Newsletters

December 6, 1999

NEWSLETTER OF THE WORLD PRESS FREEDOM COMMITTEE
FOR ITS AFFILIATES AND CONTRIBUTORS
AND OTHER MEDIA LEADERS

Koichiro Matsuura of Japan is New UNESCO Chief

Koichiro Matsuura, 62, Japan’s ambassador to France and to UNESCO, took over as director general on November 15, during UNESCO’s biennial General Conference in Paris. He succeeds Federico Mayor of Spain, who served a maximum two terms, from 1987.

Matsuura received 146 votes of 151 cast by UNESCO member states, defeating 10 other candidates for the post. He is the ninth director general to lead UNESCO since its inception in 1946.

Without specifically mentioning the United States, which withdrew from UNESCO in 1984, Matsuura vowed to try to “persuade those who would still stand outside to return...” The organization, he said, “must once more represent the whole world, with no exceptions.”

The United States pulled out of UNESCO when the Reagan Administration determined that too many issues there were overly politicized, that the organization’s budget was wasteful and that proposals for a “new world information and communication order” threatened press freedom.

Under Mayor, UNESCO priorities were transformed, and its programs embodied strong support for press freedom. A nine-group Coordinating Committee of Press Freedom Organizations, meeting in London Nov. 5, hailed Mayor’s achievements (See Appendix 1).

In his inaugural address, Matsuura said little to indicate how much importance he places on communication issues except to note briefly that “UNESCO must continue to champion free expression.” Matsuura said UNESCO needs to address the challenge of “the gap between those who are referred to as ‘info-rich and ‘info-poor.’“ Separately, Matsuura told a “World Summit” for broadcast regulators that UNESCO would work with other UN agencies for “world governance” of Internet with “appropriate regulation”: to prevent “abusive uses” of it.

One reassuring sign: Matsuura plans to retain two of UNESCO’s strongest champions of press freedom, assistant directors general Henrikas Yushkiavitshus and Alain Modoux, for the foreseeable future.

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UNESCO Two-Year Program Promotes Press Freedom

UNESCO’s General Conference, which meets every two years to set policy and spending guidelines, allocated $32.4 million for programs in communication out of a total 2000-2001 budget of $544.4 million.
 
The 188-state General Conference adopted resolutions calling on the media -- journalists, the entertainment industry and Internet users -- to exercise “self-regulation” and to reduce violence in order to protect youth.

Another resolution affirms freedom of the press as a basic human right, and supports independent media working in conflict zones. The resolution emphasizes assuring the “safety” of journalists, a change from wording on “protection” of journalists -- which press freedom groups would have opposed on grounds that the “protection” could lead to efforts to license journalists.

The General Conference did not approve proposed funding for preliminary regional meetings intended to set the scene for a World Conference on Communication and Information. However, the idea of such a meeting could be revived.

Koichiro Matsuura, the new director general, announced creation of task forces on: 1) restructuring the Secretariat, which Matsuura considers top-heavy with senior officials; 2) redefining program priorities; and 3) decentralization. The restructuring unit is to be headed by Henrikas Yuskiavitshus, assistant director general for communication under Mayor. In charge of the second task force is Francoise Riviere, a longtime UNESCO veteran. Matsuura has also named Riviere his chief executive officer.

*  *  *

Roundtable Debates Internet Limits

Peripheral to the General Conference were several roundtable debates, including one on the “Social, Ethical and Legal Issues of Cyberspace in the 21st Century.”

Panelists included Amadou Top of Senegal, vice president of the World Association of Multimedia Companies; Herve Bourges, president of the Audiovisual Council of France; Gil Santos, executive director of the Philippine Press Institute; Gareth Grainger, deputy chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Authority, and Ronald Koven, European representative of the World Press Freedom Committee.

While some warned of a perceived Internet threat to youth and morals, others called for more widespread access to Cyberspace as an information link.

Koven, speaking on behalf of the a nine-group Coordinating Committee of Press Freedom Organizations, argued that no special legislation is needed to cover the Internet, as adequate laws already exist addressing fraud, false advertisement, defamation, copyright and pornography.

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Wolfensohn: Free Press ‘Not an Extra’

Governments try to control the news to keep their citizens in the dark, World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn said Nov. 8 in the World Press Freedom Committee’s 13th annual Harold W. Andersen Lecture. (Excerpts, Appendix 2.)

Wolfensohn said poverty and corruption have direct links to an absence of information. “Freedom of the press is not a gloss, it’s not an extra,” Wolfensohn said. “It’s absolutely at the core of equitable development.”

He said, “If there is no searchlight on corruption and inequitable practice, you cannot build the public consensus (for) change.”

As the world’s largest source of development assistance, the Bank provides nearly $30 billion in loans every year to help the poorest people in the poorest countries.

