Tag Archives: whistleblowers

Investigative reporter and foreign correspondent Jess Hill (@jessradio) talks media law and censorship

By MARK PEARSON

We were honoured to have investigative reporter and former Middle East correspondent Jess Hill (@jessradio) visit Griffith University to talk about foreign correspondence and the use of social media in journalism.

She was obliging enough to agree to this studio interview with me on media law, censorship and freedom of the press.

Thanks to Bevan Bache and Ashil Ranpara for their camera work, production and technical support.

[Recorded 2.4.14, 11:13 mins].

© Mark Pearson 2015

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

2 Comments

Filed under national security, terrorism

How reliable are world press freedom indices?

By MARK PEARSON

The recent special edition of Pacific Journalism Review included an article I co-authored with Associate Professor Joseph Fernandez (@DrJM_Fernandez) from Curtin University looking at censorship in Australia.

It was titled “Censorship in Australia: Intrusions into media freedom flying beneath the international free expression radar.”

Part of the article considered the reliability of world press indices collated each year by international organisations like Reporters Without Borders and the Freedom Forum.

Here is a short abridged extract of our article to give you a background to the RSF approach and a sense of our argument:

Two main media freedom indices are cited internationally as indicators of the relative state of press freedom and free expression internationally. They are issued by the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF – Reporters Without Borders) and by the US-based Freedom House. Each has fine-tuned its rankings system over time and we summarise their methodologies here. The RSF World Press Freedom Index was first published in 2002. On its launch it explained:

The index was drawn up by asking journalists, researchers and legal experts to answer 50 questions about the whole range of press freedom violations (such as murders or arrests of journalists, censorship, pressure, state monopolies in various fields, punishment of press law offences and regulation of the media). The final list includes 139 countries. The others were not included in the absence of reliable information (RSF, 2002a).

It went on to detail its methodology as essentially a qualitative one based on its contacts in each country assessed and its headquarters staff. The index measured the ‘amount of [media] freedom’ in each country and the respective governments’ efforts to observe that freedom (RSF, 2002b). Its questionnaire sought details on: direct attacks on journalists (e.g. murders, imprisonment, physical assaults and threats) and on the media (e.g. censorship, confiscation, searches and other pressure); the degree of impunity enjoyed by those responsible for such violations; the legal environment for the media (e.g. punishment for press offences, state monopoly and existence of a regulatory body); the state’s behavior towards the public media and the foreign press; threats to information flow on the Internet; and the activities of armed movements and other groups that threaten press freedom (ibid).

Clearly, RSF’s emphasis from that early stage was on clear physical threats against journalists and major legal measures taken against the media in the surveyed countries. Australia ranked 12 out of 139 countries ranked in that first survey. New Zealand and other Pacific Island nations were not ranked because of a lack of information collected on them. The following year New Zealand debuted at position 17, while Australia had been demoted to 50 of 166 nations ranked (RSF, 2003).

RSF changed its ranking methodology significantly in 2013, when it ranked Australia at 28 out of 179 countries, and it is that revised approach which will be used for our discussion here about the potential assessment of Australia’s performance. It explained a shift to a new questionnaire and approach, with Paris-based staff quantifying the numbers of journalists killed, jailed, exiled, attacked or arrested, and the number of outlets directly censored (RSF, 2013). Other important criteria formed the basis of questionnaires sent to outside experts and members of the RSF network, including ‘the degree to which news providers censor themselves, government interference in editorial content, or the transparency of government decision-making’. Legislation and its effectiveness, concentration of media ownership, favouritism in subsidies and state advertising and discrimination in access to journalism and training were the subject of more detailed questions (RSF, 2013).

