Reporters Without Borders provided funding for two round-table meetings that local journalists' groups organized for media personnel in the cities of Butembo and Goma, in the Democratic Republic of Congo's eastern province of Nord-Kivu, on 3 May, World Press Freedom Day.
The subject for debate at the meetings was “Speaking without fear and guaranteeing press freedom in all the media.” The meetings also provided an opportunity for dialogue with the authorities, who were invited to attend.
“We are proud to have supported journalists in Butembo and Goma,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “We hail the vitality and commitment of the Nord-Kivu journalistic community and we take note of the active participation by regional officials in these debates.
“Given the complexity of the environment for the media in the eastern DRC, we fervently hope that these World Press Freedom Day meetings will have helped to establish the bases for a constructive dialogue that will enable all of Nord-Kivu's journalists to work freely and safely.”
Recent months have been particularly difficult for the media in the eastern DRC. Caught in the crossfire between government troops and militias fighting for control of the Kivu region, local media and journalists have been constantly hounded during the past six months. The many violations of freedom of information in Nord-Kivu have included the illegal suspension of broadcasting by radio stations in Goma in November, the ransacking of media offices, and other forms of harassment by M23 rebels, as well as arbitrary arrests of journalists by both government forces and militias.
More than 100 journalists took part in the round-table organized in Butembo. The local officials attending included the city's mayor, who delivered the opening address.
A painting specially done for the event was signed by the mayor and representatives of eight Butembo journalists' organizations as a symbol of the debates and the mutual undertakings by local authorities and media. On behalf the authorities, the mayor undertook to respect media rights and freedoms, while the journalists reaffirmed their commitment to media ethics and professional conduct. The mayor reportedly plans to name one of the city' streets as “Media Freedom Street” by the end of May.
The discussions focussed on the situation of the media in Nord-Kivu, the consequences for the media of the fighting between rebels and government forces, and the situation of women journalists. Widely covered by the local media, the event ended with a consensus among the various local journalists' organizations, one that could pave the way for the creation of a single platform capable of voicing the concerns and demands of Butembo's journalists.
Support in Goma for detained journalist
Representatives of the National Union of the Congolese Press of Nord-Kivu were among the journalists participating in the event in Goma, which local government officials also attended.
The discussions focussed above all on security issues, respect for journalists' rights, and media ethics, with frequent reference being made to the reports on freedom of information in the DRC published by Reporters Without Borders and its partner organization, Journalist in Danger.
The case of Blaise Bahisha, a journalist detained by the Nord-Kivu military court since 17 April, was debated at length, in part because it is a good illustration of the kind of problem the media have to endure in the eastern DRC.
All the journalists attending the meeting expressed their support for Bahisha and called for his release. The military prosecutor in charge of his case, who also attended the meeting, said he was awaiting instructions from Kinshasa on how to proceed with the case.
This action was made possible by the support of The French Development Agency (FDP)
This piece at Forbes about Boston journalist Justin Rice is interesting for a few reasons:
— It describes how Justin, a few years back, started an independent, no-revenue site called BPSsports that covered high school sports in the urban Boston public schools — something local media wasn’t particularly interested in covering. After building it up, it was scooped up by The Boston Globe, where it lives on as BPS Sports Blog at Boston.com, with Justin still serving as lead writer. It’s a nice example of the value of just starting something and of the opportunities that can open up.
Rice didn’t approach his innovative gig by knocking on doors in a traditional way. He nabbed it by doing the work of BPSsports himself, at first, creating a proof of concept that eventually paid off. He showcased the potential. He eventually reaped the rewards. In that, there’s a time-tested entrepreneurial tradition, but there’s also a takeaway specifically for writers looking to make their own beat, especially in an age of digital news.
“Just jump in and don’t hesitate,” Rice said. “If you truly want to occupy a new niche, then you’ve got to claim that niche as quickly as possible, before anyone else does. Throw up what you can, do as much as you can with it. If it truly is a niche, somebody else is going to be interested.”
— We know Justin around here — he wrote a four-part series for Nieman Lab on the impact of sports networks becoming their own media outlets way back in 2009.
— The story isn’t actually straight Forbes journalism — it’s part of its Forbes BrandVoice program that lets brands “post interesting and relevant content on Forbes.com while tapping into the social web through Forbes’ powerful, search optimized publishing platform.” So this piece was presented by…John Hancock, which I guess wants you to think of it whenever you think of urban high school sports? (James O’Brien is listed as the author.)
