Thursday, October 15, 2009

Governments using journalists to spy


A dangerous precedent is being set. Governments around the world are using journalists -- or 'fake' journalists -- to gain access to movements they consider a threat, then using those journalists to either spy on or (if they're disguised police officers) to arrest people.

It's happening in Nepal, Israel and Canada, to name just a few places. And it's got journalists around the world pretty riled up: for if people can't trust us (as little as they do now), how will we get to report on stories if everyone suspects we're working for the police or intelligence units? It's bad enough with some of the conspiracy-minded people I talk to, who seem to believe they're being bugged from the lamposts and that the "Zionists" are out to get them; think how much worse it could get if governments routinely used us as a cover to infiltrate others.

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IFEX reports

The Nepali government intends to use journalists as informants as part of a security plan, report ARTICLE 19 and the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), a decision that would undermine the role of independent media and increase attacks on journalists. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) reports that Israeli security forces
were disguised as photojournalists in the midst of a demonstration on 8 and 9 October and arrested protesters.

This issue is not reported frequently and it is difficult to prove the practice takes place, says Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE). CJFE last documented a case of a police officer in Canada impersonating a journalist in order to have greater access to a protest in 2008.

According to ARTICLE 19 and FNJ, the use of Nepali informants as security informants is a breach of the code of conduct issued by the Nepali Press Council. ARTICLE 19, the FNJ, and another Nepali group, Freedom Forum, have called on Nepali authorities to remove any proposal to use journalists as spies and to ensure the safety and security of journalists.

"The Government's plan is opportunistic and irresponsible," said FNJ Chair Dharmendra Jha. "Threats and attacks against, and even murder of journalists are rampant in Nepal and to propose to use journalists as informants is at best grossly negligent."

In Jerusalem, Israeli security forces posed as photojournalists by carrying cameras and dressing like Palestinians, reports MADA. They arrested several young protestors at a demonstration last week against Israeli practices regarding Al Aqsa Mosque. MADA comments that this is a violation of international laws and charters and endangers the lives of journalists.

Previously in Canada, a police officer pretended to be a journalist at a Mohawk rally in conjunction with the Aboriginal Day of Protest in 2007. CJFE comments that this practice undermines the media's position as an independent third party, threatening reporters' safety and ability to access stories and sources. Police pretending to be journalists threatens free press as it creates an environment where citizens cannot trust that those who identify themselves as journalists truly are journalists. Police
action has "chilled" potential sources, says CJFE.

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