RSF then uses a complex algorithm to assign a score out of 100 to every country, drawing first on six general criteria of pluralism, media independence, environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency and infrastructure; and then factoring in a special ‘violence score’ with a weighting of 20 per cent, calculated using a formula taking account of violence against journalists in the following declining weightings: death of journalists, imprisonments, kidnappings, media outlets attacked and ransacked, journalists who have fled the country, arrests, and attacks (RSF, 2013). An additional co-efficient takes account of respect for freedom of information in a foreign territory. In short, the algorithm strives to add quantitative mathematical rigour to a process that is largely qualitative, with a stronger weighting on acts of violence than upon legislative and systemic anti-media features. The approach incorporates difficult and problematic comparisons of the value of the murder of a journalist vis a vis laws of censorship.

[The article then backgrounds the Freedom House ‘Freedom of the Press’ reports methodology.]

The respective RSF and Freedom House indices are cited internationally in political speeches and academic works (Burgess, 2010, p. 4). For example, Belgian scholar Dirk Voorhoof linked high media freedom rankings with global reputation for human rights protection when he wrote:… the countries with a high level of press freedom, as shown in the international ratings of Reporters without Borders (RSF) or Freedom House, are countries in which democracy, transparency, respect for human rights and the rule of law is strongly rooted, institutionalised and integrated in society (2009).

However, despite assurances from both RSF and Freedom House that their reports and indices were undertaken with independence and rigor, they have come in for criticism from some quarters. For example, Schönfeld (2014) took issue with Russia’s rankings in both indices on the basis of a potential Western bias. She cited rumours that the Freedom House index was sponsored by the US government (p. 99):

The whole questionnaire presumes a comprehensive concept of media freedom, claiming that the media have to be embedded in a democratic society (p. 100).

She raised similar concerns about the RSF index, again citing a rumour that ‘the organisation contents itself with three or four completed questionnaires per country to the same target group’ (p. 100). She drew comparisons between the RSF and Freedom House approaches:

The conformity between these two indices is not astonishing, as the underlying concept of media freedom, methodology, and the target group are nearly the same (Schönfeld, 2014, p. 100).

Burgess (2010) canvassed the academic literature on media freedom indices and found a host of criticisms, including poor survey design, and recommended they ‘should continue to work to increase technical sophistication, validity across time, and transparency of sourcing, wherever possible without creating threats to the security of people who help in compiling them’ (Burgess, 2010, p. 50). Pearson (2012a) offered reasons as to why the RSF index could not be a precise scientific measure.

It could never be, given the enormous variables at stake, and has to rely on an element of expert qualitative judgment when making the final determinations of a country’s comparative ranking. If it was purely quantitative, for example, there would be an in-built bias against the world’s most populous countries because the sheer numbers of journalists and media organisations involved would increase the statistical likelihood media freedom breaches or incidents involving journalists.

Further, the individual rankings of countries in any particular year are subject to the performance of the nations above and below them. In fact, a country might well decline in the real state of its media freedom but be promoted in an index because of the even worse performance of countries ranked above it the year prior. As Burgess noted, however, the indices were cited widely on their release each year and thus represented a useful tool for promoting the value of media freedom internationally (Burgess, 2010, pp. 6-7). Pearson (2012a) stated:

Governments might take issue with the methodology and argue over their precise rankings, but the index draws on the energies and acumen of experts in RSF’s Paris headquarters and throughout the world; and is thus taken seriously in international circles. It serves to raise awareness about media and Internet freedom, which cannot be a bad thing in an age of government spin.

Of course, any press freedom index is really only a continuum because media freedom is not an absolute, scientifically measureable criterion and there is no haven of free expression or press freedom internationally. Indeed, established international instruments reflect the non-absolute nature of free speech. For example, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that everyone has a right to freedom of expression (Article 19). However, this right is qualified. For example, Article 12 provides that noone no one shall be subjected to attacks upon ‘honour and reputation’. Likewise, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights qualifies the freedom of expression right in Article 19(2), with a provision stipulating that that freedom ‘carries with it special duties. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions…such as are provided by law and are necessary’.

Interested? Here is the citation for the full article. Order your PJR copy now.


