a group of Salafists who previously targeted Nessma TV for screening the film Persepolis and the debate that followed it, which was regarded as offensive.

"The series of attacks at universities and in public spaces remind us of the dark days of Ben Ali. As the Tunisian government takes strides towards consolidating democracy and open government, we urge them to exert efforts at also implementing their promises," said IFEX-TMG Chair Virginie Jouan, representing the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers.

The National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT) organised a demonstration in the Casbah on 9 January to protest the attacks on the journalists, as well as controversial appointments by the government of public media heads.

While fully supporting the recommendation to enshrine freedom of expression in the new Constitution, the IFEX-TMG urges the relevant authorities to take immediate and concrete measures to protect freedom of expression, whether the right to carry out one's job as a journalist or through the right to express oneself freely during peaceful demonstrations.

The IFEX-TMG campaigns to raise awareness of free expression violations in Tunisia and to support independent journalists, writers, and civil society activists in their struggle to end censorship in the country.

IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group
Virginie Jouan, Chair
on behalf of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA)
jouanvirginie (@) gmail.com

http://www.facebook.com/IFEXTMG

Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
ARTICLE 19
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Cartoonists Rights Network International
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
Freedom House
Index on Censorship
International Federation of Journalists
International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions
International Press Institute
International Publishers Association
Journaliste en danger
Maharat Foundation (Skills Foundation)
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Norwegian PEN
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC)
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
World Press Freedom Committee
Writers in Prison Committee, PEN International

January 06, 2012

WPFC-FH Protests Approval of Bill Regulating Argentina’s Newsprint Industry

Washington, USA, Dec. 23, 2011 — The World Press Freedom Committee of Freedom House (www.wpfc.org) —an organization bringing together 43 press freedom groups from throughout the world— protests adoption yesterday by the Argentine Congress of a law to regulate the manufacturing, commercialization and distribution of newsprint as a clear violation of the American Convention on Human Rights.

The Aug. 27, 2010 Bill, passed yesterday by the Senate following the House of Representatives’ approval, declares “the manufacturing, commercialization and distribution of newsprint as a matter of public interest.” The measure allows the State to become the majority stockholder of Papel Prensa S.A. —the only company of its kind in Argentina— and, unprecedentedly, to take over a private entity without previous consultation with its stockholders or owners.

“This initiative is a violation of Art. 32 of the Argentine Constitution and of Art. 13.3 of the American Convention on Human Rights,” said Javier Sierra, WPFC-FH’s projects director. “The measure, as part of years of official harassment against the news media perceived as critical of the government, will clearly allow the State to influence arbitrarily the distribution of a material essential to the existence of a free and independent press in Argentina.”

Art. 13.3 of the American Convention establishes that, “The right of expression may not be restricted by indirect methods or means, such as the abuse of government or private control over newsprint […] or by any other means tending to impede the communication and circulation of ideas and opinion.”

Also, the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression, an inter-American document  Argentina has also signed, holds that, “Prior censorship, direct or indirect interference in or pressure exerted upon any expression […] must be prohibited by law.”

In its 2010 Annual Report, the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, aware of the severity of the bill at the time being debated in the Argentine Congress, expected that, “Given their notable importance for the exercise of freedom of expression, the matters mentioned herein are resolved in keeping with international standards on the subject.”

The hopes of the Office of the Special Rapporteur and those of the world press freedom movement were dashed yesterday by the Argentine Congress. Under these circumstances, our Committee urges the government of President Cristina Fernández, the promoter of this legislation, to exercise extreme caution so that these new State powers do not turn into a toll of censorship.

December 01, 2011

Diario Clarín of Buenos Aires Publishes WPFC-FH Op-Ed about Press Freedom

Diario Clarín of Buenos Aires, the world's second largest Spanish-language newspaper and one of the most influential in Latin America, has published an op-ed article by WPFC-FH's Javier Sierra about the state of press freedom in Argentina.

Because of President Cristina Fernández's recent landslide re-election victory, we fear her government harassment against independent media will only increase. Therefore, we feel wide distribution of this article will somehow help deter this temptation to aggravate an already disturbing situation.

An English translation follows.

A Failing Grade
Special for Clarín Newspaper
By Javier Sierra

As Europe peers into the abyss and the US deals with the worst recession since the Great Depression, Argentina has been able to maneuver so far through the global tempest. At least for now, the Argentine ship has made it to port safe and sound.

Thanks to this economic performance, President Cristina Fernández won re-election in a landslide victory of historic proportions. But amidst the euphoria, we should recall that her government must still deal with a failing grade: the regression of press freedom in Argentina.

According to Freedom House's 2011 annual report on press freedom in the world, at the beginning of the presidency of Néstor Kirchner, Argentina was ranked No. 35. Now its score is down to No. 51. This 16-place drop is one of the steepest falls in the global index over this period of time.

