On the Media

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

bbc.co.uk, Media Action, original

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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

By Joshua Keating    FEB. 17 2016   Slatest 

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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ON THE MEDIA: INTERVIEW: Citizen journalists in Syria ‘risking their lives’ for news

13 Apr 2016   By: Tristan Martin  Reuters

Syrian journalist Zaina Erhaim poses for a portrait at the office of Index on Censorship, an NGO that promotes and defends the right to freedom of expression, in London, Britain April 13, 2016. REUTERS/Thomson Reuters Foundation/Tristan Martin

Syrian journalist Zaina Erhaim poses for a portrait at the office of Index on Censorship, an NGO that promotes and defends the right to freedom of expression, in London, Britain April 13, 2016. REUTERS/Thomson Reuters Foundation/Tristan Martin

LONDON, April 13 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A series of short films, “Syria’s Rebellious Women,” by Zaina Erhaim tells the stories of women who stepped into positions of leadership and responsibility usually reserved for men.

If such remarkable women went undocumented, the Syrian filmmaker says, “the male winners will be writing the history, and the heroines will be forgotten.”

Erhaim, being honored with a 2016 Freedom of Expression award from Index on Censorship, has trained more than 100 citizen journalists in Syria and helped establish a number of independent newspapers and magazines.

In an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, she discussed their challenges and how Syrians carry on despite the war and chaos around them.

THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION: At the beginning of the Syrian conflict, there were many foreign journalists reporting from the country. As they began to leave, what kind of space did this open up for Syrian journalists?

ERHAIM: It created the need for Syrians to do the journalism work themselves and to be citizen journalists. But sadly, this didn’t make the citizen journalists credible enough for the international media to take them seriously and deal with them as actual journalists.

It’s very sad to see that an agency is dealing with the same citizen journalist for four years, taking all their credible news from him, but when it comes to payment or to health insurance, or to considering him as a correspondent, they don’t.

TRF: What were your aims with the training courses you ran in Syria?

ERHAIM: When the revolution started, many of my friends who had no experience in journalism at all, they started looking for a journalist that they can trust. I decided that I’m going to do my best to give them those skills that I gained so they could be taken seriously.

They’re risking their lives so that this news can go out.

So what I have been trying to do, mainly, is just to help them be more professional and be taken seriously.

TRF: What challenges do female citizen journalists in particular face in Syria?

ERHAIM: I think movement is a big thing. You always need a male guardian to be able to move. At checkpoints you’re going to be asked, ‘Where is your guardian?’ If you’re seen alone on the street, they would look like, ‘Why is she moving on her own?’

For me as a trainer, I had to do lots of efforts to be taken seriously by the male trainees, like ‘How could a woman know better than a man?’

And everything that the woman is doing is much more in the spotlight, compared to the man. The smallest mistake she makes would have a huge impact, while a man could kill someone on the street by mistake and no one would question him.

TRF: What do you think will happen to the status of women when the war is over?

ERHAIM: I believe when a woman goes to the street and starts working, and being financially independent, it’s impossible to get her back to be a housewife waiting for her husband to give her cash. Many of them have become opinion leaders.

But I think for regular women, especially in the last two years where the society has become very militarised, they had this kind of ‘We need to stay at home, we’re too afraid, our children are not secure.’ So it became more and more closed.

Those few activists who are still active, they are trying to break these barriers, they are trying to get these women out and to tell them that like us, you are also capable of doing things.

TRF: One of the striking things about your series of short documentary films is the humour. How do Syrians carry on under such difficult conditions?

ERHAIM: Humour is a huge part in our daily lives. We even make jokes of death, of anything you wouldn’t imagine, like torture. We mock ourselves, we mock our fears. I think this is one of our ways of resisting and going on. Otherwise, we would really become much more insane than we are already.

We live, we go for trips, we go for picnics, although on the last picnic I went to, we had three snipers who were on the Aleppo castle. We were exposed to a machine gun – an M16 – but we just had a picnic. We hid among the grass. We had lots of food and drinks, and we enjoyed the picnic.

TRF: There is a whole generation in Syria now that has never known peace. What future do you see for these children?

ERHAIM: The most frightening scene for me is when you see how comfortable they are dealing with death, with graves. Like a kid was playing on his father’s grave in one of the parks in Aleppo city, and then he found some grasses on it, and he cut some of them and said, “Mama, could we put that on the salad?”

The whole idea that you are so at ease with your father’s tomb, and you could just eat something that’s been planted on it. I really fear what these kids are going to be doing in the future.

(Reporting by Tristan Martin, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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AFGHANISTAN/ON THE MEDIA: A FLICKERING TRUTH

Dir: Pietra Brettkelly
New Zealand / Afghanistan / 2015 / 91mins

We’re delighted to announce a Q&A with director Pietra Brettkelly, via skype, on Saturday 30 April following the screening at 18:30. Click here to book.

As Afghanistan teeters on the edge of an unpredictable future, A Flickering Truth unwraps the world of three dreamers, the dust of 100 years of war and the restoration of 8000 hours of film archive.

Afghanistan’s rich film history might well have been lost forever, if not for the brave custodians revealed in this doc, who risked their lives to conceal films from the Taliban regime. The journey through thousands of hours of dusty film reels yields new surprises every day. Watching rediscovered material sparks youthful recollections among the archive staff – of the films they saw or made, and of the society they have lost. As the caretakers thread old projectors with film from unmarked reels, the country’s history comes alive with images of former leaders, beloved actresses, and landmarks that have since been destroyed.

