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How Governments Misuse Advertising To Censor Media


The Centre for International Media Assistance (CIMA) in partnership with the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) has published a study on the misuse of government advertising to censor freedom of expression and information. Titled, Buying Compliance: Governmental Advertising and Soft Censorship in Mexico, the research “demonstrates how Mexico’s federal and state governments deploy financial power to pressure media outlets and penalise critical reporting.”
The report is the third by CIMA in a series of studies on soft censorship or “indirect government censorship, includes a variety of actions intended to influence media – short of closures, imprisonments, direct censorship of specific content, or physical attacks on journalists or media facilities.” The earlier reports were Soft Censorship: Strangling Serbia’s Media and Capturing Them Softly: Soft Censorship and State Capture in the Hungarian Media.

“This report focuses primarily on financial aspects of official soft censorship: pressures to influence news coverage and shape the broad media landscape or the output of specific media outlets or individual journalists through biased, and/or non-transparent allocation or withholding of state/government media subsidies, advertising, and similar financial instruments,” says the publication’s executive summary.
Key findings are:
1. Allocation of massive governmental advertising in Mexico on partisan and political bases powerfully shapes media content. Federal and local officials take advantage of weak regulation to influence editorial content. Despite laws and recommendations that demand or encourage regulation, scant progress has been made to establish clear allocation criteria.
2. Many media outlets slant their coverage to obtain more advantageous advertising contracts. Some media owners are active partners in a corrupt symbiosis that rewards propaganda rather than ac curate news reporting.
3. Allocation of broadcast spectrum is a distinct soft censorship mechanism, used particularly to restrict community broadcasting.
4. A profound lack of transparency hinders understanding and reform of government advertising. Efforts to make federal advertising spending public have failed. Opacity also prevails at the state level; more than half of the states withhold details of their advertising allocations. And the majority of Mexican media outlets refuse to release fundamental data on audience or circulation.
5. Regulation of government advertising exists only regarding electoral campaigns, despite constitutional obligations and presidential promises. Article 134 (2007) of Mexico’s constitution barring propaganda in government advertising is often unenforced. President Enrique Peña Nieto’s July 2012 pledge to reform government advertising remains unfulfilled.
6. Arbitrary use of government advertising further concentrates media ownership and creates a false appearance of pluralism. It sustains so-called “pasquines”—multiple media outlets, especially among print media and on the Internet, that survive solely on government funds and have minimal actual audience.
7. The billions of pesos in government advertising that promote individual politicians or political party agendas with no proven positive impact on public debate are effectively subsidies for favoured media outlets. About 12 billion pesos (905 million USD) is spent by the federal and state governments on advertising each year absent any clear indication that the advertising reaches target groups or is effective.
8. Directly corrupt practices persist in most of Mexico, including offering typically poorly-paid journalists bribes—known colloquially as “chayote”—to influence their reporting, as well as other payments allegedly made to editors, owners, and publicists.
Click hereto read the full report in English.

Another Assault On Hong Kong’s Media

Banner at a rally for press freedom in Hong Kong (Pic courtesy BBC)


Two senior executives of a media organisation about to launch a Chinese-language newspaper in Hong Kong were attacked in broad daylight on March 19 provoking disturbing questions about press freedom in this semi-autonomous region of China, while memories of the attack on Ming Paoeditor Kevin Lao remained fresh in people’s mind.

A man and a woman identified as Lei Iun-han, director and vice-president, and Lam Kin-ming, news controller of Hong Kong Media Group were attacked by four masked men in Kowloon’s tourist spot of Tsim Sha Tsui with metal bars and suffered injuries to their to their face, arms and legs.
The suspects escaped and the Wall Street Journal said the police had not attributed motive nor had any arrests been made.
The China Post described the newspaper to be launched as “independent.” It quoted pro-democracy lawmaker James To telling reporters “I suspect the attack has something to do with the work they have put into this newspaper. Does someone not want this paper to come out?”
WSJ said “The Hong Kong Journalists Association condemned the attack, saying Hong Kong upholds the rule of law and the city won’t tolerate any violent activity.”
The China Post quoted the Foreign Correspondents Club of Hong Kong statement: “After the attack on Kevin Lau, who remains in hospital with grave injuries, this latest incident only underscores the deepening shadows being cast over the media landscape in Hong Kong from violence, intimidation and interference by political and commercial interests.”
The attack is the latest in a series that media monitors say is orchestrated by interested parties in mainland China to force Hong Kong’s media to conform to the political interests of parties on the mainland. Hong Kong that was a British colony was transferred to Chinese control in 1997.
In February Kevin Lau, who was forced out of editorship of the Ming Pao a month earlier was assaulted during daylight hours on the streets by two youth riding a motor bike. Police arrested nine persons in connection with the incident and charged two earlier on Wednesday. Police sad they were connected to organised crime, WSJ said.
February also saw two protest demonstrations by people demanding greater media freedom.
“This latest assault further confirms the worsening climate for press freedom in Hong Kong,” said Joel Simon, executive director, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) about the most recent incident. “Authorities must launch a swift and thorough inquiry into this attack and bring those responsible to justice.”

