Published on Sep 6, 2013 by Luke Hunt
By Max Kolbe
The Philippines reputation for violence against the media shows known signs of abating. Three journalists were murdered within 48 hours of each other in the start of August prompting a chorus of international outrage by media watchdogs.
“Time and again, Philippine journalists are killed, circumstances remain a mystery, and the killers go unpunished,” Shawn Crispin, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) senior Southeast Asia representative, said. “Until President Benigno Aquino’s government takes serious action to address his country’s impunity problem, the killings of journalists will continue.”
Killed were photographer Mario Sy, shot dead in front of his wife and daughter, at home in the city of General Santos. Bonifacio Loreto Jr, former publisher of the Aksyon Ngayon newspaper, and its former executive editor, Richard Kho, were gunned down in Quezon City.
Loreto and Kho had reputations for being critical of politicians in columns published by Aksyon Ngayon before folding earlier this year.
The New York-based CPJ says at least 73 Philippine journalists have been killed in direct connection to their work since 1992, making it the second deadliest country in the world for the press.
Further deaths were reported from South America and Central Asia while Reporters Without Borders said it condemned in the possible strongest terms the murder in Benghazi of Azzedine Kousad, a Satellite TV presenter with al-Hurra. It said three gunmen opened fire on his car, killing him witth six shots, before fleeing.
The 25-year-old journalist was also a qualified doctor and respected sheikh in the east of Libya. He was reported to have received a telephone call threatening his life if he delivered a speech celebrating Eid al-Fitr, the festival marking the end of Ramadan. He was shot dead a day after he gave the speech.
In Australia, the media landscape received mixed blessings. In Perth the West Australian Supreme Court found in favor of West Australian Newspapers (WAN) and journalist Steven Pennells who was facing a potential two years behind bars after upsetting that country’s richest woman, Gina Rinehart.
The billionaire mining magnate has engaged in a bitter feud with two of her children over a family trust account and was demanding that Pennells and his paper handover the names of sources who had contributed to his stories. The court found Pennells and WAN had every right to protect their sources.
While the Supreme Court Judges had journalist raising their glasses the same could not be said at Murdoch papers on Australia’s east coast where the senior executive and much maligned Col Allan has made a return to run the News Corp ‘sagenda amid looming elections.
Sometimes dubbed Col Pot – after the Khmer Rouge dictator – for his harsh style of management, one scribe praised him as “News Corp’s most feared flamethrower in a company of flamethrowers”. His arrival was immediately followed by the resignation of News Corp’s Australia chief Kim Williams.
While journalists and senior executives might dread Allan’s arrival, his main target remains Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and the Labor Party’s roll-out of the National Broadband Network which is seen as a threat to Murdoch’s pay TV monopoly, Foxtel.
Courts in Singapore have also been busy with common sense prevailing after charges against a political cartoonist were dropped in return for an apology. According to the city-state’s attorney-general Chew Peng Ee, known as “Demon-cratic Singapore”, had committed contempt “by scandalizing the judiciary of the Republic of Singapore”.
Singapore has reputation for being thinned-skinned when criticized and Chew was facing possible jail time over four cartoons published in 2011 and 2012 over perceived injustices by the courts. Critics welcomed the decision saying it could be a sign of increasing tolerance of political opponents.
Such tolerance has rarely been visible in China where a prominent journalist says he was kidnapped by state authorities during another harsh crackdown. Chen Min says he was snatched in Beijing and forcibly returned to Guangdong Province after calling for the release of human rights activist Xu Zhiyong.
Min says he was kept under guard for 48 hours and has since called on the Chinese government allow its people “to truly enjoy freedom from terror” adding that state suppression was impossible to tolerate.
Similar arguments have been mooted against the United States in defense Edward Snowden, the latest whistleblower to provide the White House with a diplomatic headache which the Russians were happy to prolong by grant the former CIA contractor asylum after his extended stopover in Hong Kong.
According to journalist Glen Grunwald from the Guardian newspaper, another 20,000 documents have been received from Snowden whose leaks about the US surveillance programs has dominated headlines and nations which once believed they were not targets of spying by Washington.
Existence of those documents was made known during a hearing by the Brazilian Senate’s Foreign Affairs Committee tasked with examining American surveillance of their country.
In Thailand a journalist has been harassed and questioned in connection with comments he posted on his personal Facebook page speculating about a possible military coup. The CPJ said it had called on Thai authorities to drop the criminal investigation against Sermsuk Kasitpradit and to refrain broadly from curbing freedom of expression over the Internet.
Finally in a sad farewell, Yehuda Lev, World War II veteran and widely regarded as an iconoclastic journalist has died. A hero too many, Lev was also a veteran Israel’s War of Independence after he established a European underground route to smuggle Holocaust survivors to Palestine. He died after a prolonged illness. He was 86.