Tag Archives: journalism

Freedom of the press ain’t so free anymore

TOM REGAN  
February 20, 2015 

journalists

Beset by wars, the growing threat from non-state operatives, violence during demonstrations and the economic crisis, media freedom is in retreat on all five continents, said Reporters sans Frontieres.

Many years ago, when I was a Nieman fellow at Harvard University, a colleague and friend from Uganda, Charles Unyongo-Obbo, and I were the last two people to leave a function. As we walked out into the crisp fall air of Cambridge I noticed that Charles was scanning up and down the street. I asked him what was wrong.

“I’m just looking for the police car,” he told me. “I know there won’t be any police cars here but I can’t afford to let my guard down because when I go back home they will be there.”

Charles’ comments had a profound effect on the way I saw the world of journalism. In the United States (and in Canada, where I was working at the time) freedom of the press is taken for granted. Basically we can say and write whatever we like, without fear of the kind of consequences that my friend from Uganda worried about. And I think because of that illusion of press freedom, first world journalists often lose sight of the fact that reporting is a dangerous, often thankless business for most journalists in the world. 

I thought of Charles once again as I read Reporters Without Borders/Reporters Sans Frontieres’ latest report on world press freedoms. The picture that the report paints is not a cheery one.

“According to the Paris-based watchdog’s latest World Press Freedom Index, published Thursday, two-thirds of the 180 countries surveyed performed less well than in 2013, while there was an 8 percent increase in the number of violations of freedom of information in 2014 compared to the year before,” Agence-France Press reported.

There were the usual suspects of course. China, Vietnam, North Korea, Iran, and Cuba were all near the bottom of the rankings. After a relatively short flourishing, press freedom in Russia is almost gone. All the countries in the Middle East did poorly.

But it was this comment that really caught my eye.

“Beset by wars, the growing threat from non-state operatives, violence during demonstrations and the economic crisis, media freedom is in retreat on all five continents,” said RSF.

That’s a pretty alarming statement: “In retreat on all five continents.” And that includes the one on which I live, North America.

Because as much as we would like to believe that we have unlimited free press in the U.S., that’s often not the case. In fact, in terms of the RSF world rankings, the United States fell 3 spots last year to 49th place out of 180. Some of the countries that finished ahead of the United States: Namibia, Costa Rica, Ghana, Uruguay, Cyprus, Tonga, El Salvador (which is truly stunning) and Malta.

Freedom of the press in North America, and in the United States in particular, faces numerous threats: economic censorship where businesses of all sizes threaten reporters with economic and legal retaliations for unfavorable stories; increasing concentration of control of the media in a handful of huge corporations and a few dozen media executives; police actions against reporters such as those in Ferguson, Missouri, where the police rounded up numerous members of the media in order to prevent them from covering the polices tactics in that racially torn city; and most important, government actions against the media like the many ones undertaken by the Obama administration.

For all of its liberal policies on issues like immigration, gay marriage, contraception and similar progressive issues, no administration in recent memory has been so unfriendly to the media nor has taken so many legal actions meant to silence the press – such as suing reporters who have written about important leaks that have embarrassed the government – nor has carried out so many illegal actions itself in order to spy on the media. (See the many reports from WikiLeaks and on Edward Snowden.

One might argue that the proliferation of media sites on the Internet and social media would counteract this development to some degree. And it has, but not by very much. With one or two notable exceptions (ProPublica in particular), most well-known Internet media sites in the US spent far too much of their time concentrating on click-bait stories, celebrity news, and water cooler tidbits. 

A country often gets the press it deserves, particularly in the Western world. While we have no dictatorships in countries like the United States, Canada, Britain, France or Australia, we do have governments which will do everything in their power to reduce the importance of media and any unfavorable coverage of their actions.

And most Americans have grown fat, lazy and complacent about freedom of the press because of the illusion that it is unlimited. While we may have more talking heads giving their opinions on the air, in print and online than Medusa had snakeheads, important stories like government abuse of privacy in the name of a nebulous security are in danger of being silenced before they can even be reported.

“The press doesn’t stop publishing, by the way, in a fascist escalation; it simply watches what it says,” American author Naomi Wolf wrote. “That too can be an incremental process, and the pace at which the free press polices itself depends on how journalists are targeted.”

Copyright Tom Regan 2015

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com 

Notes:

Reporters Sans Frontieres report: http://index.rsf.org/#!/presentation

Mass Internet Surveillance Unlawful: Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/feb/06/gchq-mass-internet-surveillance-unlawful-court-nsa

Wikileaks report by the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/29/world/29cables.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Democracy Now, on Edward Snowden

 

 

 

Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the National Film Board in Canada, and for the Christian Science Monitor and Boston Globe newspapers, and National Public Radio, in the United States. A former executive director of the Online News Association, he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92.

 

 

 

 

 

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us by telling others about us, and purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page.

