Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘press freedom’

Egypt Sullies Its Own Name

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 29th August, 2015

Al Jazeera threeEarlier today, a court in Egypt sentenced three journalists from Al Jazeera TV to three years in prison on the trumped-up charges of aiding a terrorist organisation (the Muslim Brotherhood) and producing false news in order to defame the name of the country. But it is this verdict which has sullied Egypt’s reputation. It is an egregious assault on the freedom of the press and blatantly political, underlining just how far President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has dragged Egypt back to a pre-2011 Revolution era of military-backed dictatorship and suppression of dissent. One of the three people sentenced today, the Australian Peter Greste (a former colleague of mine at the BBC), was fortunately safely out of the country, having been released after a vigorous international campaign after a first, prolonged trial collapsed. But the verdict could seriously now compromise his work as a foreign correspondent, as any country that has an extradition treaty with Egypt could receive a summons to send him to Cairo.

Abdel Fatah el-SisiHowever the real tragedy is the fate of his two AJ colleagues, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, who had been out on bail but must now return to prison — for the “crime” of simply doing their job. It is a terrible blow to them and their families and should trigger strong renewed international protests, not just from NGOs but also from Western governments, including Britain’s. David Cameron astonishingly invited President Sisi to come on an official visit to London later this year, with the announcement about that being made the day after ousted president Mohamed Morsi was sentenced to death by another court. That invitation should now be withdrawn. By staying silent, Britain would instead be condoning what are clear assaults on human rights, including freedom of expression, which would mean that not only is Egypt’s reputation tarnished but Britain’s too.

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Blasphemy Laws Are Medieval

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 12th January, 2015

Raif BadawiJe Suis CharlieGiven the blanket media coverage of events in Paris over the past week many people will probably have missed the distressing news that on Friday, after midday prayers, the Saudi blogger Raif Badawi received 50 lashes in a public flogging, an act of medieval barbarity that is due to be repeated another 19 times on Fridays until the full 1,000 lashes sentence imposed on him for using electronic media to “insult Islam” has been implemented. Other words banded about in his case have included blasphemy and apostasy (renunciation of one’s faith), the latter meriting the death penalty in some extremist Islamic states. Of course, to any rational modern human being these “crimes” are not crimes at all and certainly do not deserve harsh punishment. I do not believe in gratuitously insulting someone else’s religion, but surely God and the Prophets are strong enough to stand up for themselves in the face of any such criticism, satirical or otherwise? At the heart of the Je Suis Charlie demonstrations in France and elsewhere, in the wake of the murderous attacks in Paris, was the principle of free speech — an essential element not just of modern western civilization but of universal values of human rights, thanks to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has been signed by all members of the UN, including gross abusers of human rights, including Saudi Arabia. The Saudis base their antediluvian approach to blasphemy and other such “offences” on their strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam, which was, frankly, outmoded in the late 18th Century when it arose, and when the Enlightenment was sweeping Europe, let alone now. On Sunday, a wide range of world leaders gathered in Paris for the Je Suis Charlie march. But many of these same leaders are themselves guilty of curbing free speech, persecuting and even killing writers and journalists. All have a duty to improve their own records, as well as turning the spotlight on the worst culprits, including Saudi Arabia, applying sanctions where appropriate to reinforce their message. Those countries that still have blasphemy laws should repeal them now.

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Egypt: Please Release the AJ3 NOW!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 29th December, 2014

