For a reminder about what freedom means to the press, read the record of this conference in Beirut in December 2006: http://www.wan-press.org/tueni_award/articles.php?id=663#2

What the press and journalists have suffered in Lebanon is the history of the country and its citizens — it cannot be treated separately, said Mr Hamadé. “Talking about freedom for the press is talking about the rights of citizens at all levels,” he said.

 

Tyranny, injustice, occupation, dictators, restrictions, lawsuits, murders, maiming, newspaper offices invaded, civil war — the Lebanese press has seen it all. Fifty years ago, in 1958, the killing of Nassib Matni, owner of At Talagraph, sparked one civil conflict. In the 1960s, agents of Lebanese intelligence targeted and killed journalists. During the civil wars, which lasted more than 17 years, many journalists had to leave Lebanon, while others were murdered.”Today, when we talk about (assassinated journalists) Gebran Tueni and Samir Kassir, we cannot forget this history,” said Mr Hamadé. “Gebran Tueni knew the war that our newspaper was going through. He was challenging the state, government, intelligence, for the freedom of his country.”Mr Hamadé had this to say about the Lebanese press:1. The battle of the press is not a battle of one professional sector isolated from the main battles of the country — the problems of the country are causing the problems in the media profession.2. The difficulties facing the Lebanese press take on many forms. For example, economic difficulties, as when advertising was prohibited in the 1970s.3. Death threats — both those that are carried out and those that are not, but still have an impact on reporting. “We still have many in the Lebanese press who don’t fear anything,” said Mr Hamadé. “They remember the values of the press — transparency, the search for truth, autonomy.”4. There are no free newspapers, only free journalists. Newspapers are free because of the values carried by their journalists.5. Despite all the attacks, the Lebanese press “is still strong against the powers that want it to go backwards.”Alia Talib, Media Specialist, IraqBeing a journalist in Iraq is dangerous. Being a woman journalist is even worse.If a woman fails to wear a veil, she might be killed. If she is kidnapped, and released, she risks being killed by her own family for bringing dishonour to them, said Ms Talib.Women journalists are paid less than men and they do not receive maternity leave or any other benefits.For journalists in general — men and women alike — journalism is a deadly profession in Iraq. “I can tell you that a journalist who works is the main media is a target,” said Ms Talib.Local journalists are sent into this environment with insufficient training to assess the dangers, said Ms Talib.”In general, there is no immunity, no protection for women or men. They do not receive protection. In Iraq, there is no compensation if you are injured.”Journalists, in short, are “disposable.”The solution? “Financially independent newspapers where journalists will work without favour. But they are weak because they don’t have enough money.”Abdlerahim K. Abdallah, Journalism Unit Director, Media Institute/Birzeit University, PalestineIsrael says it believes in a free press, but the situation changes when it comes to Palestinian media, said Mr Abdallah.He said the situation for Palestinian journalists improved after the Oslo agreements, but deteriorated after the intifada. Palestinian journalists are targeted in three ways:1. Simply for being a journalist. A dozen have been killed in recent years simply for being journalists, and Palestinian radio and TV headquarters have been bombed, he said.2. Israeli authorities frequently refuse to recognise that a Palestinian has the right to be a journalist.3. Palestinian journalists are targeted specifically because they write something that displeases the Israeli authorities.”The greatest problem, however, is no freedom of movement,” said Mr Abdallah. “I live near Nablus, we are surrounded by a wall. The gate opens from 6 am to 8 am and you have to work during those two hours. It is difficult to move from one area to another. The presence of Israeli forces is a major problem because they don’t recognise your press card.”But Israeli occupation isn’t the only problem. “There is another problem — the lack of security and the chaos that violate the right to publish and the right to exercise the profession of journalism,” said Mr Abdallah. “Arrests and detention are among the main dangers — dozens are arrested every day. “Jamal Amer, Editor-in-chief, Al Wasat, Yemen“Arab rulers, regardless of their differences, agree on one thing, and that is the way they regard the Arab press — all of them consider it their sworn enemy,” said Mr Amer.In Yemen, journalists have a lot of freedom to practice their profession, “but there are other means of oppression — there is no legal framework. We have a dozen legal loopholes that are traps for journalists” he said.For example, the press cannot criticise the president or other public figures, and “elastic” laws can lead to prison sentences of up to one year.There are other means of oppression as well — physical aggression, false accusations of being foreign agents or traitors, or of consuming alcohol or drugs, and even kidnappings. And the state is not the only oppressor tribal leaders can send people to attack journalists without fear or prosecution, he said.Mr Amer was abducted from his own home on 23 August 2005 following an article in which his newspaper revealed that relatives of the president received scholarships that were meant for other students.Mr Amer was threatened and forced to “confess” that he was a US agent and was told never to write critically about the government. The threats included the threat of sexually abusing his children, he said.”The hope is very dim for practicing journalism without danger as long as we have laws restricting freedom of the press,” he said. “We must change the laws and promote the press. We must work with international organisations that promote freedom.“We should have conferences that highlight violations of the press and issue recommendations, and we should call on the United Nations to play a role in implementing Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We must consider that attacking journalists is an international cause, regardless of the nationality of the journalist. We should let everyone know what is going on.”