hy aren’t journalists covering the drought in Africa? And what about the war in South Sudan? In most of the cases the answer is that these subjects and countries aren’t appealing to the public and are swept aside in favour of more popular topics.
But sometimes there is an other problem: press freedom. In an enlighting column on the website of PBS, correspondent Fred De Sam Lazaro explains how the governement in Ethiopia made it impossible for him to make a story about the drought there, even though it is a positive one.
And this happens in more countries. Recently, Turkish media were shut down and a lot of journalists got arrested. As you can see in the graphic in the right corner, in only a third of the countries in the world the press is completely free. Even in our correspondents’ countries only five are rated ‘good’ in the yearly World Press Freedom Index.
Because we at Mappening also want to write about subjects that aren’t always easy to talk about, we asked our correspondents how free they think they are as a journalist.
Do you have something to add? Leave your comment or join as a correspondent in your country.
his is a subject that gets discussed here and there, between people with different opinions. Some say the state of media is perfectly fine right now and think this is how it should be. Others simply don't agree and I can't say they're wrong.
First of all, censorship is present even at universities and the newspapers they produce in Communication Faculities. In my university, these newspapers and magazines were produced by the ‘Applied Journalism’ classes we had to take and it was against the rules of this class to make news about politics.
"A photo with liquor bottles was considered inappropriate" Apart from that, the news that did get selected to be published had to be approved by our Rector. During that approval process, many news which included ‘unpopular’ opinions or ‘inappropriate photos’ were rejected. To help you get the idea, a photo with liquor bottles in it was considered inappropriate.
When we look at the ’actual press’, it doesn't look good either. Turkey is 5th on the list of jailed journalists with 14 journalists in jail by 2015. With the current events, not only did this number increase, some newspapers were shut down altogether. These are all objectively correct evidence which clearly suggests that there is a huge issue with freedom of press.
ast summer I did an internship in one of the most important Spanish press agencies. I remember one day I received a news release that spoke in a negative way about CaixaBank, a large financial institution in Spain. As usual, I wrote the story and I sent it to the editor-in-chief before publishing it. His response was clear: “We cannot publish this story because we can not say bad things about CaixaBank, they’ve been funding us.”
That day I experienced first-hand as a journalist one truth I’d always presumed as a citizen: even if official censorship does not exist, freedom of press is not guaranteed in the country where I live. The most effective way to censor a topic is silence. Indeed, the majority of media usually do not cover certain topics which would damage the economical and political elite.
"The severe economic situation is a threat for journalism" Furthermore, the Spanish conservative government has recently approved the “ley mordaza” - gag law- that allows to punish journalists if they leak information regarding police agents. They receive high fines, among other sanctions.
Besides the lack of independence of Spanish media corporations, another threat is the severe economic situation, which is endangering job stability among journalists. In this context, the pressure of the establishment is even higher so self-censorship is the main barrier to freedom of press nowadays.
espite of constitutionally guaranteed media freedom, a great deal of modern publishers are subject to unofficial censorship. The answer is very plain and simple.
Press and other media in Russia are mostly means of propaganda for the Russian officials. There are three groups of press, in terms of their connection to the Russian government.
The first group is state-funded publishers, which consistently support current domestic and foreign policy. They may be even legally owned by the state and play along with the Kremlin. You can use the term ‘public propaganda’ on them, to be honest.
"Eventually such press ends up in the pocket of the Kremlin" The second group is private-owned media and press. They try to find their place among real fact-based journalism and not to provoke the officials at the same time. Eventually such press ends up in the pocket of the Kremlin, because it’s just much easier not to face consequences.
And consequences are something the third group is familiar with. Media and press of this group is private-owned and they always struggle due not only legal pressure of the Kremlin, but also due to a lack of financial support.
Nevertheless, there are still few independent media in Russia being an example of quality-based journalism. All members of the editorial staff risk their careers on a daily basis. The topics and issues discussed in these media are almost 100 procent ignored by national media.
