Friday, September 17, 2010

IPI General Assembly urges govt to accept ZAMEC

IPI General Assembly urges govt to accept ZAMEC
By Chansa Kabwela in Vienna, Austria
Fri 17 Sep. 2010, 04:01 CAT

THE International Press Institute (IPI) has asked the government to accept the Zambia Media Council (ZAMEC) and refrain from pushing for statutory regulation of the media.

According to resolutions following the IPI’s general assembly on Monday, efforts by the media in Zambia to create a voluntary, self-regulatory mechanism had stalled with the government’s refusal to recognise ZAMEC.

“IPI members resolved that it is important that any media self-regulation be voluntary, and as the African Commission of Human and Peoples‘ Rights has found, the best and only acceptable method of media regulation is through independent, voluntary, self-regulatory bodies that are free of parliamentary oversight,” IPI resolved.

“IPI members call on Zambian authorities to accept the Zambia Media Ethics Council and refrain from statutory regulation of the media.”

IPI appealed to the Zambian government to relinquish its control of the media.

It noted that developments in Zambia indicated that the government was reluctant to accept the consequences of a free press, which included criticism, despite its proclaimed commitment to press freedom.

“The use of judicial sanctions against independent newspaper The Post continued over the past year, with criminal prosecutions against news editor Chansa Kabwela and against editor Fred M’membe, who is appealing the imposition of a punitive four months jail sentence for contempt of court,” IPI observed.

“ The state broadcaster, the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation, continues to be accountable to Parliament and therefore lacks independence. IPI members further call on the Zambian authorities to ensure that the public broadcaster is independent of government influence. IPI members call on the government to cease immediately its harassment of daily newspaper The Post.”

IPI expressed shock that the South African government appeared to be embarking on conduct, which could result in the destruction of that country’s democracy, after 16 years of attaining it.

It noted that US-based Freedom House, an institution that monitors freedom in countries of the world by measuring the state of the media and general freedom of expression, had downgraded South Africa from a free country to a party free nation.

“Since that rating change in April this year, South Africa has introduced in Parliament a Protection of Information Bill that lays out how official secrets should be graded. It has also begun steps to introduce into law a proposal by the ruling African National Congress that a statutory media appeals tribunal should be set up for action against print media found transgressing ethical and professional standards, so far not defined,” IPI stated.

“ANC spokesmen have referred to such punishments as imprisoning journalists and heavily fining newspapers. IPI has expressed its disquiet to President Jacob Zuma over the bill that is framed in language that allows virtually any issue to be declared secret, allows a cabinet minister to declare material classified and also provides for the very existence of a classified document to remain a secret. It would be possible for someone coming into possession of a document not to know that it is classified. Penalties under this Bill range up to 25 years' jail for possessing or disclosing the contents of classified documents.”

IPI also raised concern about the proposed media appeals tribunal in South Africa which it believes would provide a means to censor information and punish journalists.

It observed that the Bar Council, Law Society and civil society organisations and business people as well as the World Association of Newspapers, international news agencies and the US ambassador had all voiced concern over the legislation.

IPI called on the President Zuma’s government to reconsider the legislation and the potential damage to could do to the country and its standing in the world since the defeat of apartheid.

It suggested that the bill be replaced by one that severely restricts the types of information that could be classified to the absolute minimum so as not to encroach on the media’s constitutional freedom.

IPI also called on the Rwandan government to prosecute and punish those responsible for Umuvugizi deputy editor Jean-Leonard Rugambage’s murder.

It asked President Paul Kagame to end his suppression of the media by shutting down media houses and condemned the repression that surrounded his re-election.

“The government of Paul Kagame suspended critical publications “Umuseso” and “Umuvugizi”, shut down radio stations, arrested journalists and brought spurious lawsuits against them. After “Umuvugizi” defied its suspension by the government-controlled Media High Council, deputy editor Jean-Leonard Rugambage was shot and killed on 24 June,” IPI noted.

IPI also asked the Sri Lankan government to restore press freedom in that country and ensure that those who killed, attacked, imprisoned or otherwise violated the journalists’ rights during the civil war were punished.
It observed that recent constitutional amendments in that country would impact negatively on the media’s ability to act in a free and fair manner.

IPI noted the unprecedented power introduced through amendment on the Executive and the additional powers to seek election to office for unlimited time outside the two-term period that was in force would greatly affect the media’s operations.

IPI stated that the government’s hostility to dissent and intimidation of the media had led to self-censorship.

“The recent spate of court actions and the use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act to incarcerate journalists is condemned. The IPI is also dismayed by attacks and killing of journalists in Sri Lanka. None of these criminal acts have been successfully investigated. The murder of IPI World Press Freedom Hero Lasantha Wickrematunge, and many others, is yet to be solved, although the government has pledged to do so,” IPI stated.

It stated that the plethora of court actions against journalists and media groups in Sri Lanka was viewed with alarm, adding that the senior officials’ intimidation of free media through the public media negatively affected the journalists’ ability to inform the public.

IPI asked the Iranian government to release all journalists currently in detention.

IPI observed that since the re-election of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad in June last year, dozens of journalists, political reformers and human rights activists among others were imprisoned without fair trial because of their participation in or coverage of protests of election results.

“While many journalists have been released, others have been detained, subjected to cruel conditions and in some cases psychological and physical torture.The IPI members resolved that the imprisonment of journalists for their work or opinions is contrary to basic human rights, including the right of free expression and a free press,” IPI stated. “The IPI members calls on the government of Iran to release immediately all journalists in its custody, and allow them to practice their profession without fear of imprisonment.”

IPI appealed to Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych and his officials to end attacks on journalists and ensure that the media in that country was free to operate without interference.

It observed that after improvement in that country’s press freedom climate, the situation had deteriorated with a spate of attacks against journalists.
IPI condemned the Turkish government’s imprisonment of dozens of journalists, with some awaiting trial.

“Reportedly more than 40 Turkish journalists are currently in prison, some awaiting trial, because of their reports or columns in Turkey, making Turkey one of the world's worst jailers of journalists. Some journalists have been held without conviction for several years. Over 700 other journalists are currently facing lawsuits, with the threat of imprisonment, under specific articles in the Penal Code, press laws and anti-terror laws,” it stated. “IPI further calls on the Turkish authorities to ensure that no journalist must face the threat of imprisonment because of their professional work.”

IPI condemned the censorship and oppression of the media in Fiji and the new legislation introduced this year which established criminal penalties and other sanctions for journalists whose work is deemed against “the public order or interest.”

IPI also condemned Cuba’s failure to process that country’s blogger and Press Freedom Hero Yoani Sanchez’s exit visa in time for her to attend the congress.
”Sanchez, who was named an IPI World Press Freedom Hero in September 2010 by an independent jury, and was to take her place among IPI’s 60 World Press Freedom Heroes at a ceremony at Vienna’s City Hall, was denied permission to leave the country. Sanchez had referred to the award as a “protective shield” that would help her break the “wall of censorship”,” IPI stated.

On Europe, the IPI members unanimously condemned the deterioration in the press freedom climate, notably a strong trend by some established democracies to backtrack on legal guarantees of media freedom.
IPI cited Italy, Hungary, France and Spain, as countries that were trying to introduce or enforce legislation to control the work of journalists.

“The IPI members urge the authorities throughout Europe to live up to their human rights and media freedom commitments and obligations and to ensure that journalists are free to report without fear of imprisonment, bankruptcy, intimidation or assassination,” stated IPI.

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