Category Archives: Freedom of access

Press Freedom at Lowest Point in Decade

Freedom House released its 2014 Press Freedom Report today. And the news is not good for lovers of free and independent media.

The decline was driven in part by major regression in several Middle Eastern states, including Egypt, Libya, and Jordan; marked setbacks in Turkey, Ukraine, and a number of countries in East Africa; and deterioration in the relatively open media environment of the United States.

“We see declines in media freedom on a global level, driven by governments’ efforts to control the message and punish the messenger,” said Karin Karlekar, project director of the report. “In every region of the world last year, we found both governments and private actors attacking reporters, blocking their physical access to newsworthy events, censoring content, and ordering politically motivated firings of journalists.”

A quick glance at the map makes it clear that press freedom is in danger. (FYI: Green is good! And you will notice that there is blessed little green on this map.)

You can view the panel discussion when the report was released here:

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Filed under Censorship, Connections, Freedom of access, Freedom of Information, Press Freedom

Lack of Free Media and Free Elections: Subtext to Missing Malaysia Jet

Loads of people are speculating as to what happened to MH370.  The speculation has so dominated the news that satirist Andy Borowitz noted CNN APOLOGIZES FOR BRIEFLY AIRING NON-FLIGHT 370 STORY.

All joking aside, while the media report every bit of information put out by the Malaysian government (and others), the shortcomings of that information are clear.

The leadership of the primary countries initially involved in the search — Malaysia, Vietnam and China — were hesitant to reveal information at first, partly because — as we all know — initial information often wrong needs to be corrected or fine-tuned.

In the end, for these governments to admit they made errors could undermine their authority. You see, none of these three governments rule by the consent of the people. Media are strictly regulated. Independent sources of information to challenge and question the authorities are virtually non-existent. And opposition leaders are tossed in jail.

The New York Times touched on this issue — at least as far as Malaysia goes — March 12: Amid Search for Plane, Malaysian Leaders Face Rare Scrutiny.

The article points to all the factors that made — make — the Malaysian government nervous about their current situation in the international spotlight:

  1. Authoritarian laws that keep the opposition in check
  2. Policies that favor the ethnic Malays
  3. A patronage system that excludes Indians and Chinese from policy positions. (Combined these groups constitute a majority)

What was missed in the article is the highly censored media.

The Malaysian government has never had to face hard questions from local reporters. And if they get questioned too fiercely by opposition parties, the leadership of those parties find themselves in jail such as Anwar Ibraham and Karpal Singh.

Malaysia is listed as having media that are Not Free by Freedom House. As are China and Vietnam.

Perhaps there is nothing that any country could do in the search for MH370. What is clear, however, is that the the initial three main players in the search were unable to deal with the situation, partially out of fear of being corrected later. Maybe they figured that questioning the veracity of one agency could lead to questions about other agencies and eventually the government itself.

It is odd how countries with no fair elections or free media fear any questions about the effectiveness of government agencies. (Look at the NYT article to see how the Malaysian government reacted.)

So that is the subtext to the search for MH370: The lack of free media and unfettered political opposition makes the governments look ineffective. In other words, it makes them less stable. And so, information is fragmented or withheld out of fear.

On another note:

As noted above, the Borowitz Report mentioned at the top pointed out how the US media have been all over the story. That piece was satire. But nothing, Borowitz could think of could have matched what CNN’s Don Lemon did. This was perhaps an all-time low for CNN when Lemon wondered if the disappearance was related to supernatural forces

UPDATE (3/19 18:32)

Okay, Fox News beat CNN for silliness.

Fox News host Bill Hemmer went on about how long it is taking to find the plane. He cited 100 years for the Titanic and 2,000 years for Noah’s Ark.

Yep. Hemmer cited a long-debunked claim that Noah’s Ark was found in Turkey. (Even Fox News knows the Ark story was a fake.)

The competition between CNN and Fox continues.

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Filed under Asia, Censorship, China, Connections, Freedom of access, International News Coverage, Press Freedom

Egypt: Thinking is okay, as long as it is in line with gov’t rules

Things keep getting worse for journalists in Egypt.

