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Sunday, 24 June 2012

IPI Director’s Report

Text of speech by IPI Director Alison Bethel McKenzie 

Sunday, 24 June, 2012

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Excellencies … colleagues … friends … ladies and gentlemen … 

Welcome again to IPI’s annual World Congress. 

Today … I am highly concerned … and deeply saddened.

It is my unfortunate task to inform you that this year is shaping up to be the worst on record for journalist killings since the International Press Institute began keeping count 15 years ago. 

From Somalia to Syria … the Philippines to Mexico … and Iraq to Pakistan … reporters are being brutally targeted for death in unparalleled numbers. 

So far this year … 72 journalists have died because of their work. Last year was the second-worst on record … with 102 journalists killed. And 2009 was the grimmest ever … with 110 deaths – 32 of them in a single election convoy massacre in the Philippines in which another 26 civilians were slain. 

It is deeply disturbing that in a year still massively impacted by the once-unimaginable - the overthrow of brutal Arab regimes through people, and media power - journalists are dying on the job in record numbers. 

The most lethal country in the world for journalists so far this year has been Syria – where a largely-peaceful ‘Arab Spring’ uprising has morphed into a violent conflict … at the heart of which remains a demand by citizens that their fundamental human rights be respected. So far in 2012 … a total of 20 journalists and citizen reporters … both foreign and local … have been killed in Syria. Two of the foreign journalists killed died in shelling that reportedly zoned in on their makeshift media bureau … which was emitting traceable satellite signals. Local reporters have been savagely eliminated. Many have been brutally tortured. 

The media killings in Syria have made the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) one of the two most dangerous regions in the world for reporters in 2012 … with a total of 22 killed. 

Although the killing rate appears to have receded in Libya  … and no journalists have yet been killed in 2012 in Iraq … where dozens died in a single year following the 2003 invasion, in Bahrain a cameraman was shot dead covering protests … and in Lebanon another cameraman suffered the same fate as he filmed on the Lebanese-Syrian border. 

Throughout the Middle East and North Africa … journalists continue to be targeted for assault … arrest … harassment … and intimidating criminal defamation suits … including in countries where things are supposed to be getting better … such as Tunisia. In Egypt … the army has continued to display the brutality that typified it under the Mubarak regime. 

ASIA … which has also seen a total of 22 journalists killed so far this year … shares with the Middle East and North Africa the dubious distinction as one of the two most lethal regions in the world for journalists in 2012. 

Five Indonesian journalists were killed in a crash aboard a jet conducting a demonstration flight. Another Indonesian journalist was found dead in a ditch in February - not long after, according to his wife, he had a heated discussion on the phone with someone about one of his stories. In April another journalist was shot dead when gunmen attacked the small plane he was travelling in as it landed in the province of Padua where he was due to cover local elections. 

Violence-wracked Pakistan remains … by many measures … the most dangerous country in Asia for journalists … five of whom have been killed there since the beginning of the year. In January a reporter was gunned down in a mosque near the city of Peshawar. He had reportedly moved away from his hometown because of threats. In April … a senior assistant editor at Dawn magazine was tortured and killed in Karachi. Just a few weeks later … also in Karachi … the bullet-riddled body of another journalist was found. He too had been tortured. And just half a month later … the body of an investigative journalist was found with 15 bullet wounds in the anarchic province of Balochistan. Again … the dead reporter had been tortured. 

Right behind Pakistan comes the Philippines … where three journalists have been killed so far in 2012. Although the media is generally free in the Philippines … journalists regularly fall victim to a culture of political violence … particularly in the regions. In January a talk show host and newspaper publisher was gunned down by motorcycle assassins as he drove home. He had received a text message threat during his show … which he read out on air. In April a local columnist was shot dead by motorcycle-bound gunmen. And just a few weeks later … a radio reporter was also shot dead. 

In Bangladesh, too, three journalists have been killed so far this year. In February … two TV journalists … a husband and wife … were murdered at home in the capital Dhaka … in front of their five-year-old son. In June a journalist was killed in south-western Bangladesh after receiving threats from local drug dealers in connection with his reports on their illegal activities.

In Afghanistan a radio journalist was beheaded in February. In India … in March … an editor died after being beaten over the head. He had been investigating alleged mismanagement at local schools … and had reportedly received telephone threats. In Nepal … a TV and print journalist was found dead after reporting on prostitution near a central bus station. A local press freedom group said it believed he was killed because of his reporting. And in Thailand an editor was gunned down … also by motorcycle-riding killers … in January. 

Across Asia … journalists found themselves in the crosshairs of militants. They were also targeted by security services … who were implicated in both the killing and torture of reporters. Crime bosses and others for whom reporters were - to put it politely - a “nuisance” also ruthlessly eliminated them. In the Philippines … where IPI conducted a press freedom mission in September 2011 … a pledge to abolish criminal defamation remains unfulfilled. And in Nepal and Bangladesh … where IPI conducted a press freedom mission earlier this year … violent attacks against journalists continue to go unpunished and a lack of proper regulatory frameworks in the broadcasting field allows for political interference in media content. 

