FREE EXPRESSION

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Philippines among worst-ranked countries in press freedom index

SEVEN Asian countries, including the Philippines, are in the bottom 20 of the fifth annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index released by the international press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

RSF Worldwide Press Freedom Index 2006The Philippines is among the worst-ranked countries for 2006 at 142nd place (in a tie with the Democratic Republic of Congo out of 168 countries surveyed), further slipping three places with the continuing murders of journalists and increased legal harassment in the form of libel suits, including those filed by First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, husband of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

The country is now in the ignominious company of Bangladesh (137), Singapore (146), Vietnam (155), Laos (156), Pakistan (157) and Burma (164). (Download the Asia Index.)

Since it was introduced in 2002 to provide a worldwide index of countries according to their respect for press freedom, the RSF Index has documented the deterioration of press freedom in the Philippines under Arroyo’s rule, with the country sliding down the rankings from 89th in 2002 to 118th in 2003. Though it improved to 111th in 2004, the country endured a sharp decline to 139th in 2005.

Though it moved up slightly, with fewer journalists killed, Bangladesh recorded more than 80 cases of censorship. Singapore slipped six places due to the new legal action by the government against the foreign media. Vietnam also moved up three places but it continued to stifle freedom of expression online while Laos remained in the same position, with its media obeying the information ministry’s orders.

The past year also saw Asian dictatorships step up their repression of the media with Burma slipping another place, with seven journalists imprisoned, 11 arrested and prior censorship maintained. Despite fairly outspoken media outlets, Pakistan saw kidnappings of journalists and physical attacks by police or intelligence agents.

Two of the three worst free expression violators are also Asian countries — North Korea (168) and Turkmenistan (167). Th RSF index reported that Kim Jong-il, the all-powerful North Korean leader, continues to totally control the media. In Turkmenistan, the torture death of journalist Ogulsapar Muradova, RSF said, shows that the country’s leader, “President-for-Life” Separmurad Nyazov, is willing to use extreme violence against those who dare to criticize him.

China (163) also dropped four places even though the country’s media outlets are more numerous and aggressive now, Repression, however, has increased, carried out jointly by the government departments of propaganda and public security. The Chinese government has stressed that it wants to keep its monopoly on all news, mainly through the state-run Xinhua news agency. In the past year, censorship has been stepped up, penalties increased, and many news websites shut down. Physical attacks have also escalated, with one journalist killed by police.

Northern European countries, meanwhile, have been topping the Index since 2002, with no recorded censorship, threats, intimidation or physical reprisals. As in previous years, Finland, Ireland, Iceland and the Netherlands share first place this year. Perennial joint first-placers Norway, Denmark and Switzerland, have however, slid down the rankings.

Denmark’s dramatic fall (19th) is attributed to the serious threats against the authors of the Mohammed cartoons published in autumn 2005. The Index noted that for the first time in recent years in a country that is very observant of civil liberties, journalists had to have police protection due to threats against them because of their work.

RSF also expressed alarm over the “steady erosion of press freedom” in the United States, France and Japan. Describing the deterioration, the Index said:

The United States (53rd) has fallen nine places since last year, after being in 17th position in the first year of the Index, in 2002. Relations between the media and the Bush administration sharply deteriorated after the president used the pretext of “national security” to regard as suspicious any journalist who questioned his “war on terrorism.” The zeal of federal courts which, unlike those in 33 US states, refuse to recognise the media’s right not to reveal its sources, even threatens journalists whose investigations have no connection at all with terrorism.

Freelance journalist and blogger Josh Wolf was imprisoned when he refused to hand over his video archives. Sudanese cameraman Sami al-Haj, who works for the pan-Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera, has been held without trial since June 2002 at the US military base at Guantanamo, and Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein has been held by US authorities in Iraq since April this year.

France (35th) slipped five places during the past year, to make a loss of 24 places in five years. The increase in searches of media offices and journalists’ homes is very worrying for media organisations and trade unions. Autumn 2005 was an especially bad time for French journalists, several of whom were physically attacked or threatened during a trade union dispute involving privatisation of the Corsican firm SNCM and during violent demonstrations in French city suburbs in November.

Rising nationalism and the system of exclusive press clubs (kishas) threatened democratic gains in Japan, which fell 14 places to 51st. The newspaper Nihon Keizai was firebombed and several journalists physically attacked by far-right activists (uyoku).

(For an explanation on how the Index was compiled, click here.)

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October 24, 2006 - Posted by | Free Expression in Asia

9 Comments »

  1. Thanks to so-called press freedom in the Philippines, letters like the one below, was never published. Poch Suzara

    Open Letter to President Bush
    Dear Mr. President:

    Wars in the past have been waged to end all wars – to make the world “safe for democracy.” Nothing happened except the seeds of hatred and violence only replanted for future wars. In this century of modern weapons for wholesale slaughter, the choice is either Man stops the future of war or war stops the future of Man.

    In the past, many people of Vietnam, especially women and children, were killed over nothing. In the present, many people of Iraq, especially women and children, are killed over nothing. Yesterday, it was called war against Communism. Today, it is called war against Terrorism. What’s the difference? Communism and Terrorism are both the black sheep children of Capitalism! Indeed, thanks to Capitalism rich nations get richer, and poor nations get poorer. Meanwhile, If war must be declared against terror, why not fight those terrorists hiding not in Iraq or elsewhere under a periscope, but only those more deadly ones found under a microscope?

