Each year a group called Project Censored releases a list it calls “The Top 25 Censored Media Stories”. The title is a misnomer, however; the articles weren’t censored at all, but “underreported” – meaning that, in the eyes of the judges, the article didn’t receive sufficient attention. All of the articles on this year’s list were widely reported, many in the mainstream media. The #1 item on the list, for example, was published in the Sunday Times, Harper’s Magazine, Mother Jones and Atlantic Journal Constitution, and reportedly “drew more traffic to [the Mother Jones] web site than any other article.”
As a reminder that actual media censorship is still a significant problem around the world, I’d like to propose an alternative list:
The Top 25 Acts of Media Censorship, 2002-2003
#1 – The Cuban government jails 75 pro-democracy activists, including 30 journalists, for writing articles that appeared in the foreign press. They receive sentences between 14 and 27 years for “undermining the state’s independence.”
#2 – Nigeria’s Zamfara State issues a fatwa calling for the death of fashion writer Isioma Daniel, after she published an article suggesting the Prophet Muhammed would have approved of the Miss World pageant. The local office of the newspaper This Day, which initially published the article, was subsequently destroyed in riots that left more than 200 dead.
#3 – The Tongan government declares the Times of Tonga newspaper, which is published in New Zealand, to be a prohibited import, for campaigning against the government. Officials claim that allowing the newspaper to be imported would be a human rights violation. King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV later bans possession of the newspaper, and finally even prohibits discussion of the ban.
#5 – The Chinese government orders journalists to undergo Communist Party propaganda tests in order to obtain licenses. Unlicensed journalists are not tolerated – for example the 10 photographers beaten by police while attempting to cover an education bureau meeting. #6 – Bangladesh arrests two local journalists on sedition charges and deports two UK reporters for trying to make a political documentary. The journalists were intitally threatened with execution, and were denied access to their lawyers.
#7 – Vietnamese officials arrest and imprison several democracy activists for publishing anti-government material on the internet. Several face espionage charges. In October 2002 the government ruled that web site operators, including journalists and human rights groups must obtain a license before publishing material on the web.
#8 – Afghanistan’s Supreme Court bans cable television, ruling that broadcasts were offensive to Islam. The “temporary” ban is still in place.
#9 – Afghan newspaper Aftab is shut down and its editors charged with blasphemy. Several journalists are charged over articles calling for a moderate approach to Islamic law.
#10 – The Russian Press Ministry shuts down the last remaining independent television station. The station’s operators say they were forced into financial ruin by government licensing fees.
#11 – Malaysian police raid the offices of the popular news web site Malasyakini, following the publication of a reader’s letter to the editor. The government insists that earlier promises of press freedom only apply to those who are “good”. The raid followed a government proposal that radio stations must submit scripts of all programmes – including “live” broadcasts – to the Information Ministry for preapproval and censoring.
#12 – Columbian radio journalist Juan Emeterio Rivas is murdered. He was threatened repeatedly by FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, after broadcasting unfavourable statements.
#13 – Iranian journalist and blogger Sina Motallebi is arrested for publishing material on his web site and giving interviews to foreign reporters.
#15 – The editors of Indonesian newspaper Rakyat Merdeka are threatened and later charged for insulting President Sukarnoputri. The legislation used to prosecute is the same one used against Sukarnoputri’s father years before.
#16 – Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai orders the closure of the Islamic newspaper Sawt Al-Haqq Wal-Hurriya, over accusations of inciting violence. The decision is made by Yishai alone, under a 1933 British law.
#18 – The Algerian government deports two journalists for broadcasting television footage of the release of two Islamic Salvation Front leaders.
#19 – Moroccan newspaper editor Ali Lmrabet faces charges of undermining the monarchy and territorial integrity of Morocco for publishing a satirical cartoon.
#20 – Twenty Tunisian students are arrested for reading opposition web sites.
#21 – Two Cambodian journalists are charged with incitement for publishing rumoured insults by a Thai actress. 170 people were arrested for rioting over the comments.
#23 – Jordan shuts down a newspaper and arrests three journalists for publishing an article about the Prophet Muhammad’s sex life.
#25 – The Iranian government shuts down a newspaper and arrests journalists for publishing a 66-year-old political cartoon. The incident is just one of a string of closures and arrests.
And some honourable mentions, in no particular order:
- Nigerian police beat and detain journalists and demonstrators at a union strike in Abuja. An Associated Press photographer is told he earned his beating by publishing photographs damaging to the government.
- Indian news site Tehelka is hounded into bankruptcy by a series of government raids and detentions. The harrasment began after the site published a story about high-level government corruption.
- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez threatens to shut down television and radio stations for broadcasting opposition commercials. He later describes television broadcasts as “worse than an atomic bomb.” Government supporters regularly ransack independent broadcasters.
- CNN executive Eason Jordan describes some of the acts of torture, murder and intimidation of journalists and their sources by the Iraqi government during the 1990s. Most of these events went unreported at the time, as foreign media groups faced expulsion if they broadcast material unfavourable to the Iraqi government. Similar treatment continues through the war; 10 journalists are detained for the duration.
- The FBI seizes a document couriered by a journalist to the Associated Press offices in Washington. The document, seized without a warrant, was an unclassified FBI report.
- Cuba jams satellite television broadcasts to Iran. The broadcasts are mostly independent news and chat shows, privately funded by exiles and political opponents abroad. The Iranian government had previously been unsuccessful at blocking reception of the broadcasts from within the country.
- A number of Italian magazine and book publishers face bankruptcy following libel lawsuits launched by government ministers. In many cases, journalists are successfully prosecuted for accurately reporting factual information.
- The Israeli Defense Force warns several web site operators to submit all material for review before publishing information about the war in Iraq.
- The Chinese government jails a democracy activist for 5 years on subversion charges for publishing articles on the web. He is just one of many activists jailed for being associated with pro-democracy material.
Finally, we’d like to present an Outstanding Achievement Award to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, whose dedication to censorship, oppression and political violence serves as a model for murderous dictators everywhere.
[crossposted from Vigilant TV]