News / Middle East

Media Group: Press Freedom Weakens in Several Countries, Cyberspace

Mariama Diallo
For the first time, the Committee to Protect Journalists has added cyberspace as a category on its yearly risk list, which highlights places where press freedom is on the decline. The CPJ says while violence and repression continue to threaten the work of journalists worldwide, online censorship and surveillance are also starting to affect the flow of information. Mariama Diallo reports.

CPJ's list of countries with the biggest decline in media freedom includes Egypt, Bangladesh, Syria, Ecuador, Liberia, Zambia, Russia, Vietnam and Turkey - where hundreds recently protested against planned new restrictions on the Internet.  

“Turkey is the leading jailer of journalists in the world.  People have been shot with less leathal rounds and tear-gassed around and sprayed with high-pressure water cannon in the streets in protest of this bill," said Geoffrey King of CPJ.

Geoffrey King is the Internet advocacy coordinator for the CPJ. King says new amendments to Turkey's restrictive Internet law, which the parliament passed Thursday, will make it even worse.
 
“It would make it much easier for the government to block URLs in some cases without court authorization," he said.

Responding to the CPJ's allegations, Turkish officials told VOA the amendements were made to improve the law and strike a balance between freedom of expression, individual rights and privacy protections.

In Egypt, the CPJ says that, since the military takeover last year, five journalists have been killed, 30 assaulted and 11 news outlets raided.  20 journalists have recently been arrested, including four from Al Jazeera. Anna Therese Day, a freelance journalist, says via Skype that the situation in Egypt today is very different from what it was during the revolution.

“I worked there freely. I worked by myself. I worked with short sleeves on; I didn’t cover my hair most of the time. Now, that would be unheard of for someone like me," said Day.

Day says she left Egypt because it was no longer safe.

Wars remain the biggest threat to journalists' lives, but CPJ warns that governments' efforts to monitor digital communications could become more damaging to their work.

“Not just targeted surveillance of individual suspects but mass surveillance across society in many countries. That’s why it’s cyberspace and not one particular country being named. Different countries do it with varying levels of rule of law and due process, but it’s quickly becoming very easy for governments to spy on their critics," said King.

The CPJ says that recent revelations by former security contractor Edward Snowden about U.S. cyberspace surveillance could chill newsgathering, by frightening away news sources who need to be protected from retribution.

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