A Flickering Truth is a testament to the urgency and necessity of film preservation.

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ON THE MEDIA: A serious problem the news industry does not talk about

Ask anyone working in a newsroom what they think of their audience, and you’ll hear a variety of answers. Over the past couple of years, Andrew Haeg and I have been asking that very question of hundreds of reporters, editors and producers in newsrooms around the world. I’m not one to manufacture an emergency, but the answers we’re hearing are pretty troubling. What they’re saying points to a very serious problem:

The culture of journalism breeds disdain for the people we’re meant to be serving, i.e., the audience.

Before we dive into specifics, first a little context about us and why we find this so troubling. Andrew Haeg is a former journalist who runs a company called GroundSource, and I’m a former journalist who runs a company calledHearken. We both left great jobs in great newsrooms to pioneer new forms and tools for audience engagement. Why? Because of what we think about audiences: they’re amazing, they’re underappreciated, and they can be of incredible benefit to newsrooms if they’re given the right conditions to shine. We’ve witnessed audience members go beyond the decency of polite and productive comments to send helpful news tips, share personal stories that humanize difficult subjects, contribute original story ideas that go on to win awards, to name a few. (See the bottom of this post for plenty more examples.)

We recognize that the world is no longer top-down. We want to help newsrooms recognize that, too. We’re focused on evolving new models and tools for newsrooms to partner with the incredible people in their communities, rather than toss content down at them from the mountaintop, hoping they’ll like it, share it, come back for more and maybe one day pay for it if we need them to (by asking nicely or threatening to shut it off). Thing is, there is no mountaintop anymore. Newsrooms no longer have a lock on the information people need and want to live their lives.

We believe the survival and relevance of the news industry depends on newsrooms’ ability to build meaningful relationships with the people they serve. That’s why it’s so troubling to hear reporters, editors, and managers alike have such disdain for their audiences. In conversations with newsrooms, we’ve witnessed this disdain range from subtle annoyance to straight-up hatred. The following is adapted from a recent conversation between Andrew and I exploring this culture of disdain, how it got to be this way, and what can be done to shift it.

How we’ve witnessed it

Brandel: In about two-thirds of the meetings I’ve had with newsrooms, someone in the room, often a manager, editor or some other higher-up says something along the lines of, “If we gave the audience what they wanted, they’d ask for crap!” Or “Our audience isn’t very smart, they probably wouldn’t have any good ideas.” Or, the big doozy, and the inspiration for this post, said by a manager during a meeting at a highly respected, hugely award-winning news outlet: “Our audience is a bunch of idiots and assholes. Why exactly would we want to hear more from them than we already do?”

Haeg: I had a colleague who referred to the audience as the “great, unwashed masses.” It was always said for laughs, and it was funny in a hard-bitten, grizzled news veteran kind of way. But that always stuck in my craw, and I realized that he was actually expressing what many, maybe most journalists felt. Spend any time in a newsroom, and listen to the tone with which people refer to the public — whether they’re commenters, or tweeters, or callers to talk shows. It’s as if we’re the sentries at the gate, keeping the zombies from overtaking the little civilization we’ve built (clearly I’ve been watching too much of The Walking Dead).

And the more I thought about this attitude journalists hold, the more I was like: Well of course they feel that way! Journalists mainly hear from “the public” when they’ve gotten something wrong, or when someone with time on their hands and an axe to grind finds the reporter’s phone or email. And when reporters go out “into the field” (which in and of itself evokes a kind of anthropological distance), they often encounter humanity at its worst. Now do that day in, day out, return to the office, commiserate with colleagues, develop some inside jokes, and voila! You have a culture. Now when the freshies come through the door on their first day at work, they absorb almost instantly the internal values of the place.

Brandel: Exactly. When the bulk of feedback journalists get is from people complaining or telling them that they suck, how can it not take a toll? What worries me is what happens over time. It can lead journalists to believe those vocal few with hot words are the audience. Not a small handful, but representative of everyone.

Ways of dismantling disdain for audience

Brandel: A helpful view I keep returning to is from this epidemiologist Gary Slutkin who works to prevent gun violence through treating it like a disease. He says when people feel anger, it’s actually a secondary form of sadness. The primary emotion is sadness, but it presents as anger. I can’t help but think that if you unpack the anger news folks can have toward their audience, you’d uncover sadness. It’s sadness that the public doesn’t understand or respect how much work and consideration goes into good reporting, sadness that they can’t always do their best work with ferocious daily demands, sadness that someone who they’re ultimately trying to help and serve thinks they are terrible at their jobs, or a terrible person. Regardless if you’re a journalist in the state of sadness or anger, changing the relationship with a person or a group you see as adversarial takes a great deal of perspective.

Haeg: Changing from within is really, really hard. It takes strong leaders, it takes people willing to try new ways of working, it takes the space and the resources to reframe and rethink the work we do. There’s actually a formula for change that speaks to what’s needed. I won’t go too much into it, except to say that you need a shared sense of dissatisfaction with the status quo, a vision for the future and concrete next steps for what you’ll do starting now. If you lack any one of those, resistance will always be stronger than the forces for change. ALWAYS. As one of my professors during my Knight fellowship at Stanford told me, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

But I do think the current state of relations between newsrooms and communities can’t persist, and to a large extent, economic and technological forces are making sure of that. In some ways, I see a parallel to the calls for police reform: moving from a culture of cops as warriors to cops as members of the communities they’re supposed to protect and serve.

