CPJ Blog

Press Freedom News and Views

July 2012 Archives


Since I published a blog last week on the lack of information about the health and whereabouts of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, readers have deluged it with comments (over 175 as of today), reflecting the pent-up interest in the premier's status and deeply divided views of his leadership.

Chinese propaganda officials must be thrilled that they're not responsible for the Olympics coverage in the British papers. Back during the Beijing Games, they worked hard to censor unrest and dissatisfaction in the domestic media. Reports of China's press freedom and human rights abuses were blocked, the kind of information control idiomatically referred to as "harmonizing."

Severe flooding in parts of China has left numerous dead and missing. (Reuters)

Chinese journalists are questioning government propaganda due to conflicting reports of the death toll following Saturday's devastating flooding in Beijing. Like the Wenzhou train crash and the Sichuan earthquake, the tragedy has galvanized mainstream and online journalists--and the official narrative is crumbling under their scrutiny.

Rumors abound about the health and whereabouts of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. (AFP/Simon Maina)

If you search for the name of Ethiopia's prime minister, Meles Zenawi, on Twitter these days, you'll see a flurry of incongruent postings: Meles is hospitalized in critical condition; he's fine and returning to work; he died two weeks ago; he's on holiday. Journalists for international news outlets have tried to sort out fact from rumor, but they've gotten no help from Ethiopian government officials who offered only vague assurances that the country's longtime leader was ill but recovering. In Ethiopia, where the government has imposed increasingly repressive measures on the domestic press corps, news coverage has been minimal and contradictory.

International news outlets, such as ReutersThe Associated Press, and the BBC, reported last week that Meles was hospitalized for an undisclosed condition. Reuters, citing diplomatic sources, said he was being treated in Brussels, although even that scant nugget of information was not officially confirmed.

CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney testified before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in Washington on Wednesday, highlighting global attacks on press freedom and, in particular, assaults on the press in Honduras, Russia, and Turkey.

Hundreds attended the funeral of Oswaldo Payá, a Cuban activist, on Monday. (AFP/Adalberto Roque)

A friend delivered the shocking news in a telephone call on Sunday. Oswaldo Payá, an activist and a tireless advocate for freedom of expression, had died in a car accident that afternoon. 

Sanjana Hattotuwa, the founder of the citizen journalism website Groundviews, sent us the links to a new series of posters and videos focused on digital communications security. The material, which is aimed at a Sri Lankan audience, is available in English, Sinhala, and Tamil, but is relevant to anyone who uses the Internet or a mobile phone.

MDP protesters demonstrate outside the Maldivian High Commission in Colombo. (AFP/Lakruwan Wanniarachchi)

It started at 6:34 p.m. Monday. Abdulla Riyaz (@riyazabdulla), whose Twitter bio describes him as commissioner of the Maldives Police Service (MPS), published the following on his personal account: "MPS decides NOT to cooperate to Raajje TV [sic]. A statement will be released today."

People pray at the burial of Natalya Estemirova in Chechnya July 16, 2009. (AP/Musa Sadulayev)

Three years ago this week, Natalya Estemirova, a contributor to the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta and a local staffer for the Moscow-based rights group Memorial, was murdered in the North Caucasus, Russia's volatile region, where she was famous for her work as a defender of human rights. 

Xi Jinping's youth is the subject of an article that may be related to a newspaper editor's reassignment. Xi is expected to be China's next president. (AP/Jason Lee)

Top figures at two outspoken newspapers in China were shuffled or suspended this week, according to online news reports.

For now, the Afghan government's apparent attempt at railroading through a less-than-media-friendly new Mass Media Law without consultation seems to have been sidelined, though not derailed. On Sunday in Kabul, representatives of the Ministry of Information and Culture received recommendations from civil society workers and journalists, including some from the provinces, which were drawn up at a June 27 meeting organized by Internews's Nai Media Institute in Afghanistan.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held a press conference in Cairo on Saturday. (AP/Brendan Smialowski)

The first test for the future of press freedom in Egypt since President Mohamed Morsi took office is not going well.

Attempts to rein in microblogs like Sina Weibo are a huge part of China's sophisticated information control strategy these days. However, news reports last week serve as a reminder that propaganda authorities also rely on methods that are more old school. 

