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IPI Watch List
THE IPI WATCH LIST: AN INTRODUCTION
The IPI Watch List
Created at the suggestion of Hugo Bütler, Chairman of the International Press Institute (IPI) and Editor-in-Chief of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, the IPI Watch List acknowledges two of the greatest challenges faced by press freedom organisations. First, how do you anticipate the desire of governments to suppress the media and control the free flow of information and, second, how do you encourage those countries to turn back from their chosen path. Perhaps the central problem is that, while it is easy to identify countries that have no press freedom, it is less straightforward to identify countries in danger of becoming repressive. For this reason, it was difficult to foresee the ramifications of the failed land-reform referendum for the media in Zimbabwe or predict the reversals in the fortunes of the Sri Lankan army against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) which led to increased media censorship. Another interrelated problem is the sheer diversity of the countries where media violations occur. In order to meet these challenges, a new mechanism was needed; one that was flexible enough to include often disparate countries with wide-ranging media problems but consistent enough to enable IPI's secretariat to publicise the different types of violations by applying the same procedure.
Definition and Policy
The guiding principle behind the IPI Watch List is to open up a dialogue with countries before they slide into repression. IPI's central aim is to persuade governments that a lively and thriving media is essential to the success of their country. However, there is a general recognition that such an approach is not always possible. Therefore, countries may be included when a crisis occurs or where IPI's analysis identifies a particular problem.
Of particular importance is the question of where it is appropriate for IPI to direct its efforts? Although the IPI Watch List does not prevent the inclusion of a country where a terrorist group or other body is the major threat to the media, in general, the mechanism is applied against governments. This is because governments are often responsible for the media violations and they have the opportunity to introduce change.
When evaluating countries, IPI takes a multi-layered approach. First, IPI analyses countries using its yearly report on the media titled, "The IPI World Press Freedom Review". The study provides a comprehensive review of over 176 countries and territories around the world and often alerts the secretariat to countries where there are severe obstacles to press freedom. Second, the reports are combined with the assessments of IPI members who, due to their own experience, have a wealth of information on the state of the media. Once the overall assessment has been undertaken, the IPI secretariat will build up a detailed picture of the press freedom situation. IPI will then hold a series of internal meetings throughout the year to discuss whether certain countries should be placed on the IPI Watch List. Upon reaching a decision, the press freedom violations are reviewed and an initial report drafted. As part of the process, IPI will seek outside comment to ensure its view are correct. If there is broad agreement, IPI will take the nomination to the IPI Board at one of its twice-yearly board meetings. At the IPI Board meeting, a country report will be presented and an extensive discussion will take place among board members. Subsequently, the decision will be put to the vote and if approved by a majority the country will be placed on the IPI Watch List. A country's status will be evaluated at the IPI Board's twice-yearly meetings and it will either be removed from the list or retained for further monitoring. Critical to the success of the mechanism is media attention and support from the international community. The aim of the IPI Watch List is to force countries to make the necessary changes. In addition, the list is another means of maintaining vigilance and provides an indicator of where IPI can best devote its energies.
While the message of the IPI Watch List is clear, there are a number of common misconceptions with regard to both selection and the relatively small number of countries on the list.
Why these countries?
The countries on the IPI Watch List were chosen with extreme care. They are countries where the IPI Board saw a distinct need to publicise the plight of the media. Indeed, on many occasions, a country was included because IPI believed international pressure might reverse the situation. Russia was a good example of this. IPI was quick to see that President Putin wished to neutralise the critical media in the country and acted accordingly.
What about other similar countries?
A fundamental misconception about the IPI Watch List is that the choice of a particular country warrants the inclusion of similar countries. The choice of a country is based on a range of different factors, including individual incidents, the political situation, the spread of IPI's membership in the country and an assessment of whether advocacy can succeed.
Does the list represent the very worst countries?
No, the IPI Watch List is not a list of the most repressive countries. Instead, the list contains countries that might halt their attacks on the media; countries which retain the essential elements of democracy but which have entered a repressive phase. The overriding aim of the IPI Watch List is to identify these countries before they turn away from democracy and become harder to influence.