One model has you out dressed for battle, treating the community as a threat; the other sees the public as just like us. Which is the more effective approach in the long run?

Now of course, we can’t have journalists on every corner. But technology does allow us to extend our reach. And that’s why I’m building GroundSource — to enable community-minded news organizations to engage in a way that’s positive; manageable and efficient; shapes good, grounded journalism; and builds relationships of trust and loyalty with the community.

But for GroundSource or Hearken to be of any use, we first have to ask ourselves this question: To what extent do we as journalists and news organizations feel a responsibility to our community? It seems we’ve gotten out of the business of taking pride in our communities and instead have doubled-down on clicks and shares as measures of our efficacy. Of course we need to pay the bills, but our long-term viability is tied more to the quality of the community we can build around us, not whether we can trick someone who clicked on a story about crime to read one about Britney Spears’ fabulous new abs. I exaggerate. Or DO I?

If our goal becomes building relationships and communities, then we’ll forego the digital sleight of hand and instead provide experiences that make people want to come back, and participate, and do it again because it felt good and it meant something. Because it helped — even if in a tiny way — make the place we live in better.

Brandel: Could not agree more. But how to help nudge newsrooms toward this vision? In the short term, I’ve been pondering ways to help dismantle that notion that “audiences are a bunch of idiots and assholes.” So here’s a handy flowchart that journalists can flash whenever colleagues start to be haters:

Brandel: I mean, we know rationally that treating any group as monolithic is at the very least, inaccurate, and at the very worst, dangerous. (“Fill in the blank are terrorists!” “Fill in the blank are evil!” “Fill in the blank are stupid!”) Journalists of course hate being painted with any broad brush like this, too, and we hear it all the time. “The media is … lazy, biased, corrupt, etc.”

A great quote that sums this up was brought to my attention by Adrienne Debigare, who commented on another post with this line from Men In Black: “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals.”

So how does the news industry begin to treat audiences as individuals instead of a mass? Will it be by using more tools and scraping data that shows what’s trending, what everyone is talking about, viral reach scores, etc? Nope. If anything, that puts us at an even further distance from the very human task of getting to understand people. I love this line from Jeff Jarvis in his book Geeks Bearing Gifts: “Knowing people as individuals and community — no longer as a mass — will allow us to build better services and new forms of news.”

I think dismantling the disdain for audience will require hard work of news outlets actually getting to know their communities as made up of real, individual, wonderful and wonderfully complex people. Newsrooms need to assume that their audience is capable of more, and then create the conditions for that assumption to be proven right. There’s this great old video of author Viktor Frankl talking about how as human beings, we only become our best when we set our expectations high. It reminds me that whatever we think news audiences are capable of, we’re right. So why not set our expectations higher, start devising ways audiences can be helpful, smart and kind, and calibrate opportunities for engagement to prove it?

Haeg: I have a quote that I come back to from time to time when I lose faith in the democratic aims of journalism, when I feel beset by the negativity in the news and start to listen to the cynic on my shoulder. It’s from Studs Terkel. “There’s a deep decency in the American people and a native intelligence,” he writes, “providing they have the facts, providing they have the information.” What I like about it is that it’s a realistic and measured, but it’s also wildly hopeful.

Shining examples of audience greatness

In case it’s still unbelievable to think of audience members are truly helpful, productive and game-changing to a newsroom, we pulled together some examples from our own experiences and partners that convince us.

Hearken partners

When a Mom’s education question is about more than just her kids

We partner with the education news site Chalkbeat New York. The team at Chalkbeat starts every Hearken-powered investigation with a full profile of the person who asked the question. For example, Mishi Faruqee is a parent who asked which (if any) NYC schools reflect the city’s diversity. Reporter Stephanie Snyder wrote a great profile about Mishi’s interest in the question as a parent with school-aged kids. And then Mishi followed up with apowerful letter to the editor explaining why her question is about more than her own children’s education. Mishi’s story is great proof that communities don’t just engage with the newsrooms out of personal interest.

A troll-free story about guns in Chicago

Recently, our Community Manager Ellen Mayer reported a story for WBEZ’s Curious City (Hearken’s flagship series) answering the question: “What happened to all the rifle ranges in Chicago.” This story deals with Big Scary Conversations around gun control, gun culture, and the NRA, topics that usually seem to invite intense vitriol from all sides of the gun debate. But this story was anchored by the perspective and nostalgia of the man who asked the question, Bob Collar. He’s a proud lifetime member of the NRA, but he’s not interested in the politics; he just really likes the rifle sport and misses the old rifle ranges he went to as a kid. Bob put a human face on a contentious issue, and the story didn’t get a single negative response. He even jumped into the comments section to facilitate conversation. How’s that for audience participation! (WBEZ’s new site redesign has removed comments (?), but trust us, it was great!)

Curious citizen turned energy activist

Way back in 2013, Janice Thompson asked WBEZ’s Curious City about Chicago’s new energy supplier. Janice wanted to know how much of the city’s energy would now come from natural gas, via fracking. Before that point, Janice had never felt like she could understand or have any effect on energy policy. But once Curious City investigated her question, Janice was galvanized to pursue the issue further. She did some of her own investigating which ultimately became a part of Curious City’s story. And she became a community educator around energy issues in Chicago. In 2014 she wrote an incredible blog post crediting Curious City with her transformation: “Many times I’ve asked myself ‘Why am I doing this? Isn’t electricity a tedious subject best left to experts?’ Knowing that the staff at WBEZ’s Curious City cared what I did, that they valued citizen input as much as that of experts, kept me going.”

