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Censorship in Crimea As Russian Troops Takeover

Russian soldiers in Crimea

International monitors have protested eroding media freedom in the autonomous region of Crimea in southern Ukraine, as the Russian military began overrunning the region from February 28. Crimean authorities censored media networks seen as hostile, prevented journalists from outside the region entering Crimea, while attacks on journalists have also been reported.

“We remind all parties to the conflict that they have a duty to protect journalists and allow them to work without hindrance,” said the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RWB/RSF) secretary-general Christophe Deloire.

“Those who hold power in Crimea and the armed militias controlling the region must do everything possible to ensure that the local media can resume operating, to restore communications infrastructure and to lift the barriers preventing some journalists from entering the peninsula,” he said.
RSF said the main independent television network in Crimea, Chernomorka, had been ordered to go off air since March 3, for reasons the organisation said was “beyond our control.” The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said “Crimea’s State Television and Radio Transmitting Center (TRTC) forced the independent Chernomorka, off the air.” CPJ added that Ukrainian media had published a letter by S. N. Dotsenko, head, TRTC, saying “broadcasting had been stopped because of reasons that were unrelated to his agency, but did not offer further details.”
RSF said that although Chernomorka continued to broadcast via cable, satellite and the internet, but its internet was brought down by a cyber attack.
RSF said the state-controlled broadcaster GRTK Krym “whose headquarters was overrun by soldiers” is the only television channel left to local viewers.
CPJ reported Aleksandra Kvitko, Chernomorskaya’s chief editor telling Ukraine’s UNIAN news agency, “Only two local channels are broadcast on the territory of the autonomous republic – Chernomorskaya Teleradiokompaniya and Crimean state broadcaster GTRK Krym. By turning off Chernomorskaya, regional residents have been stripped of their right to choose. Now, we all must have only one, ‘correct’ opinion.'”
Meanwhile, on March 1, RSF said a 30-man militia calling itself the Crimea Front had stormed into the offices of the Centre for Investigative Journalism in Simferopol and prevented journalists from leaving the building for some hours. They were eventually freed and allowed to take some equipment with them. “The militia also told the journalists that the ‘Crimea Front’ was ready to provide them with enough to live on, and to reach ‘an agreement on proper coverage of the events,'” said RSF.
In a related story CPJ said, “The Center for Investigative Journalism reported today that members of the regional parliament of Crimea blamed Ukrainian media for ‘spreading panic’ and ‘imposing incorrect and biased information’ about the events in the region. The MPs threatened to ‘shut off the flow of deceitful and biased information in order to save the public from negative impact.'”
Meanwhile, RSF said journalists from the Ukraine were prevented from entering Crimea at checkpoints along the border. Bohdan Kutyepov, a reporter for television station Hromadske, said he was turned back by armed men who had “threatened to open fire if the journalists tried to take photos of them.” Kutyepov was with colleagues from Inter TV, CDFand France 24. Two other journalists, Igor Trubayev (Khersonskie Vesti) and Oleg Zaychenko(Tvoya Pravda), from Kherson were also forced to turn back from a checkpoint at Armyansk, said RSF.
RSF also reported that several journalists had been attacked in Crimea, giving details of two ATRcameramen assaulted in Simferopol while filming militiamen guarding a building used by the regional government’s ministers.  There were also incidents in eastern Ukraine, RSF added.
In another incident, CPJ reported that Tatyana Rikhtun, the chief editor of the website Sevastopol 911 was assaulted and her camera snatched as she filmed Russian soldiers surrounding the Ukrainian navy base. She had reported the incident to the regional police and asked them to investigate.
With escalating tensions in Crimea and one journalist killed over 160 journalists injured in clashes in Ukraine in the past four months, the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its European affiliate European Federation of Journalists issued an advisory to journalists planning to visit Ukraine.
“Given the many brutal attacks against journalists in Ukraine in recent months and the ever increasing tensions in the country, we urge journalists covering events to remain mindful of their safety at all times and to ensure they take every step necessary to protect themselves. No story is worth the loss of a life,” said IFJ President Jim Boumelha.

Venezuelan Government Attacks Protestors, Strangles Media

Student Protests in Venezuela (Pic.

Last year, when popular discontent in Turkey spilt out on to the streets, the Ankara government opened fire on protestors at Gezi Park. Following that it clamped down on the media to prevent news about the protests leaking out.
Now it is Venezuela’s turn.

