Tuesday, June 21, 2011

CJA to confer in Malta in January

The Commonwealth Journalist Association (CJA) is to hold its next international conference – its ninth -- at the Radisson Blu Hotel in St Julian’s, Malta, from January 29 to February 1 next year. With less money to support the conference this time around, journalists from developing nations can apply to have their travel and hotel costs subsidised.

Outrage at the death of a brave man

The CJA joined in protests against the murder of Syed Saleem Shahzad, a Pakistani journalist who was found dead two days after being kidnapped. His body was covered in wounds and he appeared to have been tortured. On June 16, the government set up an inquiry headed by Justice Saqib Nisar. This brought to an end a Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists sit-in.

Many Pakistani journalists have been murdered in recent years, several this year. What made Shahzad’s death stand out was that he was not a poor local journalist trying to make a few rupees out of the violence in Baluchistan and the tribal areas and falling foul of the authorities or their opponents. Nor was he a Sindhi killed for offending some narrow-minded local landlord who thought himself above the law.

He was an Islamabad-based journalist seeking to explain and inquire into the struggle between government and Taliban, for readers not just in Pakistan but throughout the world. A few days before he died, he wrote an article for the Asia Times which alleged that junior naval officers were involved in the Taliban raid on a Karachi naval base that killed 12 navy men and destroyed two US-made surveillance planes. He was on his way to a TV interview about this article when he was kidnapped.

James Lamont wrote in the Financial Times of June 14: “Syed Saleem Shahzad courted controversy by writing that Taliban and al-Qaeda militants had taken a strategic decision to destabilise the army and had deeply infiltrated its ranks. He was murdered.”

An Italian editor for whom Shahzad wrote remarked: “We will never forget his illuminating analyses of social and cultural realities so different from our own. No one will ever kill our memories of an intrepid and brave colleague.”

Since Shahzad’s death, the death toll has risen further.

Asfandyar Abid Naveed, a 35-year-old reporter for the daily Akhvbar-e-Khyber, died in two blasts which blew up a supermarket in the military cantonment area of Peshawar close to The News International’s office on June 11. They killed 40 people. Police believe the first small bomb, in a restaurant, was intended to attract police and journalists. Then a motorcyclist detonated a suicide vest containing ball bearings and 12 kilogrammes of explosive. Apart from Naveed, 28-year-old Shafiullah, who had joined The News as a trainee only a week earlier, was fatally injured. Eight other journalists were hurt

Shafiullah hailed from a village in embattled North Waziristan and had just completed his master’s degree. He died on June 17. The Taliban denied they were responsible.

Hitherto, Naveed had lived a charmed life. He escaped with minor injuries from a suicide bombing in Peshawar Press Club last December. Then he had a leg broken by a speeding bus, an accident which put him in hospital several weeks and cost him his job. He joined Akhbar-e-Khyber only recently.

Crime-busting journalist murdered in Mumbai
CJA India condemned the murder in June of Jyotendra Dey, who specialised in exposing the activities of Mumbai’s criminals. In May he reported on illicit trade in diesel fuel, said to be worth over two billion dollars a year. He was shot dead in broad daylight on June 11 by four motorcyclists as he drove his own motorcycle home. India is 13th in the ‘impunity index’ drawn up by an international media watchdog. It lists countries where the murderers of five or more journalists since 2001 have yet to be identified.

Dey’s colleagues have demanded that the inquiry into his death be taken from the Mumbai police and transferred to Maharashtra state’s Central Bureau of Investigation. Maharashtra’s chief minister has refused this.

Repression of Uganda media takes new turn

Democracy without freedom of expression and media is characteristic of many failed or failing states in Africa. Low priority given to media freedom disconnects the media from good governance and development. Yet in developed nations a vibrant and widely-read press encourages citizens to take part in government and to express their views about things that affect them. Fragile states need to promote a free press for their own good. But, in practice, the media are held under siege.

In Uganda, journalists have become targets of state security operatives. The BBC, the Daily Monitor and other media are being branded as enemies of Uganda. One rights body puts the number of journalists harassed or intimidated by security agents at 55 over six months. Forty-three face charges including sedition and criminal libel.

Ten journalists were reportedly beaten when covering the May 12 return of opposition leader Kizza Besigye from Kenya [where he had gone for treatment of injuries he received when a demonstration was violently dispersed in Kampala last month.]. On May 18 journalists were beaten by security agents at a wetland. It had been encroached by 500 Uganda Peoples Defense Force veterans, who claimed President Museveni authorised them to occupy it.

