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Journalists Around The World Faced Intimidation and Prison in 2018: Report

Tuesday, Time magazine selected journalists who have been targeted for doing their work, the “guardians” of truth, as their Person of the Year.

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Khashoggi, U.S., Jail
A man holds a poster showing images of Saudi Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman (L), dubbed "assassin," and of journalist writer Jamal Khashoggi, dubbed "martyr," during a prayer service for Khashoggi, in Istanbul, Turkey. VOA

A multipronged crackdown on the press continued throughout 2018, the Committee to Protect Journalists concludes in a report published Thursday.

Imprisonment, intimidation and allegations that journalists produce “fake news” surged in 2016, when U.S. President Donald Trump won the election, CPJ found.

Trump has been a vocal critic of the press, often chastising journalists as “very dishonest people.”

The number of journalists in jail dipped 8 percent, from 272 in 2017 to 251 this year. But that doesn’t mean the situation has improved, Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, told VOA.

The numbers fluctuate and may not reflect every imprisoned journalist. They also remain markedly higher than just a half decade ago.

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Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks during a media conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, Oct. 29, 2018. VOA+

More importantly, targeting a single journalist can have far-reaching repercussions.

“The effects are not only, obviously, [on] the journalists themselves and their families and their colleagues, but we really are talking about the effect on citizens as a whole,” Quintal said.

CPJ’s report highlighted several bright spots.

In Ethiopia, which has experienced dramatic reforms under new leader Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, no journalists are currently known to be imprisoned, for the first time in 14 years.

Improvements in some countries, however, don’t necessarily rub off on others.

“Unfortunately, neighboring Eritrea remains the highest jailer of journalists in sub-Saharan Africa, with 16 journalists in jail as we speak,” Quintal said.

Worldwide, report author Elana Beiser, CPJ’s editorial director, singled out China, Egypt and Saudi Arabia as troublespots, highlighting how wide-ranging efforts to silence journalists have become.

In sub-Saharan Africa, Quintal’s region of focus, Cameroon, where seven journalists are in jail, is a new country of concern. At least four of those journalists faced false news charges in what Quintal called “a huge, huge setback.”

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Jamal Khashoggi on the cover of Times as the ‘Person of they Year”

Overall, more than two dozen journalists have been charged with publishing false news, mainly in Africa.

Accusations and imprisonments can propel self-censorship, with profound effects on citizens’ right to information.

“When you see your colleagues being put in jail, when you see them accused of so-called fake news, when they’re being arrested on false news charges,” Quintal said, “it does, obviously, have a chilling effect.”

Quintal herself was targeted, along with colleague Muthoki Mumo, in Tanzania last month.

Despite having an invitation letter from the Media Council of Tanzania, the two, both former journalists, were detained and interrogated.

Quintal, from South Africa, and Mumo, from Kenya, were kept in custody for five hours.

“We were lucky because we were able to leave Tanzania,” Quintal said, contrasting her experience to journalists in the country who have gone missing or continue to face intimidation.

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Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. VOA

“The abusive nature of what happened to us showed the world the true nature of what is going on in Tanzania at the moment,” she added.

Quintal and Mumo’s case was unusual. Governments tend to target their own citizens, and journalists imprisoned by their governments make up 98 percent of cases, CPJ concluded. They also found that 13 percent of journalists in jail are women, an 8 percent increase from 2017.

Despite worrying signs, there is room for optimism, Quintal said.

When new leaders come to power, she said, human rights and press freedoms can improve very quickly.

Also Read: Facebook Rolls Out New Tool that Lets Journalists Examine Political Ads

Quintal pointed to The Gambia as one example, where the new president, Adama Barrow, has created space for journalists to work without fear of reprisal.

Tuesday, Time magazine selected journalists who have been targeted for doing their work, the “guardians” of truth, as their Person of the Year. (VOA)

Next Story

Governments Around The World are Learning to Confuse Dissidents on Social Media

The researchers, who published their findings in a recent issue of Political Science Research and Methods, specifically examined social media from both the Venezuela regime and its opposition

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Social Media
The regime also seemed to develop a more sophisticated approach to using hashtags on Social Media. The regime used long hashtags, as opposed to the shorter hashtags that are more commonly used, to promote distraction among the protest groups. Pixabay

Governments the world over are learning new tactics to quash dissent on various Social Media platforms, responding with tweets designed to distract and confuse like longer hashtags, according to a team of political scientists.

In a study of Twitter interactions during Venezuela’s 2014 protests, in which citizens voiced opposition to government leaders and called for improvements to their standard of living, the tweets of the protesters focused mainly on the protest itself, while the tweets issued by the ruling regime covered more diverse topics.

This could mean that regimes are growing more savvy in their use of social media to help suppress mass movements.

“When we started doing this study there had been a lot of optimism about the capacity of social media to produce revolutions throughout the world, like Arab Spring and the Color Revolutions in Europe,” said Kevin Munger, assistant professor of political science and social data analytics, Penn State.

“But it seems like, in hindsight, this was the result of short-term disequilibrium between the capacity of the masses to use this technology and the limited capacity of these elites to use it.”

A lot of these elites may have not been keeping up with modern communication technology and got caught unawares.

So, for that short period of time, social media did produce better outcomes for revolutions and mass movements.

The researchers, who published their findings in a recent issue of Political Science Research and Methods, specifically examined social media from both the Venezuela regime and its opposition.

Social Media
Governments the world over are learning new tactics to quash dissent on various Social Media platforms, responding with tweets designed to distract and confuse like longer hashtags, according to a team of political scientists. Pixabay

Following the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in early 2013, Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s vice-president, won a special election.

After his election, mass protests erupted related to economic decline and increased crime.

In their analysis, the researchers noted that the regime abruptly shifted its Twitter strategy after protests swept across the country.

The topics of the regime’s tweets became even more diverse than usual — including such topics as a tree-planting event — and often did not address the protests at all.

As the protests continued, however, the researchers said that the opposition also became less focused, which the researchers suggest may have been a reaction to the regime’s social media strategy.

The way that attention works on social networks offers a glimpse into why the strategy to distract citizens might be effective, added Munger, who worked on the study while a doctoral student in politics at New York University.

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Regimes are growing more savvy in their use of Social Media to help suppress mass movements. Pixabay

“To have effective protests, you need to have a ton of people coordinated on a single message, so spreading other narratives disrupts that process of coordination,” said Munger.

“Being able to spread doubt is effective. You don’t have to get people to love your regime, you just need people to less convinced of the single narrative.”

ALSO READ: President of Egypt Calls for Collective Action Against Countries Supporting Terrorism

The regime also seemed to develop a more sophisticated approach to using hashtags. The regime used long hashtags, as opposed to the shorter hashtags that are more commonly used, to promote distraction among the protest groups. (IANS)