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Journalism is a dangerous and deadly business but newshounds are willing to fight for press freedom and also adapt to technological change in a fast-moving world, writes Waghied Misbach

By unknown | Jun 08, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Gavin O'Reilly joked this week that he did not get any Christmas cards last year from Russian President Vladimir Putin and South Korean leader Roh Moohyun.

The reason for this was that O'Reilly, the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) president, was particularly scathing of the press freedom record of the two leaders at last year's congress in Moscow.

He was speaking at the WAN congress in Cape Town this week, alongside the 14th World Editors Forum (WEF).

Putin came in for particular attention because it was estimated that 21 journalists have been killed in Russia since he came to power in March 2000. The brutal murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was critical of Russia's alleged human rights abuses in Chechnya, resulted in widespread condemnation from journalists and human rights organisations.

The issue of press freedom is still a vexing problem in many countries in Africa and the world. In a video presentation at the start of the congress it was demonstrated that even in established democracies anti-terrorism laws were stifling debate. North America, considered the bastion of the free press, was also greatly affected. This included journalists resorting to self-censorship after September 11 and the start of the Iraq War, though this situation was slowly changing.

In total, 110 journalists were killed last year. This year 58 have been killed, mostly in Iraq.

Zimbabwe was also criticised and the WAN board passed a resolution condemning President Robert Mugabe's crackdown on the media.

In Africa, journalists are showing an appetite to fight for press freedom. This is coming in the form of the increasing signs of democratic changes such as elections taking place more often in many African states.

The fledgling African Editors Forum was scheduled to meet in Cape Town last night to discuss ways to promote press freedom in Africa. Lobbying by editors against restrictive laws is also going to take place at the level of the African Union (AU).

The Declaration of Table Mountain adopted this week includes a specific call on the AU to include in its criteria of good governance, in the African Peer Review Mechanism, the requirement that countries promote an independent and free press.

The forum's agenda includes the promise of greater action to cooperate on stories. In his foreword to the book 50 years of African media since Ghana's independence, Mathatha Tsedu, forum chairman, expressed his optimism about the future.

Tsedu writes that there has been improved communication between individual editors, journalists and media activists, helped by the Internet and the extension of cellular networks.

He states that there has also been pan-African initiatives such as the formation of the African Communication Regulation Authorities Network and the AU of Broadcasting.


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