Journalists take on European Parliament over MEP allowances

Journalism.co.uk - vr, 20/11/2015 - 13:41
The decision came after the institution denied journalists from all European Union member states access to records showing how members of the European Parliament spend their general allowance
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A simple hyperlocal experiment which shows how publishers can engage with different audiences

Online Journalism Blog - vr, 20/11/2015 - 13:00

Civic engagement? Most readers spent more than 30 minutes on the liveblog

On Monday I was involved in a fascinating experiment in civic engagement: 10 hyperlocal blogs all agreed to embed a liveblog of a hustings which would give inhabitants of the largest local authority in Europe an insight into the next council leader.

The liveblog itself was to be maintained by student contributors to the Birmingham Eastside news site. The decision to offer it out to hyperlocal sites across the city seemed obvious – so why aren’t publishers doing this regularly?

Technically simple, culturally hard

Vine Periscope Film Audio Photo Twitter Blogs Shared content with hyperlocals That's how to report an election hustings #brumleader

— NewsInBrum (@NewsinBrum) November 17, 2015

Technically it was simple: share a piece of embed code generated by free liveblogging service CoveritLive, and basic details about the event.

All the sites had to do was copy and paste the code into their own content management system.

Sutton Coldfield Local, Moseley B13 MagazineBournville NewsB31 Voices, Birmingham Updates, Tyburn Mail,  and Jewellery Quarter Neighbourhood Forum joined hustings organiser NewsinBrum in agreeing to use the embed code on their site.

Of course the technical element wasn’t the biggest issue: the experiment required all participants putting any ego to one side and handing over a small part of their site to a group of outsiders.

But it was in the service of a greater good: this was an important debate, with the future of the city at stake (there are concerns the Government could intervene in the city if one candidate is elected). The sites did not have the resources to cover the hustings themselves.

And hyperlocal sites are often built on a tradition of working with contributors for the benefit of the community.

The embed opportunity

I asked David Higgerson, who has been involved in many of the incentives to work with hyperlocals at Trinity Mirror – one of the more proactive publishers in this field – whether he was aware of any news organisations sharing embed codes in a similar way. Off the top of his head, he couldn’t. But, he addded:

“That’s not to say we won’t – indeed I think we would!”

Other newspaper groups were also unable to come up with similar examples.

As it happened, though, when Trinity Mirror first began working more closely with hyperlocals they shared their photos – a form of embedding, however basic (I’ll take it anyway).

Moving from embedding images to embedding liveblogs may be hampered by the fact that many liveblogs now use custom CMSs rather than embeds, but other opportunities still exist.

Live video streams for example: not just through dedicated services like Ustream and Bambuser, but also simpler ones like Google Hangouts On Air (which streams on your YouTube channel), Meerkat (since June) and Periscope (you can embed a Periscope live stream by pasting the ‘user profile’ embed code – or use a site like Embed Periscope)

Live audio streams can be broadcast from your mobile or laptop using a service like Spreaker, Mixlr, or Awdio.

And it doesn’t stop there.

Embedding visuals

Embed codes are used for many forms of data visualisation, from maps and charts to infographics and dashboards.

Once you create one of these – using services like Infogr.am, Tableau, Piktochart, CartoDB, and Google Fusion Tables – an update to the original will also update all of the embedded versions of that.

Indeed, Google Sheets’ built-in charts include a dynamic embed option which updates whenever the data on the spreadsheet changes.

Embedding social media discussions and curation

Individual social media updates are now regularly embedded in stories – but the associated discussions can be as well.

Storify, of course, is designed to curate coverage or commentary on an event, or any sort of discussion – and these stories come with their own embed code so they can be embedded anywhere.

Cultural not technical

Ultimately the hurdle to all of this is not technical, but cultural: having that desire to work with hyperlocals and the relationships to make it happen.

In Birmingham this does happen. Trinity Mirror Midlands editor-in-chief Marc Reeves notes of one local site:

“Paradise Circus was the first to call out the lack of transparency and engagement in the leadership election process, and we started talking to them about collaborating on a hustings.”

And it’s happened elsewhere too: Pits n Pots has shared liveblog embed code with local paper The Stoke Sentinel and fellow hyperlocals My Tunstall and 6 Towns Radio.

