Press Predators

You’ve certainly heard of Médecins sans Frontières, or Doctors Without Borders, the international medical-aid charity founded in 1971 by among others Bernard Kouchner, who not so long ago was Nicolas Sarkozy’s Foreign Minister. But there’s also Reporters Without Frontiers – a similar name, somewhat of a similar function, namely upholding the rights of news reporters to go about their work no matter where in the world they may happen to be. The Belgian paper La Dernière Heure now reminds us that Reporters Without Borders has released its annual list of “Predators of Freedom of the Press in 2011.”

No tweet here this time, sorry if you were expecting one, it seems La Dernière Heure is not on Twitter. You can follow Reporters Without Borders on Twitter, though, if that makes you feel any better, although they tweet – or is it pépier? – in French.

More to the point, though, they have their list of 2011’s 38 press-freedom “predators” on-line (and in English), although it’s in a one-webpage-per-predator format that enables a full treatment of each dictator but also makes it rather cumbersome to move from one to another. (At least the first one you encounter when you go to that webpage is Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad, an excellent candidate for the head-of-the-class.)

Really, La Dernière Heure’s analysis is itself sufficient to gain an appreciation of what’s going on with this year’s list. What’s mainly been going on – haven’t you heard? – is the “Arab Spring,” which has added some new entrants to this list as their true repressive colors were revealed amid the unrest, such as King Hamad Al-Khalifa of Bahrain. That has also tightened up the anti-press behavior of some of the world press’ perennial predators, such as in the People’s Republic of China and Azerbaijan, where authorities have felt the need to get even more nasty to try to head off anything like an “Arab Spring” happening where they live.

Otherwise, you’ll find the usual suspects here: Iran’s Ahmadinejad, Zimbabwe’s Mugabe, Belarus’ Lukashenko, and so on. But there are also some unusual suspects: the Israeli Defense Forces, say, or countries like Italy, Spain, Mexico, and the Philippines where it is not the government per se but rather violent groups operating within the country (respectively, the Mafia and other organized crime, ETA, drug cartels, and private militias) that serve to make reporters’ lives hell.

And then – EU enlargement officials take note! – there is Turkey. It is not actually on the list of 38 predators, but rather gets an honorable mention on Reporters Without Borders’ own analysis page:

In Turkey (which received a Reporters Without Borders country visit in April), the problem is not just repressive laws, especially the counter-terrorism and state security laws, but also and above all abusive practices by the courts and judges due to their lack of knowledge of investigative journalism.

Think of this in, say, Standard & Poor’s terms: The outlook on Turkey has been set to “negative,” presaging a possible “downgrade” next year onto the “predators list” proper.

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