PRESS FREEDOM: Celebrating World Press Freedom Day and New Media

Summary: To celebrate World Press Freedom Day 2011, CRIN has prepared a report on the opportunities for freedom of information and freedom of expression created by new media, and looks at existing ways of bypassing State-imposed restrictions on these freedoms. On the occasion of the day, CRIN is also launching its brand new Arabic website!

CONTENTS:

World Press Freedom Day
CRIN launches new Arabic website!
New Media Frontiers Circumvention tools
Latest news on press freedom restrictions
- Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, Azerbaijan, 
  Uganda, Thailand, Cuba, United States
Upcoming events on new media

 


World Press Freedom Day

Every year, May 3rd is an occasion to inform citizens of violations of press freedom – a reminder that in dozens of countries around the world, information is censored, fined, suspended and closed down; while journalists, editors and publishers are harassed, attacked, detained and even murdered.

World Press Freedom Day is a date to encourage and develop initiatives in promotion of greater freedom of the press, and to assess the state of press freedom worldwide. This year's theme looks at new forms of expression and participation, including Internet-based applications such as social networks and blogs, among others.

With recent events in the Middle East and North Africa having been driven by the use of new media, largely thanks to the youth movement, it is an appropriate time to look at how such technologies have been employed around the world, but also to reassert the inalienable right of people, including children, to access information and to freedom of expression.

Here at CRIN, freedom of the press and freedom of expression are core to our work and values. Accordingly, we have begun to monitor restrictions imposed on children’s rights defenders around the world as part of our Transparency CampaignLast year on this day we also highlighted the importance of freedom of expression for childrenAnd more recently, we have been monitoring events in the Middle East and North Africa and how children have been affected, including by publishing a special editorial on children's right to freedom of assembly.

 


CRIN launches new Arabic website!

To coincide with this year’s World Press Freedom Day, CRIN is today launching its brand new Arabic website and CRINMAIL

As we call for greater freedoms on this day, including the dissemination and exchange of information, children’s rights to freedom of opinion and expression, and highlighting violations of these rights, CRIN hopes this website will provide a new opportunity to give a stronger voice to children and their advocates. With it, CRIN aims to break the language barrier by making resources available to rights advocates as well as children in Arabic-speaking countries.

The Arabic website will serve as a reference point for rich and comprehensive information, including treaties and conventions, research, and resources. It will additionally provide continuous coverage of children's rights news and related activities and events at the international level, including in the Middle East and North Africa.

With the hope of moving towards creating a larger body of children’s rights advocacy, CRIN invites you to join its network and to share any information, activities or resources relating to children’s rights in your country.

For more information, please visit our website: http://www.crin.org/arabic 
Alternatively, email us at: Arabic@crin.org or info@crin.org 
To join the network click 
here.

 


New media frontiers

Precisely in Arabic-speaking countries, which are currently experiencing massive civil unrest and violent government clampdowns on civil freedoms, new forms of electronic media such as social networks, blogs and video posting websites - which are largely operated by young people - have become a last, albeit effective, resort to challenging State repression.

With international news networks blocked, reporters detained and foreign press denied entry to countries where uprisings and State violence are taking place, social media has emerged as a means of binding disparate demonstrations together, relaying information that keeps protesters and the international community informed. Indeed, social networkers - the majority young people - have transformed into new citizen journalists and have proven key to keeping the civilian protests, and their repression, in constant view. Even users of mobile phones have become informal broadcasters, as they micro-blog, post videos online and send information via text messages to news and radio stations.

Precisely because of its capacity to “spread the word” and rally the masses, not to mention the resultant international condemnation, authoritarian regimes have desperately tried to silence all communications, in some cases even resorting to cutting off Internet and telephone services nationwide and electricity to entire cities. Yet cyber activists have still managed to bypass such restrictions, and make full use of the resources available. As one Egyptian activist tweeted, "we use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world."

