Rights Advocates Mark World Press Freedom Day

Rights advocates marked World Press Freedom Day yesterday, emphasizing the ways in which media freedom remains a contentious issue in many parts of the world, as journalists continue to risk their liberty and lives in the pursuit of their profession. Even as the Internet has increased the ability of individuals to sidestep official controls and disseminate information to a wider audience, harassment and attacks on the media continue worldwide.

In releasing its annual “Predators of Press Freedom” list, Reporters Without Borders added the names of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Hu Jintao, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Rwandan President Paul Kagame. The four joined perennial list favorites, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, Burma’s Than Shwe and the Italian mob.

The Committee to Protect Journalists praised the efforts of journalists as well as “the fixers, the translators, the drivers, the local reporters and aspiring journalists who make the work of their foreign peers possible. They are brave and determined individuals who assume great risk for helping journalists tell stories that those in power would rather stifle.”

A whopping 90 percent of journalists murdered while performing their job are local men and women, and 90 percent of journalist deaths worldwide go unpunished, according to CPJ. The November 2009 slaughter of 30 journalists during a press junket in the Philippines is widely cited by media-freedom advocates as a recent example of the scope of the issue.

U.S. President Barack Obama chimed in yesterday with a nod to the power of new technology — and an acknowledgement of the dangers online journalists are encountering in places like Iran and Egypt.

“While people gained greater access than ever before to information through the Internet, cell phones and other forms of connective technologies, governments like China, Ethiopia, Iran, and Venezuela curtailed freedom of expression by limiting full access to and use of these technologies,” Obama said in a released statement. “But for every media worker who has been targeted, there are countless more who continue to inform their communities despite the risks of reprisal.”

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