Record number of journalists jailed as Turkey, China, Egypt pay scant price for repression

Elana Beiser reports: The number of journalists imprisoned worldwide hit another new record in 2017, and for the second consecutive year more than half of those jailed for their work are behind bars in Turkey, China, and Egypt. The pattern reflects a dismal failure by the international community to address a global crisis in freedom of the press.

Far from isolating repressive countries for their authoritarian behavior, the United States, in particular, has cozied up to strongmen such as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Chinese President Xi Jinping. At the same time, President Donald Trump’s nationalistic rhetoric, fixation on Islamic extremism, and insistence on labeling critical media “fake news” serves to reinforce the framework of accusations and legal charges that allow such leaders to preside over the jailing of journalists. Globally, nearly three-quarters of journalists are jailed on anti-state charges, many under broad and vague terror laws, while the number imprisoned on a charge of “false news,” though modest, rose to a record 21.

In its annual prison census, CPJ found 262 journalists behind bars around the world in relation to their work, a new record after a historical high of 259 last year. The worst three jailers are responsible for jailing 134–or 51 percent–of the total. CPJ has been conducting an annual survey of journalists in jail since the early 1990s. [Continue reading…]

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Autocrats and dictators follow Trump’s lead by attacking ‘fake news’

The New York Times reports: President Trump routinely invokes the phrase “fake news” as a rhetorical tool to undermine opponents, rally his political base and try to discredit a mainstream American media that is aggressively investigating his presidency.

But he isn’t the only leader enamored with the phrase. Following Mr. Trump’s example, many of the world’s autocrats and dictators are taking a shine to it, too.

When Amnesty International released a report about prison deaths in Syria, the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, retorted that “we are living in a fake-news era.” President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, who is steadily rolling back democracy in his country, blamed the global media for “lots of false versions, lots of lies,” saying “this is what we call ‘fake news’ today.”

In Myanmar, where international observers accuse the military of conducting a genocidal campaign against the Rohingya Muslims, a security official told The New York Times that “there is no such thing as Rohingya,” adding: “It is fake news.” In Russia, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, told a CNN reporter to “stop spreading lies and fake news.” Her ministry now uses a big red stamp, “FAKE,” on its website to label news stories it dislikes.

Around the world, authoritarians, populists and other political leaders have seized on the phrase “fake news” — and the legitimacy conferred upon it by an American president — as a tool for attacking their critics and, in some cases, deliberately undermining the institutions of democracy. In countries where press freedom is restricted or under considerable threat — including Russia, China, Turkey, Libya, Poland, Hungary, Thailand, Somalia and others — political leaders have invoked “fake news” as justification for beating back media scrutiny. [Continue reading…]

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Global press freedom plunges to worst level this century

The Guardian reports: Media freedom around the world has fallen to the lowest level for at least a decade, according to a study that shows journalists are threatened by government censorship, organised crime and commercial pressures caused by the growth of the internet.

Turkey has experienced the biggest decline in freedom of speech over the past decade but Brazil, Burundi, Egypt, Poland, Venezuela and Bangladesh have also had a disturbing decline in the diversity and independence of the media, according to the report.

“For the first time, we have a comprehensive and holistic overview of the state of freedom of expression and information around the world,” said Thomas Hughes, the executive director of Article 19, the freedom of expression campaign group, which produced the report in conjunction with V-Dem, a political and social database.

“Unfortunately, our findings show that freedom of expression is under attack in democracies as well as authoritarian regimes.” [Continue reading…]

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Woman’s effort to infiltrate The Washington Post dated back months

The Washington Post reports: The failed effort by conservative activists to plant a false story about Senate candidate Roy Moore in The Washington Post was part of a months-long campaign to infiltrate The Post and other media outlets in Washington and New York, according to interviews, text messages and social media posts that have since been deleted.

Starting in July, Jaime Phillips, an operative with the organization Project Veritas, which purports to expose media bias, joined two dozen networking groups related to either journalism or left-leaning politics. She signed up to attend 15 related events, often accompanied by a male companion, and appeared at least twice at gatherings for departing Post staffers.

