The investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, a leading figure in the battle for press freedom in Azerbaijan, was arrested on 5 December. Reporters Without Borders has launched a petition to demand her release and for the senseless charges against her to be dropped.Sign the petition
Ismayilova, an award-winning journalist and figurehead of independent journalism in Azerbaijan, joins the ranks of the 100 political prisoners in the country. She foresaw her arrest, but despite the growing harassment to which she has been subjected for many years, nothing could persuade her to leave the country for which she has fought for years with exceptional courage and persistence.
She is the former Baku bureau chief of the Azerbaijani service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, banned from the airwaves since 2009, who now works for various news outlets. She devotes herself to the most taboo subjects such as the dominance of the all-powerful presidential clan in the country's most lucrative businesses, conflicts of interest and high-level corruption. The day before she was arrested, the president's chief of staff, Ramiz Mehdiyev, referred to her by name in a speech violently denouncing an Azerbaijani “fifth column” and foreign attempts to destabilise the country. As part of its efforts to eliminate media pluralism, the government of President Ilham Aliyev placed her in preventive detention for a minimum of two months, accusing her of driving a former colleague to attempt suicide. Such a charge against the human rights campaigner, who has previously faced allegations of spying and libel, is patently absurd. Ismayilova joins nine other journalists and at least five bloggers in custody, all imprisoned because of their professional activities. Reporters Without Borders calls for their immediate and unconditional release.
“In imprisoning a journalist of such worldwide repute as Khadija Ismayilova, the Baku authorities have given a huge slap in the face to all those who believe in freedom of information and human rights,” said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire. “The government of Ilham Aliyev orchestrated an unprecedented crackdown while Azerbaijan held the chairmanship of the Council of Europe and has now expressed in the clearest possible terms its feeling of complete impunity. It's high time it was proved wrong.”
Defiant in the face of threats
In 2011, Ismayilova disclosed that Aliyev's two daughters, through a front company, had shares in the flourishing Telecoms firm Azercell, which has a monopoly on 3G access in Azerbaijan despite suspicions surrounding its entry into the market.
A year later, she and a colleague, Nushabe Fatullayeva, disclosed that the two women also had shares in a gold and silver mine recently opened in the village of Chovdar. Besides entailing environmental risks, the operation involved the purchase of land on the cheap and the destruction of the local infrastructure. At the time, Ismayilova was the victim of a smear campaign involving an explicit video. Far from giving up, she exposed these machinations and published her exposé of the president's family again. The video was posted online and she was the target of a vilification campaign in the official media. The campaign was revived the following year after the publication of a second video.
Instead of being discouraged, in 2013 she contributed to an investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists which disclosed that the president's family had shares in companies based in the British Virgin Islands which benefited from lucrative building contracts in Baku. As the Azerbaijani authorities stepped up their repressive efforts, the pressure on Ismayilova increased. She was accused of spying, libel, and taking part in an unauthorized demonstration, She was detained at the airport and finally barred from leaving the country in October this year.
Her activities have recently entered a new dimension. After most of Azerbaijan's human rights activists were arrested, she has gradually filled some of the gap. She contributed to the compilation of a list of political prisoners, fought to organized legal support and assistance for families and tirelessly kept the international community informed about her country's headlong plunge into the abyss as far as respect for human rights were concerned. Before repression reached a new high this year, Azerbaijan was ranked in 160th place of 180 countries in the latest World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders.
Help us to free Khadija Ismayilova by signing the petition.
Photo: Azadliq Radiosu (RFE/RL)
Last month The Cambodia Daily announced it was going HTTPS. In a guest post for OJB Joshua Wilwohl explains why they decided to go secure, and how they did it. (Disclosure: Joshua is a student of mine on the MA in Online Journalism by distance learning at Birmingham City University).
During the past year, The Cambodia Daily has witnessed an increase in government interest in monitoring the Internet.
This week, the newspaper revealed a government plan to inspect the network equipment, billing and data files of mobile phone operators and internet service providers.
Government officials argued this was to help with investigations into crime committed over Voice Over Internet Protocol, or VoIP.
