U.N. Chief Decries Killing of Journalists

  • by Jennie Lorentsson (united nations)
  • Thursday, April 29, 2010
  • Inter Press Service

'I condemn these murders and insist that the perpetrators are brought to justice,' U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at a panel discussion here Thursday.

Freedom of expression is a human right, enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

'Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. This right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers,' he said.

Still, governments all over the world are trying to undermine it. Harassment, high taxes, censorship and the risk of getting imprisoned or even murdered are a part of many journalists' workday.

And the violence against journalists is increasing, according to an UNESCO report.

In November 2009, 30 journalists were killed in a single day in an ambush in Philippines, and last weekend three reporters were killed in two separate incidents in Nigeria.

The proportion of murders cleared and that lead to convictions is also very low.

On Thursday, the Department of Public Information, in conjunction with civil society groups, held a panel discussion about 'Freedom of Information: The right to Know'. This year's focus was Southeast Asia.

Clothilde Le Coz, director of Reporters Without Borders (RWB) in Washington, said Southeast Asia fares very poorly in terms of freedom of the press.

'All these countries are ranked on the last third of our index that we publish annually. And we ranked 175 countries and they are all in the last third of it,' she said.

She pointed out that there are currently 40 reporters and bloggers who are jailed in the region.

Mary Patricia Nunan, a journalist with experience covering Asia, pointed out some differences between the working conditions for local and foreign press.

'There is a pretty stunning double standard that exists between journalists like myself from the Western press working in Southeast Asia, and the local press. Quite simply, it takes a lot more courage to work as a local journalist in these places than it does for a foreigner,' she said.

'As a foreign correspondent or a freelancer, you always get a reassurance that you have a passport, probably a credit card, a news organisation that supports you, so if there ever is a situation of harassment or threat, you can simply leave the country,' she noted. The reason local journalists are more vulnerable to threats is obvious to Nunan. 'It is simply because all politics are local, so if there is a corrupt politician or criminal, they are more likely to feel threatened by the local press.'

'When local press is targeted it tends to be much more indirect retribution for something that has been reported, but when Western journalists are arrested, harassed or kidnapped, it is more often the result of opportunism, as they accidentally fall into the laps of people that wish them harm,' she added.

Censorship is another problem facing journalists in Southeast Asia, particularly in Thailand. About 2,500 websites have been blocked by the government, and in the last year, 10 bloggers have been sued.

'From the safety of New York, I have written a few sentences to say, 'The Thai King has been on the throne for more than 60 years and has been an extraordinarily powerful presence. He is now 82 years old and he has spent his lifetime dedicated to doing good work for the development of the Thai nation, which is starting to understand the enormity of his impact and what will emerge when during legacy of such a magnificent figure.'

'If I said something like that in Thailand, even though it sounds nice enough, I could go to jail for the simple suggestion that the king is not immortal,' she said.

Vietnam is another country that supports censorship, as is China. Google just left the country because of trouble over Internet filters and alleged hacking.

'Everything that is reported in China is totally biased,' Le Coz said.

Asked what the U.N. can do about it, she told IPS: 'Instead of condemning the Chinese government, they should make a specific report of how human rights are respected in every region of the country. In particular, how the 1738 resolution that guarantees reporters safety is respected would be welcomed.'

© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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