Ter gelegenheid van World Press Freedom Day 2008 sprak Hans Verploeg, voorzitter van het Nederlandse Free Voice, over de ontwikkeling van persvrijheid in de wereld. Onderstaand de Engelse tekst die hij op zaterdag 3 mei uitsprak tijdens de Dag van de Persvrijheid in Maastricht.
Last year, Press Freedom declined on a global scale with worrisome trends evident in the former Soviet Union, Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, reported Karin Deutsch Karlekar, the managing editor of Freedom of the Press 2007. In the spare time I have the floor I will give you some of the headlines of her Report www.freedomhouse.org, an observations of the Committee of Journalists on the Impunity Index (in Dutch: straffeloosheid) and the recent report of Reporters without Borders on the great cyber wall in China.
In relation to the location of Maastricht as traffic knot between Germany, Belgium and Holland I will also quote some remarks from these three Freedom House country reports.
Decline in press freedom continues
The decline in press freedom –which occurred in authoritarian countries and established democracies alike- continues a six year negative trend.
While Freedom House indicates that setbacks in press freedom outnumbered advances two to one globally, there is some improvement in the region with the least amount of press freedom: the Middle East. We have to attribute the gains in this region to a growing number of journalists who were willing to challenge government restraints, a pushback trend seen in other regions and in countries as Birma, Russia and China as well. The simple fact that the two Dutch media ngo’s Press Now and Free Voice have nowadays independent partners in Northern Iraq for PN and in some Arab countries for FV illustrates this fruitfull development.
Out of the 195 countries and territories in the world 37% (72 countries) were rated free in the Freedom Press Barometer (see the screen in the world by country and by population), 30 % (59 countries) partly free and 33% ( 64 countries) not free at all.
Scrolling on we see in the Asia-Pacific region the dominant influence in the population graphic by China in the ranking not free and India in the ranking partly free. Further we have here restriction on media coverage imposed in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Vietnam’s government cracked down on dissident writers.
Conditions in the world’s largest poor performer, China, did not lead to a change in ranking: increased media commercialization balanced tighter official control over content and a general crackdown on dissent, especially online, in the run-up to the 17th Party Congress . As Reporters Without Borders wrote this week on its site: the Chinese net is one of the most controlled in the World. More than 20 companies, also foreign firms were forced in 2007 to sign ‘a self discipline’ pact which forces them to censor the content of the blogs they host in China and too ask bloggers to provide their real identities. Highly sensitive firewalls have been put in place. At least 51 cyber -dissidents are currently in jail in China.
Three days ago the Foreign Correspondents Club of China issued a press release condemning the death threats received by at least 10 foreign correspondents based in China and the serious restrictions imposed on the work of media in Tibet. The International Federation of Journalists released this week a a report ‘Press Freedom in the Balance in South Asia’ www.ifj.org The world federation condemns also in strong words China’s refusal to uphold Olympic promises.
In the sub-Saharan Africa region Benin declined from free to partly free while the Central African Republic and Niger moved into the not free ranks.
In The Americas Guyana’s status shifted from free to partly free while Mexico’s score had a serious setback because of increased violence against journalists and impunity surrounding attacks on media. Although the United States continues to be one of the better performers in the survey, there were continuing problems in the legal sphere, particularly concerning cases in which the authorities tried to compel journalists to reveal confidential sources or provide access to research material in the course of criminal investigations. In 2007, the score for the United States worsened by one point, to 17, to reflect a slight increase in physical attacks on the press, including one murder and several cases of intimidation.
The Middle East and North Africa as I indicated before with the highest ranking not free, shows more unrestricted access to new media such as satellite television and the internet boosted press freedom. In Egypt journalists demonstrate an increased willingness to cross press freedom ‘red lines’, moving the country into the partly free category.
Russia, ranking as a ‘not free country’ we find in the graphic Eastern Europe /former Soviet Union. This region shows the largest region-wide setback in press freedom in Russia, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan. The same regards also several Central European countries as Latvia and Romania. There is growing concern over governments influence at public broadcasters in Slovenia, Slovakia and Poland.
To wind up this part of the picture show with a positive image: Western Europe continues to have the highest level of press freedom despite declines in Portugal, Malta and Turkey, the only country in the region ranked partly free.
All these findings result in a modest decline in the 2007 index, 72 free and in 2006 74 free ranking countries.
Freedom House Key Trends in 2007
□ Media have played a key role in countries racked by political unrest and upheaval. Coups, states of emergency, and electoral disputes have taken place in a growing number of settings. In many cases, the media have played a central role in covering political conflict and are a prime target when a crackdown sets in. Overt restrictions have included shutdowns of leading or pro-opposition news outlets and other forms of direct censorship. In the past year, this was a major factor in the Caucasus, Central and South Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. Meanwhile, somewhat less egregious instances of pressure and editorial interference occurred in a number of highly ranked countries in Central Europe and the Caribbean.
