By Julius Odeke
An unprecedented rise in the number of journalists killed and imprisoned in the past year coupled with restrictive legislation and state censorship is jeopardizing independent reporting in many countries, according to Attacks on the Press, a yearly assessment of global press freedom released today by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
In a press release that The Independent Magazine obtained, CPJ is a New York-based, independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide says ”When journalists are silenced, whether through violence or laws, we all stand to lose because perpetrators are able to obscure misdeeds, silence dissent, and disempower citizens,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney.
“The battle to control information is an assault on public accountability that cannot go unchallenged. Governments must prosecute perpetrators and stop those seeking to incapacitate public oversight by blunting critical and probing reporting.” Leading indicators featured in Attacks reveal a deteriorating environment for press freedom. In 2012, the number of journalists imprisoned worldwide reached a record high, a trend driven primarily by terrorism and other anti-state charges levied against critical reporters and editors.
CPJ identified 232 journalists behind bars because of their work in 2012, an increase of 53 from 2011 and the highest since the organization began the survey in 1990. CPJ research shows that over the past two decades, a journalist is killed in the line of duty once every eight days. Seventy journalists lost their lives in the line of duty in 2012, a 43 percent increase from 2011. More than 35 journalists have gone missing.
In Uganda alone, The Human Rights Network for Journalists Uganda (HRNJ-U) a week ago released a report on press freedom in Uganda saying it remains fragile as journalists continue to be attacked by security agencies mainly the Uganda Police and verbal threats of arrest and closure of media houses which “sabotage development”.
According to the Press Freedom Index 2012 report released by HRNJ-U on Tuesday Feb 5 in Kampala with its index titled ‘No Gains: Press freedom still fragile’ shows that by December 2012, HRNJ-Uganda had registered that 42 attacks on journalists out of the total 85 complaints handled in 2012, were by the Police force.
The attacks ranged from physical beatings, direct pepper spraying, illegal arrest and detention, manhandling, and stealing of property. The police have ranked the highest violators of the media freedom in Uganda since 2009.
“The Police have found the journalists their softest spot to mistreat at will under the guise of keeping law and order. Their actions have made the right to freedom of expression and media hard to enjoy,” said Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala the National Coordinator of HRNJ-Uganda.
To determine growing threats, the 2013 edition of Attacks also features CPJ’s new Risk List, which identifies the 10 places where the organization documented the most significant downward trends during 2012. Those trends included: High murder rates and entrenched impunity in Pakistan, Somalia, and Brazil, the use of restrictive laws to silence dissent in Ecuador, Turkey, and Russia, the imprisonment of large numbers of journalists, typically on anti-state charges, to thwart critical reporting in Ethiopia, Turkey, Vietnam, Iran, and Syria and an exceedingly high fatality rate in Syria, where journalists faced multiple risks from all sides in the conflict.