Hostility on media must see an end forthwith

Representative Image | Photo: Getty/AFP

I am a journalist and just walked out of the prison on July 29, 2018, and know how painful is the ‘lashed’ of state patronized repression and hostility on the journalists. After my release, I have made a pledge to myself of fighting against hostility and repression of journalists anywhere in the world.

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First of all, I would like to express my profound and deepest respect to the holy souls of those journalists including Otakar Batlička, Paul Nikolaus Cossmann, Stanisław Dubois, Else Feldmann, Fritz Gerlich, Arthur Goldstein, Han Hollander, Arne Jostein Ingebrethsen, Otto Felix Kanitz, Henry Wilhelm Kristiansen,Josef Friedrich Matthes, Joseph Morton (correspondent), Jean Origer, Grete Reiner, Oskar Rosenfeld, Stefan Rowecki, Johannes Stubberud, Josef Taussig and Georges Valois who died in the Nazi concentration camps.

Islamist government in Turkey, led by notorious Recept Tayyip Erdogan has possibly committed the worst ever crimes on media by shutting-down several news outlets and pushing journalists like Ablcebb ar Karabeg (Correspondent, Azadiya Welat), Abdullah Cetin (Correspondent, Dicle Haber Ajansi), Abdullah Kilic (Correspondent of Meydan), Ahmet Akyol (Correspondent, Dicle Haber Ajansi), Ahmet Birsin (General Coordinator, Gun TV), Ali Kona (Correspondent, Azadiya Welat), Arif Celebi, Ayse Oyman (Editor, Ozgur Gundem), Aziz Tekin (Corrrespondent, Azadiya Welat), Beyram Namaz (Writer, Atilim), Bedri Adanir (General Director, Aram Yayinlari Hawar), Cengig Kapmaz (Writer, Ozgur Gundem), Cagdas Kaplan (Correspondent, Dicle Haber Ajansi), Davut Ucar (Director, Etik Ajans), Deniz Yildirim, Derek Stoffel (Journalist, CBS News), Dilsah Ercan (Correspondent, Azadiya Welat), Dilek Demiral (Journalist, Ozgur Gundem), Ebru Umar (Journalist, writer and columnist, Metro, Libelle), Eda Akilli Sanli (Columnist, Bizim Antaiya), Ekrem Dumanli (General Director, Zaman Gazetesi), Emre Soncan (Correspondent, Zaman), Erdal Susem (Editor, Eylul), Erol Zavar (Director,Odak), Ertug Bozkurt (Editor, Dicle Haber Ajansi), Fatin Ozgur Aydin, Fatma Kocak (Director, Dicle Haber Ajansi), Faysal Tunc (Correcpondent, Dicle Haber Ajansi),Ferhat Ciftci (Correspondent, Azadiya Welat), Fusun Erdogan (General Coordinator, Ozgur Radyo), Gulsen Aslan (Correspondent, Dicle Haber Ajansi), Habib Guler (Correspondent, Zaman), Hakan Soytemiz, Halil Ibrahim Balta (Correspondent, Zaman, Yanna Bakis), Hamit Dilahar (Writer, Azadiya Welat), Hasan (Writer, Azadiya Welat), Hatice (Director, Atilim), Hidayet (Owner, Samanyolu TV), Hikmet Cicek, Huseyin Deniz (Correspondent, Evrensel), Ismail Yildiz (Director, Dersim), Kenan Bas (Correspondent, Zaman), Kenan Karavil (Director general, Radyo Dunya), Kenan Kirkaya (Correspondent, Dicle Haber Ajansi), Mazlum Dolam (Correspondent, Dicle Haber Ajansi), Mazlum Ozdemir (Editor, Dicle Haber Ajansi), Mehmet Baransu (Correspondent, Taraf), Mehmet Emin Yildirim (General director, Azadiya Welat), Mehmet Gunes (Writer, Turkiye Gercegi), Mehmet Haberal (Owner, Kanal B), Mehmet Yesiltepe (Writer, Devrimci Hareket), Miktat Algul, Murat Aydin, Musa Kart (Yuruyus), Mustafa Balbay (Correspondent, Cumhuriyet), Mustafa Gok (Correspondent, Ekmek ve Adalet), Nahide Ermis (Board member, Demokratik Modernite), Nedim Turfent (Correspondent, Dicle Haber Ajansi), Nevin Erdemir (Editor, Ozgur Hundem), Nilgun Yildiz (Correspondent, Dicle Haber Ajansi), Nurettin Firat (Writer, Ozgur Gundem), Nuri Yesil (Correspondent, Azadiya Welat), Oktay Candemir (Journalist, Dicle Haber Ajansi), Olgur Matur (Owner, Bizim Antalya), Omer Celik (Correspondent, Dicle Haber Ajansi), Omer Ciftci (Owner, Demokratik Modernite), Omer Faruk Caliskan (General director, Ozgur Halk), Ozlem Agus (Correspondent, Dicle Haber Ajansi), Pervin Yerlikaya (Correspondent, Dicle Haber Ajansi), Ramazan Pekgoz (Editor, Dicle Haber Ajansi), Sadik Topaloglu (Correspondent, Dicle Haber Ajansi), Sasa Petricic (Journalist, CBS News), Selahattin Aslan (Demokratik Modernite), Semiha Alankus (Demokratik Modernite), Sevcan Atak (Editor, Ozgur Halk), Seyithan Akyuz (Correspondent, Azadiya Welat), Sibel Guler (Journalist, Ozgur Gundem), Sinan Aygul (Correspondent, Dicle Haber Ajansi), Soner Yalcin (Onwer and Journalist, OdaTV, Hurriyet), Sultan Saman (Editor, Heviya Jine), Sahabettin Demir (Correspondent, Dicle Haber Ajansi), Sukru Sak (General director, Akinci TYol ve Baran Drrgisi), Tayip Temel (Writer, Azadiya Welat), Tuncay Ozkan (Owner, ex-Kanalturk), Turabi Kisin (Editor, Ozgur Gundem), Turhan Ozu (General director, Ulusal Kanal),Vedat Demir (Columnist, Yarina Bakis), Yalcin Kucuk (Writer), Yuksel Gens (Writer, Ozgur Gunder), Zeynep Kuray (Correspondent, Birgun), Ziya Cicekci (Owner, Ozgur Gundem), Zuhal Tekiner (Owner, Dicle Haber Ajansi), Nazli (Publisher, Bulvar, Bugun Hurriyet), Ahmet Altan (Journalist, Taraf), Kadri Gursel (Journalist, Cumhuriyet), Deniz Yucel (Journalist, Die Welt, taz), Murat Aksoy (Journalist) and Zeynep Kuray (Birgun).

