On the Media

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ON THE MEDIA: ‘According to the Digital Security Law, I am a Spy’: Bangladeshi Journalists Defend Their Right to Investigate

Screenshot from Facebook – people protesting with #আমিগুপ্তচর (#IAmSpy) hashtag

\Since January 29, dozens of journalists in Bangladesh have claimed, in their social media profiles, that they are spies.

Holding placards bearing the #আমিগুপ্তচর hashtag (pronounced “Ami Guptochor”, and meaning “#IAmaSpy” in the Bengali language) they are speaking out against a newly proposed law that would criminalize key research practices of investigative journalists.

The 2018 Digital Security Act, still in draft, is said to target digital crimes. The current draft was approved by the Council of Ministers of Bangladesh government on January 29 and is scheduled to be submitted to the Jatiya Sangsad (National Parliament) for approval. The act is expected to be approved without opposition, thanks to the majority held by the ruling Bangladesh Awami League party.

The Act is intended to replace the 2006 Information and Communication Technology Act (amended in 2013), which has drawn much criticism over the past years. The notorious Section 57 of the law prohibits digital messages that can “deteriorate” law and order, “prejudice the image of the state or person,” or “hurt religious beliefs.” For these non-bailable offenses, the punishment is a minimum seven years in prison and a hefty fine. These vague terms paved the way for dozens of journalists and hundreds of bloggers and online activists to be prosecuted for their writings and comments on social media. The Law Minister Anisul Huq promised in July 2017 that Section 57 would be scrapped.

Why #IamaSpy?

The Section 32 of the proposed act stipulates:

If a person enters any government, semi-government or autonomous institutions illegally, and secretly records any information or document with electronic instruments, it will be considered as an act of espionage and he/she will face 14 years of imprisonment or a fine of BDT 2 million (US$ 24,000) or both.

Many journalists and online activists fear that their investigative work to expose irregularities by government employees and politicians could be regarded as espionage.

Journalist Rozina Islam told BBC Bangla in an interview that the Digital Security Act will make the process of obtaining evidence for news articles very difficult.

What else is inside the 2018 Digital Security Act?

There are 48 sections in the proposed Digital Security Act. The journalists initially reacted to its section 32, which says that unsolicited collection of information from any government, semi-government or autonomous institutions using electronic devices will be defined as digital spying.

There are a number of other sections in this new act that could threaten online free expression and media rights in the country. Section 57 of the soon-to-be-scrapped ICT Act stipulated a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison for offenses such as defamation, hurting religious sentiments, causing deterioration of law and order and instigating against any person or organization. The draft of Digital Security Act splits these offenses into four separate sections with punishment ranging from three to 10 years’ term. Some of the other more striking portions of the law include:

– Section 27: Material in websites or in electronic devices that hurts religious beliefs. The offense is non-bailable and punishment is 5 years imprisonment and BDT 1 million (USD$ 12,000) fine or both.

– Section 28: Publication of false and degrading remarks in media. The offense is bailable and punishment is 3 years imprisonment and BDT 300,000 (USD$ 3,600) fine or both.

–  A lifetime prison sentence for spreading negative propaganda against the Liberation War or the Father of the Nation using digital devices

– Authorization for security agencies to search or arrest anyone without any warrant if a police officer believes that an offense under the Act has been committed or there is a possibility of crimes

Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua, an advocate of Supreme Court in Bangladesh says in an interview with Monitor:

The Digital Security Act is an Eyewash. It is section 57 for all intent and purposes. All the provisions have merely been redistributed among other sections. Its approval will ensure that people lose their freedom of speech.

Barua also mentions in an interview with Dhaka Tribune:

Why won’t I be able to record something wrong happening before my eyes? If I try to copy classified government records, we have the Official Secrecy Act for that.

 

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ON THE MEDIA: Media Pluralism, Public Trust, and Democracy: New Evidence from Latin America and the Caribbean

By Mariana Rodríguez and Elizabeth J. Zechmeister, February 8, 2018, for Center for International Media Assistance

Key Findings:

As elsewhere, public trust in the media is on the decline in Latin America and the Caribbean. Is this trend attributable to social media? To a broader anti-establishment backlash? Or does it reflect growing concerns over pluralism in the media and the dominant control of the media by a few elites. Understanding the public perceptions on these issues is essential for building broad coalitions for reform. In this report, an analysis of new data from the 2016/2017 AmerciasBarometer survey sheds light on these questions. In addition to surveying the public about press freedom and trust in the media, the latest AmericasBarometer questionnaire also includes five new questions specifically designed to gauge individual perceptions of media pluralism.

  • There has been a decline in trust in the media in the LAC region. While in 2004 nearly two-thirds of individuals reported having high trust in the media, this result dropped to only half of individuals in 2016/17.
  •  Individuals who perceive the media as representative of different viewpoints or who have high trust in the media are more likely to report being satisfied with the way democracy is functioning in their country.
  •  Citizen evaluations of media pluralism and ownership concentration do not correspond with expert evaluations of media environments in the LAC region. While experts might hold that greater concentration of ownership inevitably erodes pluralism, the public does not make this link.

Introduction: Media and Democracy in Latin America

A context characterized by free, diverse, and independent media is fundamental to democracy. The media not only help citizens form public opinion, but also play a role in the extent to which citizens monitor and react to decisions made by political leaders.1

It is critical to take note, then, that public trust in the media in Latin America and the Caribbean is on the decline. Further, low trust and perceptions of a lack of media diversity are linked to a growing dissatisfaction among citizens with how the region’s democracies are functioning. These are troubling trends that point to the urgent need for media sector reforms to bolster confidence and pluralism. These findings come from analyses of the most recent AmericasBarometer public opinion survey, which has been carried out by the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) at Vanderbilt University since 2004 across the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region. The survey has long tracked the public’s views about media and democracy, but included for the first time in 2016 and 2017 questions about how citizens in the region view media pluralism and ownership: whether they believe media adequately represent different perspectives and interests in their societies, and whether they see media as controlled by only a few economic actors. What emerges is a more nuanced view of the dynamics undergirding declining faith in media, with important implications for the LAC region’s growing coalition of advocates seeking to democratize the media sphere as a strategy for improving governance.2

In Latin America, the return to democratic forms of governance in the 1980s resulted in significant strides in press freedom. Indeed, Freedom House indicators on press freedom in Latin America reached their peak in 1990, as direct government censorship of the media—prevalent under many Latin American dictatorships— declined significantly. However, some media scholars have criticized the conceptual framework of “press freedom” used to develop these measures for not taking into account another aspect of Latin American media ecosystems that was itself a remnant of the authoritarian period—media ownership concentration.3 The democracy-enhancing role of independent media is hindered when just a few players control media environments. These conditions impede the media’s ability to accurately represent a plurality of social, economic, and political perspectives. Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean face particular challenges in this regard, as they have some of the highest levels of media ownership concentration in the world.

Scholars of Latin American media have characterized the region’s current environment as one of “limited pluralism”—that is, an environment that offers “restricted opportunities for diverse perspectives and issues bounded by commercial priorities, industrial interests, and government designs.”4 Such restrictions pose a serious challenge to efforts to develop and improve the media environment because they inhibit the formation of new media outlets and confine the circulation of high-quality and balanced information. Unsurprisingly, the issue of media concentration has been identified as one of the main challenges to media development in the region, including within discussions at a multistakeholder media consultation in Bogotá, Colombia, in 2015 facilitated by the Center for International Media Assistance and DW Akademie.5

Since the mid-1990s, Latin America has been a laboratory for media reforms. Media movements in a number of countries, notably Argentina and Uruguay, have sought to address the issue of media concentration.6 Research shows that these media reform efforts are most successful when advocates are able to develop broad and diverse coalitions calling for change.7 This finding suggests that, at least to a certain extent, the public’s perception of the issues that face the media environment can impact whether or not media reform efforts are successful.

In representative democracies, citizens transmit concerns and preferences to elected officials. In theory, the prospect of facing the court of public opinion at the polls incentivizes politicians to address public opinion.8 Thus, deficits in the public’s satisfaction with the media environment constitute, or can be channeled into, demand for reform.

Yet little prior research has examined how the mass public perceives the media across the LAC region. In particular, public opinion surveys have not sought to capture how citizens in Latin America and the Caribbean perceive levels of media pluralism and concentration and how this might affect the broader media environment and democratic governance more generally.

To truly understand the prospects for reforms that could boost media development efforts, more data are needed about how the public perceives the media environment and how those perceptions relate to their satisfaction with democracy. In other words, answers are needed the following questions:

■ Do individuals perceive there to be significant restrictions on freedom of the press?
■ To what extent does the mass public perceive there to be pluralism in media content and ownership?
■ How do opinions about the media relate to satisfaction with democracy?

This report provides answers to these questions via the analysis of an original dataset collected from 20 countries in the Western Hemisphere by LAPOP’s 2016/17 AmericasBarometer survey. In the following sections we unpack the most relevant findings as they pertain to media development efforts in Latin America and the Caribbean. While some of the results are indicative of an increasingly constrained and precarious media environment, they also offer insights into how media stakeholders can target their interventions to foster development and reform.

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What Can the Data Tell Us? The Role of Public Opinion Data in Informing Policy and Advocacy

 

Assessing the quality of any aspect of democratic governance is best done by taking into account multiple types of indicators. Aggregate or country-level indicators of electoral participation or expert ratings on corruption or political freedoms, for example, provide critical information for understanding the quality of a democracy. However, these types of indices do not directly gauge how the public experiences democracy in their daily lives. Citizens’ assessments of key institutions, such as the press and broader media environment, provide an important lens into how democracy functions in practice.

Citizens’ perspectives on the media also matter because public opinion on key issues shapes public policy outcomes. This is because, in democracies, elections incentivize politicians to be responsive to citizens’ demands. In practice, elected officials’ policy agendas tend to reflect public opinion, particularly on salient issues.9 Where elites fall short of responding to public opinion, satisfaction with democracy tends to be lower.10 At the extreme, dissatisfaction with the political system and what it delivers can be destabilizing for democracy.11 Understanding the public’s experience with any aspect of democratic governance is essential for understanding the realities people face, anticipating citizens’ demands, and identifying actionable policy solutions.12

At the same time, it is not uncommon for the public to lack sophisticated understanding and knowledge of various aspects of democratic governance.13 As such, some differences between how experts rate the media environment and how citizens perceive or respond to it should be expected. Indeed, our research demonstrates that such a divergence exists in terms of perceptions of media ownership concentration in a sampling of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. To the extent that public opinion studies can identify such gaps, they provide data that can serve as effective inputs into the design of issue awareness campaigns.

Gauging the public’s awareness of media pluralism and ownership concentration, and the ways these variables relate to satisfaction with democracy, is a necessary first step in identifying demand among the public for media reform. To the extent that the public perceives restrictions on media pluralism and expresses concern about concentration of ownership, advocacy groups may find it easier to build bridges with the public, and thus develop broader coalitions for reform.

“Understanding the public’s experience with any aspect of democratic governance is essential for understanding the realities people face, anticipating citizens’ demands, and identifying actionable policy solutions.”

Concerns about Press Freedom Are on the Rise in Latin America and the Caribbean

Across Latin America and the Caribbean there is a moderately high degree of concern about freedom of the press. In the average country in the region, nearly 50 percent of citizens believe there is “very little” press freedom in their country. Concerns about press freedom are high among those who are more socially marginalized; that is, on average, those who are poorer14 and less educated are more likely to perceive that there is very little freedom of the press.

The tendency to perceive a restricted environment with respect to freedom of the press is also greater among those who are less connected to the internet and who feel less capable of engaging in politics.15 Additionally, younger age cohorts tend to express the highest degree of concern regarding restrictions on freedom of the press.

However, there is significant variation by country. In Venezuela 67 percent of the population perceives there to be very little press freedom. These findings are not surprising considering that Freedom House has scored Venezuela’s level of press freedom as “not free” since 2002. In 2017 Venezuela became the second country in the region (joining Cuba) to be rated as “not free” by Freedom House. This downgrade was in large part a consequence of the deterioration of civil liberties, particularly those of political opponents and journalists. Following mass protests in 2017, a growing number of journalists have become the targets of frequent intimidation, violence, and detention by Venezuelan authorities.16

On the other extreme, Uruguay, Argentina, and Costa Rica are the countries with the smallest proportion of citizens (20 percent or less) who believe there is very little freedom of the press. This outcome also fits expectations, given that these are countries with established democracies and long-standing traditions of safeguarding freedom of expression as a key civil liberty. Indeed, Freedom House has consistently classified these countries as “free,” and in 2017 ranked them among the top 40 countries in the world with respect to freedom of the press.17

When it comes to assessments of press freedom, Freedom House (2017) expert ratings and the views of the mass public are in general alignment. The correlation between the percentage of citizens who perceive very little press freedom and expert scores on press freedom by Freedom House is moderately high (0.76, where 1.0 would be a perfect correlation). In other words, the experts and the public tend to agree on the state of press freedom in a given country.

