The parliamentary motion was prompted by a controversial documentary about the 1994 genocide
The Rwandan parliament passed a resolution on 22 October calling on the government to ban the BBC and bring “genocide denial” charges against the presenter and producer of a controversial TV documentary about the 1994 Rwandan genocide that the BBC broadcast in early October.
The vote came a few days after President Paul Kagame himself accused the BBC of “denying the genocide” of Rwanda's Tutsi minority by members of the Hutu majority.
“This parliamentary resolution is not surprising inasmuch as the Kagame government allows the political opposition no room to exist in Rwanda,” said Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Africa desk.
“It is extremely worrying that the BBC, one of the few independent media that manages to be seen or heard within Rwanda, is in the process of being banned. We call on the government to implement the democratic principles it so readily professes in international forums and to let the media express themselves freely.”
Members of student organizations consisting mainly of genocide survivors staged demonstrations outside the BBC's Kigali bureau and parliament a few hours before the resolution's adoption and handed in a memorandum calling on the government to rescind the BBC's licence to broadcast in Rwanda. They also demanded a formal BBC apology to the Rwandan people and the entire world.
Entitled “Rwanda, The Untold Story,” the documentary caused a storm by interviewing US-based researchers who, with the help of maps, argued that the number of Hutus killed in the genocide was much higher than generally recognized. The Rwandan government declined the BBC's requests to be interviewed for the documentary.
According to the United Nations, an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered from April to July 1994.
The Kagame government has a history of refusing to comment on the human rights situation and imposing extreme censorship on freedom of information.
At least five journalists have fled the country this year because of persecution, and several were arrested and threatened by the police before and after ceremonies in April marking the 20th anniversary of the genocide. Good Morning Rwanda, Flash FM's popular phone-in programme, was banned in June. The US State Department condemned all of these developments.
An official denial of the claims made in the documentary was posted on the Rwandan government website but is no longer available online.
In 2009, the Rwandan government suspended the BBC's radio broadcasts in Kynyarwanda because of a programme about the genocide that was also described at the time as revisionist.
Any formal reference to ethnicity is punishable by imprisonment on a charge of promoting “divisions.” Over the years, the term “Rwandan genocide” has gradually been replaced by “genocide of the Tutsis,” thereby pre-empting any questioning of the official history.
Rwanda is ranked 162nd out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
Reporters Without Borders welcomes the imminent release of Thomas Dandois and Valentine Bourrat, two French journalists who have been held for the past 11 weeks in Indonesia's eastern province of Papua on a charge of misusing their tourist visas to do investigative reporting.
After being sentenced today to two and a half months in prison by a court in Jayapura, Papua's capital, they are to be released next week. The prosecutor requested a four-month sentence but the judge decided to sentence them to a period similar to what they had already spent in pre-trial detention.
Reporters Without Borders nonetheless regrets that were found guilty despite their right under international treaties to gather information as journalists.
“It is a big relief to know that Dandois and Bourrat will soon be released,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire. “Any other outcome would have set a terrible precedent for media freedom in Indonesia. We stress that, according to the principles of international law, they did not commit any crime by courageously undertaking their investigative reporting in Indonesia.”
The journalists' lawyer, Aristo Pangaribuan, told Reporters Without Borders: “On a practical perspective it's a good news, on monday they will be free. But legally speaking it isn't. This judgement sets a precedent which might be used by the authorities in the future to justify surveillance or arrests of foreign journalists in the region.”
Dandois and Bourrat had received a great deal of international support in recent weeks, including extensive media coverage, many statements by human rights NGOs, appeals by their support committee and a petition for their release with more than 14,000 signatures.
Indonesia's low ranking in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, 132nd out of 180 countries, is due in part to the lack of transparency and restrictions on reporting in Papua.
There was the voice of Jon Miller, baseball’s best and wittiest game caller, setting the scene for me, some 5,000 miles away from San Francisco’s AT&T Park. As Travis Ishikawa strode to the plate, my Shinkansen bullet train was headed north out of Kanazawa, Japan — quite ironically, the seat of Ishikawa Prefecture. As Ishikawa powered a home run to the deepest part of the ballpark, winning the game with a walk-off and sending the San Francisco Giants to the World Series, I heard live the fan euphoria, and the familiar voices of the Giants’ radio crew picking apart the pivotal plays of the game.
It seems like magic — but it’s just radio, pushed beyond the ionosphere by the Internet, with the help of some of the 500 tech people employed by MLB Advanced Media.
Chuck Richard, my friend and Outsell colleague, and I rhapsodize about MLB.com. We enjoy it as baseball fans. “Let’s say you’re a Red Sox fan living in New York — you can listen to the local Boston broadcast from WEEI with Joe Castiglione every night,” Chuck says. “When you’re a Red Sox fan flying home from Brazil in October 2013, during the exact time of the clinching game in the World Series, you can use the American Airlines on-plane wifi to listen to the game live at 35,000 feet. Now you can see the strike zone with every pitch of every game to see whether the ump got it right using the PITCHf/x data that MLB funded the development of and installed at every stadium. Now the FIELDf/x defensive digital tracking stats are beginning to show up.” (Bob Bowman, president and CEO of Major League Baseball Advanced Media, or BAM, explains the “revolutionary” innovations to Grantland.)
Along with our fan exultations, we’ve noted the digital smarts inside the MLB products, and how their innovations could apply to publishers of all types. So today, in the midst of the World Series, let’s focus on what MLB.com does so well, and what news publishers can take away from its leadership. Let’s especially focus on its success in mobile — probably the area of greatest challenge and opportunity for publishers today.