Handling journalists with an iron fist is a strange way to attempt to tame the media in a civilised society. It differs from methods previously used. These were characterised by switching on and off of air waves, raiding media establishments, arresting journalists and manoeuvring those branded as critical of the state out of their jobs.

Most party manifestos for presidential and parliamentary elections have been silent on media freedom even though it is well provided for in the constitution. However, the ruling National Resistance Movement, in its manifesto Prosperity for All sounded media-friendly. Under the heading Democracy and Good Governance, it assured Ugandans about the freedom of the media. It will be unfortunate if this was intended to hoodwink people.

In reality, media freedom has suffered a setback, as described above, since the Movement government began its fourth term of office.

Critics of the media argue that the press and radio are part of their own problems. They argue that at election times, when citizens are putting issues to the government, the media are silent on these issues, which is a lost opportunity.


The home of New Vision journalist, Goodluck Musininguzi was set on fire on May 10 by arsonists who used a sponge dipped in petrol. Musinguzi told the Human Rights Network for Journalists, Uganda: “We were awakened by the fire, which started near my bedroom window, and by a barking dog. My wife, three daughters and I took refuge in the sitting room.”

When opposition leader Besigye returned to Uganda, police used live ammunition as well as teargas to disperse his supporters. Police in June questioned two talk-show hosts in June after Dr Besigye featured on their programmes.

The background to all this is that price rises have provoked social unrest expressed in so-called walk-to-work demonstrations. These led to some violence but were even more violently put down. President Museveni, once renowned as a sound-money man, has turned spendthrift, buying fighter aircraft and promoting high population growth, thereby encouraging the inflation of prices. Uganda has the highest inflation rate in East Africa. Radio talk is a popular channel for expressing dissent. Most radio stations in Uganda are privately owned, some of them by President Museveni’s pet aversion, the King of Buganda

Rwanda forms a CJA branch

The international CJA ran a course in Rwanda in January, after which a CJA branch was formed there. Its leader, Collin Haba editor of the New Times, e-mailed to CJA UK: “We are excited to be part of CJA”. Chris Cobb of CJA Canada said the CJA had been working for months to bring Rwandans into the CJA. Information minister Protais Musoni said the Rwandan government would allow its media to become self-regulating


Independent journalist Jean Bosco Gasasira, who has fled Rwanda, was sentenced by the supreme court in June in his absence to two-and-a-half years in prison. The charge was that he called for civil disobedience and insulted President Kagame. He has no right of appeal.

Gasasira told Reporters Sans Frontieres that he would not be intimidated by the court’s ruling. “The government wants to mess up my life and stop me from working.” He would risk arrest, he said, if he returned to Rwanda.

Gasasira says he has been threatened many times, beaten up (in 2007), censored and hunted. In recent days, his newspaper’s wevbsite – www.Umuvugizi.com -- was hacked into. A bogus version, probably put together by government supporters, has appeared. According to Gasasira, this allows the government to see who reads it and to post false news.

On the brighter side, the Rwandan cabinet adopted a freedom of information bill on June 1. ARTICLE 10 comments that this is “a clear acknowledgment of the key role freedom of information can play in good governance and transparency.”

Sadly, Asia Today is yesterday

Asia Today, a popular BBC programme with which CJA UK chairman Rita Payne was particularly associated, was broadcast for the last time on June 10.

It lived a charmed life even when Rita was in charge. She had to scrape around for material to fill it. Andrew Roy of the BBC wrote on closure day: “I realise for many this is a sad moment. It [Asia Today] has been a labour of love over 15 years. [It was} launched in 1995 but best known once it was edited by Rita Payne

“Over the years, sadly, the resourcing declined and it’s become a struggle to fill the programme many days. We are enormously grateful for your [contributors] willingness to keep us going. I want to reassure you that we still need as much bespoke Asia content….Today also sees the start of the Power of Asia season.”


Syria’s Aminagate scandal is a warning to journalists, especially those concerned about the freedom of the media in dictator-run countries. Don’t believe everything you read in blogs.

In the blog Gay Girl in Damascus, Amina Abdallah Arraf al Omari claimed to be a Syrian teacher who got locked up by the vile government. The government may well be vile but Amina was not a gay teacher. Nor was she even in Syria.