The Andersen Lecture, named for former WPFC Chairman Harold W. Andersen, focuses on press freedom issues around the world. Previous speakers include United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Serbian broadcaster Sasa Mirkovic, UNESCO Director General Federico Mayor and dissident Chinese journalist Liu Binyan. 

Wolfensohn said his remarks were inspired, in part, by listening to comments of poor people surveyed by the Bank. “These people we interviewed do not have PhDs but they have the knowledge of poverty, and the first thing they talk about is not money, it’s lack of voice,” he said.

“They want to express themselves and they want to be able to elect their own local people and gain access and representation. A free press is absolutely vital to that objective.”

*  *  *

World Summit for Regulators Reveals “Extreme” Differences

A UNESCO-hosted “summit” of broadcast regulators drew representatives of 60 national regulatory groups to Paris Nov. 30 to discuss extending their mandates to news and other services in cyberspace.

Herve Bourges, head of France’s broadcasting regulatory authority (CSA), declared the choice is among “regulation, self-regulation or co-regulation.” But WPFC European Representative Ronald Koven suggested a fourth alternative: “Freedom for cyberspace news media.” He warned that regulations are being proposed for the new media that “we would never tolerate for traditional media.” Once adopted, he said, these could be precedents for controls on traditional media.

But some speakers supported restrictions. Bourges called Koven’s view “extreme.” Gareth Grainger of Australia asserted that many countries “seek a more appropriate balance between the right to free expression and the right of communities to nurture national and local cultures and to protect children from harmful content.”

*  *  *

Free Expression Officials Oppose Criminal Defamation Laws

Freedom of expression monitors for three international bodies -- the United Nations, the Organization of American States (OAS) and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)-- say criminal defamation laws “unduly restrict the right to freedom of expression” and should be reviewed.

Such laws, which exist in dozens of countries including many democracies, provide for jail sentences or heavy fines for writings deemed damaging. The WPFC and sister groups maintain that civil -- not criminal -- law should be applied to libel cases.

The three officials, who met for the first time Nov. 26 in London under the auspices of the Article 19 organization, were:

Abid Hussain (UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression), Freimut Duve (OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media) and Santiago Canton (OAS Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression).

The three jointly affirmed the importance of independent and pluralistic media, impartial judicial procedures and freedom from government pressure on media, in addition to their opinion on criminal defamation laws.

*  *  *

WPFC Publishes Handbook in French for African Journalists

Since its first publication in 1990, the World Press Freedom Committee’s Handbook for Journalists has been reprinted in nearly a dozen languages and distributed widely. In spring, a special French-language handbook, designed specifically for use by journalists in Francophone Africa, will be distributed in 19 French-speaking African countries through embassies and journalists’ groups.

The English-language version of the Handbook has been in great demand, as noted by Peter Goff of the International Press Institute, who took copies to a journalists’ workshop in Ethiopia: “Your handbook nearly caused a riot, as everyone wanted a copy and I only had around 20...I was pestered incessantly for more copies.”

And Buye-Mubirn Samuel, a student in Kampala, Uganda, writes:

“I have received a parcel containing two (copies of) the Handbook for African Journalists...I am sharing these books with my fellow students. Whoever glances at it asks me where I bought it. I have no answer rather than replying that I just wrote to the World Press Freedom Committee, who later sent me the gifts. Most of them wonder. It is unbelievable.

“I thank you for responding...and my prayer is that you continue the struggle of helping African students pursuing journalism.”

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Journalist Finds New Appreciation for Freedom in Malaysian Jail

“I believed in freedom of the press before. I believe in it even more strongly now,” Canadian Journalist Murray Hiebert said upon his release from a month-long stay in a Malaysian prison for an article about a court case, written for the Far Eastern Economic Review.

Hiebert’s six-week sentence -- the first ever given in Malaysia to a journalist in the line of duty -- aroused a storm of international criticism for the government of Prime Minister Mohamad Mahathir. Hiebert chose to serve the sentence rather than stay out on bail, and was released two weeks early for “good behavior.”

The plaintiff in the case maintained that Hiebert’s news reports amounted to an attack on the judiciary. “When the judge sentenced me,” Hiebert said later, “he said there had been too much criticism of the judiciary and it had to be stopped.”

Hiebert is back in the United States now, working as Washington bureau chief for the Far Eastern Economic Review.

*  *  *

The Fight for Press Freedom is Not Over

Despite Hiebert’s release and progress on some fronts toward freedom of expression and democracy, numerous problems still exist. The World Association of Newspapers notes in its annual review the number of journalists killed, jailed and censored increased in most regions in 1999. So far this year, more than 47 journalists have been killed; 400 jailed; and 150 newspapers banned. Examples:

Azerbaijan: Under new law on Mass Media, authorities can confiscate foreign newspapers seen as threats to “social and national security.”

