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Turkey Passes Draconian Laws To Stifle Internet

Protesting  internet censorship in Ankara (Pic.

On Wednesday, February 5, Turkey adopted Law 5651 that imposes greater restrictions on an already stifled media. During its passage through parliament, the bill came under fire from the opposition and was later criticised by sections of Turkey’s business community and the European Parliament. Notwithstanding that, the new reality in Turkey will be government agencies authorised to block websites without a judicial order and carry out surveillance through deep packet inspection.

AFPquoted Bilgi University’s law professor, Yaman Akdeniz saying the powers given to the Telecommunications Communications Presidency (TIB) as “Orwellian” and that the measures will “move Turkey away from the European Union in terms of Internet policy, perhaps a few steps closer to China.”
The AFP report included reactions from European regional organisations OESC and the European Union: “Dutch MEP [member of the European Parliament] Marietje Schaake said that in Turkey’s EU accession talks, Brussels needed to tell Ankara such legislation is ‘unacceptable’ and that ‘the rule of law and fundamental freedoms are at the centre of EU policy.'”
Prime Minister Tyyip Erdogan and his government have been facing mounting protests against repression and corruption. Last year Turkey violently suppressed a popular protest in Istanbul’s Gezi Park that saw six deaths. Later last year the media highlighted stories of large-scale corruption that implicated senior politician in the government party. On both issues Erdogan blamed the media – especially the social media – of spreading falsehood and creating unrest. He said during the Gezi Park crisis, “There is a problem called Twitter right now and you can find every kind of lie there.”
“Erdogan, Turkey’s all-powerful leader since 2003 is openly suspicious of the Internet, branding Twitter a “menace” for helping organise mass nationwide protests in June in which, six people died and thousands injured,” says AFP.
“Social media was not Erdogan’s biggest problem. His biggest problem was that citizens whose lives and nation harmed by his rule, were fighting back, and they had found an effective medium through which to organise and express their protest. Twitter was the problem because its users had identified Erdogan as the problem,” writes Sarah Kendzior, who writes on politics and the media in a post to Al-Jazira.
Kendzior says that when the powerful condemn the medium it is the marginalised messenger they are after. “It is a tactic reminiscent of dictators facing a challenge to power: Target the medium, slander the messenger, ignore the message.”

Twenty Al-Jazeera Journalists To Be Tried In Egypt

Media freedom in Egypt took a turn for the worse Wednesday, after the prosecutor’s office charged 20 journalists of the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera of “membership of a terrorist organisation” and “undermining national unity and social peace by broadcasting false information.”
The onslaught by the Egyptian government installed after the overthrow of Muslim Brotherhood-backed Mohammad Morsi regime last year, has intensified in recent times against journalists seen as supporting the Brotherhood. As far as foreign correspondents go, journalists from media organisations based in two countries – Qatar and Turkey – also seen as supportive of the deposed Muslim Brotherhood government have been the main targets.

The Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF) said that on August 28 ‘Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr’ (a Cairo-based Al-Jazeera affiliate) was declared illegal and on September 3, it, and three other channels, was closed on the grounds of “threatening social peace,” “disseminating rumours and false, misleading reports” and “inciting hatred and public disorder.”
On September 10, the Cairo offices of the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) were raided by the police. Mounting intimidation led to TRT suspending its operations temporarily, said RSF.
RSF said of the 20 journalists, 16 who are Egyptian have been charged for membership of a terrorist organisation. The other four are Australian Peter Greste, two Britons and a Dutch citizen. They are charged with “collaborating with [these] Egyptians by provide them with money, equipment and information (…) and broadcasting unreal scenes to give the impression to the outside world that there is a civil war.”
The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said “This is the first instance of terror-related charges against journalists and foreigners since the government declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation in December. Al-Jazeera has denied the charges, demanding its reporters be freed.”
Of the 20, eight are already in custody the others have been declared as fugitives by the Egyptian government.
IFJ said Greste, a Peabody Prize winning Australian journalist and former BBC correspondent had written emotional letters, smuggled out of prison, about the conditions in which he and his colleagues are held.  
“In the letters, he said that he had his first walk in the ‘weak winter sunshine’ after spending ten days being locked in his cell 24 hours a day when not being questioned, while he expressed his fear that writing the letters might result in his harsh treatment, saying: ‘I am nervous as I write this. I am in my cold prison cell after my first official exercise session – four glorious hours in the grass yard behind our block and I don’t want that right to be snatched away.”
He said that his two colleagues Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were held in worse conditions as they were accused of membership of the Muslim Brotherhood. Wrote Greste: “Both men spend 24 hours a day in their mosquito-infested cells, sleeping on the floor with no books or writing materials to break the soul-destroying tedium.”
“This attempt to criminalize legitimate journalistic work is what distorts Egypt’s image abroad. The government’s lack of tolerance shows that it is unable to handle criticism,” said Sherif Mansour, Middle East and North Africa Coordinator of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). “We call on authorities to drop these outrageous charges and release all journalists from jail immediately.”
IFJ and its affiliate Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance have also published statements and written letters demanding the release of the Al-Jazeera journalists.