This is the happiest sort of sponsored content — the story has nothing to do with John Hancock and has seemingly no attachment to John Hancock’s business interests. (You don’t see that on all of John Hancock’s sponsored Forbes content — like a story about the wonders of homeownership or one about why you should “check in with your financial advisor at least once a year” about your 401(k).)
We hear about it when sponsored content goes wrong, and there are plenty of landmines that need navigating. But it’s also worth noting when sponsored content checks in as somewhere between “inoffensive” and “nice.”
Next week, the musical world will experience a huge event: eight years after their last album, master of dance music Daft Punk will drop their much-hyped album, Random Access Memories. Music website Pitchfork has honored that with an amazing, immersive feature that evokes the immersive nature of the buzzy New York Times piece, “Snowfall.”
Offering a rare glimpse into the largely private world of Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, and it achieves it best with strong visual elements that only new media can provide. Taking advantage of HTML5 and GIFs, the layout of the piece flows smartly and shows a lot more editorial flair than the standard feature.
New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.
Vlaamse ministers van Cultuur en Media ijveren voor een divers en stimulerend Europees audiovisueel beleid
Outrage at seizure of AP records: The journalism and media world was collectively seething in a way you don’t often see this week after the Associated Press revealed that the U.S. Department of Justice had secretly obtained more than two months of phone records from more than 20 of its journalists’ work and home lines. The government hasn’t publicly said what they’re looking for, but it’s widely believed to be part of their investigation into the leaker behind the AP’s story last year about a foiled Yemeni bomb plot. The two best explanations of the situation come from Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon and Free Press’ Josh Stearns.
The DOJ has moved quickly to defend itself publicly (and to deflect some attention): It wrote a letter to the AP claiming it had the legal right to make the seizure, which drew an indignant response from the AP. Its head, Attorney General Eric Holder, held a press conference in which he emphasized the seriousness of the leak being investigated — and also told NPR he wasn’t sure how many times his department had seized such records of journalists. Holder also testified before Congress, and the White House pushed to revive a media shield bill that would require the government to notify news organizations before their records were seized, allowing them to fight it in court (with some exceptions).
New Yorker attorney Lynn Oberlander and Jeffrey Hermes of the Digital Media Law Project both reviewed the law behind the case, finding that while the DOJ might be able to argue for the legality of its actions, it probably violated its own (non-binding) policy for such seizures by not informing the AP beforehand or getting judicial review. This case, as Hermes argued, “called attention to the fact that the DOJ’s Media Policy has significant problems with transparency, accountability, and scope.” The Washington Post’s Timothy B. Lee marveled at the fact that the DOJ’s actions are probably completely legal, and warned of the implications for all cell phone and email users.
Other writers provided some historical context: The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple looked at a couple of past cases to illustrate the difference made when the government gives prior notice, and also examined the long-term effects of its 2001 seizure of an AP reporter’s records. Techdirt’s Mike Masnick, meanwhile, noted how the DOJ has abused its supposedly careful process for record seizure in the past.
Journalists were virtually universally outraged, as The Huffington Post’s Jack Mirkinson chronicled in a pair of posts. The DOJ’s actions were condemned as a violation of the freedom of the press in pieces from journalists and observers ranging from The New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan, Poynter’s Al Tompkins, Free Press’ Josh Stearns, and Slate’s Emily Bazelon. The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, as is his wont, placed the seizure in the context of the Obama administration’s ongoing attacks on civil liberties, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation sounded a warning to all of us about the privacy of the communication we entrust to third parties.
Marcy Wheeler of Salon broke down the administration’s rationale for the leak investigation, arguing that it was motivated by resentment at the AP for pre-empting a planned announcement, and Techdirt’s Mike Masnick concurred that it was driven more by embarrassment than national security concern. Reuters’ Jack Shafer explained why the government may not have been concerned so much about the AP story’s content as the potential damage from its source.
Snooping with Bloomberg terminals: The DOJ’s seizure wasn’t the only snooping story in journalism this week, though journalists were the offender rather than the victim in the other one. The financial news service Bloomberg came under scrutiny with reports that executives from Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase have confronted Bloomberg over reporters’ use of its terminals to track terminal usage by their companies’ employees. Reporters’ access to that information has since been cut off, but the FDIC, Federal Reserve, and Treasury Department are all examining the situation. Not only that, but the Financial Times reported (paywalled; here’s The Verge summarizing it) that thousands of confidential terminal messages had inadvertently been available online for years, though they’ve now been taken down.