Major League Baseball launched MLB.com just 12 years ago, to mild derision and deep suspicion about the idea that a sport league could cover itself well enough to win a major audience. MLB.com has done that and more. Its numbers are impressive:
- It’s the No. 1 sports streaming service, with 3.5 million paying subscribers. An early mover into streaming — remember how recently hitting a video’s play button felt like a slot machine gamble? — that service began in 2002, three years before YouTube.
- More than 20 percent of current subscribers have owned the product for at least the past six years.
- More than 400 mobile and connected devices are supported by MLB.TV, a behind-the-scenes buildout that makes watching fairly seamless. The average MLB.TV subscriber uses 2.6 devices, putting everyday reality into the promise of all-access subscriptions. “Connected” devices include that screen in your living room, as Roku, Apple TV, and other apps provide easy-to-choose big view watching.
- It’s strong on mobile, with more than 60 percent of overall traffic on smartphones and tablets. What’s more, 51 percent of its monthly livestreams now arrive via mobile and connected TV devices.
One secret of innovators like MLB and Pandora is early investment in new tech — before the opportunity is universally apparent. Back in 2005, Bob Bowman made his first investment in mobile, hiring two staffers. That was pre-app, pre- the time we thought about an age of mobile majority. Today, about 500 of its total staff of 750 do tech, and 60 or so work on mobile alone. That’s how you optimize experience across those 400 devices. About 100 fill out the editorial staff, including 30 beat writers (one for each team) and a growing roster of columnists.
MLB.com, of course, is only part of how the web changed baseball coverage. Long the semi-exclusive province of daily newspaper beat writers and columnists, along with a handful of national magazines, it’s been democratized. ESPN, of course, is a major player. Further, ESPN’s Grantland, Gawker Media’s Deadspin, Vox’s SB Nation, and Turner’s Bleacher Report lead a parade of decidedly unofficial sites, offering an alternative to MLB.com’s very civil approach to a boisterous sport, with often highly spirited, sometimes profane voices. MLB.com does host some good and strong MLB Voices — including former newspaper columnists like Richard Justice, Tracy Ringolsby, Hal Bodley, and Mike Bauman – though sometimes they’re harder to find than they should be.
One reason those columnists may be harder to find: MLB.com is about the day-to-day flow of the game. Fans pay their money, and they get a steady stream of baseball basics. Many think of it as a utility. In part, that’s because it’s monopoly of a sort, the league presenting itself and, of course, controlling video rights. As Chuck Richard points out, though, it’s an ususual monopoly. “We can give MLB Advanced Media some well deserved credit. Most other monopolies, including utilities, telephone companies, cable companies and governments, have never developed diddly squat online.” We can also give the league credit for its self-acknowledged ownership position — the tagline “This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs” runs at the bottom of every story — though it does seem to remind us too much of the box in which journalists color. One lesson, though, says Richard, “Some will do self-coverage better, more journalistically, than others.”
We come this week, though, not to just celebrate the National Pastime and MLB.com’s digitization of it, but to ask how to learn from this pioneering model. If MLB can serve as the official town crier of baseball, serving its village, how can newspaper-based and local broadcast-based companies take pointers from its impressive scorecard?
Even before MLB.com embraced mobile and streaming, its web product excelled. It is, though, its smartphone and tablet products that offer best-practice models for publishers and product creators. Let’s quickly breakdown what works so well, and may be applicable, about MLB.com.
- Customization. Where does a fan want to start? With her favorite team, of course. It’s a snap to pick one or several teams, and the top one becomes the home page.
- The toggle. Print legacy publishers fight their text reflexes; broadcasters most reflexively turn to video to lead presentation. Too much time has been spent by both parsing, abstractly, the nature of the new multimedia world. MLB’s news screen largely puts the decision in the index finger of the audience. Pick either videos or stories, as simply as you can; switch back whenever you want to. It’s a simple, elegant way to respect the power of both words and images, and to put the choice in the right hands, the reader’s. The toggle could work for words/video, words/pictures, or news/opinion.
- Fit and scale. The longstanding publisher cry: How can we possibly fit what we need to on such a small screen? Check out the MLB iPhone screen, which offers that small real estate. In the stretch of four diagonal inches, fans see much choice. On a team page, everything from news and video entry points to schedules, tickets and shopping are right there. On a game page, the multiple choices range from story wrap and box score to video highlights and inning-by-inning scorecard, with useful persistent navigation at the bottom of the screen. It would seem to be a lot to fit on one screen, but it fits well.
- A little interactivity. Many of the words are links, so punchable and the navigation to the various parts of the site is easy to figure out. In addition, a slider works in several places, in choosing highlight videos or seeing who the next two batters may be in the midst of a game. It’s not flashy, but it’s highly usable.
- Data-friendly. Baseball fans love data — we just call it stats. The wonkiest numbers can be a swipe away, an extension of a story – or a lead-in to it.
- Time travel. Video and audio can be confusing. What’s live, what’s on-demand? What’s older? MLB.com puts those choices together fairly well. Streaming works, and provides choice, of home team or visiting team broadcasts and, if available, a Spanish-language alternative; the site can be natively multilingual. Listeners can even listen to a game that was completed earlier in the day, at least on some versions of the product.
- Read, watch — and buy. E-commerce, in form of tickets and merch, flows naturally into the structure of the sites. That’s something that’s gotten lost since newspapers — a hallowed format of both news and commerce — went digital.
- Price. Prices range from the low of $19.99 to $129.99 per season. It’s a segmentation that’s been tweaked a number of times over the years, supported by an analytics operation. Millions of registered users provide lots of data on usage and pricing. That $130 price is the all-access price, pointing to the enduring marketplace power of that simple concept in the age of paid digital content. Pay one price, and you can get full TV coverage, choices of your favorite audio, and wide portability across devices. It’s not cheap, but seems to be a fair price for all-access, a promise of multidevice availability that is richly fulfilled. Of those who take MLB.TV, the video product, more than 90 percent opt for the premium $130 version; the remainder opt for the $100 less-fully featured “basic.”
