On the Media

0

ON THE MEDIA: How natural are nature documentaries?

TheHunt_MakingOf_01_03_20MB_1_.0.0

(Rolf Steinmann / Silverback Films 2015)

Chasing down honesty in BBC’s The Hunt

theverge.com, by Elizabeth Lopatto, August 15, 2016

The promise of nature documentaries is that they will show you a world that you otherwise could not see. I will probably never be in a submersible down in the deep, or running alongside a cheetah on the savannah. Few have perfected this form for the mainstream like the BBC. They’ve made a number of blockbuster documentaries: Planet Earth, The Blue Planet, and Frozen Planet, to name just a few. From this tradition comes the newest BBC documentary, The Hunt, which focuses on the tactics predators use to stalk prey. It is co-produced with BBC America and narrated by — who else — Sir David Attenborough.

The stakes are life and death, of course.

I suppose I could feign neutrality, but the truth is, I love these BBC nature docs. After a long day, there’s almost nothing better than settling down with my boyfriend and cat, cracking open a can of beer, and watching footage of wild animals. These shows are uniquely soothing, and the animals are shot so beautifully; well, we all have our own forms of escapism. This one’s mine. I have watched so many of these documentaries that I’ve begun to keep track of Attenborough’s verbal tics — “but there’s a problem” — as well as his tendency to be a bit of a drama queen, repeatedly reminding us that the stakes of the footage we’re about to see are life and death. The stakes are life and death, of course; but then, in nature, they almost always are. And that’s what The Hunt is about, even more nakedly than usual: these predators must kill or starve. The filmmakers focus on the stalk — how hunters attempt to catch their prey. And unlike a lot of other programs about predators, which bill them as “dangerous” or “deadly,” The Hunt documents the failedhunts. In fact, most hunts fail; the best predators in the world only succeed about half the time. And to the series’ credit, it doesn’t just focus on those marquee predators (your cheetahs and wild dogs; polar bears and sharks). Some of the best sequences involve bizarre fish, vicious birds, and a particularly clever jumping spider called Portia.

It’s clever, the way the narratives are constructed. The result is an inspired sense of sympathy for predators, a countermeasure to other media that presents hunters as vicious killers. Personally, I never know whether to root for the predators or the prey. I once saw a starving wolf in Alaska’s Denali National Park — starvation is one way predators die, because their teeth are bad or they are injured or otherwise no longer able to hunt on their own — and its emaciated body as it limped away from me was truly pathetic. At first I did not think it was a wolf at all; too skinny, probably a coyote, I figured. But then I saw the radio collar, which only Denali wolves wear. We wound up reporting the wolf to the park authorities; in all likelihood they would soon be retrieving the radio collar from a corpse.

When we treat predators as blood-thirsty menaces, we shortchange them. These much-maligned creatures are often what hold an ecosystem together. Some are even known as keystone species; like the keystone in a building, they are the foundation upon which the ecosystem is built. They help maintain the local environment by eating prey that reproduces quickly. That gives other kinds of animals, which may reproduce more slowly, a chance at food and survival. It prevents over-grazing, allowing plant life to flourish. And predators typically hunt the vulnerable — yes, that does mean babies, but it also includes animals that are weak or sick and near death anyway.

This perhaps explains the way The Hunt handles kills. Usually, the documentary cuts away from mammals after they’re felled. (Though not fish or insects, probably because it’s less disturbing to watch them being eaten.) This mostly passed beneath my notice, except in the case of one of the more memorable sequences: when a group of chimpanzees hunt monkeys. I have seen footage of these hunts before, and I was cringing, waiting for the extraordinarily gruesome moment when the chimps rip the monkeys limb from limb. It never came; the filmmakers cut away.

I asked one of The Hunt’s producers, Huw Cordey, about the decision — and he told me it was approached with a great deal of thought. “We wanted to be much more focused on the strategy,” Cordey told me. “We wanted people to empathize with the predators, and I just think you don’t empathize with a predator if you see it tear apart sweet little Bambi.” The full footage of a monkey hunt in particular is nightmare fuel, and these nature documentaries are often watched by children. Even for adults, it is troubling to watch. A large part of the audience would have been alienated by the footage, Cordey felt, and so they did not show it.

“We wanted people to empathize the predators, and I just think you don’t empathize with a predator if you see it tear apart sweet little Bambi.”

Some other decisions were made based on footage limitations. In the first episode of the series, a female leopard hunts in a gully, making her effectively invisible to the animals on the plains above the trench. She’s stalking an impala, which she gets and drags into the gully. But then, the impala emerges and runs. “We couldn’t film this, sadly, because it all happened too quickly, but some baboons spotted it and ran into the gully and scared the leopard,” he said. “The leopard obviously let go of the impala.” No reference is made to the baboons in the narration, but it seems like an understandable edit — why narrate footage the audience can’t see? When you work with fact, whether in documentary filmmaking or in journalism, some facts do get cut.

There’s a danger to nature documentaries, too. It’s most clearly demonstrated with the 1958 Disney film White Wilderness. Disney won an Academy Award for the documentary which notably features a sequence with lemmings, mouse-like critters that live in the Arctic, diving over the edge of a cliff to the sea, where they drowned. The narration explains this is a mass suicide. The footage was so striking it gave rise to a new phrase, “like lemmings,” which is sometimes used to describe mass hysteria. In fact the whole thing was a hoax; the filmmakers drove the lemmings over the cliff themselves, and the “sea” was a tightly-cropped river. (The Alaska Department of Fish and Game helpfully explains that while lemmings don’t die by mass suicide, they do occasionally engage in cannibalism.)

Most nature documentaries don’t engage in such outright hoaxing, but staging shots or adding sound effects is common. For instance, stories about animal “families” often splice together footage of unrelated animals to create narratives that would otherwise be impossible or impractical to film. In those cases, documentaries are often telling a composite story of what typically occurs in an animal’s upbringing, rather than the story of one specific set of parents raising their young. It’s also common practice to use footage of tame or zoo animals for close-up shots, in order to avoid disturbing wild animals. In fact, Attenborough has been dinged for this particular approach before, on a previous series called Frozen Planet, when shots of polar bear cubs being born in a zoo were cut together with scenes of polar bears in the wild. Crucially, at no point does Attenborough tell the audience that the cubs are born in the wilderness — but neither does he say where they were born. The provenance of the cubs was revealed in behind-the-scenes footage. Hardly secret, but some members of the audience felt deceived nonetheless.

The noise of cracking bones was created with celery

The Hunt also kicked up a fuss when it was revealed that some of its sounds were added afterwards. The noise of a polar bear on the snow was created with custard powder, with salt crystals “for a bit of crunch,” Kate Hopkins, the sound engineer on the series, told Radio Times. The noise of cracking bones was created with celery. In these cases, the audio engineers couldn’t get microphones close enough to the animals, but wanted to represent the noise for the audience.I’m not shocked by this, and I don’t feel deceived; in every case, the practices the filmmakers are chastised for are practices they have admitted to — either in making-of media or interviews. In essence, they are giving their audience footnotes to the film. As the kind of person who likes to read footnotes, I appreciate this. But it seems audiences believe that documentary filmmaking is meant to render a true view of the world-as-it-is. This is a rather recent attitude toward documentaries; most early documentaries contain fake footage. The New Yorker’s Louis Menand credits Robert Flaherty with raising documentaries from propaganda film to art form with his first film, Nanook of the North. “In vérité terms, Nanook is largely a fake,” Menand writes. He continues:

Flaherty arranged, for example, to film a walrus hunt in order to show how indigenous people once gathered food. The Inuit had long since stopped walrus-hunting, and they ended up struggling to drag a harpooned walrus out of the Arctic surf and begging Flaherty to shoot it with his rifle. Flaherty pretended not to hear them and kept filming. Later on, Nanook and his family are shown building an igloo out in the wilderness. It was too dark inside the igloo to film, so a special igloo — in other words, a set — was constructed with one wall removed, and the family was filmed, in daylight, pretending to go to bed.

Menand dates the style of “plotless, commentary-less, vérité-style record of life as it is” to the 1950s, as an artistic movement. Attenborough offers a different explanation. In a charming lecture published as “Honesty and Dishonesty in Documentary Filmmaking” in 1961, the young filmmaker credits the rise of literal honesty in documentary film to the rise of television. “When television first arrived a large portion of programs were ‘live,’ many of them concerned with events like football matches, the Derby or some Royal ceremonial, all of which would have taken place whether or not the camera was there,” Attenborough writes. In the previous era, movies were understood to be fictional, and documentary films were thought of “in the same terms as one thought of theatrical film.” After television, though, “People then wanted to know whether what they saw would have happened and happened in that way, whether or not the camera was there.”

“Of course, all cameras lie,” Attenborough goes on. Sometimes these lies are deliberate — as is the case of both White Wilderness and Nanook — but sometimes these lies exist, he writes, “because there is no other way of making a film.” Soundtracks are a particular source of inaccuracies, as is the way filmmakers condense time. The Hunt took three years to film; the beautiful sequence of a blue whale eating krill took two years. The first year, the water was too murky for any of the footage to be usable. And the “making of” sequences reveal my favorite inaccuracy: the polar bear section edited out a hunt. That’s because the prey animal in question happened to be the cameraman. (Polar bears are among the few animals that will deliberately hunt humans.)

In fact, the problem is far larger than the lies of the camera. Facts are slippery things; they can render an inaccurate view if they are told in the wrong order, or if some are omitted. Narrative itself is a lie — whether it’s in documentary film, journalism, or any other medium that concerns itself with facts. We believe narrative exists because we travel forward continuously in time, and the chronological progression supplies humans, the meaning-making animals, with a kind of story. But every narrative leaves out facts in order to tell a clear story. In the case of The Hunt, obviously, there are the missing baboons, and the cut away from the kill. Less obviously, the stalk of the camera man and the sound effects. And even less obvious than that: some of the hunters don’t eat other animals as their primary food source. The chimpanzees who hunt monkeys, for instance, average about nine days of eating meat a year, according to Robb Dunn, writing in Scientific American. You would not know this watching The Hunt, simply because it is not relevant to the story the filmmakers are trying to tell. The point of The Hunt is the hunters’ tactics and strategies; whether the animals in question eat other food is beyond the scope of the documentary.

“Animal harassment and cruelty have been pervasive in wildlife filming for decades.”

These are fairly trivial, in the realm of nature documentary sins. The BBC crew is lucky; they have a tremendous budget. The filmmakers used 75 Jeeps, 10 helicopters, 41 boats, 10 spotter planes, “a clutch” of ATVs, two horses, and an elephant to get the shots of animals in the wild. (The elephant, named Gotham, was for filming tigers. Tigers ignore elephants.) Most other filmmakers are shooting with tighter schedules and far less money. That’s possibly why, “animal harassment and cruelty have been pervasive in wildlife filming for decades,” writes Chris Palmer, the founder and director of the Center for Environmental Filmmaking at American University. Small budgets and limited time mean that filmmakers use captive animals for hunts, chum waters to send sharks into feeding frenzies, and otherwise sensationalize footage, giving audiences a false impression of animal behavior. Worse, these portrayals demonize animals — sharks, in particular, stand out — making it more difficult to make a case they should be protected from human encroachment. As far as I can tell, The Hunt engaged in none of these harmful practices. The same cannot be said for Jeff Corwin, Bear Grylls, or Steve Irwin, Palmer says.

Palmer cites a fairly stern paper entitled “The Moral Pivots of Wildlife Filmmaking,” by a British documentarian named Jeffrey Boswall. Published in 1988, it lists several more lies than Attenborough does in his lecture. For instance, Boswall views ascribing human qualities to animals as deception; so, too, is incidental music, sound effects (such as the ones used in The Hunt), and making animals behave in a way they ordinarily do not. Though Boswall feels all these things count as lies, he doesn’t think filmmakers should avoid them; instead, they should make individual calls on what serves their purpose. The producers of The Hunt did just that.

I’m glad they did. My absolute favorite sequence of the series certainly would have qualified as deceptive by Boswall’s standards. It is footage of an octopus called Abdopus aculeatus; at low tide, the octopus crawls from tide pool to tide pool, hunting for crabs. The music used in the sequence is reminiscent of The Twilight Zone (there’s even a theremin!); the shots of the octopus on land evoke alien invasion movies. At one point, the octopus is shown in shadow, as aliens are before the big reveal. In the context of Abdopus aculeatus, these choices feel like a joke, a way of acknowledging that a sea creature is “invading” land. I laughed my way through the segment. After I’d finished watching the episode, I rewound the to the octopus footage and watched it again. It was a combination of so many things we think of as artifice — music, clever editing, deliberate narrativizing. But I still laughed with joy and recognition, because something in it felt correct. In the words of a very different documentarian, Werner Herzog, this octopus’ creep was a kind of ecstatic truth. The Hunt is, in other words, art — and art doesn’t need to be perfectly factual in order to be true.

0

ON THE MEDIA: Impact of Media on Health in Bangladesh

p01ysrbl
bbc.co.uk, July 21, 2016

BBC Media Action conducted its first ever randomised control trial (RCT) on the impact of our health programming on audiences. In this blog, we explore some of the methodological challenges of conducting an RCT and ensuring randomisation in the field based on our work with pregnant mothers and women of childbearing age in Bangladesh.

This is the second blog in a two-part series on BBC Media Action’s Bangladesh RCT, read more about the results of the study in the first blog.

The ‘gold standard’ approach for being able to talk about an intervention causing an effect comes from the world of medicine: the randomised control trial (RCT). In this kind of study, one set of people – ‘the intervention group’ – receives the treatment while the other group – ‘the control group’ – gets a placebo. Only using this tightly controlled research methodology can we be certain whether or not the intervention caused the desired outcome.

Our RCT was interested in investigating how watching our Bangladeshi health programmes affect the key ‘drivers’ of healthy behaviour among women of childbearing age. These drivers include things like people’s knowledge of antenatal and early newborn care, their attitudes and beliefs around, for example, what to feed a newborn baby, and their intention to do things such as attending antenatal care sessions.

Our study involved 900 women of reproductive age as this group is the key audience we are aiming to influence with our programming, and took place over six weeks in February/March 2016 in two areas (Comilla in the South East and rural Mymensingh). Each day, a group of 30 women was sub-divided into groups of 10 (two treatments and one control) and were with us for around four hours. One treatment group watched our health drama Ujan Ganger Naiya (UGN) (Sailing Against the Tide), another group watched a closely related discussion programme that reinforced the health topics covered in the drama and a third control group viewed a television programme about a non-health topic.

Since mass media can reach anyone and everyone, evaluating whether a mass media intervention has had any causal effect on audience behaviour is notoriously tricky. Let’s look at some implementation challenges that our research team had to overcome:

First, we had to recruit a control group – one that had not been exposed to the treatment – which meant only recruiting participants who had never seen or heard anything about these shows. (See our previous blog for a description of the research design for this trial).

Another challenge was avoiding contamination – ensuring that people did not discuss what they had viewed. Each day, women were collected from different unions (local Bangladeshi political districts) so that there was no risk of anyone going home and speaking about the trial with a future participant. If participants needed to leave the room during the trial, they were escorted to make sure that no one conversed with each other.

The biggest challenge – ensuring randomisation – i.e., making sure the groups were more or less alike on all key variables – is a common difficulty in RCTs. To address this challenge, we created a randomisation matrix so that women were randomly assigned to the three groups and given a colour-coded wristband. There were three colour possibilities which referred to three treatment groups, i.e. one group was shown UGN and a non-health related programme, the second was shown UGN and Natoker Pore (NP) (After The Drama), the follow up discussion show, and the third group was shown an educational drama and discussion show – both on topics unrelated to health. Moreover, which colour band stood for which group was not revealed either to the participant nor the researchers at any stage and was also changed every day. This is known as a double blind process where neither the researchers nor the participants are aware of the treatment allocation to ensure there is no chance for bias.

This means we can be confident that the changes we saw were not due to some pre-existing selection bias such as education level or age.

“It was the most tense part of the study because everything hinged on achieving the randomisation which is difficult with 900 women and their children running around. We allocated most of our attention and resources to this during the fieldwork,” said Sanjib Saha, former Head of BBC Media Action Research, Bangladesh.

Besides all this, it is also vital to ensure comparability. To do this in our study, a health service provider gave the women a standard briefing on maternal health issues – the same as the one given by health workers when visiting women in their homes – to assure that there was a pre-trial standardisation of health knowledge. The briefing was identical each day across all groups. Those in the control groups were given a non-health related briefing.

Finally, a word is in order on ethics. As with any research we conduct, we took all steps possible to ensure that this research upheld the highest international ethical standards, at all phases of the research. Ultimately, we sought to ensure that all participants were protected from harm that might result from their participation in the study. This was a time-consuming study to be involved in, particularly for women with small children. We tried to smooth the process by arranging transport to and from the testing facility, making provisions for chaperones and providing lunch and child care at each of the test centres. All participants provided informed consent, were guaranteed anonymity and were apprised of their right to withdraw from the study at any point. We also made sure that a frontline health worker was available on site throughout the study to answer any questions.

The study was successful. We now know that our health programmes in Bangladesh are having a significant effect on some of the key drivers of health-related behaviours – especially knowledge and intent – in a laboratory setting. We are also reassured that, for knowledge and behavioural intent, watching a factual programme alongside a drama seems to be beneficial.

The BBC Media Action Research and Learning team manages a global cohort of more than 100 researchers around the world who inform, evaluate and generate evidence on BBC Media Action projects across the countries in which we work.

0

ON THE MEDIA: Can mass media cause change?

p01x1rhy
bbc.co.uk, July 14, 2016

Can the mass media cause changes in an audience’s knowledge, attitudes and intention to practice behaviors? At BBC Media Action, we have just successfully conducted a randomized control trial (RCT) to investigate this chain of causality in a prime time health TV drama in Bangladesh.

This is the first blog in a two-part series on BBC Media Action’s Bangladesh RCT, read more about the methodology underpinning the study in the second blog.