But computer crime experts said the Government’s planned tactics could also be used to monitor people’s phone calls and Internet data. As one expert said:
“It’s a delicate balance in the national security arena between the telcos to be secure from adversary attacks and for them to be vulnerable to attacks—even by their own government.”
The revelations followed the introduction of a Cyber War Team in October to monitor and diffuse information from “websites, Facebook, Twitter, Google-plus, blogs, YouTube and other media outlets.”
Before the war team, the leak of a draft cybercrime law in April revealed the Government’s plan to punish people who publish content online that slanders or undermines the Government’s integrity.
The draft law states:
“Establishing contents that deemed to hinder the sovereignty and integrity of the Kingdom of Cambodia is a punishable offense.”Making the site more secure
Following the leak, I started to think about how to make The Cambodia Daily’s website more secure.
I checked with our host about increased security for the server and talked with the publisher’s office about a switch from HTTP to HTTPS, or Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure.
HTTPS helps prevent attacks and protect against prying eyes by encrypting information, but it is not infallible: Heartbleed showed us smart hackers can find a way to compromise the layer of security, or SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate, which confirms the identity of a website.
I began research into switching and found, at the time, Google News did not filter HTTPS websites, and Google itself gave no additional ranking to sites with HTTPS.
We stopped the process.Security as SEO
I started more research, read blogs, talked with our host and convinced the publisher’s office that a switch was doable—and easy.
I argued that in a post-Snowden world, more websites are becoming secure. And while news websites are slow to make the switch, The Cambodia Daily needs to stay ahead when it comes to digital media, technology and readers’ privacy.
The yearly cost averaged less than $200, including staff time.
They were convinced.48 hours to go secure
The actual process was not too difficult (it took about 48 hours), working with our host to obtain an SSL certificate and secure an IP address.
The last few hours when we rolled out HTTPS were a bit grueling as it was the first time for everyone involved going through this process on a WordPress platform.
At 6:08 p.m. ICT December 2, HTTPS was live and we announced the change the following morning to make sure all was OK from the technical side.
The reaction from readers appears positive, and there has been little effect on our traffic—even from older browsers.
Filed under: SEO Tagged: Cambodia, Cambodia Daily, google, Google News, https, Joshua Wilwohl, security, SSL
Ten years have passed since Reporters Without Borders and Agence France-Presse correspondent Deyda Hydara was shot dead in Banjul on his way home from The Point, the newspaper he helped to found – ten years in which his murderers have not been brought to justice or even identified.
A few days before his death, he had the courage to criticize laws restricting media freedom that were being adopted by the Gambian government, whose president, Yahya Jammeh, has said he plans to rule for “a billion years.”
Paris, 12 December 2014
President of the Republic of The Gambia
Private Mail Bag
Banjul, The Gambia
Subject: Reporters Without Borders calls for an end to impunity for the murderers of Deyda Hydara
We are nearing the tenth anniversary of the death of Deyda Hydra. This eminent Gambian journalist and correspondent for Reporters Without Borders and the Agence France Presse, was cravenly murdered on 16 December 2004. I write to urge you to put an end to 10 long years of impunity.
On 10 June 2014, the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States declared the Republic of The Gambia guilty of having violated provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights as well as of the Revised Treaty of ECOWAS. The Gambia is a party to both agreements.
The Court further ruled that the Gambian government has failed to meet its obligations in not conducting a thorough investigation of the murder of Mr. Hydra. In addition, the Court found your government guilty of having contributed to his death in tolerating and causing a climate of impunity in the country.
Many member countries of the international community subsequently demanded enforcement of the Court judgement and the establishment of a United Nations mission of enquiry. The Gambian delegation responded favourably, declaring that The Gambia would welcome a UN investigation on Gambian territory. But, to date, UN investigators have not been able to enter the country.
“Anyone who wants to live in peace and freedom will be to live by toil, demonstration of high levels of discipline and tolerance for one another.” This is not a proverb, Mr. President, but a direct quote from you.
We ask you today to practice what you preach, and to respect the obligations that your country has accepted in accordance with the international agreements to which it is a signatory.
The investigation into the terrible crime of Deyda Hydara's murder must be reopened so that impunity and arbitrariness cease to be the standard operating procedure of the Gambian government. Mr. Hydara's family must see justice done.