How can publishers take all those advances and apply them to their own businesses?
Baseball is a passion, but it’s also a big village. It’s a group of people with shared interests — and shared information needs and enthusiasms. News companies serve many villages, some geographical, some topical.
Let’s take one opportunity and challenge that CJR gave an excellent airing last week: the kind of election and endorsement information and opinion that local newspapers used to routinely supply in print. Writer Anna Clark pointed to good experimentation here and there with forums and video, and one editor said he’d love to produce an a robust online voters guide, but couldn’t afford the resources.
Apply the MLB.com model here, and we see a template of voter access impossible in the pre-digital age. In fact, the creation of a video-friendly, interactive-enabled, story-and-picture toggling, archives-accessing template could be done once (calling Jeff Bezos or the Knight Foundation) and filled to perfection across the country.
Or take another topical area that many local newspapers used to excel in: music coverage. Again, it’s pictures, video, and stories, and a good amount of data. Templatized, it becomes a great mobile experience on its own and a further model for other arts and entertainment coverage.
Finally, let’s consider the local or hyperlocal conundrum. Since AOL reduced and jettisoned Patch, we haven’t heard as much about local news. In part, that’s a resource allocation question for dailies. Yet given the run of news from metro- or city-wide to neighborhood news — news that runs through a print paper and haphazardly on websites – it’s as much an organizational issue. Think of “the paper” again as a utility, as many readers do. It’s a daily compendium of stuff. Increasingly, if fitfully, in the digital age, it becomes a storehouse of relational, retrievable data. Replace the team metaphor of MLB.com with that of an area or neighborhood, and consider how a new organization of local content can unlock much value for the reader. Here, as in music or politics, the time-travel, bring-archives-alive dimension profoundly advantages those who have published for decades or centuries.
White-boarded, MLB.com-adaptive brainstorming is particularly timely for companies like Gannett and Advance, which are thoroughly re-thinking traditional beats. The beat, and its coverage, is one thing; the presentation of the beat will equally important.
Real multimedia – so long promised, now technologically easy – has proven to be a tough exercise for legacy publishers. Ironically, former newspaper journalists — including Dinn Mann, top editor and executive vice president of MLB Advanced Media and a Kansas City Star alum — invented MLB.com. They’ve paved a way. Now can publishers and journalists follow, not needing to invent, but simply to borrow and innovate?
Photo of AT&T Park by Mobilus in Mobili used under a Creative Commons license.
For podcasters, it’s been a busy month of fundraising. First, “Snap Judgment,” reached their fundraising goal to produce the best next season ever and then, this Tuesday, Radiotopia reached their Kickstarter goal with 23 days left to go.
Maybe it really is a radio revolution — centered on good storytelling and journalism. PRX has estimated that it takes about 50,000 core subscribers to ensure a podcast will be of interest to sponsors and pay its staff. By relying on listener support, philanthropy, and subscriptions, Radiotopia has grown substantially since its launch this past year. So when did radio become cool again?
PRX CEO Jake Shapiro says that:
It hasn’t been until really in the last two years that podcasting has become a mainstream audience format, it was always a niche format, because it was hard to use as a user. But now that everyone has been trained to think about on demand media, like Netflix, audio has now had this huge opportunity to become a mainstream platform of news and entertainment. (more…)
New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.
Editor’s note: The Center for Public Integrity is tracking political advertising in races for the U.S. Senate, state-level offices and now state ballot measures. Use these interactive features — with new data every Thursday — to see who is calling the shots and where the money is being spent.
Bonnie Marsh is worried that many of her neighbors’ health problems stem from big companies farming genetically modified crops around her in Maui County, Hawaii. So she helped collect enough signatures to put an initiative on the November ballot that would ban growing such crops until an environmental study is done.
“We’ve come forward because we feel there’s a real threat to the health of the Earth,” said Marsh, a nurse who focuses on natural remedies. “We are done being an experimental lab.”
Marsh said her group, Sustainable Hawaiian Agriculture for the Keiki and the ‘Aina, has raised about $700,000 so far for what is the first-ever citizen-initiated ballot measure in Maui County. They’ve used about $17,000 of it to buy TV ads to help get the word out. But Marsh’s group is being outraised and outspent by business-supported opposition.
Citizens Against the Maui County Farming Ban, a group backed by agricultural giants Monsanto and DowAgroSciences, has already spent more than $2 million — or $23.13 per registered voter in the county — on television ads arguing that the ban would kill jobs, cost the local economy millions of dollars and block crops that have been proven safe.
And more ads could be on the way — the group has not yet filed a report with the state to say how much it has raised, nor would it volunteer the information to the Center for Public Integrity.
More has been spent on television time on that measure than any other local initiative in the nation. It’s also more expensive than more than a hundred statewide measures, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of preliminary data from media tracking service Kantar Media/CMAG.
Across the country, large companies and national advocacy groups are putting big dollars behind committees with benign-sounding names that support or oppose ballot initiatives on issues as varied as minimum wage increases in Alaska and recreational marijuana in Florida.
The committees are using that money to put their message out in expensive ads featuring family farmers, concerned doctors and smiling teachers. Voters may not readily be able to identify the patrons behind the millions of dollars in ads, but a who’s who of corporate America — soda king Coca-Cola, agriculture magnate Monsanto and malpractice insurer The Doctors Company — are among them.
