Media giants discussing deals with Vice

The New York Times reports: A black S.U.V. recently rolled through the streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and stopped in front of the converted warehouse that is the global headquarters of Vice Media. Out of the vehicle stepped the media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Mr. Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox owns a small stake in Vice, and he was visiting Brooklyn to meet with Vice’s chief executive, Shane Smith. Among the topics at hand was a rumor that Vice was negotiating to collaborate with, and perhaps sell a large stake to, one of Fox’s competitors, Time Warner.

Fox is discussing a deal with Vice, too. So is Disney. Any agreement is likely to value Vice, which started as a free magazine in Montreal in 1994, at $1.5 billion to $2.5 billion. A partnership could take many shapes. But Vice, which has produced just 11 hours of programming expressly for television, is seeking its own TV network, a movie deal and a lot of money for its founders and investors.

The digital disruption that is transforming the news and entertainment businesses has led to many odd alliances, but few seem more incongruous than one that would join Vice with a corporate media conglomerate. Though financing itself mostly by making videos in partnership with large corporations, Vice has assiduously cultivated an insurgent image, with its tattooed news correspondents, hand-held cameras and journalistic stunts like sending the former basketball player Dennis Rodman to North Korea.

Along the way, Mr. Smith, 44, has routinely criticized the mainstream media and traditional television. If he can reach a deal with one of these companies, he will be joining the club he has professed to disdain.[Continue reading...]

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No, a ‘supercomputer’ did NOT pass the Turing Test for the first time and everyone should know better

Follow numerous “reports” (i.e. numerous regurgitations of a press release from Reading University) on an “historic milestone in artificial intelligence” having been passed “for the very first time by supercomputer Eugene Goostman” at an event organized by Professor Kevin Warwick, Mike Masnick writes:

If you’ve spent any time at all in the tech world, you should automatically have red flags raised around that name. Warwick is somewhat infamous for his ridiculous claims to the press, which gullible reporters repeat without question. He’s been doing it for decades. All the way back in 2000, we were writing about all the ridiculous press he got for claiming to be the world’s first “cyborg” for implanting a chip in his arm. There was even a — since taken down — Kevin Warwick Watch website that mocked and categorized all of his media appearances in which gullible reporters simply repeated all of his nutty claims. Warwick had gone quiet for a while, but back in 2010, we wrote about how his lab was getting bogus press for claiming to have “the first human infected with a computer virus.” The Register has rightly referred to Warwick as both “Captain Cyborg” and a “media strumpet” and have long been chronicling his escapades in exaggerating bogus stories about the intersection of humans and computers for many, many years.

Basically, any reporter should view extraordinary claims associated with Warwick with extreme caution. But that’s not what happened at all. Instead, as is all too typical with Warwick claims, the press went nutty over it, including publications that should know better.

Anyone can try having a “conversation” with Eugene Goostman.

If the strings of words it spits out give you the impression you’re talking to a human being, that’s probably an indication that you don’t spend enough time talking to human beings.

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A dangerous method: Syria, Sy Hersh, and the art of mass-crime revisionism

In the LA Review of Books, Muhammad Idrees Ahmad writes: On the day the London Review of Books published a widely circulated article by veteran journalist Seymour Hersh exonerating the Syrian regime for last year’s chemical attack, 118 Syrians, including 19 children, died in aerial bombing and artillery fire. Only the regime has planes and heavy ordnance.

Since last November, Aleppo has been targeted by helicopters dropping explosives-filled barrels from high altitudes. Between last November and the end of March, Human Rights Watch recorded 2,321 civilian deaths by this indiscriminate weapon. Only the regime has helicopters.

For many months after the chemical massacre, the targeted neighborhoods and the Yarmouk refugee camp were kept under a starvation siege. Aid agencies were denied entry. Only the regime controls access.

The regime’s ruthlessness has never been in doubt. Reports by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the UN’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry, and myriad journalists and on-the-ground witnesses have repeatedly confirmed it. The regime has demonstrated the intent and capability to inflict mass violence. The repression is ongoing.

So when an attack occurred last August, employing a weapon that the regime was known to possess, using a delivery mechanism peculiar to its arsenal, in a place the regime was known to target, and against people the regime was known to loathe, it was not unreasonable to assume regime responsibility. This conclusion was corroborated by first responders, UN investigators, human rights organizations, and independent analysts.

