Sign up for PM Award Updates!

Journalist Shot Dead Covering Egypt Clashes

A reporter was killed covering anti-government protests in Cairo. Mayada Ashraf reporting for Al-Dostournewspaper and Masr Al-Arabiya website was shot in the head by an unknown gunman during clashes that followed Egypt’s army chief Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s announcement that he was contesting the country’s presidential election. 
The Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RWB/RSF) said the last thing Asharaf had reported was that the army was using live rounds to control the protestors. Four other civilians were also killed.

“We offer our heartfelt condolences to Ashraf’s family and colleagues and we urge the competent authorities to carry out an independent and impartial investigation to ensure that this crime does not go unpunished,” said Lucie Morillon, head of research and advocacy at RSF.
With culprit/s yet to be identified, supporters of the military-backed government and the stalwarts of the Muslim Brotherhood of deposed President Mohamed Morsi accused each other of the murder.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said that Abdel-Kader Ismael, editor of the Al-Dostour had told a television station that an ambulance were initially unable to reach Ashraf due to the clashes. CPJ also said there Masr Al-Arabiyashowed a video of Ashraf being carried away.
CPJ said that Al-Dostour is known for its critical reporting of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice Party. CPJ also mentions that Ashraf had called the Muslim Brotherhood terrorists in her latest report.
Eleven journalists have been killed in connection with their work since 2011 and at least four since last July when Morsi was deposed following a popular uprising backed by the military. Egypt ranks 159th of 179 countries in RSF’s Press Freedom Index.
“We call on the Egyptian government to open an independent and impartial investigation into Mayada Ashraf’s killing,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “A journalist’s death should not be used to settle political scores -the focus should be on journalists’ right to safely cover events in Egypt.”

Bloomberg Abandons “Politically Risky Reporting on China”

Protestors in Paris (Pic. courtesy RSF)

Even as French citizens and international press freedom monitor Reporters without Borders (RSF/RWB) mounted protests against visiting Chinese president, Xi Jinping in Paris, US financial news giant Bloomberg decided the “company was abandoning politically risky reporting on China.”

Freedom House reported that Peter Grauer, chairman of Bloomberg LP speaking in Hong Kong, Thursday, said, “[t]hat the sheer size of the Chinese economy meant that ‘we have to be there.'”

The move follows reporting by Bloomberg journalists in 2012 of massive wealth accumulated by the relatives of then president designate Xi. China retaliated by blocking the site, which was a huge financial loss to Bloomberg. Bloomberg’s biggest source of income is its financial data service, which was now barred from customers in the world’s second largest economy.
Before Thursday’s announcement, Bloomberg unexpectedly pulled out an investigation in late 2013 on Wang Jianlin, China’s richest man, and Communist Party leaders. Matthew Winkler, Bloomberg’s editor-in-chief reportedly told in a conference call “Bloomberg could be ‘kicked out of China’ if it ran the piece.”
In a hard-hitting critique of Bloomberg’s course of action Freedom House said, “Elite corruption, the topic that Bloomberg seems to have specifically shied away from, is perhaps the most volatile and important factor of all, affecting company performance, government functions, and social stability. Businesspeople and other readers will want to know if a company must buy influence and protection from officials, navigate a market warped by corruption-driven spending priorities, or weather eruptions of public anger at official graft.”
Meanwhile in the high-visibility protest in Paris on Thursday, five trucks with photomontages of Xi giving the finger were to be driven near the city’s iconic landmarks to emblemise the Chinese president’s contempt for freedom of information in his country.
“The disconnect between the official discourse about the Chinese dream and the ruthless persecution of independent journalists shows the degree to which Xi Jinping is making fun of the world,” RSF’s secretary general, Christophe Deloire said.
“Article 35 of China’s constitution says that its citizens enjoy ‘freedom of speech [and] of the press,’ but more than 100 Chinese citizens – professional journalists and netizens – are currently in prison simply for trying to report the country’s reality,” he said.
However of the five trucks, four were stopped before entering the city, although one passed in front of the Eiffel Tower. Activists on bicycles weaving the smaller versions of the banner were also in the procession, RSF said.  

Protecting Journalists And HRDs From Digital Surveillance

As new evidence emerged from documents collected by whistleblower Edward Snowden on how American and British spy agencies NSA and GCHQ had secretly monitored WikiLeaks and its founder Juian Assange after his site published classified information on the Afghan war, the New York-based Freedom House on Wednesday released a report on how journalists and human rights defenders (HRDs) could better protect themselves from secret surveillance.
The report, ‘What Next: The Quest to Protect Journalists and Human Rights Defenders in a Digital World’ also addressed how donors and international support groups defending human rights could collaborate to effectively prevent government surveillance of journalists and HRDs.

