On the Media

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HAITI/ON THE MEDIA: Parting Words From Haiti’s Not-So-Sweet Mickey: Fueling An Uunsupportive Environment For Women In Media

 By: Janelle Nodhturft Williams  original

Two female journalists attend a training session aimed at increasing women’s participation in the media. Photo by Eoghan Rice/Trocaire and licensed via Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0).

Former Haitian President Michel Martelly left office on February 7, 2016, the 30th anniversary of the fall of the brutal Duvalier dictatorship. A failed election process leaves the former head of the Senate temporarily at the reigns. Thus, Haiti faces its secondinterim government in 12 years, a decidedly undemocratic political culture, and a public that wants to believe democratic institutions can function but hasn’t seen the proof. Thirty years must feel like an eternity for civil society and Haitian citizens striving to have a voice and influence in such a broken political system.

Given the big challenges here, it might be surprising that one carnival pop song managed to break through the noise and add its own controversy to the mix. One week before leaving office, former President Martelly released a new single under his stage name “Sweet Mickey.” The song, titled “Give Them Bananas” features repetitive and overt sexually suggestive lyrics aimed at the president’s critics, and one woman in particular, Liliane Pierre-Paul. One of the country’s most well-known radio journalists and longtime human rights activist, she was the first Haitian to win the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Courage in Journalism Award in 1990 and has also been an outspoken critic of Martelly.

The obvious interpretation of the lyrics is the intended one. And it’s not the first time Martelly added his own flair of sexual aggression when responding in a threatening way to his female critics. The attitude is this: Don’t like my policies or use of political power? Here’s some male dominance and thinly veiled threats instead. Last August, male and female ministers resigned in protest. This time though, the song was mostly dismissed as tasteless. Some women laughed at the song lyrics, and real outcry fell short or was washed out by the political heaviness of the moment.

The lyrics represent much larger problems in a media sector and society that does not encourage women’s voices to be heard and elevated. What are women and young girls who want to write or become a journalist – or have an opinion on anything – going to think when the public response by a man to a woman asking questions or displaying critical thinking is a gendered threat? What extra significance does this take on when it’s not just any man, but the country’s president? How is this happening in 2016?

The repercussions are a lot more serious than any single song might suggest at first glance. Though Haiti’s media sector is still weak and polarized, it is better off now than in past decades. The constitution explicitly protects freedom of expression and though the operating environment is far from perfect, Haitian journalists face fewer restrictions and violence than some of their Latin American and Caribbean peers. There is untapped potential for media in Haiti to make tangible contributions to democratic progress in the country, but to play this role the media must attract and retain all of its best and brightest – including, and especially, women.

Politically reinforced sexual aggression from Haitian leaders is no way to cultivate future generations of critical thinkers and women whose ideas will contribute to a more plural media and society and help move the country forward.

Haiti’s challenges are enormous and no one sector can effectively respond to these obstacles on its own.  It will take a village. It will take great ideas. New ideas. Haitian ideas. Haiti’s media, including female journalists, should be free to focus their energy on professionalizing Haitian media, fostering independent voices, playing a watchdog role in the face of corrupt government, and reporting on citizen priorities. Spending energy deciding if and how to respond or counter threats, sexual harassment, or – in in the case of the parting gift of the former president – ridiculous and aggressive lyrics, shouldn’t even be anywhere on their radar.

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ON THE MEDIA: Can explanatory journalism cure the internet?

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This post is part of our project examining the importance of explanatory journalism. The first post in the series is available here.

Last December The Washington Post shuttered its online column “What was fake on the Internet this week.” For a little over eighteen months, columnist Caitlin Dewey, with a wry smile and a wink to the fantastic urban legends our society is capable of creating and our citizens are eager to believe, humorously debunked each week’s most entertaining and outrageous online hooey. However, as she perused the Internet for outrageous claims, she realized that misinformation isn’t just an innocent manifestation of the human penchant for mystery and myth; it’s also big business.

Today’s online hoaxers aren’t just after a laugh. Their brand of bunk has a clear purpose: generating Internet traffic by appealing to people’s deepest emotional biases. Sometimes they do it for political purposes, as when the “fiercely conservative” website Revive Americapublished an article claiming that ABC had aired “A Charlie Brown Christmas” with a disclaimer that the program contained “strong Christian messages and may be offensive to some viewers.” Other times it’s for profit, often disguised as good will, such as self-titled “Food Babe” Vani Hari’s campaign to get Starbucks to stop selling pumpkin spice lattes because they contain no pumpkin. Enough people believe these ridiculous falsehoods to share them on Twitter and Facebook over and over again, gaining Revive America a flood of new readers and Vani Hari temporary star status.

For Dewey and The Post, playing whack-a-mole with this kind of Internet misinformation wasn’t what they had set out to do. “This column wasn’t designed to address the current environment,” Dewey said about “What was fake…” in her final post. “This format doesn’t make sense.”

The demise of the feature is indicative of one of the more frustrating challenges faced by traditional media in the Information Age. In a world where myth and misinformation can travel quite literally at the speed of light, traditional media struggle to keep up with digital competitors who use “click bait” tactics to capture readers, and who have little regard for the accuracy of their content. In this environment, how does solid, fact-based journalism survive? Is there even an audience for that kind of content anymore?

Increasingly, players from media icons to entrepreneurially minded journalists believe the answer to the latter question is “yes,” and they see serving that audience as a new opportunity for explanatory journalism—a style of reporting that explains an issue in a straightforward, accessible style. Ezra Klein’s Vox, “The Upshot” at The New York Times, and BuzzFeed are a few examples, but there are prominent examples outside of traditional news as well.

For example, one could be forgiven for assuming the podcast Stuff You Should Know, with episode titles like “How does a diving bell work?” and “How Mortgage-backed Securities Work,” is popular with only the nerdiest of nerds. In fact, it is one of the most listened-to podcasts in the world, and it is pure explanatory journalism. The hosts, Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant, chat about topics from the fascinatingly morbid (“What is a body farm”) to the completely obscure (“How Electroconvulsive Therapy Works”). The show is so popular it has spawned live tours and even a short-lived television series. It’s hard to look at SYSK’s success and argue there’s no market for explanatory content.

Aside from pure market considerations, the renewed interest in explanatory journalism—and it is by no means a new phenomenon: there’s been a Pulitzer for the category since 1985—is a rational and necessary response to the overwhelming levels of misinformation on the Internet. Consider, for example, coverage of the January 2015 measles outbreak linked to the Disneyland amusement park, in which scores of people across several states were diagnosed with the disease. Vox addressed the issue with a story titled “There’s a measles outbreak at Disneyland. Here’s what you need to know.” It had three main points: Measles is extremely infectious, the anti-vaccine movement may contribute to the uptick in cases, and global traffic may also be a factor. The reporting clearly and accurately described the disease and the most important facts about it and the outbreak.

Meanwhile, over at NaturalNews.com, the headline was “Afraid of the Disneyland measles outbreak? Don’t be fooled by Mickey Mouse science—READ THIS FIRST.” The article offered little information about measles or the outbreak, apart from mentioning that “only 644 people” had contracted measles in 2014, and that “the Disneyland outbreak, at last count, was just 39 people.” What it did offer was a detailed breakdown of the language in an informational insert from a chicken pox vaccine (the kind of small-print pharmaceutical details you often find in prescriptions) calling out every single potential side effect and any precautionary legalese to convince the reader that vaccines are just a big, scary lie.

It’s important to understand that this difference in reporting isn’t rooted in competing opinions or alternative viewpoints. It’s rooted in money. Vox is a news site. Reporting news is its business. NaturalNews.com, despite its name, is not a news site. It’s a commerce site that sells alternative health care products. Its writings are not meant to inform. They’re meant to enrage, so that its readers will trust the products it sells instead of mainstream health care.

Caitlin Dewey was right: blog posts aren’t the right format for addressing the phenomenon of money-driven online misinformation. A more comprehensive solution to poppycock-for-profit is necessary. Explanatory journalism could be that solution by fulfilling one of the most fundamental responsibilities of the press: fact-based, rational reporting that helps all of us better understand and participate in our world.

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ON THE MEDIA: Explanatory journalism: A tool in the war against polarization and dysfunction

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This post is part of our project examining the importance of explanatory journalism. The introductory post is available here, and the second post on journalism in the digital age is available here

In the present-day world of media and politics, we live (as the saying goes) in the best of times and the worst of times.

A motivated consumer of information on politics and policy—the ideal citizen in a representative democracy—has access to an unprecedented number of sources of excellent journalism in a rich variety of formats and on numerous platforms. These include print, broadcast and online, long-form and short, data-based and graphically visualized, straight news and opinion journalism, legacy news organizations and new digital enterprises, mobile devices and social media, only a click away from direct access to vast repositories of official public documents and datasets. The digital revolution has laid waste to the 20th century business models of news reporting and publication but even in these early days of the digital revolution, citizens seeking information about politicians, public policy, and government performance have resources never before imagined.

But how many such model citizens take advantage of these resources to exercise the popular sovereignty and democratic accountability at the core of our democracy? Most citizens are inadvertent consumers of news about politics and government, limited mostly to local television news dominated by crime, traffic and weather, with mere snippets of news related to public affairs, along with emails from family and friends forwarding materials that sound plausible but often are the opposite. Their lives are filled with responsibilities and interests that draw their attention away from election campaigns and policy battles. What little they know and learn about politics is often laden with misinformation and provides little basis for coming to public judgment beyond group identities, tribal loyalties and fleeting impressions of candidates and officeholders.

American democracy has come under severe strains in recent years. We’ve seen a precipitous decline of trust in its central political institutions, the radicalization of one of its two major political parties, a vehement oppositional politics in Congress that has turned divided party government into a graveyard for nominations, while turning legislative initiatives and congressional oversight into little more than a weapon of partisan warfare. All of this has been capped off with the emergence of a frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination uniquely miscast for the office whose election would constitute a threat to American democracy and make a mockery of the U.S. leadership position in the world.

The roots of America’s dysfunctional politics are deep and complex. For our purposes here, it is sufficient to say that the media has done little to help the public understand what is amiss. An aggressively partisan talk radio, cable news, web and social media community has fueled a tribal politics that traffics in lies and conspiracies. The mainstream media has handcuffed itself out of fear of charges of partisan bias into antiseptic balanced treatment of both sides in spite of their obvious asymmetries. This pattern of false equivalence has served to reinforce a generalized, inchoate public distemper, one that is vulnerable to radical and anti-democratic appeals.

Explanatory journalism aspires to provide essential context to the hourly flood of news—not simply a separate fact-checking operation but the mobilization of a rich array of relevant information made possible by new technology but presented to the public in accessible and digestible formats. It is fact-based and data-rich but doesn’t shy away from making arguments that flow from the evidence—even at the risk of being charged with taking sides. It seeks to unravel the mysteries of policy and politics with historical and empirical context and speak openly and honestly about the stakes and drivers of our public life.

Ezra Klein pioneered two path breaking initiatives in explanatory journalism, first TheWashington Post’s Wonkblog and now Vox.com. Many other news organizations are now embedding the elements of this approach into the routines of the news business. As David Leonhardt notes in the video part of this series, explanatory journalism will be successful when it is no longer a separate operation of news organizations but a central and unnamed part of their ongoing operations.

While it is no panacea for what ails American democracy, explanatory journalism is the most promising development in the rapidly changing world of media and politics.There is no magic media elixir to inform and engage those, including perennial nonvoters, so removed from the public life of the nation. But some division of labor is essential and inevitable in a representative democracy—between the general public and elected officials, but also between the entire citizenry and the tens of millions of citizens who engage in more active and demanding forms of political participation, including reading about and discussing public affairs with their fellow citizens. That is the target audience for explanatory journalism.

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ON THE MEDIA/AFGHANISTAN: Bringing FRAME BY FRAME Back to Kabul

Everyone crowded in for a group shot with the US Ambassador Michael McKinley

When I sat down for the 14 hour flight to from New York to Dubai in mid-January, I felt a bit nervous that the only screening that we had planned for FRAME BY FRAME in Kabul was the U.S. Embassy premiere. I booked my trip to be in Kabul for two weeks because I knew more could happen once I was on the ground. I took on this strategy partly because trying to plan more screenings in a timezone that was the exact opposite of my own is not fun for anyone. Also, I knew meeting in person with copious amounts of green tea is far more productive and polite than a patchy Skype call. Ultimately, I was hoping in two weeks I could find a way to screen with the president of Afghanistan. Well, it happened — as did so much more.