Pearson, M., and Fernandez, J. M. (2015). Censorship in Australia: Intrusions into media freedom flying beneath the international free expression radar. Pacific Journalism Review, 21(1): 40-60.

© Mark Pearson 2015

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

Leave a comment

Filed under national security, terrorism

West Papua – the Indonesian media gag on Australia’s doorstep

Global Day of Action for Access to West Papua unites protestors across 20 cities

REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS / REPORTERS SANS FRONTIERES
PRESS RELEASE / COMMUNIQUÉ DE PRESSE

04.29.2015

ENG : http://en.rsf.org/indonesia-global-day-of-action-for-access-to-29-04-2015,47828.html

INDONESIA
Joint statement Published on Wednesday 29 April 2015.

See the the open letter to President Joko Widodo here.

London, 29 April 2014 – Dozens of demonstrators dressed in black gathered outside the Indonesian Embassy today to lead the global protest against West Papua’s 50-year long isolation. The demonstration was organised by TAPOL and Survival International, supported by Amnesty UK and the Free West Papua Campaign. The rally was one of 22 protests around the world calling for free and open access to Indonesia’s most secretive region. Since West Papua’s annexation in 1963, Indonesia has imposed a media blackout on the contested, resource-rich territory, allowing perpetrators of human rights violations to act with total impunity. West Papua is one of the world’s most isolated conflict spots. For decades, Indonesian security forces have brutally suppressed Papuan pro-independence movements.

The ‘Global Day of Action for Free and Open Access to Papua’ has sparked rallies in West Papua, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, the Solomon Islands, Scotland, Germany, France, Italy and Spain. Protests in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco are planned to take place later today. This global coordinated effort, the first of its kind, shows that worldwide solidarity for West Papua has reached unprecedented levels.

Esther Cann from TAPOL, a London-based NGO coordinating the rally said, “This is the first time we’ve seen anything like this level of support for West Papua. NGOs, parliamentarians and solidarity groups all around the world are telling Indonesia that human rights abuses in Papua can no longer be ignored. Papuan voices must be heard. In this age of information, it’s astounding that there are blackspot regions like West Papua.

From the Solomon Islands to Scotland to San Francisco, hundreds of demonstrators from 22 cities in 10 different countries united to call for a free and open West Papua. Demonstrators wore black, representing the ongoing media blackout in West Papua. They gathered to demand that President Joko Widodo fulfill his presidential campaign promise of opening West Papua to international journalists, humanitarian and human rights organisations. A three-minute silence was observed to symbolize the silencing of the media in West Papua.

President Jokowi himself has said that there is nothing to hide in Papua. So why is it still virtually impossible for journalists and NGOs to report on Papua? We know that serious human rights violations are happening in Papua, but we still have no idea of the scale of the killings and torture over the last 50 years,” said Cann.

This global day of action is our way of telling the Indonesian government that the world is watching. Even though they’ve kept West Papua isolated for 50 years, the world has not forgotten. The truth must and will come out,” said human rights activist Peter Tatchell, who took part in the protest.

At the end of the demonstration, a joint letter to President Jokowi signed by 52 Papuan, Indonesian and international groups and parliamentarians was delivered to the Indonesian Embassy in London. The letter pointed out that ‘the media blackout denies the Papuan people the right to have their voices heard and allows human rights violations such as killings, torture and arbitrary arrests, to continue with impunity … The de-facto ban on foreign journalists, NGOs and humanitarian organisations contributes to the isolation of local journalists, and makes independent investigation and corroboration virtually impossible’. An Avaaz petition calling for media freedom in West Papua, launched by the Free West Papua Campaign and signed by over 47,000 people was delivered to President Jokowi by Papuan students in Jakarta today.