US Media Moghuls Helping China Export Repression?

Meeting of WMS’s Presidium, October 10 (Pic. The Atlantic)

In ‘Exporting Repression,’ posted in March on the blog of the New York-based think tank Freedom House, Daniel Calingaert speaks of countries governed by authoritarian regimes cooperating with each other to consolidate power over “discontent at home and international criticism.” Calingaert says opposition to the respect of human rights and democracy makes these unlikely allies collaborate.     
“This cooperation, which might be dubbed ‘authoritarian internationalism,’ presents a significant challenge to democracy around the world and has likely contributed to the decline in global freedom registered by Freedom House over the past seven years,” wrote Calingaert, who is Freedom House’s executive vice president.

He goes to speak about the Chinese model of “with its combination of rapid economic growth and political repression, presents an appealing policy model for other authoritarian regimes.” However, as challenges to this model of governance rise from within China as well as through liberal internationalism, Beijing is reacting by tutoring other authoritarian regimes which are fragile kleptocracies on the principles of sustainable authoritarian governance. The idea of course is that an international coalition of authoritarian states with a common global vision of strangling democracy would keep them in power.
Calingaert goes on to describe eight aspects of authoritarian internationalism: 1) Close ties between dictatorships, 2) Replicating worst practices, 3) Technology exports, 4) Security service collaboration, 5) Military intervention, 6) Challenging international norms, 7) Undermining international institutions and (8) Counter-organizations.
While all these are important, of particular significance to this blog are technology exports. On this Calingaert discusses China’s use of technology to censor content on the internet and how, “it has reportedly supplied telephone and internet surveillance technology to Iran and Ethiopiaand provided several Central Asian governments with telecommunications infrastructure that may increase their ability to spy on their own citizens.”
Another article on the subject titled ‘Authoritarian Black Market‘ by a Freedom House researcher Andrew Rizzardi also refers to Chinese export of telecommunication technology. Rizzardi goes on to say, “China’s improvements to a country’s telecommunications infrastructure are often accompanied by more advanced censorship and surveillance capabilities for the local government. “China is assisting Zambia with the installation of deep-packet inspection (DPI) technology that enables the government to monitor and potentially block social media and ‘unfriendly’ websites,” says Rizzardi to illustrate of the operation of the authoritarian black market.
The importance Beijing places on technology to censor content on the internet shows only too clearly the importance of state propaganda and the role authoritarian regimes, be it China, Venezuela, Iran or Zambia assign on controlling the information reaching their citizens and the international community.
Seen in this light, an article that appeared in the October 31 issue of The Atlantic is food for thought. Titled, ‘Legitimising the ‘Civilized Internet’: China’s Seduction of U.S. Media’ it discusses a meeting of the presidium of the World Media Summit (WMS) held in Hangzhou on October 10, sponsored hosted by the Chinese state news agency Xinhua. WMS is the brainchild of a former Chinese deputy propaganda minister and present chairman of Xinhua, Li Congjun. What is significant is that the presidium is the decision-making body of the WMS and that among the attendees at the meeting were representatives of top US media organisations – “Google, The Associated Press, News Corporation, NBC News, The New York Times Company and Turner Broadcasting System. Other participants included Reuters, BBC, Al-Jazeera…” In the presidium is also Kasturi & Sons, publishers of the India’s English daily, The Hindu.
The Atlantic goes on to point out the dangers of these media organisations attending the meeting without mincing words: “Whether they were aware of it or not, these highly influential media brands were lending credibility to an opaque organization that the Chinese government created expressly to further its global propaganda goals. Moreover, their meeting took place while China is escalating its crackdown on online speech and investigative journalism. For these reasons, it is perhaps unsurprising that this event has received no attention in the Western press.”
The article goes to describe the thinking behind the Chinese leadership on using media as a source of soft power, and the sophistication needed for information control. It quotes David Bandurski of the University of Hong Kong’s China Media Project, “‘One of the best ways to legitimize censorship is to make it look voluntary. This is why China has sought in recent years to push censorship and control through what look like voluntary professional organizations, which then make self-discipline pledges, come out with resolutions mirroring official policy…'”
The Atlantic suggests that one of the reasons these organisations are in the presidium is to improve the penetration of their media businesses into China. The New York Times, BBC, Google and CNN websites have been blocked on and off in China in the past and reporters from The Times and Al Jazeera not granted visas to enter the Chinese mainland.
“‘I can understand the interest in engaging with China, which is a major potential market for these media organizations,’ says China Media Project’s Bandurski. ‘But I question the decision to become governing members of an ostensibly non-government organization that is clearly associated very closely with the Chinese leadership. If this is indeed an independent organization, then the members should be able to explain to us publicly how its governance works and how it is financed.'”
The Atlantic adds, “There is no evidence suggesting that the WMS presidium meeting in Hangzhou has altered coverage of China by publications belonging to any of the presidium’s non-Xinhua members. However, the growing profile of the WMS does raise significant questions: What is this organization’s agenda? And whose agenda is it?”
The questions become more all the more relevant because the World Media Summit’s next general meeting will be hosted by The New York Times, while Al-Jazeera will do the honours in 2016. For China, a country that is accused of sponsoring international authoritarianism that’s no mean achievement.