The FRAME BY FRAME team with Ambassador McKinley and his wife Fatima at the U.S. Embassy premiere

Screening FRAME BY FRAME in Afghanistan was always going to be very limited. My co-director Mo and I promised the photojournalists featured in the film we would honor their safety concerns and never screen the film publicly in Afghanistan. Yes, we want every Afghan journalist to have the chance to see this film, but this was a condition agreed upon from the start for the film to be made. Thankfully, so much can come from holding private screenings with the people who hold so much influence on the future of journalism and a free press in Afghanistan.

Screening with Dr. Abdullah Abdullah — Afghanistan’s CEO. Dr. Abdullah hand selected ministry members that he thought would get the most of out the seeing film.

The night of the premiere of FRAME BY FRAME in Afghanistan ended in tragedy. Right after the screening ended, news started to spread that a suicide bomber had hit a commuter bus full of TOLO employees on their way home from work. The attack claimed the lives of 7 people and injured 25 others. Seeing the shell of a bus, it was hard to imagine that anyone survived. The Taliban took responsibility — the first direct attack against journalists of its kind.

This amount of pain is hard to convey in headlines. That night my head swam with what had just happened leading up to the tragic incident. Dear friends and co-workers of the journalism community had gathered at the US Embassy for the premiere. It was a night of celebration. One embassy representative said this screening was the first time something like this had ever happened at the U.S. Embassy.

During the screening, I listened as the community of people, who’s fight for a free press parallels that of Wakil, Massoud, Farzana and Najibullah, laughed at all of Massoud’s jokes, sighed at the beauty of this country, and tsked at the actions of those standing in the way of press freedom. As Sardar Ahmad’sdedication came up on the screen, an indescribable feeling of mourning filled the room — these are the people who knew him well. It was powerful, and I have never felt more humbled and honored to be a witness of this community and their strength.

Additional screenings set in motion quickly after the premiere. The Chief Executive of Afghanistan, Dr. Abdullah, held a screening with hand selected ministry members and influencers. He spoke after the film and it was clear that the story had touched him.

Dominic Medley, the Spokesperson and Head of Media Relations for United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), set up two screenings for the UN. During one of the screenings I looked around the room and found my eyes landing on several foreign correspondents and freelance journalists that have been covering Afghanistan over the years.

Massoud did not miss a chance for a selfie with Nicholas “Fink” Haysom — the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Head of UNAMA along with Tadamichi Yamamoto the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan.

French Ambassador Jean-Michel Marlaud introduces the film

From left to right: Ambassador of Sweden: Anders Sjöberg, Ambassador of the Netherlands: Henk Jan Bakker, Ambassador of Germany: Markus Potzel

As I sat down in the dark screening room of the U.S. Embassy screening, I had a little shock when I realized I was sitting next to the French Ambassador Jean-Michel Marlaud. The ambassador loved the film and hosted his own screening in a beautiful room at the French Embassy the next week. The ambassador has been long-time friends with Farzana and Massoud and he took special care in inviting people to the event. There were ministry members, ambassadors of many nations, filmmakers and journalists within the crowd. It felt as though the film was embraced by the people in the room and the conversation that followed was both heartfelt and powerful on the state of journalism in Afghanistan.

French Ambassador Jean-Michel Marlaud greets Farzana and Wakil after the Q&A

FRAME BY FRAME also screened at compound of the NATO-led mission Resolute Support (formally headquarters of ISAF). After the screening, the public affairs office of RS told me the biggest feedback they received was “I learned more from this documentary than from any other pre-deployment training I received” — This sparked an exciting conversation about using this film as a tool for training for RS.

 

Theater filling up at Resolute Support — Wakil was there for the Q&A to a packed house

And on my last day in Kabul it finally happened… A screening of FRAME BY FRAME with President Ashraf Ghani and the first lady Rula Ghani.

After watching the film, the president gave a statement about his commitment to the arts and congratulated the photojournalists on their daily bravery. The the president’s advisors were also in attendance along with Canadian ambassador Deborah Lyons. It was an honor to have two of the film’s advisors in attendance: reporter for the New York Times, Mujib Mashal and the director of the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee, Najib Sharifi. Our line-producer Najibullah was also there, without whom this film would have not been possible.

As I sat in the palace watching FRAME BY FRAME with such an influential group of people, it began to sink in how far this film has come. It started as a glimmer of an idea in 2012 with a two week trip to Kabul, funded by selling my car and emptying my bank account and was ignited by the trust of these four brave photojournalists to tell their story. It was lifted up by a community of people who wanted this story to be told, and championed by an amazing team of people who believed in the power of this film.

Frame By Frame came from such humble beginnings to screening in front of the President of Afghanistan and so many influencers of the future of a free press. For 85 minutes — they reflected on the great achievements of the media in the last fifteen years, the risks they face on a daily basis, and how much is still at stake.

I held my breath as the last title came on the screen…

It’s hard to know what effect a film will have — but it was encouraging to see that this happened two days after the screening.

Here is Human Right’s Watch response to the decree:

Ghani’s decree constitutes a symbolic challenge to such killings. But if he’s serious about protecting media freedom, he needs to muster the political will to stop threats and attacks on Afghan journalists by pro-government forces.

FRAME BY FRAME continues to screen in countries around the world

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ON THE MEDIA:What Everyone Should Know About Filming (And Sharing) Injustice on Social Media

What Everyone Should Know About Filming (And Sharing) Injustice on Social Media

Image Credit: Getty Images

Armed with mobile devices and social media, citizen journalists around the world have become essential agents of democracy, bearing witness to criminal behavior and abuses of power that might otherwise remain obscured and unseen. That genie’s not going back in the bottle. But the next time you happen upon an unfolding scene of injustice — particularly when police are involved — there are some things you need to know before you hit record.
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AFGHANISTAN/ON THE MEDIA: Pressure Like Nowhere Else in the World: Journalism in Afghanistan

By: Bismellah Alizada   p

First female journalists trained in Afghanistan in more than a decade, and first ever trained in digital media, produce a documentary as part of a groundbreaking training program for Afghan women journalists supported by The Asia Foundation, a leading non-governmental organization active in Asia since 1954. The hour-long documentary captures the stories of women in Afghanistan, describing both their lives under the Taliban and their hopes for the future. www.asiafoundation.org. (PRNewsFoto/The Asia Foundation)

First female journalists trained in Afghanistan produce a documentary as part of a groundbreaking training program for Afghan women journalists supported by The Asia Foundation. Photo by PRNewsFoto/The Asia Foundation, Creative Commons

With the collapse of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan almost 15 years ago, a democratic government with a relatively liberal constitution emerged that made allowances — in theory — for freedom of the press and expression. But ensuring the basic security of media workers in the country has been somewhat harder. Media outlets grew exponentially after the anti-press Taliban was toppled, thanks in part to generous funding coming from NGOs, international organisations and foreign countries.

But as foreign troops withdrew, funding for these operations began to wane and only a handful remained commercially viable as many others closed down.

Threats affecting journalists are numerous. Media workers are targets because they highlight the brutality of the insurrection led by the Taliban and other militant groups, while pinpointing the shortcomings of the government and the misdeeds of warlords and parliamentarians alike.

According to a report published by Deutsche Welle in January 2015, there were 125 incidents of violence against journalists reported in 2014, marking the year the “most violent year on record for journalists in the country” as thousands of troops from the US-led coalition withdrew from the country.

Things have not improved since. In August 2015, Pajhwok News Agency’s Azizullah Hamdard was shot and injured in Kabul by unidentified assailants after she reported an incident of electoral fraud.

But it was in autumn last year that things truly took a turn for the worse for the country’s media, as the Taliban dramatically seized the strategic northern city of Kunduz, one of their biggest coups in recent years.

As noted in a recent report by International Media Support (IMS), a non-profit that advocates for media rights and safety across the world:

In the months leading up to the attack, the Taliban had exhibited increasing hostility towards media workers following a spate of years in which the terrorist group had built up stable relationships with mainstream media, providing regular press statements from spokesmen and utilising social media with great effect to broaden their outreach. In September and October 2015, this strategy changed abruptly, as the Taliban proceeded to openly target journalists during the terrorist group’s capture of the Northern city of Kunduz. According to the IMS-supported Afghan Journalists Safety Committee (AJSC), the Taliban actively sought out journalists, searching and raiding the offices of media outlets.

Among the outlets to feel the Taliban’s wrath is TOLO News, a dynamic organisation owned by the MOBY media group that has gained the trust of large parts of the Afghan public by providing 24-hour coverage that includes some of the most dangerous and inaccessible areas of the country.

On January 21, TOLO News staff were targeted by a suicide bomber in Kabul, who killed seven of their workers.

The Taliban had been particularly angry with TOLO News for what it described as a vilification effort after the outlet described incidences of violence and rape towards Kunduz’s civilian population during the month of October.

The subsequent attack on the channel sparked public outrage.

In response to the Taliban’s attack, some journalists suggested a boycott of coverage of future attacks, depriving the group of a vital source of publicity.

Accordingly, the February 1 bombing in Kabul that claimed 20 lives was not covered by TOLO TV and TOLO news.

However, the initiative received mixed responses.

Government officials meanwhile try to force corruption, embezzlement, land usurpation, and human rights abuses off the media’s agenda.

On his first day in office, President Ghani allowed New York Times’ Matthew Rosenberg, who had been expelled by Afghan government on allegations of undermining Afghanistan’s national interests, to return to the country, showcasing his administration’s commitment to free press and freedom of expression.

He also signed into law the Access to Information Law earlier passed by the parliament which states that government-held information should be available to the public, “except in cases that would threaten national security, compromise privacy, or interfere with a criminal investigation”.

Ghani’s administration, however, has failed to deliver on those promises.

The government’s controversial Media Violation Investigation Commission (MVIC), which has been in effect since 2005, has summoned leading daily newspapers on many occasions.

Hasht-e Subh Daily, Daily Open Society, and Etilaat-e Roz Daily are amongst those whose editors-in-chiefs called in by officials as a result of critical reporting.

Moreover, when the anonymously-run satirical Facebook page Kabul Taxi poked fun at Ghani’s powerful security chief Hanif Atmar, Atmar began an unsuccessful witch hunt to try and find out if any prominent media workers were behind the page. It was eventually shut down.

Although television is attracting a significant audience throughout the country, radio still remains the primary source of news for the bulk of the population.

Print media readership is low, but social media usage is on the rise and Internet connections are becoming faster and more accessible.

Accompanying these trends are citizen journalism and blogging, which are increasingly appreciated by a young educated readership.

The phenomenal growth of an independent media in post-Taliban Afghanistan is one of the few major achievements that a government still stricken by graft and incapable of providing many public services can point to.

Despite all manner of pressures, the media is fulfilling its duty and defending the public interest. Although the sacrifices it has been forced to make in order to achieve that goal have been far too many.

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ON THE MEDIA: Oscars: Examining Gender Bias in the Documentary Categories

By: Addie Morfoot   FEBRUARY 18, 2016 | 10:30AM PT   original

Gender Bias in Documentary Filmmaking

The institutional bias against minorities and women within the Academy has been widely discussed. However, encouraging Oscar docu statistics as well as an impressive roster of female nonfiction gatekeepers suggest that women in the documentary arena are not only breaking down barriers but also successfully steering the ship.

Not so, according to a number of the communities’ leading female directors, producers and executives.

Unlike the narrative world, where hardly a week goes without a prominent actress or director making headlines by blasting Hollywood for treating women as second-class citizens, public discussion of gender inequality in the nonfiction community is not often spotlighted.

But recently the issue came to light thanks to entertainment attorney Victoria Cook, who reps leading doc directors including Oscar nominees Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady, Marshall Curry, Amy Berg and Liz Garbus.

