A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

International Journalism In-Brief

By Quill

Post appeals U.N. tribunal subpoena

The Washington Post filed for permission June 14 to appeal a ruling by the United Nation’s war-crimes tribunal that said retired reporter Jonathan C. Randal must testify about a 1993 article.

In his article, Randal quoted a Bosnian Serb housing official now on trial for genocide during the 1992-95 conflict in Bosnia. The 1993 Post article alleged the former Bosnian Serb deputy prime minister, Radoslav Brdjanin – one of the men on trial – advocated the expulsion of non-Serbs.

It is the first case before the tribunal dealing with the issue of journalistic privilege, according to The Post.

On June 7, the tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, rejected The Post’s arguments that forcing Randal to testify could jeopardize future war correspondents, Editor & Publisher reported.

The court ruled that the right of journalists to protect their sources was not the issue in the case in question, according to the BBC.

However, lawyers believe there is now a danger that the more journalists face demands to give evidence, the more likely it is they will be seen as witnesses and perceived as legitimate targets in areas of conflict, according to the (U.K.) Media Guardian.

Post attorney Eric Lieberman said that if the tribunal agrees to hear the appeal, as he expects it will, the paper will argue before a three-judge “appeals chamber” of the tribunal.

Mexico passes landmark FOI law

President Vicente Fox signed Mexico’s first freedom of information law June 10, exposing the government and its records to greater public scrutiny.

The new law requires all branches of government to provide copies of public documents – from government employees’ salaries to details about public programs and government contracts – within 20 days of any citizen’s request, The Associated Press reported.

All three major political parties and Fox endorsed the Federal Law of Transparency and Access to Public Government Information, and Fox pushed for its passage in Congress as an important step in making Mexico’s historically corrupt government more honest.

“The relationship between officials and society is going to be different with this law because it creates a direct line between words and actions,” Fox said.

A new Institute of Access to Public Information will be established to investigate any failures to fulfill a request. Government officials who refuse to provide information deemed public or who destroy or hide documents could lose their jobs or be subject to a public reprimand, fines or criminal charges.

In the past, public records, transcripts and notes from important meetings have been purposefully kept from public view, leaving almost no official record of how key decisions have been made. In many cases, official records have been destroyed or taken home by officials when they left office, according to The Washington Post.

“Now, common citizens will be able to find out things like who is building the roads, or how a school is being managed,” said Reyes Heroles, president of the Mexican chapter of Transparency International, a corruption watchdog group that champions open government around the world.

Critics do not envision any immediate change, but they noted that officials who do not comply with the law could be fined. The functioning of the new law also will depend on the attitude of the officials processing requests for information, they said.

Canadian reporters support fired publisher

Journalists at the Ottawa Citizen, a leading Canadian daily newspaper, launched a protest June 18 after their publisher was fired for printing criticism of Prime Minister Jean Chretien and calling for his resignation.

Most of the journalists withdrew their bylines for five days to show their anger over Russell Mills’ firing. Mills, the paper’s publisher for 16 years, was fired by CanWest Global Communications Corp., which backs Chretien and the Liberals.

In the meantime, hundreds of readers have canceled their subscriptions to protest the decision, which sparked indignation among legislators and a media outcry over freedom of the press in one of the world’s leading democracies, Reuters reported.

“We are worried about what this means for the future of this newspaper’s editorial independence and that of the entire Southam newspaper chain,” an Ottawa Guild statement said.

Tony Cote, a Citizen reporter and the union representative, said staffers feared their editorial integrity and credibility were in danger.

CanWest has come under growing criticism for firing Mills and enforcing a policy that forbids the newspapers it owns from running unsigned editorials that contradict national editorials written by the head office, according to The Associated Press.