Friday, March 09, 2007

PAZA condemns killing of Russian journalist

PAZA condemns killing of Russian journalist
By Patson Chilemba
Friday March 09, 2007 [02:00]

PRESS Association of Zambia (PAZA) vice-president Amos Chanda has condemned the mysterious death of a Russian journalist Ivan Safronov who died last week. Commenting on the death of Safronov who reported on military affairs and mysteriously plunged to his death from the fifth floor of his apartment building last week, Chanda said Russia was a major global power that should paint a positive image regarding the promotion and protection of media freedoms.

"Russia is a global power playing a major role in the global balance of power and therefore they have a huge responsibility on the protection and promotion of media freedoms," he said.

Chanda said it sent a chilling effect to the rest of the world whenever a journalist was murdered or media freedoms were contravened, especially in powerful countries like Russia.

"It can give an example to other countries that that's how things should be," he said.
Chanda said serious investigations should be launched and bring to book the culprits in Safronov's death.

Last week, Safronov, a respected Russian journalist, died mysteriously - making him the 14th journalist to die under questionable circumstances in Putin's Russia - according to statistics compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

More than 1,000 journalists and their support staff have died in the past decade, with Iraq and Russia topping the list as the deadliest countries for the profession, according to an Associated Press report released on Tuesday.

The report came as detectives investigated the suspicious death of Safronov, a military correspondent for Russia's top business daily - Kommersant - who died last Friday after falling out of a window in the stairway of his Moscow apartment building. Colleagues suspect foul play.

Russia was singled out in the report as a country with a growing list of slain journalists, including Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot and killed outside her apartment last October while investigating abuses by Russian troops in Chechnya.

The October 2006 report by a France-based non-governmental organisation, Reporters Without Borders, ranked Russia as 147th on a list of 168 countries in terms of protecting journalists and media expression.

End violence, intimidation against journalists
By Editor
Friday March 09, 2007 [02:00]

Last Friday, another Russian journalist met his death in what has generally been described as mysterious circumstances.

Ivan Safronov, a 51-year-old defence correspondent for the newspaper Kommersant, was found dead on Friday. He apparently fell from a fifth-floor window and his body was found outside his flat.

Safronov was a former colonel in the Russian Space Forces, who wrote about military and space issues for Kommersant. Most recently, he had written about changes in the defence leadership and problems in military training that had led to the deaths of young soldiers. He also wrote about defence technology and military testing failures that often went unacknowledged and unreported by the army.

Last December, and to the dismay of Russian authorities, Safronov wrote about the third consecutive launch failure of the Bulava intercontinental ballistic missile. It has been reported in the media that since he started working for Kommersant in 1997, Safronov had been questioned a number of times by the Federal Security Services (FSB) on suspicion of publishing state secrets but was never charged.

But what is more depressing is that the death of Safronov comes a few months after the death of another journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, who lost her life in what appeared to have been a contract murder. The killing of Anna at her Moscow home on 7 October, 2006 sparked international protests from governments, the European Union and other non-governmental organisations.

Before her death, the courageous and world-renowned journalist had worked for the paper Novaya Gazeta, and for many years had campaigned against the war in Chechnya and corruption and shrinking freedoms throughout the Russian Federation.

It is becoming very clear that something needs to be done to protect the lives of journalists operating in Russia. We are saying this because the number of journalists who are dying mysteriously is not going down; it is on the rise. In 2006 alone, three journalists were murdered in Russia, bringing to 21 the number killed doing their job since President Vladimir Putin came to power in March 2000.

As journalists, we are obviously concerned with what appears to be a spread of social violence and failure to punish the killers of journalists in Russia. We are concerned because it would appear that Russia is not providing a safe environment for its journalists. The unabated mysterious deaths of journalists in Russia has an effect of intimidating or scaring the otherwise brave journalists to do their work without fear. And since the death of Anna last October, we have not heard much in terms of what has happened to her assassins.

The intimidation of journalists in particular and the media in general should be condemned because it goes against the basic tenets of freedom and democracy. In countries which profess to be democracies, we expect that respect for fundamental human rights - such as press freedom - is highly exemplary.

And it is not only Russia where journalists face intimidation in their work, including the threat of death. There are several other countries which need to do more in terms of providing adequate freedoms for journalists and the media.

Within our country at the moment, we are beginning to witness the emergence of counterproductive elements in as far as the protection of journalists and rights such as press freedom is concerned. Only the other week, we heard and saw for ourselves how some members of parliament are willing to sacrifice the fundamental rights contained in Article 20 of the Constitution just for their own selfish and narrow ends.

It was depressing to see some members of parliament agitating for statutory media ethics legislation, a move which goes directly against the very principles upon which press freedom and other rights such as freedom of expression have been provided for in our Constitution.

Instead of making progress on the much stalled legislation such as the freedom of information Bill which stands withdrawn from Parliament, some members of parliament now want to be part of those who do not want journalists to enjoy press freedom.

We are not saying that as journalists we are immune from mistakes and we bear no responsibilities for what we do. Like everybody else, we do occasionally err in our work. Where it so happens that we have made mistakes, we have acted on our responsibility in various ways. And we can prove this.

We are therefore very surprised that there now seems to be a campaign to legislate against the media, to start making laws which will nullify the same freedoms that make the work of the media and journalists less difficult. Instead of enacting laws that actually make the work of journalists easier and providing a less hostile environment for the media, there are manoeuvres to stifle our work, to gag us. This is the challenge that we face as journalists operating in societies which do not fully appreciate our role.

But it should be realised that the media and journalists still have a great role to play in terms of oversight on the government and those who run it. Instead of intimidating the media either through repressive legislation or harming individual lives of those working within the media, it is important to find ways and means of providing a safer environment for them.

We therefore call on all governments of the world, to ensure that there is not only an end to violence against journalists, but also that there should be respect for press freedom and ways should be found to protect, and not to destroy, such freedoms.

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