In early January, Cook wrote a 634-word Facebook entry about gender bias in the documentary world. In the post, Cook said there is a “misperception that the (feature) documentary category is more inclusive, less sexist and less racist than the other categories.” The entry went viral.

In the post Cook addressed a “pervasive problem in the documentary category,” citing just two female doc feature filmmakers — Laura Poitras (2014’s “Citizenfour”) and Zana Briski (2004’s “Born Into Brothels”) — winning the Oscar documentary feature category in the past 20 years.

In spite of that grim stat, there is no denying that female feature documentarians have a better Oscar track record than their fiction counterparts. Case in point: In the past 10 years, 13 female helmers have been nominated in the feature docu race. (Poitras was nominated twice in that period.) They made up 30% of the nominations.

Through 1992, nominations and awards in docu categories went to producers, not directors. If directors were also classified as producers, they received the award. In total, 11 female directors have won the feature doc kudo, including two-time champ Barbara Kopple, who won for 1976 and 1990.

Compare that to the past 10 years of the directing race, where there’s been only one female nominee — Kathryn Bigelow, who went on to make history by becoming the first woman to win. In the past 88 years, 12 best picture nominees have been directed by women. Out of those 12 films, only three were nominated for a directing kudo.

Despite the promising Oscar numbers, prominent nonfiction female filmmakers attest to gender bias in the community even after winning a little golden man. “Learning to Drive” screenwriter Sarah Kernochan has won two Academy Awards for her nonfiction work, the first for 1972 feature “Marjoe” and the second for 2001 short “Thoth.”

I think it’s crucial that … people are increasingly aware of whatever unconscious biases they bring to the table when hiring or deciding whose film to finance or distribute.” LIZ GARBUS – “WHAT HAPPENED, MISS SIMONE?”

“My co-director on ‘Marjoe’ was a man, Howard Smith,” Kernochan says. “He was good about thrusting me forward so people would have to deal with me as well, because they would automatically talk to him (about the film) and often I was the one with the answers. When I split up with him, there were no opportunities for me, but there were definitely opportunities for him.

“The Oscar didn’t get me anywhere at all because it was assumed that Howard did all the work and I was just the tag-along. The second Oscar, it had absolutely no effect. I think one person asked to meet with me. One! And it was just a meet and greet. It didn’t lead to a job. That would have never happened with a man. Especially a young man.”

In a recent essay for Medium.com, “What Happened, Miss Simone?” helmer and two-time Oscar nominee Garbus recalls fighting for a credit she rightfully deserved.

“On one of my earliest projects, on which I worked many, many years, for next to no money (the usual), my deal with my male filmmaking partner was that we would share producer and director credit,” Garbus wrote. “Three years later, after I had brought in one of the two financing deals, spent nearly two years in the field and a year in the edit room, and maxed out a personal credit card in order to get the film finished, as we were doing the credits in post this fellow suggested that we share just the directing credit, but the producing credit rest solely with him.”

Garbus ultimately kept her producing credit, but contribution questioning is not unique to her. Female directors point to gender disparity in all facets of the documentary process in spite of prominent female gatekeepers including HBO’s Sheila Nevins, Netflix’s Lisa Nishimura and A&E’s Molly Thompson as well as a lower barrier of entry into the field.

As a woman you have to make the case each time you want to make a film why you should be trusted.” DAWN PORTER – “TRAPPED”

Problem is, many women in the field do not feel comfortable going on the record about it.

Emmy nominated docu helmer Dawn Porter agreed to speak about the issue. Porter has three high-profile feature docs under her belt. Her latest project, “Trapped” premiered last month at Sundance and won the special jury award for social impact.

“The problem is a different kind of problem than the fiction world,” Porter says. “In documentaries it’s definitely not a problem of access and filmmakers getting greenlit, because documentaries don’t necessarily work that way. We are not an industry of commissions, so we don’t really have to wait for greenlights. But as a woman you have to make the case each time you want to make a film why you should be trusted. People assume that you, being a woman, don’t necessarily have an infrastructure. I don’t get the sense that people ask (male documentarians) those kinds of things. Or when working with a crew you aren’t familiar with — you get people challenging you in ways that I’m positive they don’t challenge guys. For instance, they think you never shot an interview before.”

For “Mavis!” director Jessica Edwards, Cook’s post “really hit a nerve.” Three years ago Edwards decided to make her first feature about the life of living music legend Mavis Staples.

Despite choosing a popular, historically well-funded nonfiction topic (“Amy” and “Miss Simone?” are about notable female singers Amy Winehouse and Nina Simone) for her first feature, Edwards did not receive any outside funding. Instead she was forced to self-finance, using credit cards, savings and asking family members for loans. (HBO acquired the film in April.)

Arguably project undercapitalization is a problem for both male and female documentary filmmakers, but Edwards says it’s worse for women and people of color.

Making documentaries is tough all over but when shit gets tough all over, ultimately the first people who get what they need to get to get going are white dudes.” JESSICA EDWARDS – “MAVIS!”

“Making documentaries is tough all over, but when sh– gets tough all over, ultimately the first people who get what they need to get going are white dudes,” says Edwards. “The only way it’s going to change is to talk about it and hire more women.”

Garbus agrees. “I think it’s crucial that we’re having these conversations (and) that people are increasingly aware of whatever unconscious biases they bring to the table when hiring or deciding whose film to finance or distribute.”

Despite being the only female nominee in the doc feature race this year, Garbus says she does not feel like the underdog.

“(‘What Happened, Miss Simone?’) has had an extraordinary year, and has gotten incredible responses from audiences and terrific support from (Netflix),” the helmer says. “I feel I’m representing for female doc filmmakers — some of whom I had hoped would be my fellow nominees — but it feels more like an honor than a pressure.”

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ON THE MEDIA; AFGHANISTAN: What next for media in Afghanistan?

By Helle Wahlberg, International Media Support, 18 Feb. 2016

An Afghan journalist at work. Photo: Lars Schmidt

As private and independent media in Afghanistan struggle to come to terms with the loss of seven colleagues from Tolo TV in January following a Taliban-led bomb attack, the international community must now consider how best to move forward in their support for media workers in Afghanistan

The Taliban’s renewed hostility towards media and the emergence of equally media-hostile ISIS (Daesh) in Afghanistan pose serious challenges to the impressive gains in the field of independent media and freedom of expression in Afghanistan over the last 15 years.

The vulnerability of private, independent media in the country was brutally exposed when a bomb attack on 20 January targeted a minibus carrying workers from the country’s largest private broadcaster, Tolo TV, killing seven staff members and injuring dozens.

In the months leading up to the attack, the Taliban had exhibited increasing hostility towards media workers following a spate of years in which the terrorist group had built up stable relationships with mainstream media, providing regular press statements from spokesmen and utilizing social media with great effect to broaden their outreach. In September and October 2015, this strategy changed abruptly, as the Taliban proceeded to openly target journalists during the terrorist group’s capture of the Northern city of Kunduz. According to the IMS-supported Afghan Journalists Safety Committee (AJSC), the Taliban actively sought out journalists, searching and raiding the offices of media outlets.

Despite being taken somewhat by surprise by this turn of events in Kunduz, the AJSC, a locally led network of journalist union -, media and civil society representatives working to protect and improve the safety of Afghan journalists, was able to help over seventy journalists out of Kunduz in time. The emergency assistance involved providing accommodation, transportation by air and cash handouts to cover emergency expenses for the displaced journalists. Female journalists fled under the cover of their Burqas.

Following the Kunduz incident, Tolo TV News and 1TV, the two largest private broadcasters in the country, were singled out and named as military targets by the Taliban allegedly for having broadcast false reports about the conduct of Taliban fighters during their brief takeover of Kunduz. According to the AJSC, this was the first time that the Taliban had publically issued threats against specific media outlets directly from the Taliban Military Council. In a strong show of solidarity, some Afghan media and media support organisations issued a joint statement promising to boycott any Taliban media and news sources if such an attack was carried out. Tolo TV was attacked on 20 January.

The threat of another imminent attack is now one that staff at 1TV are living with every day.

“The attack on Tolo TV was shocking. I expected it, but not so soon,” says Abdullah Azada Khenjani, editor-in-chief and Head of News and Current Affairs at 1TV.

“1TV covered the attack and issued a statement saying that we considered this to be an attack on all media. The night of the attack, we focused on supporting our colleagues at Tolo TV. The next morning, BBC Persia reported that a spokesperson for the Taliban had said that 1TV was next in line.”

The attack on Tolo TV has taken its immediate toll on the daily lives of staff at 1TV. Many staff members are opting not to come to work out of fear of another attack and while the management group at 1TV has taken the threats against the station very seriously, ensuring the protection of over 100 staff members remains not only logistically difficult, but also very costly.

“Not only are journalists living in fear. Their families are affected as well. My mother is not sleeping and I need to report to my wife every hour for her peace of mind,” Abdullah Azada Khenjani explains.

He continues:

“The aim of the Taliban is to demolish the beginnings of a democratic system in Afghan society in which media is a main pillar. My fear is that they will succeed. We need the Afghan government to help mitigate these attacks on media and we need more support from the international community. I think the coming year could well become the deadliest yet for journalists in Afghanistan.”

The international community including governments, the UN, international media and journalists’ rights organisations and civil society have responded to the latest attacks on media in Afghanistan with statements of solidarity. While the working relationship between media support organisations and the Afghan government has improved, most recently manifested in the establishment of an Oversight Commission on Access to Information that will monitor the government’s implementation of the Access to Information Act, more is needed from the international community. According to Abdullah Azada Khenjani, the international community must increase its pressure on the Afghan government to take the threats against the hard-won achievements of the Afghan media sector seriously.

“In the last 15 years, the international community has spent millions of dollars in Afghanistan, but more of this should have been invested in securing freedom of expression values. We need to help Taliban supporters understand that media has an important role to play as a watchdog of government and power holders and that for this reason, media should not be a target. In addition to this, there is a need for more technical support to educate local media in the provinces on how to better protect themselves.

For now, the IMS-supported, locally anchored Afghan Journalist Safety Committee remains the only country-wide safety and protection mechanism for Afghan journalists that operates in 32 out of 34 provinces. The Safety Committee has assisted some 600 journalists in distress since it was set up in Afghanistan with support from IMS in 2009. Regional safety coordinators and volunteers manage an alert system, where they liaise with journalists under threat and provide updates on violations and changing circumstances for media to the AJSC headquarters. Basic services include various types of safety training for both male and female journalists, legal advice, a hotline, safe houses and safety funds coupled with efforts to influence media law reform through advocacy efforts.

One of the AJSC’s key initiatives has been its approach to community-based safety where cooperation with local police authorities has resulted in agreements on provincial safety procedures for police to follow to help ensure a safer working environment for journalists. But also the AJSC setup remains fragile in a volatile environment where rising insecurity and decreasing funding for their essential work to ensure the safety of journalists are a reality.

The Taliban’s renewed hostility towards media and the emergence of ISIS and their aggressive and coercive position towards media in Afghanistan both pose serious challenges to the impressive gains made by media and in the field of freedom of expression in Afghanistan over the last 15 years. Today, media plays a highly important role in public life. The media is the only watchdog apparatus monitoring the performance of the government and power holders. Safeguarding a strong, professional and independent media sector and its workers should thus be viewed as a long-term investment in Afghanistan’s democratic and peaceful development.

Read more about important developments in Afghan media between July – December 2015 in AJSC’s Six Month Report July-December 2015.

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ON THE MEDIA: Strong, independent media critical for good governance

devex.com, 03 February 2016, by Jeanne Bourgault, Kristin Lord3 min read, original

A presenter reads the news at Radio Shabelle in Somalia. How does healthy media contribute to better, more responsive, and more effective development outcomes? Photo by: Tobin Jones / AU-UN IST

Do not envy U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Gayle Smith, who recently took the helm of one of the world’s largest development organizations. Violent extremism is on the rise. The largest number of refugees since World War II are fleeing intractable wars in the Middle East, Africa, Central America and elsewhere. Humanitarian crises caused by droughts and natural disasters are likely to persist. Widespread corruption continues, undermining the legitimacy of governments. Over a billion people still live in extreme poverty.