Why not additional countries?
In order to ensure that the IPI Watch List achieves its goals and does not lose focus, only a small number of countries are kept on the list. If it were to increase substantially, it would be difficult to distinguish between the countries on the list and the other countries IPI reviews.
Countries on the IPI Watch List
The Ethiopian media landscape, which recently offered some positive signs, such as the release of 15 journalists in 2007, still faces major fallout from a harsh 2005 crackdown in terms of banned media, control of independent voices, regular blocking of Websites and use of the legal system to stifle journalists who refuse to tow the line. Furthermore, the whereabouts and status of two Eritrean state broadcaster journalists arrested while trying to enter Somalia in late 2006, remain unknown. Ethiopia was placed on the IPI Watch List at a board meeting on 15 May 2004.
Conditions in Zimbabwe remaine oppressive, and have spiraled to new lows in the aftermath of the disputed elections, held on 29 March 2008. Many journalists, including several international media outlets, were prohibited from covering the elections; others were detained and even beaten. With follow-up elections currently scheduled for 27 June, reports of press freedom violations have also multiplied.
Zimbabwe was placed on the IPI Watch List on 20 October 2001.
In Nepal, the 12 April 2008 Constituent Assembly elections campaign was plagued by violence against, and efforts to intimidate, journalists. Election results triggered some concern, with the CPN-Maoists, associated with many attacks on journalists, winning the most votes. Nepal was placed on the IPI Watch List at the IPI Board Meeting in Nairobi, Kenya on 21 May 2005.
In Sri Lanka, where the conflict between the government and the Tamil rebels has recently escalated, journalists have been specifically targeted because of their reports. In many occasions, authorities have threatened the media not to publish "unpatriotic" reports, and physical attacks and other forms of harassment are commonplace. Attacks on journalists, including murder, remain unpunished, with no apparent official investigations being conducted into such crimes.
Sri Lanka was placed back on the IPI Watch LIst and the IPI Board Meeting in Mainz, Germany, on 17 November 2007. Sri Lanka was first added to the IPI Watch List in October 2000. However, the Board removed Sri Lanka from the Watch List in September 2003, after an IPI delegation travelled to Sri Lanka and received committments to respect press freedom from Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and other ministers.
Russia continued to be a dangerous place for journalists. Repression of the independent media continued in the period running up to parliamentary (2 December 2007) and presidential (2 March 2008) elections. Charges of criminal defamation continued to be brought against editors and journalists critical of public officials, with disproportionate penalties proving a disincentive to objective reporting. In addition, journalists who covered opposition parties or reported critically on the current administration were often subjected to threats and physical harassment.
Russia was placed on the IPI Watch List on 23 June 2000.
In Venezuela, President Hugo Chávez suffered a major setback in his campaign against Venezuela’s privately-owned and largely pro-opposition media when, in a 2 December 2007 referendum, the country’s citizens narrowly rejected proposals to amend several articles of the Constitution. The proposed amendments would have effectively revoked the 2001 Law on States of Exception, which states that freedom of thought and access to information cannot be restricted, even during emergencies. Nevertheless, the private media continued to face verbal and physical attacks, as well as legal and administrative harassment, in particular in the run-up to the December referendum.
Venezuela was placed on the IPI Watch List on 29 October 2000.
Countries removed from the IPI Watch List
South Korea was placed on the list on 6 September 2001 after the IPI Board unanimously gave its consent. The decision was announced in South Korea during a mission to the country and later reaffirmed at a board meeting on 20 October 2001, 10 May 2002 and 23 November 2002.
In a press release released after the 13 September 2003 Board meeting, IPI said, "The government of South Korea [is] engaged in a war of words with the independent media which is encouraging other elements in society to assail the media."
On 15 May 2004, the board voted unanimously to remove the country from the IPI Watch List. In a statement from the board announcing the decision, IPI called on President Roh "to undertake every effort to uphold the principles of press freedom as one of the fundamental rights of democracy and to reject any attempts to infringe this freedom."
Although placed on the list on 29 October 2000, Peru was removed after an IPI Board Meeting of 26 January 2001
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