Michael Rawlins, who ran the site, says the most successful was the English Defence League demonstration:

“I think that was one of the first rolling live news feeds. We got in early with the hashtags and everyone started using them, the local press, BBC and the police. Our YouTube channel was the second most viewed ‘news channel’ for a couple of days after this.”

Should this be happening more often? As I told Journalism.co.uk, there are three main reasons why publishers should explore such arrangements:

  1. Brand-building: it demonstrates the news organisation’s commitment to its role within the city, not only providing a platform for civic engagement but working with other sites to make that platform as wide as possible. In other words, let’s say it is
  2. Relationship-building: with other sites which may lead to tip-offs, editorial collaborations and…
  3. Commercial opportunities: not just for advertising included in any embedded content (which may involve discussions about how any revenue might be shared fairly between partners) but also events, training and other partnerships.

At a time when most publishers are exploring distributed ‘platform publishing’ with powerful partners such as Facebook and Snapchat, they could be missing the opportunity on their doorstep.

*Footnote: Notably, the fact that the hustings happened at all came from a combination of bottom-up pressure from Paradise Circus’s petition, bottom-up organisation by Newsinbrum (which persuaded leadership candidates to take part in a hustings even while their party was prohibiting it) and top-down work by the Birmingham Post and Mail in persuading the Labour Party to reverse that ban on candidates taking part in public hustings. There’s something else there in the benefits of working with niche local sites.

Filed under: online journalism Tagged: Birmingham Eastside, Birmingham Post, david higgerson, embedding, Hyperlocal, liveblogging, marc reeves, Michael Rawlins, pits n pots, platform publishing, Sutton Coldfield Local, Trinity Mirror
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Apache.be - vr, 20/11/2015 - 12:53
'Ze hebben gelijk de woestijnelite, wat zijn we hoerig in het westen! Een giga Paard van Troje stallen, in ruil voor 900 man aan het werk' Chris Van Camp is geen vurige fan de Saudische investering in de Antwerpse haven.
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Franse oorlogsretoriek zonder grenzen

Apache.be - vr, 20/11/2015 - 12:23
'Nous sommes en guerre', verklaarde de Franse president François Hollande meermaals na de aanslagen in Parijs. 'We zijn in oorlog', echode het in Nederland en België. Het dramatisch effect van deze woorden ten spijt, is het onduidelijk wat ze betekenen. 'De uitspraak suggereert dat men IS-militanten op Europees grondgebied niet langer gaat zien als criminelen maar als onwettige strijders’, zegt professor internationaal recht, Tom Ruys.
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Constructieve oplossingsgerichte journalistiek speerpunt Windesheim

Villamedia Nieuws - vr, 20/11/2015 - 12:13
Windesheim in Zwolle wil zich onderscheiden van andere opleidingen journalistiek door van constructieve oplossingsgerichte journalistiek een van de speerpunten van de opleiding te maken. Daarom treedt per 1 december Cathrine Gyldensted in dienst, een…
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Aantal werkzoekenden al zeven maanden groeiende

Villamedia Nieuws - vr, 20/11/2015 - 11:39
Het aantal journalisten dat met hulp van het UWV op zoek is naar een nieuwe baan, is ook in oktober verder opgelopen. Dat maakt oktober de zevende maand op rij waarin het aantal journalisten dat als zoekende staat ingeschreven bij het werkbedrijf niet…
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GOP governors take cue from Obama on how to push policy

Public Integrity - vr, 20/11/2015 - 11:00

Two Republican governors are copying an unusual tactic from President Barack Obama’s political playbook: using pet political groups seeded by donors to push policies, not just candidates.

Political organizations tied to Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and Florida Gov. Rick Scott are diverging from the typical so-called leadership PACs used by federal lawmakers and some governors to amass power because they are not just giving campaign contributions to like-minded legislators. Instead they are pushing the governors’ legislative agendas with public campaigns far removed from the campaign trail.

The Rauner and Scott groups resemble that of another prominent chief executive facing resistant lawmakers: Obama’s Organizing for Action, a nonprofit formed from his former presidential campaign committees. The group has advocated for Obama’s legislative priorities, such as the Affordable Care Act.

At a time when money drives politics, these efforts offer a new way for wealthy outsiders and special interest groups to influence not just who is elected to office but actual policies.