Audience participation upping quality of life for reporters

One lighter story that our partners out of St. Louis Public Radio assigned for their series, Curious Louis, answered what is the best doughnut in St. Louis?Reporter Willis Ryder Arnold said this was the most fun he’s had as a reporter, and got the opportunity to be far more creative than usual with this assignment. Plus, he got to hang out with an incredibly excitable fan of his outlet (the question asker Andwele Jolly) and eat a ton of doughnuts.

Dollar bills and hot sauce

Partners at WFDD reported on a much-loved hot sauce that went missing from local stores. It was brought to their attention by a Curious Carolina listener, Wendell Burton, who asked about it. Burton not only turned into a lovable, relatable protagonist for the story, but after the story aired he increased his membership donation amount to WFDD and sent the newsroom a collection of his own homemade hot sauces.

GroundSource partners

Using GroundSource, Listening Post Macon reached out to area residents to gather perspectives on gun control. We heard back from dozens of people who shared their experiences with guns, and how those experiences informed their opinions of gun control. We didn’t hear back the typical circle-the-wagons bloviating you get in comments. Instead we heard stories of people who grew up in hunting families but supported stricter background checks, and from one mother whose son was killed walking to the gas station — and was teaching her kids to use guns to protect themselves. GPB reporter Grant Blankenship picked up the thread and produced this story for statewide radio.

Listening Post New Orleans is a community-driven news service built using GroundSource, and for the past two years, week in week out, they’ve managed to draw out an astounding diversity of voices speaking to their specific reality living life in a community with great charm and great challenges.

The Alabama Media Group has used GroundSource to gather community input on stories ranging from guns to health care to overcrowded prisons — and mother’s day. They asked Alabamans what their favorite “mom-isms” were and heard from more than 100 people by text and voicemails, which they used to create a 3-plus-minute audio piece which is worth a listen. Not hard-hitting journalism, but I can think of few other projects I’ve worked on that so effectively revealed the voice of the community.

I worked on this project while at APM with the Public Insight Network. We reached out to Lutherans to talk about their experience as the ELCA decided to allow gay clergy to serve as pastors. More than 2,500 people responding, providing us with a deep and nuanced view of a community facing a schism. It showed me what was possible when you open up to hearing voices who don’t feel like they have any other place to express themselves.

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ON THE MEDIA: How Crowdfunding Is Empowering Communities to Tell Own Their Stories

By: Angilee Shah   April 11, 2016   MediaShift 

A collage of images from stories report by Global Nation at PRI. Their new campaign is working to bring new voices into public media.

A collage of images from stories report by Global Nation at PRI. Their new campaign is working to bring new voices into public media.

The following opinion piece is a guest post and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of this publication. Read more about MediaShift guest posts here.

I’ve been running a crowdfunding campaign with my colleagues here at Public Radio International for one month. What I’ve learned: It’s about so much more than money.

We crafted the Global Nation Reporting Fund as a challenge to ourselves: Could we get one new contributor onto PRI.org — and thus give them a step into public media — every week for a year? Could we get more people who are immersed in the communities and topics we want to cover to become the authors of the stories we tell? And could we do it in a way where this community, largely immigrants and children of immigrants themselves, are the funders as well?

From the beginning, this was a project led by a group of people who are interested in conversations about immigration that connect different ethnic groups and people with varied experiences. The rewards for our Kickstarter campaign come largely from members of the Global Nation Exchange, our discussion group on Facebook. The message comes from them, too.
They are backing the campaign and using their networks to grow the fund. But they are also becoming more engaged as they realize they have power in how the national news media covers them. Since we began our Kickstarter campaign last month, the discussion group has grown from just under 1,000 members to over 1,300. We are getting more story tips and pitches than ever. The conversations in the group, this empowered community, have always been rich. Now, they are illuminating.

Diverse Media Makes For Better Journalism

Global Nation began in the fall of 2012 as PRI’s The World’s commitment to immigration coverage, led by editor Monica Campbell. I was then the social editor and am now the digital editor. And I am proud of our track record: My colleague, Lisa Gardner-Springer at PRI, conducted an audit of our work. Of a random sample of 23 stories, she discovered: Of 54 sources in Global Nation stories, 81.5 percent were people of color and/or Hispanic. Among the 26 authors, half were people of color and/or Hispanic.

It’s a big contrast to the broader American media landscape. Nationally, less than 10 percent of the radio news workforce is non-white, according to the latest data from the Radio Television Digital News Association. The American Society of News Editors reports that less than 13 percent of daily-newspaper newsrooms are minorities.

For our journalism, that means we ask different questions than most of our national media. We want to know about disparities at the Oscars, but from the perspective of one of the child actors who was at the receiving end of Chris Rock’s joke about Asians. We want to explore conflict and tension, but give it the context of histories that are often left out. And we want to understand people on all sides of the immigration debate.

The upshot of all this — of empowering people at all levels of our process, from funding to reporting to discussion — is representation. One of the first members of our discussion group, Sheena Koshy, was gracious enough to tell me about her experience with Global Nation. She immigrated from Dubai one week before 9/11 and has thought deeply about what it means to be part of America. Fifteen years and many visa types later, she’s now in the queue for an interview for her US citizenship. Seeing these stories and discussions between immigrants has been transformative, she said.

