Freedom House released its annual Press Freedom survey this week as part of World Press Freedom Day.
And the news is not good. By the Freedom House figures, about 85 percent of the people in the world live in countries where the media are either “Partly Free” or “Not Free” from government interference.
And the list confirms that the relationship between countries with high levels of corruption and lack of a free press.
Transparency Intl. 2009
Transparency Intl. 2010
RSF Bottom 10
The countries with numbers in red indicate “membership” in the bottom 10 of their respective indexes. A number of countries can be “tied” in their position in the list, such as Turkmenistan and Burma in the 2010 Transparency list.
For the United States, the rankings aren’t so hot. Seems the USA dropped out of the top 20 for honesty.
Nancy Boswell, president of TI in the United States, said lending practices in the subprime crisis, the disclosure of Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme and rows over political funding had all rattled public faith about prevailing ethics in America. “We’re not talking about corruption in the sense of breaking the law,” she said.
“We’re talking about a sense that the system is corrupted by these practices. There’s an integrity deficit.”
At least in the States that “integrity deficit” can be openly discussed. In China or Iran or Venezuela discussing such a deficit gets you tossed in jail.
FYI: The three countries that tied for least corrupt are Denmark, New Zealand and Singapore. And the bottom three were Somalia (178) Myanmar (176) and Afghanistan (176).
Why should anyone care about what happens in Brazilian media?
Journalists, policy makers and citizens around the world should care about what happens to Brazilian press freedom because Brazil is a major player in the world’s economy.
One of the things the rulers in China figured out real fast is that to be a credible player in the world marketplace, people had to trust your economic numbers and reports. So it should have been no surprise to anyone that the first cracks in the censorship and control of media in China came in the reporting of business and economic affairs.
(Unfortunately for the rulers, once journalists and the public got a taste of a bit of freedom, they wanted more. The openings granted by the censors led to numerous reports of official and business corruption that forced Beijing to clamp down again. But what is that old phrase about toothpaste? Once it’s out of the tube…)
Same is true with Brazil.
This is a major economic powerhouse. And — unlike China — it is a democracy.
One good way to know what is going on is to read news reports from a free and unfettered media. Any attempts to censor or limit that coverage gives a false image of the country and makes dealing with that country — and its citizens and businesses — dicey.
What happens in Brazil affects the U.S. economy and, in some cases, domestic affairs.
For Joe Sixpack, what is the country of origin of the owner of Budweiser? Yep, Brazil.
And for the government planners in Florida, specifically Orlando, what country currently sends to most visitors to your area? Yep, Brazil. (BTW, I was told the other day that out for every 80 or so visas issued to Brazilians to visit the Untied States, one job is created in the U.S. economy. And the U.S. mission in Brazil issues A LOT of visas each week.)
So, Americans need to pay attention to what is going on in Brazil.
And, obviously, not just Brazil. Events in Europe, India, Japan and China can all have a direct impact on American finances, social programs and policies.
So, now to the media situation in Brazil now that you know why it is important to pay attention to such things.
The country is in the middle of a presidential election. And tempers are running high.
Brazilian journalists have been very proud of their freedom and independence.It has only been 25 years since the fall of the dictatorship and its oppressive censorship. Slowly but surely Brazilian media have been moving to a more open a vibrant journalism.
But there still seem to be some political leaders who haven’t gotten the message that censorship is out and freedom is in.
It wasn’t until last year that legislation limiting who could be a journalist was overturned by the nation’s supreme court.
The legislation required journalists to have a bachelor’s degree in journalism and pass a government exam. Both components were carried over from the dictatorship into the democracy. Case after case came forward that claimed the government intervention as to who could be a journalists was the same as promoting state-control of the media.
Eventually the exam was knocked out and then education requirement.
But that still doesn’t mean there aren’t problems.
In this election year, in dozens of cases Brazilian media have been barred from providing coverage or reports related to the first round elections Oct. 3.
And things haven’t changed much as we approach the final round Oct. 31.
He said the media commits “excesses,” publishes “lies,” fabricates news and gets involved in campaigns that disseminate “slander and abuse.”
To counter these “violations” of responsible reporting, Lula suggested the creation of “social council” to audit press content. He referred to the process as “social control” of the media to ensure the media serve the public good.
To promote the council, the government sponsored a National Conference on Communications late last year. At that time Lula said the “social council” was needed to balance the power of the press.
The conference participants included a large number of Lula’s political base. A few media groups that also attended. And many of those that did ended up walking out rather than add their names to what was seen as a power play to limit freedom of the press.
The influential Sao Paulo newspaper Estado wrote and editorial that summed up the media’s view of the council:
“Social control of the media is an euphemism to subordinate the free flow of information to the undercover interference from government.”
News organizations said for the council to do what Lula wanted, the constitution would have to be amended to limit freedom of the press or at least make that freedom contingent on council approval.