Reporters without Borders, a co-signatory to the joint letter, criticised Indonesia’s decline in media freedom. Benjamin Ismail, the Head of the Asia-Pacific Desk at Reporters without Borders said, “Indonesia’s ranking in the World Press Freedom Index has worsened dramatically in the last four years. In 2015, it ranked 138 out of 180 countries. This year’s position is mainly the result of the media blackout in West Papua orchestrated by the authorities.

Access for UN human rights observers has been closed for eight years. In recent years, international humanitarian agencies and NGOs have been pressured to close their field offices and leave Papua. International journalists and NGOs seeking to visit and work in Papua are currently required to undergo a stringent visa application process involving the unanimous approval of 18 separate government agencies known as the Clearing House committee.

In October last year, two French journalists were sentenced to 11 weeks in detention under immigration charges because they had tried to report the Papua conflict. During a UN Human Rights Council event last month, Valentine Bourrat, one of the two journalists detained stated that “…keeping Papua closed to journalists means that the Indonesian authorities are hiding human rights violations. As journalists we cannot let a murderous silence prevail.

Independent reporting by local and national journalists in Papua is dangerous and sometimes lethal. According to the Papuan branch of Indonesia’s Alliance of Independent Journalists (Aliansi Jurnalis Independen, AJI), in 2014 there were 20 reported cases of violence and intimidation against journalists in Papua.

Journalists must be able to work without intimidation, threats or restriction. We should be able to report independently and without fear for our security. Why is this not guaranteed to journalists in Papua? As Indonesian citizens, why are our rights not safeguarded?” said Oktovianus Pogau, a journalist with Suara Papua, a Papuan news site.

During his presidential campaign, President Jokowi publically stated that there was nothing to hide in Papua and promised to open the region. Yet six months into his presidency, Papua remains closed off to the international community. While President Jokowi has pledged his commitment to resolve past rights abuses, the execution of eight people for alleged drug trafficking offences less than 24 hours ago puts the future direction of Indonesia’s human rights into serious question.

Contact: Esther Cann, Coordinator, TAPOL, +44 7503 400308 esther.cann@tapol.org For photos of demonstrations in other cities please email campaigns@tapol.org

MORE INFO :

PACIFIC MEDIA CENTRE : WEST PAPUA: Open access now ’vital’, say NZ journalists, rights activists

WEST PAPUA MEDIA ALERTS : The Eyes of the Papuans: A video advocacy process

Benjamin Ismaïl
Head of Asia-Pacific Desk
Reporters Without Borders
CS 90247
75083 PARIS CEDEX 02
France
+33 1 44 83 84 70

Websites :
https://en.rsf.org/asia,2.html
https://surveillance.rsf.org/en/
http://index.rsf.org
https://www.wefightcensorship.org/index.html
Twitter :
@RSFAsiaPacific
@RSF_Asia (中文)
Facebook : facebook.com/reporterssansfrontieres
Skype : rsfasia
PGP : 0632 C9C7 8AC0 621A 92CC 9FEC 362F A254 1A54 54D7
KEY : 1A5454D7

1 Comment

Filed under national security, terrorism

Forthcoming Pacific Journalism Review covers political journalism in the region

By MARK PEARSON

The May special edition of Pacific Journalism Review will include revised and refereed papers from the PJR2014 conference held in Auckland last November.

I was honoured to collaborate with Associate Professor Joseph Fernandez (@DrJM_Fernandez) from Curtin University on two of the articles in this forthcoming edition –  one on censorship in Australia and the reflection of this in world press freedom indices; and the other on recent developments in shield laws in Australia and on journalists’ attitudes to them and their confidential sources.

Interested? Here are the abstracts and citation details for both articles. Order your PJR copy now.


Pearson, M., and Fernandez, J. M. (2015). Censorship in Australia: Intrusions into media freedom flying beneath the international free expression radar. Pacific Journalism Review, 21(1): 40-60.

