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Freedom of expression

2019

Safety of Female Journalists Online (SOFJO) Conference 2019 under the theme ‘Expanding Opportunities for Freedom of Expression and Media Plurality’ has been organised by the Organization for Security and Co-operation (OSCE) in Europe. OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media (RFoM), Mr Harlem Désir, and Council of Europe (CoE) Commissioner for Human Rights and former OSCE FRoM, Ms Dunja Mijatović, addressed the audience. In his opening speech, Désir noted that with the increase of threats against the press, female journalists face specific type of gender-based violence online. It includes sexually explicit and misogynistic abuse, death threats, surveillance, imprisonment, and other types of intimidation against female journalists and their families. It is aimed at silencing their voices and removing them from work. He called for ‘meaningful and systematic response and holistic approach’, which needs to include Internet platforms, media companies, and political will at the highest level. Last December, OSCE participating states unanimously adopted an OSCE Ministerial Decision on Safety of Journalists. Désir underlined the courage of journalists who have shared their challenging experiences, which resulted with a documentary ‘A Dark Place’. Mijatović launched ‘Safety of Female Journalists Online’ project in 2014 in order to highlight the issue and call for greater action against the trend which attacks both media freedom and human rights. She reminded about the importance of adopting gender sensitive approaches to policy developments in order to have the full participation of women in online spaces. ‘States must step up the implementation of the human rights standards they have adopted on the safety of journalists and on combating violence against women. They have the duty to adopt protective measures for female journalists and to encourage the private sector and the media to fight gender-based violence online.’

India’s government is finalising proposals to enable itself to block internet content, continuing its battle with global Internet technology companies (for example, India was the first country to reject Facebook's Free Basics). The new rules would require that applications like Facebook, Twitter, and TikToc implement automated screening tools and to remove posts or videos Indian officials consider 'libelous, invasive of privacy, hateful, or deceptive'. They could also undermine the privacy protections of messaging services by allowing the government to trace messages, for example. Critics have compared the moves to censorship policy in China

Wired's Paris Martineau commented on the situation in India is Cracking Down on Ecommerce and Free Speech.

The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and 11 partner organisations of the Council of Europe Platform jointly launched their annual report on media freedom in Europe with an aim to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists.

The report titled, “Democracy at Risk: Threats and Attacks against Media Freedom in Europe” says that press freedom in Europe is more fragile now than it was in the cold war era. In addition to providing an overview of the urgent threats to media freedom identified in 2018, the report also takes an in-depth look at particular issues or country contexts that individual partner organisations have identified as especially salient during the past year. 

The partners including journalists’, media organisations and freedom of expression advocacy groups, reported 140 serious violations in 32 Council of Europe member states thus providing an on-ground picture of the worsening environment for the media across Europe. The reported threats include journalists facing obstruction, hostility and violence as they investigate and report on behalf of the public and according to the report, threats to press freedom in Europe doubled in 2018.

In addition to a country wise break up of various media attacks, it also discusses changes in the media landscape in Europe that potentially pose a threat to media freedom.

A UK government report says that regulation is needed to ensure the reliability of news content distributed by Internet companies like Facebook, Google, and Apple. The Cairncross Review: A Sustainable Future states that 'This task is too important to leave entirely to the judgment of commercial entities'. The reviewers were asked to 'consider the sustainability of the production and distribution of high-quality journalism, and especially the future of the press, in this dramatically changing market' and also 'looked at the overall state of the news media market, the threats to the financial sustainability of publishers, the impact of search engines and social media platforms, and the role of digital advertising'.

Google's cybersecurity incubator Jigsaw expands its Project Shield for political organisations in Europe on the eve of parliamentary elections in May 2019. Project Shield was launched in 2016 to mitigate distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks for free on news websites in the US to keep vital political information accessible. The project was aimed at smaller independent news organisations that did not have the resources to survive DDoS attacks and stay online. Later, the project started to protect sites for registered political organisations, independent journalists, human rights groups, and elections monitoring services. Now the project is also available for European operators for free. European political organisations will be able to protect their websites from DDoS attacks that may deny people from accessing their information. This year’s European Parliament elections will attract more attention than usual because of the Brexit issue.

Online activist and journalist Huang Qi went on trial in Mianyang, Sichuan, facing charges from November 2016 of leaking state secrets. No verdict has yet been reported concerning the last-minute trial. His early work on finding missing persons was lauded by the Chinese government, but later work published on the site 64tianwang (in Chinese) and his reporting on alleged government officials' wrongdoing have resulted in at least two previous detentions since 2009.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Freedom House, along with 11 other organisations released a statement last November reporting that Huang Qi could die in police custody if he does not receive medical treatment for high blood pressure and late-stage kidney disease.

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