Press freedom outlook ‘gloomy’, says IPI watchdog

Vienna, May 4 (IANS/AKI) Last year was the deadliest for journalists, and the number of reporters operating freely in the world is shrinking, Vienna-based press freedom watchdog International Press Institute (IPI) has said.

“2012 was the worst-ever year in terms of journalists killed,” said IPI deputy director Anthony Mills on World Press Freedom Day, which was observed Friday.

“Journalists are dying in large numbers, in Syria, Pakistan, Somalia and Brazil,” he said.

A total of 70 journalists were killed in 2012, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, of whom 28 in Syria, 12 in Somalia, seven in Pakistan and four in Brazil.

Over 90 percent of the murders of journalists documented by the IPI since the early 1990s have gone unpunished and the perpetrators have never been brought to justice, Mills said.

On Syria, Mills said that before the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011, almost no journalists were killed because there were virtually no independent media organisations.

Journalists who criticised the regime also knew the fate that awaited them, Mills noted.

“Journalists reporting in Syria are still in grave danger, all that is associated with a civil war and an increasingly splintered opposition infiltrated by extremist groups,” he said.

However, the internet and social media have transformed news coverage of events in Syria and elsewhere, Mills said.

“New media have created a valve though which information can seep out, in a way that couldn’t happen a few years ago.”

He gave the example of the news of the arrest and torture of two teenage boys in Syria’s Daraa city which triggered the revolt against Assad.

“Online media – bloggers and social activists – were able to transmit information immediately that was picked up by mainstream media like al-Jazeera,” Mills said.

He contrasted this with the 1982 Muslim Brotherhood uprising in Hamama city, in which 20,000-30,000 people were killed.

“It took months for information on that to get out,” Mills said.

Despite the September 2012 UN action plan and resolution on the safety of journalists, media workers continue to be murdered, arrested and even die from disease or maltreatment in prison, he said.

“Take the example of Iran, where dozens of journalists are in jail although it’s not a country where journalists are murdered like in Somalia or Pakistan.”

Turkey, which has more imprisoned journalists than any other country (at least 66), is another case in point, he said.

“The Turkish government doesn’t choose to distinguish between journalists or writers and the militants that they interview. In most case, they are charged with terrorism.”

The main obstacles to press freedom even within Europe is the “high degree” of cynicism on the part of governments and a lack of political will, Mills claimed.

“Even in Britain, the government has proposed legislation that would enforce self-regulation through royal charter with the possibility of regulation coming from parliament,” Mills said.

“The outlook is pretty gloomy. But the situation is not completely without hope, however,” Mills concluded.



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