imageIt’s now one year since three Al Jazeera journalists have been in prison in Egypt, for the simple “crime” of doing their job. One of them is a former colleague of mine at the BBC, Peter Greste, from Australia, from where his family and friends have organised a formidable lobbying campaign for his release. The other two — equally worthy of sympathy and support — are Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy. President Sisi’s government disapproved strlngly of the way that the Doha-based Al Jazeera covered the coup against ousted President Mohammed Morsi, as well as the grotesque human rights abuses that have taken place against Muslim Brotherhood supporters and pro-democracy activists. The farcical trial and subsequent imprisonment of the Al Jazeera 3 is one of the most egregious attempts to stifle press freedom anywhere in the Middle East — a region that is not short of bad examples. Sadly, Western governments, including in Washington and London, have been fairly muted in their criticism of Sisi and his henchmen. While this may be partly an attempt to woo Cairo into releasing the AJ3, I fear it is more a case of Realpolitik, in which the major Western powers see Egypt as an important ally, as well as a friend to Israel. In my view, this is extremely short-sighted, and further undermines the West’s claim to moral authority. It is important that people around the world, as well as governments and media organisations, stand up and protest about human rights abuses and the suppression of the media. And for my part, on this sad first anniversary of the AJ3’s incarceration, I ask General Sisi and his colleagues politely, both for the sake of the three individuals concerned and for the sake of Egypt’s dignity and reputation abroad, please release Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baker Mohamed immediately!

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AEJ Congress Neusiedl

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 19th October, 2014

NeusiedlBurgenland is the least populated of all Austria’s states, a jagged sliver of land bordering Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia. As such, it was the ideal location for this year’s Congress of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ), when our minds were turned to the fall of Communism in Central Europe 25 years ago. It was fascinating to hear the story of the Pan-European picnic organised on the Austrian-Hungarian border in the summer of 1969, which was one of the triggers for the reunification if the continent after four decades of Cold War. These days, there is plenty of cross-border regional cooperation between neighbouring districts. But that does not mean that everyone lives exactly the same way all across the European Union or indeed sees things the same way. It was particularly striking that some of the Hungarian participants did not share the deep concerns in Western Europe about the way that the ruling Fidesz party has drifted from liberal democracy to a degree of authoritarianism. Any complacency about Europe’s future was further shattered by an impassioned presentation from a representative from Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who spoke of the realities of War and of our need to stand up to the Russians.

The Latvian European Commissioner-designate, Valdis Dombrovskis, reminded us of the stiff economic challenges still facing the eurozone, in particular, and a Spanish delegate pointed out that there are now about 15,000 unemployed journalists in Spain. Life is certainly not getting easier for the profession, not least given the pressures of censorship and self-censorship, intimidation in countries such as Russia and the misuse of anti-terrorism laws to curb media freedom in the UK, Turkey and elsewhere.

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Press Freedom in Turkey

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 27th February, 2014

Yavuz BaydarWilliam HorselyLike many longstanding friends of Turkey I have been dismayed by some of the developments in recent months, several of which seem retrogressive rather than progressive. The way the Gezi Park protests were handled by the police and security forces — water cannon to the fore — was cack-handed and the fact that most of the mainstream media in Turkey –not least the TV — ignored them at first was a worrying indication of the way that self-censorship in the country is now rife. Moreover, scores of journalists have found themselves sacked, imprisoned or with the threat of prosecution hanging over them, which has resulted in Turkey now figuring way down the list of states in the world when it comes to freedom of the Press. So it was timely that this evening the Zaman newspaper group organised a meeting on Press Freedom in Turkey in the House of Commons, which I chaired. The parliamentary sponsor was Simon Hughes MP, recently appointed as Justice Minister in the UK’s Coalition Government and therefore in a position to make important representations on an international level, though as I pointed out one of the most disconcerting things about the current situation is the way that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has raised the spectre of foreign plots and conspiracies, which is a narrative that resonates with his supporters when they reject criticisms from abroad. The main speakers at tonight’s meeting were the Turkish journalist and blogger Yavuz Baydar — who was sacked from his position Ombudsman on the newspaper Sabah for political reasons — and William Horsley, formerly Europe Correspondent of the BBC, currently Chairman of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) UK Section and a key player in freedom of press issues at the Council of Europe and elsewhere. All of us were distinctly downbeat in our analysis of the current situation, which is made more complex by the fact that Mr Erdogan is under heavy scrutiny because of allegations of corruption based largely on recordings which he declares are fakes. There is a common argument that maybe he has suffered from the Ten Year Test (a la Thatcher and Blair), but as I pointed out there will be a real power vacuum in Ankara if he falls or the AKP does really badly in upcoming elections, as no opposition party seems ready and able to seize the moment. I still love Turkey, but I worry increasingly for its short-term future, as the Prime Minister and his administration become more authoritarian and ever more removed from common European values.

