2005 a deadly year for journalists

May 3 may be World Press Freedom Day but that will be of little significance to journalists in the Philippines, Nepal and other countries where government repression and hazardous working conditions prevail, advocates of free speech say.

    Working conditions were hazardous in many countries

    Apart from Iraq, the Philippines is the most dangerous country in the world for journalists, according to the French press freedom group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

    According to RSF, 2005 was the deadliest year for journalists in a decade, with at least 63 reporters killed along with five media assistants.

    In its annual report, published on Wednesday, RSF said at least seven journalists were murdered in the Philippines last year and at least five were sentenced to jail for defamation, while four media outlets were shut down.

    "President Gloria Arroyo, weakened by a series of scandals, tried to stop the press from doing its job of safeguarding democracy," the report said.

    The Manila-based National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) says that since democracy was restored in the Philippines in 1986, at least 76 journalists have been murdered, including 39 during Arroyo's term, making her administration the deadliest for Filipino journalists.

    "As if the toll in the lives of journalists has not been enough, the Arroyo administration has distinguished itself as the only one since the Marcos dictatorship to have attempted ... a wholesale clampdown on media," the NUJP said.

    Royal repression

    Journalists in Nepal face similar dangers as the country's embattled king struggles to maintain control after three weeks of bloody pro-democracy protests.

    Police arrested 231 journalists in April, the Federation of Nepalese Journalists reported on Wednesday, with 87 journalists being attacked.

    All but three of those arrested have been freed, but the number of arrests was a dramatic increase from six in March, the group said.

    Hundreds of journalists were
    arrested in Nepal last month

    On a more positive note, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the president of Algeria, marked World Press Freedom Day by freeing jailed journalists.

    However, one major critic of the government remained behind  bars.

    The president amnestied reporters jailed for insulting public officials, offending the president and defamation, an official communique said on Tuesday.

    It said the measure reflected "Algeria's irrevocable commitment on the  path to democracy and political pluralism".

    But Mohamed Benchicou, the most celebrated of the inmates, will stay in jail, his attorney said.

    Deadly year

    "Benchicou is not affected because he was convicted for a common law offence," Khaled Bourayou said.

    Benchicou, head of the newspaper Le Matin and a critic of  the government, was given two years for breaking exchange control legislation after treasury bonds were found in his luggage at Algiers airport.

    World Press Freedom Day is an annual UNESCO initiative. This year's theme is the correlation between media freedom and the eradication of poverty.

    Celebrations to mark the day were held in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where the government promised on Wednesday to bring to justice the assailants who gunned down two employees at a Tamil Tiger-linked newspaper.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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