Recently I thought about building my career in state-funded media. It’s a stable and well-paid job for a young man. In order to get the job I was required to write a piece on Russian foreign policy. I did that, and after I received a letter of denial, saying: “Sorry, but you are not suitable for our organisation. We are currently looking for someone with another view on certain things.” After that I understood that they were looking for followers.
he 1992 constitution provides freedom of speech and expression. Chapter 12 of the constitution also guarantees the freedom of the media.
The repeal of the criminal libel law in 2001 further liberalized the media landscape. Since 2014 to date, Ghana has being adjudged the freest country in terms of civil liberties and freedom of the press in Sub-Saharan Africa.
"The guaranteed freedom of the media is however not absolute" The guaranteed freedom of the media is however not absolute. Journalists in Ghana are free to write about what they want, as long as it is not libelous, seditious or in contempt of court and within the constitution.
Excesses of some sections of the media, in recent times, have pushed some citizens, including journalists themselves, to call for self-censorship of the media. The host of radio station Montie Fm and two panelists are currently serving a four month jail term for threatening to kill some judges.
As a result of the excesses, the National Media Commission (NMC) attempted to introduce a new legislative instrument that would’ve required media operators to obtain content authorization from the NMC. This was resisted by the media, taken to court and the NMC was asked to suspend its implementation.
There have been few instances journalists were attacked by political party activists, but these are rare occurrences.
n Ukraine, journalists are, to some extent, free to write what they want. Our journalists write about corruption, fraud and other misdeeds caused by the top officials.
From my point of view, Ukrainian press usually is free from political intervention. It can serve its role of a public watchdog. But, problems still exist.
One of them is the ownership. We do not have public broadcasting - only one state TV channel and commercial stations. State TV used to produce news in favour of the government, whereas commercial stations are influenced by the owners.
"The media can be qualified as partly free" Even though our press is mostly free, recently we had a few critical stories. One of them concerns the project called ‘Myrotvorets’ (‘Peacemaker’). This project published names and contacts of journalists, who visited occupied territories in Eastern Ukraine. Public condemned it and it was closed, but then it started to work again.
The second horrible story is the murder of a Ukrainian-Belarusian journalist Pavlo Sheremet. This happened on July 20th, but till now no one knows who is responsible for this.
On the legal level, the Constitution of Ukraine and the Law on the Press guarantee the freedom of speech and expression. There are only technical prerequisites for registering a new media.
The media in Ukraine can be qualified as partly free with some exceptions, referring mainly to the security situation and the development of democratic processes in society.
he Irish Press is not subject to any direct control from the state. In theory, at least, we can write anything we want.
The caveat is that everything we write must be true. While seemingly an obvious positive, the legal process surrounding defamation is flawed.
The press are hamstrung by astronomical damages fees awarded to successful plaintiffs in defamation cases. For example, a man was recently ordered to pay 75.000 euro over a post he made on Facebook.
"One small mistake can ruin my career" The damages are so high that foreign nationals have begun suing foreign publications in Irish courts. Justin Timberlake did just that in 2014 over an article published in Heat (a British magazine).
As an aspiring journalist, the potential fees are terrifying. All it would take is one small mistake to utterly ruin my career. Who would hire someone who has already cost their employer thousands?
The result is that there is a certain amount of fear regarding the publishing of negative stories about rich and powerful people. As the burden of proof rests on the accused journalist, the safe move is to avoid publishing controversial stories.
Censorship is not strictly enforced in Ireland anymore, but the system still allows for censorship to occur.
n Greece apart from the economic crisis, there is also a crisis in the field of defense of individual freedom as expressed mainly through freedom of speech and the press.
The increase in violent attacks against journalists, criminalisation of public discourse and the state or judicial intervention in freedom, are sources of particular concern for the future of freedom in the Greek territory. Increasingly frequent are the attacks on journalists covering the events in marches, either by anarchists or by police.
"The freedom of speech is defined by each media agency" However, it is true that our country is in a pretty good position on press freedom compared with other countries. Major conquest reasons of this good position are the constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression through the press as well as freedom of access in cyberspace.
