The Presentation: An Overview

Looking back I’m pleased with the presentation and how it ran on the day. I think we brought all the research we had done together.  In examining the use of digital technologies worldwide this allowed us to comment on how it helps or hinders different countries freedom of the press.  We could also compare this to press freedom in the UK. It was a challenge to give each place and each point a time slot, as there was just so much to say.  If we were to do it again we could look into this and maybe find a more effective way of portraying the each countries press freedom.

Anna did incredibly well bringing everything together on the powerpoint and I think the link to Adrian via Skype was the right way to get our point across in how digital technologies are used.  We could have maybe used other interactive technologies to give the presentation a more multimedia feel.

I was happy with Matt Fleming’s interview and that we could hear from a professional firsthand about freedom of the press in the UK. I hope by using a snippet in the presentation this enticed the audience to our blog afterwards to view the longer cuts of his interview.  He raised some interesting points about Twitter and libel laws, and also commented on press freedom in Dubai, which I have since looked into to find out more.

The question and answer session after the presentation was very interesting and we were asked some thought provoking questions which gave us a great opportunity to bring in other information we didn’t have chance to cover in the presentation.

I think there are still massive amounts we could research but I hope we covered the most important points to answer the question for all of you. 

I’d love to know what you think…

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Libel tourism or: When the internet is a bad thing for press freedom

In August 2010 President Barack Obama signed into law the Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Act (or, if you prefer SPEECH). Why? To protect Americans from being sued in foreign countries for things they say and write in America, for American audiences.

There was one country Congress had in mind when drafting the bill. It wasn’t some far flung outpost of tyranny that had become the enemy of American freedom of speech, but the courts of England and Wales.

How?

The story starts with the publication of Rachel Ehrenfeld’s book Funding Evil in 2003. In it, she describes the complex networks of financiers, banks, fake charities, drug trafficking and money laundering that fund global terrorism. She also makes specific allegations against individuals, including a Saudi businessman named Khalid bin Mahfouz, who was accused of funding Al-Qaeda. (I can write that without fear of being sued, incidentally, since Khalid bin Mahfouz has died since the book came out. English law rules that you cannot libel the dead. So I can say what I like about him.)

Anyway, the book was published in the United States, where constitutional guarantees of free speech ensure that being sued for libel is unlikely. In the US in a defamation case, you have to prove that the allegations aren’t true. In England, the reverse is so, so the burden of proof falls on the person making the accusation. Given that her book was about the complex networks of finance the people who fund Al-Qaeda filter their money through, to make it hard for them to be found out…actually proving her allegations would be difficult.

As a result, Ehrenfeld’s book was published and marketed only in the United States. so she must have been surprised to be sued in…London.

Although the book had not been published in the UK, 23 copies (yes, twenty three) had been bought from America via amazon.com and other US based sites. And a chapter from the book had appeared, for a time, on the website of the ABC television network. Which is accessible from the UK, for anyone who cares to have a look. At no point had a UK organisation either sold the book, or reprinted the allegations. Bin Mahfouz didn’t live in the UK at the time. But he was allowed to sue. And won.

The message the English courts sent, that anyone can be sued for libel in England wherever they’ve made the allegations, was loud and clear and profoundly disturbing. It became something of a cause célèbre in the US, even making it into a South Park episode where a fictional, and robustly heterosexual Tom Cruise shouts “I’ll sue you in England!”

The episode in question still hasn’t been shown on television in England.

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The Presentation

So… the presentation is done.

With two weeks time to reflect, I think it went quite well. We tried to bring across, how digital technologies certainly do have an impact on improving press freedom worldwide, but at the same time obviously can’t change things overnight.

The prepared audio unfortunately didn’t work but apart from that, we were right in time.

Adrian’s “live”-report tricked at least some people and we discussed for quite some time, how important especially the internet is right now for what is happening in the Middle East.

Thanks also for the animated twitter discussion!

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The Case Oleg Kashin

Wikipedia

[continued from here]

Last November, a leading Russian journalist had been brutally beaten outside his Moscow home.

The assault against Oleg Kashin was also a general warning towards all critical journalists in Russia. Kashin has been reporting for the newspaper “Kommersant” since 2009; mainly on the Russian non-parliamentary opposition.

Theories

There certainly was no lack of theories about why Kashin was targeted. Many people thought immediately about United Russia’s youth wing, Molodaya Gvardia. They openly threatened Kashin in an August article on their website.

Kashin’s sin? He interviewed one of the radical anti-fascist protesters who protested against the cutting down of the Khimki forest this summer. That interview is not particularly rebellious; Kashin even follows a fairly strict line with his interviewee.

Nevertheless, it lead the police to asking the “Kommersant” to turn over Kashin’s emails.

Russian Journalists United

Kashin had been in the headlines of Russian news and talk-shows for several weeks, yet his offenders remained unknown.

BUT: Despite the government’s promises to solve the case as soon as possible, Russian citizens did not want to trust their words anymore. For weeks, they were protesting for a free press and a speedy and sorrow investigation of Kashin’s case.

AND: What helped was Kashin’s high internet presence. Because he is such a big personality on the web, the “community” spread the word really quick.

