Press Freedom Still Under Siege p.21

By: TONY CASE ''A NY NEWSPAPER THAT directly incites any person or persons to commit a crime or offense, if committed, shall be punished as an accomplice to the crime or offense."
Far from an old Soviet-styled press law, that statement, shockingly, was drafted by a Western free-press group, Reporters Sans Frontiers (Reporters Without Borders), as part of a European Union-funded guide for framers of press guidelines in new democracies.
The proposal also allows for fines and imprisonment against publishers disseminating information deemed insulting to government officials, and greatly restricts the use of hate speech in news accounts, making it "virtually impossible to report on social tensions," Ronald Koven of the World Press Freedom Committee said at the group's meeting in New York this week, held during the annual Newspaper Association of America convention.
At the gathering, Koven expressed outrage at the anti-democratic actions of those associations charged with upholding the rights of reporters and news organizations.
He singled out Paris-based RSF, London's Article 19 group and the World Association of Press Councils, as well as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Although UNESCO Director General Federico Mayor has been a vocal defender of the press, concerns persist. With Mayor's term ending next year, some fret that his successor won't hold journalistic freedom so dear.
"There is a new specter haunting Europe and the world as a whole ? that of press controls," Koven said. "Now that the Cold War is over, the threat comes not from the Soviet Union, but from within democratic institutions ? the Council of Europe, the European Union ? and from some nongovernmental organizations dedicated to free speech and press freedom."
The Reston, Va.-based WPFC ? representing 35 affiliates, including the NAA, American Society of Newspaper Editors and Society of Professional Journalists ? is in its twentieth year of aggressively promoting press freedom the world over: railing at every turn against press restrictions, sponsoring training programs and providing literature in scores of languages, such as the just-published, French-language edition of the Handbook for African Journalists. Even so, journalists in the most democratic of nations ? Britain, France, Germany, Spain ? have been threatened with governmental intervention in recent times, Koven pointed out.
He wonders about the message that sends would-be oppressors of newspeople.
"When authoritarians in Croatia, Slovakia and Russia hear that kind of talk, who can wonder that they feel they have no need to refrain from such ideas that come in western context?" he said.
Article 19 arranged a recent South-African confab of 35 legal experts ? none of them journalists ? to draft the "Johannesburg Principles on Freedom of Expression and National Security."
The purpose of the activity, Koven explained, was to narrow down the national-security pretext limiting the free flow of information and ideas. But what resulted, he regretted, was a "double-edged document that gives a dictator the blueprint he needs to put national security within what the Article 19 group considers to be acceptable terms."
Far from an academic exercise, Article 19 succeeded in getting the United Nations Human Rights Commission to take note of its proposal, Koven reported. While he praised groups such as RSF and Article 19 for defending victims of press abuses in many cases, Koven said they "get into trouble when they try to reinvent established general principles."
And organizations putting clamps on journalistic rights are surfacing all the time.
The newly formed World Association of Press Councils, which met in Istanbul last March, undertook studies aimed at establishing a worldwide press council to which disputes about reporting across borders could be referred. This, of course, would mean a code of conduct would have to be drafted.
While representatives of Western nations agreed only to study the proposal, WAPC's Turkish host told Koven he was determined to see a press law implemented ? as he considered international news coverage of his country's military operations against the Kurds to be lacking in balance and objectivity.
"I think there are more threats in more forms in the last decade, and I think it is shocking that it is Western free-press organizations that are now imposing restrictions," said WPFC's Dana Bullen.
Mentioning in the proposal that a newspaper be punished for inciting a crime, an incensed Bullen commented: "If we're going to have that kind of provision in Western, so-called free-press groups, we are in the most serious kind of trouble."


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