The first definite evidence that she was not what she seemed was the discovery that the photos on her blog were of someone else. They were of a British resident; and ‘Amina’ had picked them up without permission. Then, on June 12, Ali Abunimah and Benjamin Doherty of the website electronic intifada tracked ‘her’ down. ‘She’ wasn’t a lesbian, or even a woman. ‘She’ was an American peace activist called Tom McMaster, living in Scotland.

India’s media need to make more of social media, says IMC

The India Media Centre at the University of Westminster is calling for papers for a conference on September 12 where speakers will include Sarmila Bose of Oxford University, Abhik Sen of The Economist and Bill Crawley, a member of CJA UK.

The IMC says that Indian mainstream media need to capitalise on the opportunities provided by social media and 3G. Social media can reach South Asians abroad. With a hundred round-the-clock news channels, India boasts the world’s more linguistically diverse news landscape.

Suggested topics for papers include ‘paid news’, the revolution in the vernacular press, the death of development news? and sting operations. Abstracts of 250 words must reach Helen Cohen at India mediaconferences@westminster.ac.uk by July 1.

The CJA does training

CJA Bangladesh and the Red Cross ran a training seminar for 22 journalists at Chittagong on how to report during disasters and conflicts. Disaster-prone Chittagong is on a coast frequently hit by cyclones.

CJA Pakistan ran a seminar on the part which women journalists can play in the media – Pakistan, in the past, has given them few opportunities. A Karachi paper headed its report: ‘Women and media: ingredients for a better tomorrow’.

Honouring the CJA’s founder

CJA president Hassan Shahriar gave a dinner in London in June to mark the birthday of the CJA’s founder, Derek Ingram. Several CJA UK members were there.

Derek was deputy of the Daily Mail, in its less right-wing days, but is better known as the founder of Gemini News Service. This provided world-wide distribution for features written mainly by journalists in developing countries, most of them in the Commonwealth. Derek also covered Africa’s progress to independence in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1980 he was press officer for Lord Soames, who presided over the disbandment of armed forces in Zimbabwe and the subsequent election which brought majority rule and the end of the Smith regime.

Death of a Commonwealth stalwart

Zena Daysh, a New Zealander who keenly supported the CJA in its early years, died in April in London. The Commonwealth association with which she was specially connected was the Commonwealth and Human Ecology Council, which she founded.

News from round the Commonwealth

The Standard, banned last year, has permission to publish again.
Dodou Sanneh, who petitioned President Jammeh about wrongful dismissal from state-controlled Gambia Radio and Television Services, was arrested on March 16 and due in court on a false-information charge in June. In 2006 he was dismissed over his coverage of the opposition’s election campaign. In November that year he was reinstated but then dismissed again, this time without explanation.
Dr Amadou Scattered Janneh, who has criticised the disappearance of journalists and the hacking and blocking of websites, was arrested on June 7. Then he disappeared. Janneh is chief executive of an information technology company, which he set up himself. Before that he was a minister, dismissed in 2005. He has been lecturing on a range of issues this year.
On May 24 a court cleared Bakary B.Baldeh, a West Coast Radio sports presenter, of a charge brought as a result of a dispute on a golf course. Two workers complained they were unfairly treated by Ebrima Jawara, president of the Gambia Golfers Association and son of ex-President Jawara, who was deposed back in 1994 by an army officer, the current President Jammeh. Thie golf incident happened during a tournament sponsored by President Jammeh in honour of his daughter. The workers aired their grievances on Baldeh’s programme. The prosecutor alleged that they incited people to boycott the tournament.
Daniel Nonor, a reporter for The Chronicle, was arrested, roughed up and detained for five hours by police who spotted him taking pictures of their aggressive crackdown on street vendors in Accra in April. He was released when The Chronicle’s associate editor intervened with the Mayor.

Security men in May prevented Hannah Odame of Joy FM Radio interviewing passport applicants complaining about delayed delivery of their passports. A deputy minister said the incident was unfortunate but Ms Odame had not respected the Passport Office’s rules.

Goore Bi Hue, a journalist from the Ivory Coast, was detained overnight on May 22 in Esiama in Ghana’s Western Region. A refugee had guided him to a camp near by. He was released when police decided he had no case to answer. The incident arose from Ivory Coast’s civil war. Goore works for Fraternite Matin, which supports the new Ouattara government that the refugees fled from. A camp spokesman asked Goore’s guide: “How can you lead a journalist from Fraternite Matin to me, to my hide-out?”


