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LQD: World Press Freedom Day 2009: Bloggers in the front line

by Sassafras Sun May 3rd, 2009 at 12:26:34 PM EST

Committee to Protect Journalists: 2008 prison census: Online and in jail

Reflecting the rising influence of online reporting and commentary, more Internet journalists are jailed worldwide today than journalists working in any other medium. In its annual census of imprisoned journalists, released today, the Committee to Protect Journalists found that 45 percent of all media workers jailed worldwide are bloggers, Web-based reporters, or online editors. Online journalists represent the largest professional category for the first time in CPJ's prison census.

The CPJ, which has released its report 10 Worst Countries to be a Blogger in time for World Press Freedom Day, considers anyone engaged in reportage or fact-based commentary to be a journalist.

There is considerable overlap between this list and Reporters sans frontières' annual Press freedom Index.  Nine of the countries listed by the CPJ appear in Rsf's twenty worst-rated countries for press freedom.

CPJ 2008 prison census: Burma

Nay Phone Latt, freelance

IMPRISONED: January 29, 2008

Nay Phone Latt, a businessman also known as Nay Myo Kyaw, wrote a blog and owned three Internet cafés in Rangoon. He went missing on the morning of January 29, according to exile news groups...

A court charged Nay Phone Latt in July with causing public offense and violating video and electronic laws when he posted caricatures of ruling generals on his blog, according to Reuters.

...During closed judicial proceedings held at the Insein compound on November 10, Nay Phone Latt was sentenced to 20 years and six months in prison, according to the Burma Media Association, a press freedom advocacy group, and news reports.

Al Jazeera: Middle East web writers 'harassed':

In Syria, blogger Tariq Baissi was sentenced to three years in prison for "weakening the national feeling and the national ethos". Biassi had posted a six word long comment in a web forum in which he criticised the Syrian security services. Numerous other cyber dissidents remain behind bars in Syria.

Many believe the proportion of bloggers as a fraction of journalists arrested is likely to rise:

Al Jazeera:

Many internet activists believe the jailing of web writers will increase in the future, especially as more and more print journalists are said to be migrating to web-based work for various reasons, including censorship circumvention.

"It will increase, I'm sure, as more and more people are tasting the power of the internet and the usage of the web is spreading," said Sami Ben Gharbia, the Tunisia advocacy director of Global Voices, told Al Jazeera.

Yet part of this, at least, may be down to blogging providing a journalistic platform for dissidents and freedom campaigners that simply didn't exist before:

Al Jazeera:

In Tunis, Nazira Rijba, a Tunisian writer and activist, was in late 2008 charged over an article she wrote in support of the Tunisian news website Kalima which has been subject to censorship by the Tunisian authorities.

She says she is regularly harassed over the Interphone at her house and on the street by the authorities for her work and activism.

"Do not think of us as victims," she said. "We are militants who are being harassed by the government. We are paying the price of freedom, but freedom is the door for change."

Committee to Protect Journalists:

"The image of the solitary blogger working at home in pajamas may be appealing, but when the knock comes on the door they are alone and vulnerable," said CPJ's Simon. "All of us must stand up for their rights--from Internet companies to journalists and press freedom groups. The future of journalism is online and we are now in a battle with the enemies of press freedom who are using imprisonment to define the limits of public discourse."

I had no idea the situation was this bad. It is astonishing the lengths that Governments will go to to censor people even though they are clearly breaching Human rights in doing so.  The UN Convention of Human Rights exists to protect people from this kind of action by their Governments, apparently.

Thanks for raising the issue.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sun May 3rd, 2009 at 09:14:47 AM EST
It is astonishing the lengths that Governments will go to to censor people ...

Governments exist for the betterment of the wealthy/corporations so I don't find this astonishing at all.  Actually, it's perversely encouraging.  If the internet wasn't working effectively to counter their propaganda/mind control, they wouldn't waste resources jailing/harassing these folks.  There are always casualties in every war.  What amazes me is that the human species has been fighting this same have vs. have not battle for how many centuries?  I might think that a reasonable resolution would have been reached by now.

They tried to assimilate me. They failed.

by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Sun May 3rd, 2009 at 12:37:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Which leads me to the question:  Will class warfare end before the biosphere degrades significantly?  Will this threat provide the incentive for people to work together, or will the "Eat, Drink, and Be Merry for tomorrow you die" mentality rule to the end?  I know Dick Cheney will never change.

They tried to assimilate me. They failed.
by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Sun May 3rd, 2009 at 12:48:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, because super rich people will still think they can buy their way out of it.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sun May 3rd, 2009 at 04:21:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The UN Convention of Human Rights exists to protect people from this kind of action by their Governments, apparently.

Sadly, unless one has a considerably higher profile than most online journalists, the implication of protections in UN Convention of Human Rights can serve more as an attractive nuisance than as any real protection.  Perhaps the representatives of the "advanced" nations in the west should explain to their more "backward" colleagues that they should lighten up, as few pay any attention to these critics and leaving them alone can give the government the appearance of being more "progressive."  

