The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States protects the freedom of the press, because without solid evidence-based … Continue reading Press Freedom is Human Freedom
The three days of attacks that began with the massacre at the headquarters of the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo have made clear the limits of violence as a weapon of social change. We often treat the threat of terrorism as if our liberty were in the balance, as if the rule of law were vulnerable to the whims and hatred of lunatic extremists. But the people of France are demonstrating forcefully that civil society, open democracy, and freedom of personal and interpersonal expression, will not yield to hate and murder.
On Dec. 4, the government of Ecuador arbitrarily dissolved the non-profit organization Fundación Pachamama, the Ecuadorean contingent from the San Francisco-based Pachamama Alliance. Pachamama, which looks to give voice to indigenous communities whose ancestral homelands are being devastated or laid waste by industrial exploitation, has been supportive of the Achuar people and their non-violent resistance against expanded oil drilling in virgin Amazon rainforest.
The government of Ecuador is now mired in what appears to be yet another round of dealmaking, which would see the government handing over vast swaths of protected land to oil drilling and other forms of fossil fuel exploitation. The record, to date, is atrocious: Ecuador is possibly home to the worst planned environmental disaster in world history.
Public broadcasting in the United States is not like state-run television in other countries, where the ruling party often influences the editorial stance and the quality of reporting. In the United States, there is an absolute wall of separation between politicians for elective office and the editorial process that shapes what is produced by public broadcasting.
We are all familiar with the conservative complaint about “liberal media bias”, which stems from a survey of voting habits that found many newspaper reporters were more liberal than the average American voter. There was never any evidence shown, however, that this influenced their reporting. Reporters, as a profession, are duty bound to report fact; it is editorialists, the kind of commentators that rule cable news networks and talk radio, that tend to infuse their “informational programming” with political bias.
Access to the internet must be a basic human right, across the globe, for a number of reasons. First of all, legitimate, transparent democratic processes of government require in today’s world that information flow freely and that citizens be empowered to share information and to find information, according to their choices and their needs.
Socio-economic barriers to such free flow of information are just another kind of information control that establishes dangerous demographic stratification into privileged and marginalized groups. Governments across the world are using web filtering technologies to censor the information available to their citizens and crack down on dissent.
Natalya Estemirova, from the Russian human rights organization, the Memorial Human Rights Center, was kidnapped today while leaving her home in Grozny, the Chechen capital, and later found dead. She reportedly shouted to bystanders “This is a kidnapping!” No one was able to intervene, as four armed men grabbed her and put her into a white automobile.
Estemirova, who had worked with assassinated investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya and was a winner of the Anna Politkovskaya Award, was a vocal critic of the Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov, who is accused of widespread human rights abuses, political killings and war crimes. Russian authorities, from the Putin era and into the Medvedev era, have refused to fully investigate allegations against Kadyrov, preferring to cast him as a patriotic hardliner unwilling to let Chechnya secede from the Russian Federation.
Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi, jailed in Tehran on allegations of espionage, has had her sentence reduced from 8 years to 2 years, suspended for 5 years. Iranian officials announced today that she was free to leave Evin prison immediately. Saberi, originally detained for buying a bottle of wine, was subsequently charged with reporting without government credentials, then espionage. Her trial was a 15-minute closed-door hearing in which no defense was permitted.
The case had become a major international diplomatic issue, with the US government calling the charges “baseless” and both Sec. of State Clinton and Pres. Obama repeatedly demanding her immediate release. Today, Sec. of State Clinton announced today that Saberi’s release had been confirmed, adding that she was “heartened” by the news.
The lawyer representing Roxana Saberi in an Iranian appeals court today has expressed hope, saying he is “optimistic she will be acquitted”. Ms. Saberi was convicted in April by an Iranian court of spying for the US, a charge related to her conducting journalistic activity without a government-issued license to do so. There has been an international outcry calling for her unconditional release, and Iran’s president ordered the courts to hear her appeal.
“I am hopeful and optimistic that there will be a remarkable change to her verdict,” Abdolsamad Khorramshahi said outside the courthouse. “My colleague and I were allowed to defend our client in a favorable atmosphere. Our client also had enough time to defend herself.”
As the world marked international Press Freedom Day yesterday, there was growing concern about the conditions facing journalists around the world. Reporters without Borders (RSF) has expressed concern a Tibetan editor jailed in China may be suffering torture, the American journalist Roxana Saberi is said to be frail due to an ongoing hunger strike in protest of her 8 year sentence for ‘espionage’ in Iran, and numerous heads of state are listed as ‘predators’ working against press freedom.
The situation in Iraq continues to be extremely grave, with over 200 journalists and media workers killed since the 2003 invasion. Violence is ongoing and the government of Nouri al-Maliki is reported to be putting mounting pressure on reporters to be less critical of government.