Emergencies like these, coupled with tight budgets, make it tempting to cut into investments that do not relieve immediate human suffering. Yet, as Smith surely recognizes, USAID must also invest in core institutional development if we want to move from transactional to transformational development assistance. USAID must invest in the conditions that enable sustainable, accountable and locally led development.

We argue that strengthening independent media and access to trustworthy information is one of the most important conditions for enabling all other development activities to succeed. Healthy media contributes to good governance and better, more responsive, and more effective development outcomes. USAID should refocus its efforts on strengthening media after years of dwindling funding.

In our experience working in some of the most challenging environments in the world — from closed societies to conflict zones to humanitarian crises — people need trusted information to understand the world around them, engage in conversations with their communities and their leaders, make decisions, and act to improve their lives. Strong independent media is critical to effective, responsive and transparent governance. It disseminates important information and represents people’s opinions and needs to decision-makers. It is also the foundation for strong markets and economic growth.

“Trusted, local information forms the cornerstone of civic discussion; it promotes transparent and accountable institutions; it informs choices during crisis, and it empowers societies to find inclusive, sustainable solutions to their own development challenges.”

— Internews President Jeanne Bourgault and IREX CEO Kristin Lord

Allow us to share just two examples of how support for media can make a difference:

In the context of the refugee crisis in Europe, information offers one of the most basic forms of aid. The lack of current, local information puts these vulnerable populations even more at risk from kidnappers, traffickers and smugglers. Misinformation puts them in the wrong place at the wrong time and they get involved in riots or stampedes.

While much has been made of the use of smartphones by the current wave of refugees, these high tech tools are useless without good, local information that answers specific questions using language people can understand such as: how do I get to the registration center? Where can I find medical support? To help solve this issue, Internews has pioneered a solution called News That Moves, a multilanguage content service drawing from stringers along the route and pushed out to the affected populations both online (apps and portals) and offline (leaflets and flyers).

In Ukraine, divisive information from dubious sources has exacerbated ethnic tensions, contributed to conflict in the eastern part of the country, and challenged the government’s reform agenda. To address this challenge, IREX provides hands-on training in critical thinking and media analysis skills for media institutions, media leaders, communities, and citizens so that they can recognize fact-based reporting when presented with contradictory information from both Ukrainian and Russian-language media.

The ultimate goal of this type of work is to build information-savvy societies that both produce reliable information and discern the trustworthiness of the information they encounter. We have found that once citizens are equipped with skills to identify biased reporting, unreliable sources, and hate speech, their appetite for truthful reporting — and their ability to find it — increases. Citizens learn to avoid manipulation, and they can more effectively pressure their government to act responsibly.

Administrator Smith will have a powerful impact on the lives of many people around the world during her tenure. To amplify that impact, we recommend increasing support for the professionalization of journalism (including investigative reporting and data journalism), media business management, multimedia production and internet freedom. Support for media literacy is needed to ensure that citizens seek out and produce trusted information.

Community media (from radio to locally created news apps), last mile infrastructure to ensure that communities have the means to access information, and well-implemented laws that protect and ensure people’s right to information are all critical. USAID should also increase support to information aid during moments of crisis, to ensure that other forms of humanitarian aid do not go to waste. A commitment to strengthening independent media and good local information, even in the most challenging of conditions, will empower citizens to drive their own development in the long term.

USAID has long been a leader in building the capacity for communities to produce independent media and locally trusted information and we urge Smith and other development leaders to build on this foundation. Our organizations’ experience over the past three decades — much of it in partnership with USAID — provides ample evidence that strengthening the production and exchange of local information is critical for addressing key development challenges at their foundations.

Join the Devex community and access more in-depth analysis, breaking news and business advice — and a host of other services — on international development, humanitarian aid and global health.

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ON THE MEDIA: Sundance rundown: This year’s standout documentaries

Child gangs in Afghanistan, prostitutes in Mexico and two moviemakers kidnapped by Kim Jong Il are festival highlights

Land of Enlightenment, Pieter-Jan De Pue
The armed group of children in “Land of the Enlightened,” who roam the mountains of northeastern Afghanistan.
Pieter-Jan De Pue

The Kochi tribe of northeastern Afghanistan inhabits some of the most rugged terrain in the world. The rocky hills of this region are gorgeous, but they’re barely arable, and the grassy plains below aren’t much better. Nearby, caverns that for 7,000 years have been mined for semiprecious lapis lazuli now contain something else: Soviet land mines. These explosives, dormant relics of the occupation, are carefully removed from the terrain above by child bandits and bartered to equally young miners for use in unearthing the gemstones. These gangs of armed Afghan preteen marauders, who often go on to steal those stones in dangerous ambushes, are at the center of “The Land of Enlightened,” one of the most stirring documentaries to screen at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, which runs through Sunday.

Sundance’s world documentary competition, in which “The Land of Enlightened” is entered, routinely launches the most talked-about nonfiction films every year from around the globe. Spanning subjects from hair metal bands in Japan to competitive tickling in Australia and political repression in Iran to settler expansionism in the West Bank, the selection provides a cross-section of films, most of which are dedicated to unusual or underreported stories in some of the world’s most troubled regions.

Among them is “The Lovers and the Despot,” which tells the bizarre story of the kidnapping by the North Korean government of South Korean movie star Choi Eun-hee and her husband, director Shin Sang-ok. They were abducted by Kim Jong Il’s agents in the late 1970s and forced into cinematic slavery of sorts by Kim, a noted cinephile, who charged them with improving North Korean cinema. They did so by making expensive propaganda films, which often had a nuance, style and attention to character previously not allowed in North Korean films. On one of many secret recordings made by Choi, Kim is heard complaining that North Korean films never play at Cannes.

Choi Eun-hee, Kim Jong-il

From left, director Shin Sang-ok, North Korean President Kim Jong Il and actress Choi Eun-hee in 1984.
Courtesy Hellflower Film Ltd.

With an aesthetic that evokes paranoiac thrillers from the 1970s — its interviews are dimly lit and interspersed with images of reel-to-reel tape recorders playing illicit audio in dark locations — the film’s style is immediately gripping. Directed by Robert Cannan and Ross Adam, “The Lovers and the Despot” is built largely around a single long interview with Choi, along with copious remarkable archival footage, including scenes of North Korean society and clips from the films she and Shin made during their South Korean heyday and in North Korean captivity. The movie works as an international thriller and a love story, with a fair amount of humor and irony; although Shin wasn’t pleased to be in captivity in North Korea, he made much of his best work for Kim, who lavished Shin with resources he was never able to access when working in the capitalist production systems of South Korea and the U.S. They escaped North Korea in 1986. He continued his career in Hollywood and is best-known in the U.S. for producing the “Little Ninja” series in the 1990s.

Perhaps the most viscerally affecting film in the competition is “Plaza de la Soledad,” a portrait of the sisterhood among a set of Mexico City prostitutes, many of whom would be collecting Social Security checks if only they lived 400 miles to the north. Carmen, 68, the linchpin of the group, prays to God that the women won’t be attacked by johns or the police. Dramatic accounts of violence — such as one woman’s description of how she became a prostitute shortly after being raped as an 8-year-old — are often staged like confessions and are interspersed throughout an otherwise warm and easygoing vérité film, in which director Maya Goded treats her subjects with great dignity. While she never portrays the women in the midst of their trade, she also never lets us forget real and present dangers that the prostitutes face, including disease and abusive johns who stalk La Merced, a district of Mexico City that is a tolerance zone for prostitution. There, cops look the other way, both from the trade and from the danger that workers face.

Goded zeros in on five women, ranging in age from late 40s to early 80s: Carmen, still very alluring in her late 60s, looks after many of the younger prostitutes, including Lupe, who suffers from the double whammy of being newly homeless and having a child to raise. Lety has a boyfriend in his 80s who helps support her daughter as she battles cancer. Esther and Ángeles, in a clandestine relationship for 14 years, share a love that they keep mostly private, guarding it from their sex work. Raquel, the oldest and frailest of them, yearns for someone to love in life, both in and out of her bed.

“Plaza de la Soledad” softens the blow of their harrowing stories with humor, leavening what can feel like series of grim tales of woe. Goded doesn’t provide false hope, and most of her subjects don’t seem to want it; they know their lot in life and have gained expertise from plying their trade on La Merced. The level of intimate access and candor exhibited in the documentary reflects the remarkable amount of trust between the director and her subjects. Goded, who was a photographer of much acclaim before she made the leap into cinema, has been focusing on La Merced’s forgotten citizens for 23 years, and many of the women in the film have appeared in her photography. The frankness with which the women speak about the sex trade — in one unnerving, oddly humorous discussion, a prostitute talks about controlling her orgasms only to allow herself release at the end of a long workday with someone she is really attracted to — are clearly the result of their relationships with Goded over a long time.

"Plaza de la Soledad", Maya Goded

Filmmaker Maya Goded, right, shooting Lety in “Plaza de la Soledad.”
Monstro Films

The myths and rituals that these women indulge in, whether tarot or faith healing, act as a sort of protection from the cruelty of their world. Raquel, a spitfire who keeps keys in her bra to defend herself from cancer, dons a wig after being told by a mystic that it will keep at bay those who wish her ill. The film never belittles or critiques such beliefs, and that this is notable is not just a credit to Goded but also a reflection of how accustomed many viewers are to the exoticism that pervades so much documentary cinema made by Westerners about the so-called third world.

The same might be said of “The Land of Enlightened,” although one cannot be sure the extent to which these children are being exploited. First-time director Pieter-Jan De Pue also came to cinema by way of photography, and he spent seven years hauling 16-millimeter film canisters through the hills of Afghanistan while embedded with child gangs and American troops. He blends fiction and documentary in his depiction of the region, though he doesn’t own up to it in the film.

“The Land of Enlightened” runs right into the argument that has surrounded documentary aesthetics and authenticity since “Nanook of the North.” The film’s artistry is incredible; its ethics, less clear. Watching the children delicately remove a land mine from a barren landscape or rob a diamond merchant as he crosses the terrain, one first wonders how much De Pue has affected events with his mere presence. When the gangs roam the region’s plateaus, raiding deserted Russian outposts, one is encouraged to question how the footage was acquired. Although you’d never know it from watching the film, all the children are nonprofessional actors impersonating the kids De Pue met during his years in Afghanistan.

Unlike Errol Morris’ “The Thin Blue Line” or Joshua Oppenheimer’s “The Act of Killing,” “The Land of Enlightened” neglects to signal that what we are seeing is re-enacted. And as we watch the gang members gin up food, arms and opium however they can, it becomes increasingly difficult to suspend disbelief. De Pue juxtaposes the children’s exploits with glimpses of U.S. forces at rest and at war. In an ironic echo of the Afghan child bandits, adolescent American troops are seen shelling sites along a valley in glee and rage, profanity spewing and weapons blasting. In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, an American service member plays a melancholy guitar riff as a young Afghan freedom fighter relates, via a poetic voiceover, his hopes for Afghanistan once the Americans leave and his belief that the country will remain at war as long as outsiders seek to tame it.

Documentary filmmaking has undergone a revolution in the 27 years since Michael Moore’s “Roger and Me” took the Sundance Film Festival by storm. Since then, the number of people making documentary films has increased exponentially, and the reach of documentaries, mostly thanks to cable television and Internet streaming, has expanded even more. Sundance remains one of the few international brands that champion the intersection of artistry and journalism and push the form in ways meant to provoke. Here’s hoping the festival keeps at it.

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ON THE MEDIA: The Fearful World of Network News in 2015

ipsnews.net, by Jim Lobe, 9 min read, original

Andrew Tyndall

– If your view of world events outside the U.S. was shaped in substantial part by watching the evening news shows on the three major U.S. networks last year, you’d probably want to stay home.

Terrorism and the bloody wars of the Middle East dominated the network news coverage of the world outside our borders last year, according to the latest annual summary of the authoritative Tyndall Report, which was released just last week. Domestically, it was pretty scary, too, with two of the year’s three top domestic stories featuring Donald Trump’s ugly presidential primary campaign and last month’s San Bernardino massacre, which was allegedly inspired by the Islamic State (ISIS or IS).

