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World's Press Faces Increasing Surveillance Measures

WAN | June 5, 2007

The World Association of Newspapers has called on democratic governments to take specific measures to protect freedom of the press in the face of widespread tightening of anti-terrorism measures.

"WAN believes that though balancing the sometimes conflicting interests of security and freedom might be difficult, democracies have an absolute responsibility to use a rigorous set of standards to judge whether curbs on freedom can be justified by security concerns," the WAN Board said in a resolution issued during the World Newspaper Congress and World Editors Forum in Cape Town, South Africa.

WAN also issued four other resolutions, to protest against:

  • A recent UN Human Rights Council's resolution that attempts to justify censorship of free speech under the guise of protecting religious sensibilities (read the full resolution here);
  • The decade-long judicial harassment of Spanish journalist José Luis Gutiérrez, who was convicted by Spanish courts of violating Moroccan King Hassan II's "right to maintain his honor" after Gutiérrez published an accurate report about the seizure of five tons of hashish inside a truck belonging to the Moroccan Royal Crown (read the full resolution here);
  • The almost complete lack of arrests and convictions in the cases of 21 journalists who have been killed in Russia since President Vladimir Putin came to power in March 2000 (read the full resolution here):
  • The repressive government policy against a free press in Zimbabwe, including the recurrent violations of journalists' basic rights and the complete disregard for the rule of law (read the full resolution here);
  • A raid on the offices of the independent daily Le Quotidien in Senegal by armed soldiers, the closure of its radio station Premiere FM and the seizure of broadcasting equipment (read the full resolution here.
  • In the resolution concerned with increasing surveillance measures, WAN called on democratic governments and their agencies to take seven specific steps to protect press freedom while tightening anti-terrorism measures:
  • To guarantee public availability of officially held data, information and archives accessible under Freedom of Information laws or related legal provisions.
  • To guarantee the right of journalists to protect their confidential sources of information, as a necessary requirement for a free press.
  • To make electronic surveillance of communications dependent on judicial authorisation, control or review, to protect the imperative independence and confidentiality of newsgathering.
  • To ensure that searches of journalist offices or homes are conducted uniquely by warrant issued only when there is proven ground for suspicion of lawbreaking.
  • To guarantee journalists the right to cover all sides of a story, including that of alleged terrorists, and to restrain from any hasty and unjustified criminalisation of speech.
  • To abstain from prosecuting journalists who published classified information. In free societies, courts have held that it is the job of governments, not journalists, to protect official secrets, subject to the common sense decisions that editors normally make against, for instance, endangering lives.
  • To abstain from resorting to “black” propaganda - in other words, peacetime use of government services to plant false or misleading articles masquerading as normal journalism as well as the false use of journalistic identities by intelligence agents.

Read the full resolution here.

The Paris-based WAN, the global organisation for the newspaper industry, defends and promotes press freedom world-wide. It represents 18,000 newspapers; its membership includes 77 national newspaper associations, newspaper companies and individual newspaper executives in 102 countries, 12 news agencies and 10 regional and world-wide press groups.


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