One of the media groups that refused to participate was the National Magazine Editors, Aner.
Aner president Roberto Muylaert said his organization did not participate because the council seemed to be a way of establishing a way for the government to interfere in the practice of free press.
“The proposal to create a ‘social council’ to audit press content implies modifications to the Constitution which guarantees free initiative and freedom of expression,” said Muylaert. He added “social control sends shivers anywhere in the world because it is incompatible with freedom of expression and a free press.”
Because there was no media support for the conference’s 600+ recommendations it looked, at first, as if the proposals would fade away.
Unfortunately, Lula issued an executive decree in July of this year to establish a commission that would implement the recommendations for broadcasters. (Because broadcasters are already a regulated industry, the government says it can move on the proposals in this field of the news media.)
The “social council” and the issue of “social control” of the media became part of the current presidential campaign.
Main opposition party candidate José Serra raised the “social control” issue before a convention of journalists. He called “social control” of the media promoted by the Lula administration was the same as restricting freedom of the press and a form of “censorship”.
Serra also questioned the creation of TV Brazil, which he described as a government channel designed to be “an instrument to make propaganda in favor of the administration and employ journalists close to the government.”
Even in the heat of the presidential election, the “social council” commission appointed by Lula is moving ahead with its work.
If, as expected, Lula’s hand-picked candidate wins, she will have to decide the fate of the commission recommendations. News organizations are concerned that she will rubber-stamp the report.
Unfortunately, things don’t look all that great for press freedom around the world. And that could also mean more economic and human rights problems.
First let’s look at the RSF report and what it has to say about press freedom in the world.
According to RSF, Europe was a major disappointment.
Reporters Without Borders has repeatedly expressed its concern about the deteriorating press freedom situation in the European Union and the 2010 index confirms this trend. Thirteen of the EU’s 27 members are in the top 20 but some of the other 14 are very low in the ranking. Italy is 49th, Romania is 52nd and Greece and Bulgaria are tied at 70th. The European Union is not a homogenous whole as regards media freedom. On the contrary, the gap between good and bad performers continues to widen.
It is worth noting that, for the first time since the start of the index in 2002, Cuba is not one of the 10 worst countries. (It is #13 from the bottom.)
This is due above all to the release of 14 journalists and 22 activists in the course of the past summer. But the situation on the ground has not changed significantly. Political dissidents and independent journalists still have to deal with censorship and repression on a daily basis.
So we are not really looking at anew opening in Cuba, just the political leadership looking for a few global brownie points.
Brazil moved up 12 points in its freedom ranking largely due to real progress in media law and free press practices. It leads the way for freedom among the so-called BRIC countries as well.
Economic growth does not mean press freedom
The BRICs – Brazil, Russia, India and China – may all be at a roughly similar stage of economic development but the 2010 index highlights major differences in the press freedom situation in these countries. Thanks to favourable legislative changes, Brazil (58th) has risen 12 places in the past year, while India has fallen 17 places to 122nd. Russia, which had a particularly deadly preceding year, is still poorly placed at 140th. Despite an astonishingly vibrant and active blogosphere, China still censors and jails dissidents and continues to languish in 171st place. These four countries now shoulder the responsibilities of the emerging powers and must fulfil their obligations as regards fundamental rights.
Brazilian journalists are rightfully proud of the efforts they have made in the past couple of years to remove the last vestiges of the dictatorship years.
Yes, there is still a long way to go, but the progress has been impressive.
The bottom 10 countries on the RSF list should not surprise anyone:
Freedom House takes other issues into consideration when making its evaluation. (In my opinion, it is a more thorough reading of press and media freedom because it does take into consideration political freedoms and human rights violations as well.)
The Transparency International corruption index has been a great source of information about corruption around the world. In general, you see more corruption where the media are more constrained.
RSF Bottom 10
The countries with numbers in red indicate “membership” in the bottom 10 of their respective indexes.
So there is a clear consensus of who the bad guys are when it comes to press freedom.
There is also a pretty clear correlation between the lack of press freedom and corruption.
Just in case anyone asks why Americans should be concerned about press freedom in other countries, besides the usual “if one person is not free no one is free” philosophical answer, you can also point out that without a free press corruption and all its evils is allowed to flourish.
The attempt by the U.S. government to step in and censor a legitimate news story sent chills of fear among supporters of editorial independence for RTHK. VOA has long been known as a fair reporting news organization. Partly because its charter — signed into law by Pres. Ford in 1976 — protects it.
Point One of the charter states, “VOA will serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news.” That means no slanting the news to fit a political agenda.
The folks at RTHK got nervous because if the U.S. government could get away with intimidating VOA, what chance did RTHK have against the Hong Kong or Chinese governments.
In the end VOA won and story ran.