As in virtually every year since 9/11, Latin America, Africa, and East Asia (which includes China, Japan, and the Koreas) barely registered in the networks’ universe. Global warming—arguably the greatest existential threat facing our way of life—made only a cameo appearance in the guise of last month’s Paris climate summit, despite today’s New York Times headline: “2015 Was Hottest Year in Historical Record.” Unfortunately, the Paris summit coincided with the San Bernardino massacre, which received eight times the coverage.

As noted by Andrew Tyndall, the Report’s publisher, in an email exchange today,

This last year has been especially narrow in the range of international stories, in that few stories that are unrelated either to terrorism or to the Middle East (or both) have attracted attention. No Ebola. No Fukushima. The excitement around the new pope is starting to subside. No royal wedding. No Olympic Games. …Europe has received prominent coverage. However, the three biggest European stories (Charlie Hebdo, the refugee crisis, the Paris concert massacre) can be portrayed as spillovers from Mideast tensions. All three of these major European storylines fit neatly into fearful narratives made by domestic politicians.

Aside from the tragic death of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, sub-Saharan Africa, the world’s largest continent with a population of a billion people, didn’t exist in the evening news universe

Tyndall has been tracking and cataloguing the evening news broadcasts of ABC, CBS, and NBC each weekday since 1988. That comes to roughly 22 minutes for each network per evening, or nearly 15,000 minutes a year for all three weekday evening shows combined. (The total this year was 14,574 minutes.) His findings are considered the most authoritative publicly available source on network news coverage.Although citizens increasingly rely on the Internet for national and international news, the network evening news remains the single biggest source, attracting a nightly audience of around 24 million viewers, according to the latest report by the Pew Research Center on Journalism and the Media. By comparison, the average primetime audience for all cable news channels combined is a mere 3.5 million. Thus, the news priorities reflected in the amount of attention the three networks devote to national and international trends and events exert a significant influence on how much of the U.S. citizenry sees the world. In other words, the nightly evening network news offers the closest thing we have to a collective national window on what is happening beyond our borders. Which is why it’s important.

The Highlights

Each year, Tyndall publishes a one-page summary of highlights, including the 20 stories to which the three networks devoted the most time in their coverage. The summary also notes more general findings. In 2015, for example, the three networks provided a combined total of 941 minutes to foreign policy coverage (not to be confused with coverage from overseas). Not only was that a mere 6.5% of total news coverage, it was slightly less than half of the annual average between 1988 and 2014. This could reflect the gravitational pull of the 2016 presidential campaign and/or the perception by network news gatekeepers that the public is increasingly uninterested in or fed up with foreign policy issues.

In any event, here are the top 20 and the combined number of minutes they received from the three networks. Together, they accounted for 3,422 minutes of the three networks’ coverage, or less than 25% of total evening news coverage.

Winter weather                                     377

Donald Trump campaign                     327

San Bernardino shootings                     237

Islamic State declared by ISIS             220

Terrorism in Paris: concert massacre   188

Refugees to the European Union         174

Police: lethal Baltimore arrest             174

Forest fires in western states                161

Boston Marathon bombing trial           160

NFL post-season: deflated balls           145

Pope Francis visits to Cuba and USA   142

Syria civil war                                       136

Iran nuclear program negotiations       132

Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris         132

New York prison escape                       131

Republican presidential debates           123

Hillary Clinton campaign                     121

AMC church massacre in Charleston   117

Germanwings jet crash in Alps              114

Iraq civil war/ISIS in Iraq                     113

Some of the top stories are obviously related to each other, although Tyndall is very careful about not double-counting stories. For example, Trump clearly factored heavily in the Republican presidential debates, but the minutes devoted to his contribution to that debate would not have been included in the category of the Trump campaign itself. The EU’s refugee crisis was obviously related to the wars in Syria and Iraq, not to mention IS.

Thus, among the 20 most-covered stories, the 2016 campaign garnered 571 minutes (Trump, Republican debate, Clinton). But terrorist acts or organizations claimed five of the top 20, at nearly 1,000 minutes (San Bernardino, the Islamic State, two Paris stories, the Boston Marathon trial), and that doesn’t count the civil wars in Syria and Iraq or the Charleston church massacre. Those, plus the Germanwings jet crash, alleged police brutality in Baltimore, the prison escape, and the huge refugee influx into Europe, make for a pretty scary world (not to mention the heavily fear-based Trump campaign itself or other fear-mongering Republicans).

Indeed, the only good news that featured in the top 20 last year was the Pope’s visit, the Iran nuclear agreement (albeit not for Bibi Netanyahu and his followers here), and deflated footballs if you care passionately about Tom Brady. Of course, as Tyndall suggests, by depicting such a frightening world, the networks are—presumably unconsciously—propagating a fundamentally far-right narrative that can only benefit Republicans during this year’s campaign.

A Closer Look at the Numbers

To help draw a more complete picture of the networks’ view of the world outside the United States, I asked Tyndall for the statistics on the top foreign stories of the year. They comprised 41 of the top 150 stories, including nine that appeared in the top 20 cited above. The results:

Islamic State in Middle East declared by ISIS 220
Paris terrorism: stadium, restaurant, concert attacks 188
European Union faces influx of refugees and migrants 174
Pope Francis I visits Cuba and United States 142
Syria politics: rebellion designated as civil war 136
Iran nuclear weapons program prevention talks 132
Paris magazine offices assassination: 12 dead 132
Germanwings 9525 crash in French Alps: 150 dead 114
Iraq: combat resumes after US troops pull out 113
Afghanistan’s Taliban regime aftermath, fighting 85
Nepal earthquake levels Kathmandu: Richter 7.8 70
Metrojet charter flight crash over Sinai Desert 59
Moslems in western nations recruited by terrorists 48
Malaysia Airlines 370 missing: Indian Ocean search 43
Cuba-US diplomacy: relations normalized 42
Air Asia 8501 crash over Java Sea kills 162 39
Zimbabwe nature preserve celebrity lion killed 37
Soccer: FIFA Women’s World Cup won by USA 33
Yemen civil war 32
British royals coverage 32
Global warming climate change: Paris Summit 30
High-speed train on-board attack foiled in Belgium 30
International Space Station mission in orbit 30
Libya: US diplomats assassinated in Benghazi 29
Belgium terrorism: surveillance in Brussels suburb 28
Ukraine civil war: secessionist fighting in east 28
Tunisia terrorism: beach resort shooting spree 26
El Nino current forms in Pacific Ocean 25
Syrian-American immigration: seek refugee status 25
CIA drone kills Americans in raid on Pakistan 25
Diesel engine pollution tests rigged by Volkswagen 24
Cargo ship SS El Faro founders off The Bahamas 23
Israel-Palestinian conflict 22
Cuba-US sanctions relaxed: more trade, travel 22
Syria refugees flee abroad to overcrowded camps 21
Greece politics: referendum on fiscal austerity 20
Hurricane Patricia forms in Pacific off Mexico 20
Syria archeology: antiquities looted, vandalized 20
Vietnam War remembered 20
Nazi Holocaust remembered 19

This is essentially the image that most Americans received from their most popular source of international news. Is it any wonder that so many foreigners are shocked by how little Americans know about their home countries or regions?

There’s obviously some good news in this list—including the normalization of relations with Cuba, the climate treaty in Paris, the International Space Station, the perennial British royals story (maybe that’s bad news, I don’t know), the US women’s victory in the World Cup. Again, this picture is pretty scary. But there are a few things worth noting (and I’m sure you will find many more):

  • The list contains absolutely nothing about China, including its economic troubles, its build-up in the South China Sea, its environmental or minority problems, its crackdown against outspoken dissidents and lawyers— or really the rest of East Asia.
  • A grand total of 22 minutes is devoted to the Israel-Palestine conflict despite the violence that has been going on since October and shows no sign of abating, not to mention the increasingly right-wing nature of the Israeli government or the clear disdain in which Obama and Netanyahu mutually hold themselves.
  • Aside from Cuba, there’s no real mention of anything related to Latin America. And normalization with Cuba—a historic development that effectively ended nearly 60 years of hostility—rated a grand total of 66 minutes on all three networks. By comparison, deflate gate and the NFL got 145 minutes, more than twice as much! At least, the Pope gave it some additional attention, albeit not much.
  • Aside from the tragic death of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, sub-Saharan Africa, the world’s largest continent with a population of a billion people, didn’t exist in the evening news universe. Not even for acts of terrorism carried out by Boko Haram or any other group affiliated with al-Qaeda or IS! This, of course, upholds the long-enduring Victorian notion that the only good things about Africa are its animals.
  • Despite the increased threat posed by the Taliban, as well as the belatedly reported death of Mullah Omar and the decision by Obama to put off a final withdrawal, Afghanistan didn’t make the top 20, receiving a grand total of only one hour and 25 minutes in the evening news for all of 2015.
  • Yemen’s devastating war garnered a total of 32 minutes, ten minutes more than the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Tyndall on the News

I asked Andrew Tyndall to comment on some of these observations, and here are some excerpts of our emailed interview:

Lobe: Did you see any greater effort on the part of the newscasters in 2015 to link the weather or weather-related disasters to global warming than in previous years?

Tyndall: I see no evidence of it. First, because gradual, secular weather events (the drought in California, El Nino in the Pacific) received less coverage than extreme, sudden weather events (winter storms, tornadoes, wildfires, flash floods). Second, because the Paris Summit on Climate Change was undercovered, since it coincided with the San Bernardino office party massacre, which eclipsed it.

Lobe: East Asia appears to have been almost entirely ignored in 2015, despite tensions between China and its neighbors in the South and East China Seas? Was this different than or consistent with coverage of the last few years when these territorial claims became more salient? What do you think are the implications of the lack of coverage?

Tyndall: Yes, the military tensions over marine territorial rights have barely been mentioned. The driving force to make such tensions newsworthy is usually not an editorial decision by news executives, but a political decision by an administration in power. In other words, the news tends to follow the Pentagon, reacting to its initiatives, rather than alerting the public, so that it can understand the issues at stake in advance of a debate over such initiatives.

Over the past 25-or-so years of my database, it is a rule of thumb that Republican administrations tend to be more bellicose in addressing overseas disputes, which leads to newscasts being more active in following them. In other words, we can expect coverage of the South China Seas to escalate if and when the US Navy is dispatched to confront the Chinese military in those waters. Lack of coverage, therefore, is a reassuring sign that we are not gearing up for a war with the People’s Republic.

Lobe: And what do you make of the absence of Africa coverage except for the lion?

Tyndall: Yes, given that terrorism and Islamist insurgencies are popular themes for the newscasts to cover, I would have expected more attention paid to Boko Haram and al-Shabaab. I have no problem with the attention paid to Cedric the lion and the Minnesota dentist [who killed him]. A perfect summer sensation.

Lobe: And Latin America except for Cuba?

Tyndall: With reference to Spanish-speaking Latin America, one of the unfortunate consequences of the success of Univision in providing news to Hispanic-Americans is that the Anglophone newscasts act as though their coverage would be duplicative. Thus, the end of the civil war in Colombia was hardly mentioned. The crisis of legitimacy and narco-corruption of the Mexican government only broke through onto English-speaking airwaves through the figure of El Chapo.

One of the advantages to the publicity and promotion around the Olympic Games is that resources and personnel are on site to cover non-sporting-related issues that would normally be ignored. I anticipate that the Zika virus will be the first of several stories to come out of Brazil this year, to coincide with the Rio Olympic Games.

For Mexican-US immigration policy: see Trump, D.

Lobe: Yemen got only 32 minutes despite the fact that it’s in the most heavily covered foreign region, its depiction as a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and the presence (and apparent expansion) there of al-Qaeda and IS? Any comment?

Tyndall: Logistically, Yemen is a very difficult country to cover. Its undercoverage belongs in the same category as Boko Haram and al-Shabaab. The rumblings of a possible third intifada on the West Bank also received surprisingly little airtime. I ascribe the lack of interest in covering the proxy Iran-Saudi war to two factors. First (as with the South China Sea) is the Pentagon’s lack of enthusiasm for getting involved. Second, the true anxieties associated with turmoil in the region are associated with symptoms (the spread of terrorism and refugees) not underlying causes (struggles for sectarian and regional hegemony).