Christophe Deloire, Secretary-General Reporters Without Borders
With the help of Ossigeno per l'Informazione, an Italian NGO that monitors freedom of information, Reporters Without Borders has produced this overview of the disturbing decline in the situation of journalists in Italy in 2014, a year marked by threats, physical attacks, torched cars and defamation suits.
In one of the latest examples of intimidation by the Sicilian mafia, Reporters Without Borders “information hero” Giuseppe “Pino” Maniaci, an investigative journalist who heads the Sicilian TV station Telejato, found his two dogs hanged on 3 December, just days after his car was torched.
The car in which another Reporters Without Borders “information hero”, journalist Lirio Abbate, was driving with his police bodyguards, was chased and rammed by another car on 11 November. Abbate, who writes about the mafia, has been under police protection since 2007.
As a result of the violence against journalists, which is endemic in Italy and increasing steadily, journalists are often given police protection. Ossigeno per l'Informazione reports that there were 421 threats against journalists in 2014, a 10 percent increase on 2013.
Frequent attacks on journalists
[Ossigeno per l'Informazione registered 38 physical attacks on journalists this year, a high number similar to last year's 34 and much more than the 22 cases registered in 2011. Journalists often encountered hostility from the public when out reporting and were sometimes the victims of very violent attacks if they failed to comply with requests to leave.
In one case, several individuals accosted, insulted and slapped PuntoTV cameraman Vito Schiraldi in Molfetta, in Bari province, on 13 March. When Carmen Carbonara of Corriere del Mezzogiorno took photos with her mobile phone, several women grabbed her by hair and stole her phone.
A crew from satirical TV station La Notizia was attacked by about ten individuals while filming near Rome's Termini railway station on 23 October. The assailants hit reporter Jimmy Ghione and two of his colleagues, smashed their phones and camera, and stole their car keys.
Telereggio reporter Ines Conradi was filming the scene of a car accident on 19 October when the crash victim's relatives told her to leave. After she failed to comply, they hit her, knifed her and threatened to kill her. There were other cases pointing to a disturbing increase in the readiness of a section of the public to resort to violence against media personnel.
Cases of deliberate damage to journalists' equipment have doubled in the past year. Personal cars are often targeted. It is an easy way to intimidate journalists and those responsible are rarely caught. It is often used against reporters investigating organized crime.
In 2014, Ossigeno per l'Informazione registered six cases of journalists' cars being torched and nine cases of cars that were vandalized – tyres slashed or paintwork scratched. In some cases, the cars of family members were targeted.
The car of Guido Scarpino, a journalist with the daily Il Garantista, was torched on the night of 17 June in Paola, in Cosenza province, a stronghold of the ‘Ndrangheta, which is on the Reporters Without Borders list of “Predators of Press Freedom.” The police found traces of a flammable liquid in the gutted car, thereby confirming that it was arson. Giuseppe Soluri, the head of the Calabrian journalists' association, called it a “grave act of intimidation.”
The car of Luca Urgu, a reporter for the Sardinian newspaper L'Unione Sarda, was torched near his home on 23 May, at a time when he was investigating a story about crime and the judicial system in the city of Nuoro.
Reporter Antonello Sagheddu's car was set alight outside his home on 31 October. Police found traces of a flammable liquid on one of the tyres. Sagheddu's blog Liberissimo.net provides coverage of such sensitive subjects as wasteful public spending.
Death threats, families targeted
As well as physical violence and acts of intimidation, there has also been a worrying increase in threats, especially in certain parts of the country. The threats are usually made in letters or take the form of objects that symbolize death.
Giusi Cavallo, the editor of the online newspaper Basilicata24, found crosses scratched into her car's bodywork in January, while one of her journalists, Eugenio Bonanata, found the photo of a cross slipped under the door of the newspaper's offices.
Giuseppe Bianco and Domenico Rubio, two journalists based in Naples province, received a letter threatening them with death on 26 May, after previously receiving letters containing bullets. On 27 May, La Repubblica's Enrico Bellavia received a threatening letter, postmarked in the Sicilian capital of Palermo, that advised him to stop publication of the book he had written about mafia leader Francesco Di Carlo.