When a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and a respectable literary publication undertake to challenge this consensus, one reasonably expects due diligence. The gravity of the matter demands that a high burden of proof be met. Sources would have to be vetted, claims corroborated, contrary evidence addressed.

But the editors didn’t do that. They gave precedence to storytelling over truth-telling. They disregarded available evidence and, based on the uncorroborated claims of a single unnamed source, absolved the perpetrator of a horrific atrocity, demonized his opponents, and slandered a foreign head of state. Worse, in using Hersh as click bait, they provided a smokescreen for new violations.

Five days after Hersh’s article went live, a military helicopter dropped a barrel bomb on Kafr Zita. This one carried toxic chlorine instead of the usual TNT. The regime, like Hersh, blamed the Islamist group Jabhat al-Nusra. But only the regime has an air force.

In a time of ongoing slaughter, to obfuscate the regime’s well-documented responsibility for a war crime does not just aid the regime today, it aids it tomorrow. As long as doubts remain about previous atrocities, there will be hesitancy to assign new blame. Accountability will be deferred.

Propaganda usually functions on one of two tracks: sometimes it builds support for a desired policy, sometimes it saps support for an undesired one. The former relies on persuasion, the latter on obfuscation. “Doubt is our product” is the assurance PR firms in the 1950s gave to a jittery tobacco industry facing accumulating scientific evidence linking cigarettes to cancer. Energy companies wishing to impede environmental legislation have since invested in the same strategy. This is also Hersh’s method. [Continue reading...]

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Pierre Omidyar believes there should be no philanthropy without profit

Mark Ames writes: Perhaps no other figure embodies the disconnect between his progressive anti-state image, and his factual collaboration with the American national security state and the global neoliberal agenda, than Pierre Omidyar.

The role of Omidyar Network in so many major events of the past week — helping elect India’s ultranationalist leader Narendra Modi; co-funding Ukraine regime-change NGOs with USAID, resulting in a deadly civil war and Monday’s election of Ukrainian billionaire oligarch Petro Poroshenko; and now, this week’s first-ever sit-down TV interview with Edward Snowden, through an arrangement between NBC News and Pierre Omidyar’s First Look Media — shows how these contradictions are coming to the fore, and shaping our world.

Omidyar’s central role in the US national security state’s global agenda may still come as a shock to outsiders and fans of First Look media’s roster of once-independent journalists. But to White House foreign policy hawks, Pierre Omidyar represents the new face of an old imperial tradition. [Continue reading...]

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National security journalists say it’s only getting harder to report on intelligence agencies

Cora Currier writes: This spring, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued new policies requiring that all public writings and remarks — even by former employees — be checked beforehand for sensitive information, and circumscribing how employees can talk about classified material that’s already out in the public sphere.

Long-time intelligence reporters say it’s too soon to say whether the directives — in effect since April, and first reported earlier this month — are specifically causing sources to clam up. But the policies contribute to a climate where government sources are increasingly twitchy about talking with reporters, even on unclassified matters. In March, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) expressly forbid unauthorized contact with the media for all current employees of the 17 government spy agencies it oversees.

“Clearly this is part of the post-Snowden scramble to try to control the message and control information,” said Mark Mazzetti, a New York Times national security reporter and author of a recent book on the CIA. It’s been almost a year since former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden began leaking documents on government surveillance, Mazzetti said, “and they’re still wrestling with this.”

Steven Aftergood, of the Federation of American Scientists’ Secrecy News blog, argues that the ODNI’s new policies are a step up in government control, in that they extend beyond only regulating classified information to include “sensitive” matters. The ODNI says that the new directives just reflect a consolidation of existing practices, and they’re not as inflexible as they may seem on paper. “It is understood that there are times that former employees may receive calls for comment from the media, and there simply is not time to follow the pre-publication review process,” the ODNI wrote in a statement after the policies came to light.

“You rely on people who get out of government to give a more candid assessment of what’s going on inside it,” said Mazzetti. “We’ll have to see how it’s enforced and whether people listen to it. There will be people who will bristle at this attempt to control what they can say.”

At least so far, Jeff Stein, who covers intelligence matters for Newsweek, said that “during meetings with intelligence sources last week the order was having no apparent effect whatsoever.”

