Fighting for press freedom.
By Helena Shlapak
In Peru, most of the media outlets are owned by El Comercia (the oldest newspaper in Peru and one of the oldest Spanish-language papers in the world), the news is heavily biased towards the government.
“The problem is that, because they are a bigger company, somehow they looked for their own interests. They can get attached to the government, onto whoever the politician is at the time,” said Lucia Yglesias, a former Peruvian journalist now living in Canada. “That makes it complicated for us to report on anything against them. If you do, you can get some repercussions and they bully and some politicians won’t want to talk to you.”
Another issue in Peru is the lack of variety in reporting. Yglesias says that it’s incredibly difficult to find a story that not everyone else has, that you can publish while still staying true to the journalist’s voice.
Yglesias also says that the concentration is stressful for journalists as their job options are limited.
“If you get fired from one of them it’s really hard to get into another one because they are almost the same thing and then you won’t have the freedom of expression you are supposed to because you have to answer to the big boss, and the big boss is the government.”
The challenging job of journalists is not only to tell a story, but to tell it accurately and to let the public know what’s going on in the world. People face injustice, corruption, and genocide and while a great number of stories manage to get out, it comes at great risk.
Brave journalists are arrested and even killed for publishing the truth and organizations such as Canadian Journalists for Free Expression try to ensure their work isn’t in vain.
To highlight these issues, and the work of CJFE, Convergence magazine dedicates a section entitled: Predators of the Press each year to draw attention to countries who fail in press freedom, safety or bias.
The countries chosen this year were selected based on current statistics and most recent news articles. If the press freedom limitations in these countries aren’t called out for their behavior, nothing will change.
Around the world, journalists fight for access to information and press freedom. While a great number of countries have outright bans, heavy control and censorship, it’s often the smaller, overlooked issues that can create a domino effect for major problems in the future. An major concern is the concentration of media ownership, meaning that a small number of families or organziations end up owning multiple publications and outlets creating a monopoly.
Unlike Peru, the Philippines has a mostly free press status but also struggles with the concentration issue. Dick Taylor, a retired Fillipino journalist saw the ups and downs of the country’s press over the years and remarks that while journalism there has matured, it’s not the same as it once was.
“The [media profile] has changed because big business has bought major publications and stations in order is assert their business influence on the population, particularly in terms of legislation. They cater to politicians and their own interests. It’s difficult to get straight news,” says Taylor.
“The country in terms of journalism has matured and people now are more respectful of journalists, they are state employees and they must adhere to the biases and prejudices which is probably true of everywhere in the world.”
In terms of traditional censorship and press restrictions, Myanmar fits the bill perfectly. In 1962 a military coup overtook the country, silencing reporters and causing a slew of outlets to shut down. Only recently has Myanmar gone back to a democratically elected nation but the affects strict government control has taken its toll on the nation.
“There were high expectations when the National League for Democracy (NLD) government came into power and really there hasn’t been too much change since that administration started,” said Lauren Galacia Asia Program Manager for Freedom House. “Some of the problematic laws include the 2004 electronics transactions law and the 2013 telecommunications law. Both of those allow the government to restrict the press if it’s a matter of national security or law and order.”
Galacia also said that while things are improving in Myanmar, the process is slow because of all the legal reforms that need to be introduced across all areas of work. Press freedom doesn’t seem to be a major priority as peace agreements and increased racial and religious tensions haven’t been addressed.
She also said that journalists today still censor themselves because of a lack of protection and fears of repercussions for various religious groups.
For journalists in Canada, CJFE still cite challenges with access to information and media concentration. Fellow journalists can rally together to lend a voice to the many others who don’t have the chance to get their stories told.