Monthly Archives: April 2011

World Press Freedom Day: May 3

Lots of groups are joining in to celebrate World Press Freedom Day.

Please note the phrase “[Remind governments to] reaffirm and implement their international commitments to guarantee and promote freedom of expression on the Internet…” in the UNESCO statement below.

That’s kind of like Christmas, those commitments should be honored all year and not just on one particular day.

Here is just a partial list of websites to visit to see what is going on around the world:

And just to remind everyone why we do this, here is the official statement from UNESCO:

21st Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers

In 2011, the focus of the celebration is on the potential of the Internet and digital platforms as well as the more established forms of journalism in contributing to freedom of expression, democratic governance, and sustainable development.

The occasion will also serve to call on Member States to reaffirm and implement their international commitments to guarantee and promote freedom of expression on the Internet and to remind civil society organizations, individuals, and other relevant stakeholders of their central part in furthering the Internet as a global public resource.

Twenty years after the call for the establishment of World Press Freedom Day, the arrival of the digital revolution—the evolution of the Internet, the emergence of new forms of media, and the rise of online social networks—has reshaped the media landscape and made “the press” of 2011 something that those gathered in Windhoek in 1991 could not have imagined.

It is well recognized that the growth of the Internet has greatly expanded the ability of individuals, groups, and others to enhance their freedom of expression and their rights to seek, receive and impart information as recognized by international human rights standards. Specifically, new media platforms have made it possible for almost any citizen to communicate to a large audience; for example, bloggers around the world are challenging authorities, exposing corruption, and expressing their opinions via the Internet. These new frontiers of media have enriched news and information resources and reshaped what has been traditionally the realm of print press, broadcasters, and news agencies.

However, even as new frontiers are being forged by these 21st century media, new barriers and new attempts to block, filter, and censor information are being created. At the same time, the proliferation of the Internet, social networks, and new-generation mobile telephony raises new concerns related to privacy and security of the users.

UNESCO, as the UN Agency with the mandate to promote freedom of expression, recognizes that freedom of expression is central to building strong democracies, contributing to good governance, promoting civic participation and the rule of law, and encouraging human development and security. The right to freedom of expression applies as much to the Internet as to the more traditional forms of media—press, radio, and television. The challenge is to fully optimize the potential of the Internet and digital media while not compromising civil liberties including the right to freedom of expression and privacy.

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Filed under Connections, International News Coverage, Press Freedom

Brazil-US to lead global FOI efforts

On of the unreported (in the US) deals struck by Pres. Obama during his trip to Brazil was an agreement with the Rousseff government to promote more freedom of information laws around the world.

Brazil Agrees to Co-Chair International FOI Effort

A planning meeting scheduled for May 6-7 in Washington has been delayed, in part to get good participation from representatives from North Africa and the Middle East, where FOI laws are a rarity.

Brazil’s willingness to help lead the effort was finalized when Obama traveled to Brazil March and was reported in the Brazilian media. Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff recently stated her support for a FOI bill, and work on the stalled bill in the legislature was resumed to meet a May 3 deadline she set.

Many thanks to FreedomInfo for keeping on top of this. Lord knows none of the U.S. journalism groups are.

If nothing else, the willingness of the Obama and Rousseff governments to promote FOI laws indicates there is at least one key area where journalists from the States and Brazil should also be working together.

Even though the focus of the journalists in each country is — rightfully — more on their own domestic law, there is no reason why journalists from Brazil, the United States, Canada, Mexico, etc. cannot offer examples of how each country’s FOI laws were passed and implemented. It just takes some imagination and a willingness to look beyond national borders.

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Filed under Connections, Freedom of Information

Reminder: Foreign affairs is not as expensive as you think

Despite what most Americans think — and obviously some members of Congress as well —  non-military foreign affairs does not take up a quarter of the federal budget.

The core State Department budget for 2012– that part that pays for embassies and the salaries of diplomats WORLDWIDE — is $14.2 billion. That works out to about $46 per year for each person in the United States.

Once you add in non-military foreign aid — you know the stuff that allows other countries to grow enough so they can buy U.S. products and services — the entire non-military foreign affairs budget is $47 billion — $152 per person per year.

And yet what Americans think about the foreign affairs budget is way off.

According to a survey by Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland late last year the American people think the U.S. spends 25 percent on foreign affairs.

The public thinks 5 percent is the about the right amount.

The real number is ABOUT 1 PERCENT.

But it seems that even this small amount is too much for some.

It seems that those who want to cut the civilian foreign affairs budget look at just the cash and not the human cost. (Think about the men and women in the military who would have to go into harms way once the diplomatic corps is gutted.)

There are damn few talking about how the small foreign affairs budget provides a large positive impact both for U.S. security and for U.S. jobs.

There is a disconnect between the day-to-day diplomatic and development work and the American people. The folks on Main Street get the idea of a strong military defending freedom and all, but they don’t see how diplomacy fits in.

And part of the blame for this disconnect is the inability of local news organizations to see how global issues affect local events.

The mantra of “Local! Local! Local!” has led the accountants at news organizations around the country to think that anything that touches on international news should be avoided. Such a view denies the every increasing connection between Main Street and the rest of the world.

