Worldwide threats to press freedom escalate

Posted on: July 27, 2020 by admin

The arrest of a high-profile Zimbabwean journalist has brought international condemnation from the UN, Britain and America over the weekend, as threats press freedom appear to have escalated recently.

It follows the walkout of more than 70 journalists at an independent news website in Hungary amidst claims of political interference, and the drafting of a bill in Turkey which Reporters Without Borders says will “suffocate” journalism.

There has been concern that Covid-19 has created a more hostile environment for freedom of expression worldwide. The UK’s Independent news website recently announced the ‘Journalism is not a Crime’ campaign after its US Chief Correspondent was jailed while covering protests in America.

High-profile Zimbabwean journalist arrested and accused of plots to “overthrow the government”

A leading Zimbabwean anti-corruption journalist Hopewell Chin’ono has been arrested this week alongside the country’s opposition leader for allegedly encouraging citizens on social media to “participate in public violence” during a protest scheduled to take place on Friday.

Both Chin’ono and opposition leader Jacob Ngarivhume — who were both denied bail — have denied the government’s charges. If convicted, they face up to ten years in prison.

Chin’ono’s recent investigations are said to have embarrassed Zimbabwe president Mnangagwa’s regime after triggering the arrest of the government’s health minister on corruption charges.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called the government’s arrest a “pattern of intimidation”, with global press freedom group Index on Censorship condemning the government’s arrests as “terrifying tactics to silence criticism”.

Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s director for east and southern Africa said in a statement: “The arrests of Hopewell Chin’ono and Jacob Ngarivhume are designed to intimidate and send a chilling message to journalists, whistleblowers and activists who draw attention to matters of public interest in Zimbabwe.”

Read more here.

Turkey prepares for vote on social media and news content regulation

Turkey’s parliament is preparing to vote on a bill that would give authorities power to regulate social media site content and effectively block sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube unless they comply with strict new regulations, the Guardian reports.

The bill would also allow courts to order Turkish news websites to remove content within 24 hours.

The draft legislation – expected to pass with the support of President Erdoğan’s party and coalition – would force social media companies with more than one million daily users in Turkey to establish a formal presence in the country. The alternative would be to assign an in-country representative who would be legally accountable to the Turkish authorities.

The proposed legislation would see authorities reduce the bandwidth of social media providers by up to 95 per cent if they do not comply, making the sites inaccessible.

Companies or their representatives would then be required to respond within 48 hours to complaints about posts that “violate personal and privacy rights” and international companies would be required to store user data inside Turkey.

The Turkish representative of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Erol Önderoğlu added concern that legislating social media will have significant consequences for press freedom in Turkey as 85 per cent of national media is already controlled by the government.

Önderoğlu said: “We believe that journalism, which exercises its right to freely report and criticize on social media, will suffocate in the hands of a politicized judiciary.”

Gulnoza Said, the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Europe and Central Asia programme coordinator, said: “Turkey’s social media bill is a blatant attempt to make international companies censor more news on behalf of Turkey’s leaders.

“For years, social media posts have been used to prosecute Turkish journalists, and the proposed measures would put them even more at risk for sharing information with the public. We call on the Turkish parliament to reject this bill in its current form.”

Journalists walk out following editor’s firing in Hungary

The editorial board and tens of journalists working at Hungary’s biggest independent news outlet have resigned following the firing of its editor-in-chief. 

More than 70 editorial staff at walked out on Friday in solidarity with editor Szabolcs Dull who was fired following his claims that there had been political interference in the outlet’s operations.

Hungary sits as the second worst country in the EU for media freedom according to the RSF ranking.

A statement posted in English on the site reads:

“The reason behind their decision was that László Bodolai, the president of the board of Zrt. has fired former editor-in-chief Szabolcs Dull and has refused to reinstate him in order to secure the independence and future of Index despite the request from the site’s editorial staff.

“For years, we’ve been saying that there are two conditions for the independent operation of Index: that there be no external influence on the content we publish or the structure and composition of our staff. Firing Szabolcs Dull has violated our second condition. His dismissal is a clear interference in the composition of our staff, and we cannot regard it any other way but as an overt attempt to apply pressure on

“Under these circumstances, following Bodolai’s decision, the editorial board deemed that the conditions for independent operation are no longer in place and have initiated the termination of their employment.”

Read more here.