This piece was originally published in Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy Lobelog.com

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ON THE MEDIA: Herzog and Oppenheimer draw lines regarding documentary filmmaking

parkrecord.comScott Iwasaki, Jan. 26, 2016, original

Filmmakers Werner Herzog, left, and Joshua Oppenheimer talked about their craft as documentarians during a Cinema CafŽ TimesTalk at the Filmmaker’s Lodge panel at the Sundance Film Festival on Monday. (Stephen Speckman/Sundance Institute)

Although both forms of communication attempts to reveal the truth of an issue, there is a difference between documentary filmmaking and journalism, and that was what Werner Herzog and Joshua Oppenheimer discussed at the Sundance Film Festival’s Filmmaker’s Lodge Monday morning.”You see too many documentaries where you see all of this investigative reporting that is finding out that this guy is bad and not only did he expose himself to a woman, but that he also has a bad political agenda,” Herzog told the audience. “It goes on and on ad nauseam, but it’s just journalism.”

Oppenheimer concurred and said he and Herzog are aware that documentary films must divorce themselves from journalism.

“Yes, most documentary films are an extension of journalism, so do them and declare them journalism,” he said. “I think it’s a pity that nonfiction cinema and documentary filmmaking in the United States in particular, is colonized by this. It may be perhaps because of the mainstream media’s failure to deeply investigate, what we, as nonfiction filmmakers, care about in the world.”

Sundance Film Festival veteran Herzog’s new film, “Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World,” which looks at the perils and possibilities of life connected to a vast network, premiered Saturday.

Oppenheimer directed the 2012 film “Act of Killing” and the 2014 follow up, “Look of Silence” which examines the horrors and effects of the Indonesian Massacre of 1965 and 1966, where government officials and the military conducted mass killing of suspected communists, Chinese nationals and left-wing sympathizers.

This year’s festival was his first.The award-winning documentary filmmakers’ panel was part of the Sundance Film Festival’s Cinema Café TimesTalk program, moderated by Kathleen Lingo of the New York Times.

During the hour-long presentation, Herzog and Oppenheimer, who are good friends, showed mutual respect for each other’s works.

“Throughout your nonfiction films, you make up stories with your voiceovers,” Oppenheimer told Herzog.

Documentary filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer, center makes a statement while New York Time’s Kathleen Lingo, left, and Werner Herzog, right, look on during a Cinema CafŽ TimeTalk panel at the Sundance Film Festival’s Filmmaker Lodge on Monday. (Stephen Speckman/Sundance Institute)

“Sometimes they are outlandish and sometimes fictional, but as viewers we know that you are taking us to a hidden truth.”Herzog said his narrations are a guide for his viewers.

“I want to take the audiences just under the arm and take them with me into pure poetry, fantasy and illumination,” he said.

He then told the audience that Oppenheimer’s films are just as powerful, especially when he crafts a scene with little or no dialog to emphasize a statement.

“These moments are of silent contemplation and the notion of memory that has been wiped out and silenced,” Herzog said. “[That’s when] you know this is a film that has unprecedented depth and that’s what brings me close to Joshua and his films.”

Lingo said both the filmmakers’ recent works appear to come from two different realities, but also reflect the current state of humanity and asked if there was anything for the human race to be hopeful for.

“I think I’m more hopeful,” Oppenheimer said to Herzog, lightening the mood. “So you go first and we’ll end on an ‘up.'”

Herzog said his films aren’t made from the notion of being hopeful or not.

“I find it odd that people are striving for happiness, as if it’s the primary goal in life and I find that silly,” he said. “Americans take it seriously because it’s even in their Constitution, ‘the pursuit of happiness.’ But that doesn’t touch me. It doesn’t interest me.

“You find these people stepping on the bus with the frozen rictus of a smile to show how happy they are,” he said. “It’s just awful.”

Lingo then asked about the pursuit of justice.

“That’s something else, something more meaningful,” Herzog answered. “Of course, being part of something meaningful like striving for justice or equal rights for humanity is a much more dignified goal than just personal happiness.”

Oppenheimer jumped in and said that people have tricked themselves into thinking everything in the world is OK as it should be.

“What [Werner and I] share is our profound disgust with pretense, denial, facade and the collective lies that naturalize and makes everything unjust and terrible, small and debased around us feel inevitable,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is make visible the fantasies, lies, delusions and self deceptions that constitute immoral imagination, which allows us to feel everything is fine, when it is really catastrophic.”

When those things are exposed, the audience may be taken aback.

“In that moment everything looks strange because a world that is depicted as a world of delusions, lies and fantasies, looks strange and we try to resist it,” Oppenheimer said. “But I think if there is any power to my films or Werner’s films, it’s because, in fact, it’s not the shock of [seeing] anything new, but the shock of recognition.”

Getting to the objective heart of the subject is a documentary filmmaker’s goal, Herzog said.

“It’s always an illumination of what we are at our best and our worst, and your approach is one from deep compassion,” he said. “You go into the deepest spot of human suffering and human pathos and I walk away from [Joshua’s] films illuminated. That’s what you do not have in cinema nowadays.”

Oppenheimer said that’s what he feels Herzog tries to do, even though the elder filmmaker tries to hide behind a state of anger.

“That openness you bring to everyone you film, even if you are ridiculing their delusions, is never from a place of sarcasm, but from a tragic sense of, ‘ we’re in this together and this is the wrong path,'” Oppenheimer told Herzog. “I think that is hopeful. It’s the opposite of cynicism.”

With all that is going on in the world, it is understandable why nonfiction filmmakers have taken on the job that Oppenheimer says journalists aren’t doing.

“It’s a pity, because this is a colonization of our art form by something else,” he said. “I think that we have to distinguish between journalism that pretends to understand, but really condemns, and confuses that with comprehension.

“You can’t divorce great filmmaking, even fiction, from empathy, and from the sense we need to strive to understand how we as human beings create these monstrous conditions and the inseparability of the violence, fear and silence which is seismically rocking the United States right now in our inner cities and the criminalization of huge swaths of our fellow countrymen,” he said. “You can’t divorce that from trying to understand how we in an everyday way, lie to ourselves to justify that. We can’t do that, with out understanding, empathizing and opening our hearts.”

The Sundance Film Festival will run through Jan. 31 in various venues in Park City. For more information, visit www.sundance.org .

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ON THE MEDIA: Syrian activists promote filmmaking, reading to ease daily suffering

al-monitor.com – Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East
Author: As-Safir (Lebanon) Posted January 18, 2016, original

Children walk beside a painted wall inside Jarmaq school in Yarmouk camp April 14, 2015. The text on the wall reads in Arabic "It's my right to learn." Picture taken April 14, 2015. REUTERS/Moayad Zaghmout - RTR4XFMX

Children walk beside a painted wall inside Jarmaq school in Yarmouk camp April 14, 2015. The text on the wall reads in Arabic “It’s my right to learn.” Picture taken April 14, 2015. REUTERS/Moayad Zaghmout – RTR4XFMX

Despite the cruelty of the war in Syria, community-based initiatives emerged from the pain from which society is suffering. As international initiatives crowd to resolve the intractable crisis, Syrian youth keep their initiatives on the local level without getting into politics and its ramifications. They focus on the people’s concerns and needs.

International news agencies and newspapers rush in with their cameras to capture scenes of the war in Syria to report on the daily news and events. However, Peace Lens is an initiative not related to the world of news, but based on documentary filmmaking.

The initiative’s team believes documentary filmmaking conveys the reality as it is through the camera lens and turns this reality into a series of pictures and scenes, to encourage the viewers to agree with a particular opinion or do a certain thing.

Documentaries are the most important tools nowadays, not only for their ability to influence the current situation. They can be used in the future as a deterrent for future generations, preventing them from entering into conflicts after seeing the amount of suffering resulting from the current conflict in the country.

The initiative’s team quotes Mikhail Kirkorov, a professor at the Petersburg State University of Film and Television, who said, “Syria is now the most important theater in the world for the documentary industry.”

Bashar al-Majdalawi, an official in the initiative, explained the project’s objective and work process: “The initiative was presented to the United Nations Development Programme. It is a cultural art project that brings together a group of people interested in filmmaking. They are taught how to shoot documentary films to convey social problems.” He added, “It is called Peace Lens because we wanted to link between documentaries and peace in light of our current situation.”

Majdalawi said, “A lot of things must be highlighted. We selected 10 young people, from different [social] categories, from the 40 people who applied for the course, according to UN standards and those of the project’s organizer. They were gathered in one place to brainstorm for a comprehensive idea for all the people in Syria to highlight peace.”

“At the end of the workshop, the film is shot and marketed — whether at festivals or special screenings — or posted on social networking sites, in order to make viewers think of solutions for the problems we are facing. We only put the problem in the spotlight, we do not give solutions,” he said.

Majdalawi added, “Such work could help the people we put in the spotlight in getting the support they need from organizations and institutions that care about them.”

Peace Lens organized two workshops for four months in two provinces, where a group of interested and talented people are trained for documentary filmmaking: writing texts, shooting and editing. After the workshop is done, two documentary films are made on cases of peace in the two provinces. The next phase would be to have a big screening for the documentaries in order to sell them. The proceeds of that money would be used to support families affected by the conflict.

The Book Initiative

It may be strange, and even undesirable under the shelling and the need for safety, to hold a book by Lebanese novelist Amin Maalouf and offer it to a family affected by the war.

The Book Initiative was launched by a team dubbed “A drop of Ink” in Damascus. The person in charge of the group, Youssef Sabbagh, said, “I first thought of how to encourage people to read.”

He added, “The idea is based on the establishment of a study with the various books, while focusing on those that are interesting for the youth and children. This is because this age category is important in building a better country, since they are the ones who engage in violent acts. Reading builds a human being that is balanced, honest and less violent — a person that has a weak culture of violence and higher prospects.”

On the importance of the initiative, Sabbagh explained, “One of the advantages is that online reading is prevailing, which is not wrong. The problem is that we do not know whether the sources are reliable. We tend to acquire a part of a certain idea without being aware from which book it comes. The initiative is a contribution to prove that the Syrian mind is the product of a well-established ancient civilization and is capable under the most difficult circumstances to move away from the culture of revenge.”

On the implementation of the initiative, Sabbagh said, “This study is placed in cafes, schools, cinemas, universities, centers and shelters. They consist of medium-sized studies that can be manufactured by local carpenters and includes diverse books. The idea was discussed at more than one level. Some have supported it and others considered that it is not the right time to read. I finally made the suggestion to the United Nations Organization for Refugees, which kept the door open for initiatives. A team of four members was made, and this is how ‘A Drop of Ink’ was formed.”

Sabbagh explained, “Work is currently underway in two parts. First is placing in specific places, where anyone can read a book without any fees. Second is about not contenting oneself with reading. In the care center in Dweil’a in Damascus, a library was established, composed of a variety of books for children and adolescents. We focus on the youth, because we have the ability to continue working with them until they get older. The next plan is to establish a library in shelters, as they accommodate affected families.”

On the idea that it is not the right time for reading, Sabbagh said, “Nothing justifies abstaining from reading. Education at home and schools is intrinsic. Reading builds [the youth] psychologically. We are not calling for giving reading a priority over the daily needs such as eating and drinking. But could it be possible to not have time to read?”

Read More: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/culture/2016/01/syria-local-initiatives-documentary-films-books-reading.html

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Media, Development: Stories from the soils: an audio series

Stories from the soils: an audio series produced by AMARC, in collaboration with FAO

2015 has been declared the International Year of Soils (IYS) by the 68th UN General Assembly. The IYS aims to be a platform for raising awareness of the importance of soils for food security and essential eco-system functions.

The IYS aims to attain the following objectives:

  • Create full awareness of civil society and decision makers about the fundamental roles of soils for human’s life;
  • Achieve full recognition of the prominent contributions of soils to food security, climate change adaptation and mitigation, essential ecosystem services, poverty alleviation and sustainable development;
  • Promote effective policies and actions for the sustainable management and protection of soil resources;
  • Sensitize decision-makers about the need for robust investment in sustainable soil management activities aiming at healthy soils for different land users and population groups;
  • Catalyze initiatives in connection with the SDG process and Post-2015 agenda;
  • Advocate rapid enhancement of capacities and systems for soil information collection and monitoring at all levels (global, regional and national).