According to Ossigeno per l'Informazione, in 2014 there were nine times as many acts of intimidation against journalists in Basilicate, a small southern region with barely half a million inhabitants, as there were in the rest of Italy combined. About 7% of Basilicate's journalists were the targets of intimidation attempts. Calabria was a distant second, while the fewest cases were reported in the northern region of Lombardy.
Sometimes families are targeted. La Stampa reporter Massimo Numa received an email on 7 January with an attached video consisting of clips of him and his wife going about their daily lives during the previous two years. It showed they had repeatedly been followed and watched.
In another shocking example, the children of Federica Angeli, a journalist who receives police protection, were the targets of death threats posted on Facebook in November 2014.
Just as violence is increasingly used in an attempt to gag media personnel, the past few years have also seen a rise in abusive defamation suits – especially by politicians and other public figures – with the aim of putting pressure on journalists and censuring their reporting. From 84 in 2013, the number of such cases rose to 129 in 2014.
Pasquale Scavone, the mayor of the city of Tito, sued Basilicata24 in April for posting a video about the dangers of the city's drinking water. The mayor of Padua sued Il Fatto Quotidiano journalist Laura Puppato in November over an article criticizing him for various reasons including his refusal to meet Moroccan consul Ahmed El Khdar.
Casal di Principe city administrator sued Marilena Natale of the Gazzetta di Caserta in May over various articles criticizing his decision to spend 60,000 euros on legal assistance at a time when closures of wells were forcing the local population to restrict its water consumption.
In one of the many other lawsuits brought by politicians against journalists, a court in the city of Benevento ordered Marco Travaglio to pay 10,000 euros in damages in May for allegedly libelling Clemente Mastella, a Member of the European Parliament, in an article published in Il Fatto Quotidiano.
Firms and businessmen also often sue journalists. For example, Matteo Zallocco, the editor of the online newspaper Cronache Maceratesi, is the target of a libel suit by real estate developer Alfio Caccamo for raising questions about the speed with which he got approval for a shopping centre project and about the origin of his funding.
Pietro Ciucci, the head of ANAS, the state-owned company that maintains Italy's highways, announced on 16 June that he is suing the news weekly l'Espresso for publishing an interview with Piergiorgio Baita, the former head of Mantovani, a company that is the subject of a bribery investigation. Six other publications – Il Fatto Quotidiano, Il Gazzettino, Nuova Venezia, Mattino di Padova, Tribuna di Treviso and La Notizia – are also being sued for quoting the interview.
Use of defamation suits to silence journalists is, of course, perfectly legal as well as being very effective.
The Internal Revenue Service prohibits charities from getting mixed up in politics, and those that do risk losing their tax exemption. Despite the threat, a handful of groups in the 2014 midterm elections paid for ads that appeared to be campaign-related.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, for example, is known as a 501(c)(3) organization, meaning it pays no income taxes and donations to the group are tax deductible. It is organized the same way as a charity, a hospital or university.
Despite the risk, the NRDC lambasted North Carolina Republican state Sen. Bill Cook in a $700,000 ad campaign this spring. The nonprofit paid for eight different ads that aired more than 2,600 times from mid-April through mid-July, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of data from media tracking firm Kantar Media/CMAG.
One ad opens with video of trash being emptied into a landfill, then turns to a shot of Cook.
“State Sen. Bill Cook voted for a bill that would encourage New York, New Jersey and other states to dump their trash in North Carolina,” the voiceover says. “Tell Bill Cook attracting New York trash doesn’t pass the smell test.”
The NRDC, whose mission is to promote environmentally friendly policies, said the ads had nothing to do with the Cook's re-election campaign. If the ads had been, the organization could face a fine or lose its tax-exempt status as a charity.
Politics ‘absolutely prohibited’
The IRS says 501(c)(3) groups are “absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.”
Despite the restrictions, the NRDC and a few other charities chose to navigate the complicated web of IRS rules to air ads that criticized or supported politicians running for election in November.
In addition to the ads targeting Cook, the NRDC partnered with the Southern Environmental Law Center and seven other charities under the name North Carolina Environmental Partnership to air ads criticizing four other state senators and four state representatives. All told, the partnership's 20 ads — the majority of which were about the lawmakers’ support of fracking — ran more than 5,100 times from late March through mid-July and cost the groups an estimated $1.7 million to air, according to Kantar Media/CMAG.