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun May 3rd, 2009 at 12:44:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think they take the "forest fire" attitude.  Stamp out any spark lest it become a blaze.  I bet there are examples in history they can cite that brought down tyrants who acted too slowly.

They tried to assimilate me. They failed.
by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Sun May 3rd, 2009 at 12:51:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The methodology used by The Committee to Protect Journalists leaves a little to be desired.  I have to say, aside from their weird creepy singling out of Russia, I've little reason to accuse them of malice (unlike Freedom House, which is obviously politically motivated).  According to their website, "CPJ is funded solely by contributions from individuals, corporations, and foundations."  They don't accept government funding.  But individuals, corporations, and foundations are perfectly capable of having self-serving agendas.  It would be nice if they actually told us who those, say, corporations are.  Also their board of directors seems clean, impressive even, if you ignore the fact they're mostly hotshot American media celebs.  I have to take a deep breath and say "ohm" before I let a ombudsman of the WaPo lecture me about journalistic integrity.   In fact, I'm sure CPJ wants to make the world a better place.  

Exile: Liars without Borders

The site of the Committee to Protect Journalists has a section outlining its methodology:

CPJ applies strict journalistic standards when investigating a death. We consider a case "confirmed" only if we are reasonably certain that a journalist was killed in direct reprisal for his or her work; in crossfire; or while carrying out a dangerous assignment. We do not include journalists who are killed in accidents--such as car or plane crashes--unless the crash was caused by hostile action (for example, if a plane were shot down or a car crashed trying to avoid gunfire).

We include only confirmed cases in our database and in the statistical analysis above.

If the motives are unclear, but it is possible that a journalist was killed because of his or her work, CPJ classifies the case as "unconfirmed" and continues to investigate to determine the motive for the murder.

But the CPJ list for Russia included, for example, Yury Shchekochikhin, who died in 2003 from acute allergic reaction, in somewhat suspicious circumstances. Despite this he was declared a "confirmed" case by the CPJ. Also placed in the "confirmed" category was Ivan Safronov of Kommersant, who fell out of a window in February 2007. Whether it was a suicide or a foul play (and whether it was related to his work) is still not clear, but it was suspicious (he had been working on a story about secret Russian weapons sales to Syria). Another reporter included in the database as "confirmed" was Ilya Zimin, who was murdered after making homosexual advances on a Moldovan migrant worker whom he met in a bar and brought back to his apartment. Pavel Makeyev was fatally struck by a car in 2005 - yet he is included in the "confirmed" category of journalists murdered on the job. Vyacheslav Ifranov died in his garage from monoxide poisoning without any evidence of a foul play - yet he is also in the CPJ list.

When you look at this table what becomes immediately clear is that the CPJ has two distinct ways of judging journalists' deaths based on where they happen. In countries like Russia, Belarus, or Iran, the cases of "confirmed" journalist deaths as a reprisal for their work, the CPJ includes death by any circumstance whatsoever. But in most other countries, a journalist has to either be directly assassinated or die in a war to be listed as "confirmed" killed for his work; no journalists anywhere else in the world are set up for car crashes, suspicious suicides or sudden illnesses for their work. The difference in criteria is huge. The CPJ includes lists those journalists whose death was without any doubt related to their work. For Russia, in contrast, even the slightest suspicion about a journalist's death automatically qualifies his name to appear in the database of the "regime's victims" (this trend really started in earnest after 2002).

The blog "Russia in the media" has an analysis of the 17 "confirmed" cases of journalists killed in the line of duty in Russia since 2000:

An Audit of the Committee to Protect Journalists Claims

In summary, CPJ claims that 17 journalists were killed in Russia in since 2000 due to their professional activities. Examination of each case found that out of 17 claims, only 5 were correct (Domnikov, Khasanov, Klebnikov, Makeev, Politkovskaya), 8 were complete falsifications (Skryl, Ivanov, Scott, Shchekochikhin, Sidorov, Kochetkov, Maksimov, Safronov), and 4 were partial falsifications (Yatsina, Yefremov, Markevich, Varisov). If we assign the truthfulness value of 50% to partially falsified claims, the overall truthfulness rate of CPJ, given this sample, is 41%. Clearly, CPJ's definition of "strict journalistic standards" as being only 40% truthful is at variance with what any reasonable person would expect. But it is very much in line with what one would expect from a propaganda outlet.

Of course, the desire to protect journalists' lives is very noble. But the end does not justify the means. Engaging in outright falsifications while making the outrageous claim that "strict journalistic standards" are being followed discredits journalism as a profession and raises the obvious question of why should any special emphasis be placed on protecting that kind of people?


For fun, you can look at Freedom House's Freedom of the Press Index for 2009.  Italy's no longer free. :(


"Talking nonsense is the sole privilege mankind possesses over the other organisms." -Dostoevsky

by poemless on Mon May 4th, 2009 at 12:29:33 PM EST

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