Sunday, May 04, 2008

BPN 1088 Google cancels appointment

Yesterday it was the Day of the Freedom of the Press. It was celebrated in The Netherlands with a conference for which a representative of Google had been booked as a speaker. However he has cancelled the appointment for a lecture. The conference was organised by the Dutch Journalist Union (NVJ). Central issue at the conference was the situation in China.

Peter Fleisch, vice president of Google and responsible for ethical policy, was asked to explain the decision of Google to launch its site in China earlier this month. The agreement of Google to the censorship in China was met a lot of criticism worldwide. It is unclear why Google has retracted from the conference. It is not clear either whether business relationships have requested Google to stay away from the conference. The cancellation was motivated by Google as pressing business in the States. No replacement was offered nor was a video conference link offered. I guess that the Google vice president ethical policy, was afraid to face an audience of critical journalists.

At the occasion of the Week of Freedom of the Press, Freedom House published its annual report Freedom of the Press 2008 Survey Release. Global press freedom underwent a clear decline in 2007, with journalists struggling to work in increasingly hostile environments in almost every region in the world, according to a new survey released today by Freedom House. The decline in press freedom—which occurred in authoritarian countries and established democracies alike—continues a six-year negative trend.

While the survey indicated that setbacks in press freedom outnumbered advances two to one globally, there was some improvement in the region with the least amount of press freedom: the Middle East and North Africa. The survey attributes the gains in the Middle East and North Africa to a growing number of journalists who were willing to challenge government restraints, a pushback trend seen in other regions as well.

Out of 195 countries and territories, 72 (37 percent) were rated Free, 59 (30 percent) Partly Free, and 64 (33 percent) were Not Free, a decline from 2006. However, the study found that declines in individual countries and territories were often larger than in years past.

Key regional findings include:
- Central and Eastern Europe/ Former Soviet Union: This region showed the largest region-wide setback, with Russia, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan, and several Central European countries, among others, showing declines. Only 18 percent of the region’s citizens live in environments with Free media.
- Middle East and North Africa: More unrestricted access to new media such as satellite television and the internet boosted press freedom regionally. Egyptian journalists showed an increased willingness to cross press freedom 'red lines,' moving the country into the Partly Free category.
- Asia-Pacific: Restrictions on media coverage were imposed in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, and Vietnam’s government cracked down on dissident writers.
- Americas: Guyana's status shifted from Free to Partly Free, while Mexico's score deteriorated by a further three points because of increased violence against journalists and impunity surrounding attacks on media.
- Sub-Saharan Africa: The region accounted for three of the year's five status changes: Benin declined from Free to Partly Free, while the Central African Republic and Niger moved into the Not Free category. Political conflict and misuse of libel laws were key factors behind a number of country declines.
- Western Europe: The region continued to have the highest level of press freedom worldwide, despite declines in Portugal, Malta and Turkey, the only country in the region ranked Partly Free.
The survey assesses the degree of print, broadcast, and internet freedom in every country in the world. The 2008 ratings are based on an assessment of the legal, political and economic environments in which journalists worked in 2007.

The key trends that led to numerical movements in the study include:
- Unrest and Upheaval: Media played a key role in covering coups, states of emergency and contested elections in countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Georgia, and as a result, journalists became prime targets during government crackdowns.
- Violence and Impunity: Violence against journalists and, in many cases, corresponding impunity regarding past cases of abuse was a key factor in determining press freedom in countries as diverse as Mexico, Russia and the Philippines.
- Punitive laws: Media freedom remains seriously constrained by the presence and use of numerous laws that are used to punish critical journalists and outlets.The abuse of libel laws increased in a number of countries, most notably in Africa.
- New media: Satellite television and internet-based news and networking sources are an emerging force for openness in restricted media environments as well as a key target for government control.

The world's worst-rated countries continue to include Burma, Cuba, Libya, North Korea, and Turkmenistan. In 2007, Eritrea joined the ranks of these exceedingly bad performers, while a crackdown in Burma worsened that country’s already repressive media environment, leaving its score second only to that of North Korea worldwide.

Blog Posting Number: 1088


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