But Mazzetti noted that already, “leak investigations and revelations about surveillance capabilities are making people think twice about having any type of communication with reporters. These directives can’t help.” [Continue reading...]

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Journalists are meant to cause trouble

Jason Mojica writes: This may surprise you, but Mohammed Fahmy, the imprisoned Al Jazeera English journalist who on Friday was awarded the World Press Freedom Award, is actually kind of a dick.

And I’m sure he feels the same way about me.

A couple of years before he and his colleagues Peter Greste and Beher Mohamed were arrested in Cairo and accused of running a terrorist cell from their rooms at the Marriott, I worked with Fahmy on a story I produced for VICE News. It was July 2011 and the toppling of President Hosni Mubarak earlier in the year hadn’t brought the sea change that Egyptians were hoping for. Protesters were expected to return to Tahrir Square in what was being dubbed, “Egypt’s Second Revolution.” The very short version of this story is that we were having trouble getting all of the elements of the story we were after when we met Fahmy who offered his services as a fixer. Now, we already had a fixer in Cairo, but I was willing to try anything at that point, so I hired Fahmy for a day to see what he could do. He delivered, but he didn’t gel with me and my crew. At the end of a very long day of shooting, we were happy to part ways.

The next morning, working again with our original fixer, we traveled to Port Said on the Suez Canal, where we heard rumors that the Egyptian Army was violently cracking down on protesters. We were there all of a half-hour before being accused by the locals of being “spies.” Luckily the Army got to us before the angry mob did. Our crew was detained, interrogated, interrogated again, driven back to Cairo, interrogated together, interrogated separately, and at around one or two in the morning, released into the custody of the U.S. State Department. When I got my phone back, I saw a BBM from Fahmy asking if it was true that we had been arrested.

“Just a little,” I replied.

He said he wanted to write a story about it, and asked for quotes from us. I declined, saying that I didn’t think there was much of a story — getting detained for long, boring periods of time followed by being unceremoniously released is quite commonplace in our line of work. I asked him as a favor to please not make a big deal about it, and if he did feel that he had to write something, to please just leave our names out of it.

He ran the story, names and all, which pissed me off. We traded shitty BBMs back and forth, and I came away thinking of him as a pushy, bull-headed bastard who cared more about getting a story out than for the people who that story was about.

In other words, a damn good journalist.

Journalists are people whose jobs it is to find out things that people don’t necessarily want them to find out. That often requires a type of aggression and self-righteous determination that rubs people the wrong way. And that’s one of the reasons we need to change the way we talk about press freedom. [Continue reading...]

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Pierre Omidyar’s quarter billion dollar journalism project seems to have stopped publishing

Paul Carr asks: Genuine question: what the hell is happening at Pierre Omidyar and Glenn Greenwald’s The Intercept?

I say “genuine question” because, as other writers have discovered, it’s impossible to ask questions about Greenwald without being accused by his army of fans of being an NSA shill or worse. Any suggestion that all might not be well in Glennville, or Pierretown, or whatever cute geographic nickname you prefer, is met with howls of “LEAVE GLENN ALONE!

Which is perhaps why other media commentators have been reluctant to point out that the Intercept, the flagship site of Omidyar’s new $250m journalism empire, hasn’t posted a new story in almost ten days. This while its biggest target — the NSA — stands accused of exploiting perhaps the biggest Internet security flaw ever discovered. [Continue reading...]

Update: The Pando post appears to have kicked The Intercept off standby mode — at least until its editor, John Cook, heads off to seder at 3pm before which he sends his “Passover Greetings” (I’m not really sure what his point is about religious observance.)

Cook explains that the recent lack of activity was “on purpose,” so presumably the lack of communication about this lack of activity was also on purpose.

He says, “you shouldn’t expect to be hearing from us on much aside from the very specific work of the [NSA] documents, which is itself time-consuming and exacting, for some small, indeterminate, but discrete period of time as we get the site set up to operate for the long term.”