The ads aired both before and after the state’s primary election, but disappeared months before the general. None of the candidates had primary opponents.
Rob Perks, the campaign manager for NRDC’s North Carolina efforts, offered that as proof that the ads weren’t intended to influence the election.
“We were incredibly careful,” Perks said. “During primary season, we only chose subjects of the ads to be people who ran unopposed in primaries or had no primaries of their own so that we wouldn’t run afoul of any electioneering activity.”
The goal of the ads, representatives for both the NRDC and the Southern Environmental Law Center said, was to help North Carolinians hold legislators accountable.
“We definitely were not intending to ask people to do anything at the polls, and some of the ads were about folks that were unopposed so wouldn't even show up on a ballot," said Mary Maclean Asbill, attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center.
Of the lawmakers targeted — all Republicans — two state representatives lost their seats in November, one representative and one senator were unopposed, and the others, including Cook, won re-election despite the ads.
Cook, who faced former state Sen. Stan White, a Democrat Cook unseated in 2012, told the Center for Public Integrity in an email that he doesn't buy the NRDC's claims.
"The ads were to keep me from getting re-elected," he said.
Nonprofit backed Hagan
Also in North Carolina, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, another charitable nonprofit aimed at protecting the environment, spent an estimated $500,000 airing an ad that expressed support for U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat who lost her seat in November.
“Who’s behind the attacks on Kay Hagan? Oil industry billionaires, that’s who,” the ad intones. “They want to undermine the air safety standards that protect us, and Sen. Kay Hagan is working to stop them.”
The ad aired roughly 1,450 times between March 24 and April 13, a few weeks before the primary when Hagan faced two other Democrats, both considered longshots.
Apparently adhering to a federal law that regulates “electioneering” communications, the group filed a report with the Federal Election Commission disclosing the spending because the last week of the ad’s run was less than a month before North Carolina’s primary election. Yet the group still maintains the ad wasn’t political.
“The ad never endorsed her as a candidate,” said the group’s executive director, Stephen Smith. “For all practical purposes, Kay Hagan had no candidate opposing her in that, so it was not at all meant to influence any election.”
Larry Noble, former FEC general counsel, said the ads aired by all the groups fall into a legal gray area but come dangerously close to crossing the line into election politics.
“They’re on a spectrum,” said Noble, who is now an attorney at the Campaign Legal Center, which advocates for tighter campaign finance regulation. “It’s a question in part of whether they’re focused on a person or whether they’re focused on an issue.”
Another ad that appeared to test the limits was produced by the nonprofit Change Agent Consortium. It aired in Michigan touting a September rally about Detroit’s bankruptcy amid Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s ultimately successful re-election bid.
“When Gov. Snyder suspended home rule 18 months ago, he and his co-conspirators promised better jobs, safer neighborhoods and improved city services. Instead crime is up, our school system is under attack and our water’s shut off,” Change Agent Consortium founder the Rev. David Alexander Bullock says in the ad. “Join me Monday, Sept. 29, at 6 p.m. at Hart Plaza and say, ‘No,’ to Gov. Snyder’s takeover of Detroit.”
While the event may have been educational, the language used borders on telling people explicitly to vote against the Republican governor, Noble said after watching the ad.
But Bullock said the ad was not about the November election.
"We did not mention [Democratic gubernatorial candidate] Mark Schauer. We did not tell people to vote for Mark Schauer,” he said. “We didn't even tell people, ‘Don’t vote for Snyder.’”
Political or not?
In examining ads by charitable nonprofits, the IRS looks for references to a candidate — whether by name or not — and positions on “wedge” issues that are expected to turn the tide of a race, said Marcus Owens, an attorney at the Washington firm Caplin & Drysdale who previously oversaw the IRS division that regulates charities.
His firm represents the NRDC, so he declined to comment specifically on any of the ads in this story.
The IRS also considers a variety of contextual details, such as the timing of the message and whether it is consistent with the charity’s overarching mission, he said.
Unlike the FEC, which requires groups to report ads that name candidates within a certain window before an election, the IRS does not rely on specific time frames to determine whether an ad influences an election.
