Category: Communication Rights

Freedom of the press in an age of anxiety

Amal Clooney attends side event Press behind bars during 73rd UNGA session at United Nations Headquarters. Photo: Lev Radin/Shutterstock

The UK Foreign Secretary has appointed international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney to act as a special envoy on media freedom. She will also chair a high-level panel of legal experts on the issue.

Clooney has made it known that she will be gathering new legal initiatives to help ensure a more effective international response to attacks on media freedoms.

2018 was a deadly year for journalists, with 99 killed, 348 detained and 80 taken hostage by non-state groups. Attacks in 2018 spread to Europe, including Malta and Eastern Europe.

And according to a report by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, the number of journalists killed worldwide in retaliation for their work nearly doubled in 2018 with 34 deaths compared to 18 in the previous year.

Clooney may wish to review the UK’s Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019, which campaigners for freedom of expression and the press have been warning contains provisions that can threaten the protection of journalistic sources.

The Act makes expressing “an opinion or belief that is supportive of a proscribed organisation and in doing so is reckless as to whether a person to whom the expression is directed will be encouraged to support a proscribed organisation” a terrorist offence.

Critics have pointed out that the terms “supportive”, “reckless” and “encouraged” are undefined. Such vague terms and overbroad provisions lead to arbitrariness and discrimination placing human rights defenders and investigative journalists at the whim of judicial interpretation.

In addition, the new Act accepts that working as a journalist or carrying out academic research is an acceptable excuse for accessing material online that could be useful for terrorism.

However, the relevant clause is still problematic. For example, if someone watches a terrorist video online because they want to understand why people might be drawn to terrorism, they still run the risk of a long prison sentence.

Article 1 of the European Charter on Freedom of the Press notes, “Freedom of the press is essential to a democratic society. To uphold and protect it, and to respect its diversity and its political, social and cultural missions, is the mandate of all governments.” Article 3 says, “The right of journalists and media to gather and disseminate information and opinions must not be threatened, restricted or made subject to punishment.”

Let’s hope that, despite the turmoil around Brexit, the UK government continues to recognize these fundamental principles.

Instalike vs. Instahate

Photo: Gian Cescon/unsplash.com

In the “good old days” of traditional media, there were gatekeepers whose task was to apply professional and ethical standards to content. In addition, government and public entities established print and broadcast regulations that were independently monitored to ensure compliance.

Read more “Instalike vs. Instahate”

Why are Indigenous and minority languages important in today’s…

Photo: Cultural Survival

The United Nations has declared 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages in order to raise awareness about the importance of linguistic diversity in relation to sustainable development, culture, knowledge, and collective memory. People’s ability to communicate in their own language is one of the cornerstones of communication rights. Everyone should be able to use their own language to share knowledge and information, access media content, resolve conflicts, and share their concerns in order to be able to participate in decision-making and in processes of social progress. Linguistic rights are particularly important for ethno-cultural minorities as without them they may not be able to exercise all of their human rights and to preserve their distinct cultural identity.

Read more “Why are Indigenous and minority languages important in today’s world?”

Can migrants make themselves heard in the age of…

Migrants charging their mobile phones at Keleti railway station in Budapest in 2015. 
Photo: Herbert P Oczeret/EPA

Rates of forced migration are the highest they have been in decades. In 2016, approximately 40 million people became internally displaced persons (IDPs) and 22.5 million became refugees, the highest figures on record. These are staggering numbers.

Read more “Can migrants make themselves heard in the age of national populism?”

Media reform in the UK

Trustworthy news and opinion is the Holy Grail of journalism today.

An independent report reviewing challenges facing high quality journalism in the UK has been published. The Cairncross Review: a sustainable future for journalism (12 February 2019) recommends a new regulator to oversee the relationship between news outlets and technology giants and urges a public investigation into the dominance of Facebook and Google in the advertising marketplace.

Read more “Media reform in the UK”

Fake news and the hijacking of public opinion

Photo: Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

British Members of Parliament are agitating for tougher regulations to combat fake news.