    The United Nations should help Iraq solve its own problems. The Iraqis should choose for themselves the kind of government that suits them. Iraqis don’t want a Christian democracy. They want a Muslim theocracy. So leave them alone to grow up to confront the evils of their own religion. We too, in America, must also grow up to confront the evils of our own religion. Indeed, no other belief has spread more terror to humanity than the belief that religion comes from divinity. The Christians, Jews, and the Muslims have not ceased hating and cutting each other’s throat in God’s name. Meanwhile, the US government is wasting billions of dollars yearly for its military growth and expansion. To prevent not future violence and degradation, but only to frighten other nations into getting more involved in the welter of organized hatreds and threats of mutual extermination. North Korea recently proved that a nuclear bomb is easy to make and exciting to test. North Korea is now a new member of the family of nuclear-armed States. In the years to come, other nations will also manufacture their own weapons of mass destruction. Meanwhile, the United Nations and its Peacekeeping Forces have yet to dismiss the paradoxical theory that nations can only remain alive and united by preparing to bomb each other.

    Sir, as the head of our government, perhaps you could, instead, look into the injustices of freedom and the tragedy of democracy in American history. Your high office should fully support the already established commission to examine the institution of slavery, and subsequently the racial and economic discrimination against African-Americans, and the impact of that discrimination on living African-Americans. Millions of slaves involved may all be dead; however, legal persons remain alive, particularly governments and corporations including universities that benefited from slavery. Despite the passage of time, these beneficiaries of slavery are still among us and should face legal complicity. The US government and other institutions benefited from crimes against humanity. They should be held responsible for damages. The reparation due to Black Americans is not about charity. It is about justice and social sanity. It is about freedom and democracy. It is about human dignity.

    I refer you to Raymond A. Winbush’s, editor of: SHOULD AMERICA PAY? Quote: – “Black Africa sacrificed 40 to 100 million men, women, and children to the slave trade; 15 to 25 million survived. Indeed, there is little recorded in human history to compare with the sheer horror of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Human beings were chained together, and then piled on top of each other, where they had to lie and sleep in their own waste as well as that of the person next to them for weeks on end. A vicious cycle of disease ensued as African people huddled together crying, screaming, vomiting, and defecating uncontrollably. Along this human chain of misery, some were dead and some alive, the waft of rotting bodies adding to the stench. There was no escape from disease. The captives suffered from dysentery, diarrhea, eye infections, malaria, malnutrition, scurvy, worms, yaws, and typhoid fever. Slaves also suffered from friction sores, ulcers, injuries and wounds resulting from accidents, fights, and whippings . . . The longer the journey, the more the human cargo was to die in route. One can only imagine the state of mental health for those trapped in this living nightmare. Panic, anxiety, hysteria prevailed. Pure rage alternated with a deep collective depression, manifesting in mutiny and onboard rebellions. For various reasons – too much cargo, too little food, to eliminate evidence of being a slave ship African people were oftentimes thrown out by the crew into shark-infested waters. Long line of chained captives sometimes jumped overboard together, committing group suicide, and mothers threw their babies overboard. The three hundred years of Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade amounted to a system of death and destruction beyond human comprehension and convention unparalleled in the annals of history. Imagine, if not already separated, families were torn apart – husbands from wives, children from their parents and siblings. It was common practice for them to be sold to different plantations in different states, never to be reunited again…It destroyed the lives of millions of innocent black Africans.” Unquote. Of course, nobody called this evil “capitalism.” Instead, everybody called it “freedom and democracy.”

    Mr. President, please stop wasting our precious tax dollars to promote the evils of hate and poverty. Your foreign policies are only giving birth to more terrorism to haunt us in the future. The budget for the US military should be reduced considerably for humanitarian purposes. Such as for education and health programs for the African-Americans and millions of other Americans, specially the senior citizens with social security income surviving from hand to mouth existence. The U.S. military adventures overseas contribute nothing to our national security or prosperity or even to global sanity. Bertrand Russell wrote: “You can bomb the world into pieces, but you can’t bomb the world into peace.” Since the end of the Second World War, the United States has manufactured, sold, exported, or given away armaments worth more than a trillion dollars to foreign countries. The Philippines as one recipient country of such armaments got energized not with the science of life and reconstruction, but only with the religion of death and destruction. Meanwhile, for the sake of the Philippine-American friendship, most Filipinos living in hate and in poverty continue to justify the killings of fellow-Filipinos with weapons “Made in America.”

    Sir, please give world peace a chance. Please retool and transform our destructive war economy into a constructive peace economy. As the president of the most powerful nation in the world, you can make the sanity and the beauty of peace shine not only throughout the world but also make it brilliantly visible in the hearts and minds of every Black, White, Yellow, Brown, and Red American. As a consequence, we, the American people, should and must be able to utter these words without shame: – “In America, we have justice for all. In America, no one is deprived of life, liberty, security and prosperity. Indeed, in America, without exception, we all enjoy the colorful norms of human dignity.”

    Yours faithfully, Poch Suzara
    Bertrand Russell Society, Philippines
    San Lorenzo Village, Makati City
    October 22, 2006

    Comment by Poch Suzara | November 30, 2006 | Reply

  2. Bush is forever saying that democracies do not invade other countries and start wars. Well, he did just that. He invaded Iraq, started a war, and killed people. What do you think? What is he doing to us, and what is he doing to the world?
    What happened to us, people? When did we become such lemmings?
    The more people that the government puts in jails, the safer we are told to think we are. The real terrorists are wherever they are, but they aren’t living in a country with bars on the windows. We are.

    Comment by Antibush | February 16, 2007 | Reply

  3. Congratulations for being nominated in the 2007 Philippine Blog Awards.

    Comment by Nostalgia Manila | March 13, 2007 | Reply

  4. hoping Poch Suzara will have Jinky contact me or Eileen in Van Nuys Ca .. they were friends over thirty -five years ago .

    Comment by mike seeman | May 8, 2007 | Reply

  5. It’s a shame what happened to Bangladesh. I hope the world steps up and helps them.

    Comment by retro | November 20, 2007 | Reply

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