Koshy told us why she backed the Global Nation Reporting Fund. (Image by Angilee Shah)

“It has made me question what makes an American,” Sheena told me. “I bring a lot of my Indian culture and the culture I grew up with in the Middle East into becoming an American. And this little community that you’ve created has really made me feel ok about doing that. I don’t think I quite understood that is was ok to have all these different sides to your personality — and that still makes you an American.”

As is so often true, though, it’s better if you just hear Sheena herself.

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ON THE MEDIA: Syrian independent media offers bold challenge to extremism

By:    April 8, 2016  Waging Nonviolence

A protest in Kafranbel on the 5-year anniversary of the uprising against Assad. (Twitter/Raed al-Fares)

A protest in Kafranbel on the 5-year anniversary of the uprising against Assad. (Twitter/Raed al-Fares)

On January 10, the Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group in Syria, stormed the headquarters of Radio Fresh in Kafranbel and arrested its director Raed al-Fares and journalist Hadi Abdullah. The flag of the Syrian revolution was thrown on the floor and al-Nusra members stepped on it and forced the station’s members to do the same. They destroyed and confiscated equipment and books, burned the flag and — according to Ghalia al-Rahal, director of Mazaia, a women’s center in Kafranbel — shouted, “We do not want any media in Kafranbel.” They closed the station and placed a sign at the main door saying, “Confiscated by Jabhat al-Nusra, do not approach.”

This raid came in response to a post on al-Fares’ Facebook page, in which he said, “If our main concern is what’s between a man’s lips [cigarettes] and women’s legs, and as long as we are herding people to prayers and flooding our schools with Sharia books, we will have a thousand years of death to come in Syria.” Al-Nusra also claimed that songs broadcasted on the station were against the Islamic ruling of Sharia.

Members of the radio station were held inside the office for almost two hours while al-Fares was taken by al-Nusra. After hours of negotiations with al-Nusra’s leaders and Sharia judges, Abdullah provided guarantees that al-Fares would not post messages critical of Sharia on Facebook again, and he was released. Al-Nusra had to also admit that raiding the station was a mistake and promised to return all their equipment.

“As we were waiting for the negotiation, we were organizing for a massive protest that was planned to take off the next morning,” al-Rahal said. “Al-Nusra knew that we would have not kept silent.”

"Confiscated by Jabhat al-Nusra, do not approach," was spray-painted on the walls of the Union of Revolutionary Bureaus in Kafranbel in January 2016. (Twitter/@RamiSafadi93)

“Confiscated by Jabhat al-Nusra, do not approach,” was spray-painted on the walls of the Union of Revolutionary Bureaus in Kafranbel in January 2016. (Twitter/@RamiSafadi93)

Al-Nusra’s attack on the station generated a strong reaction on social media where al-Fares’ story was closely followed and solidarity posts were proliferating on activists’ pages. Kafranbel’s Facebook page, which tracks local demonstrations and news, posted pictures of men and women holding signs that repeated two phrases: “Freedom for Radio Fresh,” and “No Media Oppression.”

Radio Fresh is one of the many activities of the Union of Revolutionary Bureaus, or URB, a grassroots organization that tries to empower community members to uphold their rights and freedom in Idlib province. Established in Kafranbel in 2012 by al-Fares and a young activist named Khaled al-Issa, the URB currently has 475 employees with various offices that focus on enhancing education and empowering women and children. They provide training in sewing, hairdressing, nursing, and other skills that enable women to work. Similarly, URB established centers for children where they are encouraged to express themselves through painting and art. “The bureau activities came as a natural result of the needs on the ground,” said al-Rahal, whose center is part of the URB.

This was not the first time al-Nusra has attacked the station. On January 17, 2015, al-Nusra raided a number of URB’s offices, including the headquarters of Radio Fresh and Mazaia. In response to this incident and continuous harassment and interference in civilian affairs, people took to the streets calling for freedom. They forced al-Nusra to keep the station and the women’s center running.

Al-Nusra is emerging as a powerful force to rival the Islamic State in Syria and has seized several strategic towns in Idlib and Hama provinces. Al-Nusra’s goals are to overthrow the current Syrian government and create an Islamic Emirate under Sharia law. Al-Nusra uses Islam and Quranic texts to oppress people and impose strict social values, including limiting women’s movement and dress code.

Hadi Abdullah (left) and Raed al-Fares (right). (Facebook/Kafranbel Syrian Revolution)

Hadi Abdullah (left) and Raed al-Fares (right). (Facebook/Kafranbel Syrian Revolution)

Activists, who are also Muslims, have been using Islamic values to push back. The radio station dedicates the first two hours of the day to broadcast Quranic texts, transmits prayers five times a day, and airs four religious programs a day. “While religious extremists call for death and blood, we call for mercy, respect and forgiveness — all core values in Islam,” al-Fares said. “We need to use the same tool and that which is understood by the general public.”

According to al-Fares, the true reason for his latest arrest was a campaign that he launched on the radio to raise awareness of basic human rights and against religious extremists’ practices. Using female voices, nine messages were repeated between programs and songs that challenged not only extremists, but the whole culture. These messages defend women’s basic rights and ask men to take some responsibility and support them in obtaining these rights. They are also a direct response to armed and extremist factions’ strict rules on women’s dress code and education. 