The multiple roles of soils often go unnoticed. Soils don’t have a voice, and few people speak out for them. They are our silent ally in food production.
José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director-General

An audio series

As part of the International Year of Soils, the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) is partnering with the Office for Corporate Communication of theUnited Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to facilitate the production of 80 audio pieces by producers and community radio journalists in an effort to engage discussion, improve public education and encourage the sharing of scientific knowledge on the topic of environment, climate change, food security, agriculture, sustainable development, resilience and economical, cultural and political issues related to soils.

From March to December 2015, two productions a week will be featured on AMARC’s and FAO’s website. This audio series aims to illustrate how different community interact and deal with issues related to soils. AMARC and FAO wishes to share the communities’ voices and help them resonate on an international level.

More information: http://www.amarc.org/?q=node/2121

If you wish to participate or have a question, please contact secretariat@si.amarc.org

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Media, Development: Bringing drones down to earth

irinnews.org

By Caterina Pino and Obinna Anyadike

KATHMANDU, 12 May 2015 (IRIN) – Disaster coverage now seems incomplete without amazing drone footage of the damage, accompanied by effusive media reports on the technological wizardry of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and their humanitarian application. But is that really the story? Here’s a look at the evolution needed for them to better fulfill their potential.Right tool for the job?

The advantage of UAVs is that they are a fraction of the cost of manned aircraft and the smallest can fit into the hand luggage of a humanitarian response team. They provide very high resolution imagery and can carry an array of sensors. “They provide extra information in the phase where you need a quick overview,” explained Arjan Stam, overall leader of international Urban Search-and-Rescue units in Nepal.

But misconceptions remain, including within the humanitarian community, over what UAVs can achieve. “People who have not seen UAVs often think of the military versions that can fly a long way and carry heavy payloads,” said Andrej Verity of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Commonly used micro-UAVs, like the quadcopter DJI Phantom, has a flight time of under 25 minutes and doesn’t fly in high winds and bad weather. There are larger, more capable UAVs, but drones are far from always the answer. In many circumstances old-fashioned helicopters, manned aircraft and people doing assessments on foot are better options.

“If we prioritise using the cool new toys instead of choosing the collection platform that meets needs and constraints, we risk being less useful than we could be and probably slower,” said John Crowley of UN Global Pulse. “[UAVs] can be amazing assets when they fit into a larger system that makes it safe, secure and legal to use them – [that requires] trained people, clear policies, and established protocols.”

UAVs in disaster response are largely privately operated. There are currently 10 UAV teams in Nepal, from Canada’s Global Medic to California-based Team Rubicon, whose philanthropic partner is US intelligence-linked data mining firm Palantir. Encouraging adherence to standard operating procedures and maximising the humanitarian value of these diverse teams has historically proven a challenge.

Coordination conundrum

“Disaster responders in an emergency are generally too overwhelmed to lead on innovative methods,” Crowley told IRIN. “A disaster is rarely the time to introduce unfamiliar tools with lots of elements that require coordinated action between several organisations.”

Keeping on the right side of the law can be the first challenge. While some countries have UAV legislation in place to cover safety, privacy, national security and insurance liability, many do not. Where no regulations exists, UAV flights are either cleared with national authorities on an ad-hoc emergency basis, or are flown without permission – a reality that has a host of implications.

Then there is the glaring gap in the humanitarian response structure to facilitate UAV use. OCHA serves as the secretariat for critical coordination mechanisms like the Inter-Agency Standing Committee and the UN’s rapid-response Disaster Assessment and Coordination system and International Search and Rescue Advisory Group. But it has no formal oversight role as far as UAV operations are concerned, and has been cautious in claiming a mandate.

Who can we talk to?

In the Philippines, during Cyclone Haiyan in 2013, there was little coordination or clarity over how UAVs were to be used. OCHA then worked with the authorities on recognizing the value of UAVs and including them in national disaster response plans. But in 2014, when Cyclone Hagupit arrived, there was only an ad-hoc link between UAV operators, the humanitarian community and the government.

In the wake of Cyclone Pam that tore through the Pacific islands of Vanuatu earlier this year, a World Bank project used the volunteer Humanitarian UAV Network (UAViators) to provide damage assessment imagery. There was better engagement with the government and military on basics like flight path clearance and notification to local communities, but the arrangement was still informal.

In Nepal, UAViators has taken the lead in engaging with the civil aviation authorities and the police, but it lacks institutional clout. For drones to be better established, the founder of UAViators, Patrick Meier, argues what is required is “strong backing or leadership from an established humanitarian organisation that is able and willing to mediate with appropriate ministries.”

In a Skype conversation with IRIN, he added: “The UN has not designated a formal focal point for UAV flights who can serve as liaison with [government]…. This is a big problem, as UAV teams need formal letters confirming that they are part of the humanitarian response. Also, we need this focal point to serve as initial liaison with ATC [air traffic control] and the military. In sum: [it is a] major institutional gap here.”

But in a disaster, where aid agencies and government officials are scrambling to respond and capacity is stretched so thin, should the appointment of a focal person to work with UAV operators always be a priority?

Sharing is caring

The purpose of UAV imagery is to help better shape the humanitarian response.

To get proper value out of UAVs “we need to make sure that we’re as clear as possible on where imagery needs are greatest, where the gaps in coverage may be, and how those imagery needs are going to be connected directly with practical relief efforts,” Andrew Schroeder, director of research and analysis at Direct Relief, a medical aid charity, told IRIN.

“We need an easy way for people and organisations to express where and why they need imagery so that priorities can be established quickly and those with skills and access to the technology can be appropriately tasked. We need to make sure that we’re sharing data effectively and adhering to open standards,” said Schroeder, who chairs the UAV working group at Nethope, an NGO consortium.But the reality is that people can be averse to sharing. This can be due to legal and political considerations, with some humanitarian organisations leery of associating too closely with private UAV teams, or data hoarding by the drone operators.

Data is power

“Some UAV teams have not (yet) expressed an interest in sharing their imagery. Some have not provided information about where they’re flying,” Skyped Meier. “Of course, they are incredibly busy. And besides, they are not required to share.… [W]ithout strong public backing from established humanitarian groups, there is little the network can do.”

“Data is power, and people perceive it that way,” said Nama Budhathoki, the head of Kathmandu Living Labs. His team of volunteers is working with OpenStreetMap, a crowd-sourced geographic information system (GIS), to map the impact of the Nepal quake.

A significant impediment to working with UAV imagery is the size of the data files, which in the case of a country like Nepal, with low internet bandwidth, impacts on the speed with which data can be analysed.

“Aerial imagery typically constitute large files, which means they take longer to upload, and with unreliable or low bandwidth it can take multiple repeat attempts to upload just one mosaic [GIS maps are composed of a multitude of data mosaics],” said Meier.

“Figuring out file transfers from the field… this is a huge problem… and getting it out of disaster zones is really not easy. We need to treat the logistics for this as seriously as the damage assessment,” Robert Banick, a GIS expert at the Assessment Capacities Project, told IRIN.

Build local capacity

“I think we’re so excited about the possibilities of UAVs and so challenged by making it work that we’re not giving full attention to the data analysis,” he added.

Kathmandu Living Labs is trying to reduce the dependence on external analysis by using local mappers, who have the additional advantage of a “better sense of location and geography,” said Budhathoki.

His goal is not only to build sustainability in GIS, but also to develop a local “UAV capacity with Nepal.” It’s a project that Meier and UAViators are collaborating on.

Reducing the need for external assistance by assisting national authorities and local NGOs build their capacity in high disaster risk countries like Nepal would be a step forward.

Caterina Pino works with German Technical Cooperation in Turkey. She has worked for OCHA’s Regional Office for Eastern Africa, and  the Somalia country office. In her last OCHA assignment, Caterina advised the Philippines government on how to include civilian UAV capacity in their disaster preparedness and response plans. Obinna Anyadike is IRIN’s Editor-at-Large.

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Media, Haiti: Media’s Multiple Roles in Democracy and Development

USAID, by  on Friday, May 1st 2015

A reporter in Yerevan, Armenia scuffles with a police officer while covering a protest against the demolition of a historic building. / Photolur, IREX

A reporter in Yerevan, Armenia scuffles with a police officer while covering a protest against the demolition of a historic building. / Photolur, IREX

Reading the newspaper while sipping morning coffee and settling into an armchair to watch the evening news have long been iconic images — and for good reason. These sources of information are critical to promoting civil engagement and democracy

Today, in advance of the United Nations General Assembly’s World Press Freedom Day on Sunday, we take a moment to reflect on the vital role that journalists and media play in our daily lives and pay tribute to those who have sacrificed their lives for their profession. Operating around the clock, year-round, the media is expected to provide factual up-to-the minute reporting in addition to deeper analyses of societal issues ranging from democratic governance and free and fair elections to disaster reconstruction and reducing preventable diseases.

USAID Community Radio struggles to keep lines of communication open in a rural, isolated community in Haiti. / Nicole Widdersheim

Over the last 15 years as senior media advisor for USAID’s Center of Excellence for Democracy, Human Rights and Governance, I have observed a recurrent theme of the media as a central hub of information exchange. This seems to be something almost everyone can agree on–ordinary citizens and elites alike, regardless of the issue.

This expectation was recently reiterated in Haiti, when a leading Haitian human rights activist told our USAID delegation that “everything is channeled through the media,” comparing media to a “traffic circle, where all issues must pass.” A former journalist, she understood how the media system in Haiti can be a double-edged sword. While some journalists provide accurate and professional media content, educating the public and promoting progress, others can spread misinformation, increase tensions and even undermine stability.

A man in Myanmar reads a newspaper on the street. / Kim Nguyen van Zoen, Internews

While in Haiti, we visited seven towns, where local focus groups talked about what they liked and disliked about the Haitian media. Individual opinions differed, but we found widespread appreciation for a few specific areas, such as the recent health information campaigns that helped reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, cholera and other illnesses.

However, Haitians across the board also expressed clear frustration with the lack of quality local news; they felt that more coverage of social issues and educational content could help the country develop faster. This kind of media, they reasoned, could help people make better life choices and engage citizens in their country’s government and development. Simply stated: People valued the power of knowledge and believed in media as a translator of information and source of empowerment.

Women radio journalists from  Radio Ibo FM 98.5 read the midday news for the listening public in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. / Nicole Widdersheim

Haitians and international representatives across development sectors agreed. A medical doctor noted that “using community radio for prevention is much more cost effective” than treating diseases that could have been prevented. A specialist working to improve food safety nets added: “The more I work on health issues — including nutrition, the more I realize that the main problems arise from the public’s lack of information.”

USAID Media Officer Mark Koenig treks to the isolated, rural  community radio station, Radyo Vwa Peyizan Abriko / Radio Voice of the People of Abricot. This radio station has received support over the years from USAID and is beloved by the community, not only for sharing news and information, but also for acting in a mediation role and helping in lost and found. / Nicole Widdersheim

Throughout the world, USAID supports programs in over 30 countries to strengthen journalistic professionalism, establish media management skills and promote freer media. USAID programs are helping local media systems deliver critical information in diverse areas of development including agriculture, education, health, growth, environmental protection, resource management, conflict mitigation, election reporting and more. In countries struggling to cope with and recover from conflict, USAID also supports peace-building messaging and civil society monitoring.

As the testimony of Haitians suggested, citizens in all countries can be empowered by local media to address the issues they care about. People everywhere — across all development sectors — need trustworthy information and opportunities for public discourse. Access to information is a basic human right — freedom of press is a key foundation of this right. Today, and every day, we applaud the difficult work that journalists and media do and refocus our efforts on how best to empower media systems across the globe.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Koenig is Senior Advisor for Independent Media Development at USAID’s Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance.
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Media: Open Letter to The Media, re: Nepal Earthquake

From AidSpeak

Aid workers, you know how this goes. In approximately one year, the media is going too be all up in our grill.