RTHK has always faced massive pressure by the Hong Kong government — British or Chinese — to “be more positive.” Since the handover in 1997 pressure on the Chinese language side increased so much that many journalists feared for their jobs unless they tread gently around stories critical of China.
The HKJA also pointed out the government is unwilling to adopt a more open approach towards government information. The report cites an investigation by the Ombudsman that found misunderstandings of the government code on access to information.
The cure, said the HKJA is enactment of a freedom of information law.
Again, this has been an ongoing issue that has involved journalism groups from around the world in support of the HKJA position. In 2002 or 2003 the U.S. SPJ president spoke on RTHK about the importance of freedom of information laws.
The HKJA also noted an increased lack of interest by the Hong Kong government to defend its citizens from harassment in China. Two major incidents last year involved the detention of a journalist and a cameraman in Chengdu on trumped-up drug charges as they tried to report on the aftermath of the 2008 earthquake.
In another case Hong Kong journalists were beaten and detained by local officials in Urumqi. The journalists were covering the ethnic riots in that region.
The Hong Kong government promised to follow up on these cases but nothing concrete emerged.
The HKJA said in its report that the government is not living up to its international commitments – under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – to uphold freedom of expression and press freedom.
The Hong Kong government has also been lax in protesting arbitrary rules set up by Beijing to keep out journalists from news organizations, such as Apple Daily.
All in all the past year was another one of concern for supporters of civil liberties and free press in Hong Kong.
Sorry folks, got a little behind in my review of material from Freedom House. (And if you haven’t visited their web site, you should. FH has the infamous Index of Freedom and Freedom of the Press Index. Both are necessary readings for anyone interested in international affairs.)
I’ll just take the introduction straight from the FH web site:
In conjunction with the release of Freedom of the Press 2010, Freedom House hosted a panel discussion in the Knight Studio at the Newseum. The panel, titled “Censorship Without Borders,” focused on new and innovative tactics used by non-democratic governments (and some democratic governments as well) to restrict freedom of expression, outside of their borders as well as within. Panelists included Bob Boorstin, Director of Corporate and Policy Communications at Google; Frank Smyth, Washington Representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists; Christopher Walker, Director of Studies at Freedom House; and Karin Karlekar, Managing Editor of Freedom of the Press. Below are a series of video excerpts from the panelists, covering a number of issues that have a cross-border impact on freedom of expression including violence against journalists, the use of libel laws to discourage the expression of opposing views and growing censorship on the internet.
Topics such as censorship in China, defamation, libel, violence against journalists and much more are covered in several different video snippets.
The ongoing blockage of Facebook and Twitter in China continues to be a problem for freedom of expression in that country. Now add to that shutdowns of Twitter-like sites.
[F]our major Twitter-like micro-blogging services providing only limited services due to “maintenance” or “testing” – often euphemisms for strengthening internal self-censorship systems following government pressure; restrictions on at least one Chinese micro-blogging platform being able to link to any overseas websites—including non political sites like Geico Insurance; and the shutdown of an estimated 60 plus blogs by prominent legal and political commentators.
China has one of the most sophisticated Internet blocking operations in the world. It reaches down into the ISP level to make sure “improper” information is not provided to the Chinese Internet community. The technology seems to be mostly home-grown.
Clearly, the Chinese development of Internet censorship requires a lot of people — there are a lot of ISPs in the country. But China has a lot of people. So Internet censorship can easily be seen as a full-employment program by the central government.
Compare how China does it with Iran — another country that is nervous about the Internet.
Thanks to technology — hardware and software — purchased from Western Europe, Iran blocks sites such as Twitter and Google at the point where the Internet connection enters the country.
Back to China, Freedom House says the censorship of the Internet is an issue the international community can no longer ignore.
“The Chinese Communist Party’s attempts to control the internet affect much more than just its own citizens,” said Robert Guerra, director of Freedom House’s internet freedom project. “In addition to its domestic censorship practices, a growing number of sophisticated technical attacks are originating in China against organizations and companies outside of its borders.”
Freedom House put together a travelogue of the least free places. Foreign Policy magazine picked it up and posted it online with pictures and commentary.
A very interesting read.
And one of the key things about all these “wonderful” garden spots is the lack of free media. Phrases such as “the government controls all broadcast media and restricts independent print publications” or “a monopoly of political power” or “human rights defenders, and others continue to face harassment and arbitrary detention and torture” are common in each country.
Proof once again — as if any was needed — that political freedom and press freedom go hand in hand.
With all the to-do about the International Donors Conference in Kabul this week, one item got little (dare I say, no) mention in the media reports and government statements: the need for a freedom of information law.
One of the key points of the conference was the need to reduce corruption in the Afghan government. (Let’s face it, no one expects to eliminate corruption. The best anyone could do is limit it.) In response to that call, several Afghan civil society groups and media organizations launched a campaign highlighting the need to have access to government documents. And the best way to do that is to enact a freedom of information law.