In some places, al-Nusra has been busy fighting and has not had the time to interfere in civilians’ affairs. However, this may change once the fighting halts. “It is important that people increase their civil activities now as this would make it harder for al-Nusra to take control in the future,” al-Rahal said. “Al-Nusra’s members respond to people because they know that without people, nothing has value — not arms, Emirs or rulers.”

People who took to the streets in early 2011 against Assad’s oppressive regime have recently been demonstrating against all oppression. “We protest against the regime, extremists, the Russians, NATO and starvation in besieged Madaya,” al-Rahal said. Madaya is one of 19 Syrian towns under siege, where cases of death due to starvation have been reported. While Madaya is besieged by pro-Syrian government forces, other places like Foua and Kefraya are besieged by armed opposition groups. According to U.N. estimates about 500,000 people are currently living under siege.

There have been protests against al-Nusra’s aggression and strict rules all across Idlib. On January 15, people in Maraat al-Numan in Idlib demonstrated against al-Nusra and called for its departure. “Maraat is free free, al-Nursa is out out,” they chanted. A newwave of protests has coincided with the ceasefire, which went into effect on Feb. 27. On March 14, hundreds took to the streets against al-Nusra’s aggression against civilians and moderate factions. In places like Khan Shaykhoun and Salqueen, people have protested against al-Nusra’s attempt to impose Sharia clothes, or niqab, on women. In other parts of Syria, like Raqqa, where the Islamic State is in full control and brutal against civil organizations, residents are resisting by not swearing allegiance to the group. Those who do not swear allegiance have to pay for social services, which IS provides for free, and additional taxes.

Five years into the revolution, people have deeper knowledge of themselves and the concepts of citizenship, the state and human dignity, al-Fares explained. Now they are demonstrating against any regressive thoughts or oppression. “Al-Nusra and the Islamic State have arrested me and tried to kill me many times,” al-Fares said, “but this is irrelevant because what I have established in the community and with URB’s activities will always live. People believe in our values and cause, and that is why we live.”

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ON THE MEDIA: Media In The Cross hairs: Militants Continue To Target Journalists In Pakistan

By: Raza Rumi      

Despite the commitments of the Pakistan government to protect journalists, media freedoms remain endangered in the country. Pakistani journalists continue to struggle with the threats posed by violent extremists who consider media to be a legitimate target. In fact, extremists often target the media because it ensures that they will get publicity in the form of coverage. Thus, journalists remain quite vulnerable as the government has yet to find workable mechanisms to ensure their safety in the country.

On March 27, a faction of the Pakistani Taliban carried out a deadly attack on a busy park in Lahore that killed more than 72 and injured 300. In a message claiming responsibility on Twitter, the spokesman for the group was quick to warn, “Everyone will get their turn in this war, especially the slave Pakistani media.” He also ominously added that the group was “waiting for the appropriate time,” presumably referring to an attack. The threat is not new. In 2014 the Pakistani Taliban issued a detailed fatwathat justified attacking the media and killing journalists.

The Ongoing Threat and the Emergence of an ISIS-branch in Pakistan

This new threat comes in the wake of earlier incidents that have made media workers anxious. On January 14, ISIS claimed that it launched an attack on a Pakistan TV station. Two assailants riding a motorbike threw an explosive device and fired gunshots at the ARY television network offices in Islamabad. The shooters ran away when the guards fired at them. In December 2015, another television channel, Din News, was also attacked in Lahore injuring a staffer and two police constables. A militant group claiming itself to be an affiliate of ISIS, the Khorasan Group (Daulat-i-Islamia Khorasan), claimed responsibility for the attack. The Khorasan Group had also carried out an attack a month earlier. In November 2015 a hand grenade was thrown at the bureau office of Dunya News television in Faisalabad, the third largest Pakistani city. Two employees of the channel were injured.

The extent of ISIS presence in Pakistan is unclear, and its appeal is not widespread. Yet, reports have suggested that the group is attempting to make inroads in Pakistan. Its presence in Afghanistan has already been confirmed as splintering groups of the Taliban have been professing allegiance to the ISIS leadership. ISIS claimed responsibility for an attack on a Pakistani consulate in eastern Afghanistan on January 13 that killed seven members of the Afghan security forces.

Footprints of ISIS were also noticed in May 2015 attack on a bus that targeted members of Ismaili community in Karachi killing 43 and injuring 13. A prime suspect of this terror attack told an official joint investigation team that militants affiliated with the Islamic State were involved in the carnage. Reports have also indicated that the ideological network has made some headway in middle class. The Foreign Secretary of Pakistan admitted last year that ISIS was a serious threat for the country. The country’s military has been targeting the Pakistani Taliban and the aggrieved sections are finding a new ally in the form of the Islamic State.

In the continued conflict the media comes under direct attack by the militant groups. Accused of both not giving adequate coverage to terrorists and then providing negative, non-flattering coverage when they do, journalists are harassed and attacked by the militants. In the tribal regions, many journalists have faced immense pressure from the militants to give them undeserved coverage. Anchors at Express News, where I worked for some time, once appealed to the Pakistani Taliban that they would air their point of view and that they should stop targeting them.

Counter-insurgency Environment Impedes Quality Journalism and Public Debate

Moreover, media organizations in Pakistan operate in a context where public debate on counterterrorism is limited or even simply tailored to toe the official line. The extent, nature, and results of counterterrorism operations are largely beyond the purview of independent investigation since the military offensive against the Pakistani Taliban began in 2014.