Colombia: Two journalists were shot to death Nov. 28, bringing to five the total killed since August, 80 since 1990. Another 13 were kidnapped. Colombia is considered among the most dangerous places in the world for journalists to work.

Iran: Liberal newspaper Khordad shut down Nov. 27 and its editor was sentenced to five years in jail on charges of publishing sacrilegious stories. Some 20 other newspapers have been suspended and 17 journalists arrested in the past two years.

Russia: The government plans to stifle “aggression” by the press, says Media Minister Mikhail Lesin.

Tanzania: Government has threatened action against 19 newspapers for printing “offensive” news. Government says it will rescind their registration if papers run “obscene articles and cartoons with negative social impact.”

Venezuela: Draft constitution guarantees right to “timely, truthful and impartial information” -- opening way for the government to ban anything it considers outside those parameters. A public referendum is set for Dec. 15.

Sri Lanka: Editor of the Tamil-language Thinamurasu was gunned down Nov. 9, three days after the government issued new censorship rules on coverage of the country’s civil war. No reporting on “sensitive military information” is to be tolerated.

Zambia: Zambia Post editor Fred M’membe and 11 of the newspaper’s reporters are awaiting a trial, postponed to Dec. 22, on charges of espionage. The government claims a March story about Zambia’s military readiness exposed state security “to the enemy.”

A primary mission of the World Press Freedom Committee is to persuade international agencies to avoid legitimizing, even inadvertently, justification for such abuses.

*  *  *

A Word of Thanks to WPFC’s Supporters

The World Press Freedom Committee is committed to fighting for press freedom everywhere. Our sincere thanks goes to those who provide the support to continue the fight. We couldn’t do it without you:

Harold W. Andersen; Apple Daily; Boston Globe; Dana Bullen; Committee to Protect Journalists; Commonwealth Press Union; Dow Jones Foundation; Gannett Co., Inc.; Philip L. Graham Fund; Houston Chronicle; Morris Communications; International Press Institute; Inter American Press Association; International Association of Broadcasters; International Federation of the Periodical Press; Joe Junod and Elizabeth Junod; John S. and James L. Knight Foundation; Jimmy Lai; McClatchy Company; S.I. Newhouse Foundation; Newspaper Association of America; New York Times Company Foundation; North American Broadcasting Association; James H. Ottaway, Jr.; Nicholas B. Ottaway Foundation, Inc.; Omaha World-Herald Foundation; William Ringle; St. Petersburg Times; Scripps Howard Foundation; John and Carol Simpson; Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation.

*  *  *

On the Short Side: Lucy Dalglish, a Minnesota lawyer, has been named executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, succeeding Jane Kirtley...Ailing and imprisoned Syrian journalist Nizar Nayouf was awarded the World Association of Newspapers’ 1999 Golden Pen of Freedom award...The Committee to Protect Journalists presented its 1999 International Press Freedom Awards to Jesús Joel Díaz Hernández (Cuba), Baton Haxhiu (Kosovo),  Jugnu Mohsin and Najam Sethi (Pakistan) and María Cristina Caballero (Colombia)... The OSCE mission to Bosnia-Herzogovina has established a hotline for journalists in danger. This year, more than 40 journalists have been attacked in the region. The hotline number is 387 71 292 228.

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Appendix 1

COMMITTEE TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS
COMMONWEALTH PRESS UNION
INTER AMERICAN PRESS ASSOCIATION
INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF BROADCASTING
INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE PERIODICAL PRESS
INTERNATIONAL PRESS INSTITUTE
NORTH AMERICAN BROADCASTERS ASSOCIATION
WORLD ASSOCIATION OF NEWSPAPERS
WORLD PRESS FREEDOM COMMITTEE

The Coordinating Committee of Press Freedom Organizations, meeting in London Nov. 5, 1999, saluted the accomplishments of outgoing UNESCO Director General Federico Mayor in turning the organization into a defender and promoter of press freedom across the globe.

From the start of his first term 12 years ago, Mr. Mayor set about turning UNESCO away from the restrictive efforts against the news media under the so-called “New World and Communication Order”. Under his direction, UNESCO went on to become an effective ally of free press groups in furthering the cause of freedom of the press.

This took the form -- not only of sponsoring and endorsing a series of regional Declarations of free press principles by independent journalists of Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Arab World and Europe (Windhoek, Almaty, Santiago, Sana’a and Sofia) -- but also of practical aid measures for the independent press, especially in conflict zones like Rwanda, Burundi, Bosnia and Kosovo.

UNESCO gave the essential impetus to establish the growingly important celebration of World Press Freedom Day on May 3 annually.

