Groups mark World Press Freedom Day

Tuesday, May 3, 2005

Press-freedom advocates came together around the world today at a grim time
for journalists, with reporters facing rising threats of killings, kidnappings,
jailings and other abuse just for doing their jobs.

Sit-ins, human-chain demonstrations and a U.N. conference were under way or
scheduled in countries from the Philippines to Senegal for the 15th annual World
Press Freedom Day.

In Arlington, Va., the Freedom Forum’s Journalists
was rededicated
as it is each year with the addition of the names
of 78 journalists killed
in the previous year.

“The fact that 78 journalists were killed in 2004 is shocking and deeply disturbing,” said CNN's Judy Woodruff at the Journalists Memorial ceremony today. “At a time when the vast majority of the planet is at peace, it is a harsh reminder that journalism can be a dangerous profession, and that journalists still represent a threat to the forces of tyranny and lawlessness, everywhere. For all the celebration of democracy's spread, this reminds us how far the world has yet to go. There is no freedom, unless the press can tell the truth, and survive while telling it.”

The worldwide observance falls at a treacherous time for journalists: Various
media advocacy groups say 2004 was the most deadly year for journalists in
recent memory. Some were hunted down and killed.

Reporters Without Borders in Paris has called it “a year of mourning.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists in New York yesterday listed the five
deadliest spots for journalists over the past five years – the Philippines,
Iraq, Colombia, Bangladesh and Russia.

Advocacy groups have decried false arrest, imprisonment, beatings,
intimidation and the use of press or emergency laws among the tools used to
prevent journalists from getting out the news.

Reporters Without Borders, which helped set up the annual observance, said
Iraq remained the worst place to be a journalist, but new threats have emerged
in places like Africa and Bangladesh.

Robert Menard, the group's president, said it was releasing a report today on
56 journalists or their assistants killed in Iraq since the war began more than
two years ago – only seven fewer than during the conflict in Vietnam from 1955
to 1975.

“It goes to show how we're in a period of violence that is beyond common
measure,” Menard said by telephone, “when more people are taking aim at
journalists, and wars are more and more dangerous for the press.”

Nineteen reporters and 12 of their assistants were killed in Iraq last year,
Reporters Without Borders said. So far this year, by that group’s count, 22
journalists have been killed — nine of them in Iraq.

In the Philippines since 2000, 18 journalists were killed for their work, the
CPJ said. All had reported on government and police corruption, drug dealing,
and the activities of crime syndicates.

In Kenya, the day was marred by the country's first lady, who stormed the
offices of the African nation's largest newspaper with her body guards and
allegedly slapped a television cameraman who tried to film the intrusion,
witnesses said.

Lucy Kibaki, wife of Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, was protesting stories
carried in daily papers that she tried to stop a party next door to her home for
the outgoing country director of the World Bank. She accused the Daily Nation's
staff of misrepresenting the events, berating the staff, witnesses said.

Press groups in Africa hoped to use the day to focus attention on restrictive
laws, such as Kenya's criminal-libel law, which African leaders use to quash
dissent. Most African nations also have so-called “insult laws” that forbid the
news media from any reporting that could be considered derogatory to the
country's leadership.

“This is one of those coincidences that helps to highlight the difficulties
we face all the time,” said Wangethi Mwangi, Daily Nation editorial director.
“This sort of intrusion into our freedoms sends shivers down your spine.”

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