Through Oct. 20, TV ad spending on ballot issues totaled roughly $119 million, including $11.3 million on local initiatives such as the one in Maui County.
Four of the five most expensive ballot initiatives feature at least one corporate patron duking it out over the airwaves, getting involved in the initiative process that was designed as a way to give voters a direct voice on public policies.
The two most expensive propositions were in California. Proposition 46 has drawn more than $23 million in ad spending, while Proposition 45 has attracted $20.5 million. Almost all of it has come from two groups: No on 45 — Californians Against Higher Healthcare Costs and No on 46 — Patients, Providers and Healthcare Insurers to Contain Health Costs. The “no” groups are backed by doctors and insurance companies, including The Doctors Company and Blue Shield of California, fighting to stop measures that would force doctors to undergo drug testing and insurers to get new approval for rate hikes, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of state campaign finance records.
Coming in third place was a Colorado amendment to expand gambling, which has drawn about $12 million in ad spending. Of that, $6.4 million came from Coloradans for Better Schools, a group backed by a Rhode Island casino company, Twin River Casino. Competing casinos in Colorado are helping fund $5.7 million in ads opposing the measure through a group called Don’t Turn Racetracks Into Casinos.
Ranking fourth were two California measures that have been touted as an inseparable duo: Proposition 1, which would authorize a bond issue for water infrastructure projects, and Proposition 2, which would change the state’s “rainy day fund.” Most of the $7.6 million spent on ads supporting the two measures came from California Gov. Jerry Brown. The Democrat has not run any ads for his re-election bid, instead buying $5.6 million in ads through his campaign committee to back the propositions.
Rounding out the top five, with $5 million in ads, was an Oregon measure that would require genetically modified foods to be labeled. The No on 92 Coalition, fueled by groups such as Monsanto and the J.M. Smucker Company, is battling natural food companies funding the Vote Yes on Measure 92 committee.
Fewer but costlier initiatives
This year voters have fewer ballot measures to decide than they did four years ago, when a comparable number of offices were up for election. In 2010, voters considered 184 statewide initiatives compared with 158 this year.
Even California voters, well acquainted with lengthy ballots, have only six measures to read through this November.
But this year already has 2010 beat in terms of TV ad spending. In 2010, ballot measure backers and opponents spent about $87 million on ads for the entire election cycle, compared with this year’s $119 million through Oct. 20.
Citizens in 26 states can gather signatures and put a proposal on the ballot that would create a new law or veto an existing one. Every state but Delaware offers voters the chance to weigh in on constitutional amendments approved by the legislature. Once the initiative is approved to go before voters, the ad deluge begins.
Ballot measure opponents and supporters use a number of tools to influence voters — door-knocking, direct mail, digital advertising and more — but television spots have the highest profile influence on such direct democracy.
“TV ads are a very effective way of getting out a message,” said Daniel Smith, a University of Florida professor who has studied ballot measures for more than 20 years. Advertising can be used “devastatingly well,” he added.
But those ads — and the money behind them — aren’t necessarily a bad thing if it gets people talking, he said, even if a few of them are confusing or misleading. “Increased money usually means there is more information, more awareness of ballot measures,” he added.
Corporate titans rule the airwaves
In California, competing messages about the drug-testing-for-doctors proposition are abundant on the airwaves. Recent transplant James VanBuskirk, a 34-year-old marketer for a property insurance company, says he sees one every time he watches prime-time TV.
Prop 46 tops the ballot measure spending pile in this election, with $23 million spent on thousands of ads across California.
Consumer Watchdog, a national advocacy group, teamed up with trial lawyers to back the measure. Trial lawyers stand to benefit from Prop 46 because, in addition to testing doctors for drug use, it also increases the maximum judges can award for pain and suffering in medical malpractice lawsuits. Groups backed by them spent $3.9 million so far on ads supporting the measure.
Consumer advocates and the California Nurses Association have also thrown their money behind Proposition 45, which would require insurers to receive approval for rate hikes from the California insurance commissioner, an elected regulator. The ballot committee supporting the measure has spent more than $679,000 on ads so far.
But their messages have been crowded out by those of insurers and doctors, who are spending big to oppose both measures on the airwaves — with more than $38 million spent on ads so far, about $19 million on each measure — nearly a third of the total amount spent on ballot measure ads nationwide. And there are likely many more ads to come: Groups opposing the two measures together have raised more than $100 million, according to California campaign finance records.
“It’s definitely in the upper stratosphere of California fundraising,” said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a nonpartisan nonprofit that produces online voter guides.
That doesn’t mean the insurance companies are necessarily going to win. In 2010, a group backed by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. spent almost $14 million on ads supporting a ballot measure that would require local voter approval for any new government-backed utilities. The electric company lost, even though its opponents did not buy any airtime.
Casinos versus casinos
In Colorado, casinos are waging the nation’s third-most-expensive ballot fight over the airwaves this year.
It’s casino versus casinos, according to an analysis of state campaign finance data. One Rhode Island gambling company, Twin River Casino, wants to offer slot machines, blackjack and other games at a racetrack in Aurora, Colorado. In ads, the committee backed by the company promises $100 million of new gambling revenue will be sent to an education fund every year. The ads have run more than 5,500 times, at a cost of about $6.4 million.
But already established gambling operations in Colorado that don’t want more competition have backed a group that has kept pace, spending $5.7 million on ads opposing the measure. “Amendment 68 is not about education. It’s a Rhode Island gambling scheme,” one opposition ad says.
Most Coloradans likely have no idea that casinos are backing the ads on both sides, said Kyle Saunders, associate professor of political science at Colorado State University. Colorado has clear-cut competitive U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races, he said, while ballot-measure backers are “muddying the issues.”
