Global Trend: Freedom of the Press and Journalists Are Under Attack

Anyone trying to understand  the current health of the global press can see some disturbing trends at play. The first one is insidious and has been unfolding in the United States and Europe for the past two decades. It consists of the purchase of major news organizations by large corporations who have more concerns about profits and ratings than the quality of the news they broadcast. The second one is blatant. It consists of individual journalists being jailed, abducted or even killed for reporting the news.

Most Mainstream News Outlets Are Owned by Corporations and Have Lost Real Independence

For example, in the US the three major news networks are now owned by mega-corporations: Disney owns ABC News, General Electric owns NBC, and Viacom owns CBS. Needless to say, the parent companies of the big three news networks focus on their ratings, not good journalism. Recently, ABC News paid a fortune to  hire star-journalist Christiane Amanpour while it was cutting 400 jobs. Globally, except for the BBC, all major news outlets are making drastic cuts in the number of their foreign correspondents, and they rely increasingly on local freelance journalists who do not enjoy the type of protection against abuse that a big news organization can provide.

This restructuring of the news applies not only to television but also to radio, magazines and newspapers. Newspapers and magazines are all struggling to come up with a financially viable model for the switch from print to online format. Major news institutions such as Newsweek and Le Monde have changed hands. Le Monde, which was arguably the best French daily since 1945, went from being controlled and owned by its board of editors and journalists, to be sold to three investors, including one who had made his fortune in online pornography. As newspapers cut their editorial staff, they rely increasingly on cutting and pasting the coverage that comes from the wires. The consequence of picking up stories from AP, Reuters or AFP is that most newspapers have lost their specific voices and become a generic blend of pseudo-objective news.

An Increasing Number of Journalists Are Jailed or Killed Worldwide

As of September 2010, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 26 journalists had already been killed in the year. Four were killed in Pakistan, three in Honduras, two in Thailand, two in Nigeria, two in Afghanistan, two in Indonesia, two in India, and one journalist  in each country for Cameroon, Angola, Colombia, Mexico, Rwanda, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon.

In 2009, still according to the CPJ, 136 journalists were jailed worldwide. At the top of the list of countries routinely jailing journalists were China with 24, Iran with 23, Cuba with 22, and Eritrea with 19. The number of journalists put in jail for doing their work has steadily increased from 81 in 2000 to 136 in 2009.

“The media business is changing rapidly. Unable to afford foreign bureaus, more newspapers and magazines are relying on freelancers abroad. These stringers look just as suspicious to dictators and militant groups — and they are distinctly more vulnerable. Nine freelancers were killed in reprisal for their work in 2009, while 60 others were in prisons worldwide in late year. As publications and TV networks continue to shed staff and look for ways to cover conflicts more affordably, the number of such cases is only going to grow,” wrote Fareed Zakaria in his preface to CPJ’s report on attacks on the press in 2009.

Even so, cases of killings or imprisonments are almost a daily event, which are unfortunately ignored by the media and only covered by the CPJ.  One case of flagrant abuse is getting a bit more attention from media outlets. On September 7, 2010 the CPJ called on the government of Bahrain to release Ali Abdel Imam, a prominent online journalist, who was arrested the week before on charges of spreading false information.

According to the CPJ, the arrest is the latest in the Bahrain government’s ongoing crackdown on dissent. Abdel Imam is the founder of the news website Bahrain On Line. According to a post on his FaceBook page, Abdel Imam went to  National Security Apparatus offices on Saturday after being summoned by the agency. The next day, the official Bahrain news agency claimed that Abdel Imam had been arrested while “trying to escape to Qatar.” His website was shut down the very same day.

To find out more about the Committee to Protect Journalists and how you can help preserve global  freedom of the press click here.



One Response to Global Trend: Freedom of the Press and Journalists Are Under Attack

  1. rgdaniel September 9, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    It’s all about the corporations… and I’m not sure there’s much that can be done about it… except, at least for now, report it…

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