When U.S.-led forces waged an offensive in Fallujah in November and a state of emergency was declared, the Iraqi interim government’s Higher Media Commission directed the media to “set aside space in your news coverage to make the position of the Iraqi government, which expresses the aspirations of most Iraqis, clear.” Those that didn’t comply faced legal action.
Local officials in China often impose media blackouts on sensitive topics. In 2004, topics included rural riots, coal-mining accidents, and the outbreak of the bird flu. When Beijing University journalism professor Jiao Guobiao wrote an essay criticizing the Central Propaganda Bureau and its designation of banned topics, he lost his teaching position and became a banned topic himself.
With 56 journalists killed in the line of duty, 2004 was the deadliest year for journalists in a decade. As in past years, murder was the leading cause of work-related deaths, with 36 journalists targeted for their work. In all but nine cases, the murders were carried out with impunity.
In Equatorial Guinea, a small, oil-rich central African country, state radio has “described [President Teodoro Obiang Nguema] as ‘the country’s God’ who has all power over men and things … and ‘can decide to kill without anyone calling him to account,'” according to a report from the U.S. State Department.
Authorities in Iran arrested at least six Internet journalists in the fall on charges that they ran “illegal” Web sites promoting “propaganda.” The actions came after many banned newspapers migrated to the Web, creating a lively culture of news blogging. One 2004 survey suggested that Iranians trust the Internet more than other media.
Uzbekistan, the leading jailer of journalists among the former Soviet republics, had four journalists in prison at the end of 2004. In November, a court sentenced 25-year-old Abduvakhid Abduvakhobov to seven years in prison on charges of “threatening the constitutional order” and “religious extremism” for recording and distributing cassette tapes of BBC, Voice of America, and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports.
Four countries–China, Cuba, Eritrea, and Burma–accounted for more than three-quarters of all journalists imprisoned at the end of 2004. For the sixth consecutive year, China was the leading jailer of journalists, with 42 behind bars at year’s end.
In a major victory for press freedom, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights overturned the criminal defamation conviction of Costa Rican journalist Mauricio Herrera Ulloa, a reporter with the San José-based daily La Nación. In its August ruling, which set a precedent throughout Latin America, the court found that reporters must “enjoy leeway” in writing about matters of public interest.
President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen said in June that he would work to decriminalize press offenses. Three months later, an editor who published editorials opposing the president’s handling of a bloody civil conflict was sentenced to one year in prison, and his newspaper was suspended for six months.
The United States Department of Homeland Security began enforcing visa regulations for foreign journalists from 27 “friendly” nations. The rules require media workers to obtain “information visas” for short-term work, even though other citizens from these countries don’t need visas for short visits. In 2004, at least nine foreign journalists were detained and denied entry for not having visas.
In September, militia from an Islamic court in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, stormed Radio Holy Koran, where they threatened and detained a journalist over a dispute between two local businessmen.
Haji Din Mohammed, governor of the southeastern Nangarhar Province in Afghanistan, ordered a ban on women “performing” on television and radio–including reporting the news–because it was “un-Islamic.” President Hamid Karzai later lifted the ban.
In Russia, the Kremlin purged independent voices on television. At the request of the security service, NTV pulled a May interview with the widow of a Chechen separatist leader from the news program “Namedni” (Recently)–then canceled the popular show entirely. In July, the station’s pro-Kremlin manager eliminated the current affairs show “Svoboda Slova” (Freedom of Speech) and several other news programs.
In Bosnia-Herzegovina, the newspaper Nezavisne Novine and Republika Srpska’s state broadcaster, RTVRS, reported several stories on crime and corruption in the Bosnia-Serb police leadership. At an August press conference, Bosnian-Serb Police Chief Radomir Njegus denounced journalists from both media outlets as enemies of the state who should be imprisoned or institutionalized in a mental hospital.
For the second year running, the Philippines was the deadliest country in Asia for journalists. Eight journalists, most of them rural radio broadcasters, were gunned down in retaliation for their work. Worldwide, the death toll for Philippine journalists in 2004 was second only to that of reporters covering war-ravaged Iraq.
In Bahrain, the information minister barred the media from reporting on the July arrests of several suspects in an alleged terror plot in the country, saying he wanted to “protect the interests of the detainees.”
For the first time in more than 10 years, no journalist was killed in 2004 for his or her work in Colombia. After a decade in which 31 journalists were murdered for their work, threats and harassment remain widespread for reporters covering the 40-year-old armed conflict. Self-censorship is the result.