SEOUL (June 23, 2012) – “A real problem throughout the world is the ultimate silencing of journalists — journalists are killed for doing their jobs,” said Patricia Smith, Global Journalist editor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, during a panel on threats to reporters at the East-West Center International Media Conference in Seoul.
Data from free-press organizations show that at least 25 journalists have been killed in the line of duty so far this year, and that 48 countries do not have freedom of the press.
Shahzada Zulfiqar, Quetta bureau chief for the newspaper Pakistan Today, said he himself, has been in danger. As a recent example, he said, on his way back from a media workshop on June 16, four men intercepted him and his two colleagues. They pointed guns at Zulfiqar and his colleagues, and after an hour of detaining them took their rented car, laptops, cell phones, digital cameras and cash.
“This is what we are facing in Pakistan,” Zulfiqar said.
Vasana Wickremasena, executive director of the Centre for Integrated Communication Research & Advocacy, said Sri Lanka has been a democracy for more than six years but is almost at the bottom of the press-freedom list.
Wickremasena said the problem is that people are most interested in broadcast news, and in Sri Lanka, as in many countries, broadcasting is controlled by the government.
“Ninety-seven percentage of coverage about the president was positive last year,” Wickremasena said.
Michael Josh Villanueva, special projects director for the new Filipino social news site Rappler, used data from the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines to talk about free-press violations in his country.
Villanueva said there have been 12 cases of media killings since Benigno Aquino assumed the presidency in 2010, which he said is more than during the first years of the previous president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Villanueva said corruption is a big problem in rural areas in Philippines, so journalists who work in small organizations outside the major cities often face bigger problems. “Journalists who work in small organizations don’t get protection like we do,” Villanueva said.
Jocelyn Ford, chair of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China’s media freedom committee in Beijing, said foreign correspondents in China also do not get protections because the club is considered an illegal organization in China.
They used to need permission to leave their resident city, she said, but when the Olympics were held in Beijing the rules changed, and now international journalists can usually travel freely. They can interview everyone who wants to get interviewed, Ford said, but it is hard to find people who will agree to that.
“Chinese sources who have granted interviews to foreign journalists have been jailed, and granting an interview has been cited as a reason for their being jailed,” Ford said.
Ford said interference with foreign correspondents has lately been getting worse, as has harassment of Chinese employees of foreign news organizations. Chinese employees often are called into “tea time,” she said, where they are threatened by government agents and are asked what stories the foreign reporters are working on.
“My most recent area of concern is the problem of getting visas, and that journalists are afraid to speak up about it,” Ford said.
The panelists agreed that in order to ensure media freedom around the world, safety in reporting must be the top priority. But even now, many journalists continue to risk their lives, they said.
“I always tell my students that, first of all, they have to believe in what they do,” Smith told the panelists,” and obviously you all must very much believe in what you do.”
— Reporting by MinHee Kim, Missouri School of Journalism