Do BBC Media Action programmes cause changes in our audiences? Do our television and radio shows increase knowledge, make people think differently or change their actual behaviour? In short, what is happening as a direct result of our programmes?

The answer is: we could never be sure. Our research has long shown that our audiences become more knowledgeable, change their attitudes and take different courses of action. However, we weren’t previously able to scientifically prove that our shows caused these changes. Yet now we definitively know our programmes made the difference – thanks to the use of a‘randomised control trial’ (RCT).

Why use an RCT to answer this question? To explain, an RCT is an experimental research design, in which people are assigned, at random, to groups. One set of people, the ‘treatment’ group, receives the intervention, while a second set, the ‘control’ group, gets a placebo. All other conditions are held constant so that the only difference between the groups is whether or not they receive the intervention. Only using this tightly controlled research methodology can we be certain whether or not the intervention caused the desired outcome.

What does that look like when you are studying the media? Our RCT was interested in investigating how watching our Bangladeshi health programmes affects the ‘key drivers’ of healthy behaviour among women of childbearing age. We consider key drivers to be precursors of behaviour, like people’sknowledge of antenatal and early newborn care, their attitudes and beliefs around, for example, what to feed a newborn baby, and their intention to do things such as attending antenatal care sessions.

In Bangladesh, we are currently airing a health-based drama called Ujan Ganger Naiya (UGN) (Sailing Against The Tide). This programme resembles many prime time family dramas, with storylines around the themes of falling in love, marriage and the important role that mothers-in-law play in Bangladeshi marriages. But the production team also weaves key elements of health knowledge into the dramatic arc, such as the recommendation that four antenatal child care visits are ideal for a pregnant mother. UGN is closely linked to a follow-up discussion show called Natoker Pore (NP) (After The Drama), in which some of the characters from the show, a medical expert and a real-life contributor review some of the key issues explored in the episode.

So one treatment group watched UGN while the control group watched another show produced by the BBC Media Action team in Bangladesh with an educational focus. This helped ensure that production values were consistent.  A second treatment group was also included in the study to investigate whether watching the discussion show alongside this drama has more of an effect than just watching the drama on its own. In short, our research questions were focussed around the short term impacts caused by watching the drama alone vs. watching it together with the discussion programme.

The results from BBC Media Action’s first-ever RCT are very encouraging:

  • Women who watched the drama – particularly those who saw the drama and factual discussion programme – showed significantly higher levels of knowledge across all of our measures of antenatal and early newborn care than the control group.
  • Women in both treatment groups (i.e. all those who watched either one or both of the health programmes) reported improved attitudes on several of the reproductive and maternal health statements we asked them about.
  • Women who watched both programmes reported higher levels of ‘efficacy’– in other words, they had greater self-belief in their ability or capacity to do something – than those who watched the drama alone, who in turn reported higher levels of self-efficacy than those in the control group.
  • When women who watched the drama were asked about a hypothetical future pregnancy, they were more likely to say they intended to pursue a number of healthy behaviours than those in the control group. Women who also watched the factual show responded positively to even more intended behaviours than those who only saw the drama.
  • In order to be effective, the clarity and consistency of messaging across the two programmes needs to be carefully managed. Programmes were less successful at shifting negative attitudes and increasing self-efficacy regarding certain antenatal and early newborn care practices such as attending at least four antenatal care sessions and exclusively feeding breast milk to a new-born.

So, why does all of this matter?

From a methodological standpoint, the RCT constitutes an important piece of evidence for isolating the impact that media and communication can have within the development sector. In this particular instance, we can now say that our health programme caused positive change in the short-term knowledge, confidence, behavioural intent and attitudes of women of child-bearing age in Bangladesh – precisely the audience we are trying to reach. We also now have evidence that watching the health programme alongside a closely related discussion programme has further positive effects – an important learning for production teams.

As BBC Media Action’s Senior Health Advisor Sophia Wilkinsonnotes:

“Often, there is a lack of funding to enable really strong study designs that tell a clear story. So it’s really exciting to have this evidence from Bangladesh that shows that entertaining television drama can indeed increase people’s knowledge and their intention to do something. Even more exciting, is that we seem to have proved our theory that exposure to more than one format will have a greater effect than just one programme! This all helps to strengthen the case for communication for development.”

The BBC Media Action Research and Learning team manages a global cohort of more than 100 researchers around the world who inform, evaluate and generate evidence on BBC Media Action projects across the countries in which we work. Former BBC Media Action Quantitative Research Manager Paul Bouanchaud was a key contributor to this piece.

0

AFGHANISTAN, ON THE MEDIA: Badakhshan’s journalists discuss media’s role in women empowerment

wadsam.com, July 29, 2016 – Three experts on women empowerment and more than 60 journalists gathered at Feyzabad’s women’s centre to discuss the media’s role in women empowerment. The event was hosted by the Social Association of Journalists in North Afghanistan (SAJNA) and the Afghan-German Cooperation.

The result of the event was that media has a crucial responsibility in promoting women’s participation in society. It has the power to spread messages and raise awareness for the challenges women face. Most importantly, media has given women a voice which has allowed them to actively engage with the Afghan government, interest groups and society at large.

The meeting was attended by three Afghan experts Zofnun Hesam Natiq, Director of the Department of Women Affairs (DoWA) in Badakhshan, Najia Sorush, women’s rights activist and Nasima Sahar, representative of the Afghan-German Cooperation.

Natiq underlined the Afghan society’s need for women’s participation: “A country cannot develop in a sustainable way if half the society is excluded from the process.” She added: “Today, I would like to invite all Afghan media to help women in assuming their role in society. Let us show how capable, skilled and strong Afghan women are.”

Najia Sorush highlighted the crucial role media has played in the past in strengthening Afghan women: “Media not only changed the minds of women, but more importantly, it changed the minds of men as well. Men increasingly provide support for the women around them.”

Nasima laid out the Afghan-German Cooperation’s wide range of activities for women: “In Badakhshan, the German government provided funding for the construction of a dormitory for female students, a women’s garden and an education centre. Furthermore, in conducting internship and training programs for women in areas such as IT, English, tailoring, food processing and disaster prevention, the German government supports women empowerment as well.

During the second part of the media meeting, the Q&A session, the experts answered questions from more than 60 national and local TV, radio and newspaper outlets. When asked about her expectation in the media landscape, Zonfnun replied: “I wish to see more investigative and in-depth reports on gender-related topics, because it makes stakeholders realise that they are accountable for what they do”.

“Media Meetings 2016 – Afghan media for Social Responsibility” are a series of regular events held by the Afghan-German cooperation and SAJNA. The meetings bring together experts from the public sector, civil society, development organizations and the media to discuss important development issues.

0

ON THE MEDIA: Which Countries’ Terrorist Attacks Are Ignored By The U.S. Media?

When a man drove a truck through a crowd in Nice, France, on Thursday night, the act of mass violence set off another all-too-familiar cycle of outrage, mourning and political gamesmanship. Media outlets ran stories oftragedy and heroism; politicians vowed to keep their constituents safe; citizens mourned at candlelight vigils. The attacks drew international attention, including in the U.S., where President Obama spoke from the White House, just as he had after November’s attacks in Paris. “We see our kids in the faces of the young people killed in Paris,” Obama said the following month.

But this month has also seen attacks in Baghdad and Dhaka, Bangladesh, both of which Obama briefly mentioned in his address after the killings in Nice. Likewise, the attack in Paris was preceded by one in Beirut the day before. Yet those incidents received little attention — at least, until the subsequent attacks in France brought them into the spotlight — and the news media appeared to largely pass on covering these cities with the kind of live updates and in-depth human interest stories we saw after Paris and Nice.

It’s not hard to understand why Americans care about France and worry when it’s in danger. Despite the intervening ocean, France feels close to home; our nations are politically, economically and culturally intertwined to the point of kinship. But the extensive coverage of the attacks in Nice and Paris force us to question the boundaries of this kinship: Do we not see our kids in the faces of the young people killed elsewhere?

Mohamad Bazzi, a journalism professor at New York University and a former Middle East bureau chief for Newsday, sees these discrepancies as just a few data points in a larger pattern of American reporting, one with vast and often underappreciated consequences. In a phone conversation about how the media covers terrorist attacks across the world, Bazzi said: “The death toll in the West tends to be lower most of the time, but the coverage the West gets is an order of magnitude larger.”

Of course, there are problems with drawing such a conclusion from a handful of examples. For one thing, each attack claims a different number of lives. Bazzi acknowledged this, adding that the sophistication and coordination of the Paris attacks lent itself more readily to intensive, minute-by-minute coverage. But he stood by his larger claim.

Fortunately, we have the statistical tools to be more precise about Bazzi’s claim. After controlling for the number of injuries and fatalities, will we find that terrorist attacks on Western cities are more likely to be covered by the U.S. media than similar attacks elsewhere?

The Rand Database of Worldwide Terrorism Incidents contains data on 40,129 terrorist attacks that took place from 1968 to 2009.1 Each incident is logged with a date, location, the number of injuries and fatalities, and a brief description of the attack, among other details. One piece of information that’s missing: Did we care?

To answer this question, I consulted The New York Times’s Article Search API, which allows developers to query a tagged database of every article published since 1851. For each attack in Rand’s list, I checked whether there were any articles about it in the database. To do this, I queried for articles content-tagged with “terrorism,” geo-tagged with the city of the attack, and published on the day it took place or the following day. If I got any hits, I labeled that incident “newsworthy.”

This is, admittedly, a blunt measure of news coverage; it would make no distinction between, say, Paris and Beirut, which were both covered by the Times. Bazzi’s critique focuses more on the nature of the coverage, the “sidebars and human features and profiles of the victims and all the associated stories” that the U.S. media published after the Paris attacks. Still, if it’s true that we care less about terrorism in non-Western cities, we should find not only that major attacks receive less depth of coverage but also that minor attacks receive less coverage, period. My analysis homes in on this latter question: Does the location of an attack near the threshold of newsworthiness affect its coverage in U.S. media?

Or at least, in The New York Times. I use the Times as a proxy for the U.S. news media because I was unable to find any other publication that makes its archives as accessible to researchers.

I ran a logistic regression on this data, asking my computer to predict whether an attack was covered based only on (1) the number of injuries, (2) the number of fatalities and (3) the country where the attack took place. Sure enough, this third variable was — for some countries — a significant predictor of newsworthiness.

There were 31 countries2 with enough data3 to study. In 11 (Egypt, France, Greece, Israel, Italy, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the U.K., the U.S. and the West Bank/Gaza), a terrorist attack was statistically significantly more likely to be covered in the Times than an attack of the same magnitude that occurred elsewhere; in six (Afghanistan, Colombia, India, Iraq, Kashmir and Thailand), attacks were statistically significantly less likely to be covered.4

We can estimate the relative likelihood of coverage for each country by calculating an “odds ratio.” For example, France’s odds ratio of 5.9 implies that an attack in France is 5.9 times as likely to be considered newsworthy as an attack of the same magnitude not in France. We shouldn’t read too much into the exact numbers, as the error bars are pretty wide.5 But the vast disparities, from 10.2 in Saudi Arabia to 0.1 in Colombia, cannot reasonably be blamed on statistical noise.

beckman-terrorism-2

Michael Slackman, the international managing editor for The New York Times, pushed back on my results. “We have no ‘terrorism formula,’” he said in an email. “The context for ‘terror’ in the range of countries you listed — and over a four decade time span — is so varied that it seems impossible to make any kind of objective comparison or insightful conclusion.”

Slackman’s skepticism is warranted. The term “terrorism,” which my analysis regards as a discrete category, is of course highly influenced by political context. Considering that the Rand database includes a variety of groups, from Colombian rebels to jihadists like al-Qaida, we have to be careful when considering these results.

Indeed, Colombia’s claim to the lowest odds ratio of any country in this data set may be because of its longtime armed conflict. Terrorist attacks were quite frequent there during the period covered by the Rand data, and perhaps the regularity of these attacks made them less newsworthy in the eyes of the U.S. media. As Slackman suggests, we have to consider that the nature of attacks in a certain region — not just location — affects how that region is covered.

As another example, Saudi Arabia has the highest odds ratio in the data set. Saudi Arabia is a key ally of the U.S., certainly, but another factor may be in play here: There is a history of anti-Western attacks in Saudi Arabia, many targeting Americans. When I controlled for the presence of the word “American” in Rand’s attack description, Saudi Arabia’s odds ratio dropped to 5.7. This indicates that the outsize coverage of Saudi Arabian attacks could have as much to do with who their victims are as where they took place.

In addition to relevant country-specific contexts, Slackman is also right to be wary of the wide time span that this analysis covers.6 In particular, the political context for “terrorism” differs greatly for the periods before and after the Sept. 11 attacks; an attack taking place after Sept. 11, 2001, was 50 percent more likely to be covered by the Times than an attack of the same magnitude before Sept. 11.7 This could confound our results in countries where terrorism is concentrated on one side of the Sept. 11 attacks — for example, a shockingly small 22 of the 6,878 Iraqi attacks in the data set occurred before the 2003 U.S. invasion.

We can’t reasonably conclude, then, that location affects coverage, all else held equal; in the complex world of international terrorism, it is not possible to hold all else equal.

In a broader sense, though, Slackman’s criticism rings hollow to my ears. Whatever the cause, the numbers do bear out a discrepancy that reflects the expectations of nearly every journalist and academic I spoke to. If confounding variables like those mentioned above were doing all the heavy lifting, we’d see a scattered assortment of countries on either side of the coverage spectrum. Instead, the odds ratios are significantly correlated with GDP per capita.8

beckman-terrorism-1

Bazzi, for his part, believes the disparities are in large part due to anempathy gap, fueled by audience interest just as much as reporter focus. “Editors and producers advance the argument that they’re satisfying the needs of their audience — especially now, when all traffic can be measured, coverage can be catered quite quickly,” Bazzi said. He also argued, though, that the audience doesn’t dictate the coverage focus so much as preserve an existing coverage focus that it has come to expect. “Why did the audience get this way?” he asked.

Mónica Guzmán, vice chair of the ethics committee at the Society of Professional Journalists, said she agrees that both parties are responsible but stressed the role that journalists must play in breaking the cycle. “Many newsrooms like to think they cover all parts of the world equally, but they don’t, really,” Guzmán told me by email. “Unconscious biases abound, and maybe some conscious ones, too. … Great journalists take these challenges head on, and never assume they’ve conquered them.”

In the meantime, what can consumers of U.S. news do to push for more equitable coverage? “It’s hard to impose habits on people,” Bazzi said. “One quick fix for the audience is to go to sources in those countries. … If they see things in those local sources that they think should have been done by their usual American outlets, then they should bring that up.” Being conscious of and vocal about discrepancies, pressing U.S. sources to improve by asking them to confront their place in the feedback loop, may be our best hope to break the cycle.

Even with heightened scrutiny, though, this problem won’t resolve itself overnight. Slackman promised that the Times has “a deep and growing commitment to cover the world” — about this, I have no doubt. The paperhas announced that it is making a $50 million investment in international coverage and distribution. But many readers are committed to seeking out equitable coverage, and still, peak Google search volume for “Beirut” fell short of 1 percent of the peak volume for “Paris” in the days following the attacks in those cities last year.

Intention is crucial, but it takes continued effort to change personal and institutional habits. “Let’s not kid ourselves,” Guzmán said. “This work is hard.”

Footnotes

  1. The Rand Corp. is a nonprofit think tank located in the U.S. that does research for use in military planning. If its data has a systemic bias, I would expect it to be that its documentation of Western attacks is more comprehensive than that of non-Western attacks. This direction of bias, if it exists, strengthens the results of my analysis — my findings suggest that U.S. media coverage is more West-focused than Rand’s database.^
  2. Rand’s database uses some “country” designations, like the West Bank/Gaza and Kashmir, that don’t match up exactly with United Nations-recognized boundaries. ^
  3. Because of the size of Rand’s database and query limits on the Times’s API, I first limited my data set to attacks that caused at least 10 injuries or at least one fatality. This reduced the sample size to 14,547. I then limited my analysis to countries that had at least 25 attacks in this database, at least one of which was covered by the Times. For each of these 31 countries, I ran a three-variable logistic regression with a dummy variable for that country. A single regression with 31 country-specific dummy variables would produce odds ratios comparing each country to a baseline of all countries that aren’t part of this analysis — an arbitrary reference point. Running 31 regressions, each with a single dummy variable, allows us to compare attacks in a country to attacks not in that country. The results of these two strategies, moreover, are nearly identical. ^
  4. A country falls in the “significantly more likely” category if we are 95 percent certain that its odds ratio is greater than 1.0 (which indicates no difference). This is represented on the chart by a country whose error bar lies entirely to the right of the 1x line. The reverse holds for “significantly less likely.” ^
  5. For example, we can’t be sure that Saudi Arabia tops the list — we can only say with 95 percent confidence that Saudi Arabia’s odds ratio is between 4.2 and 24.8. Each point marked on the chart represents our “best guess” as to the true odds ratio, but there’s quite a bit of uncertainty. ^
  6. If we limit the analysis to only attacks that took place after Sept. 11, 2001, the main difference is that error bars are wider because the sample size is smaller. As a result, four countries (Pakistan, the West Bank/Gaza, France and Italy) slip out of statistical significance, and three more (Lebanon, Egypt and the U.K.) fall below the threshold for inclusion in this analysis. Somalia is the only country that becomes statistically significant; it joins the “significantly less coverage” category. ^
  7. This is true only after controlling for the country of the attack. Because of the increase in terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan after Sept. 11, a given post-Sept. 11 attack was actually less likely to be covered than a pre-Sept. 11 attack of the same magnitude, but this likely has to do with the concentration of post-Sept. 11 attacks in lower-coverage areas. ^
  8. GDP per capita is the best single predictor of odds ratio I could find (r-squared = 0.64), although a number of other variables I tried — e.g., rarity of attacks, trade with the U.S., percentage of Sporcle users who remembered the country on a world map quiz — were also predictive. ^

Milo Beckman is a freelance writer for FiveThirtyEight. His work can be found at milobeckman.com. He also constructs crossword puzzles for The New York Times.