New media has indeed created a new frontier for activism against dictatorial regimes, and has been recognised as such. This year, for example, Reporters Without Borders awarded its annual Netizen Prize for promoting online freedom of expression to the Tunisian blogging group Nawaat.org for its important role in rallying anti-government protesters in the country which eventually led to the end of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's 23-year regime. Additionally, check out CNN's 10 must-read blogs from the Middle East.

Some authoritarian regimes, however, are still refusing to accede to civilian demands, and are intent on quashing opposition at any cost. Specifically concerning new media, government tactics to rein journalists, cyber activists and human rights organisations range from sophisticated censorship and blocking mechanisms such as denial-of-access and malware attacks, as occurs in Burma and China, to brutish forms of oppression such as intimidation, imprisonment and even murder, as occurs in Libya, Russia and Syria.

 


Circumventing new media restrictions 

To challenge Internet restrictions, civil society and media organisations around the world are developing new ways of bypassing them, in support of freedom of expression for journalists and human rights activists and citizens’ access to information.

In order to raise awareness on existing forms of Internet oppression, for example, the Committee to Protect Journalists has compiled The 10 Tools of Online Oppressors, which lists the most prevalent tools for online oppression and the States guilty of employing them.

Similarly, Reporters Without Borders annually releases its Press Freedom Index which ranks countries according to their press freedoms record, as well as having an Enemies of the Internet List which covers country-specific issues related to online freedoms and restrictions.

Yet there are copious ways of bypassing existing restrictions, some of which are examined by Freedom House's report entitled Leaping Over the Firewall – A review of Censorship Circumvention Tools’,which provides a comparative analysis of the principle circumvention tools by focusing on their technical and practical merits and drawing on users’ experiences from Azerbaijan, Burma, China and Iran.

The Economist has also looked at innovative ways of circumventing politically motivated shutdowns of the Internet, such as how to build a makeshift directional antenna with a tin can and copper wire. Also, be sure to check out readers' comments at the bottom of the page for extra insight into strengths and drawbacks of such tactics.

Specifically on denial-of-access attacks suffered by independent media and human rights organisations, the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University has published a research report on the effects of such attacks, and provides initial recommendations to fend them off and mitigate their effects.

The International Freedom of Expression eXchange has written ashort guide to using Facebook for the purpose of campaigning, including its advantages and limitations and important points to keep in mind when setting up an account.

Of particular interest to journalists in Arabic-speaking countries, Article 19 published in 2007 a 'Manual for Arab Journalists on Freedom of Information and Investigative Journalism', which looks at how to better access public information to strengthen investigative reporting, including valuable sources of information and key methods of research.

Article 19 also has an array of training manuals and campaign packs covering freedom of information-related issues. To access them clickhere.

Likewise, the Tactical Technology Collective offers toolkits and campaign strategy guides as part of various projects, including how to turn information into action, understand the risks associated with using digital media for advocacy, and protecting against cyber attacks, among other things.

One such project is Security in-a-box, which addresses key questions such as how to protect your information from physical threats, how to recover from information loss, how to use mobile phones as securely as possible, and how to protect yourself and your data when using social networking sites.

On the issue of online protection, the ONO Project provides a series of animated films to raise awareness about the often unknown or misinformed risks involved in using new media, including those faced specifically by human rights advocates and independent journalists working on sensitive issues.

CRIN also has a media toolkit, which contains a guide for journalistson interviewing children and reporting on issues affecting children.

 


Latest news on restrictions on press freedom

In Syria, the government is carrying out a major anti-protest operation by restricting media coverage by cutting electricity, Internet and telephone lines in the southern city of Deraa, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe has said. Security forces have detained over 500 civilians, including many journalists and bloggers. The Committee to Protect Journalists has also highlighted that foreign press are prohibited entry to the country. Mr. Pascoe commented that this suppression of independent media was compounding the lack of transparency about the situation in the country. “One cumulative effect of this policy is to prevent the collection and dissemination of accurate and impartial information, leaving observers unable to confirm or deny many allegations,” he said. Full story.

Also in Bahrain, authorities have tried to limit coverage of the protests by closing opposition media networks, forcing senior media personnel to resign, harassing local journalists and foreign television crews, intimidating and threatening Bahrainis who talk to foreign journalists, and arresting bloggers. Full story.