Trust in the Media Is on the Decline

The quality of democracy depends not only on which citizens interact with an open and independent media, but also on the degree to which they can rely on media outlets as legitimate sources of information. Unfortunately, trust in the media in Latin America and the Caribbean has been on the decline. The proportion of respondents who report having high trust in the media dropped to its lowest level in 2016/17.18

As recently as 2004, nearly two-thirds of individuals reported having high trust in the media; however, now only half of the region’s citizens express a high level of trust in the media.19 Compared with prior years, this survey resulted in the largest proportion of respondents with low trust in the media, just under one-third.20

This decline in trust in the media coincides with Freedom House’s most recent report on a worldwide decline of freedom of the press in the last decade. It is likely that the forces undermining freedom of the press are taking their toll on public confidence in the media. Yet, at the same time, perceptions of deficits in freedom of the press do not appear to translate directly into low trust in the media. Rather, citizens do not always lose confidence in the media when outlets are restricted in their ability to supply news and information to the public, presumably because citizens do not always blame the media themselves for those restrictions.

As was the case for perceptions of freedom of the press, levels of trust in the media vary significantly by country. Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Paraguay, and Costa Rica top the rankings with over 60 percent of their citizens having high trust in the media. At the bottom of the figure, Colombia, Jamaica, and Haiti constitute the countries with the lowest proportion of citizens with confidence in the media (40 percent or less). The ranking of countries on trust in the media differs in some key respects from what is found for concerns about press freedom. For example, whereas Venezuela has the largest portion of the public that perceives very little freedom of the press, it appears in the middle of the comparative ranking on trust in the media.

Media Pluralism Is a Significant Concern for People in Latin America and the Caribbean

Concerns about freedom of the press and low levels of trust in the media in Latin America and the Caribbean are accompanied by concerns about a lack of media pluralism. On average, only one in two people feel that the media accurately represent different viewpoints that exist in their country.21

Individuals who do not typically surf the web and those who have minimal levels of political interest22 report perceiving the existence of media pluralism at higher rates than daily internet users and those who report caring a lot about politics. Put differently, those who access the internet more often and who are more engaged with politics are more cynical about the state of diversity in viewpoints in the media. However, the more an individual pays attention to the news, whether via TV, the radio, newspapers, or the internet,23 the more likely they are to perceive that the media accurately represent differing points of view.24

Once again, there are important differences in public opinion across countries. The percentage of those who believe media pluralism exists in their countries ranges from 65 percent in Nicaragua to 35 percent in Haiti. Mean views on media pluralism appear to be related to average levels of trust in the media across countries. Nicaragua tops the comparative ranking of countries on mean trust in the media, while Haiti scores toward the bottom.

It may be surprising to find Nicaragua in an elevated position in both rankings, given growing restrictions on press freedom in the country on the part of the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front administration.25 The Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) and Freedom House projects both classify Nicaragua among the countries in the region in 2016 and 2017 with the most restrictions on media plurality and freedom of the press.26 Yet, as noted already, citizens’ evaluations of the media do not always correspond to their evaluations of restrictions on the press.

At least two dynamics could explain this lack of connection. First, it may be that the public does not hold the media responsible for a restricted media environment. Second, it may be that in a restricted media environment, citizens make extra effort to access alternate sources of information. Analyses not shown here indicate that at the individual level, those who consume more news are more likely to express greater trust in the media and (as noted above) to report that the media environment is sufficiently diverse to represent multiple points of view.

In short, citizens’ perceptions do not always align with expert assessments. Another example of this disconnect is provided by the case of Chile, which ranks at the bottom of the comparative chart on media pluralism and in the bottom half of country rankings with respect to trust in the media. However, both the V-Dem project and Freedom House rank Chile as having high levels of media pluralism and freedom of the press relative to the rest of the countries in the region.27

Overall, in an aggregate analysis, the public’s perceptions of media pluralism do not correspond in any significant way to expert ratings of media pluralism by the V-Dem project or to press freedom scores by Freedom House.28 The ordinary citizen’s interactions with the media— perhaps shaped by deliberate attempts to seek out alternate sources of information in more restricted environments—are different from those of experts. It is important to note that this lack of correspondence does not mean that the public fails to take stock of restrictions on freedom of the press; rather, the public does register elevated concerns about freedom of the press in the region that in some ways correspond to expert rankings.

 

Further, it is important to note the clear correspondence among the public with respect to mean levels of trust in the media and perceptions of pluralism. Where the public sees more pluralism, it tends to be more trusting of the media. Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Paraguay, Costa Rica, and Panama form part of the top-ranking countries in both the percentage who perceive media pluralism and the proportion who have high trust in the media. Colombia, Haiti, and Mexico rank at the bottom in both measures. In fact, Nicaragua ranks first in both the percentage of citizens who report perceiving media pluralism in the country (65 percent) and the percentage of citizens with high levels of trust in the media (69 percent), while Haiti ranks at the bottom in the proportion who either perceive media pluralism (35 percent) or have high trust in the media (39 percent). Thus, there is a strong country-level correlation between country-average views of media pluralism and trust in the media (0.80, where 1.0 is perfect correlation).29

“”The more an individual pays attention to the news, whether via TV, the radio, newspapers, or the internet, the more likely they are to perceive that the media accurately represent differing points of view.””

Public Concerns about Media Ownership Concentration Are High but Not Linked to Perceived Media Pluralism

 

Experts regard media pluralism as often very closely linked to media ownership: concentration of ownership limits media plurality by restricting media coverage in ways that prioritize the voice of those with political and economic power.30 With respect to the public, concerns about concentration of media ownership are elevated in Latin America and the Caribbean. In fact, concerns about media ownership are greater than public concerns about pluralism in the media. On average, nearly three out of five people in the region see the media as controlled by a few economic groups.31

At the individual level, higher education is strongly predictive of attitudes about concentration of media in the region. Higher education leads individuals to be more critical of their media environment when it comes to evaluating the types of groups that own or control media outlets. More frequent attention to the news and internet use, as well as higher degrees of political interest, predict higher rates of perceiving the media as being controlled by a few corporations.32

A cross-national comparison of views about media ownership concentration reveals important differences across the region, though these differences are not as pronounced as those observed for the distribution of views of media pluralism by country. That is, there is more consistency across countries in the percentage who believe media ownership concentration exists in their country than there is with respect to views about media pluralism.

In every country in the LAC region, at least half of the public sees the media in their country as captured by a few corporations. These views coincide with research on media ownership concentration, which characterizes the region as one in which the majority of media outlets, particularly print and broadcast, have been privately owned by a small share of powerful political and economic groups.33

Nonetheless, the data on public perceptions of ownership concentration offer some surprising findings. In Chile and Argentina, 61 percent of citizens in both countries agree that the media are controlled only by a few economic groups. These perceptions run counter to expert evaluations of levels of media ownership concentration in these countries. Though the region as a whole is consistently characterized as one with high media ownership concentration, Chile and Argentina are typically assessed as having comparatively lower degrees of ownership concentration than other countries in the region.34

A lack of cross-national data on media ownership concentration limits our ability to comprehensively assess the extent to which public opinion in Latin America and the Caribbean corresponds to expert ratings of media ownership concentration. However, an analysis in which we compare Noam’s35 calculations of the Herfindahl–Hirschman Index (HHI)36 for media concentration in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Mexico to public perceptions of media ownership concentration in those countries reveals a negative expert-citizen correlation (–0.55).37 This means that high rates of perceived media ownership concentration tend to be found among countries with lower levels of media ownership concentration, per HHI scores. As we found for media pluralism, here too public opinion does not fall in line with expert assessments, though some caution should be used in drawing strong conclusions regarding media concentration, given that the analysis could be conducted only for a small set of countries.

Surprisingly, high perceptions of media ownership concentration do not appear to undermine public perceptions of the media’s ability to accurately represent a plurality of views. There is no strong pattern of association between country averages on these media perception measures.38 In fact, a majority of citizens in many countries report that media pluralism and ownership concentration exist in their countries. This finding is less surprising if we recall that our analyses of expert-citizen correspondence reveal that public evaluations of media pluralism and ownership concentration do not correspond with expert evaluations of media environments in the region. While experts might hold that greater concentration of ownership inevitably erodes pluralism, the public frequently does not seem to perceive this.

One factor contributing to why the public does not make the same connection between high levels of media ownership and restrictions on media pluralism involves the public’s level of media sophistication. Many in the public lack the sort of extensive knowledge about the nature and scope of media ownership concentration that would enable their assessments to match expert scores. In comparison, it seems to be much easier for the general public to match expert evaluations of a country’s level of press freedom, an arguably more observable concept given the visibility of rhetorical, legal, and physical attacks on journalists to the public. Indeed, in a deeper analysis of the data, we found that the percentage of non-response or “do not know” answers to the question about evaluations of media ownership concentration (5.3 percent) is significantly higher than the proportion of non-response and “do not know” responses for evaluations of either media pluralism (2.9 percent) or press freedom (3.7 percent).39

As additional evidence that sophistication matters, we find that higher education is strongly predictive of attitudes about concentration of the media: more education leads individuals to be more critical of their media environment when it comes to evaluating the types of groups that own or control media outlets. More frequent attention to the news and internet use, as well as higher degrees of political interest and internal efficacy, also predicts higher rates of perceiving the media as being controlled by a few corporations.40 Internal efficacy is a particularly important explanatory variable: the belief that someone understands key political issues trumps the predicted effects of all other factors on the likelihood that a person believes news media in their country is owned only by a few corporations.41 Still, even the most educated, politically interested individuals with high degrees of media exposure do not make robust associations between their assessments of media ownership concentration and their views on media pluralism or press freedom.42

“Many in the public lack the sort of extensive knowledge about the nature and scope of media ownership concentration that would enable their assessments to match expert scores.”

Media Pluralism and Trust Are Key for Democratic Governance in Latin America

 

The ways that citizens experience the media have important consequences for the quality of democracy. Perceptions of media pluralism and trust in the media are strongly linked to satisfaction with democracy.43 Citizens who perceive the media as accurately representative of different viewpoints or who have high trust in the media are far more likely to report being satisfied with the way democracy is functioning in their country. In fact, there is a 15–percentage point gap in satisfaction with democracy between those who believe media pluralism exists or trust in the media and those who do not think there is media pluralism in their country or have low trust in the media.44

Earlier we reported a strong correlation between a country’s mean levels of trust in the media and views of media pluralism. In analyses not shown here, we also tested for and found evidence of this relationship at the individual level. While over 69 percent of those who perceive media pluralism in their country also have high trust in the media, only 27 percent of those who do not think the media in their country accurately represent a plurality of viewpoints have high trust in the media. Even when controlling for other individual-level characteristics, perceived media pluralism has the strongest relationship with trust in the media: the more citizens agree that media pluralism exists, the higher their reported trust in the media.45 As could be expected, high trust in the media is also more common among citizens who believe there is at least sufficient press freedom.

The ways the public experiences the media are fundamental to citizens’ assessments of the quality of democracy in the region. In countries where the media do not accurately represent a plurality of views, citizens are impeded in their efforts to access the media and the media are not able to fulfill their role as an institution that facilitates the distribution of information necessary to understand a country’s sociopolitical environment and hold elected officials accountable. In such contexts, the media risk losing their legitimacy as a resource that citizens can base their political preferences and actions on in efforts to hold their leaders accountable. If citizens are not able to rely on the media in this manner and do not believe that the media environment in their country is sufficiently open, their attitudes about the legitimacy of a democratic system are also likely to suffer.

“The more citizens agree that media pluralism exists, the higher their reported trust in the media.”

From Polling to Practice: Recommendations for Media Reform in Latin America and the Caribbean

 

The belief that democracy is the best form of government appears to be losing its appeal in Latin America and the Caribbean.46 Indeed, nearly three decades after the region’s wave of democratization in the 1980s, faith in many societal institutions—including the media—is faltering. Moreover, the crisis of democracy in the region parallels growing concerns about diminishing press freedom and declining levels of trust in media.

While the current situation is far from ideal, the findings from our analyses point to the broader conclusion that focusing efforts on strengthening media ecosystems can help to address and, ideally, counter the region’s growing dissatisfaction with democracy. This is because where citizens have more confidence in the media and feel they have access to pluralistic media, they are also more satisfied with democracy.

