22 February 2012

Committee to Protect Journalists calls for global coalition against censorship

A demonstrator in Turkey protests government plans to censor the Internet in May 2011. The image also made CPJ's 2011
A demonstrator in Turkey protests government plans to censor the Internet in May 2011. The image also made CPJ's 2011 "year in photographs", a multimedia presentation that accompanied "Attacks on the Press"
Murad Sezer/REUTERS

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The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is calling for a global coalition against censorship at a time when repressive governments, "militants" and criminal groups around the world are controlling information to maintain their grip on power.

"There is a collective interest in ensuring that information flows freely… An attack on an Egyptian, Pakistani, or Mexican journalist inhibits the ability of people around the world to receive the information that journalist would have provided," CPJ executive director Joel Simon said in CPJ's annual report, Attacks on the Press, launched on 21 February. "A global coalition against censorship needs to unite behind a simple idea: censorship anywhere affects people everywhere," he added.

Simon points to the lesson that repressive governments may have learned from the Arab Spring uprisings: "that maintaining a viable censorship regime is even more urgent in the Information Age. After all, once control of information slips from their hands, it is difficult to retain power," said Simon.

Simon uses Egypt as an example, where the government unplugged the Internet, shut down satellite channels and targeted foreign correspondents, but protesters were able to keep communication channels open and win international support for their cause.

"The global visibility of the protests raised the cost of government repression to the point where it became unsustainable," Simon said.

In Syria, however, the government's power to control domestic media and keep international reporters out of the country has given it a huge advantage in quelling protests, Simon said.

And while "technology is a fundamental tool in the struggle… new and innovative political strategies must also be employed," said Simon. "The key is to mobilise the many constituencies that have a stake in ensuring the free flow of information - civil society and advocacy groups, businesses, governments, and inter-governmental organisations - and build a global coalition against censorship," he said.

And because there are few effective legal mechanisms to fight censorship internationally - for instance, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights does not directly prohibit censorship - the coalition should work to call on international and regional organisations, such as the UN and the Organization of American States, to create a legal framework to ensure that press freedom and freedom of information are respected in practice, Simon said.

"Human rights and press freedom organisations should look for opportunities to adjudicate press freedom cases at the international level in order to build a body of global precedent," and the role of special rapporteurs within the international system need to be strengthened as well, he added.

The 462-page report documents the state of press freedom worldwide over the past year, with summaries of conditions in more than 100 countries and territories. "Attacks on the Press" also provides a census of journalists killed (47) and imprisoned (179) in 2011.

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