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
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.
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
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
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
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
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