The Columbia Journalism Review notes that there are now no Al Jazeera journalists operating in Egypt.

Despite what so many ill-informed Americans think, Al-Jazeera is a very good news organization that digs deep into their stories. To not have Al Jazeera working in Egypt means that the world is missing much of the nuance and multifaceted issues that take place during social upheavals.

The bottom line is that the Egyptian government has charged 20 Al Jazeera journalists of joining terrorist groups, broadcasting false news and distorting Egypt’s international image.

Just off the top of my head, nothing hurts Egypt’s international image more than tossing journalists in jail.

The most discussed case is the group known as the “Marriott Cell” (Al Jazeera arrests in Egypt cause concern). Canadian-Egyptian bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy, Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed, and Australian correspondent Peter Greste, were arrested in late December. The journalists were all part of Al Jazeera English and were arrested at the Marriott Hotel where they set up shop.

The charges seem against the three seem to revolve around the fact that they were talking to as many people as possible about the demonstrations against the government. And some of those sources were members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

In the twisted thinking of the generals running things in Egypt, interviewing someone is the same as agreeing to that person’s political beliefs. (Amazing how dictatorships all think alike on this issue. The same thing happens in China and Cuba.)

So, thanks to the Egyptian government the public is denied access to important news. Al Jazeera, which has proven itself to be on of the best in  getting information to the public about what is happening in an Arab countries, is no longer to function in the country.

The message is clear that reporters — Egyptian and foreign — need to toe the line.

Foreign correspondents are concerned that the case could establish a precedent of criminalizing ordinary journalistic contact with the Muslim Brotherhood, which the government recently designated a terrorist organization. After the military deposed Brotherhood-affiliated President Mohamed Morsi in July, the new government launched a clampdown on the Islamist group and other political opponents, killing more than 1,000 and arresting thousands of others.

In an attempt to reassure international journalists, Egypt’s State Information Service issued a statement on Thursday, saying that “Egyptian law does not criminalize mere contact with or prior knowing of anyone accused of committing a crime or any person imprisoned pending a case.” The statement however contained that such contact is legal unless such contact constitutes “involvement in committing the crime by means of assisting, inciting or prior agreement.”

Not everyone was reassured. Guardian correspondent Patrick Kingsley quipped on Twitter, “Thinking is ok, as long as your thoughts are in line with a set of rules we make up as we go along.”

– There are no Al Jazeera journalists reporting in Egypt, CJR 2/3/14

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Filed under Censorship, Freedom of access, Harassment, International News Coverage, Middle East, Press Freedom

China steps up war on foreign correspondents

The rulers in Beijing have never liked having Western reporters in their country. Those pesky reporters just keep asking too many questions and refuse to just accept the government press releases as gospel truth.

In the wake of the November 13 Bloomberg and New York Times reports on how family members of leading government officials got rich, the government of China has been withholding visa renewals — normally a routine thing — for Bloomberg and NYT journalists.

Here is the latest from Foreign PolicyIs Beijing about to Boot the New York Times?

There have been previous kerfuffles, such as when the Times reported on the wealth accumulated by then prime minister Wen Jiabao in 2012.

Bloomberg got into trouble when it disclosed the family wealth of former party boss Bo Xilai and Chinese President Xi Jinping. In retaliation, the governemnt ordered local financial institutions to not buy Bloomberg terminals, which are the main profit-generating engine for the news organization. Censors also blocked its website.

The Foreign Policy article notes:

If Beijing actually does plan to expel both bureaus it would constitute the government’s biggest move against foreign reporters at least since the upheaval following the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989. Evan Osnos, a staff writer for the New Yorker and a long-time China correspondent, called this recent move “the Chinese government’s most dramatic attempt to insulate itself from scrutiny in the thirty-five years since China began opening to the world.” Paul Mooney, a longtime China-based chronicler of that country’s human rights abuses, had his visa rejected in early November, in another sign of tightening for foreign correspondents in China. Reuters, Bloomberg, and the New York Times “don’t have the ability to influence the Chinese government,” said Mooney. “I think we really need to have some kind of action. Maybe against media executives in China, or officials — to give the message that this is not acceptable.”