Australia has ranked among the top 30 nations in recent world press freedom surveys published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and Freedom House and is broadly regarded as a substantially free Western liberal democracy. This article considers how the methodologies of those organisations assess the impact upon media freedom of a range of recent decisions and actions by Australian politicians, judges and government agencies. There is considerable evidence of a shift towards official secrecy and suppression of information flow. However, according to this analysis such developments are unlikely to impact significantly on Australia’s international ranking in media freedom indices. This article uses the methodologies of RSF and Freedom House to explore whether the international free expression organisations’ criteria are justifiably weighted towards violence against journalists, their imprisonment and formal anti-press laws and might allow for a nuanced comparison of other evidence of constraints on the news media in developed democracies.


Fernandez, J. M., and Pearson, M. (2015). Shield laws in Australia: Legal and ethical implications for journalists and their confidential sources. Pacific Journalism Review, 21(1): 61-78.

This article examines whether Australia’s current shield law regime meets journalists’ expectations and whistleblower needs in an era of unprecedented official surveillance capabilities. According to the peak journalists’ organisation, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), two recent Australian court cases ‘despite their welcome outcome for our members, clearly demonstrate Australia’s patchy and disparate journalist shields fail to do their job’ (MEAA, 2014a). Journalists’ recent court experiences exposed particular shield law inadequacies, including curious omissions or ambiguities in legislative drafting (Fernandez, 2014c, p. 131); the ‘unusual difficulty’ that a case may present (Hancock Prospecting No 2, 2014, para 7); the absence of definitive statutory protection in three jurisdictions—Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory (Fernandez, 2014b, p. 26); and the absence of uniform shield laws where such law is available (Fernandez, 2014b, pp. 26-28). This article examines the following key findings of a national survey of practising journalists: (a) participants’ general profile (b) familiarity with shield laws: (c) perceptions of shield law effectiveness and coverage: (d) perceptions of story outcomes when relying on confidential sources; and (e) concerns about official surveillance and enforcement. The conclusion briefly considers the significance and limitations of this research; future research directions; some reform and training directions; and notes that the considerable efforts to secure shield laws in Australia might be jeopardised without better training of journalists about the laws themselves and how surveillance technologies and powers might compromise source confidentiality.


© Mark Pearson 2015

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

Leave a comment

Filed under national security, terrorism

Memo #RSF Paris: Australian media freedom at risk from anti-terror laws

By MARK PEARSON

[Research assistance from media freedom intern Jasmine Lincoln]

Memo to: Benjamin Ismail, Bureau Asie-Pacifique, Reporters sans frontiers (RSF – Reporters Without Borders), Paris.

From: Mark Pearson, RSF correspondent, Australia

RSFlogo-enI regret to advise that several events and policy proposals have impacted negatively on the state of media freedom in Australia.

They are highly likely to threaten Australia’s ranking on your forthcoming RSF World Press Freedom Index.

A raft of new laws and policies proposed by the conservative Abbott Government has placed its stamp on media law and free and open public commentary.

The initiatives follow in the steps of the prior Labor Government that had proposed a new media regulatory regime with potentially crippling obligations under the Privacy Act.

In the course of its first year in office the Abbott Government has:

– imposed a media blackout on vital information on the important human rights issue of the fate of asylum seekers;

– initiated major budget cuts on the publicly funded ABC;

– used anti-terror laws to win a ‘super injunction’ on court proceedings that might damage its international relations (see your earlier RSF release on this, which I cannot legally reproduce here for fear of a contempt charge);

– moved to stop not-for-profits advocating against government policy in their service agreements, meaning they lose funding if they criticise the government;

– slated the Office of the Information Commissioner for abolition, promising tardy FOI appeals;

– proposed the taxing of telcos to pay for its new surveillance measures, potentially a modern version of licensing the press;

– proposed ramped up surveillance powers of national security agencies and banning reporting of security operations (See Prime Minister’s August 5 release here);

– proposed increased jail terms for leaks about security matters (you issued a release on July 22 the impact for whistleblowers);

– mooted a new gag on ‘incitement to terrorism’;

– proposed new laws reversing the onus of proof about the purpose of their journey for anyone, including journalists, travelling to Syria or Iraq.