Faisal Salih: Paying The Price for Speaking Out In Sudan

Faisal Mohamed Salih

Faisal Mohamed Salih, 53, winner of the 2013 Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism, is a celebrated Sudanese journalist. But he is much more than that. In a country where democratic freedoms and human rights are violated with impunity, he understands that only by fighting on multiple fronts, including for other human rights defenders, can the battle against political barbarism be won.
One such human rights defender is 25-year-old Safia Ishag. A student at Khartoum University in 2009 where she read fine arts, she joined Girifna (We are Fed Up) a pro-democracy movement that opposed the ruling NCP of President Omar al-Bashir. It was a time when the country was gearing up for elections. And as an activist Ishag helped people register to vote.
In January 2011, encouraged by the Arab Spring Ishag was among those who called for democracy in Sudan, attended political rallies and distributed flyers. The protests were met with arrests of many activists.  (Incidentally, journalists too were arrested in these crackdowns by the al-Bashir government. Read Reporters without Borders (RSF) reports here)
“A couple weeks later, Ishaq was kidnapped by National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) agents and taken to a house, she said. She described being tortured and gang raped multiple times. In between rapes and beatings, they told her they knew she had attended the rallies of January 30 and handed out flyers,” writes Louise Hogan, in the blog Women under Siege.
The saga does not end here. Ishag was one of the few women, perhaps the only one in Sudan who has publicly spokenthe torture she underwent in the hands of the NISS.
In March 2011 after Ishag went public about her ordeal, Salih and other journalists denounced the NISS in their writings. The attorney general’s office summoned him and two others to be interrogatedafter the security forces accused them of spreading “false information.” Harassment in the hands of state authorities continued well into August with other journalists too being investigated or tried before courts for reporting the torture of Ishag. The NISS said Saleh was defamingit by associating its officers with the rape.
Salih’s commitment to empowering defenders of democracy and human rights did not stop with writing about activist Ishag. As director of the NGO Teeba Press he also trains journalists. In countries where journalists realise how fragile the defences of democracy are they take it as a duty to train others who can carry on the good work in the event they themselves are unable to do so for some reason.
“Of course, it’s not safe to speak in Sudan. We are trying to speak out and we are paying the price for it,” Salih has said. Work is trying under repressive governments where censorship is the norm and self-censorship sadly closes the few windows of opportunity that open to test the limits of media freedom. So he spoke to the international network Al Jazeera on April 25 last year. His comments were a response to al-Bashir’s remarks about the conflict in South Kardofan.
The NISS retaliated by asking him to report daily to its offices for 13 days. He was not interrogated about anything but made to sit in office throughout the day. On May 8 when he failedto report to the NISS he was arrested and kept incommunicado and without food or drink for 12 hours. Rearrested on May 9 he was detained for six days. On May 15 the State filed criminal charges for not cooperating with authorities. On May 30, he was acquittedby court.
Faisal Mohammed Salih demonstrates the resilience and courage of journalists all over the world who have to contrive different means to beat state repression. They do it not only by writing about injustice and abuse, but crusading on behalf of the voiceless. Not just exposing criminals, but training others to do so. Risky work indeed, but there is no alternative.
For more on Salih read here

For more on recent development in Sudan’s media read here

Zimbabwe: Only Professional, Ethical Journalism Will Make Incoming Regime Accountable