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Perhaps one of the most important contributions of this report and its underlying research is that it represents the first effort to analyze public perceptions of media ownership concentration in Latin America and the Caribbean. One revealing finding is that public perceptions of media concentration do not always align with expert analysis of the situation in many countries. Moreover, the public at large does not connect media ownership concentration to diminished media plurality. These gaps between expert assessments and the public’s beliefs are important to identify, as they might prove a challenge to long-term reform efforts. As examples from Latin America have shown, the most successful media reform efforts have depended on broad, multistakeholder coalitions.47 Deficits in public awareness of the important dynamics underlying these crucial topics may pose an impediment to such reform endeavors in the future.

While the challenges to media environments in Latin America and the Caribbean are many, the results of our analysis of the AmericasBarometer 2016/17 survey suggest four areas where media reform advocates should target their efforts:

■ Focus on initiatives that promote media content diversity and citizen access to a wider range of media outlets in order to generate greater trust in the media and quality democratic governance. Democratic legitimacy is closely intertwined with perceptions of media pluralism and trust in the media. Citizens who perceive that the media accurately represent a plurality of views have higher trust in the media and are consequently more satisfied with the way democracy is functioning in their country. The most recent AmericasBarometer regional report finds that citizens in the region have increasingly negative views of democracy. This decay in support for democracy and its core institutions and processes may be, at least in part, linked to a decline in citizens’ perceptions of press freedom and trust in the media, as well as a deterioration in public spaces for dialogue.

■ Invest in media literacy projects that can educate the public on the nature and consequences of media ownership concentration. Public opinion on media pluralism and ownership concentration do not correspond in any significant way with expert evaluations of media environments in the region. Moreover, for citizens in Latin America and the Caribbean it is not a given that media ownership concentration and media pluralism are opposing forces. The public’s ability to demand greater leader accountability and better governance with respect to the quality of the media environment in their country would be enhanced by understanding the detrimental consequences of restrictions to media independence and openness.

■ Support initiatives and organizations that seek legal reforms in favor of more independent and transparent media market systems and regulations. Media ownership de-concentration can facilitate the formation of new media outlets and greater circulation of high-quality and balanced information. The quality of democracy is contingent on a diversely informed public that can access the information necessary to monitor, react to, and influence decisions made by political leaders.

■ Invest in public opinion and audience research to further understand the public’s experience with the media environment. Given the important consequences that citizens’ evaluations of the media have for their assessments of the quality of democracy, research efforts focused on measuring the nature of media environments would be advanced by continuing to make strides in complementing expert assessments with data on how restricted or open the public perceive the media to be. Furthermore, there is a relative dearth of reliable information on which media platforms citizens currently use to access news. Without data on how people perceive the media and which media outlets people are actually paying attention to, it is more difficult to develop sound policy. In short, more data are needed to develop better advocacy and policy responses.

Latin America and the Caribbean have been home to some of the most innovative and successful media reform efforts of late. While the region as a whole now faces an increasingly challenging environment for both media and democracy writ large, it is our hope that the information assembled in this report can be used to engender strategic action that bolsters pluralistic media environments that strengthen democracy.

 

 

Appendix

 

We employ logit regression models in Appendices 1–3, 5, and 7. All variables in the models are recoded 0–1 and the models control for country fixed effects.

 

 

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ON THE MEDIA: Threats, arrests, and access denied as Myanmar backtracks on press freedom

By Shawn W. Crispin/CPJ Senior Southeast Asia Representative , February 12, 2018, for Committee to Protect Journalists

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A Myanmar border guard stands next to fencing near Maungdaw, Rakhine state, where structures to process Rohingya refugees are being built. Local and international journalists face challenges reporting on the crisis and other politically sensitive issues. (AFP/Cape Diamond)

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Esther Htusan is no longer safe to report from her home country, Myanmar. The Associated Press reporter fled the country late last year after being threatened for her critical reporting on various topics that authorities deem sensitive, from the ethnic Rohingya refugee exodus, the military’s controversial counterinsurgency operations in Rakhine State, to State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi’s handling of the crisis.

Htusan came under heavy official fire in November after the government perceived she misrepresented a Suu Kyi speech that addressed issues of illegal immigration, terrorism, and global stability. Amid a furor, a prominent Suu Kyi supporter made a death threat against Htusan on his personal Facebook page, which had over 300,000 followers at the time, Associated Press reporters, who are familiar with the case but who requested anonymity, told CPJ.

Before that, an unidentified man followed her home one evening, shouting her name from the darkness in front of her apartment in downtown Yangon. Htusan left Myanmar for Thailand in December due to fears for her security. In recent days, the journalists with whom CPJ spoke said, men who they believe to be plainclothes police visited her apartment building in Yangon and queried neighbors about her whereabouts.

“She’s not going back [to Myanmar] any time soon,” one of the reporters said.

Myanmar’s media, both local and foreign, are under heavy assault as security measures used to suppress the press under military rule are reactivated under Suu Kyi’s quasi-democratic regime, several journalists who cover the country told CPJ. It marks a dramatic reversal in recent press freedom gains and augurs ill for the country’s delicate transition from military to elected rule.

Authorities are increasingly abusing various draconian colonial and military era laws to repress reporting on a widening range of topics. Many journalists and activists had hoped the laws would be amended or scrapped when Suu Kyi came to power with a strong electoral mandate to push democratic change through liberal reforms.

Nowhere is that backsliding more apparent than in the continued pretrial detention of local Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who were chargedunder the colonial era Official Secrets Act. The two journalists were arrested on December 12 in Yangon after receiving documents from police that authorities said after their arrest were secret.

Reuters said in a recent special report, “Massacre in Myanmar,” that Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo’s arrests were more likely prompted by their investigative reporting on a mass killing of Rohingya men by Buddhist villagers and Myanmar troops at the Rakhine State village of Inn Din on September 2.

In response to international news reports on the mass grave, Myanmar military chief Min Aung Hlaing acknowledged last month that his troops and villagers were behind the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslims, whose bodies were found in a mass grave at Inn Din, according to news reports.

President Htin Kyaw and Suu Kyi have both defended the Reuters reporters’ pre-trial detentions, underscoring the notion that Suu Kyi’s elected government and the powerful autonomous military now see eye-to-eye on the perceived need to roll back earlier allowances for media freedoms and actively suppress news that casts the government and military in a bad light.

Earlier press freedom concerns center on charges filed against journalists and others under Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Act, a broad and vague provision that allows for two-year prison sentences for online defamation. Many reporters were held for long periods in pre-trial detention while investigations and court proceedings were ongoing, CPJ research shows.

Research by Free Expression Myanmar, a local nongovernmental organization, shows that prosecutions under the law had a 100 percent conviction rate in the period spanning 2016-17. CPJ is aware of several journalists now face pending charges under the draconian provision, which has been used both by Suu Kyi’s elected government and the autonomous military to silence and intimidate critics.

But many sensed a wider crackdown was underway when three local journalists–Thein Zaw with The Irrawaddy, and Aye Nai and Pyae Phong Aung at the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB)–were arrested and detained on June 26 in the country’s northeastern Shan State. All three were held on charges under the 1908 Unlawful Association Act, a provision used against journalists during military rule to discourage reporting on the nation’s various ethnic armed conflicts.

The Myanmar military dropped the charges and the three reporters were releasedon September 1, but an intimidating precedent was set. “I am sure every journalist feels discouraged and unsafe since last year, when our reporter and DVB reporters were arrested by the military,” said Kyaw Zwa Moe, editor of The Irrawaddy’sEnglish-language edition. “The arrest of the Reuters journalists has only made the situation worse.”

The government’s repressive focus now is on censoring coverage of western Rakhine State, from where over 680,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees have fled military violence into neighboring Bangladesh since August 25 last year. Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) insurgent attacks on security force outposts that day set the cycle of violence in motion.

The government has strictly barred reporters from the state’s northern reaches–apart from a handful of tightly stage-managed press tours–in the name of security. Most of the reporting on the allegations of rape, summary executions and other abuses has been sourced through refugee and victim interviews in camps in Bangladesh.

Myanmar’s government has denied nearly all the allegations, including recent reports of the discovery of mass graves in northern Rakhine State. Most recently, authorities denied an AP report of five mass graves that the news agency had identified through interviews with survivors and time-stamped cellphone videos.

Authorities have threatened, but not yet filed, charges over the report and demanded the news agency issue a correction and apology.

Local journalists who try to cover Rakhine State’s murky ethnic politics and conflicts are often the ones who are terrorized. Kyaw Lin, a local reporter who runs a news service known as Roma Time, was stabbed twice in the back by an unknown assailant while riding on a motorcycle in Rakhine’s Sittwe township on December 20.

After spending five days in a Sittwe hospital to treat severe wounds that caused blood-clotting, he moved to Yangon due to fears for safety, he told CPJ. Over a month later, Kyaw Lin says that authorities have made only token efforts to apprehend his assailants, who he believes were linked to ethnic Rakhine nationalists wanting to silence his reporting on the illegal drug trade.

Kyaw Lin said he continues to receive threats on his telephone and social media, with one anonymous Facebook poster recently writing, “You may live this time but won’t next time.” With those threats, he now keeps a low profile in Yangon and said he does not intend to return to Rakhine, where he has a wife and young child, in the foreseeable future. “We [journalists] are living in a dark time,” he told CPJ.

The situation is also deteriorating for foreign reporters and their local sources. Bertil Lintner, a Thailand-based reporter who was on a government blacklist for nearly 30 years during military rule, told CPJ he was trailed and surveilled by Special Branch police during a reporting trip to the country in late December.

In northern Kachin state, where the government continues to fight against ethnic insurgents, authorities took Lintner’s picture and later questioned one of his news sources about their meeting. The officials also interrogated the driver of a UNHCR official whom Lintner interviewed, he said. Lintner said it was the first time since he resumed reporting from the country in 2013 that he was overtly followed by officials.

“They’re trying to intimidate local people against speaking to foreign reporters,” said Lintner, who said that for the first time since 2013, he was required by Suu Kyi’s Foreign Ministry to provide a detailed itinerary and list of proposed interviewees and news topics before receiving a media visa. Previously, media visas were administered solely by the Ministry of Information.

Other foreign journalists told CPJ that they have faced difficulties renewing and receiving media visas, prompting some to report under pseudonyms to avoid possible denial of their applications over critical reporting. Kayleigh Long, a freelance reporter who contributes to various international outlets, told CPJ she recently decided to quit the country altogether rather than put her fixers and contacts at risk.

“The stakes for the local people who help us do our jobs is high–I never want to be responsible for a fixer or driver being jailed, but that’s unfortunately being seen as a higher possibility these days,” said Long, who recently moved from Yangon to Bangkok. “To me, being based there is no longer worth it.”

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ON THE MEDIA: Local owners bought this newspaper back from a cost-cutting national chain. Next step: Bringing back the readers

In western Massachusetts, the Berkshire Eagle is trying to recover from cost-cutting and rebuild its standing in the community. “We’re trying to do something that’s not been done, which is to bend the circulation curve backwards.”

This is a story all of us hope has a happy ending. But even its authors only have so much control.

Two summers ago, a group of four investors bought the largest paperserving the westernmost part of Massachusetts, the Berkshire Eagle, as well as a collection of Vermont papers, the Bennington Banner, the Brattleboro Reformer, and the Manchester Journal.

Newly rid of Digital First Media and its cost-cutting ways, and now owned by people with real ties to the county, the Eagle newsroom was reinvigorated. The new owners laid out a guiding strategy — if you build it up, they will come back — and promised to stay in the business of local news for the long haul. Producing better, local-focused news, and more of it, they surmised, would be the straightest path to bringing back subscribers, raising more revenue — more to invest in digital products and, finally, sustainability.

“It’s been so much fun,” Eagle executive editor Kevin Moran said to me when I first visited the newsroom at the end of December, as we did our Sorkinesque walk-and-talk through its Pittsfield headquarters and lingered in front of the bright basement room that houses the presses. Moran, a Berkshire County native, is also the chief content officer of New England Newspapers Inc., the group that includes the Eagle and the Vermont papers. “With layoffs, it was just really difficult to tell people. It was so difficult, because you knew everyone cared about the work as much as you did. It’s a joy now to be able to expand our capacity and cover the area in a way we’ve never been able to before.”

The excitement was infectious. But I’m not a disinterested party: I grew up in the Berkshires, near the Vermont border. My parents still live there, as do some of my high school friends. As a teen, I wrote letters to the editor that got printed. My parents clipped the sports pages where I appeared somewhere in the back of a team lineup. I felt worldly listening to our nearest NPR affiliate, WAMC in Albany, mention new Berkshires concerts or art exhibitions. When I went away to college, the Berkshires began slipping away from me, a blip on my Facebook whenever a friend would share a local crime story.

From afar, the work of bringing back thousands of lapsed subscribers and adding on new readers in a county with a steadily declining, aging population of fewer than 130,000 people goes beyond my own imagination. At a distance, I hear about all those now-closed department stores at the only mall nearby that would advertise in the Eagle when they were still open, and wonder how it’s possible to sustain a print product.

