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Free Press?

121908freepress4002Last night, I posted a record 12 links on a single topic on TrackerNews: a dozen stories from around the world about efforts to thwart a free press. I could easily have posted more. Here is what made the cut:

Critics warned the loose wording will give authorities ample leeway to prosecute those who cooperate with international rights groups.

Under current treason statutes, some NGOs are not considered “foreign organizations,” meaning a person who passes a state secret to an NGO might not be considered a traitor.

Some of Russia’s most prominent right activists, including Moscow Helsinki Group head Lyudmila Alexeyeva and Civic Assistance director Svetlana Gannushkina, said the bill in fact gives authorities the power to prosecute anyone deemed to have “harmed the security of the Russian Federation.”

It is “legislation in the spirit of Stalin and Hitler,” the activists said in a joint statement — legislation that “returns the Russian justice to the times of 1920-1950s.”

  • “Online and in Jail” –  the snappy headline from an article summarizing a new Committee to Protect Journalists report that found 45% of all “media workers” jailed in 2008 were web-based.

“Online journalism has changed the media landscape and the way we communicate with each other,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “But the power and influence of this new generation of online journalists has captured the attention of repressive governments around the world, and they have accelerated their counterattack.”

Bloggers in Sri Lanka aren’t recognised as journalists (save for a single statement by leading media freedom organisations in 2007) and do not enjoy the legal protection afforded to traditional media personnel. Independent online media websites have been increasingly hacked into this year. With traditional print media now embracing citizen journalism and with web audiences / consumers growing apace, there is no doubt that the regime’s attention will focus on the web and Internet in the future. Arguably, this already evident is some of the legislation it proposes for media regulation.


Australian blogger Antony Loewenstein traveled to Iran, Egypt, Syria, Saudia Arabia, Cuba, China for his latest book, The Blogging Revolution: Going Online in Repressive Regimes, He found plenty of encouraging against-the-odds tales, but the game of cyber cat-and-mouse gets riskier by the day. And though the Global Network Initiative, an all-star effort to protect free speech on the web, is certainly a move in the right direction, it is difficult to say what tangible difference it can make against governments aggressively hostile to the cause.

In the U.S., the biggest threat to the fourth estate is economic rather than political. The New York Times has been forced to take out a mortgage to pay its bills, while the parent company of the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times recently declared bankruptcy. Still, even in its weakened state, the Tribune broke a wiretapping story that led to the indictment of a governor on corruption charges last week.

Take a free and independent press out of the equation and you get Stalin as a hero, a Zimbabwean despot who makes up the “truth” as he goes along, creative corruption and a lot of suffering and death that might possibly be prevented. A free press alone isn’t a fix. But knowledge is power and ignorance can be lethal.

( *twitter-friendly url: http://tinyurl.com/95vce9)

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