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Murder Of French Journalists Worsens Media Freedom In Mali

Bodies of the two journalists arrive in France (Pic courtesy AFP)

The abduction and murder of two French journalists in Mali last week demonstrates the endangered existence of media freedom – as well as other liberties – in a country where the Malian government, the UN peacekeeping operation MINUSMA supported by French troops, and Taurag rebels including the group National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) maintain security.

The bodies of Ghislaine Dupont (57) a veteran reporter who had covered many conflicts in Africa in her 25-year career with Radio France Internationale (RFI) and Claude Verlon (55), a sound engineer with many years experience as a technician in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon, were found outside a vehicle into which they had been bundled when they were abducted near the town of Kidal on November 2. They had just completed an interview of Ambery Ag Rissa, a leader of the MNLA for RFI. 
“The summary execution of these two RFI journalists is vile and unspeakable,” Reporters without Borders’ (RSF) secretary-general, Christophe Deloire said. “We feel both outrage and disgust that journalists who had the courage to cover an area such as the Kidal region were shot in cold blood after interviewing someone…”
The killings come in the run up towards national elections scheduled for November 24. In January, the French military intervened in support of the Malian government that was overwhelmed facing an uprising of the rebel Taurag which had established an autonomous region, Azawad. After pushing out the rebels a peace treaty was signed in June and French troops and a UN peacekeeping force stationed to stabilise the region. The UN Security Council issued a statement condemning the killings.
“The United Nations should support the investigations in line with its mandate to protect civilians and its new plan for the safety and protection of journalists,” said Mohamed Keita, who coordinates advocacy for Africa for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). CPJ said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius “blamed the murder on Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists.”
The UK-based Article 19 said, “Mahamane Baby, spokesman for the Malian government promised that ‘some measures will be taken, including the opening of a judicial investigation in Mali.'”
RFI reported that French authorities were in Mali and investigations into the incident had commenced Four persons had been arrested. RFI also mentions contradictions between statements from the French military chief in the area and accounts from other sources.
While this tragic incident is the latest assault on media freedom in Mali that ranks 99th of 179 countries in RSF’s Press Freedom Index, there has long been a litany of complaints about restriction facing the independent media. 
RSFwhile acknowledging fighting between Islamists and Malian government troops as tensions rise before elections said, “The presence of the large international force that was deployed in northern Mali could have guaranteed better access to information for journalists, but in practice the media were prevented from covering events. Security was used as a pretext for keeping reporters at distance, in what was a clear violation of freedom of information,” RSF said.
It blamed the French authorities in Mali for some of the restrictions on freedom of information.
More unfortunate, elections do not appear as a way whereby democracy or human rights will be restored in Mali soon. 

State Control Of Internet Freedom – Cure Worse Malady?

(pic courtesy

New draft legislation was introduced by European Union lawmakers to ensure data protection from foreign spying, as new details surfaced on US surveillance of French phone records. Earlier, Mexico and Brazil expressed outrage on NSA spying on their leaders. But as states erect protection through new regulations to circumvent US law that forces American companies like Google, Microsoft and Yahoo to surrender data to the NSA, thoughtful voices ask whether the cure might be worse than the malady. 

On Monday October 21, the EU’s Committee Civil Liberties Commission passed draft laws under which US companies such as Google etc. will have to adhere to new rules protecting data transferred to third countries if they are to operate in Europe.
“The measure makes America’s secret court orders powerless, forcing companies based outside the EU – such Google and Yahoo – to comply with European data protection laws if they operate in Europe.  Fines running into billions of Euros are set to discourage anyone from violating the new rules,” said the news website Russia Today RT.
Asked by RT in an interview what this meant for the average person Alexander Dix, the Berlin Commissioner for Data Protection said, “The rights of European citizens will be strengthened if this measure is adopted in Europe. There will still be problems to effectively control and monitor what intelligence services are doing but the problem is much larger than this I think because Google … and all the other big American companies need strict rules which they have to attain to, when they want to do business in Europe. They will certainly have to because the sanctions envisaged by the European Commission and the parliament are so heavy that they will certainly think twice before starting to break these rules.”
Meanwhile, Washington Post reported this morning that as reports surfaced in the French newspaper Le Monde of US siphoning over 70 million phone records in France, the Obama administration was “scrambling” to mitigate the damage. The Post said that President Obama had spoken by phone to his French counterpart Francois Hollande, “to discuss what the White House called ‘recent disclosures in the press – some of which have distorted our activities and some of which raise legitimate questions for our friends and allies.'”
The revelations came as Secretary of State John Kerry is in Paris. The Post quoted him saying at a press conference, “‘Our goal is always to try to find the right balance between protecting the security and the privacy of our citizens. This work is going to continue, as well as our very close consultations with our friends here in France.'”
However, the US Ambassador in France Charles Rivkin was summoned to the French Foreign Ministry as outrage mounted with the US action labelled as “shocking” and “unacceptable.” RT quoted the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius telling the media, “We must quickly assure that these practices aren’t repeated.”
While these go on in the domain of international politics, Tom Gjelten in a comment to the US-based NPRwebsite asks whether the reaction of countries like Brazil to redesign the architecture of the internet by increasing governmental control would actually harm privacy more than protect it.
Gjelten says that before NSA began spying on the Internet, it was only minimally governed by institutions such as Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Although ICANN was set up by the US, and companies such as Microsoft, Google and Facebook were American-owned, global internet freedom was respected to some extent due legislation such as the First Amendment and a culture of free speech.
Gjelten quotes Bruce Schneier, a cybersecurity expert who has worked with Britain’s Guardiannewspaper in reporting on NSA surveillance activities and acknowledges that spying has been detrimental to the openness of the internet. “The NSA’s actions embolden these people to say, ‘We need more sovereign control,’ Schneier says. ‘This is bad. We really need a global Internet.'”
Gjelten continues, “Some of the countries pushing for more international control over the Internet were never all that supportive of Internet freedom, like Russia and China. But they’ve now been joined by countries like Brazil, whose president, Dilma Rousseff, was furious when she read reports that she was herself an NSA target.”

The row over internet surveillance set off primarily by NSA contractor Edward Snowden has yet to settle. As it expands it has sharpened the debate over the control states have over private citizens and their freedom, while protecting national security. Let’s see where it goes.