In March 2018, Uzbekistan authorities released Yusuf Ruzimuradov (64), who worked for a newspaper banned by the Uzbek authorities almost after two decades of illegal imprisonment. He had been held since 1999.

Two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, have been detained in Myanmar since Dec. 12, 2017. At the time of their arrests, they had been working on an investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys in a village in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in a statement last year said, “This is the most dangerous time in the history for journalists”.

In an article, Joel Simon wrote, “In the days when news was printed on paper, censorship was a crude practice involving government officials with black pens, the seizure of printing presses and raids on newsrooms. The complexity and centralization of broadcasting also made radio and television vulnerable to censorship even when the governments didn’t exercise direct control of the airwaves. After all, frequencies can be withheld; equipment can be confiscated; media owners can be pressured.

New information technologies–the global, interconnected internet; ubiquitous social media platforms; smartphones with cameras–were supposed to make censorship obsolete. Instead, they have just made it more complicated.

“Does anyone still believe the utopian mantras that information wants to be free and the internet is impossible to censor or control?

The fact is that while we are awash in information, there are tremendous gaps in our knowledge of the world. The gaps are growing as violent attacks against the media spike, as governments develop new systems of information control, and as the technology that allows information to circulate is co-opted and used to stifle free expression.

“In 2014, I published a book about the global press freedom struggles, The New Censorship. In this year’s edition of Attacks on the Press, we have asked contributors from around the world–journalists, academics, and activists–to provide their perspective on the issue. The question we have asked them to answer–with apologies to Donald Rumsfeld–is why don’t we know what we don’t know.