0

ON THE MEDIA: Documentary Filmmakers Find That an Agenda Helps With Financing

An image from “Indian Point” gives a view of the nuclear power plant of the title. Credit Indian Point Film Productions

An image from “Indian Point” gives a view of the nuclear power plant of the title. Credit Indian Point Film Productions

nytimes.com, by John Anderson, original

Social-issue documentaries are the white knights of cinema — vanquishing dragons, tilting at windmills — but they are not intended as agents of diplomacy. Right is right, wrong is wrong. Take no prisoners. Divide and conquer.

So the director Ivy Meeropol’s “Indian Point,” due in theaters on July 8, is a bit out of step with the competition. The film, which revolves around a portrait of the titular nuclear reactor about 25 miles up the Hudson from New York City, has brought together parties on both sides of the long-running debate over whether the plant should stay or go.

“It was such a nice, friendly atmosphere, because the movie was so evenhanded,” said the longtime anti-Indian Point activist Marilyn Elie, who, with her husband, Roger Witherspoon, a veteran environmental journalist, and Brian Vangor, the senior control-room operator of the plant, are principal characters in the film and have appeared together at festival screenings.

 “But,” Ms. Elie cautioned, “it’s not an advocacy film.”

And by not being one, “Indian Point” sets itself apart not only from the drift of current documentaries but also from much of the money available to make them — money coming from institutions that place considerable importance on a film’s cause and its outreach plan (the organizational networking necessary to reach the audience sympathetic to that cause).

“If these funders weren’t funding activist films, they would be funding some other form of activism — not some other form of filmmaking,” said Marshall Curry, a director. His admittedly thorny films, including “If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front” and “Street Fight,” about African-American Democrats fighting one another for control of Newark, have faced problems with financing and outreach because they “were hard to rally troops around.” Green groups, for instance, fled from “If a Tree Falls,” with its sympathetic portrait of an environmental “terrorist.”

 There is also an implicit constraint imposed when a filmmaker has pitched a film one way, and the story goes another.

 A scene from the documentary “Detropia.” CreditLoki Films

“The closest we ever came to an agenda film was ‘Detropia,’” said Rachel Grady. She and Heidi Ewing thought their 2012 documentary would be a positive story about Detroit. Then they started filming.

“As one does, if one is doing a good job, we found out the story was different from our thesis,” Ms. Grady said. “Luckily, the money we’d gotten was from the Ford Foundation, which was a no-strings grant maker.”

But other foundations, like the MacArthur Foundation, are no longer providing grants for individual documentary projects, choosing instead to channel money thorough smaller institutions. That change “was very, very painful,” said Julie Goldman, a producer of “Indian Point.” She said foundations have historically been places you could go for significant financial help “and not have to scrap for every $15,000. But they both decided to do the same thing. So it’s really challenging.”

The alternative is going to financiers who often want a post-release plan from a filmmaker, in preproduction, about how the movie will create a conversation, online or off. “The reality is you end up kind of guessing a lot,” Ms. Goldman said. “Look, some things are going to be obvious — who the partners are, what you can do for outreach. When you’re doing a film on Indian Point, it’s a question.”

What’s happened to documentary financing over the last decade, said Debra Zimmerman, the executive director of the specialty distributor Women Make Movies, “is the coalescence of a number of different trends, none of which has been really good for filmmakers who aren’t interested in making social-issue docs.” She cited the closing of the National Endowment for the Arts’ regional grants, the Rockefeller Foundation’s decision to directly stop financing film, “and the fact, unfortunately, that we don’t have any real national support for film as an art form.”

“So it’s left to private foundations that are basically created to get tax deductions so they can work on social issues,” she said. “That’s what the role of a foundation is.”

“It’s good that social-issue films are getting money,” she added, “but it’s bad that nothing else is getting funded.”

A scene from “If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front.”

That isn’t quite the case, though many of the social-action entities — Impact Partners (“How to Survive a Plague”), the Bertha Fund (“God Loves Uganda”), Participant Media (“An Inconvenient Truth”), Chicken & Egg (“(T)error”), BritDoc (“3 and ½ Minutes, 10 Bullets”) and its forum Good Pitch (“The Invisible War”) — make no apologies for their agendas. “We’re seeing an explosion of funders moving into the films-for-change space who are working with films for the first time and are coming from more traditional philanthropy and need to be assured that the films will have application beyond the general audience,” Maxyne Franklin of BritDoc said.

Amy Halpin, the director of filmmaker services for the International Documentary Association in Los Angeles, oversees the Pare Lorentz Fund, which gives production money to films focusing on equal justice, environmentalism and other social issues. She said she has not found that “the tail wags the dog” — that filmmakers were tailoring their films to meets financing expectations.

On the other hand, “it’s a question within the field right now about how much we’re asking filmmakers to do other than being filmmakers,” Ms. Halpin said. “We’re asking them to drive these activist campaigns that can have career implications, because when you’re speaking at churches and schools and libraries for two years after you’ve made the movie, you’re not making your next movie. And you only get to be a filmmaker once every four or five years.”

But it’s hard for a financier foundation or broadcaster to not to hear the siren song of social action. “I wouldn’t say it’s a requirement,” said Courtney Sexton, vice president of CNN Films, “but we have an internal outreach and partnership person who works closely with the filmmakers we commission to help coordinate efforts that CNN can participate in.” CNN-financed documentaries have included “The Hunting Ground,” about sexual assault on college campuses.

Significant support for the filmmaker-sans-agenda has come from the Sundance Institute, where Tabitha Jackson, who runs the documentary fund, is widely recognized as sympathetic to the cause of the art documentary. A new Sundance initiative called the Art of Nonfiction is intended to support individual filmmakers, not strictly social-impact movies.

“It felt like we were at danger point maybe a couple of years ago,” Ms. Jackson said. “There was a risk that an inappropriate form of measurement would tend to reduce the funding that filmmakers got unless they jumped through hoops, or pretended to be able to do things they couldn’t. I think the conversation is different now. It’s about sustainability and diversity.”

For Ms. Meeropol, it’s also about objectivity, and how it goes unrewarded.

At a recent Q. and A., she said: “I had not a single filmmaking question from the audience. So despite my best efforts, the film becomes an advocacy piece. And I am a reluctant poster child for the anti-nuke movement.”

Correction: July 8, 2016
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the Ford Foundation’s policy regarding grant money for documentary films. Ford, through its JustFilms unit, continues to provide money to individual filmmakers; it is not the case that the organization has stopped giving grant money to documentarians.

Continue reading the main story

Recommend Share/export
0

MEDIA: First Person Singular, Autobiography in Documentary Film

The filmmakers of tomorrow will express themselves in the first person, and will relate what has happened to them . . . and it will be enjoyable because it will be true and new . . . the film of tomorrow will be an act of love.
—Francois Truffaut, The Films in My Life

I haven’t written a nonfiction piece in the first person since elementary school, where I learned to use “we” and “one” if I wanted to express an opinion. The voice of authority, of truth, was impersonal. As I grew up, writing for newspapers in school and in the “real” world, I learned to apply the tenets of objective journalism and ignore any impulse to write “I.” These were the rules of the game.

A couple of years ago while struggling with editing a short film about a bizarre suicide pact between two lovers I knew that I’d have to narrate the story myself. I couldn’t approach this incomprehensible event using the style of TV news, with the voice of an instant expert. After all, I was still in the process of trying to understand the act. Also, making my own story part of the film would help create a narrative structure, much the way events of a picaresque novel are often held together by the main character’s narration.The search could become the structure for the story and, in a way, become the story itself. I looked for models of first person nonfiction style and became fascinated with newspaper columnists such as Jimmy Breslin, Mike Royko, and Bob Greene. Here was one place where journalists were allowed to use the word “I.” There were, however, more examples of the first person style in film.

Jean-Pierre Gorin’s Poto and Cabengo was one of my inspirations. The story of a pair of twin girls who were thought to have developed their own private language was transformed by Gorin into a personal essay. This 1979 film was about the girls, but also about language and communication, and Gorin’s own sense of exile—a French filmmaker adrift in Southern California. In this and other first person films, I found a fascinating tension between autobiography and journalism. These were not diary films, because they did not make the filmmaker’s life the subject. But they did not try to hide the presence of the filmmaker either. The filmmakers found new ways to deal with a fundamental concern of documentary: how to reconcile reality with perception, how to situate oneself, as observer and participant, in the world.

What follows is hardly a complete survey of works which could be called first person nonfiction. Here, I am limiting the term to films where there is a narration provided by the filmmaker. Otherwise, I might incorporate for example, Shirley Clarke’s Ornette . . . Made in America, an extremely idiosyncratic and personal portrait of the jazz innovator Ornette Coleman. Also, I have limited my topic to film, neglecting the entire field of video, which includes much intimate, personal documentary work.

One reason for talking mainly about films narrated by their makers is that these works overtly cast the filmmaker as a character as well as a creator. Poto and Cabengo begins with a juxtaposition of a variety of languages. The first images are of Katzenjammer Kids cartoons, with a narrator reciting the Kids’ nonsensical blend of German and English. We then hear the unintelligible voices of the two young girls conversing. A title rolls across the screen asking, “What are they saying?” Next is an expository montage of newspaper headlines and the newscaster-style voice of a woman who describes the media’s interest in the San Diego twins, romanticized as another “Wild Child” story. Then we are introduced to the filmmaker. Over still photos of himself (including one, fittingly, seated at a typewriter), Gorin explains his interest in the twins. Speaking with a fairly heavy French accent, he states, “These two girls were foreigners in their own language.” He wanted to film them before they began to speak like everyone else: “I would have to beat the clock, before they became English majors.” The next shot from his car, racing down the freeway towards their home, gets the story rolling.

Gorin explores the environment around the girls, particularly their bizarre family. Christine, the mother, was born in Germany, and Paula, the maternal grandmother who lives in the house, speaks only German. Tom, the father, was born in the South. The entire family converses in a Katzenjammer-like hodgepodge. As a linguist says in the film, the girls “had two different linguistic models, both of them defective.” Unlike traditional narrations, which attempt to provide answers, Gorin fills the soundtrack with questions that encourage involvement in the process of trying to make sense out of the story. At times, he freezes an image during an interview or repeats a shot. When Christine describes her daughters as “two ding-a-lings who are pretty much alive,” Gorin repeats this segment for emphasis. With such devices and the use of titles and black leader, the film frequently interrupts the flow of the investigation.

Gorin also describes his own interest in the case. “There was a ring of Ellis Island to the story,” an important notion to a French filmmaker working and living in San Diego. And he finds it difficult to maintain an impersonal distance. As he goes towards the family’s house for the first time, he wonders aloud, “How would the girls react to my French accent?” He takes the girls to the zoo, a picnic at the beach, and a library, before realizing, “There was no way I could escape it. The story wasn’t with me but back with the family.” But Gorin and his voice remain integral to the story. In a film that suggests that all language is, by virtue of being an external, unnatural system, foreign to the speaker, it is fitting that there is no central authoritative language, no objective narration.

Ross McElwee opens his new film, Sherman’s March, with a traditional narration, only to dispense with it. The movie begins like an educational film with a narrator describing General Sherman’s Civil War campaign, as a dotted line traces the route on a map. But any resemblance to standard documentary ends here. The complete title, Sherman’s March to the Sea: A Documentary Meditation Upon the Possibility of Romantic Love in the South During an Era of Nuclear Weapons Proliferation, indicates the movie’s blend of history, life in today’s South, and McElwee’s search for a new girlfriend.

In a prologue, McElwee explains that he originally intended to explore the lingering effects of Sherman’s Civil War victory. Though William Sherman, born in Ohio, reportedly loved the South and its people, he devastated the Confederacy in a series of brilliant and ruthless military campaigns. (Remember, it was Sherman who said, “War is hell.”) After his troops burned Atlanta in November 1864, he led 60,000 men on the famous march, leaving a trail of destruction across several states. But just before McElwee began filming, his girlfriend announced that their relationship was over. Too distracted to stay with his original plans, McElwee decided to deal with his personal life in the film, combining his inquiry about Sherman with his own quest for a new love.

McElwee’s own synopsis of the film describes its various levels well:

It is a non-fiction documentary story in which I shape narratively the documentary footage I’ve gathered during a serendipitous journey through the South. My film is a story in so far as it adheres to the autobiographically narrative line of a return home followed by a mutedly comic quest in which, repeatedly, boy meets girl, boy chases girl, boy loses girl. It is documentary in so far as all the people, places and situations appearing in the film are all unscripted and unplanned.

McElwee operated the camera and recorded sound alone; the women he befriends talk directly to him behind the camera. They include Pat, an aspiring actress desperately seeking Burt Reynolds; Claudia, an interior designer involved with a survivalist group; Winnie, a doctoral student who lives alone on an island, and a number of others. The portraits of these women are remarkably vivid and lively, which keeps the film from feeling self-indulgent. Interspersed with these encounters are McElwee’s monologues about his floundering film project, his nightmares of nuclear destruction, which increase as his love life worsens, and the film’s ostensible subject, General Sherman. “Sherman was plagued by anxiety and insomnia,” claims McElwee, who attempts to conflate his “creeping psycho-sexual despair” with Sherman’s psyche.

Is this a film about Sherman or McElwee? And what is the relation between McElwee’s life and his film? He conjectures, “It seems like I’m filming my life in order to have a life to film. ” An old friend and mentor, Charleen, advises him on camera, “Forget the fucking film and listen to me. This is not art. This is life.” However, Sherman’s March shows that there is no clear-cut dividing line. McElwee strikes a fascinating balance between being an ironic observer of his own pursuits and an active participant. By maintaining a sense of irony about his romantic pursuits, McElwee uses his search for a girlfriend in the same way that he uses Sherman’s March, as a kind of red herring, a structural narrative device to shape his documentary material. What we remember most vividly about Sherman’s March are the people and places that the filmmaker encounters.

A personal view of more recent history is provided by Nancy Yasecko’s 1984 film Growing Up with Rockets. What is the relationship between news events and our individual lives? Is history just something we watch on TV? These questions were raised earlier this year, when the Challenger disaster instantly became part of our national consciousness. Millions of people experienced a strong personal reaction to the explosion. That tragic, but chilling incident revealed some of the technological complexity of the space program. At the same time, space travel often functions as fantasy, enjoying a hold on the public imagination for many years. Early cinema history provides a fine example: Melies’s A Trip to the Moon, made a half-century before the existence of NASA.

autobiography-in-film-02

Nancy Yasecko reflects on missile launches, Cape Canaveral, and growing up with rockets.

Growing Up with Rockets is a firsthand look at NASA that goes a long way towards demystifying this massive public project. Yasecko grew up in Cape Canaveral, where her family ran a “Spacerium” tourist attraction; her coming of age parallels the growth of the space program. With home movies, newsreels, and original footage, Yasecko provides a personal history of the space agency. While the film doesn’t cover much new factual ground, it is mildly subversive in evoking the scientists and engineers who created the space program as real, imperfect people. Listen, for example, to how Yasecko describes her return to Cape Canaveral as a grown-up several years ago to witness the first launch of the space shuttle:

Mom said there was some concern around town that if the first test flights were unsuccessful, the negative publicity alone would be enough to set the program back a number of years. Dad and some of his friends were skeptical about the complicated design that was required to launch the shuttle like a rocket and return it like an airplane. Mom was amused that the same bunch of mavericks that had put wings on the old Snark and Matador had gotten so conservative in their old age. I remember those old military launches and how we all grew up with rockets going off almost every day, and the special feeling of a manned launch. After that, I had to see this one, and get that old countdown and liftoff rush.

Yasecko’s portrait of the space program is less than mystical. She charts its ups and downs, capturing the emotions of the familiar events in diary style. She talks about the exuberant early days of constant rocket launches, when her schoolmates would run outside and yell, “Missile! Missile!” whenever a rocket went off, to the feeling of despair as the space program fizzled in the mid-seventies. Yasecko was working for NASA at the time, and she recalls, “I left the engineering tract and signed up to study art. … It seemed like a more practical idea at the time.”

The union of Yasecko’s voice with familiar images of news events creates a surprising effect. We are used to having NASA explained to us by male voices of authority, be they the TV anchors who traditionally served as our guides to the news, or the deep-voiced narrators of the documentaries some of us watched in school. Speaking somewhat ironically and intimately, Yasecko provides an alternative to these nondescript, impersonal voices.

The voice and perspective of a woman filmmaker is again strongly asserted in Joel DeMott’s film Demon Lover Diary. DeMott records the making of a low-budget horror film being photographed by her partner Jeff Kreines. DeMott’s “diary” is filled with bizarre incidents that are far stranger than the movie that is in production. The filmmakers, Don and Jerry, are factory workers fulfilling a lifetime dream. Don mortgaged his furniture and car, and Jerry cut off his finger in an industrial “accident” to collect insurance money towards the film’s expenses. DeMott films all this and records sound by herself. She talks to people in the scene, even arguing with the filmmakers, who are frequently condescending toward her because she is a woman. (At one point, they expect her to wait home all day for a phone call while they are out running errands.) She makes asides meant only for the viewer’s ears, mainly commenting on how the horror film is turning into a complete mess. And she films from an extremely close range.

In the past dozen years, DeMott and Kreines have developed a distinctive style of one-person shooting. They each use a combination camera/tape recorder rig that weighs about 12 pounds. They film with a wide angle lens that enables them to stand within three or four feet of their subjects, and they use extremely sensitive film stock, eliminating the need for lights. In a written description of their shooting technique, DeMott explains the philosophy behind this approach:

The filmmaker doesn’t carry on with “his people” (the crew) in front of “his subjects.” The dichotomy those labels reveal, in the filmmaker himself [sic] is gone, along with the crew. Relieved of the alliance, and a need for communication of an alienating sort —the filmmaker becomes another human being in the room. He participates without awkwardness in the society that surrounds him.