“This just seems like another extension of how big money has become so much more prevalent in the process,” said Kent Redfield, a professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Springfield, where he works with the Institute for Legislative Studies.

Meanwhile newly formed groups in other states have announced that they, too, intend to support their respective governors’ policy priorities. They may follow the lead of the Illinois and Florida groups, with 2016 legislative sessions just around the corner.

Shortly after Rauner took office this year, Illinois political groups linked to the Republican governor began airing TV ads and sending out postcards criticizing longtime Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan as the state Legislature was gearing up for a vote on the state budget.

“Mike Madigan and the politicians he controls refuse to change,” the voiceover in a TV ad warns. “They’re saying 'no' to spending discipline, 'no' to job-creating economic reforms, 'no' to term limits. All they want is higher taxes. Again.”

It appears to be a typical campaign ad, except that it aired roughly seven months after Rauner and Madigan were both elected, and nine months before primary voters could next be asked to turn Madigan out of office. At the end, Rauner, speaking directly to the camera, doesn’t ask viewers to vote for or against anyone.

Illinoisans aren’t the only ones with front-row seats to these sorts of ads. In March, just four months after Scott’s re-election, a Florida group tied to the Republican governor called Let’s Get to Work began airing ads promoting Scott’s proposed $500 million in tax cuts.

More similar campaigns may be on the way. In February, a former legal adviser to Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley started a nonprofit called the Alabama Council for Excellent Government with a stated purpose of supporting the Republican’s agenda. And in June, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, unveiled the Rebuild Pennsylvania political action committee and seeded it with $50,000 of his own money. These two groups do not yet appear to have begun public campaigns.

To be sure, governors have used their own political action committees for years to back the campaigns of legislators who agree with them. Current iterations include Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s Common Good VA PAC, Republican New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez’s Susana PAC and Republican Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s recently created Relentless Positive Action PAC.

But ads like those in Illinois and Florida appear to be unconnected to any elections. Rather, the ads are a way for the governors to boost their images and to put public pressure on their legislatures to pass their agendas, according to Daniel Smith, a political science professor at the University of Florida.

“The reason we haven’t seen these sorts of things before is that we haven’t had such wealthy governors,” said David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University. “Just as these governors used their assets to get where they are, they are using them now to further their agendas.”

Rauner, who made a fortune in private-equity investments before running for governor, gave his campaign more than $38 million. The campaign account then used leftover money to push for some of his policies once in office.

And in April, two of Rauner’s former aides launched Turnaround Illinois, a state-registered political group that can accept unlimited contributions. The organization almost immediately received $250,000 from Rauner himself.

In 2010, when Let’s Get to Work was first established, the group received $12.8 million from a trust in Scott’s wife’s name. This money helped pay for the group’s ads supporting Scott’s 2010 and 2014 gubernatorial campaigns.

“It’s like electing one of the Koch brothers to be governor,” Redfield said.

The money backing them doesn’t just come from their own wallets, though. Rauner’s campaign attracted millions from Chicago hedge fund manager Ken Griffin and Richard Uihlein, the CEO of shipping materials giant Uline. Turnaround Illinois immediately raked in $4 million from Chicago real estate developer Sam Zell.

In 2015 alone, Let’s Get to Work received $200,000 from Jeffrey Vinik, owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team, and $100,000 each from Palm Beach multimillionaire Lawrence DeGeorge and Tampa businessman Daniel Doyle Jr. Top contributors to the group so far this year also include the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Walt Disney World Parks and Resorts.

Let’s Get to Work and Turnaround Illinois can accept lofty sums because the laws in both states allow unlimited contributions to these specific types of political groups.

“If the state has a $5,000-per-donor limit to a gubernatorial candidate and you can turn around and give $100,000 or $300,000 to a so-called independent PAC that in reality is closely tied to an office holder, that becomes a dangerous vehicle for influence,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of campaign finance reform group Democracy 21.

If the donors behind these groups lobbied legislators directly on state budgets or other policies, they would have to report their activities under the state lobbying rules.

Using such groups may also help obscure where the money is coming from and where it is going. Turnaround Illinois is able to bypass state laws requiring the group to quickly disclose its donors’ names and the details of its spending thanks to an affiliated, Washington-based nonprofit, Turnaround Illinois Inc.