Why? Because after a gazillion dollars in aid, Kathmandu will still not look like Singapore; some people will still be living in tents (as opposed to two-storey modular homes with Direct TV and WiFi); foreigners will have been seen going to meetings in white Land Cruisers; and, well, frankly no one was “accountable” or “transparent.” At least a few journalists will jump-start stagnating careers by writing books stridently critical of the aid industry (The Big Drone That Flew By, etc.) and at least two will claim to have been “the only foreign correspondent in Kathmandu at the time of the earthquake.” (They’ll refer to themselves as “earthquake survivors” in their bios and interviews.)

At the one year anniversary, major networks will run specials on “where the money went” or “did aid really help Nepal?” Of course, a bunch of new INGOs (some started up by failed climbers) specifically focused on the earthquake will be interviewed and featured at length. They’ll make outrageous (and impossible to verify) claims about how they cut through red tape and outwitted the aid system to deliver life-saving assistance to those who most desperately needed it.  (I’ll never understand why the go-to response by everyone who feels that the aid industry is an inefficient bureaucracy seems to be to start their own NGO, thus adding to the net amount of bureaucracy in the world. But obviously I digress.) They’ll use words like “bloated” to describe NGO salary structures, and point to the fact that aid workers took R&R as proof that everyone in the aid system is hopelessly self-interested.

At some point during year one there will be a celebrity visit that goes wildly/hilariously amuck: Someone (my money’s on Ian Birrel) will latch onto that as proof that “aid doesn’t work”, and do a lot of strident tweeting about it. Wonks from think tanks or universities that end in “ord,” who’ve never implemented anything even remotely close to a relief response, will give soundbites about the importance of innovation, humanitarian UAVs, and big data. Maybe Richard Engel or Ann Curry will fly in and have scripted heart-to-heart interviews with survivors, after which they’ll gaze into the camera and offer pithy one-line analyses in their best weary/soulful voices.

Yes, those of us in the aid industry know this is coming. It happens every time, it’s annoying as hell, and it sucks up precious overhead to deal with it on top of everything else. So maybe let’s just nip some of that in the bud right now.

Media, you’re on notice:

If you want to say that the aid industry was not accountable in Nepal, then articulate the baseline and the standard now. What is our target?

If you want to say that we are not delivering aid fast enough, then do share—what’s the metric that we’re aiming for? At what objectively verifiable rate of delivery will this simply cease to be an issue for you?

If you want to complain that we’re not transparent, then tell us right now what level of transparency, in your expert opinions, is sufficient?

Please do explain right now what state of recovery Kathmandu should be in in one year’s time if we’re doing our jobs properly.

Too many INGOs swarming to Nepal? Okay, how many should there be? Do be specific. Too many foreigners going to too many meetings? Please, what is an optimal, or at least an acceptable foreigner-to-local ratio? And what is the preferred number of meetings per day/week/etc?

This will make all of our jobs (including yours) easier.

Thanks.

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On the Media: Reframing the Message

Original article found on: DEEEP

Reframing the Message” is an EU-supported training and communication project implemented by three organizations in three European countries. The participating organizations are Wilde Ganzen from the Netherlands, Divoké Husy from Czech Republic and CISU – Civil Society in Development from Denmark. The three organizations’ joint application was approved by the EU in the autumn of 2012.

The project aims to strengthen the communication on development for the civil society organizations of these three countries so it reflects the structural causes of poverty in a balanced manner. The object is to produce reliable and respectful communication that will affect the citizen’s commitment to development cooperation.

“Reframing the Message” serves as best practice example on how to work ‘hands on’ with civil society organizations and their communication. It is a practical take on the various initiatives such as DEEEP4 that aims to challenge and change the existing paradigm on development.
During the two-years-project period we have found great inspiration from DARE Forum’s DEEEP project.

What paradigm was challenged? The old aid and charity paradigm which reproduces an unequal balance of power with a strong giver to a grateful receiver: the main storyline is roughly that the developing countries and their populations are perceived as poor dependent wretches with no ability to change their own way of life.

What new paradigm was developed? While civil society organisations have, through “Reframing the Message”, rejected the old paradigm, defining a new paradigm has proved more difficult.
However, a new European focus on the Global South as strong and independent communicators and storytellers has arisen. Organisations have started to listen to these voices and a new paradigm could potentially emerge from a global dialogue between citizens.

What did we learn? Across three participating countries we learned that we can address change from a practical point of view and start bottom-up with each CSO and their communication.

What is the next step? As the project expires in spring 2015, next step is not discussing what should be “reframed” but instead uniting across organizations and countries to engage citizens in global matters – like DEEEP4 works to do.

An overall objective and two specific objectives were formulated for the project:

  • Overall objective: To change the attitude towards development cooperation among the general public through a large number of small and medium sized development organisations and groups that stress the progress made in reaching the MDGs, while depicting the need for structural change.
  • Specific objective 1: Build the capacity of these organisations in order for them to better communicate ‘Best News’ and take stronger action.
  • Specific objective 2: To achieve synergy between the three project partners through exchange of ideas, best practices and joint methodologies.

Components in the project

During the two-years-project period “Reframing the Message” offered the following activities for the participating organisations and to a larger audience:

  • A variety of different trainings, workshops and presentations. On communication strategy, storytelling, social media, smartphone as a monitoring tool, efficient websites and press work – capacity building was a key component in the project.
  • Developing an online communication toolkit in Dutch and English to be used by civil society organisations and their partners in the Global South.
  • A sub-granting pool where organisations were allocated 2,000 euro to test their new skills and approach to communication and fundraising.
  • A competition on communication products and plans in connection with a counselling program with professional communication advisors.
  • Stakeholder meetings every year in each of the three countries.
  • Raising public debate on the subject.
  • Establishing a national network for development education.
  • National actions for the “World’s Best News” campaign.

What went well

All in all the project was a success. Both in matter of project planning across three countries but certainly also in matter of participants, debate and a possible new discourse. This is what we would highlight:

  • Engaging a large number of active citizens from a variety of civil society organizations.
  • Finding a practical and ‘hands on’ approach to telling stories about developing countries.
  • The three project countries working closely with the civil society organizations and developing the project in relation to their context in order to create deeper impact.
  • Starting a buzz and maintaining the discussion on development education amongst practitioners in the three countries.
  • Establishing and using the synergy between three organisations in three countries connecting and challenging each other – also in connection with other international initiatives as DEEEP4 and The Smart CSOs Lab.

Which challenges are still to be faced?

Although we did several attempts to get the larger organisations on board we found it difficult  connecting to the organisations dependent on private fundraising – especially regarding their fundraising campaigns where the hard-hitting argument seemed to be “but photos of starving children is what get people to donate money”. Future challenges will be:

  • Engaging the large international organisations in the discourse.
  • Identifying and developing synergy between fundraising and communication in a constructive way (instead pointing fingers at each other’s shortcomings).
  • Continually to cultivate and support the national and transnational networks initiated by Reframing the Message.

Original article found on: DEEEP

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On the Media: Ebola – media ‘overlooked Africa’s role in combating crisis’

Original article found on: The Guardian

By: Sam Jones on April 7, 2015

African Union says media downplayed Africans’ willingness and ability to deal with Ebola and focused instead on part played by international agencies

A Liberian health worker checks the temperature of students to curb the spread of Ebola in Caldwell, outside the capital Monrovia. Photograph: Ahmed Jallanzo/EPA

A Liberian health worker checks the temperature of students to curb the spread of Ebola in Caldwell, outside the capital Monrovia. Photograph: Ahmed Jallanzo/EPA

Africa’s efforts to tackle the Ebola crisis have been largely overlooked even though Africans have taken the lead in providing frontline staff and shown themselves “better placed to fight infectious diseases in their continent than outsiders”, according to the African Union (AU).

Dr Olawale Maiyegun, director of social affairs at the AU commission, said that despite the fact that Africans had proved both willing and able to deal with Ebola, the focus had been on the work of international agencies and those with the greatest media clout.

“Unfortunately, Africans do not have the international voice of CNN, BBC and France 24, therefore much of our work is overlooked in the western media,” he said. “Most of the assistance provided by the international community is in the areas of finance and infrastructure. In the most critical human resources for health, Africans – including the affected countries – have had to take the lead.”

His comments come six months after Nelson Mandela’s widow, Graça Machel, accused African leaders of failing to do enough to address the health crisis. “Ebola has exposed the extreme weaknesses of our institutions as governments; countries which are affected were found totally unprepared,” she told African business leaders in November last year. “It’s time Africa began to give real value to human life, in other words African human lives.”

Others have criticised the AU for waiting 10 months before holding an emergency summit on the outbreak.

However, Maiyegun argued that the AU and the Economic Community of West African States had reacted well to the crisis, with the AU deploying more than 835 African health workers to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea at the peak of the epidemic. “The success of African health workers – including the heroic health workers of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – shows one thing: African health workers are better placed to fight infectious diseases in their continent than outsiders,” he said.

Maiyegun said the AU’s response had been guided by the philosophy that it should not dictate how the the affected countries should run their fight against Ebola. “We put volunteers at the disposal of the governments of the affected countries,” he said. “They told us what to do and we have performed creditably.”

He added: “The people of the affected countries must be given credit for doing a good job. With so many actors in the field, it’s important that it’s not just those with the loudest voices who are credited in the press for bringing Ebola under control.”

Maiyegun said the recent report from the medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières‎ (MSF) – which accused the governments of Guinea and Sierra Leone of obstructing the early response and contributing to the loss of life – had shown that everyone involved in managing the crisis needed to reflect on their actions.

“There is no doubt that MSF has played a very important role in the fight against the epidemic and they should be well acknowledged,” he said. “However, MSF also needs to have a comprehensive assessment of its involvement, particularly in its approach and its methods in the fight against Ebola.”

In January and February, lab workers in two Guinean medical centres – one of them run by MSF – put blood samples in the wrong test tubes. The mix-ups led to the release of at least four patients who later tested positive for Ebola, two of whom went on to die. Rather than “pointing accusing fingers at others”, said Maiyegun, the charity should be conducting an internal review.

MSF said it had taken the incident very seriously and worked with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Guinean ministry of health to make sure the situation was contained and lessons learned. “We are relieved that no one else contracted Ebola as a result of coming into contact with a patient who wrongly tested negative and have taken steps to make sure such an incident does not happen again,” said a spokeswoman.

She described the report as an “initial reflection on the past year”, adding: “With our teams still heavily involved in tackling the ongoing outbreak it is difficult to draw definitive conclusions; we do not yet have the necessary distance for a thorough critical review. More in-depth assessments – including of MSF’s own work – will certainly follow.”

Maiyegun counselled against premature talk of an end to the Ebola crisis, describing the race to halt new infections as a “bumpy road”. He said the hundreds of potential new cases discovered following Sierra Leone’s three-day lockdown last weekend underlined the need for continued vigilance.

Maiyegun declined to put a date on an end to the crisis – which has killed more than 10,300 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – pointing out that unpredictability was one of the hallmarks of previous Ebola outbreaks in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“One thing is certain,” he said. “We cannot completely declare one of the three affected countries free of Ebola if the outbreak persists in two other countries.”

According to the latest figures from the WHO, 79 new confirmed cases of Ebola were reported in the week to 22 March – the lowest weekly total in 2015. Guinea reported 45 new cases and Sierra Leone 33. Liberia, which had seen no new cases for three consecutive weeks, confirmed a new one on 20 March.

Original article found on: The Guardian

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On the Media: ZEKE Magazine – The Magazine of Global Awareness

ZekeGraphic

A great new magazine is launching very soon. ZEKE, published by the Social Documentary Network, will explore the world through photographs, ideas, and words, by leading documentary photographers from across the globe. The first issue will feature the best work from SDN from the previous year. ZEKE will combine photography with essays about the issues explored by the photographers.

The first issue has feature articles on Water/Scarity, Bangladesh Garment Industry, and Rio/Brazil, as well as interviews and other photography and content of interest to people interested in documentary.

Visit the ZEKE website for more information, and if inspired (which I hope you are) consider purchasing a print or digital copy.

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