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World Press Freedom Day – May 3rd


World Press Freedom Day – May 3rd

“On the eve of World Press Freedom Day, May 3rd, it is time to remember journalists working beneath some of the world’s more repressive regimes”, says Amnesty International New Zealand's Executive Director Ced Simpson.

World Press Freedom Day could pass unnoticed in New Zealand - a country that, according to the international press freedom watch-dog Reporters without Borders, enjoys ‘an excellent record of press freedom.’ Unfortunately, ‘freedom of the press’ is a catchcry that is not assured in many parts of the world.

In 2006 alone, New Zealand members of Amnesty International have directly campaigned for the release of 15 representatives of the media ranging from the Editor of the Independent in Gambia to the Director of Beehive radio station in Cambodia. Seven of the 15 media workers have been released in the weeks following letter writing actions by Amnesty International members.

“Freedom of expression is crucial in a democracy because open discussion allows people to influence their government’s choice of policies”, says Ced Simpson. “For those that ask whether a basic lack of press freedom equates to a general absence of human rights the answer is a resounding ‘yes’.”

The countries with poor press freedom records – North Korea, Myanmar, Eritrea, Zimbabwe and Turkmenistan – are also home to some of the most repressive governments and lowest living standards in the world. In line with the ever-decreasing access to freedom of expression, Zimbabwe also suffers from hyper-inflation (now topping 900%) and, according to the United Nations World Health Organisation, the lowest life expectancy anywhere in the world (35.5 years).

The Zimbabwean government has launched a final assault on the country’s remaining independent press. Under the autocratic Presidency of Robert Mugabe, fundamental rights, including freedom of assembly and expression, the right to information and privacy, the right to property and the prohibition against arbitrary detention have been removed.

In the last 5 years, Zimbabwe’s government has enacted absolute control over who may operate a media outlet and practice journalism. Laws, with titles like The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act of 2002 and The Broadcasting Services Act of 2001, force journalists to register with the state-run Media and Information Commission or face up to two years in prison. The Public Order and Security Act of 2002 criminalizes criticism of the President (whether his person or his office) and prohibits public gatherings without providing police four days’ written notice.

Unfortunately, Zimbabwean reporters game enough to comment on the situation face the revocation of their press licence and prison-time. In a few instances, when police have not been able to capture an outspoken independent journalist, friends and relatives of the journalist have been detained until he or she surrenders to a police station.

And Zimbabwe is just one example says Ced Simpson: "Beyond the globally recognised media agencies reside hundreds of thousands of media workers who wonder everyday whether their latest story will land them in prison or earn them a death sentence. World Press Freedom Day is an ideal time to look upon the newspaper you hold in your hands, and consider the reality behind each story before turning the page."


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