In a report released on 18 February 2019, the UK’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee said Facebook had put democracy at risk by allowing voters to be targeted with disinformation and “dark adverts” in which politicians appear to give inflammatory speeches they never in fact gave.

Read more “Fake news and the hijacking of public opinion”

I Got Algorithm

Photo: Faithie/Shutterstock

How to prevent social networks from damaging the well-being of young people?

Amid a plethora of writings on the impact of social media on young people, a vital issue has surfaced.

In “The Guardian view on mental health online: protect the vulnerable” (28 January 2019), the newspaper publicises the plight of depressed teens whose vulnerability is increased by insensitive or damaging material online. The article challenges the complacency of social media companies, urging governments to take action to hold them responsible:

Read more “I Got Algorithm”

Mind your language!

Photo: John Arehart/Shutterstock

Masculine, feminine, or gender-neutral?

For years, the English have avoided saying “he” or “she” by replacing it with “they”. Called the singular “they”, it occurs in sentences such as:

“Somebody left their umbrella in the office. Would they please collect it?”

“Who thinks they can solve the problem?”

Read more “Mind your language!”

Data protection and googol fines

Google is a creative spelling of googol, a number equal to 10100 and meaning any unimaginable figure.
Photo: Tschub/Shutterstock

Data privacy, also called information privacy, is about what data in a computer system can be shared with third parties.

Protection laws give individuals rights over their data, imposing rules on the way in which companies and governments use data, and establishing regulators to enforce the laws. Protecting privacy in the digital age is fundamental to effective governance, but few countries have taken it as seriously as they should. In many, there is a lack of regulatory and legal frameworks and in others poor implementation and enforcement.

Read more “Data protection and googol fines”

Building trust in a fragmented world

Photo: Antenna/unsplash.com

Genuine communication is all about creating relationships and building trust.

When two or more people meet in person, a conversation or sharing of experiences leaves a mark that outlasts the ephemeral impact of digital communications. When members of a community listen to each other’s views and opinions, discuss them and move forward together, they gain greater understanding and may even shift their positions. It takes time. It takes work.

Read more “Building trust in a fragmented world”

What makes great journalism? On foreign correspondents and terror

Photo: © Reuters / Baz Rather

Yet another terrorist act played out in Nairobi just two weeks into 2019. Live footage on local television captured scenes of security personnel leading visibly terrified occupants to safety, survivors receiving first aid and nearby crowds ducking for cover at the sound of each explosion. The footage captured security forces ushering foreign journalists closer to the action at the same time as they blocked entry for local journalists. Viewers unwittingly eavesdropped into conversations between local journalists pleading to the security personnel to allow them passage into the building just as they had for their foreign counterparts.

Read more “What makes great journalism? On foreign correspondents and terror”

Hunger for truth games

Margaret Sullivan: ‘It’s time for the media to turn off the microphone when it comes to Kellyanne Conway.’ (Shawn Thew/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)


Media wars can easily get personal. Today the name of the game is Showtime! Ratings trump sober facts and inconvenient truths. Fox News offers foxy entertainment; The New York Post offers sensationalism; the gutter press epitomised by the likes of the UK’s The Daily Mail and the German tabloid Bild Zeitung have been known to peddle downright lies. And in the digital era, every society is rife with rumour, innuendo, and alternative facts – no more so than in the USA. Read more “Hunger for truth games”

Time for a communication revolution from below!

Photo: James Pond / Unsplash.com

Sobering words for those who still believe that information and communication technologies (ICTs) are the panacea for the world’s ills. In “Developing Countries Losing Out To Digital Giants” (IPS News, 17 October 2018), Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury write:

“In 2015, the top three big US technology firms had average market capitalization of more than $400 billion, compared to $200 billion in China, $123 billion in other Asian countries, $69 billion in Europe and $66 billion in Africa. Apple recently became the first company in the world to be valued at more than $1 trillion, matching the combined economic output of Saudi Arabia and South Africa. Read more “Time for a communication revolution from below!”