DeMott’s technique in Demon Lover Diary responds to a problem evident in many cinema verite films that do not explicitly acknowledge the presence of the filmmaker. A recent example of this is the commercially successful documentary Streetwise, a chronicle of the lives of street kids in Seattle. Though filmed in a sort of Candid Camera style, albeit with more sensitivity and elegance than Allen Funt ever displayed, *Streetwise* never obviates the nagging suspicion that the subjects are acting for the camera. The film’s main characters wore radio microphones. While this allowed for intimate sound recordings, wearing a radio microphone will entail some self-consciousness. To the filmmakers’ credit, most of the moments captured in *Streetwise* seem authentic. But from time to time the audience must wonder, “What about the film crew?” In contrast, the first person filmmaking style of DeMott and Kreines foregrounds their presence, leaving no uncertainty about their relationship to the project.

The question of distance becomes central in many first person nonfiction films. To ask what is the place of the filmmaker in a film is to hint at a broader question: what is the place of a person in the world? Lisa Hsia makes this explicit in her half-hour film Made in China, where she explores her hyphenated Chinese American heritage. Born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, Hsia filmed a visit with relatives in China. Her goal there was to become an insider, not a tourist or a mere observer. In fact, this desire is the source of much of the film’s humor. Using an informal, anecdotal narration, and mix of home movies, animation, and original footage, Hsia recounts her experiences, including a variety of embarrassing moments that demonstrate the difficulty of making a connection with one’s cultural roots.

autobiography-in-film-03

Chisu Ryu in a scene from Wim Wenders’s film diary “Tokyo-Go.”

Wim Wenders, on the other hand, plays an outsider in many of his films. The New York City of his Reverse Angle doesn’t seem very different from the Tokyo of his Tokyo-Ga. In both films, the city is presented as a depersonalized place, cluttered with meaningless images. However, whether in Germany, the United States, or Japan, Wenders has been inspired by the films of Yasujiro Ozu, whose austere, ordered compositions depict a tranquil center of family and personal relationships in the midst of a modernizing world. Wenders also has adapted from Ozu his episodic, laconic storytelling style, where minor, quotidian incidents make up the films’ slender plots. Wenders manages to find the common ground of Ozu’s films and his favorite genre, the road movie. This type of narrative structure approaches the diaristic, and Tokyo-Ga is Wenders’s filmed account of his trip to modern-day Tokyo to find what remains of the austere, orderly world portrayed in Ozu’s films.

Tokyo-Ga can be seen as two films in one: his vision of Tokyo and a tribute to Ozu, employing interviews, film clips from Tokyo Story, and Wenders’s narration about Ozu’s movies. What connects these two elements, and what shapes the entire film, is Wenders’s personal experience. As he wanders through a crowded, hectic Tokyo, complete with noisy pachinko parlors, ubiquitous TV sets (even in the backseats of taxicabs), a rooftop golf range, and a park where Japanese teens dance to American rock and roll, Wenders laments, “I was searching for the mythical city of Tokyo. Perhaps that was what no longer existed, [Ozu’s] view that one could find order in a world of disorder. Perhaps such a view is no longer possible.” Yet Wenders does not despair totally. He adds, “In spite of everything, I couldn’t help but be impressed by Tokyo.”

In many of the practices that Wenders observes, there is an obsession with pure form that becomes almost meditative. In the pachinko parlors, the hours in front of the machine “induce a hypnosis, a strange form of happiness. The person merges with the machine, and forgets whatever it is that one wants to forget.” Early in the film, at a train station, Wenders spots a young boy who is being dragged along by his mother; the stubborn child keeps sitting on the floor, refusing to budge. Wenders compares the mischievous child to the kids in Ozu’s films from the 1930s, and he is heartened to see a sign of continuity between Ozu’s world and modern Tokyo. “No other city has ever felt so familiar to me,” he comments. But after all, he views Tokyo through his own memories, thoughts, and desires, searching for a city that really exists only in his imagination.

In the past, the realm of the personal has belonged primarily to avant-garde filmmakers, and as a subtext, to fiction filmmakers. These first person documentaries, though, assert subjectivity, which has long been a dirty word in documentaries, and attempt to reconcile the social with the deeply personal. I think of my favorite photographs of people looking straight at the camera, breaking down the boundary between photographer and subject, implying a connection. In a similar way, the films I have designated first person documentaries explore the encounter between filmmaker and subject. They make the person behind the camera a subject of the film. From McElwee’s confessional monologues in Sherman’s March to Gorin’s analytic narration in Poto and Cabengo, these films suggest the variety of cinematic forms that can situate a person in the work and in the world.

Share this Article:
Print this pageEmail this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on Reddit

Sign up for a free, twice monthly email from The Independent, Subscribe, For Email Newsletters you can trust.

0

MEDIA: Inside the Storytelling Revolution

April 2016, buildingpeaceforum.com

commDownload PDF Storytelling is on the rise. With the continued expansion of technology sharing stories has never been easier. Our latest issue of Building Peace, Inside the Storytelling Revolution,examines the countless ways we communicate with one another and the power that stories hold to inspire peace as well as war.

The sixth publication looks at the processes of advocacy and advertising—both selling peace in their unique ways. We feature the work of StoryCorps and how they are lifting up local voices to contribute to a more peaceful society. Our stories also come from the Countering Violent Extremism and filmmaking communities as they explore the ways that narratives can rewrite history—and what it takes to reveal the truth.

Letter from the Editor-in-Chief

Stories are both universal and individual. They are our mannerisms and our beliefs, our choice of words and our dreams for the future. Most of all, stories shape the way […]

Selling Peace: Story by Story

Before dawn on Friday, December 17, 2011, Mohammed Bouazizi pulled his cart to the Tunisian marketplace where he sold his goods. Local officials there harassed him and confiscated his wares […]

Short Stories: Community Murals in the U.S.

When it comes to peace, walls are rarely the solution. Walls separate people and prevent dialogue. They build suspicion and unease. The examples are everywhere including Northern Ireland, the West […]

Peace Needs a Sharp, Pointy Stick

(Legal disclaimer: The author of this article is an outsider with total respect and appreciation for the peacebuilding community but only limited knowledge of how it actually works, its protocols, […]

The Catalyst for Change

“Tell me the facts and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.” – Native American […]

Short Stories: Darfur’s Hakamat

In Darfur, in the Western region of Sudan, an influential group of women, known as the Hakamat, are beginning to change their tune. The Hakamat hold a special place in […]

Film, Truth, and the Pursuit of Peace

Film has power as a pathway to peace. In a certain kind of filmmaking, the ends and the means are inseparable; the way that a film is made is reflected […]

0

MEDIA: Curbing corruption and fostering accountability in fragile settings – why an imperilled media needs better support

bbc.co.uk, Media Action, original

624

An independent media is one of the most effective assets we have in efforts to curb corruption and foster accountability. Yet it is deeply imperilled, particularly in fragile states and often poorly understood by the international development sector. This policy working paper argues that unless development strategies begin to prioritise support to independent media, corruption may continue to go unchecked and the accountability of states will diminish.

Download Publication: http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/rmhttp/mediaaction/pdf/curbing-corruption-fostering-accountability-working-paper.pdf

Publication date: May 2016

Author: James Deane

Overview:  This policy working paper draws on BBC Media Action’s own research as well as the wider sector to examine the media’s ability to hold power to account, particularly in fragile settings. The paper provides a summary of the evidence base supporting the media’s role in tackling corruption and argues that effective media support strategies require more than financial contributions. They require the development of coherent, context-specific, evidence-based strategies rooted in learning from what works and what does not. It concludes that while there have been notable investments in media from a small number of donors the development system as a whole has a poor record in in supporting this area. The paper should be of interest to decision makers in donors and other development support organisations concerned about the development costs of corruption.

We welcome your comments. Please contact media.action@bbc.co.uk using the subject line: Comment: fostering accountability working paper.

0

MEDIA: Snowden interview: Why the media isn’t doing its job

cjr.org, 29 min read, original
snowden-hero

Image by CJRThe Tow Center for Digital Journalism’s Emily Bell spoke to Edward Snowden over a secure channel about his experiences working with journalists and his perspective on the shifting media world. This is an excerpt of that conversation, conducted in December 2015. It will appear in a forthcoming book: Journalism After Snowden: The Future of the Free Press in the Surveillance State, which will be released by Columbia University Press in 2016.

Emily Bell: Can you tell us about your interactions with journalists and the press?

Edward Snowden: One of the most challenging things about the changing nature of the public’s relationship to media and the government’s relationship to media is that media has never been stronger than it is now. At the same time, the press is less willing to use that sort of power and influence because of its increasing commercialization. There was this tradition that the media culture we had inherited from early broadcasts was intended to be a public service. Increasingly we’ve lost that, not simply in fact, but in ideal, particularly due to the 24-hour news cycle.

We see this routinely even at organizations like The New York Times. The Intercept recently published The Drone Papers, which was an extraordinary act of public service on the part of a whistleblower within the government to get the public information that’s absolutely vital about things that we should have known more than a decade ago. These are things that we really need to know to be able to analyze and assess policies. But this was denied to us, so we get one journalistic institution that breaks the story, they manage to get the information out there. But the majors—specifically The New York Times—don’t actually run the story, they ignore it completely. This was so extraordinary that the public editor, Margaret Sullivan, had to get involved to investigate why they suppressed such a newsworthy story. It’s a credit to the Times that they have a public editor, but it’s frightening that there’s such a clear need for one.

In the UK, when The Guardian was breaking the NSA story, we saw that if there is a competitive role in the media environment, if there’s money on the line, reputation, potential awards, anything that has material value that would benefit the competition, even if it would simultaneously benefit the public, the institutions are becoming less willing to serve the public to the detriment of themselves. This is typically exercised through the editors. This is something that maybe always existed, but we don’t remember it as always existing. Culturally, we don’t like to think of it as having always existed. There are things that we need to know, things that are valuable for us, but we are not allowed to know, because The Telegraph or the Times or any other paper in London decides that because this is somebody else’s exclusive, we’re not going to report it. Instead, we’ll try to “counter-narrative” it. We’ll simply go to the government and ask them to make any statement at all, and we will unquestioningly write it down and publish it, because that’s content that’s exclusive to us. Regardless of the fact that it’s much less valuable, much less substantial than actual documented facts that we can base policy discussions on. We’ve seemingly entered a world where editors are making decisions about what stories to run based on if it’ll give oxygen to a competitor, rather than if it’s news.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this, because while I do interact with media, I’m an outsider. You know media. As somebody who has worked in these cultures, do you see the same thing? Sort of the Fox News effect, where facts matter less?

The distance between allegation and fact, at times, makes all the difference in the world.

Bell: It’s a fascinating question. When you look at Donald Trump, there’s a problem when you have a press which finds it important to report what has happened, without a prism of some sort of evaluation on it. That’s the Trump problem, right? He says thousands of Muslims were celebrating in the streets of New Jersey after 9/11 and it’s demonstrably not true. It’s not even a quantification issue, it’s just not true. Yet, it dominates the news cycle, and he dominates the TV, and you see nothing changing in the polls—or, rather, him becoming more popular.

There are two things I think here, one of which is not new. I completely agree with you about how the economic dynamics have actually produced, bad journalism. One of the interesting things which I think is hopeful about American journalism is that within the last 10 years there’s been a break between this relationship, which is the free market, which says you can’t do good journalism unless you make a profit, into intellectually understanding that really good journalism not only sometimes won’t make a profit, but is almost never going to be anything other than unprofitable.

I think your acts and disclosures are really interesting in that it’s a really expensive story to do, and it is not the kind of story that advertisers want to stand next to. Actually people didn’t want to pay to read them. Post hoc they’ll say, we like The Guardian; we’re going to support their work. So I agree with you that there’s been a disjuncture between facts and how they are projected. I would like to think it’s going to get better.

You’re on Twitter now. You’re becoming a much more rounded out public persona, and lots of people have seen Citizenfour. You’ve gone from being this source persona, to being more actively engaged with Freedom of the Press Foundation, and also having your own publishing stream through a social media company. The press no longer has to be the aperture for you. How do you see that?

Snowden: Today, you have people directly reaching an audience through tools like Twitter, and I have about 1.7 million followers right now (this number reflects the number of Twitter followers Snowden had in December 2015). These are people, theoretically, that you can reach, that you can send a message to. Whether it’s a hundred people or a million people, individuals can build audiences to speak with directly. This is actually one of the ways that you’ve seen new media actors, and actually malicious actors, exploit what are perceived as new vulnerabilities in media control of the narrative, for example Donald Trump.

At the same time these strategies still don’t work […] for changing views and persuading people on a larger scope. Now this same thing applies to me. The director of the FBI can make a false statement, or some kind of misleading claim in congressional testimony. I can fact-check and I can say this is inaccurate. Unless some entity with a larger audience, for example, an established institution of journalism, sees that themselves, the value of these sorts of statements is still fairly minimal. They are following these new streams of information, then reporting out on those streams. This is why I think we see such a large interplay and valuable interactions that are emerging from these new media self-publication Twitter-type services and the generation of stories and the journalist user base of Twitter.

If you look at the membership of Twitter in terms of the influence and impact that people have, there are a lot of celebrities out there on Twitter, but really they’re just trying to maintain an image, promote a band, be topical, remind people that they exist. They’re not typically effecting any change, or having any kind of influence, other than the directly commercial one.

Bell: Let’s think about it in terms of your role in changing the world, which is presenting these new facts. There was a section of the technology press and the intelligence press who, at the time of the leaks, said we already know this, except it’s hidden in plain sight. Yet, a year after you made the disclosures, there was a broad shift of public perception about surveillance technologies. That may recede, and probably post-Paris, it is receding a little bit. Are you frustrated that there isn’t more long-term impact? Do you feel the world has not changed quickly enough?

Snowden: I actually don’t feel that. I’m really optimistic about how things have gone, and I’m staggered by how much more impact there’s been as a result of these revelations than I initially presumed. I’m famous for telling Alan Rusbridger that it would be a three-day story. You’re sort of alluding to this idea that people don’t really care, or that nothing has really changed. We’ve heard this in a number of different ways, but I think it actually has changed in a substantial way.

Now when we talk about the technical press, or the national security press, and you say, this is nothing new, we knew about this, a lot of this comes down to prestige, to the same kind of signaling where they have to indicate we have expertise, we knew this was going on. In many cases they actually did not. The difference is, they knew the capabilities existed.

This is, I think, what underlies why the leaks had such an impact. Some people say stories about the mass collection of internet records and metadata were published in 2006. There was a warrantless wiretapping story in The New York Times as well. Why didn’t they have the same sort of transformative impact? This is because there’s a fundamental difference when it comes down to the actionability of information between knowledge of capability, the allegation that the capability couldbe used, and the fact that it is being used. Now what happened in 2013 is we transformed the public debate from allegation to fact. The distance between allegation and fact, at times, makes all the difference in the world.

That, for me, is what defines the best kind of journalism. This is one of the things that is really underappreciated about what happened in 2013. A lot of people laud me as the sole actor, like I’m this amazing figure who did this. I personally see myself as having a quite minor role. I was the mechanism of revelation for a very narrow topic of governments. It’s not really about surveillance, it’s about what the public understands—how much control the public has over the programs and policies of its governments. If we don’t know what our government really does, if we don’t know the powers that authorities are claiming for themselves, or arrogating to themselves, in secret, we can’t really be said to be holding the leash of government at all.

One of the things that’s really missed is the fact that as valuable and important as the reporting that came out of the primary archive of material has been, there’s an extraordinarily large, and also very valuable amount of disclosure that was actually forced from the government, because they were so back-footed by the aggressive nature of the reporting. There were stories being reported that showed how they had abused these capabilities, how intrusive they were, the fact that they had broken the law in many cases, or had violated the Constitution.

One of the biggest issues is that we have many more publishers competing for a finite, shrinking amount of attention span that’s available.

When the government is shown in a most public way, particularly for a president who campaigned on the idea of curtailing this sort of activity, to have continued those policies, in many cases expanded them in ways contrary to what the public would expect, they have to come up with some defense. So in the first weeks, we got rhetorical defenses where they went, nobody’s listening to your phone calls. That wasn’t really compelling. Then they went, “It’s just metadata.” Actually that worked for quite some time, even though it’s not true. By adding complexity, they reduced participation. It is still difficult for the average person in the street to understand that metadata, in many cases, is actually more revealing and more dangerous than the content of your phone calls. But stories kept coming. Then they went, well alright, even if it is “just metadata,” it’s still unconstitutional activity, so how do we justify it?Then they go—well they are lawful in this context, or that context.

They suddenly needed to make a case for lawfulness, and that meant the government had to disclose court orders that the journalists themselves did not have access to, that I did not have access to, that no one in the NSA at all had access to, because they were bounded in a completely different agency, in the Department of Justice.

This, again, is where you’re moving from suspicion, from allegation, to factualizing things. Now of course, because these are political responses, each of them was intentionally misleading. The government wants to show itself in the best possible light. But even self-interested disclosures can still be valuable, so long as they’re based on facts. They’re filling in a piece of the puzzle, which may provide the final string that another journalist, working independently somewhere else, may need. It unlocks that page of the book, fills in the page they didn’t have, and that completes the story. I think that is something that has not been appreciated, and it was driven entirely by journalists doing follow-up.