But I’m not the one doing the work. The importance of what’s happening at the Eagle and across the Vermont papers goes beyond personal nostalgia. It’s an attempt to answer a question that will be asked a lot in the coming years: Can a local newspaper be revived by shuffling off a chain owner and becoming truly local again?

BerkshireEagle.com lets you read three stories before hitting the paywall, and a digital-only subscription costs $13 per month — the same price as digital all-access plus the Sunday print edition. (The site blocks anyone going the incognito browser route.) In the past month, social referrals accounted for 22 percent of online traffic (almost all of that, Facebook, where the Eagle page has about 40,000 followers). 30 percent is direct traffic to the site.

Sunday print circulation for the Eagle is just above 17,000, according to the latest 2017 Q3 figures available through the Alliance for Audited Media (it’s indeed inched upwards in the past year). Ten years ago, it was over 30,000. (Full disclosure: Wracked by guilt, I became a digital subscriber during the course of writing this story, sending the Sunday edition to my parents’ house.)

All four NENI newspapers officially left DFM in May 2016, and by the end of October of the same year, they’d shifted entirely off DFM’s technical infrastructure to its own, including adopting a new CMS. (The necessarily hasty technical transition alone was a huge pain, by all accounts.) Under new owners, the Eagle has been quickly adding to its newsroom, whose staff count is now 40. Including editorial staff from the Vermont papers, that’s 60 people. It also shares reporters with the Vermont nonprofit VTDigger, which pays half the cost of a reporter at the Brattleboro Reformer and the Bennington Banner, and shares content with the newspaper group. Whereas under DFM many sections were replicated, there’s now almost no shared content between the Eagle and its Vermont sister outlets, Moran told me. (I checked this myself; comics were the only overlap.)

As anyone working in local news is painfully aware, DFM still owns prominent but struggling local news organizations like The Denver Post and papers in the Bay Area News Group and Southern California News Group, which are currently laying off staff. The media group itself is owned by a secretive New York hedge fund, whose hedge fund-y enthusiasm for cost-cutting is at odds with the community-focused mandate held closely by journalists working at papers it owns.

“For a long time, our readers were accepting and expecting less and less of the paper,” said Eagle publisher Fredric Rutberg, a retired county judge and one of the four original investors who purchased the Eagle, when we spoke in his office last month. (Two of the four, Stanford Lipsey and Robert Wilmers, have passed away since the sale.) “The key to more subscribers is increasing quality, and I think in that respect, our goal of increasing quality is a credible one.”

There’s no specific subscriber goal, though “sure, we may have ideas in the backs of our minds,” Rutberg said. “But we’re trying to do something that’s not been done, which is to bend the circulation curve backwards. So it’s difficult for me to say exactly how fast you can turn it, and even whether you really can.”

The Eagle is among the 97 percent of daily or weekly papers operatingin the U.S. that have circulations under 50,000, according to Editor & Publisher data. But among newspapers that have moved from national chains to local ownership, it’s one of a handful. In Utah, the Huntsman family bought the the Salt Lake Tribune from DFM, a sale announced the day before the Eagle’s. In Alaska, the experiment went awry, and the Alaska Dispatch News went bankrupt: “I simply ran out of my ability to subsidize this great news product,” majority owner Alice Rogoff said last summer.

“I live in Santa Cruz, where we have a DFM-owned paper. And the interesting thing is, if you talk to people, even the most civically involved people, they don’t really know who DFM is. All they know is, their paper got worse,” newspaper analyst and Lab columnist Ken Doctor told me, when I asked for some national context about the Eagle’s new path. “The idea that an individual or small group of smart, caring people have decided, ‘What’s been happening is wrong, these papers are important, and we’re going to try doing it right’ — it’s so contrarian at this point that we have maybe fewer than half a dozen papers that have moved in this direction.”

“I think it’s important to be able to understand if this can work, and if it does, how much money does it take to make it work, and whether it can serve as a model,” he said.

Moran and Rutberg fanned out recent editions of the Eagle during my newsroom visit, cracking light jokes about the organization’s new drone capabilities (“The Eagle flies now,” “we’ve elevated our coverage”). A few months ago, national press became interested in the county, in large part because of a controversial proposed sale of beloved pieces of art in order to finance a museum’s overhaul. One of the Eagle’s mandates under new ownership has been to bulk up its arts and culture writing, and the museum saga coverage has certainly been unrelenting, with dozens of pieces so faron all facets of the issue. This past summer, the Eagle introduced a colorful, bulked-up new 12-page weekend features section called Landscapes, expanding its former lifestyles section.

“Everything in it is local except the New York Times bestseller list,” Moran reminded me, with an almost practiced enthusiasm that comes from having done a lot of outreach on the paper’s revival. “The paper was skinnier before, but now it lands with a thud on your doorstep. It’s funny what a little investment can do.”

Every section is getting a similar full re-evaluation, Moran said, most recently sports, which now has added features like high school athlete spotlights, a type of story conducive to Facebook-sharing. The section-by-section reworking process is now internally known as “landscaping,” and will take place at the three Vermont organizations as well. This revamping moves the other way, too. Last year, the Bennington Banner and Manchester Journal held a sports gala celebrating local high school athletes with Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas as the special guest, selling tickets to and sponsorships for the event. The Berkshire Eagle sports department will test the events model this coming June, according to Moran. The outlets together also launched a sponsored, tourism-focused GoShires VT app, which they’re hoping to expand as well.

“Yes, we’ve been able to add staff. But it’s not just about numbers. It’s about added strength and quality. How many papers of our size, for instance, have an investigations team like ours?” Rutberg said. He proudly rattled off staff names like investigations editor Larry Parnass, investigative reporter Patricia LeBoeuf, new arts and entertainment reporter Ben Cassidy, managing editor for news Samantha Wood, education reporter and community engagement editor Jenn Smith, and editorial cartoonist Chan Lowe, who had been laid off from the Sun Sentinel in Florida, a Tronc-owned paper, in 2015. “We got someone from Florida. We got someone from the Des Moines Register. Maybe we’ll even get someone to come here from California.”

He also mentioned notable members of a new advisory board chaired by a former Boston Globe editor, Don MacGillis, many of whom have already come to the Eagle newsroom for brown bag lunches with staff. (New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert! Writer Simon Winchester! Cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s on the board, too!)

Promise aside, the Berkshire Eagle needs to serve an often overlooked county. The Boston Globe doesn’t reach that far west, and New York outlets don’t reach that far east. Online, the free iBerkshires.com covers council meetings and school closings and events.

It also serves a patchwork county, one that’s dotted with collapsed mills, well-trafficked museums, summer homes, and theater goers, and dealing with its own heroin and opioid crisis. Individual towns are proud, territorial. For a news organization promising breadth of coverage, breadth will be tricky, despite the relatively small population. Advertising is still “a significant portion of our revenue” and seven-days-a-week print is staying, Rutberg told me, but “the needle keeps moving in favor of circulation, the same way nationally it moves in favor of digital over print.”

Rutberg hosts frequent “coffee with the president” open houses throughout the county to meet Berkshire residents personally, talking to them about the Eagle’s improvements and the organization’s desire to really hear out each town.

“Word-of-mouth has so far been our most powerful form of marketing,” Rutberg said. “It’s been encouraging to hear that subscribers encourage others to subscribe, or re-subscribe. Because A, you subscribe because you get a good value. And B, because the paper’s important for the community.” (Unsolicited donations have recently arrived in the newsroom, which Moran and Rutberg have said will go to paying for a subscriber who calls to cancel for financial reasons.)

And reaching those who don’t already read the paper? “That’s the conundrum,” he admitted. The Eagle has tried to branch out with podcasts like its Accents series, which profiles immigrants who now live in the Berkshires, hosted by a local freelancer (the series is sponsored by a local credit union). The possibilities for new readers extend beyond permanent county residents, Rutberg suggested.

Could the Eagle come up with a paid-for arts and culture offering that can be targeted at the seasonal audiences who come for summer theater or for music in the area? Maybe a separate offering for “the Berkshire diaspora” — people who once worked there, lived there, went to college there, or, like me, grew up there?

“The connections people have to this place run deep,” Rutberg said. “And if we can come up with the right products — that sounds so silly, ‘product’ — well, that’s an exercise we should pursue.”

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ON THE MEDIA: Call for Story Pitches: After the Storm – Tracking the Puerto Rican Exodus

FEBRUARY 2, 2018, Feet in 2 Worlds

Locals wave at a Coast Guard Air Station Borinquen MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew flying above them Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017, near Utuado, Puerto Rico. The locals were stranded after Hurricane Maria by washed out roads and mudslides. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Eric D. Woodall)

The next Fi2W online magazine will report on migration triggered by climate change.  Our focus will be the mass exodus of Puerto Ricans from the island to the U.S. mainland following Hurricanes Irma and Maria, as well as the migration of residents of the U.S. Virgin Islands to the mainland.

Our coverage will examine the impact on communities where Puerto Rican climate migrants are settling as well as changes in their relationship to the communities they left behind.

We will explore the challenges facing people arriving on the mainland as well as the social, economic and political transformation of cities and states with large Puerto Rican populations such as New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Illinois.

We will tell this story through individual narrativ

es as well as more broad-based reporting that explores what it means to be a climate refugee, and the implications of this phenomenon for the nation as a whole.

We are looking for stories in any medium – feature articles, audio, video, photo essay, or maps – that help bring a deeper understanding to these complex issues.   Story pitches should be submitted in English. Stories may be published in English and Spanish

Areas to explore include:

  • How the storms have changed relationships between Puerto Ricans on the mainland and the island -within families, in community-to-community connections, and in philanthropy within the Puerto Rican community.
  • How recovery has varied for those with family or friends on the mainland and those without those connections.
  • The political impact of the storms both on the mainland and the island.
  • New trends and ideas in Puerto Rican arts, culture and sustainability practices that have been prompted or inspired by the storms.
  • How are challenges of housing, education and jobs being met on the mainland?
  • Connections between the post-hurricane recovery and the Puerto Rico economic crisis.
  • How are communities in Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands working towards climate change mitigation and adaptation to lessen the impact of future storms?
  • Lessons for planners, emergency management agencies and other local agencies in cities that have received climate refugees.

Deadline to submit your pitch is February 20th.  

To submit your pitch, or for questions, contact Rachael Bongiorno at rbongiorno@newschool.edu

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ON THE MEDIA: Reuters Journalists Covering Rohingya Conflict in Myanmar Detained for ‘Illegally Acquiring Information’

By Mong Palatino, January 19th, 2018, for  Global Voices

Journalists protesting in front of Myanmar Peace Center. Photo by Kyaw Zaw Win, Kyaw Lwin Oo. From the Facebook page of RFA Burmese, licensed for reuse.

Two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, are being accused of violating Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act for allegedly possessing military files about the Rohingya conflict.

The two disappeared on 12 December 2017. Two weeks later, Myanmar authorities revealed that they had arrested and detained the journalists, alleging that they had “illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media.”

The police claimed the journalists obtained military documents containing information about “security force numbers and the amount of ammunition used in a wave of attacks in late August” in Rakhine State.

The conflict in Rakhine has led to the displacement of more 600,000 Rohingya Muslims. Many fled to nearby Bangladesh, seeking protection in Rohingya refugee camps. The Myanmar government does not recognize Myanmar-born Rohingya people as citizens, as it does with the country’s other ethnic minorities.

Alongside the refugees, numerous foreign governments and intergovernmental organizations (including the UN High Commission on Refugees) have demanded and pressured the Myanmar government to stop radical Buddhist nationalists from attacking Rohingya villages and to ensure safe return for Rohingyas who have fled the country.

Image from the Facebook page of ‘Protection for Journalists Committee’ – Myanmar

For its part, the Myanmar government blames the pro-Rohingya armed group Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army for instigating the conflict in Rakhine.

Following the escalation of clashes in August 2017, the government imposed strict controls over the flow of information about what’s happening on the ground in Rakhine. Some journalists were only given a restricted tour of the affected villages. Local authorities even prevented Yanghee Lee, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, from fulfilling her mandate by barring her from entering the country.

In an official report, Lee said:

“By not giving me access to Myanmar and by refusing to cooperate with the mandate, my task is made that much more difficult, but I will continue to obtain first-hand accounts from victims and witnesses of human rights violations by all means possible, including by visiting neighbouring countries where some have fled.”

It was in this politically fraught and high-risk context that the two Reuters journalists found themselves investigating a mass grave that was discovered in southern Maungdaw Township.

Their search for information about the mass killing, which took place in Inn Din village, was seen by authorities as a violation of the British colonial-era Official Secrets Act. The two will face up to 14 years imprisonment if found guilty by the court.

News about their arrest was quickly denounced by various groups as another sign of heavy restrictions on press freedom in Myanmar.

