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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.

Study On Russia’s Attempt To Control Former Soviet Republics Through Media

The Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) of the Washington DC-based think-tank National Endowment for Democracy (NED) has sponsored a study on the increasingly insidious role played by the Russian media to manipulate public opinion within the former Soviet Republics to favour alliances with Russia at the expense of ties with the West.

 â€˜The Last Gasp of Empire: Russia’s Attempts to Control the Media in the Former Soviet Republics,’ is authored by David Satter, once the Moscow correspondent of the Financial Times and now fellow at the Hudson Institute and School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University in the United States.
“The push by Russia to influence the media among its near neighbours not only marks an important thrust of Russian foreign policy, it also poses a major challenge to the international media development community, which over the past two decades has spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to help build sustainable and independent media institutions in the former Soviet space,” the study says.
Recent events in the Ukraine where the government which favours a stronger economic relationship with Russia is at odds with the citizenry who are demanding deeper economic ties with EU saw Ukrainian journalists deliberately targeted by suspected government thugs. 
Highlighting the consequences of Russia’s manipulative use of the media Satter says, “The result of Russia’s policies is that there is propaganda pressure nearly everywhere in the former Soviet republics, and this pressure, which is sometimes subtle and sometimes direct, stands as a barrier to a democratic future and an ethical and professional press.”
The study also gives recommendations on how Russia could be countered: “Ultimately, this requires support for foreign broadcasting, for the enabling institutions that ensure media independence, and for high quality journalism, including investigative journalism in the former Soviet republics.”
While recommending foreign investors buying stakes in Russian commercial media organisations and training programmes for Russian journalists, the study also calls for, “the media development community to collaborate more closely with broader development and foreign policy efforts to support democratic institutions.”
Please click hereto read the document.

Important Study On Media Literacy

The Centre for International Media Assistance (CIMA) recently published ‘Media Literacy 2.0: Sampling of Programs around the World,’ which builds on three reports compiled by the organisation in 2009.
In its follow-up publication the Washington DC-based CIMA, which is funded by the National Endowment for Democracy asks the question “Do media literacy programs offer a promising new approach to media development, or is it yet another example of further fragmentation of overall media development efforts? What have we learned in recent years about how to best approach such programs? Has the expansion of social media and mobile devices had an impact on the way media development organizations approach media literacy?”
The study done by John Burgess contends that while there is much research needed on the subject of media literacy this attempt highlights some approaches to study of the subject.
You can read the report by clicking here 


China Represses Media at Home and Manipulates it Overseas

Tibetan Activist protesting in Front of the UN, Geneva (Pic Reuters)

Western governments, Tuesday, criticised China at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for the suppressing freedom of information and speech, including those of netizens, and the Tibetan and Uyghur minorities. Meanwhile, on the same day a Washington think-tank released two reports on China’s bid improve its international profile by manipulating and coercing institutions and individuals overseas.    