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How Seymour Hersh helped cover up the American holocaust in Vietnam

Clay Claiborne writes: I made a documentary about the Vietnam War five years ago, Vietnam: American Holocaust. Since I wanted it to be the ultimate Vietnam War documentary, I got the guy who narrated and starred in Apocalypse Now to do the voice-over. I made it because too many educated Americans will tell you 58,000 people died in the Vietnam War, when the real number is closer to three million, give or take 50,000. The tag line I have used to promote the film has been “The Vietnam War was a Mỹ Lai every week.” Since most people know about the Mỹ Lai massacre, it is an easy way to say what the film’s message is. The month after I released the film, Nick Turse published an article in The Nation titled “A Mỹ Lai a Month” about Operation Speedy Express, in which 10,889 Vietnamese were killed at the cost of only 267 American lives, which made much the same point.

That point, already known to the Vietnamese, most serious students of the Vietnam War, and certainly most combat vets, is that the only thing really outstanding about the Mỹ Lai massacre is the amount of attention it received.

Consider this relatively unknown massacre related by, Scott Camil, a decorated Vietnam combat Marine who testifies in my film. Why is it any less deserving to be known to the world and remembered throughout history?

In Operation Stone we were sitting up on the rail road trestle with a river on each side. There’s another company behind each river. And like the people were running around inside. And we were just shooting them and the newspaper said Operation Stone like World War Two movie. We just sat up there and wiped them out, women, children, everything. Two hundred nine-one of them.

Was this not worthy of Pulitzer Prize winning reportage? Certainly Operation Speedy Express was because it clearly wasn’t a simple case of a Lieutenant and his company going off the reservation.

I have long been of the opinion that the US imperialists, even in their limited wisdom, understood they could never obliterate the people’s memory of the many atrocities of the Vietnam War, so they allowed one to become famous, they allowed one to be publicized and prosecuted, in the hopes that the public memory of the generalized and pervasive massacres that was the Vietnam War, would be resolved down to the memory of this one atrocity, and in this they have been largely successful. I believe this is the proper context to view Seymour Hersh’s Pulitzer Prizing winning reporting on the Mỹ Lai Massacre. [Continue reading...]

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Triumph of the will: Putin’s war against Russia’s last independent TV channel

Tikhon Dzyadko writes: Vladimir Putin won the war in Crimea without a bullet being fired. But to triumph in a very different war – that against independent Russian media – he didn’t even have to bring in the army. In today’s Russia, there are very different instruments for this kind of thing.

My colleagues and I know this from first-hand experience: the only Russian independent television station where we work, Dozhd, or “Rain”, has been operating on the edge of extinction for the past couple of months.

Dozhd first aired in Russia in 2010, when, after the first two tough presidencies of Putin, there was a strong demand for unbiased information and rigorous journalism. Thanks to this, within four years it became one of the main information resources in the country. We didn’t have to do anything particularly cunning to achieve this – we just filmed the kinds of things that had disappeared from Russian television over the previous 15 years: live broadcasts, cutting-edge interviews with politicians and public figures, live feeds from different parts of the world.

During the past four years we not only interviewed members of the opposition who have been in effect blacklisted by state-run media, but also representatives of the leadership who answered incisive and uncomfortable questions live that simply wouldn’t get asked on state television.

We interviewed the then president, Dmitry Medvedev, and Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov. In contrast to others, we covered the social protests in Russian cities during the winter of 2011-2012, just by installing cameras and broadcasting the demonstrations live. Mikhail Khodorkovsky gave his first interview on being freed from prison last December to us. And it was Dozhd, alone among Russian media outlets, that covered the riots in Kiev last winter live, giving airtime to opposition figures and the authorities.

Our audience has grown with every month: we broadcast on the internet and our channel is carried by the biggest Russian cable and satellite networks.

On the face of it, we weren’t doing anything out of the ordinary but for one fact: this is Russia, where the Kremlin’s media agenda does not presuppose the existence of independent media. And so it became essential for the Kremlin to find a reason to start a campaign against unwanted media. [Continue reading...]

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Pierre and Pamela Omidyar’s cozy ties with the White House

white-house

Paul Carr writes: Last month, Pando’s Mark Ames reported that Omidyar Networks, the philanthropic organization operated by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife Pamela, had co-invested with the US government in opposition groups that played a key role in organizing Ukraine’s recent revolution.

Unsurprisingly, given Omidyar is now running First Look Media, a journalistic enterprise dedicated to exposing US government wrongdoing around the world, some FLM staffers and supporters rushed to cry foul over our report.

USA Today’s Rem Rieder argued that Omidyar Network’s investments were a non-issue as they had been disclosed years earlier. Other supporters pointed out that, just because the Omidyars co-invested with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), and appeared to share their policy on regime change in Ukraine, didn’t mean that they had actively collaborated with the government on investment strategy.