On Wednesday, February 12, protests by youth in Caracas against rising crime and the country’s economic woes including high inflation and shortage of staples, turned violent when security forces opened fire killing three persons. According to media freedom monitors, journalists, both pro- and anti-government, too were deliberately targeted.
“Shots were deliberately fired at Karen Mendez, the correspondent of the Peruvian online newspaper El Comercio, while she was covering the protests and demonstrators threw stones at María Iginia Silva while she was editing a report on the protests for Globovisión, said the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF/RWB).
The version by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is slightly different although the incident described was essentially the same. CPJ said Karen Mendez worked for “Moscow’s Russia Today television was preparing for a live transmission from the roof of government-run VTV television when she had to duck for cover amid an outbreak of gunfire, according to reports. She later alleged that gunmen aligned with the opposition were firing at her.”
RSF also charged said that pro-government journalists were targeted. Jilfredo Alejandro Barradas a photographer with the State Communication and Information office was shot at while covering the protests on a motorbike.   
RSF also recorded that two journalists – Rafael Hernandez of Exceso magazine and blogger Angel Matute – were arrested while covering the protests. After a three-day detention they were released by the judge but warned against covering protests.
On February 13, a day after the protests, the Venezuelan government began broadening censorship by restricting the public’s access to television channels and blocking the internet. CPJ said that NTN24 a Colombian cable news station had been taken off the air on the orders of Venezuela’s telecommunication authority CONATEL.
“Idania Chirinos, director of content for the 24-hour cable news station NTN24 and a Venezuelan journalist, said she did not know if or when NTN24 would be allowed back on the air in Venezuela,” reported CPJ.
NTN24 has been critical of Venezuela’s socialist government.
Both RSF and CPJ said that CONATEL had announced through a communiqué that coverage of protests or “violent events” would be a violation of the TV and Electronic Media Social Responsibility Law.
“This is an act of press censorship and an abuse of the rights of citizens to be informed,” CPJ quoted Claudia Gurisatti, director of content with NTN24 saying in a statement.
Targeting journalists and taking cable TV off the air are not the only actions by Venezuelan government to stifle the media. It has also blocked websites and social media.
RSF said, “Many people who use the national Internet Service Provider CANTV have reported that their access to photos has been blocked on Twitter, as confirmed by Twitter’s official spokesperson, Nu Wexler.”
The vulnerability of social media was also noted when Carlos Correra, the Caracas-based director of the media watchdog Espacio Publica suggested that despite NTN24 being off air, its reports could be accessed via facebook and twitter. However, Correra had said the station’s website had been hacked and was briefly unavailable on Wednesday, 12th.
“We condemns these arbitrary acts of censorship, which are being implemented outside of any established administrative or judicial procedures and which are all the more disturbing for coming against a backdrop of government harassment of local and international news providers,” said RSF’s secretary-general Christophe Deloire.
Meanwhile on Monday 17-year-old Jose Ernesto Mendez was killed when hit by a truck during another round of clashes between security forces and protestors in Carupano reported CNN.

Eight Journalists Killed In 2013 Broke All Records In India – RSF

(Pic courtesy The Guardian)

India ranks first among democracies and third in the world, in the number of journalists killed in the line of duty this year. 

According to figures just published by Reporters without Borders (RSF), 71 journalists killed in 2013 overall, which is a slight decrease from the 88 killed in 2012. However, abduction of journalists in 2013 has risen alarmingly: from 38 last year to 87 in 2013.
As these statistics were published, RSF’s Secretary General Christophe Deloire called for an amendment of the statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to define the “deliberate attacks on journalists, media workers and associated personnel” as war crimes. He was speaking on Friday at a special UN Security Council meeting in New York on protecting journalists where RSF presented a series of recommendations on improving legislation to protect journalists better.
Three countries – Syria (10 journalists and 35 citizen journalists), Somalia (7 journalists) and Pakistan (8 journalists) retained places among the top five ‘deadliest countries for journalists’ from last year. India, with eight journalists killed, assumed third position – behind Syria and Somalia and one place ahead of its South Asian neighbour. The Philippines occupies position five, also with eight deaths. Regionally Asia accounts for the highest number of journalists killed.
“The toll of eight journalists killed in connection with their work in 2013 broke all records in India. Criminal gangs, demonstrators and political party supporters were to blame in some cases. But local police and security forces were also guilty of rarely-punished violence and threats against reporters, forcing them to censor themselves,” said RSF.
India and the Philippines replaced Brazil and Mexico, which were among the top five deadliest countries for journalists in 2012. RSF reports however that five journalists were killed in Brazil in 2013 (same as in 2012), while in Mexico two journalists were killed while three were abducted this year.
Among the 87 journalists abducted in 2013, 49 were kidnapped in Syria and 14 in Libya. As of December 18, 22 Syrian news providers and 18 foreign journalists are missing. “Foreign journalists were increasingly targeted by the government and by Islamists groups such as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and Jabhat Al-Nosra, but their Syrian colleagues were the most exposed,” RSF said.
This year ranks more poorly compared 2012 in the number of physical attacks and threats to journalists. “Journalists were systematically targeted by the security forces in Turkey, in connection with the Gezi Park protests, and to a lesser extent in Ukraine in connection with the Independence Square (Maidan) protests,” said RSF. There were also more than 100 cases of violence and harassment of journalists from Mexico, Colombia, Egypt, Iraq, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India.
Violence and threat has also forced journalists to flee into exile. Syria leads the numbers with 31 professional and citizen journalists many of whom RSF says “are now in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon or Egypt, destitute and vulnerable.” Syria is followed by Iran (12), Eretria (five) and Somalia.
“Victims of xenophobia and accused of being Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Egypt, interrogated and threatened by the security services in Jordan, and threatened by pro-Assad militias in Lebanon, their situation often continues to be extremely precarious,” says RSF describing the life of exiled journalists.
In view of their situation Deloire speaking at the UN proposed, “[t]here is still no appropriate mechanism for protecting news providers and human rights defenders who are forced to flee their country. [RSF], which supports hundreds of exile journalists every year, is therefore urging the UN and member states to promote procedures for protecting and resettling news providers and human rights defenders who are in danger in transit countries.”
(Tomorrow: journalists in detention)