There’s another idea that you mentioned: that I’m more engaged with the press than I was previously. This is very true. I quite openly in 2013 took the position that this is not about me, I don’t want to be the face of the argument. I said that I don’t want to correct the record of government officials, even though I could, even though I knew they were making misleading statements. We’re seeing in the current electoral circus that whatever someone says becomes the story, becomes the claim, becomes the allegation. It gets into credibility politics where they’re going, oh, you know, well, Donald Trump said it, it can’t be true. All of the terrible things he says put aside, there’s always the possibility that he does say something that is true. But, because it’s coming from him, it will be analyzed and assessed in a different light. Now that’s not to say that it shouldn’t be, but it was my opinion that there was no question that I was going to be subject to a demonization campaign. They actually recorded me on camera saying this before I revealed my identity. I predicted they were going to charge me under the Espionage Act, I predicted they were going to say I helped terrorists, blood on my hands, all of that stuff. It did come to pass. This was not a staggering work of genius on my part, it’s just common sense, this is how it always works in the case of prominent whistleblowers. It was because of this that we needed other voices, we needed the media to make the argument.

Because of the nature of the abuse of classification authorities in the United States, there is no one that’s ever held a security clearance who’s actually able to make these arguments. Modern media institutions prefer never to use their institutional voice to factualize a claim in a reported story, they want to point to somebody else. They want to say this expert said, or this official said, and keep themselves out of it. But in my mind, journalism must recognize that sometimes it takes the institutional weight to assess the claims that are publicly available, and to make a determination on that basis, then put the argument forth to whoever the person under suspicion is at the time, for example, the government in this case, and go—look, all of the evidence says you were doing this. You say that’s not the case, but why should we believe you? Is there any reason that we should not say this?

This is something that institutions today are loath to do because it’s regarded as advocacy. They don’t want to be in the position of having to referee what is and is not fact. Instead they want to play these “both sides games” where they say, instead we’ll just print allegations, we’ll print claims from both sides, we’ll print their demonstrations of evidence, but we won’t actually involve ourselves in it.

Because of this, I went the first six months without giving an interview. It wasn’t until December 2013 that I gave my first interview to Barton Gellman of The Washington Post. In this intervening period my hope was that some other individual would come forth on the political side, and would become the face of this movement. But more directly I thought it would inspire some reflection in the media institutions to think about what their role was. I think they did a fairly good job, particularly for it being unprecedented, particularly for it being a segment in which the press has been, at least in the last 15 years, extremely reluctant to express any kind of skepticism regarding government claims at all. If it involved the word “terrorism,” these were facts that wouldn’t be challenged. If the government said, look, this is secret for a reason, this is classified for a reason, journalists would leave it at that. Again, this isn’t to beat up onThe New York Times, but when we look at the warrantless wiretapping story that was ready to be published in October of an election year, that [election] was decided by the smallest margin in a presidential election, at least in modern history. It’s hard to believe that had that story been published, it would not have changed the course of that election.

Bell: Former Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson has said her paper definitely made mistakes, “I wish we had not withheld stories.” What you’re saying certainly resonates with what I know and understand of the recent history of the US press, which is that national security concerns post-9/11 really did alter the relationship of reporting, particularly with administration and authority in this country. What we know about drone programs comes from reporting, some of it comes from the story which The Intercept got hold of, and Jeremy Scahill’s reporting on it, which has been incredibly important. But a great deal of it has also come from the ground level. The fact that we were aware at all that drones were blowing up villages, killing civilians, crossing borders where they were not supposed to be really comes from people who would report from the ground.

Something interesting has definitely happened in the last three years, which makes me think about what you are telling us about how the NSA operates. We’re seeing a much closer relationship now between journalism and technology and mass communication technology than we’ve ever seen before. People are now completely reliant on Facebook. Some of that is a commercial movement in the US, but you also have activists and journalists being regularly tortured or killed in, say, Bangladesh, where it’s really impossible to operate a free press, but they are using these tools. It is almost like the American public media now isFacebook. I wonder how you think about this? It’s such a recent development.

Snowden: One of the biggest issues is that we have many more publishers competing for a finite, shrinking amount of attention span that’s available. This is why we have the rise of these sort of hybrid publications, like a BuzzFeed, that create just an enormous amount of trash and cruft. They’re doing AB testing and using scientific principles. Their content is specifically engineered to be more attention getting, even though they have no public value at all. They have no news value at all. Like here’s 10 pictures of kittens that are so adorable. But then they develop a news line within the institution, and the idea is that they can drive traffic with this one line of stories, theoretically, and then get people to go over onto the other side.

Someone’s going to exploit this; if it’s not going to be BuzzFeed, it’s going to be somebody else. This isn’t a criticism of any particular model, but the idea here is that the first click, that first link is actually consuming attention. The more we read about a certain thing, that’s actually reshaping our brains. Everything that we interact with, it has an impact on us, it has an influence, it leaves memories, ideas, sort of memetic expressions that we then carry around with us that shape what we look for in the future, and that are directing our development.

Bell: Yes, well that’s the coming singularity between the creation of journalism and large-scale technology platforms, which are not intrinsically journalistic. In other words, they don’t have a primary purpose.

Snowden: They don’t have a journalistic role, it’s a reportorial role.

Bell: Well, it’s a commercial role, right? So when you came to Glenn andThe Guardian, there wasn’t a hesitation in knowing the primary role of the organization is to get that story to the outside world as securely and quickly as possible, avoiding prior restraint, protecting a source.

Is source protection even possible now? You were extremely prescient in thinking there’s no point in protecting yourself.

Snowden: I have an unfair advantage.

Bell: You do, but still, that’s a big change from 20 years ago.

Snowden: This is something that we saw contemporary examples of in the public record in 2013. It was the James Rosen case where we saw the Department of Justice, and government more broadly, was abusing its powers to demand blanket records of email and call data, and the AP casewhere phone records for calls that were made from the bureaus of journalism were seized.

That by itself is suddenly chilling, because the traditional work of journalism, the traditional culture, where the journalist would just call their contact and say, hey, let’s talk, suddenly becomes incriminating. But more seriously, if the individual in question, the government employee who is working with a journalist to report some issue of public interest, if this individual has gone so far to commit an act of journalism, suddenly they can be discovered trivially if they’re not aware of this.

We see the delta between the periods of time that successive administrations can keep a secret is actually diminishing—the secrets are becoming public at an accelerated pace.

I didn’t have that insight at the time I was trying to come forward because I had no relationship with journalists. I had never talked to a journalist in any substantive capacity. So, instead I simply thought about the adversarial relationship that I had inherited from my work as an intelligence officer, working for the CIA and the NSA. Everything is a secret and you’ve got two different kinds of cover. You’ve got cover for status, which is: You’re overseas, you’re living as a diplomat because you have to explain why you’re there. You can’t just say, oh, yeah, I work for the CIA. But you also have a different kind of cover which is what’s called cover for action. Where you’re not going to live in the region for a long time, you may just be in a building and you have to explain why you’re walking through there, you need some kind of pretext. This kind of trade-craft unfortunately is becoming more necessary in the reportorial process. Journalists need to know this, sources need to know this. At any given time, if you were pulled over by a police officer and they want to search your phone or something like that, you might need to explain the presence of an application. This is particularly true if you’re in a country like Bangladesh. I have heard that they’re now looking for the presence of VPN [virtual private network software] for avoiding censorship locks and being able to access uncontrolled news networks as evidence of opposition, allegiance, that could get you in real trouble in these areas of the world.

At the time of the leaks I was simply thinking, alright the governmentand this isn’t a single government now—we’re actually talking about the Five Eyes intelligence alliance [the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, Canada] forming a pan-continental super-state in this context of sharing, they’re going to lose their minds over this. Some institutions in, for example, the UK, can levy D notices, they can say, look, you can’t publish that, or you should not publish that. In the United States it’s not actually certain that the government would not try to exercise prior restraint in slightly different ways, or that they wouldn’t charge journalists as accomplices in some kind of criminality to interfere with the reporting without actually going after the institutions themselves, single out individuals. We have seen this in court documents before. This was the James Rosen case, where the DOJ had named him as sort of an accessory—they said he was a co-conspirator. So the idea I thought about here was that we need institutions working beyond borders in multiple jurisdictions simply to complicate it legally to the point that the journalists could play games, legally and journalistically more effectively and more quickly than the government could play legalistic games to interfere with them.

Bell: Right, but that’s kind of what happened with the reporting of the story.

Snowden: And in ways that I didn’t even predict, because who could imagine the way a story like that would actually get out of hand and go even further: Glenn Greenwald living in Brazil, writing for a US institution for that branch, but headquartered in the UK, The Washington Post providing the institutional clout and saying, look, this is a real story, these aren’t just crazy leftists arguing about this, and Der Spiegel in Germany with Laura [Poitras]. It simply represented a system that I did not believe could be overcome before the story could be put out. By the time the government could get their ducks in a row and try to interfere with it, that would itself become the story.

Bell: You’re actually giving a sophisticated analysis of much of what’s happened to both reporting practice and media structures. As you say, you had no prior interactions with journalists. I think one of the reasons the press warmed to you was because you put faith in journalists, weirdly. You went in thinking I think I can trust these people, not just with your life, but with a huge responsibility. Then you spent an enormous amount of time, particularly with Glenn, Laura, and Ewen [MacAskill] in those hotel rooms. What was that reverse frisking process like as you were getting to know them? My experience is as people get closer to the press, they often like it less. Why would you trust journalists?

Snowden: This gets into the larger question—how did you feel about journalists, what was the process of becoming acquainted with them? There’s both a political response and a practical response. Specifically about Glenn, I believe very strongly that there’s no more important quality for a journalist than independence. That’s independence of perspective, and particularly skepticism of claims. The more powerful the institution, the more skeptical one should be. There’s an argument that was put forth by an earlier journalist, I.F. Stone: “All governments are run by liars and nothing they say should be believed.” In my experience, this is absolutely a fact. I’ve met with Daniel Ellsberg and spoken about this, and it comports with his experience as well. He would be briefing the Secretary of Defense on the airplane, and then when the Secretary of Defense would disembark right down the eight steps of the plane and shake hands with the press, he would say something that he knew was absolutely false and was completely contrary to what they had just said in the meeting [inside the place] because that was his role. That was his job, his duty, his responsibility as a member of that institution.

There’s an argument that was put forth by an earlier journalist, I.F. Stone: “All governments are run by liars and nothing they say should be believed.” In my experience, this is absolutely a fact.

Now Glenn Greenwald, if we think about him as an archetype, really represents the purest form of that. I would argue that despite the failings of any journalist in one way or another, if they have that independence of perspective, they have the greatest capacity for reporting that a journalist can attain. Ultimately, no matter how brilliant you are, no matter how charismatic you are, no matter how perfect or absolute your sourcing is, or your access, if you simply take the claims of institutions that have the most privilege that they must protect, at face value, and you’re willing to sort of repeat them, all of those other things that are working in your favor in the final calculus amount to nothing because you’re missing the fundamentals.

There was the broader question of what it’s like working with these journalists and going through that process. There is the argument that I was naïve. In fact, that’s one of the most common criticisms about me today—that I am too naïve, that I have too much faith in the government, that I have too much faith in the press. I don’t see that as a weakness. I am naïve, but I think that idealism is critical to achieving change, ultimately not of policy, but of culture, right? Because we can change this or that law, we can change this or that policy or program, but at the end of the day, it’s the values of the people in these institutions that are producing these policies or programs. It’s the values of the people who are sitting at the desk with the blank page in Microsoft Office, or whatever journalists are using now.

Bell: I hope they’re not using Microsoft Office, but you never know.

Snowden: They have the blank page …

Bell: They have the blank page, exactly.

Snowden: In their content management system, or whatever. How is that individual going to approach this collection of facts in the next week, in the next month, in the next year, in the next decade? What will the professor in the journalism school say in their lecture that will impart these values, again, sort of memetically into the next cohort of reporters? If we do not win on that, we have lost comprehensively. More fundamentally, people say, why did you trust the press, given their failures? Given the fact that I was, in fact, quite famous for criticizing the press.

Bell: If they had done their job, you would be at home now.

Snowden: Yeah, I would still be living quite comfortably in Hawaii.

Bell: Which is not so bad, when you put it that way.

Snowden: People ask how could you do this, why would you do this? How could you trust a journalist that you knew had no training at all in operational security to keep your identity safe because if they screw up, you’re going to jail. The answer was that that was actually what I was expecting. I never expected to make it out of Hawaii. I was going to try my best, but my ultimate goal was simply to get this information back in the hands of the public. I felt that the only way that could be done meaningfully was through the press. If we can’t have faith in the press, if we can’t sort of take that leap of faith and either be served well by them, or underserved and have the press fail, we’ve already lost. You cannot have an open society without open communication. Ultimately, the test of open communication is a free press. If they can’t look for information, if they can’t contest the government’s control of information, and ultimately print information—not just about government, but also about corporate interests, that has a deleterious impact on the preferences of power, on the prerogatives of power. You may have something, but I would argue it’s not the traditional American democracy that I believed in.

So the idea here was that I could take these risks because I already expected to bear the costs. I expected the end of the road was a cliff. This is actually illustrated quite well in Citizenfour because it shows that there was absolutely no plan at all for the day after.

The planning to get to the point of working with the journalists, of transmitting this information, of explaining, contextualizing—it was obsessively detailed, because it had to be. Beyond that, the risks were my own. They weren’t for the journalists. They could do everything else. That was by design as well, because if the journalists had done anything shady—for example, if I had stayed in place at the NSA as a source and they had asked me for this document, and that document, it could have undermined the independence, the credibility of the process, and actually brought risks upon them that could have led to new constraints upon journalism.

Bell: So nothing you experienced in the room with the team, or what happened after, made you question or reevaluate journalism?

Snowden: I didn’t say that. Actually working more closely with the journalists has radically reshaped my understanding of journalism, and that continues through to today. I think you would agree that anybody who’s worked in the news industry, either directly or even peripherally, has seen journalists—or, more directly, editors—who are terrified, who hold back a story, who don’t want to publish a detail, who want to wait for the lawyers, who are concerned with liability.

You also have journalists who go out on their own and they publish details which actually are damaging, directly to personal safety. There were details published by at least one of the journalists that were discussing communication methods that I was still actively using, that previously had been secret. But the journalists didn’t even forewarn me, so suddenly I had to change all of my methods on the fly. Which worked out OK because I had the capabilities to do that, but dangerous.

Bell: When did that happen?

Snowden: This was at the height of public interest, basically. The idea here is that a journalist ultimately, and particularly a certain class of journalist, they don’t owe any allegiance to their source, right? They don’t write the story in line with what the sources desires, they don’t go about their publication schedule to benefit, or to detriment, in theory, the source at all. There are strong arguments that that’s the way it should be: public knowledge of the truth is more important than the risks that knowledge creates for a few. But at the same time, when a journalist is reporting on something like a classified program implicating one of the government’s sources, you see an incredibly high standard of care applied to make sure they can’t be blamed if something goes wrong down the road after publication. The journalists will go, well we’ll hold back this detail from that story reporting on classified documents, because if we name this government official it might expose them to some harm, or it might get this program shut down, or even if it might cause them to have to rearrange the deck chairs in the operations in some far away country.

That’s just being careful, right? But ask yourself—should journalists be just as careful when the one facing the blowback of a particular detail is their own source? In my experience, the answer does not seem to be as obvious as you might expect.

Bell: Do you foresee a world where someone won’t have to be a whistleblower in order to reveal the kinds of documents that you revealed? What kinds of internal mechanisms would that require on behalf of the government? What would that look like in the future?

Snowden: That’s a really interesting philosophical question. It doesn’t come down to technical mechanisms, that comes down to culture. We’ve seen in the EU a number of reports from parliamentary bodies, from the Council of Europe, that said we need to protect whistleblowers, in particular national security whistleblowers. In the national context no country really wants to pass a law that allows individuals rightly, or wrongly, to embarrass the government. But can we provide an international framework for this? One would argue, particularly when espionage laws are being used to prosecute people, they already exist. That’s why espionage, for example, is considered a political offense, because it’s just a political crime, as they say. That’s a fairly weak defense, or fairly weak justification, for not reforming whistleblower laws. Particularly when, throughout Western Europe they’re going, yeah, we like this guy, he did a good thing. But if he shows up on the doorstep we’re going to ship him back immediately, regardless of whether it’s unlawful, just because the US is going to retaliate against us. It’s extraordinary that the top members of German government have said this on the record—that it’s realpolitik; it’s about power, rather than principle.

Now how we can fix this? I think a lot of it comes down to culture, and we need a press that’s more willing and actually eager to criticize government than they are today. Even though we’ve got a number of good institutions that do that, or that want to do that, it needs a uniform culture. The only counterargument the government has made against national security whistleblowing, and many other things that embarrassed them in the past, is that well, it could cause some risk, we could go dark, they could have blood on their hands.

Why do they have different ground rules in the context of national security journalism?

We see that not just in the United States, but in France, Germany, the UK, in every Western country, and of course, in every more authoritarian country by comparison they are embracing the idea of state secrets, of classifications, or saying, you can’t know this, you can’t know that.

We call ourselves private citizens, and we refer to elected representatives as public officials, because we’re supposed to know everything about them and their activities. At the same time, they’re supposed to know nothing about us, because they wield all the power, and we hold all of the vulnerability. Yet increasingly, that’s becoming inverted, where they are the private officials, and we are the public citizens. We’re increasingly monitored and tracked and reported, quantified and known and influenced, at the same time that they’re getting themselves off and becoming less reachable and also less accountable.

Bell: But Ed, when you talk about this in those terms, you make it sound as though you see this as a progression. Certainly there was a sharp increase, as you demonstrated, in overreach of oversight post-9/11. Is it a continuum?

It felt from the outside as though America, post-9/11, for understandable reasons, it was almost like a sort of national psychosis. If you grew up in Europe, there were regular terrorist acts in almost every country after the Second World War, though not on the same scale, until there was a brief, five-year period of respite, weirdly running up to about 2001. Then the nature of the terrorism changed. To some extent, that narrative is predictable. You talk about it as an ever increasing problem. With the Freedom Act in 2015, the press identified this as a significant moment where the temperature had changed. You don’t sound like you really think that. You sound as though you think that this public/private secrecy, spying, is an increasing continuum. So how does that change? Particularly in the current political climate where post-Paris and other terrorist attacks we’ve already seen arguments for breaking encryption.