“When someone has been identified as a candidate and that person begins making campaign-style presentations, identifies a position on the issues, that person is a candidate under federal tax law, and so the campaign has begun,” Owens said.
Still, the likelihood that a charity would actually lose its tax-exempt status over a few political ads is pretty slim, said Brett Kappel, an attorney with the Washington firm Arent Fox. Someone could file a complaint with the IRS, but the investigators there are unlikely to jump to action.
"They're so afraid of their shadow right now — you know, because of congressional oversight — they'll put it on the pile and say, ‘Yep, we'll get to that in 2018, 2019, somewhere around there,’” he said.
Last month, New York City put up a site called Vision Zero View, which contains maps and data that depict the location of bicycle and car injuries and fatalities in the five boroughs of the city from 2009 to 2014. Amazingly, this site tells us that vehicular accidents occur on streets, with subtle variation in severity and frequency over five years!
Maps like these do help citizens to relate nightly news stories of traffic accidents to trends across the city. And seeing the events over the scale of five years is helpful. I commend the City for making this available. But it isn't enough. We need more data than this to understand how these incidents occur, why, and how they effect New Yorkers.
Here is what I want instead. I want the city to publish this data as open data in an online toolkit in which each traffic incident is a URI (Universal Resource Indicator) which contains linked data records with anonymized information about the incident and allows people to augment the city's records with information from their own experiences. The driver, a passenger, bystanders, policemen, or victim(s) should be able to tell their stories about what happened to them in each incident in prose, photos, video, news accounts, and public record. Accidents are significant events in people's lives and the city can transform dots and maps into a rich dialog.I hear all the time that we are drowning in too much data. No. We are walking in the shallows and the data barely cover our toes.
Data geeks should be able to add new data layers to the maps, providing more rich contextual information about the weather, time of day, visibility, commercial congestion, flow of traffic, alternate side of the street parking, speeding violations, and photos of the streets on the days of the accidents.
Developers should be able to add dynamic simulations to change the variables and test policy against the past, present, and future of accidents on real streets using historical and forecasted data.
Economists should be able to study the impact of traffic incidents on aggregate productivity, health costs, insurance claims, auto financing, and urban GDP. Social scientists should be able to trace the path of each accident to levels of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and monitor chain reactions in urban trauma and violence. Healthcare workers should be able to study the patient supply chain from accidents to ambulatory services, emergency room wait times, and treatment outcomes -- to prioritize services at different times of the year and day.
And journalists should be able to corroborate sources, fact check private media, and piece together stories from the data that provide narrative description of how seemingly random rivulets of chance errors and omissions stream together to create a CRASH of metal and flesh that transmogrifies lives forever.
Telling us that traffic accidents happen on streets over time is nice, but it's just the beginning of an Open Data Odyssey that governments, civil society, and other organizations must begin together to document and describe the tertiary impacts of these events, and many other events, on our collective experiences and lives in large urban ecosystems like New York.
I hear vendors tell customers all the time that we are drowning in too much data.
We are walking in the shallows and the data is barely covering our toes. We don't understand the world we live in, why things happen, and how policies shape what we want.
We need MUCH more data.
Steven Adler (@DataGov) is chief information strategist for IBM. He is an expert in data science and an innovator who has developed billion-dollar-revenue businesses in the areas of data governance, enterprise privacy architectures, and Internet insurance. He has advised governments and large NGOs on open government data, data standards, privacy, regulation, and systemic risk.
Here’s chapter 4 of Geeks Bearing Gifts: Imagining New Futures for News about news ecosystems and the New Jersey model, posted to Medium for free. A snippet:
This notion of an ecosystem can be confusing as we leave an era dominated by monolithic media — large, vertically integrated companies with tangible products, obvious control over scarce resources, and clear brands. Now we have this untidy hydra we call an ecosystem. No one is in charge. It has huge blank spots — there are 565 towns in New Jersey, each an opportunity for corruption needing a watchdog, and only a few dozen of them covered. There is no longer a single, simple business model: circulation + advertising. Quality and credibility are sometimes question marks. Surely, you say, this is not an improvement. Perhaps not yet, but it can be. My state is a blank slate where innovation and collaboration can bloom, where more voices than ever can be heard, where citizens can end up better informed and more engaged than they were. But to get there, the ecosystem needs help and its members need to help each other. Members of an ecosystem can share content, audience, and best practices. They can share effort on collaborative projects, accomplishing more together than they could alone. They can share revenue through joint advertising sales and other activities, like events. They can also save on expenses by pooling their purchasing power for space, technology, or services. Later, when I explore new efficiencies for news, I will examine the impact of the link on a news ecosystem: how it forces each member to specialize and concentrate on what it does best and how it enables every member of an ecosystem to link to its complementary colleagues. Members of an ecosystem eventually learn a Golden Rule of linking: Linking to others is a service to readers and a courtesy to the site that receives the link. Linking can and should be a virtuous circle.