The report is the result of a two-day conference in Mexico City in November, “which brought together over 60 policymakers, donors, and activists to explore the full range of emerging threats and best strategies to overcome them; take an honest look at what is and is not working; and chart a path forward for more proactive and realistic solutions to build the resilience, sustainability, and relevance of HRDs and their movements.”
Freedom House’s key recommendations include:
  • Civil society groups should invest resources into a more holistic approach to security training and assistance that addresses HRDs’ physical, digital, psycho-social, and other vulnerabilities.
  • Human rights organizations, technologists and donors should incorporate security protocols into their own practices. For donors, this means forcefully espousing human rights principles as a core of foreign policy and development aid, and making them key talking points when engaging with repressive regimes.
  • Donors, technologists and human rights organizations should focus less on funding new digital security tools and more on training HRDs in the use of existing tools, to emphasize changing behaviors that put them at risk and focusing on contingency planning and security protocols.
  • Donors should use coordinated engagements with countries in which HRDs and other targeted populations are under attack to stress the state’s responsibility to protect these populations. Foreign assistance to these countries should be conditioned on, and provide support for, their implementation of measures to protect targeted populations.
 Meanwhile, speaking on the documents on the WikiLeaks site, the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RWB/RSF) said, “The NSA’s surveillance, the US government’s attempts to bring judicial proceedings against WikiLeaks and the criminalization of the website’s publisher, Julian Assange, constitute a violation of freedom of information.
WikiLeaks cannot be prosecuted for exercising the right to gather and publish information, a right guaranteed by the First Amendment.”
RSF said there were three secret documents, collected by Snowden and published by Glenn Greenwald and Ray Gallagher, on the surveillance. The first detailed how GCHQ had monitored visitors to the site using the programme TEMPORA, after entering it by secretly acquiring IP addresses of visitors.
The second document revealed efforts by the US to treat Assange as a criminal. “The document reveals that, after WikiLeaks published the Afghan War Logs, ‘the United States on August 10 urged other nations with forces in Afghanistan, including Australia, United Kingdom, and Germany, to consider filling criminal charges against Julian Assange,'” said RSF.
“According to a third classified document, the US government considered designating WikiLeaksas a ‘malicious foreign actor,’ which would allow it to be subjected to much more extensive electronic surveillance,” said RSF.

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.

Government’s Grip On Hong Kong Media Tightens With Attack On Editor

Kevin Lau (Pic. courtesy AP/WJS)

Kevin Lau, 49, former editor of Hong Kong’s Chinese-language daily Ming Pao was critically wounded, Wednesday, when he was struck by an assailant with cleaver, said Associated Press. This follows his abrupt dismissal on January 7 as the editor of the newspaper, apparently due to reporting corruption and human rights abuses in China. 

Lau was stabbed a number of times on his back and legs as he was getting out of his car by a man riding the pillion of a motorbike in broad daylight in the area where his apartment is located. The Wall Street Journal said “Police are reviewing security cameras for leads on suspects. Hong Kong is an exceptionally safe city, and random crime—especially of this magnitude—is almost unheard of. So suspicion that the attack was politically motivated is widespread and warranted.”
The act caused immediate outrage in Hong Kong and internationally.
Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported the Hong Kong Journalists Association in a joint statement with eight other media groups saying, “The attacker is not only targeting at the media sector, but also challenging the rule of law and security of Hong Kong through attacking Lau under broad daylight.”
“This clearly premeditated attack must not go unpunished,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, head, Asia-Pacific desk of the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RWB/RSF). “The attack highlights the overall decline in freedom of information in Hong Kong, which includes a decline in the safety of journalists.”
The attack is all the more alarming because Lau appointed as editor of the Ming Paoin 2012 was replaced last month by Malaysian journalist Chong Tien Siong who used to edit the Nanyang Siang Pau. AP drew attention to the unsuitability of his appointment by observing that he had no “local experience.” WSJ said Lau’s dismissal had provoked widespread protests within the newspaper company with 90% of the staff filing a petition demanding an explanation for the move, while four columnists left their spaces blank in disapproval.
According to WSJ, Lau had been a vocal critic of the ‘national education policy’ that Beijing was aiming to introduce into the public school system of the former British colony. The move backfired due to public protests. Interestingly, Siong who replaced Lau as editor had backed the national education policy, said WSJ.
“The attack on Mr. Lau is especially alarming because it’s part of a pattern. Recent years have seen a spate of physical attacks on Hong Kong media critical of China’s ruling Communist Party and its local allies,” observes WSJ.
The newspaper cited recent incidents that include “the baton beating of iSun Affairs publisher Chen Ping, the theft and burning of some 20,000 copies of Apple Daily newspaper, and the failed attack on the home of Apple Dailyowner Jimmy Lai.”
In an earlier story WSJreported that Li Wei-Ling, another government critic, was fired from Commercial Radio in February, “an ouster that many suspect is meant to please local officials currently deciding whether to renew the station’s broadcasting license.”
Deteriorating levels of media freedom had raised concerns even before Wednesday’s attack on Lau. On Sunday, ‘Free Speech, Free Hong Kong’ rally took to the streets protesting official interference in Hong Kong media.
Although Hong Kong is guaranteed press freedom under the constitution when it was taken over by China in 1997, this has not been realised in practice because of pressures brought on the media by the CCP. The pressures not only targets individual journalists, editors and publishers who highlight human rights abuses and corruption by government elites. It includes companies and international banks from the mainland that pull out advertising from pro-democracy outlets in Hong Kong, said WSJ.
“The soft approach is to encourage self-censorship, which is easy when most Hong Kong media owners have business interests and political ties that they don’t want to jeopardize by angering Beijing. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, more than half of local media owners sit on Beijing-appointed government bodies such as the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference,” said WSJ.
“Press freedom in Hong Kong is facing an extremely grim future,” veteran journalist Ching Cheong, who was imprisoned by the ruling Chinese Communist Party from 2005-2008 on charges of spying for Taiwan, told RFAfollowing Sunday’s protest. “State power is now continually triumphing over press freedom.”
Wednesday’s stabbing of Lau seems a step further in that direction.