The International Federation of Journalists criticized the use of a colonial-era law to attack journalists:

…placing press freedom back to colonial times and charging journalists with laws dating back to 1923 are actions of an undemocratic state.

The International Press Institute bemoaned the reversal of democratic reforms in a country where military rule was supposedly defeated in 2015:

If Myanmar is serious about democratic reforms, it must accept the right of journalists to work freely and report on topics that make those in power uncomfortable.

The free expression advocacy group Article 19 denounced the failure of the ruling party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), to uphold the right to speech despite the fact that it used to be the leading force of the democracy movement during the military dictatorship:

NLD government has demonstrated an alarming disregard for the freedom of expression and fostered a chilling environment for independent media throughout the country.

And the Southeast Asian Press Alliance urged the NLD-led government to be more transparent:

Instead of guaranteeing the people’s right to know and the journalists’ safety, the authorities have not been transparent in their decision-making and have further restricted journalists’ access since the conflict escalated in late August.

Reuters reported that some Myanmar netizens have accused the detained journalists of “selling the country” to foreigners, and thus acting as traitors. But the report also mentioned that friends and supporters of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are using social media to deny these claims, while praising the charity and volunteer work of the two.

Beyond the Official Secrets Act, this case highlights the need to amend other laws being used to stifle free speech, including the Unlawful Associations Act and Article 66(d), otherwise known as the defamation law. Both were passed during the previous military regime.

 

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ON THE MEDIA: Global unhappiness with the news media is high. In the U.S. (surprise!) partisanship drives what people think about the media

In the U.S., supporting the party in power correlates with thinking the media does a terrible job. The opposite is true in nearly every other country surveyed.

 

The reporting readers say they want from news organizations and what they feel they get from news organizations continue to be mismatched.

People across 38 different countries largely say they want a news media that covers political issues in a way that doesn’t favor one political party or another, according to a global study by Pew Research published Thursday. But in many of these countries Pew studied, partisan divides over whether news organizations cover politics fairly rule attitudes toward the media.

Among the four issues tested, evaluations are most negative when it comes to whether news organizations are doing a good job at reporting different positions on political issues fairly. Globally, a median of only about half (52%) think their news media are performing well in this domain.

Regionally, medians of less than half approve in the Middle East (46%), Europe (45%) and Latin America (42%). Still, majorities in sub-Saharan Africa (69%) and the Asia-Pacific (65%) praise their media’s performance…

An individual’s political orientation tends to be one of the strongest factors underlying attitudes about the news media, more so than age, education or gender.

In the U.S., 52 percent said they thought news organizations don’t do well reporting political issues fairly. The U.S. didn’t have the highest levels of dissatisfaction among the countries Pew surveyed, though: In Greece that number is 80 percent; in South Korea, 72 percent. These two countries consistently ranked highest in media dissatisfaction: Greece and South Korea were the only two in Pew’s report in which the majority of people didn’t even think news organizations were doing a good job covering important news events (Greece 57 percent; South Korea 55 percent).

But when it comes to partisanship, the U.S. takes the cake. In only the U.S and Israel are people who support the governing party more likely to be unhappy with the media:

The gap is largest in the U.S., where 24% of Republicans are mostly satisfied news consumers, compared with 58% of people who do not identify with the Republican Party, a 34-point difference.

The opposite is largely true for the other countries Pew studied. In Hungary, for instance,supporters of the ruling Christian Democratic People’s Party are 20 percentage points more likely to be satisfied with news coverage than non-supporters.

Among the people surveyed by Pew, those who said they felt it was “never acceptable” for news media to favor a specific political party were more likely to say media in their countries weren’t reporting on politics fairly, compared to those who said they felt it was “sometimes acceptable” for news organizations to favor one political party. Again, the U.S. has the largest gap between those two groups (57 percent of those who are most rigid about whether news media should be allowed to favor one party over another are unhappy with how the media is doing, compared to 31 percent of those who think it’s sometimes acceptable for media to favor a party):

This yawning partisan divide aligns with another Pew report from last summer, which found that 89 percent of Democrats said journalists’ role keeping an eye on public officials was critical, but just 42 percent of Republicans felt the same. It was the largest partisan gap since Pew began asking the question in 1985.

In addition to all this partisanship and unease, Thursday’s Pew report also found a few other notable news media consumption trends worldwide:

— People are more interested in national and local news than news not about their own country. And it turns out people outside of the United States aren’t actually that interested in news about the United States.

— Rates of using social media to get news are unrelated to a country’s national economic status. People in emerging, developing economies are as likely to use social media for news as those in advanced ones: “In fact, the median percentages of people who get news at least once a day through social media are about the same in emerging and developing economies as in advanced ones (33% and 36%, respectively).

Pew conducted its survey with 41,953 respondents across 38 countries from February to May of 2017. You can read their full report here.

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ON THE MEDIA: Letting Black Women Tell Their Own Stories

By Monique Judge for NeimanLab

“In 2018, journalism will need to do a better job of seeking out the voices of black women. It will not be enough to give black women credit for the things that they do; it will be crucial to allow their stories to be told through their own voices.”

Many movements in 2017 were either started or shaped by black women. From #MeToo to the recent special election for the Alabama Senate seat, black women showed up and showed out. But too often their voices were drowned out by those with more visibility and left unheard by those who were able to silence them.

Monique Judge

In 2018, journalism will need to do a better job of seeking out the voices of black women. It will not be enough to give black women credit for the things that they do; it will be crucial to allow their stories to be told through their own voices.

Representation of black women in journalism will matter. The days of a white women or a non-black women of color reporting on things such as the natural hair movement or other things indelibly tied to the black experience are over.

You can’t speak on why Auntie Maxine is important if you have never had or been an Auntie Maxine. You can’t talk about why hair politics is still issue or why the rise of Fenty Beauty is so important or why Black Panther and the new live-action Lion King movie with Beyoncé as Simba matters if you don’t have the lived experience to understand the nuances of undertones and representation.

At the end of John Singleton’s 1991 movie Boyz n the Hood, Ice Cube utters what has been one of the most quotable lines in the film: “Either they don’t know, don’t show, or don’t care what’s going on in the hood.”

In 2017, the same could be said about the stories and identities of black women in journalism. Either they don’t know, don’t show, or don’t care about what’s happening to black women in America and across the globe.

2018 is the year that this can, will, and must change.

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ON THE MEDIA: The media today – A unionization wave across the industry

By Pete Vernon, November 20, 2017, for Columbia Journalism Review

ACROSS THE MEDIA LANDSCAPE, as consolidation and technological advancements drive rapid change, a mainstay of 20th century labor battles is having its moment. Staffers from numerous outlets, both legacy print and digital-only, are unionizing.

At the Los Angeles Times, long a bastion of anti-union sentiment, staffers have engaged in a public-facing unionization drive, challenging its parent company Tronc. For CJR, Shaya Tayefe Mohajer traces the paper’s history with labor, which includes a bombing of the Times office by a pair of brothers hired by unionists. Writing on the current state of play, she contrasts the huge raises that Tronc executives have given themselves, even as they demand cuts across their newsrooms, with the pay cuts taken by New York Times executives over the same period (the NYT newsroom has long been unionized). Mohajer writes that “the successful formation of a union at the Los Angeles Times would have been largely unimaginable in the last century,” but Times national correspondent Matt Pearce tells her, “We think this can be successful. We’re the dominant publication in the most populous, wealthiest state in the country, one that is driving the direction of the country in many ways.”

A wave of unionization has taken place across the digital media landscape in recent years, with journalists at Vice, Gizmodo Media Group, HuffPost, and other outlets organizing. Last week, staffers at Vox Media—the digital startup that runs eight sites, including Eater, Recode, and Vox.com—announced their intention to do the same.

The dismal financial picture for media outlets is well known. Last week’s news that BuzzFeed and Vice would fall significantly shortof their revenue targets only added to the gloomy prognosis. Facing that uncertain future, it’s no surprise that journalists would opt for the collective bargaining rights and employee protections that unions offer. Management at many of those outlets, however, is pushing back. One week after DNAinfo and Gothamist staffers voted to unionize, the sites’ billionaire owner Joe Ricketts shut down his entire operation. Even at liberal sites, like Slate, resistance from management has been stiff.

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ON THE MEDIA: Documentary Filmmaker Frederick Wiseman on Life in Donald Trump’s America

By Will Tizard, November 12, 2017, for Variety

Frederick Wiseman, 87, whom Camerimage Film Festival is honoring with a retrospective of five films and its award for Outstanding Achievements in Documentary Filmmaking, has remained resolute in his approach to subjects, from Chicago public housing to juvenile court, beef feed lots and Paris’ Crazy Horse nightclub, since 1967. That’s when his first film, “Titicut Follies,” exposed such abusive practices at the Bridgewater, Massachusetts hospital for the criminally insane that it was banned for decades (though attorneys argued it was a violation of patients’ privacy).

His new project, “Ex Libris,” is an incisive, three-hour-plus look at the New York Public Library system that presents a host of the real-life heroes, struggles and small victories that have drawn audiences to Wiseman’s work ever since he left behind his career as an instructor and/or researcher at Boston University, Brandeis and Harvard, and picked up a camera.

“Ex Libris” leaves you with kind of a glow – something about seeing all these brilliant librarians thinking up incredible ways to serve their community.
Trump has made it a political film. Because everything the library represents is in such stark contract to everything he represents. Interest in others, helping poor people, helping immigrants, you can go right down the line – everything. Access to knowledge, interest in science…

The New York Public Library staff are incredibly resourceful and motivated, as you discovered.
They’re genuinely interested in helping other people. And that’s nice to see any time – particularly great to see it now. It’s interesting for Europeans to see it because a lot of them have never been to America and all they know about is Trump. And it gives them a sense of another aspect of American life.

You’ve said you never go into a film with a thesis and that filming is your research – what was your most striking discovery in “Ex Libris”?
The real answer to that question is what you see in the film. I think it’s the variety, the diversity of activities – and wish to genuinely help other people, which the diversity of activity is an expression of.

I really don’t know what the point of view or the themes are until I begin to put the sequences together. And that’s after seven or eight months of editing.

I first edited all the sequences I thought I might use, and then when I thought all the so-called candidate sequences were editing and close to final form then I began to work on the structure at that point. I made the first assembly very quickly – maybe three or four days. Because I knew the material very well and I could make the changes fast.

What’s your method for constructing the narrative at that point?
The first assembly always comes out 30 or 40 minutes longer than the final film and then it takes me six or eight weeks after that where I work on the internal rhythm within a sequence, the transition sequences, until I’m satisfied that I’ve got the best film I can make out of the material I have.

And then I go back and I look at all the rushes all over again to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything that might be useful as a result of the choices that I’ve made.

It’s fascinating how public and private funding come together in such a vast institution, which your frequent focus on exploring class really illustrates.
It’s about 50-50. I think their annual budget is about $300 million and half come from the private sector and half from the city.

The library bridges the class divide in the sense that all classes use it and rich people support it. And you see all classes, races and ethnicities are present. But in terms of the great gap between rich and poor in America now, it certainly suggests that, although it doesn’t deal with that – it’s not a principal theme of the film.

But you see the people who are the board of trustees and you contrast them with the people you see who are in that one-room library in Harlem. It does begin to suggest that there’s a pretty big gap.

“Ex Libris” involved more locations than you’ve ever had – 13, correct? How do you not get lost while editing all this material yourself?
Yeah, that is the most. That’s where you make or break the film, in the editing. You can have good material and screw it up or you can have mediocre material and improve it. I don’t start with a script or anything so the idea is always to find the film in the rushes.

Well, if I’m having a bad day, I go take a walk or take a nap then go back at it. I like doing it so that helps.

But most documentarians really value an objective editor who can come in cold and spot the holes and the areas that might be confusing.
I could never do that. You have to have good picture and you have to have good sound. But you can screw up in the editing. I would never delegate it to anyone else.

Right from your start with “Titicut Follies” in 1967, you’ve rejected the conventions of interviews, voiceovers and music. Did you always have the feeling that these manipulate the audience’s emotions?
I don’t feel any need to do it. Yeah, that’s what music does. I try to do it with the music that’s available that the people in the film heard.

There’s a lot of music in my films but it’s always music that’s recorded as part of the shooting. It’s not added music. There’s a lot of music in “Ex Libris” but it’s all music that I recorded as part of the shooting.

I try to cut the movie so that I give the viewer enough information so that they can understand what’s going on. When this technique works, it works because the viewer feels that they’re present. I’m not against interviews – I’m only against using them myself. I mean Marcel Ophuls has made great movies because he’s a terrific interviewer.

Same with voiceovers – I don’t like to use anything that distances the viewer from what they’re watching.

You’re also a purist in your stand against re-enactments, insisting on filming only what occurs in front of the lens. But doesn’t this mean important events can often happen off camera?
Inevitably you miss stuff but I like to be prepared to shoot interesting things that are going on when I’m present. At least I don’t know what I missed when I’m not present!

