Friday, May 18, 2012

No retreat on press freedom globally for first time in eight years, says Freedom House

9 May 2012

No retreat on press freedom globally for first time in eight years, says Freedom House

Freedom House’s 2012 press freedom map: green=free, yellow=partly free, purple=not freeFreedom House’s 2012 press freedom map: green=free, yellow=partly free, purple=not free
With authoritarian regimes crumbling in the Middle East and North Africa, freedom of the press made precarious gains in 2011, and for the first time in eight years showed no overall decline, says Freedom House in its annual global survey.

The Arab Spring unleashed the media in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, which all rose from "not free" to "partly free", according to the report.

"The newly opened media environments in countries like Tunisia and Libya, while still tenuous and far from perfect, are critical for the future of democratic development in the region and must be nurtured and protected," Freedom House's president David J. Kramer said.

China and authoritarian nations in Africa and the Middle East censored news of the Arab Spring, Freedom House said. In Uganda, Angola and Djibouti, "the authorities cracked down, sometimes violently, on journalists covering the demonstrations."

As usual, Western democracies ranked high in the report. But Freedom House marked down the ranking of the United States slightly for heavy-handed police crackdowns on journalists covering various Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011.

The United Kingdom also was marked down slightly for riot-related press restrictions, and legal "super-injunctions" that bar the media from reporting even the existence of an injunction against coverage of celebrities and wealthy individuals.

Italy, a rare example of a Western Europe nation not rated as having a free press, rose slightly in Freedom House's rankings as media magnate Silvio Berlusconi resigned as Prime Minister. But it is still considered only "partly free".

Although established democracies historically do quite well in Freedom House's survey, two had their status downgraded from "free" to "partly free".

"Heightened harassment of journalists trying to cover protest movements contributed to a decline in Chile's status," Freedom House said.

"And following a sharp numerical slide in 2010, Hungary was downgraded to 'partly free' due to concerted efforts by the conservative government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban to seize control over the legal and regulatory framework for media,'" the report said.

Of 197 countries surveyed on a wide variety of freedom of press issues, Freedom House found 66 nations rated "free," 72 "partly free" and 59 "not free".

Largely because of China, "which boasts the world's most sophisticated system of media repression," Freedom House found that 40.5 percent of the world's population live in a "not free" media environment, while 45 percent had a "partly free" press and just 14.5 percent live in counties with a "free press".

Freedom House listed eight nations as the "worst of the worst" for press freedom: Belarus, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. 
Source : IFEX

Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! submit to external free expression check-up

25 April 2012

Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! submit to external free expression check-up

The full findings won't be released until 2013, but the report details how external auditors are being granted unprecedented access to the workings of the three Internet giants to see if they are ready and willing to implement GNI's principles on free expression and privacy.

Robert Mahoney of the Committee to Protect Journalists (which belongs to GNI) said, "Six years ago the idea that the titans of the Internet would open up their inner workings to outside scrutiny seemed a stretch."
According to the report, all three companies "need to engage more directly with human rights groups and scrutinise vendors more closely."

GNI specifically faults the tech industry as a whole for insufficient restrictions surrounding "dual-use" hardware technologies, such as routing and network equipment, that could be used for censorship and surveillance purposes.

The report also raised concerns about vendor contracts in place before GNI was established in 2008, as well as the need for tech firms to make specific disclosure to users when their data might be viewed by government authorities. It also recommends better free expression and privacy training for the board of directors.

GNI is a voluntary group of Internet companies, freedom of expression groups, progressive investors, and academics that includes IFEX members CPJ, Human Rights Watch and Index on Censorship. It aims to provide a global standard for the Internet and technology sector when dealing with government requests affecting free speech and privacy.

9 May 2012

Facebook joins Internet freedom group


Facebook has become the first official observer at the Global Network Initiative (GNI), a non-government organisation dedicated to promoting Internet freedom and privacy rights, GNI announced last week.

GNI - which counts Microsoft, Google and Yahoo! as founding members - was created in 2008 to help global Internet companies deal with government requests affecting free speech and privacy. IFEX members the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Human Rights Watch and Index on Censorship belong to the initiative.

GNI works with independent assessors to evaluate how companies are handling challenges they face.

According to "Politico", Facebook has resisted pressure from lawmakers to join in the past, and other than the initial members, technology firms have been slow to embrace the organisation.

"The resistance is, in part, due to concern that the organisation is too focused on corporate assessments, something large companies are more apt to do than smaller ones. Critics believe GNI should be looking more at government practices around the world that constrain the Internet," said "Politico".

"Others argue that it is the role of governments to take stands on human rights not private companies," the U.S. political paper added.

Facebook's 12-month observer status means it will participate in GNI sessions but doesn't have to commit to the GNI principles, or submit to an independent assessment. After 12 months, the firm will either have to decide to join or leave GNI.

"If they walk away at the end of 12 months, it will be apparent to people they are walking away from accountability," Arvind Ganesan, a GNI board member from Human Rights Watch, told "Politico".

Meg Roggensack of Human Rights First, another GNI member, said that "because of its size and scope, Facebook is a leader [in] privacy. It's important that they be in the tent not outside of it. This doesn't put them in the tent, but it's an important step and underlines our point that companies can't go it alone."

Facebook vice president for global public policy Marne Levine said the company wants to work with GNI and its members "to promote a free and open Internet."

"Building a better understanding of the value of the open Internet, and its direct impact on job creation, education, and good governance, is critical, and precisely where the work of GNI can be useful," Levine said.

The news comes as Facebook is preparing for its initial public offering, in which the company is projected to raise US$10 billion. In order to grow, Facebook may be interested in entering China, which could present some human rights issues, says "Politico". 

 Source : IFEX

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