Really Untold News: The Recent Global Assault on Independent Media

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“Four hostile newspapers
are more to be feared than
a thousand bayonets.”
“ We are not afraid to
entrust the American peo –
ple with unpleasant facts,
foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and com –
petitive values. For a nation that is afraid to
let its people judge the truth and falsehood
in an open market is a nation that is afraid
of its people.” (JFK)
Between protests and hurricanes, it’s
been a very busy news month. The most
pressing untold story, however, has been a
seemingly relentless series of attacks on
press and independent expression across the
international system. If it were a slow news
cycle, though, I doubt we’d hear much
about these developments anyhow. So in
keeping with the Public i’s goal of reporting
the often unacknowledged, here it goes:
Countries in the media activist “news”
over the past few months, in no particular
U.S. military sets precedent of
shutting down newspapers and banning
broadcast media in a time of crisis; less than
principled example to set for the leaders of
the newest “democracy” in the region.
The Nigerian government has
been heavily criticized by NGO’s and
democracy advocates recently for its pattern
of repression and intolerance to political dissent.
On September 6th, the Nigerian Intelligence
Agency raided the independent magazine,
Insider We e k l y, in Lagos with sledgehammers,
arrested staff, and banned further
production. The reason? “…disparaging and
humiliating the person and office of President
and Commander- i n – C h i e f . ”
The current Prime Minister
founded the country’s largest telecommunication
conglomerate. Late August of this
year, this media giant filed libel charges
against a Thai media reform activist from
the Campaign for Popular Media Reform,
as well as editors of the Thai Post who
researched and documented that the conglomerate
was a major beneficiary of the
government’s policies. Media activists in
the country have documented over 20
recent cases of journalists and editors being
dismissed, or having their stories altered in
order to appease the government. The Thai
court agreed to hear the case, which could
result in imprisonment.
Outside of Luanda, there is no
independent media in this country, which is
struggling to rebuild civic life after decades
of war. In the capital, independent media is
constrained by strong libel laws, and
severely restrictive dissemination rules.
As of September, the Brazilian
government had not backed away from a
proposal to require licensing of journalists
in the country—a measure being pushed by
the state-journalists union. President Luiz
da Silva’s chief policy strategist, in
response to questions about the proposal,
quipped “nothing is absolute, not even freedom
of the press.”
Early July, the Israeli military
attacked and destroyed a Palestinian media
office in Gaza city with missiles, with IDF
justification being that it was “a communications
center which maintained constant
contact with terrorists.” The owner and
manager admit contact with various Palestinian
elements as a function of journalistic
work. This was the third attack on Palestinian
media in less than two months.
Journalists critical of the government
have been subject to harassment
and imprisonment. Notably, Nguyen Vu
Binh was sentenced to 7 years imprisonment
for releasing an article over the internet;
an apparent violation of the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to
which Vietnam is a state party. The government
has been unresponsive to recent calls
for his release and increased tolerance of
Physical attacks on independent
journalists in the country are commonplace.
In a number of cases editors and
journalists critical of the government face
threat to their families, the most recent documented
case in May when the son of a
journalist critical of the Interior Ministry
was beaten nearly to death.
Ertireans have been forced to
rely on state press for information, and the
government has refused recent pleas by
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders to
release 14 journalists held without charge
for at least 3 years. As of August, nearly all
foreign journalists have been expelled from
: The Cypriot government
demonstrates its commitment to free speech
by following “encouragements” from the
CIA to investigate Petros Evdokas as a
potential “threat to US interests”. Evdokas
is a founding member of Cyprus Indymedia.
The KGB successor, the FSB,
has been accused of intimidating journalists
attempting to cover sensitive stories. Most
r e c e n t l y, during coverage of the Beslan
school tragedy, less government-friendly
journalists have found themselves being
detained for unknown reasons, or groggy
and confused after prolonged unconsciousness
following coffee or tea.
The hopelessly morally corrupt
Zimbabwean government under
Mugabe has for years repressed independent
media in the country. As the country is
becoming further isolated from the international
community, even greater restrictions
on speech critical of the government’s policies
are being implemented. The government
has ejected foreign media (most
notably the BBC) for coverage of the use of
food by the government as an instrument of
coercion. In June of this year, the government
required that ISPs enter into a contract
that requires them to prevent or report to the
authorities any “anti-national” activities and
correspondence through their telephone
lines (or face punishment).
Other countries that fit the press-repression/
incident time-frame criteria above:
(If you are interested in these cases, contact
the author. Space considerations are at
This is the short, very non-exhaustive
list, limited to stories I’ve come across the
last 3 months or so. A more temporally
expansive search of disturbing restrictions
on press and other expression would read as
a who’s who list of troubled societies and
dangerous political environments. Coincid
e n c e ?
It is in times of crisis that an independent
press is most important to a functional
social and political community. It is also at
these times that the press faces the gravest
threats. We in the U.S. are accustomed to
corporate self-censorship at home (e.g., Iraq
war, and all things “un-patriotic”), but we
must not forget the active role some state
leaders take in using the coercive apparatuses
of government against independent
media. And we certainly must not limit
media activism to those cases of need arising
from corporate strangleholds.
What will these societies look like in 10
years? The global community is currently
and appropriately concerned with countless
political and humanitarian crises. What is
the root of these crises? There are, of course,
a thousand answers, and no single answer.
H e r e ’s a proposition, though: free press,
unfettered from political control, profiteering
interests, and factional intimidation, will
foster a healthier civic life for those societies
with such press than those without.
Healthy civil society is what allows
human beings to air grievances without
resort to violence. In looking at the list of
countries above, it is obvious that these
states are already in danger of continued
chronic unrest, deprivation, and violence.
By actively supporting independent media
rights in these places, as well as here at
home, speech and media activists will be
playing a bigger role than they may realize
in making the world a better place, for this
and future generations.
Nearly all of the countries listed above
are being targeted by campaigns that
address, either directly or circumstantially,
limits on press and political expression. For
information on how to get involved in a particular
country, email the author at sedward1@

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