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Right to blog: New Article 19 Report

10 May

ARTICLE 19 proposes a set of recommendations to state actors and policy makers about what they should do to promote and protect the rights of bloggers domestically and internationally.

Journalism, Journalists and the World

For Americans the idea of using any and all means to spread ideas is second nature.

The First Amendment of the US Constitution put in writing what had become common place in first the 13 colonies and then the United States. The protection given to freedom of speech and press has expanded as technology changed.

“Press” no longer means just a printed document. It has come to mean any method of communicating thoughts and ideas.

And so blogging and Tweeting are fully protected in the United States.

In other countries, not so much.

Now Article 19 has come out with a document that talks about how press freedom issues have evolved in the age of the Internet.

The Right To Blog

Executive summary

In this policy paper, ARTICLE 19 proposes a set of recommendations to state actors and policy makers about what they should do to promote and protect the rights of…

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Malian army expels French journalist from Gao

9 May

A French freelance reporter has said she was expelled from the city of Gao after reporting on allegations of human rights abuses in a nearby town, according to news reports.

Dorothée Thiénot, who contributes to various French news outlets, published an article on the French daily L’Express on January 20, 2013, that cited claims by anonymous local residents that Malian army soldiers were killing real or perceived Islamist insurgents and their accomplices in Sévaré, a frontline town in the conflict between the government and militants linked to Al-Qaeda.

The article quoted a Malian army officer as denying any knowledge of the allegations.

Thiénot told CPJ in an email that she became the target of intimidation once local army officers became aware of the story. She said two days after an officer publicly threatened to expel her from the country, two soldiers entered her house in Gao and escorted her out of the city without allowing her to collect her belongings from the house. She said she was forced to return to Bamako, the capital.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Lt. Col. Nema Sagara, a senior officer with the Mlian army, accused Thiénot of attempting to “ruin the image of the Malian army” with her reporting.

L’Express issued a press statement condemning Thiénot’s expulsion.

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Controlling Information in the Internet Age

2 May

CIMA announces the release of its most recent report, The New  Gatekeepers: Controlling Information in the Internet Age, by veteran journalist and  media development trainer Bill Ristow. The  report traces how the technological revolution of the past few decades has created a new corporate world of Internet-based companies that have become the new gatekeepers of information.

The technological revolution of the past few decades has opened up a world of information for anyone with a computer, smartphone, tablet, and an Internet connection. And it has created a new corporate world as well: companies that didn’t exist 20 years ago but that have become among the most highly capitalized in the world by creating ways to help us work, play, converse, learn, argue, shop, and do nearly anything else, all online.

In the process, whether by helping us find information, organize it, prioritize it, or share it, in many ways these Internet companies have become the new gatekeepers of information–and their data-parsing algorithms the twenty first century equivalent of the stereotypical editor with the green eyeshade who filtered the news before passing it along to readers. Of course, there are many big differences between that editor and, say, Google, Twitter, or Facebook. But one of the biggest is that these new gatekeepers aren’t just working in a single newsroom in a single city, largely isolated from everyone else.

The Internet companies, though the largest of them are based in the United States, are literally working on the World Wide Web, playing on a global scale and hoping to elbow out their competitors to lock up rich international markets. As they have expanded globally, these pioneering corporations have had to face, and deal with, a tough reality. The Internet that gave them birth espouses all sorts of high-minded principles of open and free expression. But many of the governments in countries that offer tantalizingly large commercial markets not only do not espouse those principles, they actively deny them. And so the computer and software engineers who have taken us out into the world increasingly find themselves having to navigate its thorniest problems, balancing profit against human rights, and thinking about hate speech, censorship, and yes, whether an image of a woman breastfeeding her baby violates a policy against depicting nudity.

As they forge ahead, a growing number of academics, civil-society organizations, and advocacy groups are working to monitor the impact of the new information gatekeepers. They appreciate the challenge these companies face, and laud them for much that they have achieved. But they also argue articulately that more oversight, more transparency, is needed. And they point to the companies’ own principles. Google, for instance, has long been known for an informal motto from its early days, “Don’t be evil.”

Given that, “it’s difficult to do business in a country that doesn’t have that principle,” said Madeline Earp, of Freedom House. When it comes to the thorny issues of free flow of information, she said, “companies themselves cannot be the final arbiters, which they are by default right now.”

Colin Maclay, managing director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, makes a specialty of studying such things. “Can we get the Internet companies to set a standard? Do we know what good behavior looks like?” he wonders. “If we can set global norms about what’s good behavior and what’s not, then we’re hopeful that in some of those challenging markets we can have better outcomes.”

Center for International Media Assistance.


Putsch: Iceland‘s Crowd-Sourced Constitution Killed by Parliament

16 Apr

Following its spectacular plunge from grace in 2008 when its banking system crashed, inflicting huge damage on foreign creditors as well as on local residents, Iceland caught attention for trying to come to grips with what happened by bringing court cases against bankers and others allegedly responsible for the crash as well as for inviting the people of Iceland and its directly elected representatives to draft a new post-crash constitution designed inter alia to reduce the likelihood of another crash.