Reporters Without Borders regrets that on 10 December, when the entire world was celebrating the 66th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Japanese government allowed a draconian law on state secrets, one that violates the constitution and limits media freedom, to take effect.
Passed a year ago by the Japanese parliament, the Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets (SDS) provides for sentences of up to 10 years in prison for whistleblowers who leak “state secrets” and for journalists and bloggers who report information they obtained “illegally” or sought from whistleblowers.
The new law is also dangerous because of the vagueness of the criteria used for classifying information as a “state secret” and the lack of transparency with which the government is allowed to act.
Reporters Without Borders supports the legal action taken by a group of 43 independent journalists – led by Yu Terasawa, a freelancer and Reporters Without Borders “Information Hero” – in an attempt to get the law overturned on the grounds of unconstitutionality.
In a statement released on 10 December (see below), the journalists said they are also now trying to rally a majority of parliamentarians in the Japanese Diet in an attempt to get the law repealed.
As well as arguing that the law is unconstitutional, they point out that the government pushed it through parliament a year ago regardless of strong public opposition and then, in October, ignored 24,000 online comments critical of the enforcement order and implementation guidelines.
“This law clearly violates Japan's constitution,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of he Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk. “By refusing to recognize the existence of the principle of general interest and by flouting the public's right of access to information, Prime Minster Shinzo Abe's government is taking Japan back 50 years.
“What if the nuclear power issue and the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster were classified, or if the government wanted to cover up a case of corruption? There is no provision for oversight of the government and the size of the possible jail terms would deter most journalists from investigating a classified subject.”
Ismaïl added: “We urge the government to repeal this draconian law as the group of 43 independent Japanese journalists have requested.”
Protests were already organized when the law was adopted in 2013. Another one was organized on 10 December outside the office of the prime minister, who claimed on 18 November that the law was concerned only with spying and terrorism, and not matters of general interest.
Japan is ranked 59th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
(Photo : Makiko Segawa)Statement by Japanese journalists about the legal action:
Tokyo Legal Action on Unconstitutionality of “The Secrets Law”
December 10th, 2014
Plaintiff's Group and Legal Team for The Secrets Law Legal Action
Today, December 10th, the Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets, or “The Secrets Law”, is enforced.
We have been taking legal action to try to stop enforcement of the law, due to its unconstitutionality. The enforcement of the law will not put an end to our efforts. In the days to come, we will continue our court challenge and attempt to win the case, and furthermore we are going to take stronger actions to insist on abolishment of the law.
“The Secrets Law” was passed forcibly last December, ignoring public opinion. Opinion polls conducted just after the enactment of the bill showed the majority of people were against it.
Then in October this year, the government ignored 24,000 public comments on the enforcement order and guidelines of “the Secrets Law”. Even though the enforcement order and guidelines still have significant issues such as vague designation criteria, they were endorsed by the Cabinet.
Bad laws are normally exposed over time, as their interpretation and implementation are extended. However, “the Secrets Law” has been contrary to the principle of the sovereignty of the people since the beginning.
The immediate concern after the enforcement of the law is the arbitrary designation of secrets by the government, with the accompanying erosion of the “freedom of the press” and people's “right to know”.
Furthermore, under Prime Minister Abe with his slogan of “Take Back Japan” and in the name of “the right of collective self-defense”, “the Secrets Law” will be a key in creating a regime “able to go war”.
A lot of information will be hidden under the cloak of the Secrets Law, and we can predict authorities will abuse power without oversight by the people. For instance, there is even the possibility of creating an autocratic regime outside the constitution, similar to the “Enabling Act” established in Germany under the Nazi regime.