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ON THE MEDIA: The Trust Project brings news orgs and tech giants together to tag and surface high-quality news

, November 16, 2017, for Nieman Lab

“The hope is that, if news organizations are more clear and transparent about what they’re doing, then users can make their own decisions.”

Will readers trust the news more if they have more information about who’s behind it?

It’s worth a try. Thursday marks the launch of The Trust Project, an initiative three years in the making (but feeling oh-so-relevant right about now) that brings together news outlets such as The Washington Post, The Economist, and the Globe and Mail, as well as Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Bing, in a commitment to “provide clarity on the [news organizations’] ethics and other standards, the journalists’ backgrounds, and how they do their work.” The project will standardize this method of increased clarity so that news organizations, large and small, around the world can use it, and so that the algorithms of the tech giants can find and incorporate it.

“The public can look at this and say, ‘okay, I know more about what’s behind this organization’,” said Sally Lehrman, senior director of journalism ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University and the creator of the project, which is funded by the Craig Newmark Philanthropic Fund, Google, the Knight Foundation, the Democracy Fund, and the Markkula Foundation. “Hopefully, it will pull back the curtain on some of our practices as journalists, which, in fact, a lot of people don’t know about. And this lack of transparency is partly what creates a sense of suspicion.”

A team of representatives from dozens of media companies worldwidecame up with eight “core indicators”:

— Best Practices: What Are Your Standards? Who funds the news outlet? What is the outlet’s mission? Plus commitments to ethics, diverse voices, accuracy, making corrections and other standards.
— Author Expertise: Who Reported This? Details about the journalist who wrote the story, including expertise and other stories they have worked on.
— Type of Work: What Is This? Labels to distinguish opinion, analysis and advertiser (or sponsored) content from news reports.
— Citations and References: For investigative or in-depth stories, greater access to the sources behind the facts and assertions.
— Methods: Also for in-depth stories, information about why reporters chose to pursue a
story and how they went about the process.
— Locally Sourced? Lets people know when the story has local origin or expertise.
— Diverse Voices: A newsroom’s efforts to bring in diverse perspectives.
— Actionable Feedback: A newsroom’s efforts to engage the public’s help in setting coverage priorities, contributing to the reporting process, ensuring accuracy and other areas.

“Think along the lines of a nutrition label on a package of food, or a lab report that conveys your health status when you go in for a checkup,” Lehrman wrote in a post on TheAtlantic.com earlier this year. The Trust Project worked with Schema.org to create a standardized technical language for the tags so that tech sites can incorporate them.

The first wave of publishers going live with the Trust Indicators includes The Washington Post, Mic, The Independent Journal Review, The Globe and Mail, The Economist, Trinity Mirror, The German Press Agency dpa, and Italy’s La Repubblica and La Stampa. Lehrman sought out these organizations to be first because “those are ones I knew had the technical capabilities to be the demonstrations. I also aimed to experiment with how this would work across different types of media.” The integration of the standard is a heavy technical lift; it needs to be incorporated into publishers’ CMSes and site code. You can check out this Trello board for links to how the Indicators are being incorporated onto various parts of participating publishers’ sites, from “About” pages to author bios to citations and references. And here’s a mockup of an article that contains all of the Indicators.

The second wave will probably include a similar number of publishers. The Trust Project also worked with the Institute for Nonprofit News to develop a WordPress plugin that allows qualified publishers to incorporate the indicators into their sites. Eventually, the project will begin scaling more ambitiously. “The costs will lessen over time,” said Lehrman. “I’m thinking a lot about how to ease the path for newsrooms that don’t have the kinds of resources that this first phase of newsrooms does.”

There are also, of course, the tech companies. Facebook, Google, Bing, and Twitter partnered with The Trust Project early on, and will be incorporating the Trust Indicators into their products in various ways. Partnering with The Trust Project since its conception has been important to Google, in large part because “we believe the indicators can help our algorithms better understand authoritative journalism — and help us to better surface it to consumers,” said Richard Gingras, VP of news products at Google, in a statement. “We hope to use the Type of Work indicator to improve the accuracy of article labels in Google News, and indicators such as Best Practices and Author Info in our Knowledge Panels.”

Facebook, meanwhile, will be displaying the Trust Indicators via the article context feature it launched in October.

For now, the tech giants’ buy-in appears experimental and limited. Nobody is saying that they’ll favor Trust Project partners in their algorithms or anything like that. “You’re not going to see sudden changes with the algorithm,” Lehrman said.

The Trust Project is explicitly nonpartisan. The Independent Journal Review is the most conservative launch partner, but overall, the project is meant to be a consortium of “news organizations that adhere to traditional standards,” Lehrman said. “The idea is that news organizations are providing information about how they go about their work, who funds them, and what their mission is in terms of coverage. The hope is that, if news organizations are more clear and transparent about what they’re doing, then users can make their own decisions.”

There are bound to be naysayers, “fake news” criers, and both readers and sites that regard the appearance of the Trust Project’s logo as, in fact, a sign that an outlet should not be trusted. But Lerhman believes that, over time, the project will make inroads among readers. The Center for Media Engagement (formerly the Engaging News Project) at The University of Texas, Austin, has been testing news consumers’ reaction to the Trust Indicators over the past few months, and though the full results haven’t yet been released, “the Trust Indicators did create a statistically significant shift in attitude about whether the site was trustworthy,” Lehrman said.

“I am confident that, over time, this will start to build,” she added. “The Trust Project provides a strong sense of how journalism is distinct from other kinds of information. These [participating] organizations are independent. They don’t want to be controlled. But they are saying this is a situation where they want to band together to respond to the public need.”

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ON THE MEDIA: Newsonomics: A call to arms (and wallets) in the new era of deregulation and bigger media

, November 16, 2017, for NeimanLab

 

First Sinclair and now the Kochs are back. In an age of media free-for-all and massive deregulation, will fact-based journalism become an endangered species?

Quibble, if you will, about the level of degeneracy now afoot in the heart of the Old and New Confederacy, as the Roy Moore saga provides yet more sick drama in the country.

That’s a sideshow. What’s quickly appearing on the main stage — if it’s still behind the curtain for now — is the beginning of a likely massive movement in news media ownership. You think you’ve seen a politicization of the press? The 2016 election may serve as just its preamble.

We’re on the brink — witness several actions this week alone — of a small number of right-leaning companies rapidly buying up, or buying into, the assets of journalism companies. In so doing, the alt-right “fake news” assault may move into a much more insidious phase, as long-trusted brands could take their marching orders from those who believe “fact” is fungible, in service of their political and business goals.

“Media madness,” former Federal Communications Commission member Michael Copps called it Wednesday, as 15 Democratic senators called for a new federal investigation of the FCC’s rush to deregulate broadcast media in America.

Their immediate target: Today’s FCC meeting, as current FCC chairman Ajit Pai speeds up his blitzkrieg assault on the decades-old regulatory rules aimed at maintaining a diverse, many-voiced, widely owned free press. Soon to be repealed: several regulations that have prohibited domination of broadcast news media by a few companies and one that has long forbid the joint ownership of a major newspaper and a major TV broadcaster in the same market. [Update: On Thursday afternoon, the FCC indeed voted to repeal the regulations preventing broadcasters from owning newspapers in the same market.]

While Pai and his confederates pose superficially plausible arguments about how digital media has changed everything, their goals are more prosaic. Sinclair Broadcasting figures to become the first big winner of the new era. Although it’s opposed by a good mix of critics — from the stalwart Free Press group to Newsmax’s Chris Ruddy to Glenn Beck to the Dish Network, Public Knowledge, and Common Cause — Sinclair stands a good chance of soon becoming the largest regional broadcaster. How big? If it is allowed to complete its acquisition of Tribune Media (which some will recall cashed out a good chunk of the newspaper industry–built digital classifieds business and then most of the real estate and buildings associated with the former Tribune, now Tronc, newspapers), Sinclair will own 233 TV stations across the country, including the 42 gained in the Tribune sale. That’s a reach into 72 percent of U.S. households. Before the in-progress de-regulation, companies were capped at 39 percent.

Look no further than the coverage of the Roy Moore story to get a glimpse of the future in detail. In “How Sinclair compromised the news on an Alabama station it owns to support Roy Moore,” Baltimore Sun media critic David Zurawik traced the chain of slanted reporting. It began with Sinclair-owned WBMA, which reported that all its sources (from three interviews) believed the good judge and not The Washington Post.

Then Breitbart picked up that report, giving its journalism even wider distribution and its own brand of certification. It’s hard to quickly assess how WBMA and other Sinclair owned stations have covered the Moore story. What we do know is that Sinclair, privately owned and led by chairman David D. Smith and CEO Christopher Ripley, makes no secret of its alt-right enthusiasms. It has mandated nationally produced must-carry editorials, some of them so fact-challenged as to provide ample satiric fodder for John Oliver. 6,356,541 people, as of this writing, had watched that 20-minute Oliver segment, but it’s unclear how much of a difference that makes. (On the other hand, let’s recognize the dogged work of Advance Publications’ Al.com tracking the real story of Roy Moore’s behavior in Gadsden in the 1970s and eighties.)

Sinclair’s approval appears to be in the final stages, though it’s unclear how the heightening opposition will affect that. It may be the first of ever-bigger deals done for political as well as business reasons. As former FCC commissioner Copps told Deadline.com Wednesday, “[It’s] the nadir of the FCC’s credibility as a protector of the public interest. We shouldn’t just be focused on one merger. There are going to be a lot more after that. It’s a flashing green light, greener than any before it.”

While broadcast takes center ring here, pay attention to the rest of the circus.

On Wednesday, the aspirational media mogul Koch Brothers blazed their way back into media ownership consciousness. As The New York Times reported, the brothers are backing a bid to buy Time Inc. With an injection of $500 million, magazine publisher Meredith looks as if it will finally be able to close its pursuit of Time Inc., perhaps putting that company out of its two-decades-old transition woes. The Kochs came close to beating Michael Ferro to the Tribune Publishing punch three years ago; only odd circumstance and pressure on one of Tribune’s then-major owners, Oaktree Capital Management, and on its co-chairman Bruce Karsh, prevented that deal.

In 2013, the Kochs came close to owning The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Hartford Courant, Florida’s Sun Sentinel and Orlando Sentinel and Baltimore Sun. (Presumably, if they had made the acquisition, David Zurawik wouldn’t be writing his critical columns for the Sun, and then often taking his viewpoint to Brian Stelter’s Sunday morning Reliable Sources.)

As the Times’ Dealbook put it, “It is not clear how much influence — if any — the Kochs would have on a Meredith-owned Time Inc. if the deal were to go through.” The Kochs have never been shy about mixing business and politics, and they’ll be — with long-standing publisher Meredith a curious intermediary — close to such titles as Time Magazine, Fortune and Money.

How might they use that influence? How might Sinclair double down on its own advocacy after it wins the approvals it needs? Who else may come along — with enough money to freely mix business and politics? Inevitably, Rupert Murdoch’s name reappears. Just a week after it was reported that his 21st Century Fox was in talks to sell substantial film and TV cable assets to Disney, his name has popped up again as a would-be buyer.

Could it have been the never-say-die 86-year-old news magnate of our time who whispered AT&T sweet nothings in President Trump’s ear, moving him to both tweet concern about media consolidation and to see his recent pick for Department of Justice Antitrust chief reverse himself and object to AT&T’s buy of Time Warner, including, most significantly to our points, CNN? Yet it’s also been reported that Murdoch has been a would-be buyerof CNN? The regulatory apparatus, or the dismantling of one, only serves as another means to a business end for Murdoch. Yes, imagine it: Some kind of Fox/CNN tie-up of money, distribution and, of course, working the political angles of the day.

Who may be a first mover if Ajit Pai is successful in letting big broadcasters buy up as many of the country’s TV stations as they want and add big metro newspapers to their consolidated operations? Rupert Murdoch would have to be high on that list. And again, the L.A. Times, the center of so much intrigue throughout its ownership-challenged decade, plays a part. In 2012, Murdoch, too, wanted to buy the L.A. Times. But he was stymied by the cross-ownership rules that meant he’d had to sell highly profitable L.A. stations in order to buy the Times. Now, if the FCC changes stick, Murdoch may be a key player in the broadcast/press roll-up.

This brings up the inevitable question: where are the other names? Wasn’t George Soros supposed to be the master of progressive conspiracies? We’ve seen people like Jeff Bezos (Washington Post), John Henry (Boston), Glen Taylor (Minneapolis) and the Huntsmans (Salt Lake), among others, step forward and return degrees of reinvestment and stability to important metro dailies. Now, when it looks as if many more assets can be bought — and combined, with TV broadcast assets looking richer in a print-decimated world — who else will step forward?