State records show that Turnaround Illinois, the state-based committee, gave $1.5 million to Turnaround Illinois Inc. on June 12, four days before the first ad hit the airwaves, according to media tracker Kantar Media/CMAG.

What the Washington-based nonprofit does with that money, as well as the details of any other money it raises and spends, will remain a mystery until the group files its first report due to the Internal Revenue Service in 2016. However, Federal Communications Commission records indicate that the Washington-based arm paid for at least some, if not all, of the ads that ran in June.

Representatives of Let’s Get to Work and Rauner's office did not respond to requests for comment. Turnaround Illinois and Scott's office declined to comment.

Rauner and Scott also share the fact that they never held public office before reaching the governors’ mansions. This background may be part of the reason why these governors have taken this new approach to policy making, Smith said.

Smith contrasted Scott with current GOP presidential candidate and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush who served in various roles in Florida politics and government, then, as governor, acted as a mentor to then-Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio.

Bush “had full access to the Legislature and had personal relations with these members,” Smith said. “That’s really not the case with Rick Scott.”

These political groups aside, these governors may still employ more traditional political tactics, too.

“They’re still going to have their legislative liaisons who are putting pressure on the leadership,” Smith said. “They’re still going to be meeting with the leadership directly.”

After all, there’s no guarantee that the ads and mailers will sway public opinion the way the sponsors intend. Rauner and Illinois’ legislative leaders remain mired in a budget stalemate as of publication of this story.

“When you’ve got the kind of money that the governor has, both in his own fund and that he can command … then if it doesn’t turn out to be particularly effective, you can give the money back and go in a different direction,” Redfield said. “This is not about diverting scarce resources.”

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Bahrain - RSF demands justice for Bahraini journalist tortured in 2011

Reporters Without Borders - vr, 20/11/2015 - 10:45

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the Bahraini justice ministry's arbitrary decision not to prosecute those responsible for torturing the journalist Nazeeha Saeed in a police station in 2011. The main reason given is insufficient evidence.

Nazeeha Saeed, who is the Bahrain correspondent of the French TV news channel France 24 and Radio Monte Carlo Doualiya, learned of the decision on 15 November.

As a result, there will be no criminal proceedings against those who tortured and humiliated her for 13 hours at the Rifa'a police station when she responded to a summons for questioning about her coverage of pro-democracy demonstrations in Manama.

Reporters Without Borders is outraged by this decision by the special investigation unit that is responsible for monitoring and investigating human rights violations by the security forces.

This decision is unacceptable,” said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Middle East desk. “The way this case has dragged on for years with no tangible results shows a lack of any real desire to shed light on the matter. “Those responsible for these actions should be tried, as should those in the chain of command who are implicated. We call on the authorities to take the necessary measures to bring these years of impunity to an end.”

“I am dismayed that I am unable to obtain justice in my country despite all the evidence I provided,” said Saeed, who is demanding a new investigation into the actions of the police because she says her case is well documented and she has all the necessary proof and information.

Reporters Without Borders has been defending Saeed for years as part of itsfight against impunity for crimes against journalists. On 2 November, International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, Reporters Without Borders renamed the Parisian street where the Bahraini embassy is located, calling it “Nazeeha Saeed Street.”

Saeed's case offers an insight into the way the police treat journalists in her country.

Eight journalists and five citizen-journalists are currently detained in Bahrain, according to a Reporters Without Borders tally. They include the famous photojournalist Ahmed Humeidan and freelance photographer Sayed Ahmed el Mousawi.

After repeated postponements, Mousawi's trial is now scheduled to begin on 23 November. Badly tortured while in prison, he is facing a possible sentence of five to ten years in prison on charges of giving SIM cards to “terrorist” protesters and taking photos of anti-government demonstrations.

Bahrain is ranked 115th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

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NPO programma’s toegankelijker voor blinden met audiodescriptie

Villamedia Nieuws - vr, 20/11/2015 - 10:41
Met behulp van audiodescriptie-techniek wil de Nederlandse Publieke Omroep (NPO) een aantal van zijn televisieprogramma’s toegankelijker gaan maken voor blinden en slechtzienden. Met behulp van de technologie worden films en series begeleid met…
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France - National Assembly eliminates media controls from state of emergency law

Reporters Without Borders - vr, 20/11/2015 - 10:26

Reporters Without Borders welcomes the amendment passed yesterday by the National Assembly eliminating all media censorship provisions from the 1955 law that regulates states of emergency in France.