Phillips, 41, presented herself to journalists variously as the owner of a start-up looking to recruit writers, a graduate student studying national security or a contractor new to the area. This summer, she tweeted posts in support of gun control and critical of Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigrants — a departure from the spring when, on accounts that have since been deleted, she used the #MAGA hashtag and mocked the Women’s March on Washington that followed Trump’s inauguration as the “Midol March.”

Her true identity and intentions were revealed only when The Post published a story on Monday, along with photos and video, about how she falsely told Post reporters that Moore had impregnated her when she was a teenager. The Post reported that Phillips appeared to work for Project Veritas, an organization that uses false cover stories and covert video recordings in an attempt to embarrass its targets.

Phillips’s sustained attempt to insinuate herself into the social circles of reporters makes clear that her deception — and the efforts to discredit The Post’s reporting — went much further than the attempt to plant one fabricated article.

Phillips’s encounters with dozens of journalists, which have not been previously reported, typically occurred at professional networking events or congratulatory send-offs for colleagues at bars and restaurants. She used three names and three phone numbers to follow up with Post employees, chatting about life in Washington and asking to be introduced to other journalists.

In one case, Phillips kept a conversation going for five weeks with a Post employee over text message, repeatedly asking whether she and her husband could meet Phillips for dinner. After the employee shared that she was experiencing a family tragedy, Phillips wrote: “Let me know if I can do anything to help, even if just to talk or something small. We’d like to send flowers or a donation… Thoughts & prayers.” [Continue reading…]

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CNN hits back at Trump after criticism of foreign reporting

Politico reports: The feud between Donald Trump and CNN reached new heights on Monday, as the network came back swinging against the president’s latest attacks, including that CNN International misrepresents the U.S. to its global audience.

According to sources at the network, Trump’s tweet over the weekend criticizing CNN International produced extra frustration and exasperation because of the inherent risks of overseas reporting and the feeling that his message imperiled journalists working in countries hostile to a free press.

During his Monday broadcast, anchor Wolf Blitzer responded to the president’s latest claims of “fake news,” saying, “CNN and CNN International are not sponsored by any state, nor any autocrat, nor any political organization, and despite the constant criticism from the president, we are unwavering in our mission, free and independent as the press should be.”

Blitzer’s statement followed a nearly five-minute package of clips depicting CNN International journalists reporting from dangerous situations, including under gunfire in Libya and on a helicopter fleeing ISIS in Iraq.

The segment was in response to a tweet Trump sent Saturday: “.@FoxNews is MUCH more important in the United States than CNN, but outside of the U.S., CNN International is still a major source of (Fake) news, and they represent our Nation to the WORLD very poorly. The outside world does not see the truth from them!”

The president also took to Twitter on Monday: “We should have a contest as to which of the Networks, plus CNN and not including Fox, is the most dishonest, corrupt and/or distorted in its political coverage of your favorite President (me). They are all bad. Winner to receive the FAKE NEWS TROPHY!” [Continue reading…]

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Kremlin tightens stranglehold on foreign media with more repressive legislation

Amnesty International reports: The Russian authorities will tighten their stranglehold on press freedom in the country today by introducing a bill that designates foreign-funded news organizations as “foreign agents” and imposes onerous obligations to declare full details of their funding, finances and staffing, said Amnesty International.

The move is likely to effect the Russian services of major international media outlets such as the BBC, Deutsche Welle and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

All political parties represented in the State Duma, the Russian Parliament’s lower chamber, have expressed their support of the bill and are expected to pass it unanimously as early as Wednesday.

“This legislation strikes a serious blow to what was already a fairly desperate situation for press freedom in Russia. Over the last couple of years, the Kremlin has been tirelessly building a media echo chamber that shuts out critical voices, both inside Russia and from abroad,” said Denis Krivosheev, Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International. [Continue reading…]

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Trump wants to punish CNN by breaking up the AT&T/Time Warner deal

Peter Kafka writes: What would it look like if the President of the United States punished American businesses he didn’t like, or news organizations that reported things he didn’t like?

It would look like this: Trump’s Department of Justice is threatening to scuttle AT&T’s purchase of Time Warner unless the merged companies dump CNN and Turner, the cable unit that houses CNN, according to a source familiar with the DOJ’s review.

The Financial Times first reported the news today, as did the New York Times.

We got a hint of this this morning, when AT&T’s CFO said he wasn’t sure when the deal would close — though he still thought it would close.