“Following the polarizing election of Donald Trump in the United States, concerns were raised about the rise of fake news and the hostile and intimidating environment created by Trump’s heated rhetoric. But around the world, the trends are deeper, more enduring, and more troubling. These days, the strategies to control and manage information fall into three broad categories that I call repression 2.0, masked political control, and technology capture.

“Repression 2.0 is an update on the worst old-style tactics, from state censorship to the imprisonment of critics, with new information technologies including smartphones and social media producing a softening around the edges. The masked political control means a systematic effort to hide repressive actions by dressing them in the cloak of democratic norms. Governments might justify an internet crackdown by saying it is necessary to suppress hate speech and incitement to violence. They might cast the jailing of dozens of critical journalists as an essential element in the global fight against terror.

“Finally, technology capture means using the same technologies that have spawned the global information explosion to stifle dissent, by monitoring and surveilling critics, blocking websites and using trolling to shout down critical voices. Most insidious of all is sowing confusion through propaganda and false news.

“These strategies have contributed to an upsurge in killings and imprisonment of journalists around the world. In fact, at the end of 2016, there were 259 journalists in jail, the most ever documented by CPJ. Meanwhile, violent forces–from Islamic militants to drug cartels–have exploited new information technologies to bypass the media and communicate directly with the public, often using videos of graphic violence to send a message of ruthlessness and terror.

“In his essay, CPJ’s deputy executive director, Robert Mahoney, describes the global safety landscape and looks at the ways that journalists and media organizations are responding to these troubling trends. The threat of violence is stifling coverage of critical global hot spots from Syria to Somalia to the U.S.-Mexico border, creating a dangerous information void.

Two essays describe strategies journalists are using to respond. As a reporter for the AP based in Senegal, Rukmini Callimachi worked the phones to cover the no-go zones in neighboring Mali, developing sources and an intimate knowledge of the country that allowed her to provide rich, informed coverage once she was able to get in on the ground. Callimachi replicated these efforts to cover terror networks around the world as a reporter for The New York Times. Similarly, Syria Deeply managing editor Alessandra Masi has covered every aspect of the Syrian conflict without ever setting foot inside the country.

“The new technologies that allow criminal and militant groups to bypass the media and speak directly to the public have made the world exceptionally dangerous for journalists reporting from conflict zones. But this same process of disintermediation poses challenges to authoritarian regimes around the world that in the past have often managed information through direct control of mass media. Popular movements–from the Color Revolutions to the Arab Spring–have been fueled by information shared on social media, and because anyone with a smartphone can commit acts of journalism, it’s impossible to jail them all.

“Finding the balance between the repressive force necessary to retain control and the openness necessary to benefit from new technologies and participate in the global economy is an ongoing challenge for authoritarian regimes. As Jessica Jerreat notes, in North Korea modest cracks are emerging in the wall of censorship, with the opening of an AP bureau and the growing use of cell phones, even if these phones are monitored and controlled. In Cuba, a new generation of bloggers and online journalists criticize the socialist government from a variety of perspectives, and although they face the prospects of harassment and persecution, they are not subject to the mass jailing of journalists in the previous decade.

Outside the world’s more repressive countries, governments generally seek to hide their repression behind a democratic veneer. In his book The Dictator’s Learning Curve, William J. Dobson described how a generation of autocratic leaders uses the trappings of democracy, including elections, to mask their repression. I have dubbed these elected autocrats democratizers.

“President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey is perhaps an exemplary, and while his country jails more journalists than any other, in his essay, Andrew Finkel shows how Erdoğan’s government also exercises control over the private media, using direct pressure, regulatory authority, and the law as a blunt instrument to ensure obeisance. Likewise in Egypt, which has seen a massive upsurge in repression, the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has expended considerable energy and effort to build a loyal press.

In Mexico, a country that has experienced a democratic transition, an infamous, near-perfect record of impunity in the murders of journalists coupled with the manipulation of government advertising and strategic lawsuits have cast a chill over the country’s media, according to New York Times correspondent Elisabeth Malkin. As Alan Rusbridger notes in his detailed report on the Kenyan media scene, “Murder is messy. Money is tidy.”