It will take confidence, courage, and money, to confront the new reality. Free Press and others are likely to contest FCC changes in the courts, but that may only be a delaying action. It’s best, perhaps, to contest this war of free press in the marketplace as well. This week, I raised the question of who might buy CNN if the global TV news giant (and leader of the digital news audience pack) comes up for sale. Though, AT&TT CEO Randall Stephenson has proclaimed his willingness to litigate DOJ’s objection to the breadth of his Time Warner buy, time — and offers — may persuade him to sell off CNN.

The gravity of such a sale is clear. I’d argue that CNN has served as a fact-seeking bulwark against the alt-right, in the company of the Times and Post in aggressively covering and uncovering truths and lies. Imagine if it morphed into something else. (In fact, AT&T’s own standing has quickly morphed, given the crazy times: It has moved from being a perhaps poor steward of CNN to a politically aggrieved party in the mess. On Monday, L.A. Times columnist Michael Hiltzik laid out concerns about the AT&T/Time Warner deal.

On Tuesday, Axios’ Jim VandeHei linked the rise of Newt Gingrich’s weaponized politics to John McCain’s pick of Sarah Palin as VP to the “algorithm-ized rage” of Facebook. “Fox News, created in 1996, televised and monetized this hard-edged combat politics. This created the template for MSNBC to do the same on the left, giving both sides a place to fuel and fund rage 24/7. CNN soon went all politics, all day, making governance a show in need of drama,” he wrote. The Fox point is a good one, but underestimates Fox’s — and Murdoch’s influence — on our current politics.

Before Fox — the Americanized version of downmarket British tabloids that blur fact and fictions — such “journalism” was reserved for a place at the supermarket checkout. Most people knew that the category of Enquirers and Stars were not to be taken seriously. Fox News changed that by looking like TV news, its production values and Roger Ailes’ wiles revolutionizing reality. In 2017, we’re up to competing realities. What about 2027?

In the Trump administration’s ongoing teardown of regulation — from health to environment to education — incalculable damage grows. Its media deregulation could have a great deal of impact. I’ve written, here at the Lab, about the likely impacts of news deserts on the 2016 election. As we approach 2018, that desertification only grows. Print advertising losses of 15 percent or more will mean hundreds of fewer journalists working next year. The FCC’s cry for digital freedom is likely a smokescreen. The likely convergence in the TV/local newspaper property combos to come will likely be convergences of costs and less reporting. Cost savings are a top priority for companies eyeingsuch consolidations. But this deregulation could put more money into the pockets of those who already have a lot of it.

Last week, when I spoke with New York Times CEO Mark Thompson, he recalled his awakening to the value of journalism in a democratic society:

My story of becoming a journalist — I was born in 1957, so at the age of 14 or 15, I was completely engrossed by American politics and Watergate. In England, by the way, where I couldn’t see any American newspapers. But hearing at one or two removes about the work being done by The New York Times and The Washington Post in uncovering Pentagon Papers, Watergate, and so forth. It’s a matter of honest astonishment that 45 years, 46 years later, it’s the same brands.

It is an astonishment. About 2,000 journalists, in total, power those two institutions. Although their work this year will prove historic, it’s not enough. We need journalists working freely in the pursuit of fact all over the country, in whatever “print” and “TV” become.

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ON THE MEDIA: America’s Local Newspapers Might Be Broke – But They’re More Vital Than Ever

Local journalism is doing great work across the country while fighting cutbacks and tight budgets. But we need people to stop expecting news to be free

By: Kathleen McLaughlin, September 11, 2017, for The Guardian

The Texas Tribune’s coverage of Hurricane Harvey wasn’t a magic trick; it was the result of truly persistent beat reporting. Photograph: David J Phillip/AP

More than a year before Hurricane Harvey crashed into Houston, the Texas Tribune dug deep into how climate change and unchecked growth created a sprawling city vulnerable to devastation if the perfect storm hit.

In their investigation, the Tribune explained the factors behind Houston’s dangerously heightened exposure to hurricane disaster. In the days since Harvey flooded the city, ruined homes and businesses and killed at least 70 people in its path, the Texas Tribune’s work has been hailed as “oddly prescient”.

In fact, it was the natural outgrowth of great journalism by reporters who know their subjects and communities well and have covered these issues extensively.

One of the Tribune’s reporters, Kiah Collier, explained that she and her colleague Neena Satija reported at length on Houston’s debate “over how, and whether, to build some kind of storm protection system to block the devastating storm surge that would accompany Houston’s ‘perfect storm’”. When Collier moved to the Tribune from the Houston Chronicle in 2015, Satija was already in talks with Pro Publica about the project and she jumped aboard.

“This previous coverage was definitely important; I had a grasp on the issue from the get-go and a bunch of sources,” Collier told me over email.

Collier says she and her team knew the story would be predictive, but not so soon. Rather than being spooked by the Tribune’s accuracy and ability to foresee what was coming to Houston, let’s consider instead the years of hard work, digging and trust-building it took their reporters to get to that story. It wasn’t a magic trick; it was the result of truly persistent beat reporting.

In the face of massive cutbacks and tight budgets, this kind of reporting is happening all over America. I’ve been working this summer with the Guardian and the Economic Hardship Reporting Project on their new On the Ground project and I’ve been doing what might be the most fun part of the work. My job has been to create partnerships with local and regional news outlets like the Texas Tribune.

One of the goals of the project is to get these important stories about inequality in front of the people affected by them. We know that nobody does that better than local and regional press. Talking with dozens of editors, from Atlanta to Wyoming and Texas to Tulsa, has reaffirmed my belief that a massive share of the most important journalism done in America today is from reporters and editors committed to improving their own communities, not in amassing empty praise or followings on Twitter.

From beautiful new magazines to old-fashioned small-town daily newspapers, local journalism is still fighting a tough financial battle, but doing incredible work.

Missoula, Montana. Photograph: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images

In Atlanta, the Bitter Southerner has turned gorgeous reporting, writing and editing, wrapped under a killer brand name, into a battle against negative stereotypes about the American South. In Fargo, North Dakota, the alternative weekly newspaper High Plains Reader is investigating racism and violence in one of the only states in America without a hate crimes law. In Oklahoma, the online outlet Oklahoma Watch picks one or two topics each year that its top-notch staff can dig into at great length, with consequential reporting and insights.

These are just a few of the outlets I’ve had the pleasure of exploring this summer. All across America, I’ve spoken with journalists who are committed, working their butts off and forever looking for new ways to keep their organizations going financially. There’s no shortage of the will to do solid journalism, to help people better understand what’s happening in their towns and cities. But with the death of traditional newspaper funding and the ongoing corporate consolidation of American local press, the situation can seem grim.

Even over the course of the summer, the media landscape in my home state of Montana changed yet again. (I wrote about Montana’s media and the dire state of local news in America earlier this year). Missoula’s only independent newspaper – the Missoula Independent – was bought by Lee Enterprises, the Iowa-based company that already owns four of the state’s largest daily papers and several smaller outlets.

The Independent was probably Montana’s lone remaining widely read critic of Lee’s cutbacks and coverage in the state and though its management has promised to keep it independent, the truth remains to be seen. Separately, the Lee chain scaled back yet again on its political coverage, moving one of its two remaining state reporters into a local education beat. The change went unreported in their pages.

Montana’s shrunken press is but one example of what happens to journalism when the ultimate motive is profit. In a report last fall, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that since 2004, more than a third of US newspapers had been sold at least once, and that the largest newspaper companies continue to buy up papers and squeeze out cash.

“Concerns about the role and ownership of newspapers have been voiced and debated since the founding of the country,” they wrote. “However, the dramatic shift in ownership of newspapers over the past decade – coupled with the rapidly deteriorating finances of community papers – brings added urgency to a new version of an age-old question: In the digital age, what is the civic responsibility of newspaper owners to their communities?”

Yet it’s wholly unclear whether non-profit models are better at serving the public good. A new report from New York University questions whether foundation-funded journalism is just creating more reporting for those who already have journalism – the wealthy (sorry, I can’t use the word “elite” as it’s almost always a misnomer), who live in clusters of America where media remains relatively strong.

So what can you do? The simple solution lies with you, dear reader. Find a news outlet valuable to your life and pay for it. Plain and simple. It’s not a long-term solution, but we need people to stop expecting the news be the same as air and sunlight – absolutely free.

On Sunday, we got some very sad news that a potential partner for On the Ground was going away, for an indefinite period. The editor of Indian Country Today – an invaluable source of news and information and the Native American diaspora in the United States – has gone on hiatus to figure out a new funding model. This month, the Guardian published a beautifully reported and written piece by one of their journalists on violence against Native women. Without her deep grounding in the issue, built through years of reporting, it’s hard to imagine how writer Mary Pember could have done the issue such justice.

ICT editor Chris Napolitano told me he thinks there are ways to get people to support journalism again, but we may be well beyond the era of subscriptions supporting reporting. What lies ahead, he suggests, is in adding value, going beyond the headlines and daily news.

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ON MIGRATION: The Stories Behind DACA, the Now-Ended Program for Young Undocumented Immigrants in the US

By: Amanda Lichtenstein, September 11, 2017, for Global Voices

Activists protest the end of DACA in Los Angeles, September 5, 2017. “Deport Hate, Not Dreamers” and “United We Dream/#DefendDACA.” Photo by Molly Adams on Flickr, permission under CC BY 2.0.

United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced that the Trump administration would terminate a program that grants two-year renewable work and study permits to immigrants who were brought to the country as children without papers.

In the days following the policy shift surrounding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACAprotestswalkoutspetitions, “resistbot campaigns” and calls for impeachment have flooded the internet and the streets of the US. Critics accuse the White House of being cruel, as many DACA recipients self-identify as Americans.

DACA was put in place through executive action by President Barack Obama in 2012. A legislative version of the policy, known as the DREAM Act, has repeatedly failed to pass in Congress.

Nearly 800,000 DACA recipients, who are often called “dreamers” in reference to the DREAM Act, now face the possibility of deportation when their permits expire in six months if Congress does not act.

The decision triggered a renewed debate on the very definition of what it means to be an “American,” in this case referring to a citizen of the United States, with organizations like Define American at the forefront, using stories to put a face to the numbers.

Founded by journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, who is himself undocumented, Define American’s mission is to use the power of story to “transcend politics and shift the conversation about immigrants, identity, and citizenship in a changing America.”

Define American also invites undocumented people and their allies to create and upload text and video testimonials about the immigrant experience in the US.

Giovanni Amado, 23, arrived in the US in 1998 from Mexico City when he was just 3 years old. In his video testimonial, published a few days before the Trump administration’s announcement, Amado talks about his work as a fraud specialist in a bank and says he does not understand how terminating DACA helps anyone:

“The term American should not be defined by a document or the lack of one. It is more so the willingness to contribute to the country and help others out whenever possible.”

And Denea Joseph, a 23-year-old woman from Belize who came to the US at the age of 7, says DACA allowed her to finish her university studies. She defines American as:

“..an individual — immigrant or otherwise — who has lent their skills, knowledge, education, business acumen as well as labor that lends to this nation’s positionality as a hegemonic power.”

In addition to crowd-sourced testimonials, Define American recently launched#UndocuJoy, a social media campaign designed to combat victimizing representations of undocumented people by “flooding the media with authentic images of happiness.”

The campaign features a video in collaboration with poet Yosimar Reyes who narrates his poem “I Love Us” throughout a series of images of everyday undocumented people getting up, going to work, dancing, making breakfast, and being human:

“I love us / because we have constantly had to prove our humanity / and constantly done it beautifully / Because to stay human / Under these conditions / you have to have an understanding of / Beauty.”

The struggle for permanent sanctuary

In Attorney General Sessions’ speech announcing DACA’s termination, he referred to DACA recipients as “mostly adult illegal aliens.”

His choice of wording recalled Define American’s campaign #WordsMatter, launched in 2015, which urges journalists to stop using the word “illegal” to refer to people:

“Phrases such as “illegal immigrant” and “illegal alien”  replace complex legal circumstances with an assumption of guilt. They effectively criminalize the personhood of migrants, instead of describing the legality of their actions.”

“Being in the US without proper documents is a civil offense, not a criminal one,” the campaign continues.

Given Trump’s past disparaging comments about people of Mexican origin, as well as a series of controversial executive orders, pardons, and proclamations that involve minority communities, the move to end DACA and the language used to justify the decision have reinforced accusations that Trump is purposefully stirring mistrust and hatred in society.

Even before Trump’s rise to the presidency, the federal government’s deportation priorities led certain areas of the country to limit their cooperation with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Currently, four states (California, Colorado, Connecticut and New Mexico), as well as 37 cities and counties, have declared themselves as so-called sanctuary cities.

