Yemen: The rise of the Houthis

The Rise of the Houthis was filmed in late 2014 and aired on the BBC last month.

Safa Al Ahmad, the freelance Saudi journalist who made this documentary, talks about her work in the short video below. On March 18, she won the 2015 Freedom of Expression Award for journalism, from the Index on Censorship.

Her 30-minute documentary, Saudi’s Secret Uprising, was broadcast by the BBC in May 2014:

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Russian propaganda exploits Western weakness

Andrew Kornbluth writes: It is becoming clear that certain authoritarian models of government are capable of matching and, in some respects, even exceeding the accomplishments of their democratic counterparts. Whether Russia, with its dependence on energy exports and otherwise undiversified economy, should be counted among them is debatable, but there is one area in which the Russian state has so far demonstrated a clear mastery over its Western opponents: its propaganda or, to use the public relations term, its messaging.

But impressive as the information component of Russia’s current “hybrid war” over Ukraine has been, its success arguably owes less to its ingenuity than to ingrained flaws in Western democratic culture for which there is no simple solution.

The effectiveness of Russia’s spin is difficult to deny; in addition to the almost 90 percent of Russians who support their president and, albeit passively, his expansionist campaign, a large part of the Western public, especially in Europe, remains convinced that Russia bears little or no responsibility for the war in Ukraine.

Ironically, Russian messaging has worked by exploiting vulnerabilities in precisely those mechanisms of self-criticism and skepticism which are considered so essential to the functioning of a democratic society. The modern Western culture of self-doubt has proved particularly susceptible to manipulation in a 21st-century confrontation that strongly recalls its Cold War origins.

Four assumptions popular in contemporary Western democratic discourse have been co-opted by Russian messaging in the present crisis. The first is that all sides in a conflict are equally guilty. Never far beneath the surface, Europe’s suspicion of the leader of the Western alliance, the United States, has been reinvigorated by successive scandals over the war in Iraq, torture and eavesdropping. Everyone has committed crimes — so the thinking goes — so how can the West possibly reproach Russia?

Likewise, in this confused moral landscape, the “illegality” of the Ukrainian revolution is blithely juxtaposed with the illegality of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, while the enormous differences in nature, scale and motive between the subjects under comparison go unmentioned.

The second assumption is that there are “two sides to every story.” The desire to consult multiple sources and the unwillingness to accept just one narrative are part of a healthy critical outlook, but the system breaks down when one side is a fabrication. There is no middle ground, for example, between the claim that the Russian army is fighting in Ukraine and the claim that it is not. [Continue reading…]

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Remembering Bob Simon

The following segment was broadcast on 60 Minutes in 2012:

Bob Simon died in a car crash in New York City on Wednesday evening.

Daoud Kuttab writes: “At the time that his colleagues were enjoying the Tel Aviv sun and beach, Bob was ploughing the streets of Gaza and the villages of the West Bank looking for that unique voice, that special interview, which he could beautifully embroider into his news masterpieces.”

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Remembering David Carr — in conversation with Poitras, Greenwald, and Snowden

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The international media is failing to report the Syrian war properly

By Scott Lucas, University of Birmingham

February 2015 has already seen some major developments in Syria’s four-year conflict. At the start of February, rebels launched more than 100 rockets into Damascus and the Assad regime fired mortars on areas of its own capital, hoping to discredit the insurgents. At least six people were killed in the attacks.

Then came almost 50 regime air strikes on opposition-held areas near Damascus, which killed at least 82 people. Another 25 were killed in Aleppo when a barrel bomb hit a bus on a roundabout.

Meanwhile, rebels also claimed to have blown up 30 men fighting for the Assad regime – Hezbollah troops, Iranians, and Iraqis among them – at a militia headquarters west of Damascus.

All this while US-led coalition air strikes were carried out in eastern Syria against the Islamic State (IS), with Jordan in particular vowing to “wipe them from the face of the Earth” after the group murdered a captured pilot.

Take a look at the world’s media coverage, though, and you might be forgiven for thinking things were rather more quiet.

[Read more…]

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What the CIA didn’t want Americans to know

Politico reports: For a year, Newsweek held a story on the assassination of top Hezbollah operative Imad Mughniyeh at the CIA’s request, the magazine confirmed Friday — only to be scooped by The Washington Post last week.

The CIA made a forceful case for holding the story in conversations and a meeting at the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Va., and Newsweek honored that request, according to Editor-in-Chief Jim Impoco.

