KARACHI: Governments are increasingly clamping down on press freedom as new laws are being enacted to curtail media independence around the world, while 55 journalists were killed since May last year, according to the International Press Institute (IPI).
In a press statement issued on Wednesday, Barbara Trionfi, executive director of the Vienna-based IPI — a global network of editors, journalists and media executives — sounded alarm on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day 2019. “Press freedom globally is under intense and growing pressure, as illiberal-minded governments seek to shut down critical voices and, in many cases, deliberately erode the credibility of independent media,” she said.
“We are witnessing a dangerous combination of tried-and-true methods of attacking the press — including arbitrary jailing and physical attacks that end in impunity — as well as a new wave of rhetoric and smear campaigns to portray the media and journalism as an enemy of the people so as to undercut the press’s watchdog role,” Ms Trionfi said, adding: “We need a robust response to these developments from governments and international institutions that continue to value fundamental rights; this is not a time to sit on the sidelines.”
Critical media subject to vicious smear campaigns in Pakistan
In Bangladesh, the statement said, journalists could face up to life imprisonment for violating the country’s new Digital Security Act. Egypt, which has jailed scores of journalists, including IPI member Mahmoud Hussein of Al Jazeera, passed a media regulation law last October that made it prohibitively expensive for online newspapers to get registered and allowed the government to shut them down. The digital media law purportedly enacted in July to prevent spread of fake news is now being used by the Egyptian government to silence independent media.
The IPI said the Tanzanian government was using the Media Services Act and other laws to ban newspapers and suspend radio broadcasters.
With 139 journalists in prison, many more were sentenced to jail terms and scores of others being prosecuted for doing their work, it regretted.
According to the IPI, Turkey remained the world’s top jailer of journalists. The country’s crackdown on independent media widened in 2018 with the arrest of 46 more reporters, mostly on spurious terrorism-related charges.
In Hungary, independent media are increasingly encircled by a state media machine and are being starved of advertisement revenue.
In Pakistan, where critical media were subject to vicious smear campaigns, the IPI said the government had stopped state advertising in the influential daily Dawn and targeted individual journalists, such as IPI World Press Freedom Hero Cyril Almeida, who faces treason charges for his coverage of militancy.
In the United States, the Department of Justice is contemplating changes in the guidelines to make it easier for prosecutors to obtain journalists’ records, while the US criminal indictment against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has raised concerns around broader implications for press freedom.
In the United Kingdom, the IPI said, journalists had opposed the government’s move to enact new legislation that would allow police to access their data.
On the one hand, governments were attempting to curtail press freedom and, on the other, journalists around the world are being killed with impunity. Since May 2018, as many as 55 journalists had lost their lives — at least 18 of whom were targeted for their work, the statement noted.
Besides killings, it added, in the past year journalists had faced an increasing number of physical attacks and arrests while carrying out their work. At least 79 journalists were arrested in Sudan between December and February while covering protests against the now-ousted regime of Omar al-Bashir.
More than 45 journalists were attacked and arrested in Venezuela covering the civil unrest against the Nicolas Maduro government and this number is continuing to increase.
According to data collected by the IPI, some 70 cases of arrests of journalists globally were reported in the first quarter of this year.