This narrative of Pierre Omidyar being politically and financially separate from the Obama White House is a vitally important one. In recent weeks, the site’s reporters have taken their fight right to the President’s doorstep with headlines like “The White House Has Been Covering Up the Presidency’s Role in Torture for Years,” claiming that the administration has deliberately withheld thousands of documents relating to the CIA’s role in detention and interrogation of prisoners. Any sniff that First Look’s owner, publisher and chief editorial recruiter has close ties to the White House could undermine the whole premise of the organization.

Speaking to the Daily Beast, documentary maker Jeremy Scahill mentioned his boss explicitly when comparing the cozy relationship between other news organizations and the White House. First Look, he insisted, would be different…

I think that the White House, whether it is under Republican or Democrat, they pretty much now [sic] who they are dealing with. There are outlets like The Daily Beast, or The Huffington Post that have risen up in the past decade, but they are very quickly just becoming part of the broader mainstream media, and with people that have spent their careers working for magazines or newspapers or what have you, and the White House believes they all speak the language on these things. With us, because we want to be adversarial, they won’t know what bat phone to call. They know who to call at The Times, they know who to call at The Post. With us, who are they going to call? Pierre? Glenn?”

Scahill’s question is a good one — and it’s also very easy to answer: If the White House has a problem with First Look, it’s a pretty safe bet they’ll pick up the phone and call Pierre Omidyar. [Continue reading...]

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Jeffrey Goldberg is the Israel debate’s ‘official therapist’ — and its ‘Jekyll and Hyde’

o13-iconWilliam McGowan writes: Bloomberg View columnist Jeffrey Goldberg has been called the “official therapist” of the US-Israel “special relationship.” He also functions as a referee or a cop in the debate about that relationship, enforcing acceptable standards in a discourse fraught with semantic landmines and political ill will. Temperamentally, the two Goldbergs couldn’t be more different. It’s almost like he’s journalistically bi-polar — the Israel debate’s Jekyll and Hyde.

Therapist Goldberg is the Good Jeffrey. As almost everyone who has known or met him will attest, he’s witty, genial and funny — a mensch. This is the side of him we see on Charlie Rose, on the Sunday morning newsmaker shows and on CNN. It’s also the side we see in most of Bloomberg columns and, before he joined Bloomberg, in most of his magazine work for the Atlantic and the New Yorker. He’s plugged in and well informed, on a first name basis with sources that are often unavailable to others in the insular, incestuous world of Israeli politics — and often privy to developments in the Mid-east that other journalists only learn about through him. The time he spent in Israel after dropping out of college in the 1980’s has served him well, providing a platform for a journalistic career that has focused on Middle Eastern politics—Israel and the Islamic world both — for the last 20 years.

Goldberg’s analysis of the Iranian nuclear negotiations has been marked by a command of technical and diplomatic detail, even if he has favored the cynical view held by Israel, which sees the Iran nuclear negotiations less in terms of the opportunities it offers for avoiding war than in terms of the room it offers Iran to manipulate world opinion. Goldberg’s Washington access has been impressive too: His Bloomberg interview with Obama two weeks ago made global news when Obama told him that it was basically time for Benjamin Netanyahu to get with the John Kerry peace program or risk Israel’s international isolation.

Goldberg the debate “cop” however is the Bad Jeffrey. Underneath the network prominence and national headlines, he’s a bully and a smear artist with a very long history of making gratuitous accusations of anti Semitism and using dishonest straw-man argumentation to distort the views of those who challenge his ideas about Israel in a way that can only be characterized as demagogic. He flashed this side of himself, regularly and egregiously, when he was blogging for the Atlantic, which he has stopped doing, apparently finding blogging too “glandular.” But the toxicity still leaches into his Bloomberg columns and into his Twitter feed, as well as into the book reviews he on the side. Goldberg the cop personifies the nasty edge that characterizes the broader American debate on Israel, as well as the drive to demonize and expel those who challenge the sacred cows and taboos that make the debate so dysfunctional or make criticism of Israel that its American supporters find offensive or threatening. [Continue reading...]