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Press Freedom in Turkey

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 14th February, 2014

Zaman Turkey meeting

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The EU and Media Freedom

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 20th June, 2013

A useful briefing on the European Parliament’s recent resolution on standards of media freedom across the EU, from David Geary of the European Movement UK:
media freedomThe European Parliament adopted recently a resolution on standards for media freedom across the EU. In the context of recent debates in this area from media ethics to political collusion to the debate about privacy and the fallout from the Levenson Inquiry, this resolution is both timely and relevant.
The resolution on the EU Charter: standard settings for media freedom across the EU, was passed 539 votes to 70 (with 78 abstentions). The Rapporteur was Romanian Liberal Democrat MEP, Renate Weber. The text calls for the governments of all member states to ensure that threats to media freedom, such as attempts to influence, pressurise or otherwise interfere with the view of restricting the ability of the media to function freely within a state, are prohibited. It also suggest that legal mechanisms must be established to ensure that senior appointments to public media organisations safeguard that candidates selected are best enabled to maintain the independent integrity of the respective media organisations. The text covers both public and private media, because both outlets play their own significant role in society and seeks to make sure that both are provided with the same rights, such as those derived from the media plurality clause of the Charter on Fundamental Rights. The Parliament calls for full implementation of the rights established under this Charter.
media freedom 2Acknowledging current challenges to media freedom, especially in cases where governments have cited security concerns, the Parliament requests that such moves should not be abused or used to exercise a degree of political control over the media. Bureaucratic processes such as broadcast licensing were also identified as potential areas of concern which might be manipulated to limit access to the media market for political or partisan reasons. The Parliament requests that both the Commission and Member States take action to address and prevent dominant positions by establishing lower competition thresholds in the media industry than in other markets. The European Parliament establishes two factors which give rise to a dominant position within a media market. First is the ability to benefit from monopoly pricing power. Secondly, the ability to benefit from political influence, especially when that influence creates the opportunity to implement regulatory practices and changes which can offer a competitive advantage. Both characteristics of a dominant media power make it difficult to combat or regulate and the European Parliament identifies this as a critical issue for member states to address. In accordance with previous requests on the Commission to establish a legislative framework governing media ownership, Parliament once again calls for a set of concrete measures to provide a legal oversight to media ownership, establishing minimum standards for Member States.
The independence of journalists is at the centre of the European Parliament’s effort to protect medial plurality. Noting that journalistic independence requires that journalists must not be prevented from accessing public documents and information, Parliament calls on Member States to establish a comprehensive legal framework protecting and promoting freedom of information requests. Alongside access to public information, Parliament notes that true journalistic independence cannot be achieved as long as members of the security services of Member States infiltrate the offices of public and private media organisations. Parliament calls on Member States to stop such activity. The Parliament also notes the effect of poor working conditions and the lack of security of tenure can have on journalistic independence. So it calls for regulation in this area as well as safeguarding journalists from undue pressure from publishers or owners.
Parliament identified the need for promoting ethical journalism and the establishment of professional standards for ethics and conduct, notably the obligation to identify the difference between a fact and an opinion, to ensure that the accurate, impartial and objective media content becomes the standard by which media organisations are assessed. Parliament calls for the establishment of a regulatory authority independent from government which can ensure compliance with standards and ethical codes and provide an avenue to consider complaints from affected parties.
Having the entire range of media operating across the EU in mind, the European Parliament considered developing standards for social media and internet based media providers alongside the more traditional print and broadcast media. In addressing online media, Parliament called for the Commission to include internet media operators in the EU Regulatory framework when the time comes to revise the Audio-visual Media Services Directive.
The importance of monitoring media freedom in the Member States is of critical importance and the European Parliament called on the Commission, the Fundamental Rights Agency and/or the EU Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom to publish an annual report on media freedom, which would then be presented to both Parliament and the EU Council for their consideration and with the intention of having the two co-legislators make proposals to follow this report.
David Geary
European Movement policy officer

 

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