The amendment was adopted shortly after the National Assembly approved a three-month extension to the state of emergency that President François Hollande declared the day after the 13 November attacks in Paris.

Even if they were never applied, these provisions posed a threat to freedom of information in France and we welcome the government's decision to eliminate them for good,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.

As well as imposing controls on the media, the law allowed the police to search the offices of journalists, judges and elected officials without having to request permission from a court. This provision has also been eliminated.

A group of around 20 parliamentarians led by National Assembly vice-president Sandrine Mazetier (a member of the Socialist Party), tried to block the amendment, but their proposal was rejected. The grounds they gave for opposing the change were “the shortcomings observed in media coverage” of January's Paris attacks.

Article 11 of the 1955 law allowed the authorities to “take all measures to ensure control of the press and publications of all kinds, as well as radio broadcasts, cinema screenings and theatre performances.”

In a directive issued on 14 November, interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve had told prefects that this provision and a provision increasing the role of military courts should be excluded from the state of emergency declared after the previous day's attacks, of which the provisional toll is 129 dead and 350 wounded.

The extension to the current state of emergency will take effect on 26 November and will last until midnight on 25 February, according to the text adopted yesterday. Reporters Without Borders undertakes to monitor media freedom issues closely throughout the state of emergency.

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CPJ vraagt om vrijlating Egyptische journalist

Villamedia Nieuws - vr, 20/11/2015 - 10:13
De afgelopen zaterdag in Egypte gearresteerde journalist Abdelrahman Abu Ouf moet zo snel mogelijk worden vrijgelaten. Dat stelt het Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in een brandbrief aan de Egyptische overheid. Aba Ouf werkt als adjunct-hoofdredacteur…
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Psyche Mediaprijs voor Elena Lindemans en Isa Hoes

Villamedia Nieuws - vr, 20/11/2015 - 09:23
Elena Lindemans en Isa Hoes hebben donderdag ieder een Psyche Mediaprijs 2015 gewonnen. Lindemans, programmamaker, presentator en regisseur bij de VARA won de publieksprijs voor haar documentaire ‘Moeders…
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Journalisten dagen Europees Parlement om bonnetjes

Villamedia Nieuws - vr, 20/11/2015 - 09:01
Een groep journalisten sleept het Europees Parlement voor de rechter, omdat het weigert inzage te geven in de toelage-bestedingen van europarlementariërs. Dat meldt…
Categorieën: Extern nieuws

Nieuwe online tv-zender S1 live

Villamedia Nieuws - vr, 20/11/2015 - 09:00
S1.tv, de nieuwe internetzender van SBS, is donderdag live gegaan. De in augustus aangekondigde zender verzamelt online video’s van verschillende plekken en bundelt deze op één streamingkanaal. De programmering is in handen van 25 jonge videomakers,…
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Koro* 20 nov ’15

Apache.be - vr, 20/11/2015 - 08:57
KORO (Chinees zelfstandig naamwoord. De hysterische overtuiging dat je penis steeds kleiner wordt). Het rubriekje van Bert Verhoye waarin onze hysterische wereld geconfronteerd wordt met problemen, die geen problemen zijn. Met vandaag de realiteit die Koro heeft ingehaald.
Categorieën: Extern nieuws

Linda.TV ook op Net5

Villamedia Nieuws - vr, 20/11/2015 - 08:57
Het onlangs gelanceerde Linda.TV krijgt een timeslot op SBS-zender Net5. Dat maakte SBS Broadcasting donderdag bekend bij de presentatie van zijn winterprogrammering. De zender gaat iedere week een selectie laten zien van het beste uit Linda.TV, een…
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European Parliament Taken to Court by Journalists from all EU

Global Investigative Journalism Network - vr, 20/11/2015 - 08:52

Part of the team of 29 journalists met during the Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Lillehammer. Kristof Clerix/MO*

For the first time, journalists representing all European member states have teamed up to file complaints with the European Court of Justice against the European Parliament (EP). The institution refused to grant the journalists’ requests for access to information related to how the 751 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) spend their allowances. Journalists filed complaints with the Court of Justice on 13 November.*

The team of 29 journalists requested four years of copies of spending records of MEPs representing their respective countries. Specifically, they asked for documents regarding the money MEPs receive on top of their salaries, including a general allowance, travel allowance, daily subsistence, and funds for staffing. But the EP refused to open these expenditures to public scrutiny.

