29 April 2009

World Press Freedom Day 2009 events in the Middle East and North Africa

MADA's 3 May poster
MADA's 3 May poster

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More than 250 media professionals, including a host of IFEX members, converged in Doha, Qatar for UNESCO's official 3 May events. They adopted a declaration emphasising the importance of media in communication across cultural differences: http://tinyurl.com/ch8yj6

One member who was conspicuously absent was the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). IFJ refused to attend because "the event is held in a country which supports an international media freedom centre, but which refuses to allow local journalists to form their own independent union or association," said IFJ. Instead, IFJ will be in Bahrain, where it has opened a regional office to campaign for ethical journalism. See: http://tinyurl.com/cept4j

IFJ is also calling for a radical overhaul of media laws in the Middle East, many of which lead to the jailing of journalists. Check out "Breaking the Chains", IFJ's annual report on press freedom violations in the Arab world, which documents the cases of jailed journalists in the past year and the key legal articles that need reform: http://tinyurl.com/dbgwvw

Meanwhile, disgusted with the government's continuing onslaught on free expression in Bahrain - websites are being banned, writers prosecuted and human rights defenders prevented from speaking to the media - BCHR is fighting back. One of the ringleaders of the clampdown is Bahrain's Minister of Information and Culture, Mai al-Khalifa, who strangely has won many awards for her support of "culture" and "openness". BCHR is circulating a petition demanding that al-Khalifa's prizes be withdrawn, and is calling on the government to stop breaching its human rights commitments. See: http://www.bahrainrights.org/en

Together with UNESCO's regional office and with support from IFEX, IFEX's member in Lebanon, Maharat, is organising an event on 7 May to tackle why Lebanon has continued to slip in regional press freedom rankings. Be sure to get a copy of Maharat's 2008 report on the status of freedom of opinion and expression in Lebanon, which combines legal data as well as first-hand interviews with Lebanese journalists and media organisations. See: http://www.maharatfoundation.org/

Recently in Yemen seven newspapers were confiscated and one paper's office is under siege - underlining the importance of a training programme on international human rights law and best practice standards on the right to free expression and information, put on by ARTICLE 19 from 5 to 7 May: http://tinyurl.com/d5gde2

Other activities:

- In Palestine, look out for the "Free Media, Free Country" poster, which is being plastered throughout Palestine and in media outlets during May by the Palestinian Centre for Development & Media Freedoms (MADA): http://www.madacenter.org/en

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