A bit of background on Bloomberg’s terminals: They’re everywhere in the financial services industry, and they’re by far the largest share of Bloomberg’s revenue. Their primary purpose is to track financial data and news, but they can also be used to send messages, and its users’ login and customer service data is available to Bloomberg reporters. Bloomberg News editor-in-chief Matthew Winkler downplayed what information reporters have access to through the terminals, but noted that they’ve used that data as a feedback to tailor their reporting since the early days of the company.
The Wall Street Journal’s William Launder went into deeper detail on the historical intertwining between journalists and the terminals’ financial data, and Quartz’s Zachary Seward gave a fuller picture of exactly what Bloomberg reporters can see regarding the terminals’ users. BuzzFeed’s Peter Lauria reported that a Bloomberg anchor had been disciplined in 2011 for making on-air comments about using terminal data to track a source, and The New York Times’ Amy Chozick reported that Bloomberg reporters did talk about using terminal data to help break news. Nitasha Tiku of Gawker gave some more details about how the terminals were used in reporting and the information Bloomberg reporters store and share about their sources.
Some observers debated about how big of a deal this snooping was. Both Adam Penenberg of PandoDaily and The Daily Beast’s Stuart Stevens compared it negatively to News Corp.’s phone-hacking scandal, but the Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum and The Guardian’s Heidi Moore noted that reporters couldn’t get that much information from the terminals, and, as Moore argued, were simply mining data for any minute advantage in the same way their clients were.
The most insightful piece on the issue came from Quartz’s Zachary Seward, who wrote that the ability to see customers’ data was an open secret, a feature rather than a bug for a company built on a borderline obsessive culture of external secrecy and internal “transparency.” “Data comes into the company—as much as possible, from wherever possible—but it doesn’t leave because, at Bloomberg, information is money,” Seward wrote.
Former Bloomberg reporter Arik Hesseldahl of All Things D also detailed how deeply ingrained this surveillance is at Bloomberg, and Reuters’ Felix Salmon argued that Bloomberg’s terminal system is essentially a social network, where, like Facebook, users trade their data for the value the network provides. The Washington Post’s Neil Irwin wondered if Bloomberg’s model is ripe for disruption, and The New York Times’ David Carr tied together the DOJ and Bloomberg scandals, noting that spying is more of a two-way street than journalists like to acknowledge.
The struggle over online video: There were a few interesting developments on the online video front worth keeping an eye on this week: ABC announced that it would begin livestreaming its feed through its iPad and iPhone apps to users in the area of some of the local stations it owns. It’s the first time a network has offered any type of live mobile streaming, but it’s not as much of a step forward in accessibility as you might think: It’s only available to cable and satellite subscribers, despite the fact that it’s a free over-the-air signal.
GigaOM’s Janko Roettgers looked more closely at the technology behind live streaming and how it’s cleared the hurdles that have held it back in the past. He noted the ways in which the service contrasts with that of Aereo, the service that lets subscribers access streaming network TV on mobile devices, much to the consternation of media executives. Aereo, meanwhile, has simplified its price structure and is expanding from New York into Boston and Atlanta. CNNMoney’s Julianne Pepitone said despite the moves by ABC and Aereo, live online TV is still a ways off from becoming a reality for most people.
Elsewhere in online video, YouTube debuted its subscription channels last Friday, and as Peter Kafka of All Things D pointed out, it’s almost entirely devoid of both big-media players and YouTube-native stars. The Guardian’s Dan Gillmor questioned whether people will want to pay for what’s offered, and Janko Roettgers of paidContent argued that the key is finding content whose market neatly intersects with YouTube’s.
A new Strongbox for leaks: The New Yorker this week launched Strongbox, a method of securely submitting sensitive information to the magazine, designed by recently deceased digital activist Aaron Swartz and former hacker and Wired editor Kevin Poulsen. It’s a pretty complicated process, involving the anonymity network Tor, encryption, and multiple computers and thumb drives. Poulsen explained Swartz’s role in creating the underlying code for the process, known as DeadDrop.
The most useful analysis of Strongbox comes from Source, where several journalist/developers discussed its advantages and limitations, generally finding it to be a helpful tool that’s nonetheless not silver bullet for security, and which may be too complex for many people to use. You can also see some early optimism about Strongbox’s viability in posts by the Village Voice’s Sydney Brownstone and Trevor Timm of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, with Timm calling it the most promising leak submission system since WikiLeaks.