This European-wide freedom of information initiative – The MEPs Project – was formed in June when journalists representing all members of the EU teamed up and requested access to EP documents showing how, when, and for what MEPs spent their general, travel, daily, and staff allowances.

In 2014, according to the EP, 27 percent of the Parliament’s 1.756 billion euro budget was dedicated to MEPs' expenses. This yearly amount of more than 474 million euros consists of their salaries, costs for travel, offices, and the pay of personal assistants. The European public is entitled to know how almost half a billion euros of its taxes are being spent. The European Parliament spends 3.2 million euros each month solely on MEPs' general expenditure allowance (almost 40 million euros per year). No one is monitoring this spending. Meanwhile the MEPs, who are the only elected representatives of European citizens, have repeatedly voted down efforts to regulate this issue.

In September, the European Parliament denied all of the journalists’ requests for access to information on the grounds of personal data protection, as well as an allegedly excessive workload that granting access to these documents could cause. The EP also said it did not hold any documents related to how MEPs spent their general allowances.

The journalists are now turning to the European Court of Justice, seeking redress for the fact that the EP fails in its proclaimed function as the guardian of transparency, and thus disregards the Treaty of the EU.

“By simply denying access to requested documents the European Parliament is effectively granting MEPs the right to secretive public spending and giving them full immunity from public monitoring of their dealings," said the team’s lawyer Nataša Pirc Musar, Slovenia’s former Information Commissioner. "We argue that the reasons given to the reporters for denying their requests have no basis in any European regulation,”

“The MEPs Project is unprecedented," added The MEPs Project’s leader, Slovenian journalist Anuška Delić. "This is the first known European-wide collaboration of journalists in the area of freedom of information, specifically regarding access to what we believe are inarguably public records of a European body. The MEPs’ allowances are intended to be spent exclusively for their professional, not personal needs, and should thus not be allowed to remain hidden from the European public,”

*Note: The complaint concerning Irish MEPs will be filed in due course.

The Team of 29 journalists include representatives of five GIJN member organizations: atlatszo.hu, the Czech Center for Investigative Journalism, Investigative Reporting Denmark, Investigative Reporting Project Italy, and re:Baltica. The full Team Statement and List of Members are available here.

Categorieën: Extern nieuws

Nieuwe commercieel directeur voor VNU Vacature Media

Villamedia Nieuws - vr, 20/11/2015 - 08:51
VNU Vacature Media, onderdeel van De Persgroep, heeft per 1 januari een nieuwe commercieel directeur. Lena Olivier, voormalig head of talent solutions bij LinkedIn Benelux, wordt vanaf dat moment verantwoordelijk voor de verdere ontwikkeling van de…
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Brazilian Publisher Bids Farewell to Playboy

10000 words - vr, 20/11/2015 - 01:30

For 40 years, the Brazilian edition of Playboy has been published by Editora Abril. But with the December issue, the division of Grupo Brasil is bringing that relationship to an end.

“Abril is exiting all licensed agreements, and have closed or sold more than 20 magazine titles in the last two years,” a U.S. rep for Playboy tells FishbowlNY. “Playboy fully intends to remain in Brazil with a new partner that will begin publishing in 2016. We expect to make an announcement very soon.”

There are currently 22 other international editions of Playboy. Elsewhere in Central and South America, the magazine has licensing deals in Mexico, Argentina and Venezuela.

In Portuguese or any other language, old covers of Playboy look vintage. Somewhat intriguingly, Editora Abril, which is one of South America’s largest media holding companies, was founded in 1950 – three years before Hef rolled out Playboy in Chicago. In the early 1990s, Abril’s Playboy edition was selling over a million copies per month.

[Image via: Instagram]
Categorieën: Extern nieuws

Congressman-auto dealer accused of conflict of interest

Public Integrity - do, 19/11/2015 - 21:11

Nov. 19, 2015: This story has been updated to include comment from U.S. Rep. Roger Williams of Texas.

Buried deep within a massive transportation bill that passed the House of Representatives is a little-noticed provision that won’t have much effect on highway projects, but is of great interest to automobile dealers.

