p2pnet news view | Freedom:- Being able to protect a source without fear is absolutely fundamental to freedom of speech.
But, for the first time since it began its survey 20 years ago, Freedom House has found, “press freedom had deteriorated in every region of the world last year,” says the Montreal Gazette, going on:
“Against this backdrop six media bodies in Quebec and the FÃ©dÃ©ration professionnelle des journalistes have aligned themselves on this World Press Freedom Day to give their support to Globe and Mail journalist Daniel Leblanc [right], who is facing legal action for his refusal to name a source. The Gazette too supports Leblanc’s cause wholeheartedly.”
Leblanc source, nicknamed La Chouette, “allowed him to break the story of the sponsorship scandal, in which millions of federal tax dollars were misused or misdirected,” says the story, continuing »»»
One of the ad companies involved, Groupe Polygone, currently being sued by the Harper government for $35 million, wants the courts to force Leblanc to reveal his source. Polygone hopes to prove that the government knew of the irregularities long before the legal deadline for suing for damages.
This is a useful case for Canadian law: It puts into sharp relief the issues at play in the sometimes thorny question of protecting a journalistic source. An important tenet of Canadian law is that journalists are not above the law.
As true as that is, protecting freedom of the press is a critically important function for our justice system. Press freedom has been described as the oxygen of human freedom; a vital underpinning of democracy.
Without La Chouette’s help, “Canadians would not have learned of the fact or the extent of the waste and misappropriation of public money in the sponsorship scandal,” says the OpEd, adding »»»
For that information to never have seen the light of day would not have served our country’s democracy well.
This is the kind of information that voters and citizens need to be able to make judgments about the politicians they elect.
If Parliament were to choose to protect journalistic sources in law, we would be in good company. Sweden has such strong protection that a journalist can be prosecuted for reneging on a promise to maintain confidentiality.
More likely, right now, is that the courts will set a precedent here which will decide for years to come how much the public can know. It’s a vital issue.
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,” says Freedom House, stating »»»
Press freedom declined on a global scale in 2007, with particularly worrisome trends evident in the former Soviet Union, Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. This marked the sixth straight year of overall deterioration. Improvements in a small number of countries were overshadowed by a continued, relentless assault on independent news media by a wide range of actors, in both authoritarian states and countries with relatively open media environments. Unsurprisingly, many declines — such as those in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Georgia — took place in the context of broader political crises that led to crackdowns on the media. A number of these crackdowns appeared to focus on newer forms of media, such as satellite television and internet-based news outlets, which are helping to provide more diverse and independent sources of information in otherwise restrictive media environments.
These disturbing developments constitute the principal findings of Freedom of the Press 2008: A Global Survey of Media Independence, an annual index published by Freedom House since 1980.
The Freedom of the Press index assesses the degree of print, broadcast, and internet freedom in every country in the world, analyzing the events and developments of each calendar year. Ratings are determined through an examination of three broad categories: the legal environment in which media operate; political influences on reporting and access to information; and economic pressures on content and the dissemination of news. Under the legal category, we assess the laws and regulations that could influence media content as well as the extent to which the government uses these tools to restrict the media`s ability to function. The political category encompasses a variety of issues, including editorial pressure by the government or other actors; censorship and self-censorship; the ability of reporters to cover the news; and the extralegal intimidation of and violence against journalists. Finally, under the economic category we examine issues such as the structure, transparency, and concentration of media ownership; costs of production and distribution; and the impact of advertising, subsidies, and bribery on content. Ratings reflect not just government actions and policies, but the behavior of the press itself in testing boundaries, even in more restrictive environments. Each country receives a numerical rating from 0 (the most free) to 100 (the least free), which serves as the basis for a press freedom status designation of Free, Partly Free, or Not Free.
The Global Picture
Of the 195 countries and territories assessed in the latest survey, 72 (37 percent) were rated Free, 59 (30 percent) were rated Partly Free, and 64 (33 percent) were rated Not Free. This represented a modest decline from the 2007 survey, covering the year 2006: 74 Free, 58 Partly Free, and 63 Not Free countries and territories. The findings for the year 2007 also represent a negative shift from the survey results of six years ago, which was the last recent high point of press freedom.