“It’s a difficult environment for voters to know everything about a particular ballot measure anyway, in a normal election,” Saunders said. “You have to actually do some digging or find that article on the Internet or newspaper that has that in-depth information, and that’s actually a pretty demanding task for low- and medium-information voters.”
Gambling is also on the ballot in Massachusetts, with a casino-backed group spending about $3.3 million on ads.
In total, gambling-based ballot measures are responsible for $17.5 million in ad spending nationwide.
Food industry food fight
Even soda is getting in on the political ad contests. The American Beverage Association, whose members include Coca-Cola and Pepsi, has pumped millions into a group opposing a Massachusetts ballot measure that would raise fees for beverage distributors and expand the state’s bottle deposit to cover more types of bottles. The beverage lobby-backed group has spent about $2.5 million on TV ads, while pro-initiative forces have not bought any airtime.
The California branch of the beverage-makers group has also backed a group trying to defeat a local initiative in San Francisco that would tax sugary drinks; so far the group has spent $1.8 million on ads, making the measure the second-most expensive local measure in terms of television spots, behind Maui’s initiative.
Coca-Cola and Pepsi are also teaming up with other big food businesses like Monsanto and the Hershey Company in their effort to keep Oregon and Colorado from requiring labels on food that contains genetically modified organisms. Groups backed by the team of food companies have spent about $3 million on ads in each state, arguing that the measures would raise food prices and hurt farmers.
“Farming is hard enough. The last thing we need is Measure 92, a bunch of complex, costly regulations that don’t exist in any other state,” says a plaid-shirt-wearing farmer in an ad opposing the Oregon measure.
Proponents of labeling in Oregon, backed by natural food companies, have spent $2 million on television ads in the state. “I want you to be able to trust the food you feed your family,” says another plaid-shirt-wearing farmer, who favors the measure. Proponents in Colorado have not aired ads.
Corporations aren’t the only big players in state ballot measures this year. National advocacy groups are also tugging at heartstrings on the airwaves.
Planned Parenthood and the ACLU have teamed up to oppose anti-abortion measures in Tennessee and Colorado. In Tennessee, a group backed by the pair has spent about $1.3 million on TV ads against a measure that would give the legislature more leeway to regulate abortion. Proponents of the measure, backed by Tennessee Right to Life, have spent about $606,000 on ads.
In Colorado, a Planned Parenthood-backed group has spent $477,000 on the airwaves to oppose an amendment to the state constitution that would redefine “person” to include the unborn. The ads say the move would effectively ban all abortion in the state. Proponents have aired no ads.
Other initiatives attracting interest from advocacy groups include:
In Washington, television viewers have already been treated to more than 4,000 ads about a pair of conflicting ballot measures concerning background checks for gun purchases, with most of them coming from a group supporting expanded background checks. That organization — backed by Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety fund, early Amazon investor Nick Hanauer and a handful of Microsoft executives, according to state records — spent an estimated $3 million on ads. The other side, backed by gun enthusiasts and sporting clubs, is trailing behind, with only about $58,000 spent.
In North Dakota, the Nature Conservancy and the Audubon Society, among others, have lent their support to a measure that would dedicate some of the state’s oil tax revenues to land preservation. North Dakotans for Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks has ponied up nearly $485,400 for ads—more than double the cost for all the ads run by candidates for state offices this year. The group’s opponents have spent about $134,000 on ads so far.
In Maine, voters are considering a ballot measure that would ban traps, bait and dog chases in bear hunting. The Humane Society has backed a group that has spent about $860,000 on ads favoring the ban so far. The other side, Maine’s Fish & Wildlife Conservation Council, has spent about $713,000 on ads.
Attracting voters with pot and money
Marijuana is on the ballot in the District of Columbia and three states, spurring $4.5 million in ads. In Oregon, voters have watched some 1,825 ads worth more than $1 million run by supporters of legalizing recreational marijuana. That effort’s backers include the family of Peter Lewis, a longtime marijuana legalization advocate from Ohio and chairman of Progressive Insurance, who died in 2013. Another backer is the Drug Policy Alliance, an anti-drug-war nonprofit backed by liberal financier George Soros. (Soros’ Open Society Foundations are a financial supporter of the Center.)
The ads argue that legalizing the drug will allow police to focus on solving murders and finding missing children. Opponents have aired no ads so far, but a similar measure failed in Oregon in 2012. In Alaska, supporters of marijuana have aired just $8,210 worth of ads.
In Florida, opponents of a ballot measure to legalize medical marijuana have spent roughly $3.2 million on ads. But the players in that fight might care less about marijuana than the governor’s race. Analysts say the marijuana legalization effort in Florida is really a tactic to get more young and left-leaning residents to turn out and vote for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Gov. Charlie Crist.
Billionaire casino operator Sheldon Adelson has given $4 million to the anti-pot campaign, while the pro-pot side is backed by more than $3.8 million from the personal injury lawyer John Morgan and his firm, which hired Crist after he left office. So far, however, the marijuana advocates have only spent about $195,000 on TV ads, according to Kantar Media/CMAG data.
Ballot measures are a reliable way to motivate a party’s base. For instance, liberal groups helped get measures to raise the minimum wage on five states’ ballots this fall. Yet only Nebraska’s appears to have drawn TV ads: a paltry $79,000 worth.
“That totally makes sense,” said Neil Sroka, a strategist for progressive groups and the communications director at the Howard Dean-founded Democracy for America. “I wouldn't count the lack of spending on ads to be indicative that they're not incredibly useful in driving out votes."
