The murder that killed free media in Russia

Shaun Walker writes: No other reporter has been assigned Anna Politkovskaya’s desk in Novaya Gazeta’s newsroom. It remains as a memorial, alongside her photograph and those of other murdered journalists at the newspaper, and as a reminder of the danger of the work.

Ten years after Politkovskaya was shot in the lobby of her apartment block in Moscow, Novaya Gazeta continues to be one of the few outlets for hard-hitting independent journalism in Russia. Its reporters still work from the North Caucasus, one the most dangerous part of the region.

In September, Elena Kostyuchenko, a reporter with Novaya, travelled to Beslan in North Ossetia to cover the 12th anniversary of the siege in which 334 people died, including 186 children.

Politkovskaya had attempted to make the same journey back in 2004, but fainted on the plane on her way there. Doctors believe she was poisoned to prevent her from reporting.

Nevertheless, Novaya worked tirelessly to investigate what happened at Beslan, and published a number of reports suggesting explosives planted by Russian special forces to try to end the siege had been responsible for many of the deaths. [Continue reading…]

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Russian hackers harassed journalists who were investigating Malaysia Airlines plane crash

The Washington Post reports: Russian government hackers began targeting a British citizen journalist in February 2015, eight months after he began posting evidence documenting alleged Russian government involvement in the shoot-down of a Malaysian jetliner over Ukraine.

And then in February 2016, a group that researchers suspect is a propaganda mouthpiece of the Russian government — CyberBerkut — defaced the home page of Eliot Higgins’s citizen journalism website, Bellingcat.com.

That same month, CyberBerkut hacked the email, iCloud and social media account of a Bellingcat researcher in Moscow, then posted online personal pictures, a passport scan, his girlfriend’s name and other private details.

Russia’s information operations against Bellingcat are a taste of what may be in store for other media organizations whose reports anger the Kremlin, said a cyber-research firm that has extensively documented the effort. [Continue reading…]

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Silencing Kurdish voices

Diego Cupolo reports: Earlier this month, as he watched crew workers dismantle his television studio, Barış Barıştıran, chief broadcasting manager at Özgür Gün TV, told me that running a Kurdish news channel has never been easy in Turkey — but it’s never been this hard.

“In the 1990s, they would bomb our building, they would harass us, but they wouldn’t shut down our channel,” he said. “We would get punished and that was it.”

A week earlier, Barıştıran received a text message from the station’s satellite service provider saying they would stop broadcasting Özgür Gün TV, downgrading the channel from a national network to a local station reliant on landlines. With the station’s audience now diminished, advertisers dropped their contracts, and Baristiran, no longer able to afford the rent on the TV studio, was forced to move operations to another location.

“They told us thirty minutes before cutting the satellite service,” he said. “It was purely a political decision coming from above.”

Özgür Gün TV has been broadcasting from Diyarbakır, Turkey’s largest Kurdish-majority city, in one form or another since 1995. As with all other Kurdish media in the country, the station has long confronted obstacles in its coverage. It’s been penalized for broadcasting interviews with Kurdish politicians, and had its websites and social media accounts blocked repeatedly by telecommunications authorities.

In October 2015, a plainclothes police officer put a gun to the head of one of its reporters while he was covering military operations in the southeastern city of Silvan. This too was nothing new for Kurdish journalists. What mattered was that the TV crew was able to continue broadcasting afterwards.

“As you see, that’s not the case anymore,” Barıştıran said, as workers laid down a world map printed on composite board that, moments earlier, had served as the backdrop for the news studio. [Continue reading…]

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With Facebook’s flaws in the spotlight, Mark Zuckerberg’s silence is deafening

Espen Egil Hansen writes: In every TV studio where Facebook’s powerful position is being debated, one chair remains empty. In every newspaper article, every blogpost and every Facebook thread that challenges the company, one participant is missing.

Where is Mark Zuckerberg? A man now more powerful than most state leaders.

When I wrote an open letter to Zuckerberg earlier this month, I had three objectives.

First and foremost, Aftenposten wanted to stop Facebook’s censorship of the documentary photo The Terror of War. We did – but our victory was only symbolic. It just made Facebook see what everybody else is seeing: this picture is a documentation of the horrors of war – not nudity.