The issue of corruption in Afghanistan is indeed serious.
According to Transparency International, Afghanistan is just one point away from being the most corrupt country in the world. Only Somalia is more corrupt — and that is a country that barely has a functioning civil society. That makes Afghanistan more corrupt than well-know spots of corruption such as Sudan, Iraq and Haiti.
So, how does one combat corruption?
The idealists and political science modelers will say: “Enact anti-corruption legislation and then enforce it.” But the very people who depend on corruption for their standard living are also the ones in charge of enforcing the law. How serious do you think they will be in enforcing the law?
What is needed is a way to shine sunlight (the best disinfectant) on government projects. And that is where an FOI law comes into play.
The Afghan civic and media groups explain the need for an FOI law succinctly:
Citizens will be able to know essential information about the provision of public services, such as land distribution and its criteria, timeframe for issuing passports or identity cards, school construction costs and electricity distribution.
Where ever FOI laws are enacted and enforced, one thing is true, more citizens and citizen groups than journalists ask for the data. It makes no difference if it is the USA or the Dominican Republic, the story is the same. Requests under the FOI laws come overwhelmingly from individuals or civic organizations rather than journalists.
And yet it is journalists who argue the loudest for freedom of information laws.
Promises to put data on the Internet — as Afghanistan has promised to do — is all well and good. IF people have access to a computer and the Internet. Posting on the Internet is not the same as having an open government and making data available to people
In Afghanistan, population 29 million, only 500,000 people have access to the Internet.
So tell me again, how posting everything on the Internet in a country where less than 2% of the population has access to that data is helpful. It reminds me of how people praise the near 100% literacy rate in Cuba, while at the same time failing to note that WHAT the people can read is severely limited by the government under pain of long jail sentences.
It is indeed a pity that so many people focused on the speeches by the big participants in the Kabul conference and all the talk of development aid while ignoring some simple basic things that Afghans are calling for to help make their own government more accountable.
Would it really have taken that much time to add the FOI message to a story about the conference?
It looks as if Google and China were not able to come to an agreement.
The Chinese government maintains that unless Google exercises self-censorship — or as Beijing says, “adhere to the laws of China” — it would not be allowed to continue to operate in China.
Google said it would only operate in China if it could operate freely.
So now Google is sending all searches on google.cn to its Hong Kong site. (And please remember that Hong Kong, while part of China, has civil right and liberties, including freedom of speech and press.)
(1) designate as Specially Designated Global Terrorists satellite providers that knowingly and willingly contract with entities designated as Specially Designated Global Terrorists under Executive Order 13224, to broadcast their channels, or to consider implementing other punitive measures against satellite providers that transmit al-Aqsa TV, al-Manar TV, al-Rafidayn TV, or any other terrorist owned and operated station;
(2) consider state-sponsorship of anti-American incitement to violence when determining the level of assistance to, and frequency and nature of relations with, all states; and
(3) urge all governments and private investors who own shares in satellite companies or otherwise influence decisions about satellite transmissions to oppose transmissions of telecasts by al-Aqsa TV, al-Manar TV, al-Rafidayn TV, or any other Specially Designated Global Terrorist owned and operated stations that openly incite their audiences to commit acts of terrorism or violence against the United States and its citizens.
A bill that passed the House with only three dissenting votes might set the stage for a crackdown on anti-american media, deeming them “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” groups. Given a “crisis of governance,” Fareed questions whether this is the best use of Congress’s time and wonders at a world in which the US Congress is against free speech while Arab countries are for it.
A meeting of Arab Information Ministers at the Arab League in Cairo yesterday rejected a Congressional resolution calling for sanctions against Arab satellite television stations which allegedly incite terrorism or promote anti-Americanism. It would be pretty pathetic that the Arab League — the Arab League!! — is taking a stronger position in favor of media freedoms than the U.S. Congress. But don’t worry — leading Arab states still seem quite keen to find their own Arab ways to repress and control the media.
I join with Lynch in saying I have no doubt that the Arab countries are keen on keeping their media in line and therefore, I have no great love for those governments.
But for the U.S. Congress to advocate the U.S. government engage in censorship is outrageous.
In this commentary today, Zakaria noted that the issue is getting more international coverage than U.S. domestic. In fact, a quick Google search shows that ONLY the the Library of Congress, the international press and a few Arab-American organizations have anything to say about it.
Granted the resolution still has to pass through the Senate. Hopefully the Senate Foreign Affairs committee will kill the bill and make a stand against censorship. But when has an American politician ever earned points standing up against a motion that sounds anti-terrorist?
The move is bad. As Zakaria pointed out, CNN could end up on the list whenever it does its job of interviewing people in the Arab world.