Freedom House identifies four main causes of the decline:

  • The government's hostility toward independent media,
  • Its reluctance to engage with the media,
  • The rise in attacks and harassment of media,
  • And favoritism in placement of government advertising in the media.

Since 2008, Grupo Clarín, owner of Clarín newspaper, has recorded more than 300 cases of government harassment against them. Perhaps the gravest took place March 27 when workers in a union sympathetic to the Fernández administration blocked distribution of that day's editions of both the Clarín and La Nación newspapers. Just a few days ago, journalist Jorge Lanata was insulted and rocks were thrown at him by government sympathizers at a public meeting; and Minister of Economy Amado Boudou accused Clarín of being “an enemy of the Argentine people's common interests.” This long list goes on.

Throughout this obfuscation and permanent feuding with the independent media, the Fernández government ignores a fundamental aspect of the controversy: Its members chose to enter public life, implicitly accepting that they would be major targets of criticism by the country's news media and the rest of society. It is a basic tenet of democracy that public officials, especially heads of state, must grow a thick skin and accept that criticisms will be hurled at them.

The inter-American justice system, in which Argentina takes part, considers this principle a basic element of transparency and good governance. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights, in the Herrera Ulloa vs. Costa Rica case, ruled that, “In a democratic society, public officials are more exposed to the rest of society's scrutiny and criticism. This different protection standard is explained by their voluntary acceptance of a more demanding scrutiny. Their activities, therefore, fall outside the private sphere and enter the public debate sphere.”

Further, in its 1994 Annual Report, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said, “Freedom of expression and opinion is the touchstone of all freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated and one of the soundest guarantees of modern democracy.”

In the climate of hostility toward news media considered critical of the government, those who suffer most are not Clarín or La Nación. It is the Argentine public, whose right to be fully informed on issues of social relevance is thwarted. A supine or spineless press could not fulfill that obligation to society.

That is why President Fernández and her government need to improve their failing press freedom grade, so that they can guide the Argentine ship of state into a safely democratic   harbor.  

Javier Sierra is Projects Director of the World Press Freedom Committee of Freedom

November 14, 2011

WPFC-FH Submits Amicus Curiae Brief Before Ecuador's Constitutional Court

Washington, USA, Nov. 14, 2011The World Press Freedom Committee of Freedom House —an organization bringing together 43 press freedom groups from throughout the world— has submitted an amicus curiae brief to Ecuador's Constitutional Court in support of a motion of unconstitutionality originated by Fundamedios of Ecuador against criminal defamation laws.

The brief, written by press freedom expert Kevin Goldberg, esq. puts forward a detailed legal analysis that contests any need to criminalize defamation sanctions. The amicus brief is based on broad international jurisprudence - especially that of the inter-American justice system- that holds that such sanctions must be dealt with by civil, not criminal, courts.

According to the brief, “Laws punishing speech that reports on, comments about or criticizes public officials have no place in a democratic society. They are intended only to punish news media, journalists or other persons who may seem to have insulted or disparaged a public leader or official.”

Fundamedios decided to submit its motion of unconstitutionality (case #0026-11-IN) in view of the alarming regression of press freedom currently in Ecuador.

“In recent years, there has been a historic growth in cases of criminal defamation charges against Ecuadorian journalists,” said Javier Sierra, WPFC-FH's Projects Director. “The current tide of judicial harassment cases that takes advantage of these criminal laws has intensified repression and self-censorship of the country's independent media.”

In Freedom House's 2010 press freedom report, Ecuador has increased its negative rating by 11 points since 2007, and now it is rated “partly free,” in 52nd place of world rankings.
  
WPFC-FH's stand is based on the Draconian conditions in which Ecuadorian independent journalists must work to fill their obligations to inform the public on matters of social relevance.

The brief also focuses on another fundamental press freedom principle supported by the inter-American jurisprudence: That public figures should receive less, not more, protection from alleged insults than ordinary citizens. Special protection, often exclusively for a select few public officials, dates back at least to the Roman Empire, which instituted it to shield the Emperor from criticism.

The climate of hostility against independent media and its source at top of the Ecuadorian government is reaching dangerous levels even for the physical integrity of press freedom advocates. Recently, after denouncing abuses against press freedom in his country, before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, Fundamedios' Executive Director César Ricaurte received death threats.

This is yet one more reason why Ecuador's Constitutional Court should make a clear reaffirmation of democracy, transparency and press freedom by upholding the motion of unconstitutionality of Article 230 of Ecuador's Criminal Code.

The World Press Freedom Committee of Freedom House is an international umbrella organization that brings together 43 journalistic groups -print and broadcast, labor and management, journalists, editors, publishers and owners on five continents- united in the defense and promotion of press freedom. Among other advocacy activities, WPFC-FH focuses on the reform or elimination of insult and criminal defamation laws, which are powerful censorship tools used to stifle the news media throughout the world.

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