My second objective was to encourage debate on Facebook’s ever more powerful role as the world’s most important distributor of news and content. We succeeded in this as well, and I am pleased to see that the debate was international.

Most conspicuous, however, is the deafening silence from Facebook. Yes, they distribute written statements, which are dutifully read out by news anchors at the end of reports, but real participation is more the exception than the rule. Here in Scandinavia, Facebook has even gone so far as to leave it to a Swedish PR company to answer inquiries from the media. This company in turn will tell the press to quote “a spokesperson for Facebook”. [Continue reading…]

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Mark Zuckerberg accused of abusing power after Facebook deletes Vietnam War ‘napalm girl’ post

The Guardian reports: Norway’s largest newspaper has published a front-page open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, lambasting the company’s decision to censor a historic photograph of the Vietnam war and calling on Zuckerberg to recognize and live up to his role as “the world’s most powerful editor”.

Espen Egil Hansen, the editor-in-chief and CEO of Aftenposten, accused Zuckerberg of thoughtlessly “abusing your power” over the social media site that has become a lynchpin of the distribution of news and information around the world, writing, “I am upset, disappointed – well, in fact even afraid – of what you are about to do to a mainstay of our democratic society.”

“I am worried that the world’s most important medium is limiting freedom instead of trying to extend it, and that this occasionally happens in an authoritarian way,” he added.

The controversy stems from Facebook’s decision to delete a post by Norwegian writer Tom Egeland that featured The Terror of War, a Pulitzer prize-winning photograph by Nick Ut that showed children – including the naked 9-year-old Kim Phúc – running away from a napalm attack during the Vietnam war. Egeland’s post discussed “seven photographs that changed the history of warfare” – a group to which the “napalm girl” image certainly belongs.

Egeland was subsequently suspended from Facebook. When Aftenposten reported on the suspension – using the same photograph in its article, which was then shared on the publication’s Facebook page – the newspaper received a message from Facebook asking it to “either remove or pixelize” the photograph. [Continue reading…]

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‘Young, old, conservative, liberal’: Turkey in shock over journalists’ arrest

The Observer reports: Turkish media are in a state of shock this weekend after the government arrested 17 journalists in recent days on terror charges and issued arrest warrants for dozens more, in what a press freedom group has warned is a “sweeping purge” of the sector.

Turkey had already ordered the closure of more than 100 papers, broadcasters and publishing houses as part of a crackdown after the failed 15 July coup attempt, before sending police to round up reporters, columnists, a novelist and social commentators.

The impact of those arrests was documented by US-based journalist and government critic Mahir Zeynalov, who was expelled from Turkey for his work two years ago and who took to Twitter to commemorate the work and reputations of the journalists arrested.

“Everybody was highlighting numbers and statistics, but nobody really explained who these people are,” he told the Observer. Some are personal friends, others celebrated within the profession and several are nationally famous. [Continue reading…]

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How Benjamin Netanyahu is crushing Israel’s free press

Ruth Margalit writes: In its annual report released this spring, Freedom House, an American democracy advocacy organization, downgraded Israel’s freedom of the press ranking from “free” to “partly free.” To anyone following Israeli news media over the past year and a half, this was hardly surprising. Freedom House focused primarily on the “unchecked expansion” of paid content in editorial pages, as well as on the outsize influence of Israel Hayom (“Israel Today”), a free daily newspaper owned by the American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and widely believed to promote the views of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israel Hayom’s bias is well documented. A 2013 investigative report on Israeli television revealed drafts of several articles written by the paper’s journalists that had been systematically changed by the editor in chief to remove criticism of the prime minister. For a newspaper to have a political agenda is, of course, nothing new. But Israel Hayom isn’t conservative or right wing in the broad sense. Rather, the paper megaphones whatever is in the interest of the prime minister. Naftali Bennett, a far-right government minister, has said “Israel Hayom is Pravda — the mouthpiece of one man.”