– Which then led to people’s presence on the street.

– Which then led to make the incident a big story for the news shows on television.

So I think that’s a very good example for how the internet generated a lot of attention for an attack against press freedom.

Especially in a country that, as Adrian mentioned, is almost unreasonably loyal to its government, this means quite a lot, doesn’t it?

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Wikileaks – The Cablegate Scandal

Julian Assange will face trial in Sweden for alleged sexual assault.  To many, this man is ‘Public Enemy Number One’.  And following Wikileaks most daring move towards the end of last year, it is easy to see why he is the brunt of so much animosity.

On 28 November 2010, it started.  Wikileaks published more than 100,000 confidential US cables leaked to them from an anonymous source.

Published in many papers around the world — The Guardian in the UK, Der Spiegel, New York Times, El Pais (Spain) and Le Monde.

Highly criticised around the world for jeopardising international relations, it gave very detailed information, and opinions on politicians and leaders around the world.

In spite of this criticism, there was rallying support from advocates of free speech, and when the website was blocked and payments to it prevented by service providers; there were huge repercussions — hackers (calling themselves ‘anonymous’) attacked websites such as visa and amazon.com, shutting them down.
The group also targeted governments of countries such as Zimbabwe and Tunisia, as they censored the release.

In terms of press freedom, this is possibly the best example of digital technology having a huge impact on broadcasting and press freedom.  It is the epitome of free speech – and these documents probably would not have been published if it were not for the internet and Wikileaks’ technology.
It can be argued that this is free speech going a step too far, and raises the question “just how much do we need to know?”, and “is it worth releasing the information even if it puts lives at risk?”…regardless, it proves just how powerful digital technology is as a information provider.

The publication of the information on the Tunisian government’s self dealing and the excesses of the president’s family is one of the (and possibly the most significant) reasons for the people’s uprising.

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Press and broadcasting freedom present in the UAE?

Leading on from Matt Fleming’s comments about the lack of press freedom in Dubai, it will be interesting to understand more about the problems journalists face there in light of the other countries we have examined.

In recent news, the Arabic Network For Human Rights Information has looked at the state of press freedom in the United Arab Emirates in the wake of the decision by Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoom, to overrule a judge who had sentenced two journalists to jail.

It seems that press freedom, or freedom of expression,  is not present in the UAE – regardless of its media explosion. The hrinfo.net report begins with the most obvious example of censorship: the state-ordered shut-down of two Pakistani TV channels, Geo and Ary One, at the request of Pakistan’s military dictator, General Musharraf.  This drew international condemnation, but there are also other similar instances in different areas of the media:

Bans on writers: The newspaper Khaleej refused to publish an essay by AbdelKhaliq Abdullah about the necessity for evaluating the performance of UAE universities. He is said to be one of several writers who are subject to bans. They include Said Harib, Mohammed Al-Rokn and Mohammed Almansoory.

Book publishing ban: The ministry of culture and youth has refused permission for Emarati writer and artist Manal Bin Omar to publish her book of poems, Away From The Hands of Whores. The ministry demanded that the “immoral” title be changed.

Website banned: Six legal actions have been launched against Majan.net website, which is now banned under a court order.

The Guardian has written about how the UAE aims to stifle press freedom for foreign journalists working in the United Arab Emirates, with journalists claiming the authorities are stifling press freedom. Altogether it is thought that 1,000 foreign journalists are located in the UAE with many of them working for the leading agencies, Reuters, AP and AFP.

Such reporters have been told to avoid writing “negative stories” about the UAE’s economy. In The Guardian’s report, a journalist working for Bloomberg was detained on arrival at Dubai airport and after a two-hour grilling about his work was warned to “be careful”. Also a senior correspondent based in Dubai for the past eight years has said that press freedom is: “the worst it’s ever been.”

These incidents come as the UAE stands on the brink of adopting a new media law that, according to the New York-based Human Rights Watch, will undermine freedom of expression. It expressly forbids the publication of stories that are deemed to be harmful to the national economy.

Under the proposed law, fines up to about £100,000 can be imposed for “carrying misleading news that harms the national economy.” It also includes fines of up to £1m for “insulting” members of the government and the ruling family. 

It is believed UAE’s rulers are sensitive to criticism in western media. An article in The Independent by Johann Hari, The dark side of Dubai, gave a first hand account of the reality.

In terms of the national press operating within Dubai, a newspaper in operation is The National, the state-owned broadsheet paper published in Dubai’s neighboring sheikdom, Abu Dhabi, that is edited by former Daily Telegraph editor, Martin Newland.  From this paper we can see a variation of news, but nothing that coud be damaging for the country, again evidence of the lack of press freedom present there. 

Dubai provides a different outlook of press freedom worldwide in terms of the printed press.  In broadcasting and digital technologies, it seems constraints are also evident but arguably even tighter to practice freely.

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Journalist Matt Fleming Interview on Digital Technologies

I also asked Matt:

‘What effect are digital technologies having on print journalism?’

Here Matt explained the expansion of the internet and how it is changing a journalists job, and also their freedom.

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