Tuesday, November 27, 2012

How to make censorship 'obsolete' - a bold new RSF digital strategy

REPORTERS sans frontières (RSF - Reporters Without Borders) has launched a website called WeFightCensorship (WeFC) on which it will post content that has been censored or banned or has given rise to reprisals against its creator.

This original website’s aim is to make censorship obsolete. It is an unprecedented initiative that will enable Reporters Without Borders to complement all of its other activities in defence of freedom of information, which include advocacy, lobbying and assistance.

Content submitted by journalists or netizens who have been the victims of censorship – articles, videos, sound files, photos and so on – will be considered for publication on the WeFightCensorship site.

The content selected by the WeFC editorial committee will be accompanied by a description of the context and creator. It may also be accompanied by copies of documents relating to the proceedings under which it was banned or other documents that might help the public to understand its importance.

There will be French and English-language versions of the site. Documents from all over the world will be published in their original language (including Chinese, Persian and Vietnamese) and in translation.

The site is designed to be easily duplicated and mirror versions will be created in order to thwart attempts to filter or block it. Internet users will be asked to circulate the censored content in order to give it as much visibility as possible.

“Reporters Without Borders is providing a deterrent designed to encourage governments and others to respect freedom of information, the freedom that allows us to verify that all the other freedoms are being respected,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.

“This website aims to exploit the so-called ‘Streisand effect,’ under which the more you try to censor content online, the more the Internet community tends to circulate it. We want to show that jailing an article’s author, seizing copies of a newspaper or blocking access to a website with a certain video can prove very counter-productive and can result in the content going around the world.”

By accessing a secured “digital safe,” Internet users will be able to submit content for publication anonymously.

The website will also offer a “digital survival kit” with information about Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), encryption software such as TrueCrypt, online anonymization techniques such as Tor and other tools that news providers can use to protect their sources and, in authoritarian countries, their own safety.

Private access to a beta version of the site has already been available since 13 November to those that register. To support the launch, the Publicis Bruxelles advertising agency devised a campaign ad free of charge that shows several heads of State, including Vladimir Putin, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Bashar al-Assad in their birthday suits with the legend “Totalitarian regimes will no longer be able to hide anything from us.” It will appear in the print media and online.

Reporters Without Borders is an NGO with consultative status at the United Nations, UNESCO and the International Organisation of the Francophonie. It has its international secretariat in Paris, 10 international bureaux (in Berlin, Brussels, Geneva, Madrid, New York, Rome, Stockholm, Tunis, Vienna and Washington) and more than 150 correspondents across all five continents.

The WeFC project is supported by the European Union’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) and the Paris City Hall.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Chomsky, linguists condemn ‘reprehensible’ media coverage of Gaza attack

OPEN e-LETTER: Media reporting on Gaza: Nous accusons.

WHILE countries across Europe and North America commemorated military casualties of past and present wars on Armistice Day (November 11), Israel was targeting civilians. On November 12, waking up to a new week, readers at breakfast were flooded with heart rending accounts of past and current military casualties.

There was, however, no or little mention of the fact that the majority of casualties of modern day wars are civilians.

There was also hardly any mention on the morning of November 12 of military attacks on Gaza that continued throughout the weekend. A cursory scan confirms this for Canada’s CBC, the Globe and Mail, Montreal’s Gazette, and the Toronto Star. Equally, for the New York Times and for the BBC.

According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) report on Sunday, November 11, five Palestinian civilians including three children had been killed in the Gaza strip in the previous 72 hours, in addition to two Palestinian security personnel. Four of the deaths occurred as a result of Israeli military firing artillery shells on youngsters playing soccer.

Moreover, 52 civilians had been wounded, of which six were women and 12 were children. (Since we began composing this text, the Palestinian death toll has risen, and continues to rise.)

Articles that do report on the killings overwhelmingly focus on the killing of Palestinian security personnel. For example, an Associated Press article published in the CBC world news on November 13, entitled Israel mulls resuming targeted killings of Gaza militants, mentions absolutely nothing of civilian deaths and injuries.

It portrays the killings as ‘targeted assassinations’. The fact that casualties have overwhelmingly been civilians indicates that Israel is not so much engaged in ‘targeted’ killings, as in ‘collective’ killings, thus once again committing the crime of collective punishment.

Another AP item on CBC news from November 12 reads Gaza rocket fire raises pressure on Israel government. It features a photo of an Israeli woman gazing on a hole in her living room ceiling. Again, no images, nor mention of the numerous bleeding casualties or corpses in Gaza. Along the same lines, a BBC headline on November 12 reads Israel hit by fresh volley of rockets from Gaza. Similar trend can be illustrated for European mainstream papers.