In many ways, the Freedom House report missed the real worrying shifts. Mr. Netanyahu’s attempts to control the country’s pages and airwaves go much further than Israel Hayom. For the past 18 months, in addition to his prime ministerial duties, he has served as Israel’s communications minister (as well as its foreign minister, economy minister and minister of regional cooperation). In this role, he and his aides have brazenly leveraged his power to seek favorable coverage from outlets that he once routinely described as “radically biased.” [Continue reading…]

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Turkey cracks down on journalists, its next target after crushing attempted coup

The New York Times reports: One journalist, who was on vacation, had his home raided in the early morning by the police. Others were called in to their bosses’ offices last week and fired, with little explanation. Dozens of reporters have had their press credentials revoked.

A pro-government newspaper, meanwhile, published a list of names and photographs of journalists suspected of treachery.

The witch-hunt environment that has enveloped Turkey in the wake of a failed military coup extended to the news media on Monday, as the government issued warrants for the detention of dozens of journalists.

The step followed the dismissals of tens of thousands of workers — teachers, bankers, police officers, soldiers, bureaucrats and others — as well as the arrests of thousands accused of ties to the conspiracy.

The government said the journalists, too, were part of a vast network linked to Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania who it has alleged was the mastermind of the botched coup.

A senior Turkish official, speaking on the condition of anonymity in keeping with government protocol, said the dismissal of the journalists was not related to their professional activities, but to possible criminal conduct.

But it has been a common reflex of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government to crack down on freedom of expression during times of crisis. [Continue reading…]

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The new president of the Philippines says many slain journalists deserved it

The Washington Post reports: Many slain journalists in the Philippines had been corrupt and had “done something” to warrant being killed, the country’s president-elect said.

“Just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination if you’re a son of a bitch,” Rodrigo Duterte said Tuesday, Agence France-Presse reported.

The brash, tough-talking former mayor, who will be sworn in as president on June 30, was responding to a question about how he would handle the killing of journalists.

He has previously attracted international outrage for his comments, including remarks about the rape and killing of an Australian missionary in 1989. Human Rights Watch has deemed him the “Death Squad Mayor.”

The Philippines ranks as the second-deadliest country for journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. At least 75 journalists there have been killed since 1992. [Continue reading…]

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Turkish journalists accuse Erdoğan of media witch-hunt

The Guardian reports: Can Dündar appears in good spirits for a man facing espionage charges and a possible life sentence.

The editor of Cumhuriyet, one of the last remaining bastions of media opposition to Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, had appeared in court that morning over a documentary he produced on government corruption. It is one of two cases against him – in February, he was released from prison pending a spying trial over a story on arms shipments to Syria.

“Turkey has never been a paradise for journalists but of course not a hell like this,” he said in an interview in his office. “Nowadays being a journalist is much more dangerous than ever and needs courage and self-confidence.

“It’s a kind of witch-hunt … like McCarthyism in the US in the 1950s.”

Turkish journalists say local media outlets are facing one of the worst crackdowns on press freedoms since military rule in the 1980s. Prosecutors have opened close to 2,000 cases of insults to the president since Erdoğan took office in 2014, prominent journalists appear in court two or three times a week, Kurdish journalists are beaten or detained in the country’s restive south-east and foreign journalists have been harassed or deported. [Continue reading…]

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Dutch journalist ‘detained in Turkey’ over Erdogan criticism

Deutsche Welle reports: Ebru Umar, a columnist for the Dutch “Metro” newspaper, says she has been detained for publishing tweets critical of the Turkish president. This comes after a diplomatic spat between Turkey and the Netherlands.

The detention occurred at Umar’s home in the western Turkish resort town of Kusadasi late Saturday, according to a post on the journalist’s Twitter account. [Continue reading…]

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Saudi reporter jailed for five years for insulting rulers

Reuters reports: Saudi Arabia has sentenced a journalist to five years in jail for insulting the kingdom’s rulers and “inciting public opinion” on Twitter, Amnesty International said.

Amnesty described the sentencing of Alaa Brinji on Thursday as “a clear violation of international law” and said it showed intolerance of the right to peaceful expression.

Officials at Saudi Arabia’s Justice Ministry could not be reached for comment over the weekend.

Against the background of regional turmoil, the ultra conservative Sunni Muslim country has issued tougher penalties against all forms of dissent. [Continue reading…]

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