To ensure this does not happen, we have to protect Japan's constitution which advocates the sovereignty of the people, pacifism, and respect for fundamental human rights, and we must abolish the mistake that is “the Secrets Law”.
It is never too late, even after the enforcement of the law. If a majority of Diet members are in favor, we can abolish the “Secrets Law” at any time. In addition to our legal action, we plaintiffs are going to do our best to work with fellow concerned citizens throughout Japan and the world to promote movements and public opinion for abolishment of this law.
Two weeks from now, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin will describe how he thinks the country’s first state-based single payer system will be financed. Whether the Green Mountain State keeps moving forward with its goal of achieving universal coverage while also reducing the growth of health care spending depends largely on how the state’s residents and businesses react to what Shumlin has in mind.
Vermont lawmakers passed a bill in May 2011 that set the state on the path toward single payer, but the bill left it up to Shumlin to figure out the financing. Although everyone has known from the beginning that the cash needed to operate the new system—estimated at $2 billion in its first year— will have to come from tax revenues, no one knows exactly what combination of taxes the administration favors.
Earlier this month, vtdigger.org reported that Shumlin would propose both an employer payroll tax and an increase in the state income tax. The money generated would then replace the premiums that employers and residents currently pay health insurance companies.
Even though Shumlin signed the single payer bill into law almost four years ago, Vermont can’t implement its plan until 2017 because the Affordable Care Act prohibits states from making significant changes to their health care systems until then. The ACA also stipulates that states will have to persuade the feds that any structural changes they want to make will not reduce the number of people with health insurance or increase costs.
The release of the Shumlin administration’s tax proposal will represent the insurance industry’s biggest opportunity to derail the state’s plans. Health insurers have reason to be concerned. Even though Vermont has just 627,000 residents, successful implementation of a single payer system there would show the rest of the country that health insurance companies are unnecessary middlemen that add costs rather than value.
The goal of the insurance industry will be to generate fear, uncertainty and doubt among the state’s residents and business owners. While polls continue to show that the proposed new system enjoys wide support, that support will erode if the industry and its allies win the messaging war.
It’s not likely, though, that the industry’s involvement in that war will be evident. I know from experience that insurers use organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Federation of Independent Business to carry out their PR campaigns. And they go to great lengths to hide their involvement. We probably would never have known that America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry’s main trade group, funneled more than $100 million to the Chamber to pay for TV ads designed to derail federal health care reform had it not been for diligent investigative reporters at the National Journal.
In anticipation of the unveiling of Shumlin’s plan, some of the state’s biggest employers are already expressing concerns. It gets complicated because large employers provide subsidized coverage to about 20 percent of the state’s population. The PR guy for National Life, a life insurance and financial services company, told Vermont Public Radio last week that “it’s difficult for us to imagine how this (single payer) works to the benefit of our employees.”
Knowing that insurers could easily derail his blueprint unless he had a strategy to counter their strategy, Shumlin last year formed a Business Advisory Council on Health Care Financing. The 21-member council “provides the governor with advice and information on health care financing based on the business experience of its members,” according to its website.
But Shumlin also has to make sure his plan meets the approval of the many single payer supporters who helped elect him. Soon after vtdigger.org broke the story about the governor’s financing plan, James Haslam, executive director of the Vermont Workers Center, a nonprofit that advocates for “an economically just and democratic Vermont,” said his group is concerned about how the proposed payroll tax will be levied.
Still, the advocates understand that implementing a single payer system is complicated, far more so than any of them ever imagined.
“We are finding out just how hard it is to disentangle ourselves from the grip of all the payers and special interests that have infested our health care system,” Dr. Deborah Richter, president of the nonprofit single-payer advocacy group Vermont Health Care for All, told me. “People need to be reminded that we will pay for health care with or without reform, but that we’ll in fact pay more without reform.
“This is our one chance to get this done,” she added. “This is our health care Halley’s Comet. The stars are aligned, and we won’t get another chance to fix health care in Vermont for a very long time.”
Sounds like something worth watching.
Wendell Potter is the author of Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans and Obamacare: What’s in It for Me? What Everyone Needs to Know About the Affordable Care Act.