Violent clashes between police and opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) protesters continued in the streets of the capital, Malé, on Thursday night, according to international news reports. You can read CPJ's news alert on journalists swept up in the unrest--and background on the demonstrations--here, and some lively discussion on the situation here.

Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev, right, has said stamping out corruption is a priority. (Reuters//Vladimir Pirogov)

Campaigners from local rights activists to U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay are urging Kyrgyz authorities to review the case of Azimjon Askarov, an investigative reporter and human rights activist serving a life sentence in Kyrgyzstan. 

Álvaro Uribe speaks at a 2011 congressional hearing about his alleged responsibility in the wiretapping of political opponents and journalists. (AP/William Fernando Martinez)

More than a year after he left office, Álvaro Uribe Vélez confessed that "it was not in him" to live as a former president. And in fact, having dominated Colombian politics for eight years, it has been impossible for Uribe to fade from the public eye since leaving office in August 2010. Instead of retiring to his ranch in Antioquia, he has lived in a heavily protected compound in the capital, Bogotá, with his wife and two sons. He spends his time traveling abroad for speaking engagements, has been a scholar at Georgetown University, and more recently announced the creation of a new political platform to oppose current President Juan Manuel Santos.  

Maldivian riot police clash with supporters of ousted President Mohamed Nasheed in Male in March. (AFP)

CPJ has been watching the Maldives with concern since its first democratically-elected President Mohamed Nasheed relinquished power in February following what he describes as a military coup. New President Mohamed Waheed Hassan says Nasheed's resignation was voluntary and refuted criticism that his rule marked a return to the ways of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, a dictator notorious for jailing his critics, according to CPJ research.  Yet press freedom is deteriorating under Hassan with the rise of partisan political strife and religious conservatism. 

Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa responded nastily to a question from The Sunday Leader, an editor says. (AFP/Ishara S.Kodikara)

As far as Frederica Jansz is concerned, "The Sri Lankan media have been completely cowed into submission by this regime with the exception of The Sunday Leader. It is Mahinda Rajapaksa's biggest success story next to winning the war."

Police confront Daily Monitor journalist Yusufu Muziransa. (Daily Monitor)

With a medical drip attached to his hand, camped outside police headquarters along Parliamentary Avenue in Uganda' capital, Kampala, William Ntege was determined to get his video cameras back. Police had beaten Ntege, a journalist with the private broadcaster WBS, and damaged two of his cameras as he covered elections last year, according to local reports.  "I am here for my two cameras that were destroyed by the Ugandan police. We are fed up," read a placard Ntege held up to passing police and the public last week before being invited in by the police for negotiations, according to local journalists. 

From left, Rue89's Pierre Haski, Augustin Scalbert, and two France 3 journalists were summoned in 2009 over a video of then-President Nicolas Sarkozy. (AFP/Jacques Demarthon)

"Champagne." Augustin Scalbert's tweet on Monday could not have better expressed the joy and relief at Rue89, a leading French news website. After four years of legal procedures, a Paris judge had just announced he was dropping all charges against the journalist  "for lack of evidence" in a case that was seen as a litmus test for the independence of the French press in reporting on the presidency. 

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, left, is welcomed by Japan's Emperor Akihito in Tokyo in 2010. Japan is one of Afghanistan's biggest donors. (AP/Koji Sasahara)

One thing that had better be high on the agenda this weekend at the meeting of 70 or so international aid donors for Afghanistan in Tokyo is the recently released official draft version of the Mass Media Law (a copy of the draft can be found here). I mentioned the new draft in a June blog, "Afghan media is under political and economic pressure." The real thing is even worse than expected. 

A police officer stands guard as protesters gather in the city of Shifang. (Reuters/Petar Kujundzic)

Shi Junrong, Xi'an Evening News bureau chief in the city of Wei'an, ran into trouble recently after he reported on the costly brand of luxury cigarettes favored by local officials. He announced on his microblog that the paper suspended him soon after, according to the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Asia.

Well, that didn't take long. Just days after The New York Times' soft launch of its Chinese-language edition and accompanying microblog accounts, Berkeley-based China Digital Times website reports that the @nytchinese Sina Weibo feed is no longer accessible in China, along with two accounts hosted by Netease and Sohu. We couldn't pull them up this morning from New York, either.

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