Oppressive governments around the world that wish to suppress free speech are clearly the biggest threat to press freedom, in my view. As President of the Commonwealth Journalists’ Association I received many worrying reports vof journalists being arrested, abducted and tortured for criticism of police or the exposing of government malpractice; of senior editors being dismissed or arrested for refusing to reveal their sources; and, in some countries, of repressive laws being introduced to silence the media.
In countries like Pakistan, Egypt, Uganda, Pakistan, Rwanda, Bangladesh and Gambia, media operate under tight and punitive government control. The Malaysian government has been criticised for using religious laws to stamp out dissent. The travel ban imposed on the cartoonist Zunar, an outspoken critic of the government, being a recent flashpoint.
Over the past decade, human rights organizations have been especially alarmed by the proliferation of enforced disappearances in Pakistan. Amnesty International has called for an investigation into the abduction and suspected enforced disappearance of a 24-year-old journalist, Zeenat Shahzadi, who was abducted by armed gunmen when she was on her way to work in Lahore on 19 August 2015.
In countries like Mexico, Guatemala and the Philippines meanwhile, where powerful political and business interests often combine to violently silence the news media, the stakes are simply too high for some journalists to continue reporting.
“In countries like Mexico, Guatemala and the Philippines, the stakes are simply too high for some journalists to continue reporting.”
It’s not just repressive governments that the press fear; victimisation and even criminalisation of journalists is sadly becoming all too common in countries inside and outside the Commonwealth. According to the International News Safety Institute a total of 49 media workers died in the first six months of 2016. Journalists and other outspoken people are, more than ever, being threatened, harassed, assaulted and sometimes killed for doing their jobs. This summer’s brutal murder of Nazimuddin Samad, the Bangladeshi blogger hacked to death by extremists, simply for expressing secular views online, being one tragic example.