The economic depression is having a deleterious impact on the rights and freedoms of journalists around the world, a report by Amnesty International today reveals.
The report reveals that imprisonment, violence and even death remain a risk for journalists in many parts of the world. Governments and institutions on every continent are using legislation and extra-legal coercion to restrict hostile publications.
African governments in particular strengthened their control of the press in 2008 through repressive media legislation. Kenya passed the Communication (Amendment) Bill in Decemeber 2008. The law empowers the minister of Internal Security to prohibit coverage of certain issues and even dictate the content of broadcasts. The ruling National Resistance Movement party in Uganda signalled its intention to introduce a law severely restricting freedom of the press. An emergency decree restricting journalists following the political turmoil in Chad was not revoked despite the lifting of the state of emergency.
Few countries collapsed into repression and censorship as spectacularly as Sri Lanka. This former paragon for pluralist and independent journalism saw its reporters and editors arrested, beaten and shot both by agents acting for the government and by armed factions in the country. Within five days in May, the editor of Nation Keith Noyar was abducted from his home and beaten, and Jaffna-based journalist Paranirupasingam Devakumar was hacked to death. Lasantha Wikramatunga, the editor of the Sunday Leader, was assassinated in January of 2009 following years of harassment and violence. The Sri Lanka government continues to block investigations into the killings and disappearances.
A less obvious theme running through the Amnesty Report was the increasing readiness of governments and elites to silence their critics through recourse to oversensitive libel laws. Publications were financially crippled, and journalists were arrested and tried. A notable black spot in Asia is Singapore, where courts handed down judgements which have limited the scope for independent reporting in the country. The Far Eastern Economic Review was forced to pay damages to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong who successfully accused the publication for defamation, and blogger Gopalan Nair was found in contempt of court and jailed for questioning the politicization of the judiciary. A case was brought by the Ecuadorian government against the editor of popular newspaper La Hora, for "disrespect" against President Correa, although the case was unsuccessful. Charges of contempt, slander and sedition continued to restrict independent journalists in Lesotho, Algeria and Russia.
The full report, with country-by-country analysis of freedom of speech and other human rights issues is here.