Journalists have constantly reported that they have little or no access to the tribal regions where the state is carrying out search and counterinsurgency operations, and therefore independent verification of official claims is not possible. Similarly, conflicting policy stances are frequently made by the government. For instance, the militias that openly vow to attack neighboring India are announced as banned, but then within days a few days officials state that no such ban exists. During 2014 the largest private TV channel provoked the ire of the security agencies when it implicated the premier intelligence agency in an attack on one of its TV hosts. There was a backlash, the organization was punished by a temporary suspension of its transmission, and a public campaign to brand it as an unpatriotic outlet. Since then, Pakistan’s media outlets are extremely careful to question government and military officials.

After the recent Lahore attack, the military decided to launch operations in the largest province of Pakistan. A journalist told me that details of the plan are not well known. Local commentators like foreign policy expert Ahmad Rashid have noted that there are significant differences between the civilian and military branches of the government in terms of strategy. Yet, this issue has not received detailed attention and discussion even though it would be in the public’s interest and issues of this nature merit a debate in the parliament, media, and among policy experts.

The Pakistani Government Needs to Take Action

Pakistan’s parliament has rarely intervened in terms of monitoring media freedoms. Admittedly, there is an ongoing conflict, and governments embroiled in tackling insurgencies employ different methods to regulate and streamline reporting. Yet, an open culture is vital for a democratic society. Pakistan’s democracy is likely to suffer if the attacks on media houses are not taken seriously and if there are limited avenues for open debate on public policy matters.  Such a stymied political space might actually benefit the non-state militias, which take advantage of a confusing and closed media system in which the public does not know who to trust.

A bill aimed at protecting journalists has been introduced in the Pakistani parliament for debate, however journalists objected to it because they felt its provisions were lacking. They have asked the government to consult all the stakeholders and prepare a more comprehensive bill. While new legislation would not single-handedly fix the program, the parliament needs to make efforts to ensure that a better legal environment emerges for media protection. Moreover, the government has yet to fulfil its commitment of setting up a joint government-journalist commission that would investigate and monitor attacks on journalists and media organizations. By making headway on these two fronts, the Pakistani government could demonstrate that it recognizes there is a problem and is working toward a solution.

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ON THE MEDIA: Shorter isn’t better, photos aren’t always alluring and deep digging pays off, recent report concludes

By Rick Edmonds   March 31, 2016  POYNTER

Gawker’s metrically-driven Big Board. (Photo by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid)

Shorter isn’t better, photos aren’t always alluring and deep digging pays off, recent report concludes

After two years work analyzing more than 400,000 stories, the American Press Institute is beginning to find general patterns in what works to attract and hold the attention of digital readers.

The findings are collected in a recent paper by API executive director Tom Rosenstiel for the Brookings Institution — and a number are counter-intuitive. For instance:

  • Long stories do fine and are read thoroughly, as much so on phones as any other device. In the API sample, stories longer than 1,200 words, got 23 percent more engagement, 45 percent more social referrals and 11 percent more pageviews.The received wisdom about keeping digital posts short, Rosenstiel said, may have applied to desktop browsing at work, but so much reading has shifted to smartphones. Readers see the phone as their device and their time to use as they wish.
  • Overall, photos (or audio or video clips) boost engagement by 19 percent — but the effect is selective. Surprisingly, government stories got a 75 percent boost, perhaps because they humanize what could otherwise be dry, Rosenstiel reasons.By contrast, photos had no impact on engagement with stories on food and dining — a very popular category these days. Looking for a place to go out for dinner, for instance, is a “hunter-gatherer” activity where pictures may seem to be beside the point.
    Sports fell about halfway between, with the impact of photos now undercut by the round-the-clock availability of highlight clips.
  • Majors enterprise stories are highly valued — scoring 48 percent better in engagement, but they account for only 1 percent of content produced. Of course, reduced resources together with the time required for major work limit the number of these stories. And another related finding was discouraging — doing just a little more than a very basic news story — what Rosenstiel calls “light enterprise” — didn’t improve engagement at all.

The API project began as a pilot with Pioneer News Group in the Pacific Northwest, to help editors decide which topics had particular resonance in a given community. Those “franchise topics” got added emphasis in assignments and tagging showed that they did indeed get greater reader attention.

Over time, the metrics have evolved to include performance of the full range of what a newspaper’s site covers. The 55 participating news organizations now include some large metros like The Dallas Morning News and a few specialized non-newspaper sites.

While firms like Chartbeat and Parse.ly have already been moving the metrics conversation beyond just pageviews and uniques, API was looking for more information that could be tied back to journalistic intent.

So editors tag stories the day after publication using an “Engagement Index” with a dozen factors (which can be weighted different ways by different publications). It takes about 30 seconds to tag one story, so a section editor responsible for 10 stories in a day can get that done in five minutes.

How does this then get used in the newsroom? Rosenstiel explains the basic concept this way:

Once a publisher has data about what content they are producing and what’s working and not working journalistically, the next step is try(ing) to change what they are doing to do more work that readers value inside key coverage areas and spend less effort on what isn’t working.

Editorial judgment quickly comes into play. Editors need to factor in that some topics — say, water quality — are essential though not wildly popular. And more effective coverage of a given subject might mean more explanatory, how-this-affects-you stories and fewer for-the-record, incremental pieces.