Snowden: I don’t think they are actually contradictory views to hold. I think what we’re talking about are the natural inclinations of power and vice, what we can do to restrain it, to maintain a free society. So when we think about where things have gone in the USA Freedom Act, and when we look back at the 1970s, it was even worse in terms of the level of comfort that the government had that it could engage in abuses and get away with them. One of the most important legacies of 2013 is not anything that was necessarily published, but it was the impact of the publication on the culture of government. It was a confirmation coming quite quickly in the wake of the WikiLeaks stories, which were equally important in this regard. That said, secrecy will not hold forever. If you authorize a policy that is clearly contrary to law, you will eventually have to explain that.

The question is, can you keep it under wraps long enough to get out of the administration, and hopefully for it to be out of the egregious sort of thing where you’ll lose an election as a result. We see the delta between the periods of time that successive administrations can keep a secret is actually diminishing—the secrets are becoming public at an accelerated pace. This is a beneficial thing. This is the same in the context of terrorism.

There is an interesting idea—when you were saying it’s sort of weird that the US has what you described as a collective psychosis in the wake of 9/11 given that European countries have been facing terrorist attacks routinely. The US had actually been facing the same thing, and actually one would argue, experienced similarly high-impact attacks, for example, the Oklahoma City bombing, where a Federal building was destroyed by a single individual or one actor.

Bell: What do you think about the relationship between governments asking Facebook and other communications platforms to help fight ISIS?

Snowden: Should we basically deputize companies to become the policy enforcers of the world? When you put it in that context suddenly it becomes clear that this is not really a good idea, particularly because terrorism does not have a strong definition that’s internationally recognized. If Facebook says, we will take down any post from anybody who the government says is a terrorist, as long as it comes from this government, suddenly they have to do that for the other government. The Chinese allegations of who is and who is not a terrorist are going to look radically different than what the FBI’s are going to be. But if the companies try to be selective about them, say, well, we’re only going to do this for one government, they immediately lose access to the markets of the other ones. So that doesn’t work, and that’s not a position companies want to be in.

However, even if they could do this, there are already policies in place for them to do that. If Facebook gets a notification that says this is a terrorist thing, they take it down. It’s not like this is a particularly difficult or burdensome review when it comes to violence.

The distinction is the government is trying to say, now we want them to start cracking down on radical speech. Should private companies be who we as society are reliant upon to bound the limits of public conversations? And this goes beyond borders now. I think that’s an extraordinarily dangerous precedent to be embracing, and, in turn, irresponsible for American leaders to be championing.

The real solutions here are much more likely to be in terms of entirely new institutions that bound the way law enforcement works, moving us away from the point of military conflict, secret conflict, and into simply public policing.

There’s no reason why we could not have an international counter-terrorism force that actually has universal jurisdiction. I mean universal in terms of fact, as opposed to actual law.

Edward Snowden is a former intelligence officer who served the CIA, NSA, and DIA for nearly a decade as a subject matter expert on technology and cybersecurity. In 2013, he revealed the scope of NSA surveillance globally by providing classified NSA documents to journalists Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Barton Gellman, and Ewen MacAskill. He has been exiled in Russia since July 2013.

Emily Bell is Director at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School, and Humanitas Visiting Professor in Media 2015-16 at the The Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Cambridge.

0

AFGHANISTAN/ON THE MEDIA: Threatened with death for working on TV

0

ON THE MEDIA: How We Can Keep Press Freedom from Withering Away?

By Farhana Haque Rahman     IPS

Farhana Haque Rahman

Farhana Haque Rahman

While a free press means that a journalist has rights, it does not mean that she or he is right.

This article forms part of a series by IPS for World Press Freedom Day, May 3.

ROME, Apr 28 2016 (IPS) – Media freedoms appear increasingly under siege around the world, with concerning signs that achieving middle-income status is no guarantee for an independent political watchdog in the form of the press.

The death this week of a LGBT magazine editor in Bangladesh shows that around the world, those who speak up are too often themselves tragically silenced.The news is constant and disheartening.

In Mexico, journalists are knocked off – by criminal gangs, or maybe by colluding public authorities – and only rarely is their death punished. The fact that the government has a special prosecutor for such crimes does not seem to have any impact.

In South Africa, a new bill on national security allows for whistle blowers to be jailed for decades – the first legislation since the end of apartheid that curtails a freedom many once fought for.

The arrest of newspaper editors in Turkey is alarming. In Tunisia, the media’s main enemy is no longer tyranny in the form of a dictator, the new constitution tried to make defamation and libel – often flexible categories – punishable by fines only, but those the government often insist on use the penal code. A pending bill that would criminalize “denigration” of security forces.

Security threats, not always well-defined, are increasingly cited to promote further restrictions – in France, Belgium and beyond. The U.S. Senate has proposed requiring Internet companies to report “terrorist activity” and a UN Security Council committee recently called for Internet platforms to be liable for hosting content posted by extremists – even though the Islamic State alone posts an estimated 90,000 posts a day and has been known to taunt the social media platforms they use for trying to stop them.

Proposed Internet regulations are not just about terrorism or alleged civil war. They can be used to muffle news about deadly industrial accidents, government corruption and more. China wants to forbid foreign ownership of online media.

Censorship can use commercial pressure. Many feel the reason a major Kenyan daily sacked its editor was out of fear criticism of the government would lead to an advertising boycott and the risk of bankruptcy. The recent purchase of Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post by Alibaba’s founder, widely seen as close to Beijing, will be watched closely.

Looser defamation laws – proposed in the U.S. by a presidential candidate – have a long history of being used to silence people through long Kafka-esque judicial action.

One of the stranger cases – yet no less symptomatic of the trend – was the Indian government’s firing of an educational newspaper’s editor for having published a story suggesting that iron is an important nutritional element and can be obtained from beef or veal – a taboo food according to the ideological Hinduism championed by the current ruling party.

What to do?

There is a broadly-agreed narrative that claims a free and independent press is an essential part of any genuine democracy. It has long been held that while there may be stages along the way for developing countries, upholding media freedom is a strong sign of commitment that bodes well for improved governance across the board and thus better human welfare for all.

I have not heard one coherent argument claiming that this is no longer the case. Political leaders should be pressured to state publicly that they do not believe in media freedom’s merits – which few will do – rather than hide behind vague security threats that often sound like the rumour mill that preceded the guillotines of the French Revolution. This can work, as shown last year when international pressure led President Joko Widodo of Indonesia to force a senior minister to drop new rules curtailing the rights of foreign journalists in the country.

Public pressure on governments to make sure legislative threats to the press are reversed and threats against media freedom properly policed are essential. A Swedish law that makes it illegal for a reporter to reveal an anonymous source warrants consideration for emulation. And this highlights how journalists themselves must help achieve the goal.

Self-regulation can work, as Scandinavian countries show. Independent press councils can serve as a powerful forum – ideally enhanced with a public code of ethics that all parties can invoke – both for journalists themselves and readers and other stakeholders who may complain about their work.

After all, while a free press means that a journalist has rights, it does not mean that she or he is right.

To prove effective, a whole ecosystem must be set up. Sweden’s Freedom of the Press Act is now several centuries old, and the country has a constitutional principle requiring that all public records be available to the public. It is true that the experience of the Nordic countries is historically linked to the absence of feudalism, but it is an implicit goal of all democracy to overcome such legacies, so setting up institutions that mutually reinforce the free flow of information is part of any sustainable development in the interest of all – and not a perk upon arrival.

Digital publishing has, to be sure, raised thorny questions, notably about whether expressions that insult cultural sensitivities – whatever they may be – contribute to the culture a free press needs and is meant to foster. Opinions may vary on where appropriate limits may lie. But all authorities – precisely because they hold power – should accept the principle that the free press exists to hold them accountable, and that suppressing journalists will not bolster their power but ultimately erode it.

0

ON THE MEDIA: Violence Against Women Journalists Threatens Media Freedom

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage       IPS

A journalist from Radio Bundelkhand in India conducts an interview. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

A journalist from Radio Bundelkhand in India conducts an interview. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

NEW YORK, Apr 28 2016 (IPS) – For women journalists, violence and intimidation don’t just happen in conflict zones, they are every day experiences.

“You don’t even have to be in a conflict zone to be violated anymore,” New York Times reporter and author of the Taliban Shuffle Kim Barker said Wednesday at the launch of a new book documenting the daily violence and harassment which women journalists experience.

After writing an opinion-editorial on her experience of sexual harassment in the field, Barker said that an online commenter called her “fat” and “unattractive” and told her that “nobody would want to rape you.”

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) chose to focus its 2016 edition of the Attacks on the Press book series on the gender-based online harassment, sexual violence and physical assault experienced by women journalists, because of the impact of this violence on press freedom.

“In societies where women have to fight to have control over their own bodies, have to fight to reassert their right in the public space—being a woman journalist is almost a form of activism,” said Egyptian broadcast journalist Rawya Rageh who also spoke at the launch.

Much of the abuse takes place online where attackers can hide behind the anonymity of online comments.

“Our words, our will, can prevent the silencing of voices, the violation of our freedom of expression…and we, as journalists, have a huge responsibility in this regard.” — Jineth Bedoya Lima.

According to the Pew Research Center, 40 percent of Internet users have experienced some form of online harassment. Though men are also subject to harassment, online abuse towards women tends to be more severe, including sexual harassment and threats of violence.

For example, one journalist reported to the The International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) that a troll had threatened to “human flesh hunt” her.

Alessandria Masi, a Middle East correspondent for the International Business Times, recalled the comments she received in an essay in CPJ’s book: “I have been hacked by the Syrian Electronic Army for writing an article that was critical of Syrian President Bashar Assad and asked how many people I have to have sexual relations with to get my article published.”

Online abuse is a symptom of deep-seated and pervasive sexism, many note. University of Maryland Law Professor and Author of “Hate Crimes in Cyberspace” Danielle Keats Citron stated that online gender harassment “reinforce(s) gendered stereotypes” where men are perceived as dominant in the workplace while women are sexual objects who have no place in online spaces.

But the threats do not just stay online, they also often manifest in the real world.

Deputy Editor of a Colombian Newspaper Jineth Bedoya Lima was kidnapped and raped in 2000 after exposing an underground network of arms trafficking in the country.

In 2012, after reporting on the dangers of female genital mutilation, Liberian journalist Mae Azongo received death threats including that she will be caught and cut if she does not “shut up.” She was forced to go into hiding with her nine-year-old daughter.

A year later, Libyan journalist Khawlija al-Amami was shot at by gunmen who pulled up to her car. Though she survived, she later received a text message warning her to “stop your journalism” or be killed.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) journalists also face similar threats, CPJ added. Most recently, Xulhaz Mannan, editor of Bangladesh’s only LGBT magazine, was hacked to death in his home.

However, many do not report their cases.

“It was almost like this dirty little secret, you didn’t talk about it…because you had to seem like you were just like one of the guys,” Barker said. She pointed to Lara Logan’s case as the dividing point.

While covering the Egyptian Revolution for CBS, Logan was violently sexually assaulted by a mob of men. During an interview on “60 Minutes,” she described how she was pulled away from her crew, her clothes ripped off, beaten with sticks and raped.

When asked why she spoke out, Logan said that she wanted to break the silence “on what all of us have experienced but never talk about.”

One key reason that many journalists do not speak out is the fear of being pulled out of reporting because of their gender or sexual orientation.

“It’s a catch-22,” said Rageh to participants. “I don’t want to reinforce this idea of who I am or what I am is going to curtail my ability to cover the story, but of course there’s an issue that needs to be addressed,” she continued.

CPJ’s Vice Chair and Executive Editor of the Associated Press Kathleen Carroll noted that the threat of sexual violence has long kept women out of the field of journalism. But there are ways to handle such threats that do not lead to the exclusion of women, she said.

Carroll stated that good tools and training should be provided to journalists, both women and men alike. IWMFestablished a gender-specific security training, preparing women to be in hostile environments. This includes role-play scenarios, risk assessments and communication plans.

Effective, knowledgeable and compassionate leaders are also needed in news agencies in order to help staff minimize threats, Carroll added.

Panelists urged for reform, noting that women are needed in the field.

“The more women you have out there covering those stories, the more those stories get told,” Barker said.

In an essay, Lima also reflected on the importance of women’s voices, stating: “Our words, our will, can prevent the silencing of voices, the violation of our freedom of expression…and we, as journalists, have a huge responsibility in this regard. Our words can stir a fight or bury the hope of change forever.”

0

DEVELOPMENT/ON THE MEDIA: IF IT HAD HAPPENED OVER HERE

How would it sound, if African media reported US elections in the same tone as Western media report on polls in Africa and elsewhere?

______

Pressure is mounting on the Obama regime to allow international observers and peacekeepers after tribal violence marred election campaigns in the troubled north American nation.

In Addis Ababa, an emergency meeting was called by African leaders to demand a return to rule of law in America, after pro-regime militants attacked a rally addressed by popular opposition leader Donald Trump in Chicago.

“Unless America allows independent international groups to monitor the poll and for peacekeepers to move in and restore order, the poll is a sham and cannot be declared free and fair,” the African Union said.

America refuses to allow independent observers in, only inviting a small observer mission from the EU, a known crony of the regime. “We will only allow friendly states to observe our polls, not hostile nations that come here with predetermined positions,” the White House said.

Bloody clashes have been witnessed in St Louis, a city with a long history of tribal and sectarian conflict.

Raising fears of an escalation of tensions, Trump has threatened to mobilize his youth militia to disrupt the rallies of rival Bernie Sanders, an aging socialist candidate.

Explaining the weekend’s clashes, America experts – based at Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo, Mozambique, Southern Africa – say Illinois has longstanding, deep-seated ethnic and sectarian tensions that are sure to boil over if the Obama regime does not allow UN peacekeepers before the hotly contested polls in November.

Witnesses said the militants bused in to attack the Trump rally could be heard chanting “Alright”, a racially charged anthem popular among the minority black tribes. The rap song is by Kendrick Lamar, a radical dissident musician from the restive enclave of Compton.

African leaders have also urged contestants to end hate speech and tone down on any rhetoric likely to incite violence. They cited hate speech by Marco Rubio, a member of the Cuban tribe, targeted at Trump’s manhood. Critics say such remarks may lead to an escalation of tensions and cause violence.

image

The election has also been marred by reports of widespread voter fraud. Sanders has complained of voter fraud after a controversial narrow loss in the Iowa region to party rival Hillary Clinton, wife of former regime leader Bill.

Trump himself has claimed voter fraud in the region of Florida, raising serious concern in the international community about the credibility of the forthcoming poll.

image

There are also concerns over blatant attacks on media freedom. The International Committee for the Protection of Journalists condemned attacks on journalists during the campaign. One reporter covering the violence had been arrested, in a clear attempt by the regime to cover up the sham poll.

image

Trump is appealing to nationalist sentiment by accusing the Obama regime of allowing too many immigrants through the country’s porous southern border. His nationalist message has resonated with many among the majority white ethnic group, and especially with the red neck tribes of the impoverished southern parts of the country.

Amid surging support for Trump, many leaders of the Republican Party are plotting to disregard the votes of party supporters and block Trump’s candidacy.

“Republican party leaders must accept the will of the people,” the African Union said in a statement.

__________________

Nod to Joshua Keating’s hilarious “If it happened there” series on Slate.

0

ON THE MEDIA: If It Happened There: Death of Hard-Line Jurist Throws Regime Into Chaos

By Joshua Keating    FEB. 17 2016   Slatest 

71136124CS010_Kempthorne_Sw

Antonin Scalia, wearing the traditional black robes of his office.

WASHINGTON, United States—The unexpected death of a hard-line conservative jurist on America’s constitutional court has exposed deep fissures within the ruling regime and threatens to throw the country’s fragile political system into months of chaos.

The nine unelected justices who sit for lifetime terms on the Supreme Court are tasked with ensuring that laws passed by the democratically elected government don’t violate the ancient juridical texts upon which the country’s laws are based. As such, they wield immense powers and have the ability to overrule even the president himself. The aged, scholarly jurists, cloaked in long black robes, conduct their deliberations behind closed doors, shielded from the scrutiny of the media, and their most important decisions are often released to the public with great drama but little warning.

Respected by both allies and enemies, Antonin Scalia was a religious fundamentalist and fierce ideologue known for his stylish and original readings of the ancient texts. He led a movement within the court that supported adhering closely to the principles of the nation’s founding revolution, even as many laws have appeared out of step with the values of the modern world. He and his acolytes have often stood in the way of dissidents’ efforts to use the American legal system to seek increased rights for women, gays, and ethnic minorities.

Hard-liners have held a narrow majority on the court until now, but Scalia’s death threatens to tip the balance of power and has set up the latest in a long-running series of confrontations between President Barack Obama and his opponents in the legislature. Obama was elected as a moderate reformer in 2008, pledging to improve America’s relations with the outside world and deliver economic growth. While he has had success in some areas, opposition from the hard-liners controlling the legislature and judiciary has often thwarted his ambitions. For instance, in December, Obama signed a historic agreement with world powers to cut America’s controversial carbon emissions, but many skeptical observers questioned whether he actually had the power to enforce the international community’s demands in the face of staunch opposition from Scalia and his fellow hard-liners on the court.

Obama likely now hopes to replace Scalia with a reformist judge that will support his agenda, though even the most moderate reformer could be unacceptable to powerful hard-liners like Senate Leader Mitch McConnell. While normally a straightforward process, the naming of a new justice has been complicated this time by the country’s impending presidential election. Obama is prevented by law from seeking a third term and the hard-liners hoping to recapture the country’s executive compound are demanding that Scalia’s seat be left open until the electorate can choose a new president.