□ Violence against journalists and impunity regarding past cases of abuse are important factors in a country’s level of press freedom. See also the new Impunity Index the other American organization Committee to Protect Journalists released last Wednesday www.cpj.org/impunityindex/ The level of violence and physical harassment directed at the press continues to rise in many countries, contributing to a number of score declines. In conflict zones such as Iraq and Somalia, the press is in constant danger. Other regions of concern are Latin America (especially Mexico), the former Soviet Union (most notably Russia), and South and Southeast Asia (particularly the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan). Apart from the direct impact on individual journalists, these attacks have a chilling effect, adding to larger problems of self-censorship. Conversely, declines in violence and/or impunity, as occurred in Haiti in 2007, can lead to a wide-ranging numerical improvement.
□ Media freedom remains seriously constrained by a panoply of laws used to punish critical journalists and outlets. Both governments and private individuals continue to restrict media freedom through the use of laws that forbid “inciting hatred,” commenting on sensitive topics such as religion or ethnicity, or “endangering national security.” The abuse of libel laws has also increased in a number of countries, most notably in Africa.
□ Newer media forms—such as satellite television and internet-based newspapers, blogs, and social-networking sites—have emerged as an important force for openness in restricted media environments as well as a key area of contestation. In the battle between government control and media freedom, relatively unrestricted access to these sources has broadened the diversity of available news and opinion. It was a driving force behind small improvements in the Middle East and North Africa region in 2007, and it contributed to Egypt’s upgrade to Partly Free status. At the same time, an increasing number of governments—particularly in the former Soviet Union, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa—are employing or expanding methods of control over these potentially disruptive media. While crude blocking or filtering of particular websites remains common, some authoritarian states have also produced or financed progovernment propaganda designed specifically for these new formats.
Closer home we find in the world ranking 2007 Finland and Iceland leading, each with a rating of 9 points closed followed by Denmark and Norway with 10, Belgium with 11 points, Luxembourg with 12 , The Netherlands with 13 and Germany in the eight cluster with 16 points.
With the same ranking as last year in the fifth cluster with Andorra and New Zealand we find The Netherlands with 13 points. Holland rated two years ago 11. Last year the rating was negative influenced by two criminal law suits regarding slandering the Queen and a hacking by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment into the computers of the Dutch Associated Press Services, the GPD press agency. This follows the 2006 case involving De Telegraaf which was at the center of debate over the legality of wiretapping when it was revealed that the Dutch Intelligence Service had been taping the phone conversations of two of De Telegraaf’s leading reporters. Regarding freedom of speech The Netherlands scored also negative when the Dutch government announced it would cut off funding for the security of Ayaan Hirsi Ali while she was living outside of Holland.
On Belgium Freedom House reports the story of the journalist Mehmet Koksal. After being physically attacked, threatened, insulted and having his family also threatened he shut down his blog in October 2007. His opinions on events in the Turkish community had angered local politicians and the extremist Turkish group Grey Wolves who attacked Koksal in front op the police who did little to protect him. Koksal had been filming a riot instigated by the Grey Wolves. No further action of the Belgium prosecutor has been reported.
The exception for hate speech, Holocaust denial and Nazi propaganda in the German constitution – a constitution that guarantees in free speech and press freedom – provoked two incidents.
And in February 2007 the German constitutional court ruled that the police-raid on the Cicero office in 2005 had been illegal. As had been the case earlier in The Netherlands the German government approved a bill requiring telecommunications firms to store data for up to six months, including emails , text messages and cell phone conversations.
The law permits the bugging of lawyers, journalists and doctors under certain circumstances while providing a level of protection tot religious clerics, members of parliament and state prosecutors. In August 2007 the government launched a criminal investigation against 17 journalists of Der Spiegel,,die Welt and Süddeutsche Zeitung and other media. They were accused of ‘divulging’ state secrets.
Worst of the Worst
The world’s worst-rated countries continue to include Burma, Cuba, Libya, North Korea, and Turkmenistan. In 2007, Eritrea joined the ranks of these bad performers, while a crackdown in Burma worsened that country’s already repressive media environment, leaving its negative score second only to that of North Korea. In these states, which are scattered across the globe, independent media are either nonexistent or barely able to operate, the press acts as a mouthpiece for the ruling regime, and citizens’ access to unbiased information is severely limited. Nevertheless, the worse scores for Cuba and Libya did improve slightly in 2007 to reflect the marginal openings provided by new and transnational media forms, such as the internet and satellite television. Rounding out the 10 most repressive media environments are two countries in the former Soviet Union—Belarus and Uzbekistan—and two other countries in Africa—Equatorial Guinea and Zimbabwe—where media remain heavily restricted.