We could spend time discussing why this makes no sense under conventional antitrust law, since AT&T/Time Warner is a “vertical” merger, where the two companies are in different lines of business.

But don’t ask us. Ask antitrust expert Makan Delrahim, who announced last year that the proposed deal shouldn’t be a problem.

Except now Delrahim has apparently changed his mind. Or, more precisely, Delrahim now works for Donald Trump as the head of antitrust at the DOJ.

Since then, Delrahim has been signaling that he may have problems with AT&T/Time Warner after all.

Sober industry observers — including ones that had problems with the deal — figured that Delrahim wanted to slow down approval of the deal, perhaps because he didn’t want to rubber stamp it.

And if he did have problems with it, a logical place to look would be AT&T’s ownership of HBO, which rival pay TV networks had argued would give HBO unfair footing.

Nope. Per the FT, “It’s all about CNN,” which makes sense if you are a leader of a banana republic who believes that news outlets that report stories critical of your leadership are “fake news.” [Continue reading…]

Richard W Painter, White House ethics lawyer for George W. Bush, tweets:

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Trump threatens NBC over nuclear weapons report

The New York Times reports: President Trump threatened on Wednesday to use the federal government’s power to license television airwaves to target NBC in response to a report by the network’s news division that he contemplated a dramatic increase in the nation’s nuclear arsenal.

In a story aired and posted online Wednesday morning, NBC reported that Mr. Trump said during a meeting last summer that he wanted what amounted to a nearly tenfold increase in the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile, stunning some members of his national security team. It was after this meeting that Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson reportedly said Mr. Trump was a “moron.”

Mr. Trump objected to the report in two messages on Twitter later Wednesday and threatened to use the authority of the federal government to retaliate. [Continue reading…]

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Trump threatens NFL and attacks Jemele Hill

The New York Times reports: President Trump threatened on Tuesday to use federal tax law to penalize the National Football League over players who kneel in protest during the national anthem as he sought to escalate a political fight that has resonated with his conservative base.

In one of a series of combative early morning tweets, Mr. Trump said that Congress should eliminate a law that has allowed the N.F.L. central office to avoid paying taxes as a nonprofit entity. “Why is the N.F.L. getting massive tax breaks while at the same time disrespecting our Anthem, Flag and Country?” he wrote. “Change tax law!”

The tax break for the N.F.L. has been a point of controversy for years, and other conservatives have taken up the cause in recent weeks as the president has repeatedly assailed the league over the player protests. But the idea would be more about symbolism than impact. The tax break applies only to the central office, not the teams, which already pay taxes as for-profit organizations, and the N.F.L. voluntarily gave up the tax exemption for its league office in 2015.

Mr. Trump on Tuesday also focused his fire again on Jemele Hill, the “SportsCenter” host on ESPN who previously called the president a white supremacist. Ms. Hill was suspended on Monday for suggesting that fans boycott advertisers of the Dallas Cowboys after the team owner, Jerry Jones, threatened to bench players who kneeled during the national anthem. [Continue reading…]

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Wall Street Journal reporter sentenced to prison by Turkish court

The Wall Street Journal reports: A Turkish court sentenced Wall Street Journal reporter Ayla Albayrak to two years and one month in prison Tuesday, declaring her guilty of engaging in terrorist propaganda in support of a banned Kurdish separatist organization through one of her Journal articles.

The conviction of Ms. Albayrak, who is currently in New York, highlights the increasing targeting of journalists in Turkey, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has gained attention for deteriorating media freedoms.

“This was an unfounded criminal charge and wildly inappropriate conviction that wrongly singled out a balanced Wall Street Journal report,” said Wall Street Journal Editor in Chief Gerard Baker. “The sole purpose of the article was to provide objective and independent reporting on events in Turkey, and it succeeded.”

Ms. Albayrak plans to appeal the decision.

“Given the current climate in Turkey, this appalling decision shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me, but it did,” said Ms. Albayrak.