Reading roundup: A few other stories to check out this week:
— Protests against the possible sale of the Tribune Co.’s newspapers to the conservative billionaire Koch brothers continued this week in Los Angeles, with another one planned for Orlando. Tribune Co. CEO Peter Liguori, however, tried to reassure employees that a sale of the papers wasn’t a foregone conclusion. Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi said stopping the Kochs from buying the papers is something unions should do, while Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon said their potential influence may be overblown.
— Poynter’s Rick Edmonds reported on surprising new research finding that 92 percent of the time spent consuming news is on legacy platforms — print, radio, TV — rather than computers or mobile devices. Mathew Ingram of paidContent contested the usefulness of the data in illustrating the current state of media consumption.
— At MediaShift Idea Lab, Brian Moritz gave four lessons for journalism students from his experiences at Syracuse working with the cutting edge of digital technology, such as drones, 3D printers, and immersive virtual reality tools.
— Finally, NYU professor Jay Rosen laid out a blueprint for a networked beat, focusing on how it might work at The Atlantic’s business news site Quartz. He also talked to paidContent’s Mathew Ingram about his ideas for how to rework the beat with the public at the center.
Photo of phone console at AP’s Washington bureau by AP/Jon Elswick. Photo of Bloomberg terminal by Ryan Wang.
Since U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins moved back home from Ottawa in 2009, he’s reclaimed his role as liaison between the U.S. and its northern neighbor.
But this time, Wilkins — the Bush Administration’s top diplomat in Canada from 2005 to 2009 — is working for the Great White North, lobbying the U.S. federal government on behalf of Canadian business and government entities.
And last week, Wilkins parlayed his former ambassadorship into a job lobbying Congress on behalf of the Toronto-based Investment Industry Association of Canada, according to reports filed with the U.S. Senate.
Does Wilkins’ latest circuit through the international revolving door create conflict of interest or the appearance of one? No, Wilkins told the Center for Public Integrity, saying he “respectfully disagreed” with such a notion.
“As U.S. ambassador, I advocated for the U.S.-Canada relationship,” Wilkins said. “I do the same thing today, but in the private sector.”
The South Carolina native has lobbied on behalf of handful of Canadian interests since 2009, when he joined the Washington-based firm Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, LLP as partner and chair of the public policy and international law practice group.
Last year, the provincial government of Saskatchewan spent $400,000 to hire Wilkins and his associates to advocate for province’s energy exports and cross-border food safety. That same year, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers spent $240,000 for Nelson Mullins to lobby Capitol Hill regarding Canada’s oil sands industry, records indicate.
Additionally, Wilkins has sat on the board of the Toronto Island-based Porter Airlines since April 2009, according to a Financial Post report.
Wilkins is not the only former U.S. diplomat to represent a foreign entity on Capitol Hill.
Jim Blanchard, an ambassador to Canada during the Clinton administration, advocated for the Forest Products Association of Canada in in 2009.
The Republic of India hired Robert Blackwill — a Bush Administration ambassador to India — to lobby Congress and federal agencies on the U.S.-India civil nuclear agreements, records show.
Wilkins says he has not breached any ethical standards by lobbying for Canadian industry because he has not engaged in any lobbying issue that he was “actively involved” with as ambassador.
The bulk of his pro-Canada advocacy has been devoted to facilitating meetings and lining up press opportunities when Canadian officials visit Washington, Wilkins said.
“There is no conflict of interest, because I’m not advocating on any position that I was actively involved in as a U.S. ambassador.”
The Province of Alberta had, however, hired Wilkins to lobby Congress on "issues impacting Alberta's forestry industry" — an area with which he became familiar while for a time overseeing the decades-long U.S.-Canada lumber trade dispute as ambassador.
Since 2010, Alberta has spent $480,000 for Nelson Mullins lobbying services, including those of Wilkins. Officials from the Alberta and Saskatchewan governments did not reply to requests for comment.
Wilkins said that his most recent work for a Canadian client, the Investment Industry Association of Canada, was consigned to a “one afternoon deal,” meet and greet with the association’s President and CEO Ian Russell and members of the House Financial Services Committee.
“When it came to Congress, we needed to have Nelson Mullins provide us with a little bit of help to meet the right congressional leaders,” Russell said.
During typical visits to Washington, D.C., IIAC officials meet with individual regulators in the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commissions, but this trip was focused on educating members of Congress on the association’s agenda of regulatory reform and Canada’s securities markets, he said.