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Russia blocks access to major independent news sites

Electronic Frontier Foundation reports: Russia’s government has escalated its use of its Internet censorship law to target news sites, bloggers, and politicians under the slimmest excuse of preventing unauthorized protests and enforcing house arrest regulations. Today, the country’s ISPs have received orders to block a list of major news sites and system administrators have been instructed to take the servers providing the content offline.

The banned sites include the online newspaper Grani, Garry Kasparov’s opposition information site kasparov.ru, the livejournal of popular anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny, and even the web pages of Ekho Moskvy, a radio station which is majority owned by the state-run Gazprom, and whose independent editor was ousted last month and replaced with a more government-friendly director.

The list of newly prohibited sites was published earlier today by Russia’s Prosecutor General, which announced that the news sites had been “entered into the single register of banned information” after “calls for participation in unauthorized rallies.” Navalny’s livejournal was apparently added to the register in response to the conditions of his current house arrest, which include a personal prohibition on accessing the Internet. [Continue reading...]

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How the Russia Today propaganda apparatus operates

a13-iconBuzzFeed reports: Staci Bivens knew something was seriously wrong when her bosses at Russia Today asked her to put together a story alleging that Germany — Europe’s economic powerhouse — was a failed state.

“It was me and two managers and they had already discussed what they wanted,” Bivens, an American who worked in RT’s Moscow headquarters from 2009 through 2011, said of a meeting she’d had to discuss the segment before a planned reporting trip to Germany. “They called me in and it was really surreal. One of the managers said, ‘The story is that the West is failing, Germany is a failed state.’”

Bivens, who had spent time in Germany, told the managers the story wasn’t true — the term “failed state” is reserved for countries that fail to provide basic government services, like Somalia or Congo, not for economically advanced, industrialized nations like Germany. They insisted. Bivens refused. RT flew a crew to Germany ahead of Bivens, who was flown in later to do a few standups and interviews about racism in Germany. It was the beginning of the end of her RT career.

“At that point I’d been there for a little bit and I’d had enough of the insanity,” Bivens said. She stayed until the end of her contract in 2011 and didn’t make an effort to renew it.

Judging by interviews with seven former and current employees, Bivens’ story is typical. [Continue reading...]

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Editor of independent Russian news site replaced with pro-Kremlin figure

n13-iconThe Guardian reports: In what appears to be part of a growing state crackdown on liberal media, the editor of a major independent Russian news website has been replaced by a Kremlin-friendly editor after running an interview with a controversial Ukrainian nationalist.

Lenta.ru announced on its site on Wednesday that Galina Timchenko, who had worked there since its founding in 1999, would immediately be replaced by Alexei Goreslavsky, the former editor of the pro-Kremlin internet publication Vzglyad. Goreslavsky is currently deputy general director for external communications at the Afisha-Rambler-SUP media holding that owns Lenta.ru.

The news came only hours after the state communications watchdog issued a warning to Lenta.ru over a recent interview with Dmytro Yarosh, leader of the Ukrainian ultranationalist paramilitary group Right Sector, which played a key role in the protests that ousted President Viktor Yanukovych. The Investigative Committee of Russia, the country’s main federal investigator, has charged Yarosh, who recently announced he would run for president in Ukraine’s May elections, with inciting terrorism over a post on a Right Sector social network page that called on Russia’s most-wanted terrorist, Doku Umarov, to “activate his struggle.”

But a letter posted on Lenta.ru and signed by 69 employees and correspondents said Goreslavsky’s appointment amounted to “direct pressure on the Lenta.ru editorial staff” and a violation of censorship laws. Lenta.ru’s editorial policy, which embraced controversial topics and was often critical of the Kremlin, won the site a wide readership, including 13.6 million unique visitors last month, according to Rambler.ru rankings.

“This is absolutely a political situation,” said Lenta.ru’s night editor, Pavel Borisov. “Galina Timchenko was the best editor-in-chief I ever had. I don’t plan to work with Goreslavsky.” The change in editor came with no warning, he added. [Continue reading...]

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Russian media and ‘journalistic independence’

e13-iconA couple of days ago, Glenn Greenwald wrote:

American media elites awash in an orgy of feel-good condemnation in particular love to mock Russian media, especially the government-funded English-language outlet RT, as being a source of shameless pro-Putin propaganda, where free expression is strictly barred (in contrast to the Free American Media). That that network has a strong pro-Russian bias is unquestionably true. But one of its leading hosts, Abby Martin, remarkably demonstrated last night what “journalistic independence” means by ending her Breaking the Set program with a clear and unapologetic denunciation of the Russian action in Ukraine:

I imagine most readers here will have already seen Martin’s widely publicized statement. Clearly she was flattered by gaining Greenwald’s attention, whose remarks she featured at the beginning of her next show.