Digital distractions

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Communication used to be singular. A letter, a newspaper, a radio or television program. It was a largely one-way, edited version of certain parts of reality. Today, communications are plural: a non-stop barrage of texts, sounds, and images from all directions and at all times. Public space has been whittled away by iPads and iPhones, privacy is at a premium, and digital disturbance (what used to be called static) is everywhere.
Read more “Digital distractions”

WhatsApp calls time on WhatsApp

Photo: Artur Szczybylo/Shutterstock

Social media are accused of bringing about the demise of traditional journalism. They are used to tar news stories with the brush of “fake news” as loud-mouthed politicians eagerly point the finger at what they deem to be critical or unfavourable coverage. Read more “WhatsApp calls time on WhatsApp”

Integrity in news coverage

Photo: wk1003mike/Shutterstock

The world’s leading newspapers are struggling to maintain their place as voices of conscience in society when via social media everyone is free to express alternative views and opinions. Of course, having a public voice carries with it the responsibility to use it wisely, to present information and opinions that are fair and balanced. Many newspapers do so, while others focus on the biases of their owners or of political parties. Today, in the face of myriad sources of information, the question of credibility has never been more urgent. Read more “Integrity in news coverage”

When media, politics and sexual violence collide

How media report on sexual violence when political interests are at play is a litmus test for how serious they are about professional ethics.

Take the case of the American jurist Brett Kavanaugh’s highly publicised hearing for justice of the US Supreme Court that took place on September 27 before the American senate judiciary committee. News audiences saw, read and heard more of different versions of activist journalism and less of balanced narratives needed to shape informed opinions. Read more “When media, politics and sexual violence collide”

‘Fake news’ is undermining Brazilian rights

Photo: Brazil Wire

During Brazil’s military dictatorship (1964-85), the people’s ability to exercise some of their most fundamental human rights was severely curtailed. In addition to engaging in torture, extrajudicial killings, and repression against opposition groups, the successive military governments that governed Brazil during this period relentlessly restricted freedom of expression, access to public information, and controlled the majority of media outlets. Read more “‘Fake news’ is undermining Brazilian rights”

Beware propaganda from the wireless industry

Photo: Natee K. Jindakum/Shutterstock

There has always been a suspicion that radio waves do more harm than good. With the arrival of the Internet of Things – wireless computing devices embedded in such everyday objects as fridges, washing machines and coffee makers – the scenario easily slips into one of doomsday. So the global telecommunications industry (worth trillions) needs to persuade its customers that any harmful impacts are negligible in comparison with the benefits.
Read more “Beware propaganda from the wireless industry”

Media bread and circuses

Photo: Pawel Czerwinski/unsplash.com

On 7 September 2018, former President Obama delivered a pointed critique of the Trump presidency. Speaking to students at the University of Illinois, he urged political awareness and action, saying:

“When there’s a vacuum in our democracy, when we don’t vote, when we take our basic rights and freedoms for granted, Read more “Media bread and circuses”

Genocide in the news: On media elitism and racism

Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, Phnom Penh, Cambodia Photo: Joseph Anson/unsplash.com

Why do some genocides make the news and others hardly? Let me rephrase: Why do international news media give grossly disproportionate attention to different yet similarly grave ‘deliberate and systematic destructions of a racial, political, or cultural group’ (Miriam-Webster definition)? Or, why are African genocides (and other news events) marginalized by the international media, to echo communication rights scholar Michael Traber’s observation made almost a quarter century ago? Read more “Genocide in the news: On media elitism and racism”

When did you last take a break from social…

Photo: FotoHelin

According to a 2018 research report from the Pew Research Centre on trends in social media use in the United States, 74% of Facebook users in that country visited the platform at least once a day, and 51% did so several times a day. The numbers are similar for those using Snapchat (63% once a day; 49% several times a day) and Instagram (60% once a day; 38% several times a day). Read more “When did you last take a break from social media?”

Protecting privacy in a world of digital communications

Image: sdecoret/Shutterstock

“New technologies will enable high levels of social control at a reasonable cost. Governments will be able to selectively censor topics and behaviors to allow information for economically productive activities to flow freely, while curbing political discussions that might damage the regime.China’s so-called Great Firewall provides an early demonstration of this kind of selective censorship.”

Read more “Protecting privacy in a world of digital communications”