Wilkins, who works out of a Greenville, S.C., office, said was not present for those meetings and said that the lobbyist registration form filed on behalf of IIAC was submitted in “an abundance of precaution” to ensure transparency in Nelson Mullins’ dealings — however limited — with Canadian trade group.
“We were not advocating for any specific law or bill,” Wilkins said of the visit. “I don’t anticipate any ongoing lobbying effort.”
IFJ Denounces Attempts by Freedom of Expression Group to Weaken Copyright Protection for Journalists
The Tribune Company is looking at potentially selling its newspapers, and one Indiegogo project from The Other 98% wants to “put the ‘free’ back in ‘free press’” by crowdfunding the money to purchase the media conglomerate. The price tag? Oh, you know, only $660 million. Today they are just over $60,000, with 30 days remaining in the campaign. continued…
New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.
Universities around the world are teaching a relatively new subject – entrepreneurial journalism.
The revolutionary changes reshaping journalism have driven the industry to search for new financial models and respond to marketplace demands. Journalism schools are part of that search: … Read more
Onder het wapen van onafhankelijkheid en persvrijheid een NGO columns laten sponsoren. Treurig allemaal. Enige verliezer: de journalistiek
On a rather ordinary June day in 2010 a news item appeared on Ynet, Israel’s most popular news website. The headline read “Who Are You, Mister X? ‘The Prisoner With No Name And Identity’.” Quoting an unnamed source in Israel’s Prison Service, the report told of a man whose identity is unknown to the prison staff held in a special cell in a maximum-security jail with unspecified charges. ”There’s too much secrecy around him,” the report quoted the source. “What’s scary is that a man in the year 2010 is jailed in Israel without us even knowing who this is.”
Shortly after being published – possibly within the hour – the report was removed. Speculations flourished, several MPs and one human rights organization appealed to state officials for clarification of the case, and a number of international media outlets also picked up the story. A few days later, a comprehensive gag order was issued to ensure that Israeli media did not pursue the story. Moreover, a clause in the gag order stated that even mentioning the existence of the order was prohibited.
The case sparked a national debate about Israel’s attitudes to press and to censorship. It also raised questions about just how far national regulators and censors should try to limit what is published in any particular country when foreign media are reporting on the same story.
An Australian connection
In February 2013, nearly three years later, Australia’s ABC News aired an investigative documentary titled “Prisoner X – The Australian Connection.” After opening with Ynet‘s mysterious news report, the documentary described the extraordinary confinement of Ben Zygier, or “Mr. X”, an Australian Jew who lived in Israel and worked as a Mossad agent before eventually committing suicide in his prison cell.
Nearly all Israeli news websites instantly reported details from the documentary, but again these reports were quickly removed. Facebook, Twitter, and the blogosphere however were teeming with pieces of information, speculation, and of course opinions on the details of the case and its subsequent censorship. International media also carried extensive reports about the documentary, as well as Israel’s heavy-handed response to its release.
A few hours later, the English language, Israeli based Haaretz news site ran a brief headline report signed by editor-in-chief Aluf Benn saying the Prime Minister’s Office had summoned the Editors Committee. The Committee, made up of chief editors and owners of the country’s media outlets, was established in the 1940s to allow the Prime Minister or other high ranking officials to brief top representatives from the press about what the Israeli security apparatus considered to be highly sensitive information.”[The] purpose of [the] unusual meeting was to request editors’ cooperation in preventing publication of [the] affair which could prove embarrassing to government agenc[ies],” Haaretz reported.
Twenty-four hours later, the media blackout was gradually lifted. “I don’t want to know more than my readers,” Benn later wrote in an op-ed to The Guardian, explaining his refusal to participate in the editors meeting. “If [Tamir Pardo, head of the Mossad] wants to explain, he should talk to the public, not turn editors into intelligence ‘assets’”.
Press Council President Dorner voiced similar criticism. “Self-censorship is something that cannot be acceptable nowadays. I thought the Editors Committee no longer exist[ed]. I was surprised, negatively,” she said on public broadcast radio.
Critics later argued that the complete blackout imposed on Israeli media outlets by a blanket gag order was both outdated and counterproductive. The intended purpose of state censorship is to prevent information that could compromise national security from reaching hostile entities inside and mainly outside of the country. But, as Dorner and others have pointed out, this very case proved the futility of such a measure when media elsewhere in the world were reporting the case. “This is passé and pathetic,” former head of the Mossad Danny Yatom told daily newspaper Maariv, “and the fact is that they understood it themselves and one day after the affair was published around the world it was published here as well.”