News items overwhelmingly focus on the rockets that have been fired from Gaza, none of which have caused human casualties. What is not in focus are the shellings and bombardments on Gaza, which have resulted in numerous severe and fatal casualties.

It doesn’t take an expert in media science to understand that what we are facing is at best shoddy and skewed reporting, and at worst wilfully dishonest manipulation of the readership.

Furthermore, articles that do mention the Palestinian casualties in Gaza consistently report that Israeli operations are in response to rockets from Gaza and to the injuring of Israeli soldiers.

However, the chronology of events of the recent flare-up began on November 5, when an innocent, apparently mentally unfit, 20-year old man, Ahmad al-Nabaheen, was shot when he wandered close to the border.

Medics had to wait for six hours to be permitted to pick him up and they suspect that he may have died because of that delay. Then, on November 8, a 13-year old boy playing football in front of his house was killed by fire from the IOF that had moved into Gazan territory with tanks as well as helicopters.

The wounding of four Israeli soldiers at the border on November 10 was therefore already part of a chain of events where Gazan civilians had been killed, and not the triggering event.

We, the signatories, have recently returned from a visit to the Gaza Strip. Some among us are now connected to Palestinians living in Gaza through social media.

For two nights in a row Palestinians in Gaza were prevented from sleeping through continued engagement of drones, F16s, and indiscriminate bombings of various targets inside the densely populated Gaza strip.

The intent of this is clearly to terrorise the population, successfully so, as we can ascertain from our friends’ reports. If it was not for Facebook postings, we would not be aware of the degree of terror felt by ordinary Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

This stands in stark contrast to the world’s awareness of terrorised and shock-treated Israeli citizens.
An extract of a report sent by a Canadian medic who happened to be in Gaza and helped out in Shifa hospital ER over the weekend says: “The wounded were all civilians with multiple puncture wounds from shrapnel: brain injuries, neck injuries, hemo-pneumo thorax, pericardial tamponade, splenic rupture, intestinal perforations, slatted limbs, traumatic amputations. All of this with no monitors, few stethoscopes, one ultrasound machine. …. Many people with serious but non life threatening injuries were sent home to be re-assessed in the morning due to the sheer volume of casualties. The penetrating shrapnel injuries were spooky. Tiny wounds with massive internal injuries. … There was very little morphine for analgesia.”

Apparently such scenes are not newsworthy for the New York Times, the CBC, or the BBC.
Bias and dishonesty with respect to the oppression of Palestinians is nothing new in Western media and has been widely documented.

Nevertheless, Israel continues its crimes against humanity with full acquiescence and financial, military, and moral support from our governments, the US, Canada and the EU.

Netanyahu is currently garnering Western diplomatic support for additional operations in Gaza, which makes us worry that another Cast Lead may be on the horizon. In fact, the very recent events are confirming such an escalation has already begun, as today’s death-count climbs.

The lack of widespread public outrage at these crimes is a direct consequence of the systematic way in which the facts are withheld and/or of the skewed way these crimes are portrayed.

We wish to express our outrage at the reprehensible media coverage of these acts in the mainstream (corporate) media. We call on journalists around the world working for corporate media outlets to refuse to be instruments of this systematic policy of disguise.

We call on citizens to inform themselves through independent media, and to voice their conscience by whichever means is accessible to them.

Hagit Borer, linguist, Queen Mary University of London (UK)
Antoine Bustros, composer and writer, Montreal (Canada)
Noam Chomsky, linguist, Massachussetts Institute of Technology, US
David Heap, linguist, University of Western Ontario (Canada)
Stephanie Kelly, linguist, University of Western Ontario (Canada)
Máire Noonan, linguist, McGill University (Canada)
Philippe Prévost, linguist, University of Tours (France)
Verena Stresing, biochemist, University of Nantes (France)
Laurie Tuller, linguist, University of Tours (France)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Inspirational Fiji widow's story credit to Wansolwara team

NICE to see Fiji sisters Sherita and Sheenal Sharma, who have been the maestros of the Wansolwara journalism newspaper at the University of the South Pacific this year, being so innovative about their skills. They have made a showcase of their work on their Sharma Productions Facebook page. There has been a lot of interest in their inspirational video Bangladesh's Supermum about the life of a young Indo-Fijian widow. That's "Bangladesh" as in the squatter settlement Nanuku in the capital Suva, not the country. This is what they say about the programme:
A 10-minute video of a widowed mum teaching at a school for the blind, and surviving in a squatter settlement in Fiji's capital, Suva. The settlement known as Nanuku ... is one of many that have sprung up in the greater Suva area. The story of a woman who struggles to live in a two-bedroom house, with her parents, not accepted by her in-laws as well as earning very little and having to work multiple jobs, Anshoo is an inspiration to the many women who live in poverty-stricken parts of Fiji.
 This is development journalism - and good storytelling - at work. Congratulations Sherita and Sheenal! In fact, double congratulations for Sherita because she has just won the Gold Medal for the top USP journalism student for 2012.