In my own experience at the public television of Thessaloniki we were neutral and impartial in news coverage, as much as we could. However, the freedom of speech is defined depending on the directions set by each media agency.
The Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has promised to end the power enjoyed by the barons of private media, a small number of businessmen, who for many years were using mass media to promote their business interests.
he freedom of press appears to be great in Finland – actually the best in the world. Reporters without borders has ranked Finland first in the World Press Freedom Index every year in a row since 2009.
But things are almost never as absolute as they seem, nor are they in this case.
"One of the biggest threats might be Russia" We have our threats and one of the biggest might be Russia. The history between Russia and Finland and some 1300 kilometres of shared border leaves its shadow hanging on our country and lets tentacles of the massive neighbour reach our side of the bound.
Investigative journalist Jessika Aro is one of the journalists bringing up Russia's effects on the freedom of press in Finland. After writing about Russia-related topics she has, for example, received messages telling that she is ‘being watched’ and phone calls with no words but only a sound of gun firing. Everybody is free to contrive themselves where and why those contacts are coming from.
Personally I would not like to be scared of writing about anything but I am aware that certain topics might set up some little fires. Fear that leads to self-censorship is indeed one of the major cases threatening our free press, I think. Luckily that is something that every journalist is capable to fight against.
ress in the UK is regulated by The Independent Press Standards Organisation, IPSO. A committee sanctioned by them created The Editors Code, containing details about the general need for accuracy as well as more specific details about financial journalism or cases involving abuse. Failure to abide by these rules can lead to lawsuits.
Most reputable newspapers respect the rules and abiding by them is intrinsic to the integrity of a newspaper. Apart from these rules and regulations, the most decisions of what is alright to post comes down to whether or not it is in the public interest.
In some cases, people (usually those with a high profile) will find out about a story concerning them before it is published and can go through the courts in order to get an injunction or “gagging order” to prevent it going to print. This prohibits newspapers publishing specific stories which may cause damage to personal lives unnecessarily.
"There is a need to have some regulations, if only to respect privacy" The issue therefore is balancing what is in the public interest and what violates the regulations. Newspapers less worried about integrity often fail to abide by these regulations and in some cases even break the law in order to get a story.
One of the biggest scandals the British press ever faced concerned phone hacking. In 2006 the Prime Minister ordered an investigation into the issue, dubbed The Leveson Inquiry. It was revealed that phone hacking had happened to celebrities and politicians as well as victims of the 2007 London bombings and families of dead soldiers. The situation was a media circus and in a trial that cost nearly 100 million pounds, dozens of journalists and celebrities (including the prime minister) were asked to give evidence.
It resulted in the disbandment of a 168 year old tabloid newspaper and a 4 year jail sentence for its former editor. This demonstrates how despite our relatively free press there will always be those who go too far in order to get an advantage on their competitors. It also demonstrates how having complete freedom to publish whatever you want isn’t always a good thing and there is a need to have some regulations, if only to respect privacy.
ress freedom in Ghana dates back to the colonial era till independence. Successive governments gagged the press until the 1992 constitution abolished censorship and ensured the right to information. The criminal libel law and the sedition law were repealed in 2001 enhancing freedom of the press.
Today, journalists freely criticize anybody including the president without being sanctioned. False publications attract civil suits, not a criminal one. Society respects fair and firm journalists whose stories are balanced, devoid of interferences.
"Some make defamatory statements without any shrewd of fact" However, the repeal of the criminal libel law seemed to have also ‘repealed’ professionalism among some media practitioners. Majority of them use their newspapers whilst others sit on radio and TV to insult and make defamatory statements without any shrewd of fact.
Media practitioners are sometimes physically attacked but I have no such experience. A footballer, in 2014, physically attacked a journalist for asking a question he found offensive. Police investigations began, with Ghana Journalist Association (GJA) and Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association (GIBA)’s support for justice. To the amazement of all, the attacked journalist withdrew the case, citing health and family reasons. It was later alleged that the accused paid the journalist money to discontinue and withdraw the case.