Military censorship and gag orders
Censorship is always a thorny issue. In a country that sees itself facing a constant and existential threat, any information that can be interpreted as a challenge to national security becomes highly contentious. A military censor is therefore tasked with ensuring that media in Israel do not disseminate information that has the potential to compromise national security.
In a 2009 study, Israeli journalists ranked the military censor third (after the editor and the news organization’s legal consuls) among factors they considered to be inhibiting their professional freedom.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, the relationship that has evolved between the Israeli media and the military censor is not one of oppression. Through the years, the working relationship between the media and the censor has been streamlined. As a result of both court rulings and mutual agreements, journalists describe a working relationship with their censorship counterparts. “The 35 military censors are not faceless, inaccessible bureaucrats who work behind walls,” Benn wrote in an op-ed. “You know them personally and you can negotiate the wording to let the story pass.”
Moreover, journalists today tend to submit materials for review only if they fall under an agreed-upon list of “sensitive topics.” At the same time, in line with court rulings, the censor’s working principle is only to disapprove information that could clearly pose “imminent and immediate danger” to national security if published.
Many officials, including former Supreme Court justice and current President of Israel’s Press Council Dalia Dorner, have argued that having materials vetted by censors prior to their publication effectively relieves the journalist of legal responsibility. (In the case of Haaretz reporter Uri Blau, however, a censor’s prepublication approval did not prevent his persecution). Paradoxically, several media scholars conclude that the military censor has become imperative in protecting freedom of the press in Israel.
However a few cases in recent years, most notably that of Prisoner X, have raised serious doubts about the censor’s role.
To censor or not to censor?
In early March, in a panel session at Bar Ilan University dedicated to press freedom in light of the Prisoner X affair, chief censor Brigadier General Sima Vaknin-Gil acknowledged, “censorship and democracy do not go hand in hand.” However, later she stressed that she would not take freedom of expression into consideration or the public’s right to know, “in any instance where a person is sent secretly, or in any other way, at the service of the state.”
Occasionally, Israeli journalists do admit, or even approve of practicing self-censorship. In 1982, at the outset of the first Israel-Lebanon war, an op-ed in the widely read daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth called on journalists and the public to avoid criticizing the government during wartime. The column’s title, “Silence, We’re Shooting,” became a maxim.
Speaking at the Bar Ilan University panel, the Israeli public broadcast radio’s longtime military correspondent Carmela Menashe acknowledged the common practice of self-censorship. “This hug [journalists] get from the defense minister or the chief of staff, who sit[s] with them and eat[s] with them, encourages some of them to censor themselves and not print things,” The Jerusalem Post quoted her as saying.
According to data from the military censor unit published in The Seventh Eye journal in March 2012, Israeli journalists tend to voluntarily employ stricter censorship than that of the institution. The information showed that between 2002 and 2011, censors intervened in 17 to 20 percent of the texts the media submitted annually (with the exception of 2004 where the rate stood at 25 percent). During the second Israel-Lebanon war in 2006, the intervention rate reached between 30 and 24 percent. In other words, the vast majority of news materials submitted for censor review were not necessarily because they contained sensitive information, but simply because journalists preferred to shift responsibility to the authorities.
The public interest test
Yet, despite Prisoner X being a highly unusual case, it was hardly unprecedented – neither in the way state authorities handled the person at the center of the row, nor in the way they dealt with its coverage in the media.
In Israeli society today, the de facto preponderance of immediate national security threats means that any criticism of Israel’s defense apparatus is considered a threat to national security, even if there is little to suggest such a risk. There is no way to generalize, but free press does not seem to be as readily associated with the public interest as national security is — among journalists and the public in general.
Therefore, perhaps more worrying than the institutional and legal instruments that once enabled censorship are the multiple forms of self-censorship – or rather, a genuine and understandable fear of the possible consequences of confronting authorities – that are deeply ingrained in the journalistic practices and conventions of the Israeli media. For media outlets (and public discourse in general) who fame themselves as being particularly critical this is a peculiar situation. But one has to consider where public discontent is effectively channeled.
Calls to scrap the military censor unit altogether have been scarce. Suggestions for reforming it – for instance, by moving the unit to the Prime Minister’s Office, or exploring other alternatives has been even more rare. “As long as ‘state security’ is sacred in the public mind, we will have censorship,” Haaretz‘s Aluf Benn concluded.