Liberals And Conservatives Clash Over Iran’s Internet Control

(Pic courtesy AP)


The conservative hardliners and the more liberal moderates in Iranian President Hassan Rowhani’s government are divided over how closed they can keep the internet. The differences are part of a larger issue of balancing the distribution of political power between the liberal and conservative wings of the regime.
Rowhani and his supporters favour selective dismantling of restrictions to the internet and to information in general. The conservatives however believe it will clash with Islamic values.

“We cannot restrict the advance of [such technology] under the pretext of protecting Islamic values,” Ali Jannati, Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance was quoted by The Washington Post as observing at a meeting with Iran’s chamber of commerce. The Post said he had described Iran’s post-Revolution attempts at controlling the information, including the internet, as “ridiculous.”
Among the restrictions are government licensing of newspapers, books and film as well as content control. The Post said that moves to issue licences to reporters however had resulted in 400 journalists writing to the government in protest.
The tug-of-war between the conservatives and liberals is also seen in the announcement some weeks ago that Iran was going to set up its own internet which it described as “clean internet” and for which it had enlisted China’s help.
In an article on February 12, in The US News and World Report, Mark Eades said that Iran had announced recently that it had received Chinese help “to implement its closed ‘National Information Network’ or ‘clean Internet.'”    
Praising China for its “four decades of good experiences in the application development services for information technology,” Iran’s head of internet and communication technology Nasarollah Jahangard said. “We hope to use these experiences.”
The words of Jannati and Jahangard delineate the stark difference in outlook between the conservatives and liberals. 

Will Russia Use Cyberattacks In Crimea Conflict?

OSCE Media Freedom Rep. Dunja Mijatovic


Even as media freedom in Crimea became increasingly threatened with television stations taken off the air and journalists assaulted, experts are watching possible cyberattacks accompanying Russia’s takeover of peninsula and predict that it could become a reality as confrontation on the ground grows.
“Russia has limited themselves to the things they usually do in the onset of a conflict to try to shape opinion, stifle critics, and advance their own viewpoint,” James Lewis, director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington, D.C told MIT Technology Review. “They are doing the informational side, which is the opening move in the playbook.”

He added, “If violence breaks out in the Crimea, I think they will bump it up a notch.”
  
The article said that Russia watchers in the US were waiting to see the Russians would use its cyber war capabilities, which they have integrated into their military doctrine. “But it may be they have decided they don’t need to show what they’ve got, and won’t do it,” said Stewart Baker former chief of policy, at the Department of Homeland Security.
Please click to readthe full article.

Concern For Lives Of Journalists In Hong Kong

Journalists of Ming Pao at Sunday’s rally (Pic. Reuters)

As thousands of protestors in Hong Kong on Sunday condemned the knife attack on Kevin Lao, believed to be because of his hard-hitting writing on corruption and human rights abuses, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) launched the Chinese version of its ‘Journalists Security Guide.’

“The guide has been available in other languages for more than a year but, frankly, we didn’t see a Chinese version as a priority… The Chinese version has been up for a few days, but now, in the wake of Wednesday’s attack on former Ming Pao editor Kevin Lau Chun-to in Hong Kong, seems a good time to draw attention to it,” writes Bob Dietz, director Asia programme at CPJ.
Reuterssaid that over 13,000 demonstrators had participated in the march which was 8600 strong at its peak. Journalists, wearing black with blue ribbons, had carried a large banner saying, “They can’t kill us all,” while others read “Freedom from fear” and “Protect press freedom.”
Lao was stabbed in his back and legs, Wednesday, by two men riding a motorbike who are yet to be apprehended. It is believed the motive for Lao’s attack, and others on media organisations and journalists recently, is to stifle mounting criticism in the Hong Kong media of the anti-democratic practices of Beijing and Hong Kong SAR.
“We’re not going to bow to the intimidation,” said Shirley Yam, vice-chairwoman of the Hong Kong Journalists’ Association, one of the organizers of the protest, reported Reuters. “That’s the strong message we want to send whoever it is that the Hong Kong media is going to stand firm and do whatever’s best for press freedom and the right for our citizens to be informed.”
While journalists on Sunday came together to protest repression and the stifling of free speech, CPJ’s ‘Journalists Security Guide’ deals with more immediate concerns of journalists protecting themselves while doing their job.
“There are several sections of the guide that deal with being aware of one’s surroundings, varying one’s routes (Lau was apparently attacked outside his regular morning restaurant stop), and responding to threats – though there have been no reports of threats directed toward Lau. There is also a valuable section on information security, and for Hong Kong journalists working under ever-closer scrutiny, it is a useful resource,” says Dietz.
Click for Journalists Security Guide in English hereand in Chinese here