Prominent journalists and activists in Yemen have been the targets smear campaigns, Reporters Without Borders has said. Media censorship has also meant that regional opposition newspapers have been confiscated at security checkpoints in several parts of the country. There are also reports that drivers transporting the newspapers have been detained, with one even being attacked. Full story.

Sixteen foreign journalists are currently detained or missing in Libya, some held in military prisons. In March, three BBC journalists were abducted by Libyan security forces and held for 21 hours, during which they were beaten and subjected to mock executions. On 26 April, a number foreign journalists were deported on orders by the Libyan government. And two prominent photojournalists were killedin a mortar attack in Misrata last week.

In Azerbaijan, a Swedish television crew that had arrived in the country to film a documentary on human rights and freedom of speech was detained and deported. Azerbaijani authorities said the crew did not have press accreditation, despite holding valid documentation which had previously been approved by the Azerbaijani embassy in Sweden. Police confiscated the crew’s digital cameras and erased all footage on their memory cards at an anti-government rally. Full story. At the same rally, police also arrested a five-year-old girl for shouting ‘freedom’. Full story.

Amid recent protests against rising food and fuel prices in Uganda, the head of the country’s Communications Commission has ordered Internet providers to block social media websites Facebook and Twitter to prevent civilian coordination of the “walk to work” campaign which has rallied thousands of citizens. Journalists have also been prohibited from going to areas where conflict is taking place or from entering hospitals in order to prevent them from counting up a death toll. Full story.

In Thailand, security forces shut down 12 radio stations, confiscated their equipment, and arrested three members of staff for allegedly broadcasting a speech by an opposition leader that was considered defamatory to the monarch. Full story.

This month in Cuba, the government released the last independent journalist remaining in prison, who was serving a three-year sentence on charges of “disrespect” and distributing opposition propaganda. However, independent journalists in Cuba continue to face harassment and intimidation for their work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said. Full story.

Meanwhile in the United States, the Justice Department has issued subpoenas for members of WikiLeaks, even for a former volunteer, which the Inter-American Press Society has condemned as a serious threat to the future of press freedom. A federal judge has also authorised the search of information about anyone in the country who accesses WikiLeaks reports. Full story.

Since 2008, CRIN has been monitoring the work of the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, and produced a short report that identifies the extent to which children's rights have featured, and which children's rights in particular. It also provides links to reports and statements made by the Special Rapporteur, together with details of country visits undertaken. Download the report here.

On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, the Special Raporteur has released a statement in which he urges governments to choose reform over oppression. Read the full statement here.

Also look out for the 2011 report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression which will address the issue of access to electronic communications and freedom of expression on the Internet, and which will be presented at the Human Rights Council in June in its 17th Session. Once the report becomes available, CRIN will post on our 17th Session information page.

In the meantime, for regular news updates on press freedom around the world, visit the following organisations:

 


Upcoming events

Social Media: ‘RT@Tahrir Square: Social Media Lessons for Development’
Date
: 9th May 2011
Organisation
: Overseas Development Institute and One World Media
Location
: London, United Kingdom (also screened live online)
More details here

Human Rights Defenders: ‘Front Line Watchdogs: Monitoring Accountability for Human Rights’
Date
: 18th-24th May 2011
Organisation
: New Tactics
Location
: Online
More details here.

 


The Last Word 

Interviewer: “So where is the hope...going to spring from?”

Studs Terkel: “From young people… From their ability to organise. I believe the Internet may have an even stronger influence than people have realised. Albert Einstein said that when you join an organisation – and that could be anti-war, anti-pollution, or pro the rights of lesbians and homosexuals – Einstein said that, once you join, you have more individuality, not less. Because you are another person who wants to count.” 


Countries

    Please note that these reports are hosted by CRIN as a resource for Child Rights campaigners, researchers and other interested parties. Unless otherwise stated, they are not the work of CRIN and their inclusion in our database does not necessarily signify endorsement or agreement with their content by CRIN.