“These strategies focus on political control and manipulation. But, of course, governments also seek to capture the technology that journalists and others rely upon to disseminate critical information. These same technologies can be used for surveillance, blocking, trolling and the dissemination of propaganda. In her essay, Emily Parker contrasts the approach of China and Russia, noting that Russia failed to grasp early on the political threat posed by the World Wide Web, and thus has been playing catch up. Today, even as Russia struggles to curtail online dissent, it is developing what could be termed offensive capabilities, using the internet to spread propaganda and manipulate public opinion domestically and around the world.

“Other governments, including China, are also innovating. One of the most dramatic and disturbing examples is the development of a tracking system based on credit scores. As described by Yaqiu Wang, Chinese journalists who post critical content on social media could receive poor credits scores, resulting in loans denied or high-interest rates. The government of Ecuador, according to Alexandra Ellerbeck, is alleging copyright and terms of service violations in pressuring Twitter and Facebook to remove links to sensitive documents exposing corruption. Meanwhile, governments, including of the U.S., are promoting the concept of transparency by releasing reams of data which, while welcome, are often of limited utility. And journalists who filed the freedom of information requests face impediments ranging from delaying tactics to exorbitant fees.

“As with any book, and particularly one of this nature, a lot will have changed by the time this edition of Attacks on the Press comes out. Circumstances are extraordinarily volatile around the world, including in the U.S., as Christiane Amanpour and Alan Huffman note in their chapters. Overall, the landscape of new censorship is bleak, and the challenges significant. The enemies of free expression have attacked the new global information system at every level, using violence and repression against individual journalists, seeking to control the technologies on which they rely to deliver the news, and sowing confusion and disinformation so that critical information does not reach the public in a meaningful way.

“But the fight is far from hopeless. It is important to keep in mind that the upsurge in violence and repression against the media, and the development of new strategies of repression, are responses to the liberating power of independent information. Technology continues to serve the voices of critical dissent, as Karen Coates describes in her essay on Facebook journalism.

Journalists cannot allow themselves to feel demoralized. They need to pursue their calling and to seek the truth with integrity, honestly believing that the setbacks, while real, are temporary. As Amanpour argues in the closing essay in this volume (adapted from a speech she gave at the CPJ awards dinner in November 2016), journalists must “recommit to robust fact-based reporting without fear or favor–on the issues” and not “stand for being labeled crooked or lying or failing.” This is the best and most important way to fight back against the new censorship.”

According to a recent UN report, over the last year and a half journalists in South Sudan were killed, beaten, detained, denied entry or fired for doing their jobs in at least 60 incidents.

In a statement, the European Union said attacks against media and journalists are attacks against democracy, against the freedom of all of everyone.

“We call on all states to condemn violence against journalists, to take action to improve the safety of journalists with particular attention to women journalists, and to bring perpetrators and instigators of such violence to justice,” the statement read.

I would like to echo with a statement of the United Nations, which said, Without press freedom corruption, human rights abuses, and repression flourish.”

Assault on free press in Cambodia:

In a statement, Human Rights Watch said, “The Cambodian government’s broad political crackdown in 2017 effectively extinguished the country’s flickering democratic system at the expense of basic rights.

The government, which has been dominated by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) for more than three decades, detained the political opposition’s leader on dubious treason charges, dissolved the country’s main opposition party, and banned more than 100 opposition party members from political activity. Authorities also increasingly misused the justice system to prosecute political opponents and human rights activists and forced several independent media outlets to close.

A new independent report has found that most Cambodian journalists believe media freedom is declining in the country – and that recent closures of several media outlets are politically motivated.

There was also a sharp increase in the number of journalists reporting being verbally or physically attacked since 2015.

Media Director of CCIM Nop Vy said independent media still faced a lot of problems in reporting about society and the daily concerns of the people.

“If the role of independent media is harmed or restricted, we won’t be able to receive or hear the voice of the victims,” he said.

“I would like the government and related parties to pay a lot more attention to the working situation of the independent media.”

The strength of government-aligned or controlled media outlets in the country also contributed to the reported struggles of the independent press.