Café Pacific also takes the opportunity to applaud the journalism students for reviving Wansolwara Online. Not yet quite the finished product, but it is just good to be back in cyberspace after being offline since March 2007. The website follows an award-winning pedigree. Back in the 2000, the Wansolwara website (then known as Pacific Journalism Online, incorporating Wansolwara), won the international JEAA awards for Best Online and Best Publication (any media) for its coverage of the George Speight coup. In other words, the best produced by any journalism school in Australia, New Zealand and the Asia-Pacific region.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Greek free speech editor Kostas Vaxevanis acquitted over leaked 'tax evader' list

Greek editor Kostas Vaxevanis (right): “My job is simply to tell the news and tell it straight.
My job is to tell the truth,” he says. Photo: Orestis Panagiotou/EPA
By HELENA SMITH, reporting from Athens for The Guardian
KOSTA VAXEVANIS hates being the centre of attention. On Thursday moments before taking the stand in one of the most sensational trials to grip Greece in modern times, the journalist said he was not in the business of making news. "My job is simply to tell the news and tell it straight," he averred. "My job is to tell the truth."

Truth in the case of Vaxevanis has been a rollercoaster that has catapulted the 46-year-old from relative obscurity to global stardom in a matter of days. But, after a hearing that lasted almost 12 hours – with a three-member panel of judges sitting stony-faced throughout, he was vindicated: the court found him not guilty of breaking data privacy laws by publishing the names in Hot Doc, the weekly magazine he edits, of some 2059 Greeks believed to have bank accounts in Switzerland.

"Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations," Vaxevanis said, citing George Orwell, before observers packed into the crammed courtroom broke into applause. "As such it was my duty to reveal this list."

Even before Thursday's court drama – proceedings that veered from comic to tragic as handcuffed Asian migrants looked on in bewilderment – the nation was up in arms over the list.

In the two years since it had been handed to Greek authorities by the IMF's chief Christine Lagarde, the infamous tally of suspected tax evaders had caught the popular imagination. With tax avoidance widely blamed for the debt-stricken country's inability to balance the books, the failure of successive governments to act on the list and crack down on tax evaders had raised suspicions that corrupt vested interests ran to the top of society.

"It is quite clear the political system did everything not to publish this list," said Vaxevanis, who had faced up to two years in jail and a €30,000 fine (£24,000) if convicted.

"If you look at the names, or the offshore companies linked to certain individuals, you see that these are all friends of those in power. Phoney lists had also begun to circulate. It was time for the truth," he told the Guardian during a recess.

Tax evasion rampant
"We live in a country where, on the one hand, tax evasion is rampant and, on the other, people are eating out of rubbish trucks because of salary cuts, because they can't make ends meet."

Three years after Europe's worst crisis in decades erupted in Athens, Vaxevanis has emerged as an unwitting crusader – a defender of truth in an environment ever more electrified by the perceived menaces of malfeasance and mendacity.

Five days after a public prosecutor ordered his arrest – dispatching special agents to seize the journalist in a nation whose justice system has almost never moved with such alacrity – there are few who do not agree that his trial has been "politically motivated". For defence witnesses such as the popular singer Dimitra Galani, bringing Vaxevanis before the court was proof that even press freedom was now at risk in the birthplace of democracy. "The whole thing is absurd, the theatre of the absurd. Greeks really don't know what to think anymore," she said.

For veteran leftists such as Nikos Kostantopouloulos, one of the reporter's three lawyers, the affair was further evidence that the country at the centre of the continent's debt drama was falling down a very slippery slope. "We have a schizophrenic situation where, on the one hand, a journalist is being penalised for revealing a document in the interests of informing public opinion and, on the other, the parliament itself is now saying the handling of the list should be investigated."

From the outset, said Kostantopouloulos, a former leftist politician, the case had defied the principles of justice.