Moreover, abolishing institutional state censorship is unlikely to improve press freedom, since self-censorship among journalists and media outlets hesitant to take risks could become even more common. Nevertheless, self-regulation and adherence to professional values would be much better than legal regulation and official censorship. And here is the bottom line: self-regulation, when dealing with issues that could potentially challenge national security, must be weighed against the public interest.
The common assumption that the public interest and national security are always one and the same simply doesn’t hold water. Israel has already seen several cases over the years – not only the Prisoner X story, the Uri Blau case, or the milder experience of blogger Eishton – where censorship or persecution have been invoked essentially as kneejerk reactions in a bid to save face for the state itself, rather than state security.
Campaign spending is flooding all levels of government in the post-Citizens-United era. What is worse than the millions flowing freely, however, is that much of this is so-called “dark money”—the sources of this spending are hidden. The public has no idea who is behind the deluge of ads that can swamp a campaign in the final weeks of an election.
The Center for Public Integrity’s latest report on independent money spent on state-level races shows that state disclosure laws are weak or nonexistent in more than half of all states. You can find out about your state by clicking here.
Produced in collaboration with the National Institute on Money in State Politics, we show clearly that in 30 states it is impossible to calculate how much money is being spent on campaigns by outside groups like “social welfare” nonprofits — information that is mostly available when it comes to federal contests.
And in 35 states, disclosure laws are less stringent than federal election laws, meaning shadowy nonprofit groups and big-spending super PACs are able to do business virtually undetected in many races.
This is important because a majority of states will elect their governors, legislatures and other major statewide officers in 2014. But the public will not know how much money will be spent to influence the outcome of most of those races. This 50-state analysis of state laws graded the states from A to F on disclosure requirements for super PACs, nonprofits and other outside spending groups.
A fresh example from Montana shows how last-minute “dark money” can swing an election. We report that a candidate for the state Supreme Court was clobbered with misleading mailers and radio ads. The ads were paid for by a nonprofit group called the Montana Growth Network, a largely unknown organization. Under Montana’s laws, the group is not required to report its spending nor disclose the sources of its funds.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 added about $1 billion in spending to federal races in the 2012 election cycle and led to unlimited spending by individuals, corporations and unions.
But the decision also impacted the states. It is a near certainty that more money than ever before will be pouring into state races in 2014, but without better laws in many states, the sources of these funds will never be known.
One hundred years ago, in an article in Harper’s Weekly, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote that "sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants." To paraphrase the justice, transparency and full accountability for campaign spending can be the best disinfectant for democracy, and an antidote to dark money.
Until next week,
(Amsterdam, Beirut, Cairo, Copenhagen, Damascus, Dublin, Geneva, London, New York, Paris, The Hague, Utrecht - May 17, 2013)
The international community should urge the Syrian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release and drop all charges against a freedom of expression activist and two of his colleagues, 19 regional and international human rights organizations said today. Mazen Darwish and two of his colleagues from the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), Hussein Gharir and Hani Zaitani, are facing trial on terrorism charges for their peaceful activism, the groups said.
The three activists along with two of their other colleagues, Mansour Omari and Abdel Rahman Hamada, who were conditionally released on February 6, 2013, are scheduled to appear before the Anti-Terrorism Court in Damascus on May 19. During the trial, the judge will decide whether to pursue the charges brought against them by the Syrian Government's Air Force Intelligence.
The Syrian justice minister recently told an international delegation that he would free 72 activists, including the three detained SCM members. Other countries, including allies of the Syrian government, should press the government to drop the charges and free them, the human rights organizations said.
Syria's Air Force Intelligence detained the three men over a year ago, holding them in incommunicado detention for several months, on charges related to SCM´s work to promote and protect human rights in Syria. Air Force Intelligence officials subjected them to torture and other ill-treatment in detention according to former detainees who had been held with the men. The organizations said the charges violate freedom of expression by being solely based on the three men's peaceful activism.
The organizations expressed serious concern for the physical and psychological well-being of the three activists, given the treatment they have apparently been subjected to in detention and the length of their arbitrary imprisonment.
The February 27 indictment against all five staff members accuses them of “publicizing terrorist acts” under Article 8 of the Anti-Terrorism Law, enacted by President Bashar al-Assad in 2012. If convicted the men may be imprisoned for up to 15 years.