Both sides of America’s traditional political divide are under more pressure than usual this time around. Any compromise by the conservatives in the legislature could benefit the surging ultra-nationalist, far-right campaign of television performer Donald Trump, considered a threat to the establishment across the political spectrum. Obama is likely hoping to hand power to his former foreign secretary Hillary Clinton, a member of the powerful Clinton clan, but radicals within his own coalition have broken off to support the far-left populist campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders, known for his scathing attacks on the political influence of America’s ruling oligarchs. The court has abetted this influence with some controversial recent decisions, which Sanders has vowed to overturn.

Outside observers hope that the crisis can be resolved soon. With a divided and short-handed court unable to issue definitive decisions, it’s possible that certain laws may be interpreted differently by lower courts in different regions of the country. Rural areas where the strictest form of political Christianity hold sway may push for restrictions on abortion and on the availability of birth control in accordance with traditional beliefs, in contrast with the coastal urban population centers where such practices are more culturally accepted.

Confusingly, both sides of America’s political divide claim that they are upholding the values of the revolution. If the court continues to be unable to act as the final authority in these disputes, that will only deepen political divisions at a time when unease and violent unrest are already rampant.

But American legal scholars disagree on what the ancient texts say should be done in this situation, and the confrontation is likely to drag on for some time.

(Thanks to @Arabist for the inspiration.)

0

ON THE MEDIA: Reporting on Human Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery

11 April – 15 April       Reuters

Course closed for applications.

The global trade in human beings is bigger today than at any time in history. Estimates of the numbers of people caught in modern slavery vary from 21 million to 36 million in an industry worth more than $150 billion in illegal profits a year. It’s one of the biggest stories of our time. Yet a lot of reporting on trafficking and forced labour is mired in cliché, myth and misconception. It often lacks nuanced understanding of the causes of the scourge and the tools to fight it.

Thomson Reuters Foundation’s one-week Reporting on Human Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery course in Mumbai is a unique chance for journalists in India to gain practical skills and knowledge in a country that is home to some 14 million of the world’s modern slaves. Participants will also have access to a high-profile Newsmaker event that is likely to generate headlines.

With support from the C&A Foundation, the workshop offers a combination of specialist expertise and hands-on training, with an emphasis on producing high-impact stories for widespread dissemination.

As well as coming away with a deep understanding of the scale, nature and causes of the problem, participants will learn about efforts to set global standards for combating modern slavery, including fundamental conventions, international instruments and a new, legally binding protocol that requires countries to take real action.

They will discuss the role of media in raising awareness, reducing vulnerability and holding to account governments, law enforcement and businesses. Attendees will look at innovative approaches to fighting trafficking and forced labour and scrutinise the quest for integrated policy responses across borders.

A major focus will be on the ethics of reporting slavery, from how to interact sensitively with traumatised survivors to getting past journalists’ own preconceived notions and stereotypes. We will cover safety issues, particularly when it comes to dealing with sources and reporting on organised crime.

This is an opportunity to pick the brains of reporters who have done extraordinary investigative work or groundbreaking reportage that has changed policy, provoked public outcry or brought traffickers to justice. Attendees will also spend time with experts and those at the coal face of the anti-slavery movement, including some who have been trafficked themselves and gone on to help others move from “victims” to “survivors”.

The workshop will be led by Timothy Large, former director of media development at Thomson Reuters Foundation. Prior to that, he was editor-in-chief of the Foundation’s award-winning news services covering the world’s under-reported stories, including humanitarian issues, human rights, corruption and climate change. Before that, he was a Reuters correspondent.

COURSE DETAILS:

Start date: Apr 11, 2016

End date: Apr 15, 2016

Location: Mumbai, India

Application deadline: Mar 07, 2016

ELIGIBILITY:

Applicants must be Indian full-time journalists or regular contributors to broadcast media organisations in India. Applicants must be able to demonstrate a commitment to a career in journalism in their country, must be a senior journalist with a minimum of three years’ professional experience and have a good level in spoken and written English.If you have been on a Thomson Reuters Foundation training programme within the last two years you will not be eligible to apply.

FUNDING:

Thomson Reuters Foundation can fund  travel expenses and accommodation for participants travelling from outside Mumbai. This arrangement is subject to variation. If you have any questions please email: TRFMedia@thomsonreuters.com

SUBMISSIONS:

A biography of up to 250 words outlining your career

Two recent examples of your published work, preferably relevant to the course for which you are applying, with a brief summary in English (if necessary). TV/Radio journalists can send in their scripts and a brief summary.

A statement of between 250 and 500 words describing any factors affecting your work as a journalist. Explain how you hope to benefit from the course for which you are applying.

0

ON THE MEDIA: VR Becoming an Actual Reality for Documentarians

By: CASEY FREEMAN HOWE      APRIL 18, 2016      IDA

From Condition One’s 'In the Presence of Animals' (Dirs.: Danfung Dennis, Casey Brown, Phil McNally). Photo: Casey Brown. Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

From Condition One’s ‘In the Presence of Animals’ (Dirs.: Danfung Dennis, Casey Brown, Phil McNally). Photo: Casey Brown. Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

Following a brief test run in the 1990s, virtual reality has rapidly taken hold over the past few years as a potent tool for exploring the possibilities of storytelling—first among the gaming community, then among such early adaptors as Nonny de la Pena, who started in journalism. The Sundance Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival and SXSW have all incorporated VR programming into their respective new media mixes, and the medium hit the mainstream in Fall 2015 when The New York Times distributed Google Cardboard viewers to 1.5 million subscribers to experience what The Old Gray Lady has to offer through the double lens.

But what goes into producing and editing these VR projects? How far removed is the process from the skill set required for making “flatties”? Documentary tracked down some of leading purveyors of this new form to share their experiences and the specific challenges of working in this immersive medium.

Danfung Dennis, founder and CEO of Condition One.

Danfung Dennis, founder and CEO of Condition One.

For Danfung Dennis, former war photographer and an Academy Award-nominated filmmaker for his documentary Hell and Back Again, virtual reality is a natural transition. “I’m following in the tradition of bearing witness to suffering,” says Dennis. “It’s been a continuation from photojournalism to documentary film and now into virtual reality.”

His VR production company, Condition One, is currently circulating a number of pieces. For each of these, the goal is to create “presence”—the feeling of being at the scene. But how to achieve and describe that presence? That’s something documentary filmmakers working in VR are still experimenting with.

“We’re no longer trying to work within a frame,” says Dennis. “So the techniques and the storytelling, the cinematography, the editing—all of that’s for a flat frame. That frame is now gone. So, while I still think the sense of ethics and the [documentary] methods are still valid, the actual techniques of storytelling are very different. We’re now thinking a lot more about space and proximity to the viewer.”

From Condition One’s 'In the Presence of Animals' (Dirs.: Danfung Dennis, Casey Brown, Phil McNally). Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.

From Condition One’s ‘In the Presence of Animals’ (Dirs.: Danfung Dennis, Casey Brown, Phil McNally). Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.

Dennis conceptualizes that space in concentric rings of near field, medium field and far field. “Far field is important to establish the sense of place,” he explains. “Medium field adds depth and cues that this is a real environment. But the near-field presence, which is the hardest to capture, is what evokes this powerful sense at a deep level of your brain that this is real.”

He explains that though the near-field environment has the most payoff in terms of presence, it is also the most difficult to execute technically, mostly due to seams and shadows. But like any documentary medium, Dennis believes that viewers are willing to forgive some imperfect shots if the content is powerful.

For example, In the Presence of Animals, one of Condition One’s experimental short pieces, contains a key moment where a bison walks directly up to the camera and the viewer can see its eye and experience the immensity of the animal. “It’s one of the most broken shots we’ve ever put out,” Dennis admits. “The exposure changes, the seam changes, it disappears for a second. But in the end it didn’t really matter because people, when they came out, just said, ‘I was next to this massive bison.’ They weren’t saying, ‘Oh, I saw the seams, or I saw this, or I saw a tripod.’ There’s no way to remove a shadow from a moving animal. And so you see the tripod shadow fall on the animal. These are all things that would be nice if we could completely remove them, but if the presence is there, you can get away with a lot of those errors. But that said, we were really aiming for the highest-quality stitching and seamless images without any of those small image-quality errors.”

From Gabo Arora and Chris Milk’s 'Waves of Grace', commissioned for Vrse.works by the United Nations. Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.

From Gabo Arora and Chris Milk’s ‘Waves of Grace’, commissioned for Vrse.works by the United Nations. Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.

 

Gabo Arora, senior advisor and filmmaker at the United Nations, and, through Vrse.works, director and producer, with Chris Milk, of the UN-commissioned 'Clouds Over Syria' and 'Waves of Grace'.

Gabo Arora, senior advisor and filmmaker at the United Nations, and, through Vrse.works, director and producer, with Chris Milk, of the UN-commissioned ‘Clouds Over Syria’ and ‘Waves of Grace’.

Gabo Arora, a senior advisor and filmmaker at the United Nations, is also one of the “creators” withVrse.works, a virtual reality studio. He directed, with Vrse.works creative director Chris Milk, the UN-commissioned Clouds Over Sidra and Waves of Grace, two powerful pieces that take on the refugee and Ebola crisis, respectively. Arora has spent over 15 years doing humanitarian work in disaster and conflict zones and thinks VR is an ideal medium for social impact work because it “levels the distance between the subject and viewer, giving a more equal exchange. With less distance is more understanding and more engagement.

“VR is also less dominated by information sharing,” he continues. “It is more about making you feel. The concern is not as much about, ‘Did you understand?’ but [more about], ‘Do you feel present?’ A storyteller in VR has to communicate much more subtly, which allows for more reflection, more poetry, as there is more experimentation.”

Both of Arora’s acclaimed virtual reality pieces take on issues that received extensive mainstream media coverage, but he believes VR can take viewers beyond the “one-dimensional and often sensational” approach of traditional media. “Reality is often much more nuanced and complex, and often times ordinary,” he says. “I really felt VR could capture what was missing. Somehow if you could really be there and share in the experience with the people, at their level, I thought it would be compelling and new.”

The newness and compelling nature of VR, however, may be a double-edged sword. “I do worry that filmmakers—and journalists in particular—may make the mistake of believing that VR is enough, that somehow the technology will amplify their cause because the technology is so compelling,” Arora explains. “That just won’t last, but [it] is an easy trap to fall into. You have to see it as something that is harder, not easier, than traditional ways of doing things.”

“Story is [still] king,” Arora maintains. “But how you tell it has to be completely different because you cannot rely on the same tropes as before. You can’t rely on jump cuts and close-ups; you really need to let things breathe a bit more. The pacing is also very hard, and what you think would work, when you put on a headset, doesn’t always work. It either feels too rushed or slow. The rhythm of it is still something that is hard to figure out.”

Filmmaker Lucy Walker, who made 'A History of Cuban Dance' through Vrse.works.

Filmmaker Lucy Walker, who made ‘A History of Cuban Dance’ through Vrse.works.

“One of the most exciting aspects of VR is that the visual vocabulary hasn’t been settled upon—it’s still being invented,” notes Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Lucy Walker, another creator in the Vrse.works collective. She is particularly interested in camera placement, choreography and how height and distance from the subject affects the experience, and says that she loves placing the camera so that “there are multiple points of interest within the 360-degree field of view.”

For her piece A History of Cuban Dance—a story she chose because Cuba is a place that people are eager to visit and “VR is the closest thing we have to a teleportation machine”—Walker and her team “experimented with the degree to which we inserted ourselves into the midst of the action. In some shots the camera is a bit removed and takes in the dancers from roughly the position that a dance audience would conventionally observe the performance. In others, we play with the idea of entering the space of the dance.”

Part of the appeal of the medium for Walker is that “it’s possible to shoot in a very low-key way that is perfect for documentary filmmakers. One of the wonders of VR is that, as cutting-edge as it is, we’re able to shoot with a small crew. The crew size varied from just myself alone, for one shot only, to myself and a DP, for much of it, to occasionally having a sound recordist and more help as well.”

From Lucy Walker’s 'A History of Cuban Dance'. Photo: Lucy Walker, Juan Carlos Zaldivar. Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.

From Lucy Walker’s ‘A History of Cuban Dance’. Photo: Lucy Walker, Juan Carlos Zaldivar. Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.

Though Walker has recently started using cable cams, advanced rigging and even “primitive” monitoring, she says A History of Cuban Dance was made using a grip kit that consisted of little more than “a c-stand and some gaffer tape.”

That is changing quickly, however. “None of the shoots I’ve done resemble one another,” Walker notes. “A month doesn’t go by without new iterations of the camera gear or stitching software. I’ve filmed with a different rig every month since September when I filmed A History of Cuban Dance.”

So what does the rapidly evolving production process for live action virtual reality look like? At the most basic level, pairs of stereoscopic cameras capture footage in 360 degrees. There are commercial options for rigs beginning to emerge, and Condition One and Vrse.works both work with bespoke rigs that have been in development for years.

Part of the pre-production process is figuring out where the crew is going to hide, or alternatively, how the crew is going to be a part of the shot. Though filmmakers can shoot with plates and capture 180 degrees at a time (especially since each shot will be worked on in post-production anyway), most seem to think that shooting 360 degrees is preferable for the fast-paced, dynamic work that occurs during documentary production. It is also perhaps the more ethical choice.

The footage from all of the cameras is then imported into editing software and stitched together, beginning with a rough stitch. Once the final sequence is chosen, the fine stitching is a lengthy, tedious process.

“The seams are one of the first technical challenges,” Dennis explains. “These seams will break that sense of presence, and eliminating them can be a very time-consuming process in post-production. An artist goes in and rotoscopes, compositing and trying to match every pixel with the next frame. And with 16 cameras, that can take weeks, if not months, for a single shot. So developing the software to do that became the next critical component of the pipeline to assemble these videos together in a seamless, stereoscopic 360-degree video.

From Gabo Arora and Chris Milk’s 'Waves of Grace', commissioned for Vrse.works by the United Nations.

From Lucy Walker’s ‘A History of Cuban Dance’. Photo: Lucy Walker, Juan Carlos Zaldivar. Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.

“Then playing the stereoscopic videos back is very demanding,” Dennis continues. “Computationally demanding. These are 4K videos. Once they’ve been stitched, they’re at 48 frames per second. And that we know is the bare minimum for VR. Traditional film is shot at 24 for that kind of filmic look. We’ve kind of gotten used to that. But in VR, if you shoot at 24 frames per second, it looks stuttery. It looks like you’re looking at video. So we then think, 60 frames, 90 frames, and eventually 120 and up will be required to really get the smooth, natural feeling of movement in VR.”

Sound is another critical component, Dennis points out. “We’re designing the capture and the post-production workflow to achieve realistic spatial audio. We use four microphones, mini- shotguns, offset by 90-degrees. And then we run them through software that mimics that human ear and the shape of the head to create these binaural audio tracks. And then we use a custom audio player to fix those four different audio tracks in space.”

Dennis says that using this audio production process makes it “so as you look around, the audio stays where it should be. It’s very subtle but extremely powerful in convincing the mind that this is a real experience.” Eventually, he thinks, the camera system and software technology will evolve far enough that one person could be shooting virtual reality in the field.

Animation is another production option for documentary filmmakers looking to explore the medium. All of VR pioneer Nonny de la Pena’s “immersive journalism” pieces use 3D animation, constructed using journalistic standards. For example, her piece Use of Force(about a border police brutality case) uses primary sources such as audio recordings from actual 911 calls and floor plans of the house where the incident took place to reconstruct the event as accurately as possible.

From James Spinney and Peter Middleton’s 'Notes on Blindness', for which Arnaud Colinart produced the VR component. Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.

From James Spinney and Peter Middleton’s ‘Notes on Blindness’, for which Arnaud Colinart produced the VR component. Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.

Arnaud Colinart, a producer at AGAT Films/ExNihilo and one of the creative directors of the virtual reality component of the project Notes on Blindness, thinks that “animation and CGI gives the best performance in VR for now.” Notes on Blindness is based on the audio recordings of British professor of philosophy and theology John Hull, who documented his experience of going blind. The story was first conceived as a short film for New York Times Op-Docs in 2014, and directors James Spinney and Peter Middleton premiered a feature-length version of the film in this year’s New Frontiers competition at Sundance. With Amaury La Burthe from the French start-up Audiogaming, Colinart led the effort to create the accompanying virtual reality experience, called Notes on Blindness—Into Darkness.

“I think right now, virtual reality is at the same point as the birth of cinema, with the Lumière brothers and Train Pulling into Station,” Colinart asserts. “But just after that, you had Georges Méliès, who created A Trip to the Moon, which is sometimes considered the first narrative film because he used visual effects to create story. Now we see the birth of VR storytelling as more than just gadget or gimmick.”

The VR experience relies on Hull’s original audio recordings to guide the experience. Each chapter uses abstract 3D animation to explore the experience of going blind through a different memory. Making a virtual reality experience about blindness is perhaps a counterintuitive choice, but the emotional resonance of the experience suggests that virtual reality shows great potential for multisensory immersion.

From 'Notes on Blindness—Into Darkness' (Dirs.: Arnaud Colinart, Amaury Laburthe), the VR component of James Spinney and Peter Middleton’s 'Notes on Blindness.' (C) Ex Nihilo, Archer's Mark, ARTE France - 2016. Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.

From ‘Notes on Blindness—Into Darkness’ (Dirs.: Arnaud Colinart, Amaury Laburthe), the VR component of James Spinney and Peter Middleton’s ‘Notes on Blindness.’ (C) Ex Nihilo, Archer’s Mark, ARTE France – 2016. Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.

The filmmakers developed the experience using Unity, a multi-platform gaming development tool, and utilized the Agile method—an iterative, prototype-driven design process popular in software development. Colinart thinks there is a lot to borrow from software and video game-development, and that creating VR experiences in this manner will help accelerate the learning process for VR storytelling and its mise en scènevocabulary. “I think all stories can be told in VR, but we need to find the good way to do it,” Colinart maintains. “It’s like, you read books, and you say, ‘How can I adapt this in a movie?’ I think all books can be adapted, but you have to find the right way to adapt it to another way of telling the story; and I think it’s the same for VR. This is the start of this art of writing, as we discover little by little what VR can bring to storytelling.”

