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PUCL Bulletin,

July 1982

International review of press freedom

During the past year more and more governments around the world introduced restrictive laws aimed at controlling their media. The annual International Press Institute review of press freedom has noted that the "past year has seen more governments introduce legislation to stem the flow of information and to restrict the work of journalists". Rather distressingly it says that the situation of press freedom has continued to deteriorate and that it cannot be said that there were fewer cased of harassment or murder of journalists or that the censorship was relaxed. It notes that the situation is worse in developing countries with "more and more governments…introducing restrictive laws aimed at controlling their media". IPI also denounced the attempts to overhaul the Freedom and Information Act in the United States by President Reagan calling it "unnecessary, unjustified and undesirable". It also condemned the findings of the Canadian Government appointed Kent Commission, which recommended, among other things, that Press Rights Panel which "would seek to monitor every newspapers performance and exercise superior court powers". It also cited an "ominous trend" from another "developed nation"- Spain.

"The Spanish government passed a new law in 1981, which gives them the power to close any newspaper or radio station that defends terrorism. 'Defend' being their word for any thing that goes against the government's official line". The report comments that "this is hardly a step forward for a country that has just taken giant strides towards democracy and where the press has played such an important part in supporting this development". The report further says that it is "becoming increasingly difficult to find more than 20 countries where such freedom can be said to exist". And, invariably where it does, there are still a wide variety of restrictions.

A brief summary of their country reports are excerpted:
Afghanistan: The chief news editor of Afghan TV crossed the border into Pakistan and defected because he said he did not want to be associated with Soviet manipulation and censorship.

Angola: Reporting of events in this country has proved far from easy, with foreign observers-including journalists-having do idea of what is going on in the most important regions. Nor reporter has been allowed into the most populous areas since 1975. Most foreign journalists were thrown out in 1976.
Argentina: When President Roberto Vida took office in March 1981 he promised freedom of expression and closer contact between the government and the press. Despite the promise, press freedom is often times at premium. In June 1981, the Government withdrew official advertising from La Prensa. This is a common method of showing disfavour at criticism of official policy. Some 200 journalists demonstrated in October against he beating of two photographers by federal police and to demand press freedom. During the year, newspapers and magazines were temporarily closed, and there were attempts to improve prior censorship on some newspapers.

Australia: Throughout the year, the country's first enquiry into newspaper ownership- the Norris Inquiry -aroused discussion. The inquiry recommended that, while there was no evidence of a detrimental effect in the present ownership patterns of the State of Victoria a press amalgamation authority should be established to monitor acquisition of newspaper holding by major newspaper publishers. The federal government announced that private enterprise can operate video text systems, thus breaking the telecommunications monopoly held by the federal authority, Telecom. Also, the long awaited Freedom of Information legislation was struck in Parliament.
Barbados: In April 1981, eight British newspaper photographers and TV newsmen were given a severe roughing up by Barbadion police outside a court in which Britain's application for the extradition of a well known robber was being heard. The dispute began over whether a telephoto lens could be trained from a distance on the window of the magistrate's court.

Bolivia: At the start of the year, the country's largest newspaper was ordered to close for a week by the Interior ministry for printing a story offensive to women. The story in the Roman Catholic Church owned Presencia provoked protests with demonstrations attacking and setting fire to furniture in the newspaper's offices. Later, a member of the paper's board was expelled from the country for criticising the military government's economic policy an for writing in defence of human rights.

The country's press is restricted to using of official statements when reporting political developments. Since a military coup in July 1980, government control of press appears to have tightened with several journalists being tortured or exiled to the interior of the country.

Brazil: In what the International Press Institute describes as the "most spectacular attack on a newspaper office in years", a group of heavily armed men wearing hoods seized one of the country's leading opposition newspapers and set off bombs throughout the building, damaging it seriously.
Cameroon: Under a new press law passed by their Assembly in June 1981, existing and potential newspaper owners will have to complete a lengthy application form, proving no past convictions and proof of 500,000 Frans security before being allowed to publish.

Chile: A new constitution came into effect in March 1981, which stated that anyone reporting "false" news or writing anything against "the family, advocating violence or a conception of society…founded in class struggle" can be barred from being a journalist for 10 years. The President, General Augusto Pinochet, announced he wants to downgrade journalism education in the country's universities.

China: In April, the Peking Daily announced that China must suppress "unlimited freedom of speech" or the nation would be engulfed by an upheaval like the Cultural Revolution. Dissidents connected with the movement to liberalise the 1978-79 proclamations have continued to be arrested. The government has also imposed tighter restrictions or foreign journalists.
Colombia: In February 1981, two local journalists reported kidnapped by left-wing guerillas, were returned to their homes unharmed. In September, an American journalist was expelled for violating immigration laws.

Egypt: the past year has been particularly hard on both domestic and foreign journalists working in Egypt. In February the leader of the journalist's union was charged with disseminating anti-Israeli propaganda that was likely to "disturb public security and damage public interest". In April, President Sadat called on Egyptian journalists working abroad against his regime to return to Cairo before May 15, or face disciplinary action. The first American reporter since Sadat came into power was expelled from Egypt. The government objected to his reporting of the security crisis. A correspondent working for the French Le Monde was also ordered to leave the country.

El Salvador: a South African cameraman was killed in a land-mine explosion while on assignment for the UPI news agency. Two other American journalists were wounded while covering the fighting, and another photographer was shot. The country's defence minister denounced foreign reports for depicting his troops as "cannibals" following a massacre of 24 civilians by the police.
Equador : In January 1981, the country imposed censorship on news reports about its border conflicts with Peru. All stories about the dispute have to be submitted to one of four civilian censors for approval before being published.
Equatorial Guinea: The government banned all Spanish journalists from the country in August 1981, and announced that it might introduce regulations severely curtailing the activities of other foreign correspondents.

Greece: The country had its first libel law written into the Statute books in July 1981, entitling citizens to claim damages in cases of defamation. This was introduced in an effort "to curb rash reporting" in a country where any suspect could be called a murderer in a headline.

Grenada: In June 1981, the People's Revolutionary Government banned the printing of newspapers until in formulated a media policy.

Guatemala: during the year, three journalists were murdered and another two were kidnapped and are still missing.

Indonesia: Censorship and control of the press is exercised by means of an outright ban by withdrawing publication permits, and by direct government rulings on what may or may not be reported. The agency through which this system of control and censorship is imposed is Kopkamtib, the army's special security command.

Morocco: The authorities banned the newspaper Ar Bayane, an opposition daily, without explanation.

Nicaragua: Freedom of expression appears to have worsened in the country since the Sandinist Government came to power. La Prensa, initially a Sandinist supporter, has been the worst hit.

Switzerland: A day of protest against what was called "increasing threats to press freedom" was held by Swiss journalists and print unions on October last.
Syria: There is no press freedom in the country.

Transkei: A bill forcing journalists to disclose their sources and preventing them from publishing anything about the government without approval was passed during the year.

Turkey: Since the military coup, more than 20 Turkish journalists have been detained and seven sentenced to over 30 years in jail. Three main daily newspapers have been ordered to suspend publication for varying periods after publishing reports that offended the authorities.

Uganda: A number of British correspondents were expelled from the country during the year.

Uruguay: Between August and September some 10 journalists were summoned by the police for questioning over various articles. In September, the government shut down the weekly Le Democracia for one month for disturbing public peace and order. A Brazilian journalist was expelled from the country on September 1, after being accused of providing information for a left-wing publication. Foreign correspondents are still required to send copies of their dispatches to the Ministry of Interior


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