News from the Committee to Protect Journalists, September 2010
With a push from CPJ, Jordan moves away from repressive cyber law
Embracing a global trend, the Kingdom of Jordan, a relative bastion of press freedom in the Middle East, sought to enact a restrictive cyber crime law that would have criminalized “sending or posting data or information via the Internet or any information system that involves defamation or contempt or slander.”
CPJ wrote to King Abdullah on August 17 expressing concern about the vague nature of the law, which includes provisions that would have permitted warrantless searches of offices that host websites. “We fail to see the urgency with which this law is being enacted,” CPJ wrote in the letter. “According to Article 94 of Jordan’s constitution, the government has the right to issue provisional laws on urgent matters in the absence of a parliament. Since the Jordanian parliament was dissolved in 2009 following widespread criticism of ineffectiveness and corruption, the next parliamentary elections are scheduled for November.”
Two weeks later, the government backed down. The revised law, said the Information Ministry, eliminated “all parts that could be used to affect press freedom and freedom of expression.” That was an overstatement, but restrictive measures including warrantless website searches had been excised. CPJ’s letter played a crucial role.
CPJ delegation in the Philippines calls for justice
Newly elected Philippine president President Benigno Aquino took office in June promising a new era of justice and accountability. A key challenge – one his secretary of justice called a “litmus test” – will be bringing to justice the killers of 32 journalists and media workers massacred last November while covering the elections in Maguindanao province.
In August, a CPJ delegation traveled to the site of the massacre along with journalist Aquiles Zonio, who had left the media convoy that was ambushed in Maguindanao to turn back when his cell phone battery went dead. CPJ staff also met with the families of the victims to assess their ongoing needs. Through our Philippine partners, CPJ has been providing financial assistance for the last nine months.
Back in Manila, our delegation met with government representatives and asked for a progress report on the investigation and prosecution. More than 100 suspects, including the son of a powerful local political clan, have been arrested and a trial date has been set. But at least one key witness has been murdered and others say they have been threatened and harassed. The Philippines is one the world’s most deadly countries for journalists, according to CPJ’s Impunity Index. But in the Maguindanao massacre the alleged perpetrators have been identified and arrested. Justice will depend on the political will of the new government. CPJ will be issuing a report later this year and monitoring every step in the long legal process.
Mexico report sparks coverage and debate
September 8 was a very busy day at CPJ. That’s when we released our comprehensive report, “Silence or Death in the Mexican Media,” making huge news in Mexico. CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon and Senior Americas Program Coordinator Carlos Lauria did interviews with the country’s top drive-time radio news show while report author Mike O’Connor, based in Mexico City, hit up the national television networks.
All told, the report generated dozens of media mentions, in leading national and international media outlets from CNN to The Wall Street Journal. The Mexican government has taken notice. On September 22, a CPJ-Inter American Press Association delegation will head to Mexico to meet with President Felipe Calderón to discuss the country’s grave press freedom crisis.
We will continue to make the argument that the Mexican government must take responsibility for protecting freedom of the press in an environment in which violence and intimidation of the media is unchecked. We will also be hosting a roundtable discussion with media executives and members of Congress.
CPJ weighs in on South African media law
After welcoming the international spotlight during the World Cup, South African president Jacob Zuma is a little less enthralled with the global outcry caused by his proposed new media regulations. In our letter to Zuma, sent last month, we noted that “the broad language and far-reaching provisions of the legislative proposal introduced by Security Minister Siyabonga Cwel is reminiscent of apartheid-era regulations since it would virtually shield the government from the scrutiny of the independent press and criminalize activities essential to investigative journalism, a vital public service. Journalists, under the proposed law, would face heavy jail time for violations.”
The South African media, not surprisingly, aggressively covered our letter and the national and international outcry. Zuma eventually responded noting in an open letter by asserting that the “government remains fully committed to media freedom as enshrined in the Constitution.” While the president defended the proposed legislation he has seemed to be caught off guard by the fierce domestic and international reaction. The legislation, which was moving ahead rapidly, now appears to be on hold.
Assistant Advocacy Director Magnus Ag is a New York-based human rights advocate and journalist. Prior to joining CPJ in 2010, Ag worked as head of section in the Danish Ministry for Science, Technology, and Innovation. He holds a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in political science from the University of Copenhagen. He speaks English, Danish, and Norwegian. Contact him here or follow him on Twitter @AgMagnus.