Even so, anyone who thinks that Martin’s statement should be taken as a sign that RT values journalistic independence, is ignoring the reality of the Russian media and the organization she works for and chooses to continue working for despite her opposition to the invasion of Crimea.

RIA Novosti reports: On Wednesday, Izvestia daily newspaper reported that a ruling United Russia party deputy is readying legislation that would, among other things, make it a crime to “allow publication of false anti-Russian information.”

Starting Wednesday, staff at RIA Novosti’s Moscow-based English-language desk was asked to decide whether they wanted to work at [the newly created] Rossiya Segodnya or accept compensation packages. The bulk of the writers and editors for the English-language service have opted for the latter option.

The new agency is to be headed by Dmitry Kiselyov, a notoriously outspoken conservative TV presenter, and will share its editor-in-chief, Margarita Simonyan, with the Kremlin-funded TV news channel RT.

RT, which was formerly known as Russia Today, has been at the center of controversy recently with two reporters at the channel “going rogue” to openly criticize Russia’s interventions in the southern Ukrainian province of Crimea in the past few days. Criticism of the Kremlin typically gets little to no attention on RT, while content devoted to negative aspects of life in Western countries makes up a substantial part of its broadcasts.

Kiselyov’s ascendancy appears to point to efforts by the Russian authorities to appeal more to ultra-conservative values, a trend best signaled by last year’s passage of a law banning the promotion of homosexual “propaganda” to minors.

In Kiselyov’s most notorious on-screen harangue, dating back to 2012, he suggested it would be advisable to “burn or bury the hearts of gays” who die in car crashes.

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Russia Today anchor resigns live on air

Russia Today America anchor Liz Wahl resigned live on air on Wednesday, saying: “I cannot be part of a network funded by the Russian government which whitewashes the actions of Putin.” RT dismissed her action by calling it a “self-promotional stunt.”

James Kirchick reports: Wahl, for her part, says that while the Kremlin influence over RT isn’t always overt, that journalists there understand what they have to do to succeed and fall into line accordingly. “I think management is able to manipulate the very young and naïve employees,” she says. “They will find ways to punish you covertly and reward those that do go along with their narrative.”

“It’s interesting that our motto is ‘Question More,’” she says of the RT slogan. (It once adorned posters showing President Obama morphing into former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with the words, “Who poses the greater nuclear threat?”)

“In order to succeed there you don’t question… In a way you kind of suppress any concerns that you have and play the game.”

Wahl recalls a story she attempted to report about last year’s French intervention in Mali, aimed at repelling an al-Qaeda takeover of the country. She interviewed a Malian man who “talked about what it was like to live under sharia law, people getting limbs amputated…And I thought it was probably one of the best interviews that I’ve ever done. I was touched by what he said as a first hand source, but he also talked about how the French were well-received there and how they were waving French flags and how they should have come sooner, how grateful a large part of the population was, having seen people being literally tortured and having their limbs cut off.”

That story, however, didn’t fit the RT narrative, which portrays every Western military intervention as an act of imperialism while depicting Russian ones as mere humanitarian attempts at “protecting” local populations, as the network constantly describes Moscow’s role in Crimea. Needless to say, Wahl’s interview with the thankful Malian never aired. “I was told after that it was a ‘weak’ interview,” Wahl said.

Though RT America has many American staffers, Wahl says that Russian expatriates call the shots. “They’re definitely at the top, the Russians, they’re kind of able to pull the strings… I just think it’s absurd that we’re just a few blocks away from the White House and this is all able to go along,” she says.

Having worked on the inside, Wahl perfectly understands RT’s marketing strategy, which is to appeal to a young, Western demographic cynical about mainstream media outlets and traditional political authority. “I think some of them are kind of like this hipster generation, they just kind of think it’s cool to question authority,” she says.

But what the network’s many young viewers don’t understand, or refuse to understand, is that the channel’s message emanates from the most authoritarian of sources: the Kremlin.

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