"Right down to the way the prosecutor so hastily issued the charge sheet without even bothering to stamp it, it has been handled very badly," he said. "Furthermore, none of those on the list have even filed a complaint about privacy violation."

With ordinary Greeks hammered by a fifth year of recession, the case has ignited widespread fury. The list, reprinted on Monday by the leading daily Ta Nea, includes politicians, businessmen, shipping magnates, doctors, lawyers – a far cry from those who have borne the brunt of relentless austerity measures on the margins of society.

'Stashing their loot'
"While we have been paying our taxes, some out there have been stashing their loot away in Switzerland, not being taxed at all," said Petros Hadzopoulos, a retiree, who had come to the court to get a glance of the journalist he called "his new, best hero". Hot Doc, which normally has a circulation of about 25,000, sold 100,000 last week.

As Athens teeters once again on the brink of bankruptcy – its public coffers set to run dry in less than a month – Vaxevanis's arrest has highlighted the pitfalls of press freedom in a nation where this week alone two anchors on state television were also fired for publicly "undermining" a minister.

The presenters' "crime" had been to question the failure of the public order minister Nikos Dendias to act on a threat to sue the Guardian for publishing a story alleging police torture of protesters that he said had "defamed Greek democracy".

For those packed into the chamber it was clear that in the birthplace of freedom, democracy itself was at stake. Yesterday's often shambolic proceedings, which frequently saw the panel's presiding female magistrate thumping the bench as she demanded "silence" under an icon of Jesus Christ, included court-appointed interpreters being unable to translate with one confusing friend for French and absurd with illegal.

"I am very pained to have to be here in Greece the mother of democracy explaining the obvious," said Jim Boumela, who, as president of the International Federation of Journalists, flew in from London to testify at the trial.

"This is what I have to do in countries like Uganda," he said. "Kostas should be applauded for what he has done. It's a very worrying turn that journalists are being suppressed in Greece – and I think we are going to see more of it."

More than 500 individuals on the so-called "Lagarde list" of suspected tax evaders with secret bank accounts in Switzerland have been, or are currently, under investigation by UK Revenue and Customs for serious fraud.

Tax investigators are still working their way through the 6000 names on the list, two and a half years after it was handed over to the UK by then French Finance Minister, Christine Lagarde, who also passed versions to other European members states, including Greece.

While HMRC said its handling of the data was "a major success" and expected to recover hundreds of millions of unpaid taxes, only one person has been successfully prosecuted so far. The long-standing HMRC policy of reaching settlements and imposing penalties mean that the vast majority of those on the list are unlikely to be prosecuted or named as a result. - Ben Quinn

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Freeport mine investigation article wins Jesson emerging journalist award

An Al Jazeera news feed on the strike at Freeport mine in West Papua in October 2011 backgrounding the issues. Note that the clip is reported through a Jakarta "prism" rather than a Papuan one.

CONGRATULATIONS to Auckland writer/photographer Karen Abplanalp who has won the Bruce Jesson Foundation’s $1000 Emerging Journalist Award for an outstanding investigation published in Metro magazine in December 2011 about the NZ Superannuation Fund’s investment in the Freeport mine at Grasberg in West Papua. She was awarded the prize last night by foundation chair Professor Jane Kelsey.

The article was written while she was a postgraduate journalism student with AUT University’s Pacific Media Centre and on the Asia-Pacific Journalism course taught by David Robie. It was also featured in the May 2012 edition of Pacific Journalism Review.

The article, “Blood Money”, asked how the Super Fund could justify investing in a project, owned by US-based mining giant Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc, that depended on regular payments to the Indonesian military and other unethical practices. At least three striking Grasberg miners were shot dead by police in October 2011. (The above Al Jazeera video news news clip during the strike reported three were shot). The judges' statement said:

Jesson Foundation chair Professor Jane Kelsey with the
Emerging Journalist category winner Karen Abplanalp
The Super Fund defended its investment to Abplanalp, arguing that it had a policy of “engagement” with the mining company to improve its ethical practices.

But on September 26 this year the Super Fund announced that it had sold its $1.28 million investment in Freeport McMoRan because of “breaches of human rights standards by security forces around the Grasberg mine, and concerns over requirements for direct payments to government security forces”.

It also sold much smaller investments in three other companies “for severe breaches of the fund’s responsible investment standards where engagement was unlikely to be effective”.

The convenor of the Jesson Foundation’s journalism awards subcommittee, Camille Guy, said Karen Abplanalp’s article was a stunning exemplar of the crucial role of journalism in all countries of holding authority to account.