Sroka told the Associated Press that polls show overwhelming support for raising the minimum wage, including among independents and Republicans. Liberal activists looking to motivate voters can use the minimum-wage measures as a way to get perhaps reluctant voters talking and then tell them that the Democratic nominees for office also support higher wages.
“These ballot measures are great ways to talk to voters who might not want to talk to Democrats,” Sroka said.
Money talks but does it win?
For some corporations and national advocacy groups, investments in ballot measure ads have already paid off. This summer, oil companies won an August vote after dishing out nearly $900,000 to buy about 8,000 TV spots in Alaska to keep special tax breaks. “We need to stay in the game,” said a hockey coach in an ad that likened the sport to the oil industry.
In Michigan, manufacturers almost hit the $2.8 million mark on ad spending for an August ballot measure designed to eliminate a double tax on industrial property, while also rerouting an existing tax to fund local budgets. Though observers worried the measure was too confusing for pessimistic Michigan voters, who turned down every single initiative on the ballot in 2012, the manufacturers walked away with a victory.
But for others, ad spending was for naught. In Missouri, construction companies spent about $1.2 million on TV ads but still lost an August vote that would have authorized a sales tax to fund road construction.
The bulk of the measures, though, will come before voters on Nov. 4, so a flood of advertising is on the horizon. Then the implications of voters’ decisions will begin, affecting individuals’ lives and companies’ bottom lines.
In Hawaii, approval of the Maui County GMO ban would be a blow to Monsanto, which can produce up to four crops of corn seeds a year in Hawaii’s lush environment.
The state’s seed industry, including Monsanto’s corn, has grown rapidly in recent years, and last growing season was worth $217 million, outpacing sugar cane and pineapples. The corporate-backed Citizens Against the Maui County Farming Ban argues that small farms and big alike would be hurt by the ballot’s ban.
“More than 600 people would lose their jobs,” the group’s spokesman, Tom Blackburn-Rodriguez, said in an email. “The purpose of the TV ads is to educate voters about the flawed, costly and harmful initiative.”
Natural remedies nurse Marsh doesn’t know whether her side can beat the Monsanto-backed ads; she said fliers against the GMO ban show up in her mailbox every day. But the ban advocates have a great volunteer network, she said, and at the very least they’ll get to make themselves heard. “We’re just trying to make them be held responsible for what they’re doing,” she said.
Associated Press reporter Philip Elliott contributed.
German publishers warring with Google — and the link and the internet — have now completed their humiliation at their own hands, capitulating to Google and allowing it to continue quoting and linking to them. How big of them.
The pathetic sequence of their fight:
1. German publishers under the banner of a so-called trade group called VG Media and led by conservative publisher Axel Springer called in who knows what political chits to get legislators to create a new, ancillary copyright law — the Leistungsschutzrecht — to forbid Google et al from quoting even snippets to link to them.
2. In negotiations in the legislature, snippets were then allowed.
3. The publishers went after Google anyway, contending that Google should pay them 11 percent of revenue over the use of snippets.
4. Google, being sued over the use of the snippets, said it would take down the snippets from those publishers this week.
5. The publishers said that for Google to take down the snippets they were using to blackmail Google amounted to Google blackmailing the publishers. And you thought Germans were logical.
6. The publishers went to the government cartel office to complain that Google was using its market power against them.
7. Officials laughed the publishers out of the cartel office.
8. Now the publishers have said that Google can use its snippets for free while this legal matter is being ironed out.
Of course, the publishers never wanted the snippets taken down because they depend on those snippets and links for the audience Google sends to them … for free. It is all their cynical game to try to disadvantage their new and smarter competitor. Those who can, compete. Those who can’t, use their political clout.
I have written a much longer essay about the damage these German publishers are doing to Germany’s standing that I am trying to place in a print publication — so I can speak to the print people. I’ll link to it when that happens. Here’s the lede:
I worry about Germany and technology. I fear that protectionism from institutions that have been threatened by the internet — mainly media giants and government — and the perception of a rising tide of technopanic in the culture will lead to bad law, unnecessary regulation, dangerous precedents, and a hostile environment that will make technologists, investors, and partners wary of investing and working in Germany.
LATER: Ah, there’s another chapter already.
9. Like Japanese soldiers stuck on an island thinking the war continues, Axel Springer has declared that Google must take down snippets from four of its brands: Die Welt, and the auto, sport, and computer subbrands of Bild. Note well that they didn’t do that with superbrand Bild, their largest newspaper and the largest in Germany. They need the eggs. So as it loses its argument that Google is a cartel, the German publishers’ cartel crumbles.
Flipping through old magazine and newspaper ads is like throwing the switch on the world’s simplest time machine. Suddenly it’s 1969, the Apollo 11 astronauts have just made the round trip from the moon, Abbey Road just dropped, and for the low price of $29.95 you can enjoy an “electric computerized football game [that] lets you and your opponent call offensive and defensive plays.”
This is the benefit a paper like The New York Times finds in its archive: the ability to pluck moments from the historical record out of the past — the small steps and giant leaps, but also the assembled fragments and cultural artifacts that often share space on the page. While you can dig deep into the stories of the past with TimesMachine, uncovering specific ads isn’t as easy. The team in The New York Times R&D Lab wants to rectify that with Madison, a new tool for identifying ads across the newspaper’s archive. What makes Madison different is that it relies on Times readers — not a bot or algorithm — to do the tricky work of spotting and tagging the ads of the past.
“We have 163 years of what is often referred to as the first draft of history, and I think one of the areas we’re interested in is finding new ways to bring that archive to life,” said Alexis Lloyd, creative director for the R&D Lab.
