Attacks on the Press in 2011

Attacks on the Press   |   Ecuador

Attacks on the Press in 2011: Ecuador

The press freedom climate continued its sharp decline under President Rafael Correa. In September, a CPJ special report concluded that Correa’s policies had transformed the country into one of the hemisphere’s most restrictive nations for the press. In March, Correa brought a criminal libel complaint against senior managers of El Universo, the country’s leading critical daily. The case, which centered on a biting opinion column that condemned Correa’s actions in a 2010 standoff with police, resulted in convictions, prison sentences, and multimillion-dollar fines against the managers. The managers were free on appeal in late year. Other government officials also used the nation’s archaic criminal defamation laws to try to silence journalists. The president made frequent use of cadenas, presidential addresses that pre-empt all private broadcast programming nationwide, to smear individual journalists and news outlets. Although cadenas have traditionally been used to deliver information in times of crisis, they have become a forum for political confrontation under Correa. The administration used other tactics to supplant independent voices with its own perspective, repeatedly ordering individual broadcasters to give over portions of their news programming to government “rebuttals.” In a May referendum, voters approved ballot measures that would allow the administration to regulate news content in vaguely defined areas and force media owners to divest other holdings.

February 21, 2012 12:41 AM ET

Attacks on the Press   |   Cuba

Attacks on the Press in 2011: Cuba

Official repression in Cuba remained the most intense in the hemisphere. Although the last of the 29 independent journalists imprisoned in the 2003 Black Spring crackdown was released in April, the government's restrictive practices persisted. Official censorship was codified in law and closely enforced. The government persecuted critical journalists with arbitrary arrests, short-term detentions, beatings, smear campaigns, surveillance, and social sanctions. Despite the island nation's low Internet penetration, the battle for free expression was being waged almost entirely online. The government enlisted a legion of official bloggers to counteract a vibrant independent blogosphere. A fiber-optic cable project would enable the introduction of high-speed Internet. The launch of broadband service, which faced delays in 2011, would improve the island's government-approved Internet connections, but would not extend connectivity to the general public.

February 21, 2012 12:40 AM ET

Attacks on the Press   |   Colombia

Attacks on the Press in 2011: Colombia

While lethal anti-press violence has slowed considerably in recent years, the press freedom landscape remains troubled. Journalists continue to be attacked and threatened with such frequency that some are compelled to flee to safer locations within Colombia or into exile. A journalist in Arboletes was murdered in June, although the motive was unclear. In this violent context, press groups feared the potential consequences of statements made by former President Álvaro Uribe, who described veteran reporters Juan Forero and Claudia Julieta Duque as “terrorist sympathizers” after they wrote critical stories about the Uribe administration in The Washington Post. The national intelligence agency’s illegal espionage against journalists and other critics, a legacy of the Uribe administration, continued to be the subject of investigation. But progress was slow, with cases pending against more than 20 defendants in late year. In a blow to press freedom, the Supreme Court in May upheld defamation provisions in the penal code.

February 21, 2012 12:39 AM ET

Attacks on the Press   |   Brazil

Attacks on the Press in 2011: Brazil

In provincial areas where law enforcement is weak, reporters were vulnerable to attack for their coverage of corruption. In urban centers, journalists faced risks while covering organized crime and drug trafficking. Two journalists were killed in direct relation to their work in 2011, and CPJ was investigating the circumstances in four other killings. The uptick in deadly violence pushed Brazil back onto CPJ's 2011 Impunity Index, which highlights countries with unsolved journalist murders. Politicized judicial rulings continued to hinder coverage of sensitive issues. A censorship order against the daily O Estado de S. Paulo remained in place more than two years after it was first imposed, barring the paper from reporting on a corruption inquiry involving the family of Senate President José Sarney. In November, President Dilma Rousseff signed into law an access-to-information measure that regulated the classification of documents and imposed a maximum withholding period of 50 years for top secret files. The bill was lauded as an important step for government transparency and a helpful tool for journalists covering corruption.

February 21, 2012 12:38 AM ET

Attacks on the Press   |   Argentina

Attacks on the Press in 2011: Argentina

The Supreme Court of Justice ruled in March that the government should apply reasonable balance in the distribution of state advertising. Ruling in a case brought in 2006 by Editorial Perfil, the country's largest magazine publisher, the court sought to rein in the government's long-standing practice of rewarding supportive news media with state advertising while punishing critical media by withholdings ads. Nonetheless, Perfil and other critics alleged that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who won re-election in October, continued the system of unequal distribution. Relations between Grupo Clarín, the nation's largest media conglomerate, and the Kirchner government worsened in March after demonstrators, including members of the Teamsters, blocked trucking exits at Clarín's printing facilities, preventing the paper from distributing its Sunday edition. In December, Kirchner signed a measure bringing the country's sole newsprint manufacturer, Papel Prensa, under government regulation. Publishers groups said it was another attack on Clarín and La Nación, which own a majority stake in the company. Circulation of the national daily La Nación was also disrupted for several hours. The local press group Foro de Periodismo Argentino documented a series of abuses in the country's interior, including an attack on a radio journalist, a case of arson, and an episode in which a camera crew was fired upon. A federal court sentenced 16 former military members in October to jail terms ranging from 18 years to life in prison for the murder of journalist Rodolfo Walsh and 85 others during the 1976-83 Argentine dictatorship.