Foreign Policy quotes New York Times’ reporters as saying if the paper is kicked out of China, reporting would continue from Taiwan and Hong Kong. While not ideal situations, there is still a lot of information that can be gleaned from China in these two locations where press freedom is respected.

 

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Filed under Censorship, China, Freedom of access, Harassment, International News Coverage, Press Freedom

More political freedom=More press freedom=Less corruption

There really is something to be said for political and press freedom when it comes to fighting corruption. Each year groups come out with rankings of each of these but few have put them together.

And there is a link.

In those countries with limited or no political or press freedom, government officials get away with corruption with impunity. Ending corruption also means protecting political and press freedoms.

Journalists unencumbered by political dictates from corrupt government leaders can go where ever the story leads. They can call into question government policies by informing the public of questionable practices.

Of course free media depend on political freedom as well. The information dug up by enterprising reporters means little unless the public can act on it. And for that public to act, it needs political freedom.

The equation is easy: More political freedom=More press freedom=Less corruption.

Let’s take a look at the bottom of the list for corruption, as listed in the 2013 Transparency International Index.

Corruption Index 2013 Bottom 20

Rank

Country

2013 Score

2012 Score

157

Burundi

21

19

157

Myanmar

21

15

157

Zimbabwe

21

20

160

Cambodia

20

22

160

Eritrea

20

25

160

Venezuela

20

19

163

Chad

19

19

163

Equatorial Guinea

19

20

163

Guinea Bissau

19

25

163

Haiti

19

19

167

Yemen

18

23

168

Syria

17

26

168

Turkmenistan

17

17

168

Uzbekistan

17

17

171

Iraq

16

18

172

Libya

15

21

173

South Sudan

14

0

174

Sudan

11

13

175

Afghanistan

8

8

175

North Korea

8

8

175

Somalia

8

8

Now let’s look at the bottom of the political rights/civil liberties list from Freedom House.

Freedom House Political Freedom Bottom 20

Edition *

2013

Year(s) covered

 

2012

 

 

PR

CL

Status

Iran

6

6

NF

Iraq

6

6

NF

Rwanda

6

6

NF

Tajikistan

6

6

NF

United Arab Emirates

6

6

NF

Yemen

6

6

NF

Zimbabwe

6

6

NF

Belarus

7

6

NF

Chad

7

6

NF

China

7

6

NF

Cuba

7

6

NF

Laos

7

6

NF

Equatorial Guinea

7

7

NF

Eritrea

7

7

NF

North Korea

7

7

NF

Saudi Arabia

7

7

NF

Somalia

7

7

NF

Sudan

7

7

NF

Syria

7

7

NF

Turkmenistan

7

7

NF

And finally, the bottom of the press freedom group, also by Freedom House.

Freedom House Press Freedom Bottom 20

Press Freedom Edition

2013

Year(s) Covered

2012

SCORE

STATUS

Ethiopia

82

NF

China

83

NF

Congo, Democratic Republic of

83

NF

Gambia, The

83

NF

Kazakhstan

84

NF

Laos

84

NF

Saudi Arabia

84

NF

Somalia

84

NF

Vietnam

84

NF

West Bank and Gaza Strip

84

NF

Bahrain

86

NF

Syria

88

NF

Equatorial Guinea

91

NF

Cuba

92

NF

Iran

92

NF

Belarus

93

NF

Eritrea

94

NF

Uzbekistan

95

NF

North Korea

96

NF

Turkmenistan

96

NF

Basically we see a rogues list of repressive regimes in each of these groups.