A local paper or radio station can always find a church group that sends a mission to some country. The trick is to find economic and political connections.

For example, the state of Florida is highly dependent on tourism from Brazil. For every 82 visas issued in Brazil to visit the United States 1 job in Florida is created. The U.S. mission in Brazil (3 consulates and the embassy) issued 620,000 visas last year. (For the math impaired that is 7,500 jobs created in Florida as a DIRECT result of visas issued to Brazilians by U.S. diplomats. No diplomats. No visas.)

Miami NBC got the connection a while back with its story about how Brazil was the #1 trading partner with Florida.

It is not difficult to make the connections between the world and Main Street. Stories that make these links put international events into a local context. And with context comes a better understanding of the world.

The stories might also help dispel myths about  the U.S. foreign policy apparatus. If nothing else, the public would be educated as to the real cost and value of the civilian foreign service.


Filed under Connections, International News Coverage, Jobs, Story Ideas, Trade

Russians react strongly against attack on SKYPE et al

Seems the successor to the KGB, the FSB, considers the most popular means of communication by the Internet to be a threat to national security.

Russia: FSB Representative Urges to Ban Skype, Gmail, and Hotmail

Alexander Andreyechkin, head of Information and Special Communications Protection Center of Federal Security Service (FSB), said that uncontrollable use of Skype, Gmail, and Hotmail ‘can lead to a massive threat to Russia’s security” and urged to ban these services, RIA Novosti reported.

Fortunately for free speech advocates in Russia, bloggers stepped up and complained.

Russia: Bloggers Stop FSB Initiative To Ban Skype

Right after this news appeared, it was as if the alarm bells had started to sound; a wave of indignant users on LiveJournal and Twitter rose up. The activity and popularity surrounding this topic exceeded that attained by the recent popular topic of Nikita Mikhalkov [a renowned Russian movie director, however, regulary criticised by the blogger community.

Some of the comments included that maybe the FSB itself should be banned.


From the FSB’s point of view, the ideal solution would be the recognition of the fact that the mere existence of citizens in our country represents a threat to national security

The uproar forced the Russian government to “clarify” its postion:

There were three main ideas in the rebuff  from the Kremlin source: 1. The FSB representative was giving a personal opinion and not that of the government; 2. Skype and Gmail are not threats to Russia’s security; 3. Government policy vis-à-vis the Internet is not determined by special services.

So a small victory against repression. And a big victory for Internet-based people power.

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Filed under Censorship, Freedom of Information, Press Freedom

Rent a read

Many thanks to Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing for pointing out this great CNN story about “newspaper landlords” who rent the want-ads by the minute.

Is this the wave of the future of newspaper readers?

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Filed under Africa, International News Coverage

Vienna Convention: Let’s get the facts right

Too often we read or hear about some diplomat “getting off” from a crime because of diplomatic immunity. (Really bad example in “Lethal Weapon 2.” More common example in New York City with unpaid parking tickets.)

For some reason I always thought that the international agreement that provides for diplomatic immunity — The Vienna Convention — went way back in time, like right after the Napoleonic Wars. Actually, the Vienna Convention is only 50 years old.

Many thanks to Paul Behrens at the Guardian for his article about the Convention.

The curious world of diplomatic relations

It would have been nice if at least one U.S. newspaper did a similar story. Especially when the latest and most public case involved an American in Pakistan.

Think about it. There are hundreds of consulates scattered around the United States. The foreign employees of those consulates (and their families) have some form of diplomatic immunity.

The governments of Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York City regularly complain that they cannot get the diplomats in their towns to stop parking illegally and to pay their parking tickets.

There are loads other cities much smaller than the ones mentioned above that have some sort of foreign diplomatic presence.

Wouldn’t it be nice if a news organization used the anniversary of the Vienna Convention to write a few stories that

  1. Explained why a particular country located a consulate where it did,
  2. Explained how international law has reached into a local community,
  3. Discussed the economic impact of the foreign community in the area that prompted the country to set up a consulate.

And lastly, maybe explain how the Vienna Convention, while it lets diplomats in the US to get away without paying their parking tickets, also protects American diplomats abroad.

But maybe I am asking too much of local publishers and editors to see the importance of explaining the global connections to their local communities.

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Filed under International News Coverage, Story Ideas

Latest journalists killings: Brazil and Iraq

Irina Bokova, the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, condemned the recent killings of journalists in Brazil and Iraq.

The dangers to journalists in Iraq go beyond just being caught in a war zone.  Iraqi television executive Taha Hameed was shot down with Iraqi human rights activist Abed Farhan Thiyab while driving in the south of Baghdad on 8 April.

Brazilian journalists face danger from exposing the cozy relationships between criminal elements and local governments.

The latest victim was radio and television journalist Luciano Leitão Pedrosa. He was known for his critical coverage of local authorities and criminal groups and received frequent threats. Pedrosa was shot in a restaurant in Vitória de Santo Antão in north-eastern Pernambuco state.

So far this year 14 journalists world wide have been killed because they were doing their jobs, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Reporters Without Borders puts the number at 16.

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Filed under Corruption, Killings