To safeguard press freedom in Ghana, Parliament must pass the Right To Information Bill to give meaning to the right to information enshrined in the constitution in order to prevent subterfuge in media practice in Ghana. Journalists must resist all interferences and the juicy offers they come with. Media owners must employ properly trained journalists and pay them well. GJA and GIBA must grow the teeth to bite those who exhibit unprofessionalism.
he current situation in Lithuania regarding press freedom is normal. According to World Press Freedom index, my country ranks 35th out of 179 countries.
On one hand, the most popular national media outlets Delfi and 15min are really strong key players against corrupted public workers and dishonest businessmen. These media groups even try to make journalistic investigations which usually cost a lot of money and time. On the other hand, the bigger part of regional press is under tight grip of local mayors. Regional press journalists are more like marionettes than workers doing their job. Media experts try to highlight this problem but nothing is changing very quickly.
"My friends complained that the atmosphere is unbearable" When you are a young and inexperienced journalist, you need time to figure out all interest groups. It‘s quite easy to write about cultural and social issues or follow celebrity life. This is what usually youngsters choose if they don‘t want to dig up cold facts about politicians and their relations with business holdings or vice versa.
I prefer myself to spotlight international relations and never experienced any pressure from anyone to change something. However, my fellow friends who have done internship in regional press, usually have complained that the atmosphere is unbearable.
ccording to Reporters Without Borders’ ranking of freedom of press, Spain is placed in the 34th position, above countries such as the United States or United Kingdom, but below Belgium, Switzerland or Finland.
Spain’s position can be understood through different reasons. The first kind of ‘censorship’ you will find if you are a Spanish journalist comes from the ideological line of the media you are working for. Last year, I was working as an intern at a radio station with traditional conservative ideology. When we covered political parties, we dedicated more time to those parties related to the political preferences of their audience.
"At last, we may consider economical pressure" The second aspect that may limit your freedom of press are the own sources of information. The articles you write have to be a balance between what you want to express and what the sources want you to write. If this balance isn’t there, you risk to lose either your source or your job as a journalist.
At last, but not least, we may consider economical pressure. Usually, media are financed by publicity or banks, which may complicate your job as a journalist, as you will not criticise the enterprise that can risk your salary.
n April 2016, the organization "Reporters without borders" published their annual Press Freedom Index. That year Austria dropped from rank seven to rank eleven. A difference of just a few places, you could say. However, these minor changes, could become a problem if this trend proceeds - even if nobody got harmed.
Let me talk you through the three cases that definitely effected the ranking of our country. First: there is a remarkably high amount of advertisements for the government and their projects in a certain Austrian newspaper.
"Citizens do not have the right to gain information from the government" Second: when the conditions in one of Austria's biggest refugee camp became seriously bad, there was a temporary information ban on it.
Third: Austria is one of the last states in the European Union, to have ‘professional confidentiality’. Which means, simplified, that citizens do not have the right to gain certain information from the government. It is quite the opposite of the Freedom of Information Act. Let's rather keep an eye on that.
onditions for media freedom in Turkey have never been well by any means and it continues to deteriorate progressively. The limited freedom of the media and the large number of imprisoned journalists recently caught western world’s attention, but freedom of press is not a new term topic in Turkey.
To give an idea about the horrible history in the freedom of press in Turkey, I would like to point out that 77 journalists were killed between 1905 and 2015 and 23 of them were Kurdish Journalists who merely been killed between 1992 and 1993.
"The essence of their existence is to maximize Erdogan’s interests" Today, the main stream media do not only support president Erdogan, the essence of their existence is also to maximize Erdogan’s interests. There are not many alternative media left: only a few dissident media organisations which are also marginalised by him.
Being a dissident journalist in Turkey means to face up the fear of losing your job and to cope with verbal attacks by senior politicians. Furthermore, as a journalist you can be sued because of various illogical reasons and receive death threats in return of an insignificant salary.