The Notes on Blindness experience uses chapters, a format in which Colinart sees great potential for VR because it mitigates some of the headset discomfort issues that may limit longer-form pieces. “Maybe we will have long-form stories, but they’ll be broken up into chapters and consumed that way,” he suggests.

From James Spinney and Peter Middleton’s 'Notes on Blindness', for which Arnaud Colinart produced the VR component. Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.

From James Spinney and Peter Middleton’s ‘Notes on Blindness’, for which Arnaud Colinart produced the VR component. Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.

Beyond the headset ergonomics, creating experiences that don’t induce motion sickness is another component of production that is new for most documentary filmmakers. While some VR reviewers have bemoaned the stationary camera in many pieces, Dennis argues that “the fastest way to make someone motion sick is to move the camera in an unstabilized way.” He thinks this will change as the medium advances and viewers develop “VR legs,” but for now he suggests that filmmakers start with a locked tripod.

Another issue Dennis sees is the presentation of virtual reality experiences. In film, he says, there is a strong viewing tradition. “Lights down. Someone introduces the director, they say few words, and they say, ‘Quiet, cell phones off,’ and then you watch the work.” In virtual reality, he says, “It’s put on this headset, and you jump in, then you jump out.”

The viewing presentation, Dennis notes, is particularly important for experiences like Condition One’s Factory Farm, which takes viewers into a factory farm and active slaughterhouse facility in Mexico. In it, viewers are guided by José Valle, the director of investigations at the advocacy organization Animal Equality. “Every time you move into a new environment, you ask, ‘Why am I here?'” Dennis says. “And with José, he’s doing his normal work. He is documenting abuse for his investigations. And so you get to be with him while he’s working, while he’s filming, gaining evidence. It is really helpful to have a guide, especially in this type of situation, which is so graphic and gut-wrenching. He gives you the courage to stay and watch it.”

Within the experience, Valle also gives warnings about the material ahead, telling viewers that they’re going to see very graphic footage, and warning them, “This is your last chance to leave.” It builds a level of trust in the guide, as the viewer has ample opportunity to remove the headset before entering the slaughterhouse.

Trust, Dennis says, is essential to this type of work. “He’s there with you. And he’s experiencing it. So in a way, you feel like you’ve got someone with you, and you’re not alone. You don’t want to run away.”

At Condition One’s Sundance exhibition, Valle was actually there to greet viewers in person as they came out of the VR experience. Dennis recounts how one viewer got through the entire experience and how she held it together until she saw him in person. “Then it just struck home: ‘That was real! He’s right here!'” The viewer burst into tears and shook Valle’s hand. “People were having really tremendously emotional responses and having a moral inquiry into their own actions, which I think is the power of VR.”

Casey Freeman Howe is a graduate fellow at the Center for Media and Social Impact in Washington, DC.

0

ON THE MEDIA: What If African Media Reported US Elections Like Western Media Report on Africa?

By: Ndesanjo Macha            21 April 2016         GlobalVoices

 

A screenshot of footage, uploaded to YouTube by Storyful, of a protester who was assaulted by a Donald Trump supporter being restrained by police at a rally in North Carolina.

A screenshot of footage, uploaded to YouTube by Storyful, of a protester who was assaulted by a Donald Trump supporter being restrained by police at a rally in North Carolina.

Coverage of Africa by Western media often portray the continent in a negative light or in a simplistic manner, placing emphasis on conflict, corruption and tribal divisions. But Western media don’t adopt that same tone when they report on their own countries.

Following in the footsteps of Joshua Keating’s “If it happened there” series on US news magazine Slate, Tumblr user Ragamberi asked himself, “How would it sound, if African media reported US elections in the same tone as Western media report on polls in Africa and elsewhere?”

His answer became a post titled, “If It had Happened Over Here”. Here are a few excerpts of how he imagined African coverage of the contentious presidential race in the US might read.

Tribal violence

Pressure is mounting on the Obama regime to allow international observers and peacekeepers after tribal violence marred election campaigns in the troubled north American nation.

In Addis Ababa, an emergency meeting was called by African leaders to demand a return to rule of law in America, after pro-regime militants attacked a rally addressed by popular opposition leader Donald Trump in Chicago.

“Unless America allows independent international groups to monitor the poll and for peacekeepers to move in and restore order, the poll is a sham and cannot be declared free and fair,” the African Union said.

[…]

Explaining the weekend’s clashes, America experts – based at Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo, Mozambique, Southern Africa – say Illinois has longstanding, deep-seated ethnic and sectarian tensions that are sure to boil over if the Obama regime does not allow UN peacekeepers before the hotly contested polls in November.

Republican candidate Donald Trump has seen violence break out several times at his rallies. Trump in turn has used violent rhetoric in speeches and on social media:

Bernie Sanders is lying when he says his disruptors aren’t told to go to my events. Be careful Bernie, or my supporters will go to yours!

Voter fraud

The election has also been marred by reports of widespread voter fraud. Sanders has complained of voter fraud after a controversial narrow loss in the Iowa region to party rival Hillary Clinton, wife of former regime leader Bill.

Trump himself has claimed voter fraud in the region of Florida, raising serious concern in the international community about the credibility of the forthcoming poll.

Throughout the primaries race, which determines the candidate who will represent the Democratic and Republican parties in the presidential elections, accusations of fraud have been tossed around on both sides of the aisle, and voters have complained the system is unfair.

Attacks on media freedom

There are also concerns over blatant attacks on media freedom. The International Committee for the Protection of Journalists condemned attacks on journalists during the campaign.

A journalist for CBS News was arrested while reporting on clashes at a rally for Donald Trump in Chicago in March. A charge of resisting arrest was eventually dropped.

Read the full post here.

0

ON THE MEDIA: 2016 World Press Freedom Index: a “deep and disturbing” decline in media freedom

April 13, 2016      RSF

The 2016 edition of the World Press Freedom Index, which Reporters Without Borders (RSF) will publish on 20 April, shows that there has been a deep and disturbing decline in respect for media freedom at both the global and regional levels.

The 2016 edition of the World Press Freedom Index, which Reporters Without Borders (RSF) will publish on 20 April, shows that there has been a deep and disturbing decline in respect for media freedom at both the global and regional levels. Ever since the 2013 index, Reporters Without Borders has been calculating indicators of the overall level of media freedom violations in each of the world’s regions and worldwide. The higher the figure, the worse the situation. The global indicator has gone from 3719 points last year to 3857 points this year, a 3.71% deterioration. The decline since 2013 is 13.6%.

The many reasons for this decline in freedom of information include the increasingly authoritarian tendencies of governments in countries such as Turkey and Egypt, tighter government control of state-owned media, even in some European countries such as Poland, and security situations that have become more and more fraught, in Libya and Burundi, for example, or that are completely disastrous, as in Yemen.

The survival of independent news coverage is becoming increasingly precarious in both the state and privately-owned media because of the threat from ideologies, especially religious ideologies, that are hostile to media freedom, and from large-scale propaganda machines. Throughout the world, “oligarchs” are buying up media outlets and are exercising pressure that compounds the pressure already coming from governments.

All of the Index’s indicators show a decline from 2013 to 2016. This is especially the case for infrastructure. Some governments do not hesitate to suspend access to the Internet or even to destroy the premises, broadcast equipment or printing presses of media outlets they dislike. The infrastructure indicator fell 16% from 2013 to 2016.

The legislative framework has registered an equally marked decline. Many laws have been adopted penalizing journalists on such spurious charges as “insulting the president,” “blasphemy” or “supporting terrorism.” Growing self-censorship is the knock-on effect of this alarming situation. The “media environment and self-censorship” indicator has fallen by more than 10% from 2013 to 2016.

Every continent has seen its score decline. The Americas have plunged 20.5%, above all as a result of the impact of physical attacks and murders targeting journalists in Mexico and Central America. Europe and the Balkans declined 6.5%, above all because of the growing influence of extremist movements and ultraconservative governments.

The Central Asia/Eastern Europe region’s already bad score deteriorated by 5% as a result of the increasingly glacial environment for media freedom and free speech in countries with authoritarian regimes.

Published by Reporters Without Borders annually since 2002, the World Press Freedom Index measures the level of freedom available to journalists in 180 countries using the following criteria – pluralism, media independence, media environment and self-censorship, legislative environment, transparency, infrastructure, and abuses.

See the 2016 World Press Freedom Index on the RSF.org website from 20 April onwards.

0

ON THE MEDIA: A new understanding: What makes people trust and rely on news

This research was conducted by the Media Insight Project — an initiative of the American Press Institute and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research

trust-header

The meaning of trust in news

In order to refine the industry’s understanding of trust and develop actionable characteristics of a source, this study explores trust through its link to source reliance. Prior research shows that the way people define trustworthy news generally yields vague definitions that cannot be put into practice. However, people can readily identify the specific factors that lead them to rely or not rely on a particular news source. Some of these factors relate to trust (e.g. getting the facts right) and others likely do not (e.g. its content is entertaining).

In this study, we measure the reasons people rely on sources in order to provide insights into the importance they place on specific factors that might be related to trust. We then link these specific factors to more general principles of trust such as accuracy or completeness.

The chart below shows the traditional principles of trust on the left and their corresponding actionable factors on the right.

General Principle of Trust Specific and Actionable Factors Related to Trust
Completeness The reporting is in‑depth
It always has the latest news and information
It covers all the day’s events
Accuracy It presents expert sources and data
It gets the facts right
Balance It provides diverse points of view
It shares my point of view
I see my community and people like me in the reporting
Transparency I know and trust its journalists
It explains the way it gathers and reports news and information
Presentation and Design It’s concise and gets to the point
It is easy to find news and information I’m looking for
It uses visuals such as photos, videos, lists, or charts*
It allows people to comment on news and information*
The news and information include hyperlinks to get more information*
The site or app loads fast*
It works well on my mobile phone*
The ads do not interfere with getting news and information*
Convenience and Entertainment I can multitask or use it when I’m doing something else like household chores
It presents news and information in a way I can talk about it
It makes it entertaining
It’s a source I’ve always used

* The component applies only to digital sources

MEDIA INSIGHT PROJECT

The research then dug deeper on these specific factors related to trust. To do so, we asked people what topics they follow most closely in the news. We then asked them to think about the sources they rely on for following those topics and then to name their favorite one. Finally, we asked them how important different qualities are when relying on that source for that topic.

This source‑specific approach allows us to get beyond general ideas, such as accuracy, and to isolate what a concept like accuracy means for people.

Inside the broader concept of completeness, for instance, we are able to test how important it is for people that the reporting is in‑depth, that it contains all the day’s news, or that it is always up to date with the latest results.

Inside the general and sometimes elusive principle of balance we are able to test how important it is for people to see differing points of view, views they agree with, or to see their community reflected in the coverage.

This approach also allows us to test the importance of certain modern presentation factors, such as navigability and use of visuals.

Overall, accuracy and completeness are the most-cited categories of trust

Past research had found that four or five main principles made up credibility or trust in the news: accuracy, balance, and fairness central among them. Some scholars broke fairness into additional parts, such as completeness and transparency. Others suggested concepts related to clarity or presentation.

In part so this new research can be compared to that older work, we test whether people recognize these traditional concepts today. At the most general level, we find Americans do still value these traditional and general concepts of news trustworthiness.

Americans rate accuracy as the most important general principle related to trust. Eighty‑five percent describe getting the facts right as an extremely or very important factor of a trustworthy source.

That is followed by completeness (providing all the important news and information), which 77 percent describe as very important.

A sizable majority (68 percent) also say transparency (the idea that news organizations explain the way they gather and report the news) is very important.

And 66 percent rate balance (reporting that provides different views) as a key factor of trustworthy sources.

Fewer Americans, but still nearly half, cite presentation (having a high quality and professional appearance) as a very important factor for trustworthiness.

But as we will see in a moment, those numbers change when people are asked to drill down into specific factors related to trust and other factors that lead them to rely on certain sources for different news topics.

  1. DATA
  2. CHART

Accuracy and completeness are the most important principles of trust in a news source

Extremely/very importantSomewhat importantNot very/not important at allAccuracyCompletenessTransparencyBalancePresentation0102030405060708090100

Data Source: Question: Thinking about the sources you consider trustworthy, how important is each of the following factors?

MEDIA INSIGHT PROJECT

Getting inside the broad categories of trust

The next step involves drilling deeper into the reasons why people rely on specific news sources.

We broke the five general trust principles — accuracy, balance, completeness, transparency, and presentation — into 12 actionable and specific factors related to trust. In doing so, we found that many of these 12 are important for why people rely on certain sources of news. Some are significantly more important than others.

We also look at four additional factors that relate to entertainment and convenience, which may be more important in an age of greater consumer choice.

The idea that a news organization should get the facts right is cited more than any other specific factor as vital. Fully 80 percent rate it extremely or very important.

Being up to date with the latest news and information — something related to completeness — emerges as the second biggest reason people rely on a specific source, at 76 percent.

Despite presentation falling lower on the list of more general principles people think make a news source trustworthy, a specific factor related to presentation — that a news account be concise and get to the point — ranks third overall (with 72 percent of respondents citing it as very important) when we asked people why they rely on a particular news source.

 

“As soon as I start getting outdated news (even if by a few hours) or find out they aren’t giving me the whole story, that’s when I start to go somewhere else for news,” said Zach, a younger, hard news consumer.

Another element of accuracy — that a news account cites expert sources and data — ties for fourth among the 12 specific factors related to trust we explore. Fully 70 percent describe this as very important. Seventy percent also cite navigability — that is, easy to find the news and information you are looking for — as critical.

In other words, having something be navigable, clear, and easy to use is a key part of whether people rely on and value it.

Nearly as important to people as clarity and navigability is depth. Fully 67 percent cite that the reporting is in‑depth as extremely or very important. On its face, people wanting news to be in‑depth might reflect a contradictory preference to their desire for news that is concise. It may also reflect, however, a desire for news that is in‑depth, but no longer than absolutely necessary.

The three specific factors Americans are least likely to report as being very important are that a source makes the news entertaining (38 percent), that they see their community or people like them in the reporting (36 percent), and that it shares their point of view (32 percent).

  1. DATA
  2. CHART

Accuracy

Which factors matter?

Extremely/very importantSomewhat importantNot very/not important at allIt gets the facts rightIt presents expert sources and data020406080100

Data Source: Question: Think about why you rely on [NAMED SOURCE] for the coverage of [NEWS TOPIC FOLLOWED]. How important is each of the following for you?

MEDIA INSIGHT PROJECT

  1. DATA
  2. CHART

Completeness

Which factors matter?

Extremely/very importantSomewhat importantNot very/not important at allIt always has the latest news andinformationThe reporting is in-depthIt covers all the day’s events020406080100

Data Source: Question: Think about why you rely on [NAMED SOURCE] for the coverage of [NEWS TOPIC FOLLOWED]. How important is each of the following for you?

MEDIA INSIGHT PROJECT

  1. DATA
  2. CHART

Presentation

Which factors matter?

Extremely/very importantSomewhat importantNot very/not important at allIt’s concise and gets to the pointIt is easy to find news andinformation you’re looking for020406080100

Data Source: Question: Think about why you rely on [NAMED SOURCE] for the coverage of [NEWS TOPIC FOLLOWED]. How important is each of the following for you?

MEDIA INSIGHT PROJECT

  1. DATA
  2. CHART

Transparency

Which factors matter?

Extremely/very importantSomewhat importantNot very/not important at allYou know and trust its journalistsIt explains the way it gathers andreports news and information020406080100

Data Source: Question: Think about why you rely on [NAMED SOURCE] for the coverage of [NEWS TOPIC FOLLOWED]. How important is each of the following for you?

MEDIA INSIGHT PROJECT

  1. DATA
  2. CHART

Balance

Which factors matter?

Extremely/very importantSomewhat importantNot very/not important at allIt provides diverse points of viewYou see your community and peoplelike you in the reportingIt shares your point of view020406080100

Data Source: Question: Think about why you rely on [NAMED SOURCE] for the coverage of [NEWS TOPIC FOLLOWED]. How important is each of the following for you?

MEDIA INSIGHT PROJECT

  1. DATA
  2. CHART

Convenience or entertainment

Which factors matter?

Extremely/very importantSomewhat importantNot very/not important at allIt presents news and information in away you can talk about itIt’s a source you’ve always usedYou can multitask or use it whenyou’re doing something elseIt makes it entertaining020406080100It makes it entertainingSomewhat important: 36%

Data Source: Question: Think about why you rely on [NAMED SOURCE] for the coverage of [NEWS TOPIC FOLLOWED]. How important is each of the following for you?

MEDIA INSIGHT PROJECT

Breaking news is different — transparency becomes more important

The qualitative research conducted as part of the study (a combination of ethnography and focus groups) also indicated something else: The importance of certain components of trust may vary depending on whether a story is breaking news or is coverage of an ongoing trend or issue.

In focus groups, people said they understand that not all the facts may be known during a breaking news event such as a natural disaster, mass shooting, or terrorist act. When there are conflicting accounts about what is happening, people even said they understand if some of the information presented may not be true.

In those instances, some people raised the idea that transparency from a source about what is “factual and verified” versus what is the reporter’s theory or speculation is more important than immediate accuracy.

People also said that during breaking news they are more likely to look at multiple sources to try to find the latest information.

“When a story breaks, I’m flipping back and forth between channels because I need to know if anything developed that I didn’t hear about,” said David, a younger, hard news consumer. “And I’m on my phone, I’m on social at the same time.”

People’s news behavior and expectations change as news stories progress and become less ambiguous. Getting the facts right returns as the most important component in their determinations of trust. “After the fact, I have higher standards because people have time to do due diligence,” said Drew, a younger, hard news consumer.

In other words, among the issues that determine what makes a news account trustworthy is timing — or where an unfolding story stands and how much time there has been for reporting.

Read more on the original site.

Page 3 of 712345...Last »