I asked Jeff Sonderman, API deputy director who runs the Metrics for News program with Rosenstiel, if they could document business benefits.  His email reply:

There are at least four primary ways in which we see this program boost business results:
a) Reducing subscriber loss or churn. The top reason readers give when they call you up to cancel a subscription isn’t that they dislike you, it’s that they “just don’t find the time to read it anymore.” That means you’ve lost relevance in their lives — that you haven’t given them any specific reason at any specific moment to reach for you as an indispensable source for a specific thing. This program helps publishers identify and execute the specific “franchise” areas of coverage that build those strong connections with readers and keep them paying.
b) Identifying and launching new products. The insights from the analytics and the community survey point toward unexploited opportunities in a publisher’s market. There may be a major concern about crime, or a major passion for outdoors recreation, or a loyal following for high school football — any one of those things can be an opportunity to launch a whole new product that brings in a new audience and revenue streams.
c) Attracting new advertisers. As publishers build new “franchise” coverage areas that they focus on and excel at, we have seen advertisers approach them and ask about how to be involved. The local bait-and-tackle shop, for instance, may never have seen a reason to spend its marketing budget in the local newspaper. But when that local paper launches a new focus and new products for outdoors enthusiasts in the community, suddenly that changes. Moving into new coverage specialities and growing deep loyalty among different audiences gives advertisers who seek to target those audiences a new reason to look at you as their solution.
d) Traffic growth. One of the things Metrics for News does that regular web analytics don’t, is to show you how to grow your traffic. Do more enterprise in this topic. Include more photos in this topic. Do more columns about this subject instead of that one. And so on. There’s a clear, evidence-based roadmap for how to grow, and that leads to large traffic growth at our partner publishers which is a general boost to the online ad revenue among other things.
Rosenstiel is a friend and a former member of Poynter’s National Advisory Board.  He and I collaborated for 10 years on Pew’s annual State of the News Media report.  Sonderman was a digital fellow at Poynter before joining API.
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ON THE MEDIA/AFGHANISTAN: Afghan Women’s Radio Returns After Taliban Attack

Afghanistan Womens Radio

In this Friday, March 4, 2016 photo, broadcasters of Radio Shaesta prepare themselves to go on-air, in Kunduz, Afghanistan. Radio Shaesta — Pashto for “beauty” — had sought to educate women about their rights and address taboo subjects like reproductive health and domestic violence. (AP Photo/Najim Rahim)

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Six months after fleeing a Taliban assault on her city, the owner of an Afghan radio station devoted to women’s rights is back home and returning to the airwaves.

Zarghona Hassan is a lifelong activist and the founder of a radio station in Kunduz that until last year reached hundreds of thousands of listeners across northern Afghanistan, where the vast majority of women are illiterate and largely confined to their homes.

Radio Shaesta — Pashto for “beauty” — had sought to educate women about their rights and address taboo subjects like reproductive health and domestic violence.

A program called “Unwanted Traditions” took a critical look at centuries-old Afghan customs, like the forced marriage of young girls in order to resolve disputes. “Introducing Elites” featured interviews with women who have succeeded in politics and activism, and those who have helped other women in their communities.

“We have had an enormous impact on the lives of women, raising their awareness of their rights, of what they can achieve, encouraging women to take part in politics, to vote and to put themselves forward for provincial council seats,” Hassan said.

Programming also encouraged women to take an active role in ending the country’s 15-year war by exhorting their brothers and sons to lay down arms, she said.

Radio is a powerful medium in Afghanistan, where the literacy rate is less than 40 percent and much of the population lives in remote communities. Wind-up radios requiring no batteries are popular and widely accessible in communities where electricity is erratic or non-existent.

In northern Afghanistan, where just 15 percent of women can read and write, radio is a rare portal to the outside world. The U.N. Development Program says Shaesta reached up to 800,000 people.

“I’ve met illiterate women weaving carpets with the radio on because they can listen and it doesn’t interrupt their work,” Hassan said. “I once met a farmer out in his field who had a radio hooked over the horn of one of his cows.”

Hassan often invited Islamic scholars onto her programs to give their seal of approval. But the Taliban, who espouse a harsh version of Shariah law, view her and other women’s rights activists as purveyors of Western influence who threaten the country’s moral fabric.

She has received more death threats than she can count, one of which even specified an exact date. So when the insurgents stormed into Kunduz on Sept. 28, she knew she had to run.

“The Taliban had a list of all the women who were working in the government, civil society, media, women’s organizations,” she said. “I knew they were going to come for me.” She hid in a relative’s basement for two days before donning an all-covering burqa and fleeing the city.

The Taliban held Kunduz for three days, during which they looted businesses and hunted down activists and journalists. Afghan forces backed by U.S. airstrikes pushed them out more than two weeks later, but by then the militants had looted Shaesta and burned it to the ground, along with another radio outlet run by Hassan that was oriented toward youth.

Now, six months later, she has returned to Kunduz, and Shaesta has come back on air in time for International Women’s Day on March 8. She was able to rebuild the station with a $9,000 grant from the UNDP, which said it hopes to encourage a “courageous voice for change.”

“Women’s rights are a key lever toward improving the lives of the entire community,” said UNDP country director Douglas Keh. “When women and girls have the same opportunities (as men and boys) in education, and the same economic opportunities, society as a whole benefits.”

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