Turkish legal actions against Ms. Albayrak began after the publication on Aug. 19, 2015, on the Journal’s website of her article “Urban Warfare Escalates in Turkey’s Kurdish-Majority Southeast.” The story and an accompanying video reported on the state of a conflict in Silopi, Turkey, between Turkish security forces and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. It included interviews with the local mayor and residents, a Turkish government official, as well as a representative of an organization Turkey says is the youth unit of the PKK. [Continue reading…]

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Israel moves to close Al Jazeera, ban its journalists

Al Jazeera reports: Israel plans to revoke media credentials of Al Jazeera journalists and close the network’s office in Jerusalem, the country’s communication minister has announced.

Ayoub Kara made the announcement on Sunday during a press conference in Jerusalem, where Al Jazeera was barred from attending.

“We have based our decision on the move by Sunni Arab states to close the Al Jazeera offices and prohibiting their work,” Kara said, adding that the channel is being used by groups to “incite” violence – an accusation the network has denied.

Kara said he expects Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, to consider his request in the next session.

“I will go through the legislatory mechanism to create the authority in which I can act freely. We will try to end it as quickly as possible.” [Continue reading…]

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Jeff Sessions’ attack on the media is worse than you think

Kel McClanahan writes: Attorney General Jeff Sessions held a press conference to announce how avidly the Department of Justice was going to investigate and prosecute leakers of classified national security information. From now on, he said, “the Department of Justice is open for business.” (An odd statement, to be sure, suggesting that it was previously closed.) Much of what he said was nothing new—really, administrations have been going after leakers for decades—but the way he said it was clever, and not for the reasons one might think.

It is important to remember that this speech is supposed to be about leaks to the media. The title of the official transcript of his remarks is “Attorney General Jeff Sessions Delivers Remarks at Briefing on Leaks of Classified Materials Threatening National Security.” He starts out his remarks by condemning “the staggering number of leaks undermining the ability of our government to protect this country,” and explains that “no one is entitled to fight their battles in the media by revealing sensitive government information.” So, he’s obviously talking about leaks to the media, right? That’s what the briefing’s about: fighting leaks to the media. We’re all on the same page.

Except that it’s not about leaks to the media. For almost all of the remainder of his time, Sessions talks about “unauthorized disclosures of classified national security information” in general and mentions offhand that this term “includes leaks to both the media and in some cases even unauthorized disclosures to our foreign adversaries.” But he never mentions the media again until the very end, and all the middle is spent talking about criminal referrals involving unauthorized disclosures, featuring the remarkable statement, “And we have already charged four people with unlawfully disclosing classified material or with concealing contacts with foreign intelligence officers.” And it is that single sentence that makes Sessions’ push against leaks new, and very insidious. [Continue reading…]

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FBI tracked ‘fake news’ believed to be from Russia on Election Day

CNN reports: The FBI monitored social media on Election Day last year in an effort to track a suspected Russian disinformation campaign utilizing “fake news,” CNN has learned.

In the months leading up to Election Day, Twitter and Facebook were the feeding grounds for viral “news” stories floating conspiracies and hoaxes, many aimed at spreading negative false claims about Hillary Clinton.

On Election Day, dozens of agents and analysts huddled at a command center arrayed with large monitoring screens at the FBI headquarters in Washington watching for security threats, according to multiple sources.

That included analysts monitoring cyber threats, after months of mounting Russian intrusions targeting every part of the US political system, from political parties to policy think-tanks to state election systems.

On this day, there was also a group of FBI cyber and counterintelligence analysts and investigators watching social media.
FBI analysts had identified social media user accounts behind stories, some based overseas, and the suspicion was that at least some were part of a Russian disinformation campaign, according to two sources familiar with the investigation.

The FBI declined to comment for this story.

For the FBI, this was uncomfortable territory, given the First Amendment’s free speech protections even for fake news stories.
“We were right on the edge of Constitutional legality,” a person briefed on the investigation said. “We were monitoring news.” [Continue reading…]

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How can America celebrate its independence when the free press is under assault by the president?

Jim Rutenberg writes: Happy Birthday, America, I guess.

You’re old enough to know that you can’t always have a feel-good birthday. And let’s face it: This Fourth of July just isn’t going to be one of them.

How could it be when one of the pillars of our 241-year-old republic — the First Amendment — is under near-daily assault from the highest levels of the government?