RELATED ARTICLEThe New York Times’ Chronicle tool explores how language — and journalism — has evolvedNovember 13, 2012The Times R&D Lab sometimes seems like the newspaper equivalent of Q Branch, tasked with developing fun, futuristic tools that can serve the institution in unusual ways. Instead of jetpacks and exploding pens, the R&D Lab tries to find ways to make it easier for the public to get their hands on Times content. Sometimes that’s demonstrated in finding new surfaces to display news throughout the home, or tools that visualize how news spreads across social channels. And, sometimes, it’s a broach that lights up when someone mentions something you’ve been googling.
RELATED ARTICLENo windows, one exit, free drinks: Building a crowdsourcing project with casino-driven designMarch 20, 2013Madison is just a part of a bigger R&D project called Hive, a platform for creating crowdsourcing projects off any collection of data. News organizations are asking readers for help sifting through collections of data more and more often. Sometimes its asking readers to help track spending on campaign ads, or detail the expenses of their member of parliament. Hive was designed to simplify that process by making it easier to “import assets, define tasks, and set validation criteria,” Lloyd explained in an email. That means the Times could find plenty of inward and outward looking uses for Hive in the future. And they plan to let others in on the fun as well by making Hive open source.
Lloyd said one of the things the R&D Lab is focused on is the idea of semantic listening — pulling clues and ideas about the meaning of something by looking at what surrounds it. Chronicle, which visualized word usage in the Times, and Curriculum, which creates a list of topics based on R&D Lab members’ web browsing, are two examples of that. Madison, by extension, is an effort to figure out what ads are in relation to stories, and what those ads might be selling. The benefit to the Times is being able to build new products and tools that could be useful to historians, journalists, or researchers for period-specific TV dramas to dig into the past.
RELATED ARTICLEThe New York Times is building a new TimesMachineJuly 11, 2013Madison serves a few purposes. With the release of TimesMachine, the company made it easier for people to browse old editions of the paper. But it’s an incomplete corpus compared to the print original. With Madison, the Times can build a more complete archive of everything published in the paper since it first ran off the presses in 1851, Lloyd said. But it’s also a way of getting Times readers more engaged with the paper through a little lightweight media archeology. “I think it gives our readers a look into a piece of the archive and history that has not traditionally been easy to see,” Lloyd said.
Getting the crowd involved also happened to be an efficient way of separating ads out from other parts of the paper, said Jane Friedhoff, a creative technologist with the R&D Lab who worked on Madison. Writing on the R&D Lab blog, Friedhoff outlined why using algorithmic methods to hunt for ads was difficult:
However, the digitization of our archives has primarily focused on news, leaving the ads with no metadata —making them very hard to find and impossible to search for…Complicating the process further is that these ads often have complex layouts and elaborate typefaces, making them difficult to differentiate algorithmically from photographic content, and much more difficult to scan for text.
There are three basic tasks users can perform in Madison: finding, tagging, and transcribing ads. With any crowdsourcing project, you have to balance the need for the right information against how you incentivize users to do a job, Friedhoff told me. “When we were designing Madison, we had to think of the kinds of data we were trying to get, but also ways to make it easier for people to participate,” Friedhoff said. Rather than asking people to fill out a long form, they broke it up into smaller, simpler jobs, she said.
One challenge: 163 years of newspapers is a lot of ads. Asking readers to dive into that on their own, to pick somewhere on a continuum from the Spanish–American War to the War on Drugs, is tough. Lloyd said their solution was to limit Madison by decade, starting with only ads from the 1960s. As they amass metadata on those ads, they’ll open up Madison to other years.
Friedhoff said one of the biggest motivations for using Madison is the search for “interestingness” — the discovery of ads that capture the zeitgeist of the era or, alternatively, show how far we’ve come. The ability to show off weird Canadian whiskey ads and announcements from the Record Club of America is pretty fun, as far as enticements go. “That, to me, is where the delightful part of this is, the part you want to share with your friend,” Friedhoff said.
For journalists, it can be easy to overlook advertising as the thing that helps pay the bills and adds a little color to a daily sea of black and white. But ads can also provide context and meaning around the news, telling us just as much about the past. “The news gives us that real narrative about what’s happening in the world, and the editorial judgment and control that goes into creating an objective and reliable narrative in that,” Lloyd said. “Advertising is content, but freer from those constraints and gives a look at history and what was happening at the time.”
Islamic State's Jihadi militants are imposing a news and information dictatorship in the areas they dominate in Iraq and Syria. Local and foreign journalists are no longer able to work properly and crimes of violence against them are on the increase.
What with news media being closed, censored or self-censored and journalists being threatened, hunted down, arrested and sometimes murdered, the media landscape is both Iraq and Syria is now desolate.
Journalists are now forced to cover events from a distance and indirectly in order to protect themselves. The result is partial and poor coverage of regions torn by the jihadist advance.
The confusion surrounding Iraqi journalist Mohanad Al-Aqidi's reported death was typical. Kidnapped more than two months ago by Islamic State, this former Al-Mowseliya TV presenter was widely reported to have been murdered by the Jihadis in Mosul on 13 October. But this was denied the next day by many local media and his family.
The case highlighted the prevailing media chaos and lack of reliable sources in Mosul and elsewhere. Information is suppressed or inaccessible in the cities that Islamic State has seized or is besieging. The Jihadis impose a climate of censorship and terror in which journalists cannot function normally.
Journalists reduced to silence in Mosul and Salahuddin province
“At least 60 or 70 percent of Mosul's journalists have abandoned the city and the others are staying at home,” Reporters Without Borders was told by a local source who asked not to be identified. Islamic State has reportedly told journalists to stop working or risk being killed. The Jihadi group beheaded Iraqi photographer and cameraman Raad Al Azzaoui in Samarra (in Salahuddin province) on 11 October
According to the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory (JFO), Islamic State is currently holding nine journalists and has nine others under close observation in Mosul and Salahuddin province because of their past work for Sama Salaheddine TV, Al-Fayhaa TV, Al-Ahed TV or Al-Sharqiya TV, whose offices in Mosul have been closed.