The award-winning Metro article.
“If Karen hadn’t investigated the true conditions behind the profits coming out of the Grasberg mine, it is unlikely that more than a handful of New Zealanders would have been aware of what their public pension fund was supporting. NZ Super Fund managers themselves probably did not know the full truth,” Guy said.

“Karen Abplanalp and Metro magazine have performed an important public service in bringing these conditions to light, and I am delighted that the Super Fund has now pulled out of this investment.”

The top Bruce Jesson journalism prize of $4000 for investigative journalism went to Christchurch journalist Rebecca Macfie for a planned book about the Pike River mine disaster.

Macfie, the South Island correspondent for The Listener, has covered the Pike River story ever since 29 miners died on 19 November 2010 in New Zealand’s worst mining disaster in almost a century.

The Jesson journalism prizes, set up after the death of journalist Bruce Jesson in 1999 to support investigative journalism in New Zealand, will contribute $4000 towards Macfie’s costs of researching and writing an in-depth book on the tragedy for Wellington publisher Awa Press.

Macfie will take leave without pay from the Listener to write the book, which will be published next year.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Manning film strips away the secrecy around the Zaoui 'espionage' case

BEHIND THE SHROUD, Selwyn Manning's long awaited documentary about "intelligence, espionage and counter-terrorism", is now available on DVD and public screenings are being planned. The Pacific Media Centre plans a showing early next year. The 105min documentary film is investigative, participatory, independent and "gritty in style".

It examines the Ahmed Zaoui case. The film analyses why in 2007, after years of the New Zealand government stating the refugee Algerian theologian and teacher to be a risk to the nation's security, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, Justice Paul Neazor, found in Zaoui's favour and set him free.

As New Zealand filmmaker and journalist Manning says, the documentary "unearths information that has been cloaked in secrecy". The research and preliminary version of the documentary was produced while the filmmaker was completing his Masters in Communication Studies at in collaboration with the Pacific Media Centre at AUT University. It also provides insights into French intelligence policy and the Pacific. Manning is lead co-author of the book I Almost Forgot About the Moon about the Zaoui case:

Behind The Shroud takes the viewer on a journey into that shadowy world of spies and espionage, and resolves the mystery of the Zaoui case through interviews with key players in the great game, including two secret witnesses who each testified at the Inspector-General's hearings into the Zaoui case in Auckland in 2007.

The two secret witnesses are: Lieutenant Colonel Mohamed Samraoui, the Algerian regime's former head of intelligence and counter-espionage based in north Europe; and Professor George Joffe, an academic from Oxford and Cambridge universities - a renowned expert on north Africa affairs. Both men now speak publicly for the first time about how and why Zaoui was framed by the Algerian regime.

Mohamed Samraoui is a protagonist of sorts and is presented as the officer tasked by his superiors to create a cloak of disinformation around Zaoui. He outlines why as an officer of the DRS (Algeria's secret intelligence service) he "disempowered" Zaoui and other members of Algeria's opposition political parties so as to render them ineffective threats to the military regime.
Behind The Shroud also presents other experts who offer exclusive accounts, each giving a unique view on how the Zaoui case has become a precedence-setting case-study into whether it is proper for governments to rely on intelligence information in judicial process and practice.

These experts include: Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Wilkie, a former Australian Defence intelligence officer and intelligence adviser to former prime minister John Howard; Dr Paul Buchanan, a former security analyst to United States intelligence/security agencies;Superintendent Gerry Cuneen, New Zealand Police's former head of its criminal intelligence unit; Matt Robson, former associate minister of foreign affairs; and others.

Their testimony confronts unanswered questions that have lingered since late 2007 and explains why the New Zealand government suddenly set Zaoui free, inviting Zaoui and his family to enjoy their liberty as legitimate refugees in New Zealand.

The documentary concludes with a thought-provoking critique of New Zealand's intelligence apparatus and paves the way for a debate into how New Zealand can move to ensure the Ahmed Zaoui case is not repeated.

Behind The Shroud is being distributed for selected film festival release.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Bravo France's Huget ... the try of the year!

THIS MUST go down as the rugby union try of the year, surely. France winger Yoann Huget, grabbed this remarkable score on March 28 in the French Top 14 championship playing for Bayonne away against Montpellier. After a brilliant intercept, he ducked and weaved his way almost the length of the field, kicked ahead, smothered the last defender - who had the ball - regathered and then scored. Magnifique! In spite of this, his team Bayonne lost against Montpellier 26-37. Huget is now playing for French champions Toulouse.

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