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Russia reverts to threatening journalists, this time on Olympic coverage

The latest take down in Russia is that journalists using “non-professional” equipment will lose their credentials at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

The Olympics Will Not Be Tweeted, Vined, Or Instagrammed — Or Maybe They Will (BuzzFeed)

The news came directly from the state-run association that handles press credentials and reported on NewsRu.com

The use of mobile phones by journalists who write for the filming of athletes or spectators during the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi will be considered a serious violation and will result in cancellation of their accreditation. - Journalists are banned from shooting gadgets Olympics in Sochi

The Atlantic reports:

At a seminar for sports reporters covering the games on Friday, Vasily Konov, the state-run RIA’s top sports journalist, made clear any time a journalist is caught using their phone to capture the Games in real time it “will be considered a serious violation and will result in cancellation of accreditation.” RIA’s sports division handles accreditation for Sochi. Only photographers will special passes and appropriate equipment — proper SLR and digital video cameras — will be able to document the action. “The organizers, of course, will not affect the usual crowd,” Konov told the gathered reporters , but assured them organizers would punish those who are caught.

And right after that the International Olympic Committee had to step in and reassure journalists that use of social media is not a “get kicked out of the country” offense. The IOC responded to an e-mail query from USAToday:

Journalists will be allowed to use Instagram, Twitter and other social media to post still photos and news from the Sochi Olympics, International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams confirmed to For The Win in an email on Monday.

“Please take as many photos as you like!” he wrote.

While it may look as if this little kerfuffle has settled down — the IOC, after all runs the Olympics and forced China into taking most of its Internet censoring software — the issue of how Russia treats free and independent media is still a big issue.

Reporters and news teams have been arrested and harassed as they try to do stories about the Olympic preparations. And others have had their credentials either delayed, denied or withdrawn. (Russia Curbs Freedom of Press Ahead of Olympics)

The harassment also extends to NGOs trying to get word out about environmental damage caused by the Olympic preparation. (And, of course, to reporters talking to those NGOs.)

According to Freedom House, Russian media are not free.

 

Although the constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, officials used the country’s politicized and corrupt court system to harass the few remaining independent journalists who dared to criticize widespread abuses by the authorities.

 

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Who woulda thunk: State Department: 1 NSA: 0

The Cable (one of the best sites for foreign policy junkies) has a great piece on how the NSA has not been able to break a piece of software promoted by the State Department. (Not Even the NSA Can Crack the State Dept’s Favorite Anonymous Network)

The Tor system was developed by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in 2002. Since then it has remained the best way for people to connect to the Internet anonymously. For the pro-democracy people at the State Department, this was a god-send.

Some of the tech savvy folks at State (under former Secretary Clinton) decided that Tor could be used to protect human rights and democracy advocates as they worked to organize and disseminate information.

For years, the U.S. government has offered tools and training to help foreign dissidents and journalists circumvent detection by repressive governments. In particular, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), though its Internet Anti-Censorship (IAC) Division, has provided “anti-censorship, pro-privacy software to users worldwide who are subject to foreign government-sponsored Internet censorship,” according to the BBG’s website.

In some cases, that has meant partnering with companies to improve the security of their software. The board also has worked with the Tor Solutions Group to develop “several enhancements” to its usability and performance for users subject to censorship. The BBG’s budget for Internet anti-censorship issues runs a little over $10 million a year.

Below is a summary how TOR has been and can be used to promote human rights and freedom of access:

  • Human rights activists use Tor to anonymously report abuses from danger zones.
  • Internationally, labor rights workers use Tor and other forms of online and offline anonymity to organize workers in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • Tor provides the ability to avoid persecution while still raising a voice.
  • Many peaceful agents of change rely on Tor for basic privacy during legitimate activities.
  • Human Rights Watch recommends Tor to fight Chinese censorship
  • Individuals and nonprofits  can anonymously criticize corrupt businesses and government officials, thereby protect themselves from retribution.
  • Labor organizers can use Tor to reveal information regarding sweatshops that produce goods for western countries and to organize local labor.
  • Tor can help activists avoid government or corporate censorship that hinders organization.

But, as with all good things, there is a dark side.

Tor has also become popular with drug dealers, criminal hackers, and peddlers of child pornography. The online drug market Silk Road, which was shut down by federal authorities this week, relied on Tor.

So the NSA and their British colleagues tried to hack into it. With the result being, as the British say, “No joy.”

But that does not mean they will stop trying.

It’s kind of fun to watch. On one side the US government is financing a major project to protect anonymity around the world, while at the same time trying to do away with it.

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