When the president of the United States makes viciously personal attacks against journalists — and then doubles down over the weekend by posting a video on Twitter showing himself tackling and beating a figure with a CNN logo superimposed on his head? (Every time you think he’s reached the limit …) [Continue reading…]

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Saudi and allied autocrats demand Qatar shuts down Al Jazeera

Reuters reports: Four Arab states boycotting Qatar over alleged support for terrorism have sent Doha a list of 13 demands including closing Al Jazeera television and reducing ties to their regional adversary Iran, an official of one of the four countries said.

The demands aimed at ending the worst Gulf Arab crisis in years appear designed to quash a two decade-old foreign policy in which Qatar has punched well above its weight, striding the stage as a peace broker, often in conflicts in Muslim lands.

Doha’s independent-minded approach, including a dovish line on Iran and support for Islamist groups, in particular the Muslim Brotherhood, has incensed some of its neighbors who see political Islamism as a threat to their dynastic rule.

The list, compiled by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Bahrain, which cut economic, diplomatic and travel ties to Doha on June 5, also demands the closing of a Turkish military base in Qatar, the official told Reuters.

Turkey’s Defense Minister Fikri Isik rejected the demand, saying any call for the base to be shut would represent interference in Ankara’s relations with Doha. He suggested instead that Turkey might bolster its presence.

“Strengthening the Turkish base would be a positive step in terms of the Gulf’s security,” he said. “Re-evaluating the base agreement with Qatar is not on our agenda.” [Continue reading…]

In an editorial, the New York Times says: [B]y attacking Al Jazeera, the Saudis and their neighbors are trying to eliminate a voice that could lead citizens to question their rulers. Al Jazeera was the prime source of news as the Arab Spring rocked the Middle East in 2011.

That uprising ousted the military-backed autocrat Hosni Mubarak and led to Egypt’s first free election, which brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power. A loose political network founded in Egypt in 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood has renounced violence. The real reason it’s been labeled a terrorist group is that autocratic regimes see it as a populist threat. [Continue reading…]

For CNBC, Abid Ali writes: Al-Jazeera has been a constant thorn in the side of its neighbors. The news network was the first independent media network in the Middle East winning plaudits with more than 20 years of broadcasting. But after the Arab Spring, Doha was forced to tone down coverage to maintain stability in neighboring countries, especially in Bahrain.

Qatar has been forging an independent foreign policy since the discovery of gas and a palace coup where the former Emir ousted his pro-Saudi leaning father. Since 1995 the country has been on a tear with a construction boom reshaping the desert state. While Qataris are the world’s richest per capita ($130,000), in neighboring Saudi Arabia more than 35 percent live under the national poverty line.

“The State of Qatar recognizes that a decision to close Al-Jazeera will infringe on their sovereignty,” Wadah Khanfar, the former director general of Al-Jazeera, told CNBC in a phone interview. “The independence of the state is at risk. If they move against Al-Jazeera what next? They will stand firm.” [Continue reading…]

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White House has considered restricting press freedom

ABC News reports: White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said the Trump administration has “looked at” changes to libel laws that would curtail press freedoms, but said “whether that goes anywhere is a different story.”

President Trump frequently slams the press for its coverage of him and in March suggested changing libel laws.

Libel is when defamatory statements about someone are published. But the American press enjoys some protection from lawsuits claiming libel because of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech rights. [Continue reading…]

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‘Journalism is becoming powerless’: Inside a nervous Turkish newsroom as the government closes in

The Washington Post reports: He was anticipating retirement, after nearly half a century as a journalist. Then Aydin Engin, 76, a columnist for the daily Cumhuriyet newspaper, received a frightening visit from the law.

Eight policemen arrived at his Istanbul house early one morning last fall and took him into custody on terrorism-related charges. Across the city, police officers swept up a dozen of Engin’s colleagues, including the newspaper’s cartoonist, its editor in chief, a staff lawyer and Kadri Gursel, another noted columnist — the beginnings of a sudden and startling assault by the authorities on one of Turkey’s oldest newspapers.

Now, five months later, 11 members of the Cumhuriyet staff remain locked up, their portraits printed each day on the newspaper’s front page and its website in a plaintive protest. Engin and another columnist were released because of their age, but last week they were formally indicted along with their imprisoned ­colleagues on charges that included publishing propaganda for ­various terrorist organizations. Some could be sentenced to decades in prison. [Continue reading…]

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Whenever the press reports on Trump’s ties to Russia, Trump attacks the press

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