A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

International Journalism IN-BRIEF

By Quill

British report calls for more openness

British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s office was criticized in an independent review of the government’s communications operations Jan. 19.

The office should commit itself to holding White House-style briefings to bring greater openness and help counter public cynicism about politics and the media, the government-commissioned review said.

A poisonous relationship exists between politicians and the media, and that negative scenario has left most Britons deeply disenchanted with both groups and has created dangerous levels of apathy about public affairs, the review said, as reported by The Associated Press.

The review prescribed “a long-term program of radical change” focused on more openness and direct engagement between government and citizens as a way to restore trust.

The British government commissioned the report in response to a furor over an e-mail in which a transportation department aide told other government workers minutes after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks began that it would be good to “bury” bad news that day, the AP reported. The panel was headed up by government advisers, senior journalists and media specialists.

Annan calls for free world press

In an address to worldwide broadcasters in December, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said respect for media freedoms must accompany efforts to expand the Internet, even while the media will continue to be regulated in many nations.

Speaking to the broadcasters in Geneva, Switzerland, at the opening session of the U.N.-sponsored World Electronic Media Forum Dec. 9, Annan said “ … When (restrictions) go further, down the slope toward censorship and harassment, all of us – and potentially our rights – are imperiled,” The Associated Press reported.

The media forum drew 360 organizations from 112 countries. No organizations from the United States decided to attend.

Notable attendees, however, included British Broadcasting Corp., the Canadian-based North American Broadcaster’s Association and state-owned broadcasters from Russia, Japan and France as well as a host of developing countries’ stations.

Haitian radio employees arrested

Haitian police stormed the offices of a pro-opposition radio station in mid-December, smashing studio equipment in what they said was an effort to search for weapons, eyewitnesses said.

The police later displayed guns and grenades they said were found Dec. 17 on the roof of Radio Maxima in the northern Haitian city of Cap-Haitien, The Associated Press reported.

State-controlled television reported that 11 people were arrested, including Radio Maxima employees. Independent Radio Metropole reported that the raid came as police also shot and killed a teenage boy the same day during clashes with anti-government supporters in the northern town of Trou.

Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, whose resignation Radio Maxima has repeatedly called for, says he favors a free press. But journalists regularly complain of harassment from the government.

Some 30-odd Haitian journalists placed themselves in exile over the past couple of years after receiving threats.

Jean-Robert Lalane, Radio Maxima’s owner, survived an assassination attempt in late November by an unknown gunman.

Tensions in December were mounting between supporters and opponents of Aristide. At least 22 had been killed in a three-month period from September to mid-December.

Chinese government detains reporter

An editor whose newspaper broke the news of China’s first SARS case in months was detained and questioned by prosecutors, the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said in January.

Cheng Yizhong, editor in chief of the Southern Metropolitan Daily, declined comment on the reported questioning but indicated the issue may have been resolved. Yizhong was taken from his office Jan. 6 from the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou by three members of the municipal prosecutor’s office, the human rights organization said, according to an Associated Press article. It said Yizhong was released eight hours later.

The newspaper apparently had embarrassed the Chinese government when it reported that a man in Guangzhou may have had SARS on Dec. 26, a day before authorities informed the World Health Organization of the case.

Also, employees at the newspaper said Zeng Wenqiong, the journalist who reported the story, had not come to work for several days in early January.

Chinese authorities were criticized for their slow reaction to an earlier SARS outbreak, which killed 349 people on China’s mainland. Traditionally, Chinese reporters who anger local authorities may find themselves accused of corruption or other false crimes.

Commission to investigate journalist harassment

The chief Guatemalan prosecutor in January named a special commission to investigate the alleged participation of government agents in an attack that terrorized a journalist in charge of a major daily newspaper.

Guatemalan newspaper El Periódico published a special report Jan. 20 alleging that two members of the military presidential guard, a policeman and an employee of the prosecutor’s office were among 11 armed assailants who burst into the home of José Ruben Zamora in June 2003 and threatened to kill him and his family, The Associated Press reported.

The attack highlighted concerns about the power of corrupt elements within the government of the Central American country.

Carlos de León, the country’s chief prosecutor, said the commission he created Jan. 22 would investigate the newspaper’s allegations and will include some of his prosecutors, independent civilians and one member of the United Nations mission in Guatemala.