“In the geopolitical context at that moment, the CIA made a very persuasive case,” Impoco said in an interview – but declined to say what arguments the CIA made at the time. The CIA also declined to comment. [Continue reading…]

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Under-reported conflicts seen affecting millions in 2015

Reuters reports: While wars in Syria, Iraq and Ukraine make headlines in the West, around 30 other conflicts receive little press coverage, and the resulting lack of pressure for change could have serious implications for millions of people, experts say.

Civil wars in Sudan’s western Darfur region and its southern states have almost disappeared from the media despite affecting huge numbers and displacing 2.4 million people in Darfur alone.

Neighbouring South Sudan is also an overlooked crisis that urgently needs attention, said Jean-Marie Guehenno, president of Brussels-based think tank International Crisis Group, which is currently tracking more than 30 conflicts globally.

South Sudan ranked alongside Afghanistan and Syria last year as the three least peaceful countries in the world in an annual index compiled by the Institute for Economics and Peace.

“The horrific violence you still see in South Sudan is because there is no pressure from public opinion,” Guehenno told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The civil war there is entering its second year, bringing the world’s newest country to the brink of bankruptcy and famine as violence has displaced at least 1.9 million of the nation’s 11 million people and killed more than 10,000. [Continue reading…]

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American Sniper illustrates the West’s morality blind spots

Gary Younge writes: Say what you like about the film American Sniper, and people have, you have to admire its clarity. It’s about killing. There is no moral arc; no anguish about whether the killing is necessary or whether those who are killed are guilty of anything. “I’m prepared to meet my maker and answer for every shot I took,” says Bradley Cooper, who plays the late Chris Kyle, a navy Seal who was reputedly the deadliest sniper in American history. There is certainly no discursive quandary about whether the Iraq war, in which the killing takes place, is either legal or justified. “I couldn’t give a flying fuck about the Iraqis,” wrote Kyle in his memoir, where he refers to the local people as “savages”.

The film celebrates a man who has a talent for shooting people dead when they are not looking and who, apparently, likes his job. “After the first kill, the others come easy,” writes Kyle. “I don’t have to psych myself up, or do anything special mentally. I look through the scope, get my target in the crosshairs, and kill my enemy before he kills one of my people.”

Americans are celebrating the film. It has been nominated for six Oscars and enjoyed the highest January debut ever. When Kyle kills his rival, a Syrian sniper named Mustafa, with a mile-long shot, audiences cheer. It has done particularly well with men and in southern and midwestern markets where the film industry does not expect to win big. And while its appeal is strong in the heartland it has travelled well too, providing career-best opening weekends for Clint Eastwood in the UK, Taiwan, New Zealand, Peru and Italy.

And so it is that within a few weeks of the developed world uniting to defend western culture and Enlightenment values, it produces a popular celluloid hero who is tasked not with satirising Islam, but killing Muslims. [Continue reading…]

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Charlie Hebdo founder says slain editor ‘dragged’ team to their deaths

The Telegraph reports: One of the founding members of Charlie Hebdo has accused its slain editor, Patrick Charbonnier, or Charb, of “dragging the team” to their deaths by releasing increasingly provocative cartoons, as five million copies of the “survivors’ edition” went on sale.

Henri Roussel, 80, who contributed to the first issue of the satirical weekly in 1970, wrote to the murdered editor, saying: “I really hold it against you.”

In this week’s Left-leaning magazine Nouvel Obs, Mr Roussel, who publishes under the pen name Delfeil de Ton, wrote: “I know it’s not done”, but proceeds to criticise the former “boss” of the magazine.

Calling Charb an “amazing lad”, he said he was also a stubborn “block head”.

“What made him feel the need to drag the team into overdoing it,” he said, referring to Charb’s decision to post a Mohammed character on the magazine’s front page in 2011. Soon afterwards, the magazine’s offices were burned down by unknown arsonists.

Delfeil adds: “He shouldn’t have done it, but Charb did it again a year later, in September 2012.”

The accusation sparked a furious reaction from Richard Malka, Charlie Hebdo’s lawyer for the past 22 years, who sent an angry message to Mathieu Pigasse, one of the owners of Nouvel Obs and Le Monde. [Continue reading…]

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French court banned advertisement insulting Christian faith

On March 11, 2005, BBC News reported: France’s Catholic Church has won a court injunction to ban a clothing advertisement based on Leonardo da Vinci’s Christ’s Last Supper.

The display was ruled “a gratuitous and aggressive act of intrusion on people’s innermost beliefs”, by a judge.