Up against the wall, with throngs of protesters boisterously banging their pots and pans in parliament square in Reykjavík, the post-crash government formed in 2009, to its credit, set the process in motion. A National Assembly was convened comprising 950 individuals selected at random from the national registry. Every Icelander 18 years or older had an equal chance of being selected to a seat in the assembly. Next, from a roaster of 522 candidates from all walks of life, 25 representatives were elected by the nation to a Constitutional Assembly to draft a new constitution reflecting the popular will as expressed by the National Assembly. Believe it or not, the Supreme Court, with eight of its nine justices at the time having been appointed by the Independence Party, now disgraced as the main culprit of the crash and in opposition, annulled the Constitutional Assembly election on flimsy and probably also illegal grounds, a unique event. The parliament then decided to appoint the 25 candidates who got the most votes to a Constitutional Council which took four months in 2011, as did the framers of the US constitution in Philadelphia in 1787, to draft and unanimously pass a new constitution. The constitutional bill stipulates, among other things: (a) electoral reform securing ‘one person, one vote’; (b) national ownership of natural resources; (c) direct democracy through national referenda; (d) freedom of information; and (e) environmental protection plus a number of new provisions designed to superimpose a layer of checks and balances on the existing system of semi-presidential parliamentary form of government. The preamble sets the tone: “We, the people of Iceland, wish to create a just society where everyone has a seat at the same table.” The people were invited to contribute to the drafting through the Constitutional Council’s interactive website. Foreign experts on constitutions, e.g. Prof. Jon Elster of Columbia University and Prof. Tom Ginsburg of the University of Chicago, have publicly praised the bill and the democratic way in which it was drafted.

Even so, it was clear from the outset that strong political forces would seek to undermine the bill. First, there are many politicians who think it is their prerogative and theirs alone to revise the constitution and view the National Assembly and the Constitutional Council elected by the people and appointed by parliament as intruders on their turf. Second, many politicians rightly worry about their reelection prospects under ‘one person, one vote’. Third, many politicians fear losing their clout with more frequent use of national referenda, and also fear exposure under a new freedom of information act. For example, a crucial telephone conversation between the prime minister and the governor of the Central Bank in the days before the crash in 2008 is still being kept secret even if a parliamentary committee has demanded to hear a recording of it. Last but not least, many vessel owners dislike the prospect of being deprived of their privileged and hugely profitable access to the common-property fishing grounds. As a matter of public record after the crash, politicians and political parties were handsomely rewarded by the banks before the crash. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that vessel owners must have likewise treated politicians and political parties generously in the past, an umbilical cord that many politicians clearly want to preserve.

In sum, it was clear that in a secret ballot the constitutional bill would never have had a chance of being adopted by parliament, not even after the national referendum on the bill on 20 October 2012 where 67% of the electorate expressed their support for the bill as well as for its main individual provisions, including national ownership of natural resources (83% said Yes), direct democracy (73% said Yes), and ‘one person, one vote’ (67% said Yes). But the parliament does not vote in secret. In fact, 32 out of 63 members of parliament were induced by an e-mail campaign organized by ordinary citizens to declare that they supported the bill and wanted to adopt it now. Despite these public declarations, however, the bill was not brought to a vote in the parliament, a heinous betrayal – and probably also an illegal act committed with impunity by the president of the parliament. Rather, the parliament decided to disrespect its own publicly declared will as well as the popular will as expressed in the national referendum by putting the bill on ice and, to add insult to injury, hastily requiring 2/3 of parliament plus 40% of the popular vote to approve any change in the constitution in the next parliament, meaning that at least 80% voter turnout would be required for a constitutional reform to be accepted in the next session of parliament. The politicians apparently paid no heed to the fact that under these rules Iceland’s separation from Denmark would not have been accepted in the referendum of 1918. In practice, this means that we are back to square one as intended by the enemies of the new constitution. There is faint hope that the new parliament will respect the will of the people if the outgoing one failed to do so despite its promises. In her farewell address, the outgoing Prime Minister, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, declared this to be the saddest day of her 35 years in parliament.

via Thorvaldur Gylfason.

Visiting Somali journalist shot dead in Mogadishu

25 Mar

Nairobi, March 25, 2013–Somali authorities must immediately investigate the murder of a radio journalist who was shot dead on Sunday evening in Mogadishu, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Two unidentified gunmen shot Rahmo Abdulkadir five times as she was walking to a relative’s house near Bacaad Market in Yaaqhiid District of Mogadishu, news reports said. Local journalists said the gunmen fled the scene before police arrived. News accounts reported that Rahmo’s unidentified female companion was unharmed.

Rahmo, 25, a reporter for Radio Abudwaq (Worshipper), was visiting Mogadishu from Galgadud district, a region in central Somalia, where the station was based. Abdikarim Ahmed, director of Radio Abudwaq, said the staff was shocked by the news and knew of no motive for the attack, news reports said.

Local journalists told CPJ the station covers news and social affairs for the central region of Somalia. It is unclear if the station had aired any sensitive stories in recent weeks.

Last month, Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon set up an Independent Task Force on Human Rights whose mandate includes investigating past cases of journalist murders, according to news reports. The prime minister also announced a $50,000 public reward for information leading to the conviction of a journalist killer.

“Despite promising measures set up by the government last month, the number of killed journalists in Somalia continues to grow,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. “Authorities must double their efforts and ensure security forces in Mogadishu are prepared to ensure the security of all civilians, including journalists.”

At least one journalist has been killed in direct connection to his work in Somalia in 2013, according to CPJ research. CPJ ranks Somalia as the most dangerous country to practice journalism in Africa. For the third consecutive year, the country has ranked second on CPJ’s Impunity Index, which calculates the number of unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of each country’s population.

from Committee to Protect Journalists

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