Tarakant Dwivedi, who reported last year on poor security of weapons bought after the Mumbai terrorist attack, was arrested in May under the Official Secrets Act.

Mohamed Ha’ta Wahan of Utusan Malaysia was found guilty in April of tarnishing the image of its editors and disclosing its secrets. He had criticised the editors for giving control to the owner, the United Malays National Organisation, the dominant party in the government. According to the Malaysiakini website and other publications, he disclosed Utusan’s dismal financial performance.
In late May, President Jonathan signed freedom of information into law, giving Nigerians the right to access facts and hold officials to account. The law covers any institution spending public funds. Officials have only a week to dig out the facts requested. The law was passed in 2007, but ex-President Obasanjo refused his consent. One of the first acts of newly-elected President Jonathan was to let it go ahead. Nigeria is the second country in West Africa to enact such a law. The first was Liberia.

Two young journalists, Wali Khan and Salman Shahzad, rode their motorbikes from Peshawar through Pakistan to draw attention to the plight of journalists in their country’s strife-torn areas.

Umar Cheema, a senior investigative journalist at The News, has won an international free speech award, from Syracuse University in New York state. As a result he has been invited to lecture and speak to journalists at other American universities also including Harvard. He was abducted and tortured in Pakistan last September. Despite threats to his life, he spoke out about what happened to him, and very loudly.

The coach of Multan Cricket Club died on June 15 when a stone hit him during an attack by veterinary students on the local press club. They were protesting against the veterinary medical council’s failure to accredit their courses, after five years. The press club’s vice-president, photographer Shahzad Anwar, sought to calm them but managed only to inflame them. They manhandled him and pelted other journalists with stones, injuring seven and damaging five cars. A disabled man who runs a tea stall in the press club suffered minor bruises.


Ibrahim Foday, a reporter on The Exclusive, was stabbed to death on June 12 by unknown assailants in Grafton, the town he lived in on the outskirts of Freetown. His death has been linked to a land dispute between Grafton and another town, Kossoh. The Media Foundation for West Africa and the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists are calling on the authorities to fully investigate the murder. The SLAJ has also been talking to Grafton and Kossoh elders.


The Court of Appeal upheld in May the six-week sentence on British writer and journalist Alan Shadrake for contempt of court in his 2010 book Once a Jolly Hangman. It argued that mandatory death sentences were not always equitably applied but were subject to political and economic pressures. The prosecutor claimed that Shadrake had transgressed the limits of free speech and maligned the entire judiciary. Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch replied: “The prosecution of Alan Shadrake for doing no more than call for legal reform is a devastating blow to free speech in Singapore. Until the government releases its iron grip on basic freedoms, the Singaporean people will remain all the poorer.”


The Right2Know campaign is pressing people to sign a petition against a bill that gives every government body the right to declare any of its information a matter of national security and therefore off-limits for reporting and inquiries.


Kavitharan, who works for the Jaffna-based Uthayan, was attacked by strangers on May 28 and had to be treated in hospital. Over the years, Uthayan staff members have been under continual attack. Its editor has not left the premises in four years.

Meanwhile, persecution of the popular trilingual website LankaeNews has continued. Its editor was remanded in custody on March 31, on a charge of threatening the brother of someone known as Boothaya, who is suspected of setting to fire to the LankaeNews’ Colombo office in January. A court released the editor on April 7 despite a police application for a further remand. LankaeNews was temporarily suspended on April 28 till May 12. This was connected with the case against a journalist accused of a contempt of court, for which he has apologised. During last year’s elections, LankaeNews’ then editor fled the country after his life was threatened. Just before the election, a columnist and cartoonist was abducted. He has not yet been found


The government threatened in April to revoke the licence of any radio that broadcast campaign songs before the date of this year’s elections is announced. On April 8 Radio Phoenix broadcast an opposition song at the end of a paid-for political programme. Minister of Information Ronnie Shipakwasha said this contravened the electoral code, but Given Lubinda, an opposition MP, denied this. Anyway, he said, the code does not come into operation till the election date is announced. And what about the government songs broadcast by Zambia National Broadcasting? People with glass houses shouldn’t throw stones -– or something to that effect.


Fees for foreign organisations covering Zimbabwe have been more than doubled. Those for local journalists writing for the foreign press have been multiplied by four. They are now 400 American dollars.

Source: Commonwealth Journalists Association

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