Local censorship goes global as media under siege
New York, February 21, 2012- Repressive governments, militants, and criminal groups across the globe are leveraging new and traditional tactics to control information, with the aim of obscuring misdeeds, silencing dissent, and disempowering citizens, according to Attacks on the Press, a yearly survey released today by the Committee to Protect Journalists.
As demonstrated by Eritrea and Equatorial Guinea's media blackout of the popular uprisings of the Arab Spring or Syria's blackout on the repression of protests, or Egypt's unplugging of the Internet, local suppression of information-whether by technology as done by Iran, legal persecution as in Ecuador and Turkey, or violence against journalists as in Mexico, Uganda and Somalia-has global repercussions.
"Navigating political unrest, environmental disaster, and other disruptions cannot be done effectively when information is censored," said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. "In a globalized information age, censorship is a transnational violation that must be emphatically countered."
CPJ found that in the Arab world, journalists face unpredictable new threats, and in Asia intimidation has a chilling effect. In Africa, investigative reporting is considered a threat to development; in Latin America, state media serves as a politicized weapon against the independent press. Worldwide, Internet crime laws put journalists in potential peril.
Attacks on the Press, the definitive annual assessment of the state of press freedom worldwide, features analytical essays by CPJ experts along with an overview of media conditions in more than 100 countries and regional data on anti-press violations. The book also documents individual cases and provides a census of journalists killed (46) and imprisoned (179) in 2011.
Key regional trends identified by CPJ include:
As China becomes a key trading partner and expands its influence in the region, governments from South Africa to Gambia are criminalizing independent reporting on bad governance, demonizing it as detrimental to economic development. Some countries like Ethiopia and Burundi even use anti-terrorism laws to prosecute critical journalists and cow the press into self-censorship. Repression is happening in the form of injunctions, amendments to laws, and seizure of footage. The watchdog role of a free press is being publicly tarnished and critical reporting deemed anti-patriotic. Over the past 10 years, at least 301 African journalists have fled their homelands in fear of violence and imprisonment -- more than double the number of exiles from any other region.
The use of state-owned media to advance political goals has become a notorious trend in politically polarized countries in Latin America. In addition to delivering political propaganda, these outlets are serving as platforms for smear campaigns against critics, including journalists. Elected leaders have invested in large multimedia holdings, building impressive press conglomerates that further political agendas and exclude or vilify critical voices. Meanwhile, in Mexico, anti-press violence continues to spread, unpunished. As the Calderón presidency winds down, a mechanism to protect journalists remains an empty promise and the investigation of journalist murders remains in the hands of often corrupt state authorities.
Censorship in Asia is multifaceted, from official repression to violence that is regularly met with impunity. Since 1992, the region has seen 156 unsolved journalist murders. For the past two years, Pakistan has been the deadliest country in the world for journalists, leading many into hiding or exile. In the Philippines, a trial seeking justice for 32 journalists and media workers murdered in 2010 has stalled, a testament to the government's inability to deliver due judicial process and the impunity plaguing the region. Meanwhile, in China -- despite vibrant debates on microblogs that give mainstream media the pulse of grassroots anger -- authorities keep a tight grip on information with imprisonment, secret detentions, and Internet blocking.
Europe and Central Asia:
The gap between countries that uphold press freedom as a core value and those that curb a critical, inquisitive press is widening. Within the EU, Hungary has set a dangerous precedent by adopting a new media law and constitution that challenge fundamental European values. Regionally, the protection of sources has become a major battleground, as some governments are eager to defang investigative journalism. Street protests have proven risky, while populist and nationalistic movements along with criminal organizations intimidate the press. In its external relations, the EU neglects press freedom in dialogue with powerful countries such as China and Russia, where imprisonment and impunity in journalist killings, respectively, remain the norm.
Middle East and North Africa:
Amid upheaval, the success or failure of popular uprisings rests with control of the national narrative. Journalists therefore find themselves the targets of new and evolving threats, with prolonged politicized trials diminishing while assaults and fatalities rise. While citizen-generated footage gives traditional media political cover to address sensitive subjects, authorities and their surrogates are making equally astute use of new technology to disseminate their messages, silence, and intimidate. Iran's revolving-door prison policy drives many journalists into exile.