The third-most-deadly-region in the world for journalists in 2012 is Latin America where 14 journalists have been killed so far. At the head of the pack is Mexico - which last year was the most dangerous country on earth for journalists, who were targeted for torture and death by vicious drug cartels. So far this year, six reporters have been slain in Mexico … all of them within the space of 50 days … 50 days

On April 29 … a female reporter was found beaten and strangled to death in Veracruz. She was a correspondent for a weekly publication considered one of the country’s leading sources for coverage of organised crime and drug trafficking. Her work had focused on drug-related violence and alleged links between cartels and state and local politicians. One of her last articles covered the arrest of nine policemen suspected of colluding with traffickers. Just five days later … on World Press Freedom Day … the dismembered bodies of three journalists were found wrapped in plastic bags and dumped in a wastewater canal. Reports indicated that all three had temporarily fled Veracruz last summer following the murders of two other journalists there. Before the month was over … the body of yet another journalist was found in a black plastic bag on the side of a highway in the northern state of Sonora. He too had been tortured. So chilling and persistently deadly is the climate for journalists in Mexico … that many outlets have announced that they will stop covering crime altogether. 

In Honduras … where the killings of journalists have soared since a 2009 coup d’etat … three reporters have been assassinated so far this year. In March … a radio reporter was murdered with a machete. The following month … a TV anchor and his wife and co-anchor were gunned down as they left a TV building. And less than a month later … the body of a popular morning radio show host was found dumped in an abandoned lot. He had been executed with two gunshots to the head. 

Three journalists have been killed in Brazil so far this year … two within a span of five days in February. The first … a political journalist … was kidnapped and executed with his girlfriend. He had survived an attack several months earlier when armed men stormed his home and shot him three times. After emerging from intensive care … he had moved because he was afraid of being attacked again. He was well-known for exposing corruption and criticising politicians … businessmen … the government and various authorities … and was being sued for defamation and libel by a judge and a police officer. A few days later … an editor-in-chief was shot dead on his way home by motorcycle gunmen. “The characteristics are of a hired killing” … the lead investigator said. And in April a journalist known for his reports on municipal corruption and organised crime was executed in a bar. 

Two journalists … both radio reporters … have also been killed so far this year in Colombia ... and a third … a Frenchman working for France 24 … was kidnapped by FARC rebels. He has since been released.

In Ecuador … where IPI conducted a press freedom mission in April … the state of press freedom continues to deteriorate. Investigative journalists operate in a climate of fear following a series of high-profile criminal defamation cases brought by the president against reporters. Although the journalists were ultimately pardoned … some were initially sentenced to prison terms of up to three years and received multi-million-dollar fines. The effect … journalists told IPI … has been a move towards self-censorship … exacerbated by anti-private-press graffiti across the capital … and virulent anti-media rhetoric by government politicians. 

Ecuador appeared to be taking its cue from Venezuela where press freedom has gravely deteriorated over recent years … amid moves by the government to silence critical independent media voices through law suits, new legislation, vilification … and harrassment. 

In sub-Saharan Africa … Somalia remains the most lethal country for journalists. Six have been killed there since the beginning of the year. In January the director of the Shabelle media network was gunned down on his way home from work in Mogadishu. A month later another radio reporter was shot dead on his way home. In March … the same thing: A radio reporter gunned down as he returned home. In April … gunmen killed one of the few journalists operating in the town of Beledweyne … recently taken over from Al Qaeda militants by the Somali army. And in May … two reporters were killed … one a radio reporter in Puntland … and the second another reporter for Radio Shabelle. 

In Nigeria … which has seen a surge in violence linked to Boko Haram militants … five journalists have been killed so far this year. The first two died in January … one as he was covering the aftermath of a terrorist attack in northern Nigeria … the other in the city of Jos … wracked by sectarian killings. His body was found in a roadside ditch. The remaining three were killed in Edo state when a lorry hit the convoy they were travelling in with the state governor – who claimed that the collision was a failed attempt to assassinate him. 

In April … at least eight people died in bomb attacks on the offices of This Day newspaper in Abuja, and of The Sun, ThisDay and The Moment in Kaduna. Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the attack … and promised more. 

Meanwhile … in Angola … a reporter for state-run television died when the air force helicopter he was in on assignment crashed. 

Across the African continent … like in other parts of the world … journalists faced not just the threat of death … but that of criminal defamation … terrorism … and sedition charges - assault … torture … unfair trials on trumped-up charges … unlawful imprisonment … harassment … and various other forms of intimidation. 

