Hostile governments challenging Press Freedom in Asia

Press freedom violations including attacks on journalists continue to mount worldwide, the World Association of Newspapers said in its half-year review of global press freedom that paints a bleak picture in much of the world.

In Asia, independent media continue to face an array of obstacles, mainly in the form of hostile governments and internal conflicts. China’s mass censorship and repression of independent media, Sri Lanka’s civil war, and Nepal’s resort to violence against the press are only some of the key challenges facing press freedom in the region.

Since December, press freedom has been deteriorating in Afghanistan. As the country nears its presidential election, due in August, pressures and violence against the press have been increasing.

In Burma, press freedom advocates and journalists still face long prison sentences and extensive censorship. In March, the ruling military junta prepared to implement an online censorship committee that would have access to all online articles and be empowered to edit them directly.

Chinese authorities continue to arrest, intimidate, and sentence journalists. In One month alone, media was barred from covering a taxi strike, a Tibetan printer was sentenced to seven years in jail, more than 20 reporters were arrested, foreign websites were blocked, and two journalists were assaulted for their reporting.

The Paris-based WAN, the global organisation for the newspaper industry, defends and promotes press freedom and the professional and business interests of newspapers world-wide. Representing 18,000 newspapers, its membership includes 77 national newspaper associations, newspaper companies and individual newspaper executives in 122 countries, 12 news agencies and 11 regional and world-wide press groups.

Freedom of the press continues to be challenged in various parts of Europe and Central Asia. Death threats against, or prosecution of, journalists reporting on conflicts, war crimes and organised crime remain disturbingly common in some countries. In several EU countries, authorities are increasingly failing to respect the right of journalists to protect the confidentiality of sources. Anti-terrorism legislation is also affecting freedom of expression and governments seem to be using these laws for their own political purposes.

The United Nations Human Rights Council, sitting in Geneva, adopted a new resolution on “defamation of religion” which has significant press freedom implications and it can be used by authoritarian governments to prevent discussion or publication of legitimate religious and cultural issues. A list of recent cases can be found at here.

In the Czech Republic, new laws jail sentences of up to five years or a fine of up to 5 million Czech crowns (about 185,000 Euros) for journalists using certain sources of information such as records of police telephone tapping. Journalists who report on the mafia in Italy continue to receive threats of violence and several are working under police protection.

The media environment in Turkey remains fragile. In addition to banning publication of two Kurdish dailies, authorities handed down a fine for alleged tax fraud to the Dogan Media Group, the country’s largest, for delayed payment of a tax on a sale of shares to German publishers Axel Springer. The Dogan Group denies the charges and the case is widely seen as retribution for critical reporting on the government.

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