Two reporters, who had in the past worked for Radio Free Asia, were charged with “espionage” and imprisoned, while two former Cambodia Daily reporters also were charged with “incitement” in 2017.

One reporter attending the launch and speaking with anonymity said that all media outlets that critique the performance of the government had challenges.

“All reporters that criticize the government have the problem but those who support it have progress. This is not the spirit of media,” he said.

However, Huy Vannak, President of the Union of Journalist Federation in Cambodia, said the situation was not a concern, because Cambodia still had better media conditions than most of its neighbors.

“Cambodia still has a lot of good points. It is nothing to worry about,” he said.

Cambodia was in 2017 ranked 132 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders, down four places from 2016.

While Freedom House ranked Cambodia 33 out of 40 countries in the Asia-Pacific region. The Cambodian press was rated “not free”.

Cambodia’s descent into the ranks of the world’s less savory countries appears all but complete with the dissolution of the main opposition party marked by a diplomatic twist toward Russia and the prospect of U.S. and European-imposed sanctions.

Academics are calling the current crackdown a new era, dubbed the “Repression.” It began in September with the closure of the Cambodia Daily, among other media outlets, and the arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha for treason.

Speculation persists that a blacklist of journalists has been drawn up and visa rules changed that will limit access into the country for foreign correspondents and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), while foreign-owned businesses fear arbitrary fines imposed by an opaque tax regime.

One journalist who recently left Cambodia was told at immigration he had been banned for five years, while stories of expat business owners being slapped with unexpected tax bills and fines abound amid speculation Phnom Penh is spurning all things Western.

In two decades of peace, Cambodia has never looked so bad. In a bid to stave off criticism preemptively, Hun Sen has been proactive in engaging regional leaders.

In Bangladesh, repressions on journalists are on the alarming level rise. Since 2009, a large number of newspaper editors and journalists were arrested and even wrongly imprisoned on various charges including sedition, treason, and blasphemy. Some journalists even did fall victims of state repression for the ‘crime’ of exposing the corruption of the ruling elites. In my case, I was not only detained in the prison for long 5 years and 8 months, Bangladesh authorities did keep me in the condemned cell alongside the condemned convicts, which certainly is a gross violation of the human rights and freedom of expression. I was denied medical treatment during this long period and most of the days were served semi-rotten food.

Idealized independent media function as “watchdogs.” Indeed, human rights nongovernmental organizations have argued that media freedom will improve human rights. This makes sense intuitively, yet recent formal and empirical studies show that the effect of independent media varies across regime types. We explore the relationship between media, government, and citizen protest movements and employ a game-theoretic model to investigate how the equilibria vary depending on regime type and media independence. In terms of equilibrium, we find that media watchdogging is most active in autocracies [and not in democracies], especially when the government’s perceived capability to repress public protest is declining. Uncertainty about the government’s ability to repress plays a central role in accounting for the manifestation of media watchdogging in conjunction with public protest. Illustrations from Tunisia and Turkey are provided to highlight equilibria derived from the formal model that vary as a product of perceptions about the government’s ability to repress.

Where is the end?

It seems like most of the government in the world is gradually turning unsympathetic and hostile towards the media. No government is willing to accept the criticism and even exposure of high profile corruption and criminal activities. Moreover, in Asian and African continents, illegitimate or authoritarian regimes are mostly showing especial hostility towards the media. In some cases, governments are using various tactics including warning the advertisers to refrain from placing their ads in several news outlets, for the ‘crime’ of criticizing the government or exposing their illegal activities. Unless this unfortunate trend won’t be confronted by the international community, lost of journalists will face persecution – be it in Turkey, Tanzania, Myanmar, Egypt or Turkey.

About Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is our Managing Editor. He is in charge of International affairs and Counter-Militancy reporting. He is the editor of the Bangladesh based English weekly tabloid “Weekly Blitz” – the most influential anti-Jihadist newspaper in Bangladesh. He is awarded PEN USA Freedom to Write Award in 2005; AJC Moral Courage Award in 2006 and Key to the Englewood City, NJ, USA [Highest Honor] in 2007; Monaco Media Award in 2007.

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