February 21, 2012 12:37 AM ET

Attacks on the Press   |   Zimbabwe

Attacks on the Press in 2011: Zimbabwe

Although official anti-press harassment continued a gradual decline from its peak after the disputed 2008 elections, a highly restrictive legal framework kept domestic, independent news sources to a mere handful. The fractious coalition between Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF and Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC failed to implement the media reforms they had pledged to undertake in their 2008 power-sharing deal, leaving in place repressive laws such as the Access to Information and Privacy Protection Act. At least six journalists faced criminal defamation charges, including two staffers from the weekly Standard who were detained after covering a politician's arrest. Assailants broke into the offices of NewsDay and Masvingo Mirror, stealing computer hard drives and storage discs. Both break-ins followed critical coverage; no suspects were arrested in either case. Fearing the influence of revolutions in North Africa, authorities detained dozens of civil society members for watching footage of the Egyptian revolution at a public gathering. The European Union named six state media journalists among 200 Zimbabweans subject to sanctions for allegedly promoting violence during the 2008 polling.

February 21, 2012 12:36 AM ET

Attacks on the Press   |   Uganda

Attacks on the Press in 2011: Uganda

Police and security agents engaged in widespread physical attacks on local and foreign journalists during the general election campaign and its aftermath. Incumbent President Yoweri Museveni was elected to a fourth term in the February vote, which was marred by reports of intimidation and vote-buying. Reporters covering opposition candidates were at particular risk: Security agents shot two journalists covering opposition or protest rallies, leaving one reporter hospitalized. In April and May, authorities assaulted at least 25 journalists covering nationwide, opposition-organized protests over rising prices. Museveni publicly criticized foreign and local media for their coverage of the protests, saying the reports damaged the country's economic interests. Police raided the independent weekly Gwanga in May and briefly detained four journalists on the tenuous claim that its possession of a civil society newsletter could somehow incite public violence. Gwanga did not resume regular publication.

February 21, 2012 12:35 AM ET

Attacks on the Press   |   South Africa

Attacks on the Press in 2011: South Africa

The ruling African National Congress bridled at news media scrutiny of its record on poverty, crime, and corruption, which raised concerns about the durability of post-apartheid democratic reforms. In June, the government announced a new policy to use state advertising expenditures to reward supportive media outlets. Members of the ANC's youth wing tried to intimidate media outlets that examined the affluent lifestyle and private business dealings of its fiery former leader, Julius Malema. Youth members assaulted journalists covering Malema's appearance at a party hearing convened to discuss his hard-line statements. President Jacob Zuma, who traveled to Libya twice in support of Muammar Qaddafi, was criticized for failing to hold Libyan officials accountable in the case of Anton Hammerl. Loyalist forces killed the South African photojournalist in April, but Libyan officials withheld information about Hammerl's death for many weeks. In October, South African officials acknowledged that police had tapped the phone conversations of journalists Mwazili Wa Afrika and Stephan Hofstatter. The two faced persistent threats and intimidation related to a 2010 story on police corruption. The ANC pushed several restrictive legislative measures, including a bill that would allow officials to classify virtually any piece of government information in the name of "national interest." The National Assembly approved the bill in November, sending it to the National Council of Provinces for consideration in late year.

February 21, 2012 12:34 AM ET

Attacks on the Press   |   Somalia

Attacks on the Press in 2011: Somalia

Local and international journalists faced persistent, deadly violence, with both targeted murders and crossfire killings reported. Four soldiers with the African Union peacekeeping mission fired on a Malaysian humanitarian aid convoy in September, killing one journalist and injuring another. The AU mission in Somalia suspended the soldiers and returned them to their home country of Burundi for potential trial. Despite improved security in the capital, Mogadishu, journalists across the country continued to flee into exile to avoid threats and violence. Al-Shabaab militants and other insurgents continued to shutter independent radio stations in southern and central Somalia. Growing insecurity in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland led to increased attacks and arrests of journalists. In Somaliland, President Ahmed Mahmoud Silyano reneged on his 2010 campaign pledge to uphold press freedom and initiated a series of state-sponsored criminal defamation cases against the region's private press.

February 21, 2012 12:33 AM ET

Attacks on the Press   |   Rwanda

Attacks on the Press in 2011: Rwanda

Authorities pursued an aggressive legal assault against critical journalists, using laws that ban insults against public officials and abusing anti-genocide laws to silence independent voices. President Paul Kagame’s close relations with Western governments continued to shield him from criticism over his administration’s poor press freedom record. In February, a panel of High Court judges sentenced two editors of the now-closed independent weekly Umurabyo to lengthy prison terms on charges of “genocidal ideology” related to articles detailing ethnic divisions in the security forces. In June, the Supreme Court sentenced in absentia Jean-Bosco Gasasira, editor of the independent Umuvugizi, to a prison term of two and a half years on insult charges stemming from an opinion piece that unfavorably compared Kagame to Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe. Gasasira had fled the country in 2010, joining one of the region’s largest press diasporas. Another independent weekly editor, Nelson Gatsimbazi, fled the country in September, also fearing imprisonment. The government’s aggressive actions left a subdued and largely state-dominated press landscape. A small number of critical websites remained, but they were subjected to regular government blocking.

February 21, 2012 12:32 AM ET

2011

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