Mr. Mayor accepted an appeal by press freedom organizations to create a prestigious yearly press freedom prize for courage in journalism, first awarded in 1997 by a jury of leading journalists named by him, to imprisoned Chinese journalist Gao Yu. He maintained that decision in the face of heavy political pressure.

Mr. Mayor has also spoken out unfailingly for the professional independence of journalists. Behind the scenes, he has acted on behalf of imprisoned journalists, often succeeding in obtaining their release.

In this work he has been effectively advised and aided by a team of dedicated UNESCO officials headed by Henrikas Yushkiavitshus, Assistant Director General for Communication, and Alain Modoux, Assistant Director General for Freedom of Expression and Democracy.

The member groups of the Coordinating Committee of Press Freedom Organizations express their gratitude to Federico Mayor for his help and support in the ongoing struggle for a free press.

These groups also express the hope that Mr. Mayor’s successor as Director General of UNESCO, Amb. Koichiro Matsuura, will continue the policies set by his predecessor.

David Chipp, Press Freedom Adviser, Commonwealth Press Union
Tony Pederson, President, Inter American Press Association
Luis Tarsitano, President, International Association of Broadcasting
Per R. Mortensen, President, International Federation of the Periodical Press
Michael Kudlak, Press Freedom Adviser, International Press Institute
Timothy Balding, Director General, World Association of Newspapers
James H. Ottaway, Jr., Chairman, World Press Freedom Committee

5 November 1999
London, UK


Appendix 2

The Washington Post
Wednesday, November 10, 1999

James D. Wolfensohn

Voices for the Poor

The following is excerpted from a speech to the World Press Freedom Committee in Washington on Monday:

A free press is not a luxury. A free press is at the absolute core of equitable development, because if you cannot enfranchise poor people, if they do not have a right to expression, if there is no searchlight on corruption and inequitable practices, you cannot build the public consensus needed to bring about change.

This might sound like a strong statement from a president of the World Bank, an international institution governed by 181 member governments and constrained in terms of our Articles of Agreement from any involvement in political matters.

When I came to the bank nearly five years ago, I was told we did not talk about corruption. Corruption was political. It was the “C-word” and if you could not use the C-word, you surely could not talk about press freedom. What could be more intrusive on politicians than a free press? What is it that could enfranchise people more than a free press?

But it soon became very clear to me that corruption and the issue of press freedom, while they may have political impact, are essentially economic and social issues, both key to development. So we redefined corruption, not as a political issue but as an economic and social issue. Corruption is the largest single inhibitor of equitable economic development, and in redefining the issue in this way our shareholder countries reacted very favorably. Indeed, six months later at a meeting of our development committee, ministers all made speeches about corruption and asserted that it was at the core of the problems that affect development.

So, too, is press freedom. Studies at the bank show that the higher the level of press freedom in countries, the higher the control of corruption. Studies show, too, that there is a strong positive correlation between voice and accountability and measures such as per capita income, infant mortality and adult literacy. And yet we know from Freedom House that just 1.2 billion people live in countries with access to a free press, that 2.4 billion live without a free press and 2.4 billion have access to a partially free press.

Because we understand better now the links between development and issues of voice, accountability and transparency, the bank is running courses for journalists in all regions of the developing world and doing so with government approval. We have reached several thousand journalists in more than 50 countries with core courses in economics and business to help them understand the changing dynamics of their environment. By addressing critical health issues such as HIV/AIDS, we have spurred journalists to find new ways of covering this pandemic in their countries. And investigative journalism courses help them tackle the issues of corruption in a professional way-help them shine the spotlight.

But of course with press freedom comes responsibility. And for the media of the developed world this is true too. It is critical that the international media understand the embrace the issue of development as the issue of the moment. We must bring home to the public that there is just one world today and that issues of development are central to the future of our developed countries. We particularly need leadership from the press and from communicators because it is too easy to become caught up in immediate domestic political issues. We and our children need knowledge of our world if we are to ensure peace and stability.

We need to hear our world, and for that reason the bank has just undertaken a study of 60,000 poor people in 60 of the countries in which we work. These “Voices of the Poor,” as our study has become known, give us a rich insight into the complexity of poverty. Most striking, what sets the poor apart from the rich is lack of voice. They feel they are not represented, they cannot convey their needs to authorities, they do not have the power to bring a searchlight upon conditions of inequity. Poverty is not just about money: Poor people want to be able to express themselves, to elect their own people and to gain access and representation.

If you do not have the right to voice and the ability to expose issues, which is of course so tied to the freedom of the press, you remove the right to equitable development. It is that simple. And each country needs to ensure this right from within. It needs to listen to its own voices to get the ideas moving that can change society. Where we are welcome, the bank can help. So too can the international press and such organizations as the World Press Freedom Committee.

The writer is president of the World Bank.