Major media groups have expressed their alarm at the national security proposals in a joint submission stating that the new surveillance powers and measures against whistleblowers would represent an affront to a free press.

Over the same period the judiciary has presided over the jailing of a journalist for breaching a suppression order, the conviction of a blogger for another breach, and several instances of journalists facing contempt charges over refusal to reveal their sources. There have also been numerous suppression orders issued, including this one over a Victorian gangland trial.

Other disturbing signs have been actions by police and departmental chiefs to intimidate journalists and media outlets.

  • The Australian Federal Police raided the Seven Network headquarters in Sydney in February, purportedly in search of evidence of chequebook journalism, triggering an official apology this week.
  • Defence Chief General David Hurley wrote to newly elected Palmer United Party Senator Jacqui Lambie in March, warning her not to use the media to criticise the military.
  • Freelance journalist Asher Wolf received a threatening letter from the secretary for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) Martin Bowles following her co-written article for the Guardian Australia on February  19, 2014 titled ‘Immigration Department data lapse reveals asylum seekers’ personal details.’ The public service mandarin’s letter implied Wolf had obtained the material on which the article was based by ‘dishonest or unfair means’ and demanded Wolf agree not to publish the contents and ‘return all hard and soft copies of the information’ including any her storage devices. See the letter here: WolfDIBP to The Guardian – A Wolf. The Sydney Morning Herald later reported that the DIBP was hiring private contractors to trawl social media and order pro-asylum seeker activists to remove their protesting posts.

I am sure you will agree that these developments are not what we would expect to be unfolding in a Western democracy like Australia where media freedom has previously been at a level respected by the international community.

Kind regards,

Mark Pearson (@journlaw)

—–

Sources for further detail on the national security reforms:

(6 August, 2014). Inquiry into the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014 Submission. Retrieved from: file:///C:/Users/jasmine/Downloads/17.%20Joint%20media%20organisations%20(1).pdf.

Criminal Code Act 1995 (Qld) s. 5.4 (Austl.).

Grubb, B. (19 August, 2014). Anti-leak spy laws will only target ‘reckless’ journalists: Attorney-General’s office. Retrieved from: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/antileak-spy-laws-will-only-target-reckless-journalists-attorneygenerals-office-20140818-1059c7.html.

Grubb, B. (30 July, 2014). Edward Snowden’s lawyer blasts Australian law that would jail journalists reporting on spy leaks. Retrieved from: http://www.smh.com.au/digital-life/consumer-security/edward-snowdens-lawyer-blasts-australian-law-that-would-jail-journalists-reporting-on-spy-leaks-20140730-zyn95.html.

Hopewell, L. (17 July, 2014). New Aussie Security Laws Would Jail Journalists for Reporting on Snowden Style-Leaks. Retrieved from: http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2014/07/new-aussie-security-laws-would-jail-journalists-for-reporting-on-snowden-style-leaks/.

Murphy, K. (17 August, 2014). David Leyonhjelm believes security changes restrict ordinary Australians. Retrieved from: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/17/david-leyonhjelm-security-changes-restrict-australians.

Parliament of Australia (15 August, 2014). Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, 15/08/2014, National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014. Retrieved from: http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;adv=yes;db=COMMITTEES;id=committees%2Fcommjnt%2F2066f963-ee87-4000-9816-ebc418b47eb4%2F0002;orderBy=priority,doc_date-rev;query=Dataset%3AcomJoint;rec=0;resCount=Default.

The Greens (1 August, 2014). Brandis presumption of terror guilt could trap journalists, aid workers. Retrieved from: http://greens.org.au/node/5617.

 

© Mark Pearson 2014

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

4 Comments

Filed under free expression, national security, Press freedom, terrorism, Uncategorized