Following the DACA decision, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel doubled down on his city’s commitment to offering sanctuary, going so far as to declare Chicago a “Trump-Free Zone.”

But sanctuary cities aren’t a permanent solution for DACA recipients. Their fate now rests with Congress. Perhaps hearing the personal stories published by initiatives like Define American will remind lawmakers that there are real people behind the statistics and that being American is more than just a piece of paper.

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ON THE MEDIA: U.N. Human Rights Chief Condemns Trump’s Attacks on Media

By: Nick Cumming-Bruce, August 30, 2017, for The New York Times

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations human rights chief, said the president risked inciting violence. Photo: Denis Balibouse/Reuters

GENEVA — The United Nations human rights chief said on Wednesday that President Trump’s repeated denunciations of some media outlets as “fake news” could amount to incitement to violence and had potentially dangerous consequences outside the United States.

The rebuke by Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the high commissioner for human rights, at a news conference in Geneva was an unusually forceful criticism of a head of state by a United Nations official.

Mr. al-Hussein was reacting to Mr. Trump’s recent comments at a rally in Phoenix during which he spoke of “crooked media deceptions” in reports of the violent clashes at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., that resulted in the death of a counterprotester.

In Phoenix, the president’s words also appeared to whip up audience hostility toward journalists.

“It’s really quite amazing when you think that freedom of the press, not only a cornerstone of the Constitution but very much something the United States defended over the years, is now itself under attack from the president himself,” Mr. al-Hussein said. “It’s a stunning turnaround.”

Asked for comment, the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said in an emailed statement, “We believe in free press and think it is an important part of our democracy, but the press also has a big responsibility to the American people to be truthful. Their job is to report the news, not create it.

“Is it not ‘dangerous’ for the media,” she continued, “to create false narratives and overzealous attacks against the president that the American people chose to be their leader? The president is focused on growing our economy, creating jobs, securing our border and protecting Americans. Since those are also the priorities of most Americans, hopefully the media will make covering them theirs.”

In an attempt to deflect criticism that he had stoked racial divisions by failing to unequivocally condemn the actions of neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville as racist, Mr. Trump had accused the news media of giving a platform to hate groups.

He singled out by name The New York Times, CNN and The Washington Post.

Mr. al-Hussein said that the violence in Charlottesville was “an abomination.” The Nazi salutes, the display of swastikas and the anti-Semitic chants had no place in the United States or anywhere else, he said.

“To call these news organizations fake does tremendous damage,” Mr. al-Hussein added. “I believe it could amount to incitement. At an enormous rally, referring to journalists as very, very bad people — you don’t have to stretch the imagination to see then what could happen to journalists.”

Mr. Trump’s relationship with the news media has veered from lobbing labels like “dishonest” and “enemy of the people” at certain companies to agreeing to cordial sit-downs with those very outlets, like a wide-ranging interview with Times reporters in July.

President Trump speaking in Phoenix last week. Photo: Tom Brenner/The New York Times

He was criticized for retweeting a short video meme showing him wrestling with and punching a figure whose head had been replaced by the logo of CNN, a network he has called “garbage journalism.”

But the president has shown a strong preference for programs on the Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox network, like Sean Hannity’s program and “Fox & Friends.”

Before the presidential election, Mr. al-Hussein had warned that Mr. Trump could be a danger to international stability, but on Wednesday, at a news conference to discuss Venezuela, the human rights chief focused mainly on more recent domestic events.

Mr. al-Hussein said the president’s demonization of the news media was “poisonous because it has consequences elsewhere.” If a journalist were to be harmed, he asked, “does the president not bear responsibility for this, for having fanned this?”

Countries that did not recognize the essential role of the news media could be inspired if journalists in the United States were attacked, he said. He noted that Cambodia’s government, for example, had withdrawn licenses from the news media and it had cited Mr. Trump as an inspiration for doing so.

Mr. al-Hussein also condemned the president’s comments regarding Muslims, minorities and transgender people as “grossly irresponsible.”

“It emboldens those who think similarly to sharpen their assaults on these communities,” he said.

The number of anti-Semitic attacks in the United States in the first three months of this year was 86 percent higher than in the same period last year, he said, citing figures from the Anti-Defamation League.

Mr. al-Hussein compared Mr. Trump to a bus driver “careening down a mountain path.” From a human rights perspective, he said, “it seems to be reckless driving.”

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ON MEDIA: Sheffield International Documentary Film Festival

By Nick Rice for Clash, 17-07-17

Clash – DocFest 2017, Strong Island

Inspiration overload at one of the international film industry’s most important annual events…

The Sheffield International Documentary Film Festival, or Doc/Fest as it’s widely known, is a welcome highlight on the international calendar of any filmmaker or documentarian and for the vastly growing audience of compelling and crucial non-fiction films.

For six days in June, Sheffield city centre becomes a cosmopolitan heaving hub of activity that celebrates and elevates a palette of film work that is as rich as it is relevant. With swanky boutique, brand spanking multiplex and cosy old favourite cinemas across the city all involved, alongside other venues such as the Crucible Theatre, City Hall and Town Hall – plus free outdoor screens with deckchairs dotted around – the Doc/Fest requires some careful navigation. Thankfully, everything is within walking distance, so every talk, masterclass, screening, live performance, workshop, exhibition networking party or piss-up, is only a quick march away.

For one itinerary-busting week festival-goers are exposed to the latest works of internationally acclaimed veteran filmmakers and vital emerging voices that reflect the world we share. As the CEO and Festival Director Liz McIntyre succinctly puts it, “We’re reeling from seismic change as we witness events that we know will become the most pored over scenes in future documentaries. Doc/Fest 2017 is brimming with documentaries that are funny and quirky, powerful and influential, heart-stopping and heart-breaking”.

The Opening Night film of the 24th edition was the world premiere of Daisy Asquith’s Queerama, coinciding with 50 years since the passing of the Sexual Offences Act, which marked the slow process of the decriminalization of homosexuality in the UK. Given unlimited access to the British Film Institute’s archives, with some material dating back to 1919, Asquith has crafted an eye-opening and entertaining account of gay experiences in the last century.

Clash – DocFest 2017, City of the Sun

With a soundtrack by John Grant, Alison Goldfrapp and Hercules & Love Affair the film transports us into the lives of gay men and women throughout the 20th Century. Black and white footage and testimonials from homosexuals in the 1940s and ‘50s offer a rarely seen glimpse into the intensely difficult challenges that society once imposed. The film and its playful editing (staggering given it was accomplished in months rather than years) shines a welcome light on how far society has progressed in the face of ugly prejudice. After the premiere John Grant performed several tracks used in the film and joined Asquith and the prominent creator of contemporary British queer cinema Campbell X for a lively Q&A.

The Talks & Sessions are one of the most popular elements of Doc/Fest and this year the stellar bill continued. Louis Theroux interviewed one of his heroes, Nick Broomfield – the acclaimed filmmaker who during his forty years in the industry has made films such as Biggie and Tupac, Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer, Kurt & Courtney and the hotly-anticipated Whitney: ‘Can I Be Me which premiered at the Doc/Fest. Broomfield and Theroux made for an infectious duo and after a riveting tour through the elder’s career one City Hall audience member shouted out the suggestion that they should collaborate, which quickly received noisy cheers of concurrence.

The redoubtable and always likeable Ian Hislop was also at City Hall in conversation with the BAFTA-winning actor and satirist Jolyon Rubinstein (The Revolution Will Be Televised, Revolting). The pair were intensely amusing bedfellows and unpicked the world of post-truth and satire, lambasting prime targets like the excruciatingly smug Piers Morgan and the sickeningly repellent Katie Hopkins in their stride whilst presenting the modern media landscape encountered by the long-time editor of Private Eye and the only panel member of Have I Got News For You who has never missed a single episode, even when requiring an urgent operation for appendicitis.

Clash – DocFest 2017, A RIVER BELOW

At the Crucible Theatre the legendary director and artist Peter Greenaway CBE, whose work stretches back to the 1960s and includes The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, gave an uncompromising speech in which he slammed the need for writers in filmmaking and called instead for a “painter’s approach” to the art. In a densely-filled hour Greenaway championed non-narrative styles of storytelling and urged for more pioneering forms of artistic approach to respond to the febrile social and political changes at hand.

One of the most enlightening talks came from the explorer, BAFTA-Award winning presenter and skilled documentarian Bruce Parry, who discussed his extraordinary career to date with journalist and presenter Katie Puckrik. The Showroom Cinema hosted a packed session and screened sneak previews of Parry’s latest project – the result of four years of work, pleasure and pain – the new feature length documentary Tawai – A Voice From The Forest (due for release in cinemas this Autumn), in which he returns to reconnect with the tribes from his amazing adventures when making the ‘Tribe’ BBC series. Returning to India, Malaysia and the Amazon and to the Penan tribe of Borneo, Parry discussed the film and how his fascinating documentary work and journeys have brought him to a fully rounded re-evaluation of his views on human nature and how humankind relates to the natural world.

The Marketplace segment of Doc/Fest offered a huge programme of initiatives and pitch opportunities for anyone either already making films or eager to do so. TV stations, Production company’s and content providers such as Channel 4 and The Guardian hosted live pitching sessions where audiences observed the entire process from a candidate’s pitch through to the final decision making and filmmaking prizes. This is another one of the numerous fantastic things about Doc/Fest – it’s such an inclusive and supportive environment. Whether you are simply a keen documentary fan, a fledgling filmmaker or a bonafide legend, there is always something to engage and inspire.

Not least the actual films. A total of 60,856 attendances were enjoyed by everyday cinema-goers and international and UK industry delegates, with a record 250 screenings at 14 screens across the city.

Clash – DocFest 2017, City of Ghosts

In its first year at Doc/Fest, the Art Doc Award, which has been created to celebrate new forms of storytelling and recognises bold, innovative non-fiction films, was given to ‘City of the Sun’ by first-time filmmaker Rati Oneli (United States, Georgia, Netherlands, Qatar, 2017). The film moves seamlessly between fact and fiction and lays bare the honest realities and ups and downs of four different sets of lives in what remains of a small mining town in Georgia.

The Environmental Award was taken by A River Below (Dir: Mark Grieco, Brazil, 2017), which highlights the alliance between a renowned marine biologist and a reality TV star who are both campaigning to save Brazil’s pink river dolphin, whilst also posing questions about the ethics of activism in the modern media age.

The Tim Hetherington award, given to films and filmmakers that resonate with the late journalist Tim Hetherington’s legacy, was won by Strong Island (Dir: Yance Ford, USA). Through unflinching testimonials and stylish cinematography we bear witness to the grief endured by a family whose son was murdered on Long Island, New York, and the disinterest of the police in bringing to justice the killer of a young black male.

The Grand Jury Award went to City Of Ghosts (Dir: Matthew Heineman, USA). The film centres on the citizen journalist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS) and in a heart-pounding 90 minutes it exposes the unspeakable horrors of life under ISIS rule.

Festival Director Liz McIntyre mentioned that “we strive to increase the visibility and accessibility to documentary story-telling for inspiration” and Doc/Fest does that and much more in extraordinary fashion.
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An early bird price of £159 + VAT for a ‘Lightning Pass’ – giving access to all of next year’s films and events – is available HERE.

The 25th edition of Sheffield Doc/Fest will open on Thursday 7 June 2018 and close Tuesday 12 June 2018, with the Annual Awards’ Ceremony and Closing Night Film.

Sheffield International Documentary Film Festival report

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ON THE MEDIA: Confusion over U.S. Travel Ban Grounds Foreign Correspondents

New restrictions on immigrants and refugees coming to the United States are also posing challenges for foreign correspondents covering news in the United States. Some have had to indefinitely postpone plans to report on conflicts in the Middle East while others have found an unfriendly reminder of their past treatment as journalists in less free countries. U.S. President Donald Trump’s immigration executive order sent shockwaves throughout the world as citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries and all refugees were barred

Source: Confusion over U.S. Travel Ban Grounds Foreign Correspondents

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ON THE MEDIA: In West Bank, Witnesses To Conflict Are Using Video To Document What They See, NPR

This week, Israel will sentence a soldier convicted of killing a wounded Palestinian man last year in Hebron. A Palestinian shoemaker recorded a video of the shooting, which was shown at the trial.

Source: In West Bank, Witnesses To Conflict Are Using Video To Document What They See : Parallels : NPR

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ON THE MEDIA: The View From Room 205

Can schools make the American Dream real for poor students?

ON THE MEDIA: A powerful radio documentary on the appalling state of US education in poor neighborhoods.  From Linda Lutton at WBEZ, Chicago public radio.

Source: The View From Room 205

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ON THE MEDIA: Declaration of Dependence – The Local News Lab

Communities and news organizations working together will transform local journalism. Here’s how.

Source: Declaration of Dependence – The Local News Lab – Medium

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