The church objected to the female version of the fresco, which includes a female Christ, used by clothing designers Marithe et Francois Girbaud.

The authorities in the Italian city of Milan banned the poster last month.

The French judge in the case ordered that all posters on display should be taken down within three days.

The association which represented the church was also awarded costs.

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Jeremy Scahill slams TV ‘terrorism experts’

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Media coverage of Charlie Hebdo and the Baga massacre: a study in contrasts

By Ethan Zuckerman, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Consider two tragic events that took place last week.

A small cell of Islamic terrorists attacked cartoonists at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and shoppers in a Paris supermarket, killing 17 people and sparking international outcry, solidarity and support.

The hashtag #JeSuisCharlie trended globally, and world leaders took to the streets to march in support of Parisian resilience.

In northern Nigeria, meanwhile, an army of Islamic extremists razed the village of Baga, killing as many as 2,000 people – mostly women and children who were unable to flee the attacks.

Later in the week, the same army – Boko Haram – introduced a horrific new weapon of war in the nearby city of Maiduguri. They strapped explosives to the body of a ten year old girl and sent her into the city’s main poultry market. The girl was stopped by guards and a metal detector at the market’s entrance, but the bomb detonated and killed at least 19.

There has been no global hashtag campaign or march for the victims of these most recent Boko Haram massacres.

[Read more…]

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Steven Emerson: Fox News ‘terrorism expert’ and ‘complete idiot’

Steven Emerson, who describes himself as “one of the leading authorities on Islamic extremist networks, financing and operations,” and is treated as such by Fox News had this to say after the Charlie Hebdo shootings:

Birmingham, Britain’s second largest city, completely Muslim! Naturally, this is a source of much city pride. Here’s the reaction from “Mobeen” (Gunam Khan):

(Since I’m not a brummie, I can’t make out everything this character is saying, but I get the gist of it. And since humor doesn’t often feature on this site, for those who don’t already get it, Khan is a stand-up comic.)

It wasn’t long before British Prime Minister David Cameron and others pointed out that Emerson is, in the PM’s words, “a complete idiot.”

Emerson was asked on the BBC how he reached his conclusions and how he feels about being called “a complete idiot.”

Needless to say, Emerson’s comments have generated an abundance of priceless tweets:

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Former CBS News reporter sues U.S. government over computer intrusions

The Washington Post reports: For months and months, former CBS News investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson played an agonizing game of brinkmanship regarding her privacy: She strongly suggested that the federal government was behind a series of intrusions into her personal and work computers, though she has consistently hedged her wording to allow some wiggle room. In May 2013, for example, she told a Philadelphia radio host that there could be “some relationship” between her technology intrusions and the government snooping on Fox News reporter James Rosen. And in her book “Stonewalled,” she cites a source as saying that the breaches originated from a “sophisticated entity that used commercial, nonattributable spyware that’s proprietary to a government agency: either the CIA, FBI, the Defense Intelligence Agency, or the National Security Agency (NSA).”

No more wiggling around. Attkisson has filed a lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court, alleging the U.S. government’s “unauthorized and illegal surveillance of the Plaintiff’s laptop computers and telephones from 2011-2013.” The suit lists as plaintiffs Attkisson, who resigned from CBS last year, her husband, James Attkisson, and daughter Sarah Judith Starr Attkisson. Defendants include Attorney General Eric Holder and Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe as well as “UNKNOWN NAMED AGENTS OF the UNITED STATES, in their individual capacities.” Those folks, the suit alleges, violated several constitutional rights, including freedom of the press, freedom of expression and freedom from “unreasonable searches and seizures.”

The complaint lays out a narrative familiar to close readers of “Stonewalled.” It speaks of Attkisson’s work for CBS throughout 2011 in uncovering facts about the U.S. government’s “Fast and Furious” gun-walking operation. Roundabout mid- to late-2011, notes the complaint, the Attkissons “began to notice anomalies” in how various electronic devices were operating in the household. “These anomalies included a work Toshiba laptop computer and a family Apple desktop computer turning on and off at night without input from anyone in the household, the house alarm chirping daily at difference times, often indicating ‘phone line trouble,’ and television problems, including interference,” notes the complaint. [Continue reading…]

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Inside Putin’s information war

Peter Pomerantsev writes: There were more than 20 of us sitting around the long conference table: tanned broadcasters in white silk shirts, politics professors with sweaty beards and heavy breath, ad execs in trainers—and me. There were no women. Everyone was smoking. There was so much smoke it made my skin itch.