In Ethiopia … five journalists have been convicted on terrorism-related charges over the past year as a result of their work. One was tried in absentia; two others are now serving years-long prison terms. Two Swedish journalists were sentenced to 11 years in prison in Ethiopia after being arrested in the company of rebels in the Ogaden region. Prominent government critic Eskinder Nega … whose trial concluded last week … could face the death penalty or life in prison if convicted. A verdict in his case … originally expected three days ago … has been postponed by a week. 

In Eritrea, there was still no word on the fate of more than 10 journalists arrested in a brutal post-September 11, 2001 clampdown. Some of them are reportedly being held in underground containers.

In South Africa concerns remain over the potential effects that a secrecy bill on the cusp of becoming law will have on investigative journalism. The law could be used to jail journalists simply for possessing classified information - the same crime for which an Israeli journalist is now being prosecuted in his home country … to the grave consternation of his colleagues there. 

And in Burundi … just a few days ago … a journalist was sentenced to life in prison on terrorism charges after interviewing the leader of a rebel group in Tanzania.

Amid the gloom … one brighter spot: Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf pledged to work toward the repeal of criminal defamation laws in her country.

In a speech on May 3 … World Press Freedom Day … President Johnson Sirleaf endorsed the Declaration of Table Mountain … which calls for the repeal of criminal defamation and insult laws across the African continent. She is the second African head of state to do so … after Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou in November 2011.

The Declaration was adopted in 2007 at a World Association of Newspapers conference in partnership with IPI and many other regional and international press freedom groups.

Moving on to the Caribbean … one reporter was killed in Haiti … when his vehicle came under fire from unidentified assailants. He was the director of a radio station founded in an impoverished and historically violent commune. 

Elsewhere in the Caribbean … in Cuba repression of the independent media continued … despite the release last year of all the remaining journalists in prison.

Although much of the Caribbean was marked by a positive free media climate … criminal defamation laws remain on the books … and were the subject of discussions held by an IPI press freedom mission delegation that visited Barbados … the Dominican Republic … Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago … just before this Congress. Indeed here in Trinidad & Tobago … media concerns were raised by a now-lifted curfew order and state of emergency … and by a raid on the offices of a media outlet. Concern also continues over the use of contempt of court charges. 

Journalists in the Caribbean also reported self-censorship as a result of advertising … and other … pressure. 

In a positive development … an appeals court in the Dominican Republic … where press freedom has been backsliding … in early June threw out the criminal defamation conviction of a radio journalist who in January was sentenced to six months in prison for allegedly libelling a local lawyer. The move followed intense advocacy by IPI.

Finally … in Europe … a Belgian journalist died when the test driver of a vehicle he was reviewing crashed. 

Although the press freedom environment in much of Europe was positive overall … some Council of Europe countries continue to prompt consternation. In Azerbaijan … so far this year journalists have been brutally attacked … and a number remain in prison on dubious charges. In Turkey … despite the release of IPI World Press Freedom Hero Nedim Sener … and his colleague Ahmed Sik … from prison … dozens of journalists remain jailed on vague anti-terror charges. Sener and Sik still face trial and a possible sentence of seven-and-a-half to 15 years in prison if convicted. In Russia … just a few weeks before this Congress … a journalist miraculously survived a stabbing attack after being lured out of his house. 

Even at the heart of Western democracies red flags were raised. In Hungary … although a broad new media constitution was adjusted slightly to reflect limited concerns expressed by the European Commission … Hungarian journalists said it still limited their scope for free reporting. In the UK … in the aftermath of the News of the World scandal … and amid the ongoing Leveson inquiry … there was a worry that notwithstanding the grave ethical and alleged criminal transgressions that marked the News of the World affair … a broader climate was emerging that would allow the government to curtail some fundamental press freedoms. In Greece … journalists covering protests were assaulted. 

And in the United States … the government argued that the Constitution did not afford journalists the right to protect the identity of sources who leak information the government deemed a national security secret. In May … a federal judge struck down part of the National Defense Authorization Act … which gives the government wide powers to regulate the detention … interrogation and prosecution of suspected terrorists … because of the Act’s “chilling impact on First Amendment rights”. Some journalists who have spoken to alleged terrorists in the course of reporting on them argued that they faced indefinite detention under a vague provision targeting anyone who “substantially” or “directly” provides “support” to terrorist groups. 

In multiple cities across the United States, journalists covering the Occupy Movement protests were arrested in violation of their right to bear witness as members of the media. 

Finally … in a more general context … the financial crisis that is still ravaging the media industry continued to take a toll on the profession of journalism. As reporters continue to be laid off … bureaus are closed … advertising revenue drops … and news budgets shrink … journalists are finding it ever more difficult to fulfill that most noble of duties: to satisfy the people’s right to know.

Despite these challenges … though … please know that IPI will remain steadfast and determined in its mission to defend and promote press freedom everywhere.

That brings to a close my director’s report for this World Congress.

May we now take a moment to pay our respects to our colleagues who have died in the line of duty this year. 

Thank you.