The indictment states that these charges were brought against Darwish as the head of the SCM and the four other men for their activities as SCM staff members, including monitoring online news by the Syrian opposition, publishing studies on the human rights and media situation in Syria, and documenting names of the detained, disappeared, wanted and killed within the context of the Syrian conflict. The indictment further states that an investigative judge in Damascus considered these actions part of an attempt to “stir the internal situation in Syria and so provoke international organizations to condemn Syria in international forums.”
The trial of the activists illustrates the government's repression against critical voices in Syria and fits in a wider pattern of systematic censorship and repression against professional journalists, media workers, citizen journalists (including bloggers) and media activists who defend freedom of expression in Syria, the groups said. An attorney working on behalf of political detainees in Damascus told the organizations that to his knowledge at least 35,000 political detainees were being tried before the terrorism court. He believed that the terrorism court was set up specifically to target the opposition in Syria.
The Syrian government should not use its overbroad terrorism law to punish peaceful activists for their legitimate work, the organizations said. Further, their trial should not be held in the Anti-Terrorism Court, which does not afford defendants basic due process rights according to international fair trial standards.
This court is responsible for prosecutions under the Anti-Terrorism Law, which defines an act of terrorism as “every act that aims at creating a state of panic among the people, destabilizing public security and damaging the basic infrastructure of the country by using weapons, ammunition, explosives, flammable materials, toxic products, epidemiological or bacteriological factors or any method fulfilling the same purposes.”
The law also stipulates that promoting “terrorism,” including by distributing literature, or other information, is punishable by imprisonment with hard labor. Financing terrorism includes supplying, directly or indirectly, money, weapons, ammunition, explosives, means of communication, information, or “other things” to be used in the implementation of a terrorist act.
Although the Syrian authorities technically lifted a state of emergency law on April 21, 2011, they enacted Legislative Decree 55 on the same day. The decree limits the time that a person may be lawfully held in detention without judicial review to 60 days for certain crimes, including terrorism offenses. A former detainee told Human Rights Watch that high-ranking officers explained to him while he was in detention that they were using this provision and the Anti-Terrorism Law to hold detainees legally for up to 60 days, pending judicial review.
This limit does not meet the requirement in international law that judicial review of detention should take place “promptly,” the groups said. Furthermore, several former detainees interviewed by the organizations said that they had been held without judicial review even longer than the 60 days permitted by Syrian law.
A source close to Darwish's family told the organizations how challenging it has been for him to fight the charges against him under the terrorism law and before the terrorism court. He did not have access to a lawyer or any family members for nine months and 20 days before being sent to Damascus Central Prison, commonly known as ‘Adra prison. He was not informed that he would be tried before a terrorism court until November 30, the date an investigative judge in the terrorism court began interrogating him. Even then, he was not informed of the charges against him until an indictment was issued on February 27, over a year after he was detained.
On May 15, the United nations General Assembly passed a resolution, calling, among other things, for the Syrian government to release Mazen Darwish and the other imprisoned SCM staff. The resolution stressed the importance of ending impunity and holding to account all those responsible for serious violations or abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law.
The resolution requires UN member states to apply concrete pressure on the Syrian authorities and their allies to drop the charges against these men. The Syrian authorities should respect the UN resolution and drop the charges against Darwish and his colleagues in SCM, the organizations said. The Syria authorities should also drop all charges against tens of thousands of detainees charged merely for their peaceful activism and held in detention centers throughout Syria.
On May 9, an international peace delegation led by the Irish Nobel prizewinner Mairead Maguire, in conjunction with quasi-governmental Mussalaha, met with the Syrian justice minister, Dr. Najm al-Ahmad, and presented a petition for the release of 72 non-violent activists, including Darwish, Gharir and Zaitani. Dr. al-Ahmad announced in his meeting with the delegation that the government had in principle approved the release of all the prisoners on the list, pending review of their cases. The organizations urge the relevant authorities to follow through with this commitment and release the detainees.
Co-signing organizations in alphabetical order:
1. Alkarama Foundation
2. Amnesty International (AI)
3. Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
4. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
5. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
6. Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN)
7. Free Press Unlimited
8. Front Line Defenders
9. Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
10. Human Rights Watch (HRW)
11. Humanist Institute for Cooperation with Developing Countries (Hivos)
12. IKV Pax Christi
13. International Media Support (IMS)
14. Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR)
15. PEN International
16. Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
17. SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom
18. Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)
19. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation against Torture (OMCT)