It was 2002, and I was just out of university, living in Moscow and working at a think tank meant to be promoting Russian-U.S. political ties. A friendly Russian publisher who wanted me to work for him had invited me to what would be my first meeting in Moscow. And that’s how I ended up surrounded by Russian media gurus tucked away on the top floor of Ostankino, the Soviet-era television center that is the battering ram of Kremlin propaganda—home to the studios of the country’s biggest channels. Here, Moscow’s flashiest minds gathered for a weekly brainstorming session to decide what Ostankino would broadcast.

At one end of the table sat one of the country’s most famous political TV presenters. He was small and spoke fast, with a smoky voice: “We all know there will be no real politics,” he said. “But we still have to give our viewers the sense something is happening. They need to be kept entertained.”

“So what should we play with?” he asked. “Shall we attack oligarchs? Who’s the enemy this week? Politics has got to feel like a movie!”

More than a decade later, that movie is increasingly dark and disturbing. The first thing Russian militias do when they take a town in East Ukraine is seize the television towers and switch them over to Kremlin channels. Soon after, the locals begin to rant about fascists in Kyiv and dark U.S. plots to purge Russian speakers from East Ukraine. It’s not just what they say but how they say it that is so disturbing: irrational spirals of paranoia, theories so elaborate and illogical one can’t possibly argue with them.

This is even before the bombs start falling on them: “Information war is now the main type of war,” says the Kremlin’s chief propagandist Dmitry Kieselev, “preparing the way for military action.” And Putin’s Russia is very good at it, having combined the dirtiest mechanisms of PR, brainwashing techniques pioneered in cults and a rich KGB tradition of psy-ops into a sort of television Frankenstein with which it controls its own population, conquers neighboring countries and attacks the West. [Continue reading…]

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Adam Curtis on the politics of confusion

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Neil Postman: The man who predicted Fox News, the internet, Stephen Colbert and reality TV

Scott Timberg writes: These days, even the kind of educated person who might have once disdained TV and scorned electronic gadgets debates plot turns from “Game of Thrones” and carries an app-laden iPhone. The few left concerned about the effects of the Internet are dismissed as Luddites or killjoys who are on the wrong side of history. A new kind of consensus has shaped up as Steve Jobs becomes the new John Lennon, Amanda Palmer the new Liz Phair, and Elon Musk’s rebel cool graces magazines covers. Conservatives praise Silicon Valley for its entrepreneurial energy; a Democratic president steers millions of dollars of funding to Amazon.

It seems like a funny era for the work of a cautionary social critic, one often dubious about the wonders of technology – including television — whose most famous book came out three decades ago. But the neoliberal post-industrial world now looks chillingly like the one Neil Postman foresaw in books like “Amusing Ourselves to Death” and “Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology.” And the people asking the important questions about where American society is going are taking a page from him.

“Amusing Ourselves” didn’t argue that regular TV shows were bad or dangerous. It insisted instead that the medium would reshape every other sphere with which it engaged: By using the methods of entertainment, TV would trivialize what the book jacket calls “politics, education, religion, and journalism.”

“It just blew me away,” says D.C.-based politics writer Matt Bai, who read the 1985 book “Amusing Ourselves to Death” while trying to figure out how the press and media became obsessed with superficiality beginning in the ‘80s. “So much of what I’d been thinking about was pioneered so many years before,” says Bai – whose recent book, “All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid,” looks at the 1987 Gary Hart sex scandal that effectively ended the politician’s career. “It struck me as incredibly relevant … And the more I reported the book, the more relevant it became.”

Bai isn’t alone. While he’s hardly a household name, Postman has become an important guide to the world of the Internet though most of his work was written before its advent. Astra Taylor, a documentary filmmaker and Occupy activist, turned to his books while she was plotting out what became “The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age.” Douglas Rushkoff — a media theorist whose book “Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now,” is one of the most lucid guides to our bewildering age — is indebted to his work. Michael Harris’ recent “The End of Absence” is as well. And Jaron Lanier, the virtual-reality inventor and author (“Who Owns the Future?”) who’s simultaneously critic and tech-world insider, sees Postman as an essential figure whose work becomes more crucial every year.

“There’s this kind of dialogue around technology where people dump on each other for ‘not getting it,’” Lanier says. “Postman does not seem to be vulnerable to that accusation: He was old-fashioned but he really transcended that. I don’t remember him saying, ‘When I was a kid, things were better.’ He called on fundamental arguments in very broad terms – the broad arc of human history and ethics.” [Continue reading…]

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Inside Kobane

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