With presidential elections in Zimbabwe scheduled for July 31, reports are emerging of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party too indulging in strong arm tactics to shape public opinion. Analysing this polarised situation, Zimbabwean media pundits feel that transparency and accountability after the elections could only emerge if journalists play their role professionally and ethically.
The election, in the main, will see a contest between the 89-year-old President Robert Mugabe of ZANU-PF seeking a new term, and the opposition candidate, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai of MDC. The president and prime minister of the country are contesting each other because although they are from opposing parties, an uneasy truce through a power-sharing arrangement was negotiated between them after the disputed presidential election in 2008.
According to Voice of America (July 24), despite new newspapers and television stations being established, media freedom is under strict State control – meaning control by ZANU-PF. “In the past 18 months, the government has licensed two new radio stations, says CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists) Africa Program Coordinator Sue Valentine. But, she said, those voices are largely drowned out by state media, which she said clearly favors President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party.”

Quoting Valentine VOA said, “‘If the state broadcaster, if it were behaving according to journalistic ethics, if it were behaving more like a public broadcaster and offering equal time or proportionate time to different parties, I think then it would not be a problem …  But it is because you have such a slanted state media that I think the problem exists.'”

ZANU-PF exercises control over the media – especially radio and television through the official Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) – by restricting the issue of licences. Referring to the two new radio stations were licensed in Zimbabwe in the past 18months, VOA remarks that “more does not necessarily mean better.”
“ZBC dominates radio and television and has been criticised for acting as a mouthpiece for President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party,” writes Andrew England for the Financial Times (July 24).
Mounting a real challenge to ZBC can only come from overseas, which is why 1st TV broadcasts into Zimbabwe from neighbouring South Africa.
“Now, 1st TV, which broadcast for the first time on Friday, is aiming to put a dent in ZBC’s influence as it lays claims to being the first independent Zimbabwean television station,” reports England.
“‘If the media environment was to become more in line with the rest of the continent, we would move immediately back to Zimbabwe,’ says Andrew Chadwick. Chadwick is 1st TV’s executive producer and a former communications director for Morgan Tsvangirai. “[o]ur information is not linked to what the state broadcaster has been doing for the last 30 years, particularly around elections, when it becomes more and more partisan, filled with hate speech and intolerance for anybody outside Zanu-PF,'” Chadwick continues.
However, while Chadwick’s protestations about the partisanship of ZBC hold water, Tsvangirai and party too have been accused of intimidating and assaulting journalists.
Reporters without Borders, the Paris-based media freedom monitor, commented (June 11), “The ruling Zanu-PF party is not alone in showing hostility to the media and in opposing press freedom… Members of the opposition are also responsible for a climate of intimidation.”… “In May, the prime minister himself threatened the media. ‘You cannot have a newspaper with six articles saying Tsvangirai this and Tsvangirai that … That kind of media has no future in a democratic Zimbabwe… I want to tell you this, muchadya izvozvo (you will face the music).'” RSF said.
RSF said Herbert Moyo of the Zimbabwe Independent was assaulted MDC thugs on June 7, while Mashudu Netsianda of the Chronicle Newspaper was roughed up the day before.
But on June 21, RSF voiced protest at the abduction and assault by masked men of Paul Pindani of NewsDay for a story without a by-line about the arrest of a ruling ZANU-PF party member for the murder of a local businessman. Pindani denies writing the story. “Given the climate of violence and harassment of the media in which the last elections took place, this incident must be taken seriously,” observed RSF.
Assault and intimidation by both parties have resulted in journalists preferring to keep out of trouble by censoring themselves. According to VOA, “Human Rights Watch’s Africa Advocacy Director Tiseke Kasambala said that years of intimidation and harassment have led many independent journalists to self-censor.” Al-Jazeera’s Haru Mutasa reported on July 24, “One headline in (Zimbabwean newspaper) NewsDay grabbed my attention: ‘Journos urged to exercise caution.’ A press freedom watchdog, the Media Institute of Southern Africa Zimbabwe (MISA), has urged journalists ‘to avoid risky assignments and exposing themselves to volatile political gatherings ahead of harmonised elections this year.'”
Speaking at an event organised by the Washington DC-based National Endowment for Democracy ‘Beyond Elections in Zimbabwe’ on July 23, Foster Dongozi, secretary general of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) and president, South Africa Journalists Association said that the ZUJ did not support either political party contesting the election and was at the receiving end of the violence of both Zanu-PF and MDC. He emphasised that “journalists should demand accountability and transparency whoever will come to power following elections.” And that it was important the journalists worked “professionally and ethically” if the regime was to remain accountable.