WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY
In dozens of countries, being a journalist often means risking one's life to get a story. In 2003, 42 were killed because of their work - the highest since 1995, according to Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF). Another 766 journalists were arrested and at least 1,460 physically attacked or threatened.
In the past two weeks, at least two more journalists have lost their lives.
In Peru, radio show host Alberto Rivera Fernández was murdered by an unidentified gunman on 21 April in the city of Pucallpa, the Institute for Press and Society (Instituto Prensa y Sociedad, IPYS), RSF and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported.
Rivera hosted the radio show "Transparencia" ("Transparency") on Frecuencia Oriental in the city of Pucallpa. Last January, Rivera accused the mayor of a town in Coronel Portillo province of corruption involving the sale of land occupied by squatters, CPJ noted. He was also a former parliamentary deputy for the Frente Democrático (Democratic Front) party.
On 20 April, Brazilian journalist Samuel Román was shot and killed near the Paraguayan-Brazilian border, reported RSF and the Inter American Press Association (IAPA). A reporter and radio show host for Ñu Verá radio station, Román often questioned the conduct of government officials in the town of Coronel Spucaia, Brazil. The border between Paraguay and Brazil is known as a hotbed for drug smuggling and corruption, say RSF and IAPA.
Attacks on journalists are not the only threat to press freedom. Government restrictions on media also prevent the public from getting important information when major crises unfold.
In Sudan, authorities have imposed a news blackout on media and, until recently, barred U.N. observers from entering Darfur, where government-backed militias are committing crimes against humanity against thousands of civilians, say Human Rights Watch and RSF. More than 700,000 have been driven from their homes and dozens of villages have been razed as part of a "scorched earth campaign" supported by the Sudanese government.
In a report issued recently, Human Rights Watch said it had evidence that in early March government forces worked in unison with Arab militias, or janjaweed, to massacre 136 men from the Fur ethnic group (see: http://hrw.org/doc?t=africa&c=sudan).
Meanwhile, in China, the weekly newspaper "Nanfang Dushi Bao" reported a suspected SARS case in the city of Guangzhou in December 2003, the first new case since the epidemic died out in July 2003, notes CPJ. The report embarrassed authorities, who had not yet informed the public about the case before the newspaper published its story.
Three of the newspaper's top editors have since been jailed on corruption charges. One of them was recently sentenced to 12 years in prison. RSF and CPJ say the charges are merely an attempt by Chinese authorities to silence critical voices.
Despite the challenges facing press freedom in many parts of the world, however, there is hope, says the World Association of Newspapers (WAN). More than ever, freedom of the press is recognised today as a fundamental pre-condition for healthy democracies and as a powerful ally in the fight against poverty, disease, corruption, ignorance and illiteracy, the organisation argues.
UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura says 3 May is a day to salute the contributions journalists make to informing the public about issues. [I] "applaud the brave men and women who bring us the news in defiance of the risks and dangers. Their freedom to do their work is inextricably linked to the wider enjoyment of basic rights and fundamental freedoms."
IFEX members in various regions of the world are celebrating World Press Freedom Day. Click here to see what events are planned:
Visit these links for more information on:
- Alberto Rivera Fernández: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/58505/
- Samuel Román:
- Sudan: http://hrw.org/reports/2004/sudan0404/
- Nanfang Dushi Bao: http://www.cpj.org/protests/04ltrs/China09apr04pl.html
- World Press Freedom Day: http://www.unesco.org/webworld/wpfd/2004