The only media now functioning in Mosul are those operated by Islamic State itself, which has moved into the premises of closed TV stations and is using their equipment and material to produce its propaganda.
Taking its terror ever further, the group has reportedly distributed printed instructions stamped “Islamic State” to its fighters ordering them to kill all journalists who “harm the organization's image and thereby benefit the Iraqi government” and to confiscate their personal effects.
According to one source who requested anonymity, Islamic State's leaders have even gone so far as to reward fighters who managed to kidnap foreign journalists.
“We condemn Islamic State's criminal and fanatical persecution of journalists,” Reporters Without Borders programme director Lucie Morillon said.
“It has resulted in the disappearance of independent media coverage in the areas it controls, which are now information black holes. This media blackout has a disastrous impact on the local population and the international community's understanding and appreciation of the conflict.”
Covering events from afar
“We know that journalists risk being beheaded by Islamic State's Jihadis so, for fear of suffering the same fate, we cover fighting from a distance of two kilometres,” Salih Herki, a reporter for the Kurd TV station KNN, told Reporters Without Borders,
Reporters Without Borders has spoken to several journalists who have gone to cover the latest Islamic State operations in northern Syria and Iraq. All say the same thing. They dare not approach the front line or venture directly into the Kurdish city of Kobane in northern Syria, with the result that much of the news coming out of these areas is gathered by local intermediaries.
Baran Misko*, a Syrian journalist with the Aranews agency, said: “It is impossible to cover everything that is happening in Kobane (...) it is much too dangerous for journalists to be at the front line.” He had himself been the target of several murder attempts and had to hide many times, he said, adding that he uses local civilians to gather information. Yilmaz Bilgin, a Kurdish reporter for Rega TV who is currently in Kobane, said there were fewer than 100 Kurdish and foreign journalists covering the fighting in Kobane and on the Syrian side of the border with Turkey.
“There are not enough journalists in the various regions of Kurdistan to give a complete and accurate picture of the situation,” said KNN TV journalist Hejar Anwer, who has reported from Kobane and from the Makhmour and Gwer regions of Iraqi Kurdistan. “Journalists are not safe in this war,” he added.
Most of the journalists interviewed by Reporters Without Borders emphasized the lack of protective equipment for media personnel in the war zones.
Media battle – another Islamic State front?
Journalists have good reason to fear Islamic State, which has committed the most appalling atrocities against those trying to work without its permission. It pays meticulous attention to its image and wages a media war as well as a military one, reinforcing its influence by creating its own propaganda media and eliminating all others that do not toe the line.
According to the Syria Deeply media group, Islamic State has established 11 non-negotiable rules for journalists who want to cover its activities in the Syrian province of Deir Ezzor. They include showing complete loyalty to the “caliph,” Abu Bakral-Baghdadi, publishing nothing without the IS press office's approval and respecting a ban on photos or video of protected places or events.
Those who fail to observe these rules are hunted down and killed. Abdullah Al-Bushi, a 17-year-old youth, was publicly crucified for three days for filming Islamic State's headquarters in the Al-Bab district of the Syrian city of Aleppo. IS accused him of apostasy for making and selling videos.
According to the State Department's Centre for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC), Islamic State controls five TV stations in Mosul and two in the Syrian city of Raqqa.
Local and international media reported in July that Islamic State had created a radio station called “Al-Bayan” in Mosul, a Raqqa-based magazine called “Dabiq” with print and online versions, and a satellite TV station called “Dabiq” in Mosul. The same sources said it was also planning to produce an online newspaper called “Khilafa 2” (Caliphate 2).
The main aim of these media is to defend Islamic State's ideology and interpretation of Islam and Jihad, circulate IS propaganda in order to maximize recruitment, defend its actions and challenge the western vision of the world. An article on James Foley's beheading was published in the magazine “Dabiq.”
Islamic State's offensive in Iraq is such that the Iraqi government is responding by trying to tight its own grip on the media. The former Al-Maliki government closed various news media, including Al-Babelyia TV, Al-Sharqiya TV and Al-Rafidin TV, for allegedly fuelling sectarianism or failing to be “neutral” in their coverage.
New Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi's administration plans to close some TV stations (for having expired licences) and Abadi himself has stressed the need to avoid rumour-mongering and work with the media to combat Islamic State's pervasive terrorism. Urging the media to be objective, he said, “70 percent of the enemy's war is psychological.”
Syria in its entirety has been black zone for journalists since the start of the uprising in March 2011, with hundreds of journalists and citizen-journalists arrested, kidnapped or killed by the various parties to the conflict. The government is currently holding around 40 journalists and citizen-journalists.
“We condemn the failure on the part of the authorities to take measures aimed at protecting media personnel in war zones,” Reporters Without Borders deputy programme director Virginie Dangles said.
“Journalists are caught in the crossfire, the victims of Iraqi and Syrian government harassment on the one hand, and crimes of violence by armed groups such as Islamic State on the other.”
A total of two foreign journalists, eight Syrian journalists and one Iraqi journalist have so far been killed by Islamic State. One foreign journalist is currently an IS hostage, nine Iraqi journalists have been kidnapped by IS in Iraq, and around 20 Syrian journalists are missing or being held by IS and other armed groups in Syria.
Iraq is ranked 153rd out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index while Syria is ranked 177th.
For security reasons, some of the journalists quoted preferred to be identified by pseudonyms.