In terms of population, the survey found that only 18 percent of the world`s inhabitants live in countries that enjoy a Free press, while 40 percent have a Partly Free press and 42 percent have a Not Free press. These figures are notably affected by two countriesâChina, with a Not Free status, and India, with a Partly Free statusâwhich together account for more than two billion of the world`s six billion people. The percentage of those enjoying Free media in 2007 remained steady, while the percentage of people who live in countries with a Partly Free media environment improved slightly from 39 percent in 2006.
The overall level of press freedom worldwide, as measured by the global average score, worsened slightly in 2007, continuing a six-year downward trend. The averages for the legal, political, and economic categories all worsened as well, with the political category showing a particularly sharp decline.
As demonstrated by the score movements, there were few dramatic openings or closures in the world`s media environmentsâchanges that are typically seen in cases of coups, new governments, or serious political conflicts. However, there were significant movements, in some cases a continuation of past trends, in a large number of countries. In terms of countries whose score shifted by three or more points in 2007, declines outnumbered gains by a two-to-one margin.
Key Trends in 2007
Although decline is the overarching theme of this year`s index, it is not a simple story of government-led crackdowns that manage to permanently restrict media freedom. The declines are driven by a complex set of factors, including broader authoritarian crackdowns on civil society, political upheaval, violence targeting the media by both state and nonstate actors, the imaginative use of legal mechanisms against journalists, and subtle economic pressures. In many cases, an overall decline in numerical score encompasses both positive and negative factors, including sustained efforts by journalists themselves to push back against a panoply of restrictions.
We have identified several trends that underpin the numerical movements in the latest index:
* 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. 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 formsâsuch as satellite television and internet-based newspapers, blogs, and social-networking sitesâhave 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 numerical 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 governmentsâparticularly in the former Soviet Union, the Middle East, Asia, and Africaâare 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.
Regional and Country Declines
The year featured few positive regional trends, with declines predominating in almost every part of the world. The largest regionwide decline was seen in the former Soviet Union, while smaller negative trends were apparent in the Americas, Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa.
There were setbacks in a number of influential countries, many of which had already been on downward trajectories in recent years. A number of declines occurred in South Asia, with restrictions on media coverage imposed in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, and Vietnam`s government cracked down on dissident writers. Backsliding in the former Soviet Union continued, with Russia, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan showing declines.
The Americas and sub-Saharan Africa registered both negative status changes for particular countries and broader numerical slippage. In the Americas, Guyana`s status shifted from Free to Partly Free, while the score for Mexico deteriorated by a further three points. Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for three of the year`s five status changes: Benin declined from Free to Partly Free, and both the Central African Republic and Niger moved into the Not Free column owing to authorities` attempts to limit news coverage, particularly in conflict areas.
Regional and Country Gains
The Middle East and North Africa region stood out by showing both overall improvement and significant gains in a specific country. The average regional score reflected the fact that in a number of countries, the media environment has benefited from greater access to satellite television service and the internet, including new formats such as blogs and social-networking websites. In addition, in the only positive status change of the year, Egypt was upgraded from Not Free to Partly Free as local journalists proved willing to cross the red lines that had previously restricted their work, and a greater range of viewpoints emerged not only in the traditional Egyptian media, but also in the pan-Arab press, informal media, and blogosphere. This upgrade occurred despite a continuation of, and in some cases an increase in, government harassment, repression, and imprisonment of journalists.
Numerical improvements also occurred in several fragile states where the government has relatively tenuous control, such as Haiti, East Timor, and Lebanon; one country emerging from a coup, Thailand; and another Asian country, Malaysia, where journalists, particularly those in the new media, have recently shown greater aggressiveness in covering politically sensitive stories despite authorities` attempts to restrict such expression.
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 exceedingly bad performers, while a crackdown in Burma worsened that country`s already repressive media environment, leaving its 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 numerical 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 UnionâBelarus and Uzbekistanâand two other countries in AfricaâEquatorial Guinea and Zimbabweâwhere media remain heavily restricted.
Montreal Gazette – Press freedom needs help, even in Canada, May 3, 2009
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