Speaking during the UNHRC sessions in Geneva, during China’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), Uzra Zeya, acting assistant secretary in the U.S. State Department’s bureau of democracy, human rights and labour said, “We’re concerned that Chinasuppresses freedoms of assembly, association, religion and expression…, harasses, detains and punishes activists…, targets rights defenders’ family members and friends and implements policies that undermine the human rights of ethnic minorities,” reported Reuters.
Meanwhile, protesting the crackdown on Tibet, Tibetan activists in Geneva displayed on top of a building a banner that read, “China fails human rights in Tibet – U.N. stand up for Tibet.”
Among the victims of the Chinese authorities’ cracked down in recent weeks are three Tibetan writers detained for “political activities aimed at destroying social stability and dividing the Chinese homeland.” These writers were sources of information to the outside world on what was happening within Tibet, which is subjected to surveillance and harsh travel restrictions – especially for foreign non-Chinese.
“Instead of trying to turn Tibet into an information black hole, the Chinese authorities must put an immediate stop to these arbitrary arrests and release those detained without delay. We urge the international community to forcefully condemn their detention,” the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF) said.
RSF released the names and brief description of the three detainees: Kalsang Choedhar, a monk from Palyul monastery, arrested in eastern Tibet, on October 12 for circulating information about a two-week-old crackdown by the Chinese authorities in Driru county; Tsultrim Gyaltsen (27), a Tibetan writer and former monk, who has written two books about Tibet and used to edit a Tibetan-language magazine called The New Generation,arrested in Driru province on October 11; Yulgal (25), a former Security Bureau officer who resigned because of the “political” nature of his work, arrested on October 12.
In another recent incident, this time in Guangzhou, Chinese authorities charged Liu Hu, an investigative journalist working for the daily Xin Kuai Bao with defamation on September 30. Hu was arrested on August 24, for posting on his Sina Weibo account about Ma Zhengqi, a senior official of the Chinese bureaucracy and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) of negligence of duty and implication in corruption.
“We condemn the way investigative reporters are being hounded, seen again in this decision to charge Liu. This is being done to deter journalists and netizens from investigating embezzlement and other illegal practices by officials protected by the party. We call for Liu’s immediate release,” said RSF.
While this onslaught against the independent media goes on in China with its repercussions in the UNHRC, the Centre for Media Assistance (CIMA), a part of the Washington DC-based National Endowment for Democracy (NED) launched two studies on Tuesday that examine the working of the Chinese media overseas. They are, ‘CCTV’s International Expansion: China’s Grand Strategy for Media‘ by Ann Nelson, who teaches at New York’s Columbia University’s International and Public Affairs and ‘The Long Shadow of Chinese Censorship: How the Communist Party’s Media Restrictions Affect News Outlets around the World‘ by Sarah Cook, senior research analyst at Freedom House, also in New York.
 â€˜CCTV’s International Expansion: China’s Grand Strategy for Media,’ makes the case that “On one hand, CCTV (China Central Television) produces sophisticated long form reports on complex international issues such as climate change; at the same time, its reporting on the Chinese Communist Party echoes the party line.
“In an era when Voice of America and BBC World Service budgets are battered by funding cutbacks and partisan politics, China is playing the long game. CCTV’s content is defined by the same ideological directives and limitations that govern the country’s university debates, feature films, and microblogs. The limitations have been exercised for decades; what’s new is their implication for global media markets.”
‘The Long Shadow of Chinese Censorship: How the Communist Party’s Media Restrictions Affect News Outlets around the World’ points out that “In many cases, Chinese officials directly impede independent reporting by media based abroad … (But) the interviews and incidents analyzed in this study suggest a systematic effort to signal to commercial partners and media owners that their operations in China and access to Chinese citizens will be jeopardized if they assist, do business with, or refrain from censoring voices the CCP has designated as politically undesirable.”

Study Explores How Different Cultures Deal With Hate Speech

A recent study sponsored by the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA), of the Washington DC-based think tank the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), explores how different cultures define and interpret freedom of expression. ‘A Clash of Cultures: Hate Speech, Taboos, Blasphemy, and the Role of News Media’ examines the fine line between what speech is proscribed and what is accepted in the digital media of different cultures.
“Among the questions being raised: When virtually anyone, anywhere-often anonymously-can create digital content that exacerbates tensions or is potentially insulting to racial, ethnic, religious, or sexual groups, should such content be banned? Does the right to free speech outweigh a group’s right to freedom from insult, defamation, or religious blasphemy? If not, where does the line get drawn-and by whom? Local governments?  The aggrieved parties? The United Nations or some other international governing body? Or will tech giants such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook essentially become the arbiters of permissible speech around the globe?” asks author of the study Jane Sasseen.
Jane Sasseen is a freelance editorial consultant who has worked with a number of major non-profit and media organizations in recent years. She has written extensively on the media being  editor and co-author of several chapters of  The State of the News Media 2012, the annual report on American journalism produced by The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. She previously worked for Yahoo! News and the Business Week.
You can read the contents here