The provision, an amendment offered just before midnight on Nov. 11, would allow dealers to rent or loan out vehicles even if they are subject to safety recalls. Rental car companies, meanwhile, don’t get the same treatment under the proposed law.

In essence, the amendment would allow an auto dealer to loan you a vehicle under active recall while you are getting your own fixed for the same defect.

The man who offered the amendment is no stranger to car dealerships. In fact, that’s his business. Rep. Roger Williams, a Texas Republican, sponsored the amendment. In introducing it on the floor of the House, he noted, “I am a second-generation auto dealer. I have been in the industry most of my life. I know it well.”

The possibility that his action might be considered a conflict of interest was apparently not on his mind, though it certainly occurred to others.

“It seems to me that if it isn’t illegal, if it isn’t an ethics violation it ought to be,” said Rosemary Shahan, president of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, a consumer group. “His amendment benefits nobody but car dealers. And he’s a car dealer.”

The rental car provision in the legislation, which is also in the Senate bill, was spurred by the deaths of Raechel and Jacqueline Houck, ages 24 and 20. The two sisters were killed in 2004 while driving a rented, recalled vehicle that caught fire and crashed head-on into a semi, according to consumer groups that have backed the rental car proposal.

Williams’ amendment would make the act apply only to companies whose “primary” business is renting cars, which would effectively exclude dealerships. No such provision exists in the Senate bill.

The amendment received little attention in the press, which may have been due to the late hour it was offered.

“It was the House floor, almost midnight, there was hardly anyone there,” said Shahan. It passed on a voice vote.

Speaking in favor of the amendment on the floor that night was another auto dealer, Rep. Mike Kelly, a Pennsylvania Republican who sells Chevrolets, Cadillacs, Hyundais and KIAs in Butler.

“There is not a single person in our business that would ever put one of our owners in a defective car or a car with a recall,” he said.

In an emailed statement, Kelly said as chairman of the House automotive caucus he is "always proud to advance a legislative agenda that encourages a competitive and innovative automotive sector that employs millions of Americans.This often means weighing in with my personal expertise on relevant bills, regulations, and, in this case, amendments."

According to Williams’ congressional biography, he was drafted by the Atlanta Braves but after an injury ended his sports career he “decided to trade in his baseball uniform for a suit and tie” and become a car dealer. “More than forty years later, Williams still owns and operates his car dealership,” it reads.

Williams is chairman of Chrysler Dodge Jeep RAM SRT in Weatherford, Texas. In his remarks on the House floor, Williams said the bill was bad for small businesses.

“Vehicles would be grounded for weeks or months for such minor compliance matters as an airbag warning sticker that might peel off the sun visor or an incorrect phone number printed in the owner’s manual,” he said.

Democratic Rep. Lois Capps of California didn’t agree with that reasoning, however.

“This is ridiculous. NHTSA (National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration) does not issue frivolous recalls,” she said. “All safety recalls pose serious safety risks and should be fixed as soon as possible.”

Members use the House “Code of Conduct” in guiding their actions. One section appears to be relevant. A member can’t receive compensation where “the receipt of which would occur by virtue of influence improperly exerted from the position of such individual in Congress.”

The House ethics manual states that “whenever a Member is considering taking any such action on a matter that may affect his or her personal financial interests,” he or she should contact the House Ethics Committee for guidance.

A spokesman for the House Ethics Committee declined comment.

(Update, Nov. 19, 2015, 3:06 p.m.: Williams, in a statement released after publication of this story said: "Dealers should not be forced to ground vehicles for a misprint or a peeled sticker. To suggest my amendment allows me, or anyone in my industry, to intentionally loan a dangerous, defective car is a damning assertion."

The congressman said members should be able to use their business knowledge in their jobs on Capitol  Hill. "Are Members of Congress who are doctors engaged in conflicts of interest when they vote on Medicare, Medicaid or NIH [National Institutes of Health] funding?" he asked.)

The Senate and House have both passed six-year transportation bills and a conference committee is scheduled to meet Wednesday to iron out any differences. The auto dealer loophole will almost certainly be part of the discussion.

A final bill isn’t expected for some time. A new deadline for passage, initially Friday, was extended by the House to Dec. 4.

This story was co-published with the Texas Tribune.

Categorieën: Extern nieuws