 

 

 

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Noteworthy: media on my mind

 It’s been a helluva year so far in the media world, which began with the slaughter of 12 people, including 10 journalists, outside the office of Charlie Hebdo in January, as part of a wider attack by extremists in Paris.

David Carr, speaking in Canada in 2013. Photo by Ian Linkletter via Wikimedia

David Carr, speaking in Canada in 2013. Photo by Ian Linkletter via Wikimedia

Journalism lost its most articulate and fiercest champion Thursday night, with the death of David Carr of the New York Times. Carr, 58, collapsed in the  newsroom late in the evening, following an event hosted by the Times.

Carr brought extraordinary life experience to journalism, and heart alongside intellect. A former drug addict who turned his life around and rose to the top of his craft, Carr wrote in his 2008 memoir, The Night of the Gun: “I now inhabit a life I don’t deserve … but we all walk this earth feeling we are frauds. The trick is to be grateful and hope the caper doesn’t end any time soon.”

“He was the best media writer of his generation, he really was,” Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet told  Lloyd Grove of The Daily Beast. “We loved him. He was a terrific human being and important to us. Just a truly unique talent.”

Related and recommended:

David Carr, Times Critic and Champion of Media, Dies at 58. by Bruce Weber and Ashley Southall, New York Times 
David Carr, a Journalist at the Center of the Sweet Spot, by A. O. Scott, New York Times
The Quotable David Carr, a  Times compilation of quotes
Farewell to my Friend David Carr – Journalism’s True North. By Sasha Stone, a blog post
His Dark Material. A book review of David Carr’s The Night of the Gun, by Bruce Hardy, New York Times, 2008

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This week also saw the deaths of “pioneering” Canadian sports journalist Alison Gordon, one of the first women to cover professional baseball, and American CBS 60 Minutes journalist Bob Simon, who died in a car crash.

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Meantime Al-Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were released on bail in Egypt, pending their next hearing later this month. Earlier this month Egypt deported their colleague Peter Greste to his native Australia. The three men had been in custody since December, 2013, related to controversial charges involving Al Jazeera and the Muslim Brotherhood. Their case has become a cause celebre for global press rights.

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Elsewhere in journalism Jon Stewart, AKA “America’s most trusted fake news anchor,” announced that he would step down this year, age 52, at the height of his career, as host of the Daily Show on Comedy Central. Ok, ok, yes, I know. Stewart is not a journalist. But as countless others have pointed out, Stewart committed arguably more ethical and more accurate actual journalism than many of his counterparts in America’s television-land shows labelled “news.”

Related and recommended:

Jon Stewart on Criminal Justice — The jester takes a bow. A selection of some of his best criminal justice spots by The Marshall Project. 
Stewart’s announcement on the Daily Show:

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Famously, American television anchor Brian Williams was handed a six-month suspension this week by his network, NBC, after admitting, “I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago.” For 12 years Williams regaled audiences with his tale of being inside a helicopter that was shot down in Iraq. This month, when challenged by soldiers who were on the helicopter, he said he remembered he’d been on a different helicopter far behind the stricken machine. “I would not have chosen to make this mistake,” Williams said. “I don’t know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another.”

People I know, who know Williams, say he’s decent folk. It’s human to err. His fall from grace is just sad. Plus who are we to judge? It’s risky for journalists to slam other journalists when all of us live in glass houses.

But in my books, Williams’ fantasy of derring-do discredited not only him and his news organization, but journalism and journalists. Our craft rests entirely on reputation and trust. Reporting of facts to the best of our ability is a sacred trust. Williams’ mis-rememberance is akin to a pilot mistaking a runway for a river, or a surgeon cutting off her patient’s wrong leg, then not only getting away with it but boasting for years.

To dismiss Williams’ lapse as minor is to dismiss the role of journalism — especially in the context. It was a time when journalism utterly failed to reveal the lies about weapons of mass destruction on which the invasion of Iraq was based, leading to the loss of countless lives and trillions in treasure.

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In Canada on Friday Sun News television fell silent. Some 150-200 media jobs are affected, reported CBCSun (which I dubbed “Faux News North” for its partisan positions and courting of controversies in line with America’s Fox News) said it had been plagued by low ratings, financial losses, and the refusal of Canada’s regulator to force consumers to buy it with basic cable packages. Sun was in my opinion a blight on civil discourse and journalism — perhaps exemplified in this ruling that its most visible host had displayed “ill will” and “reckless disregard for the truth,” or here in its apology to Canada’s Liberal Leader for a rant slamming his mother. But as comedian Rick Mercer, who once lauded said host, might agree, Sun also exemplified the admirably wide range of expression in Canada. Regrettably for them, it also employed several serious and very good journalists who are now silenced.

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Last but not least, Reporters Without Borders/Reporters sans Frontieres released its 2014 World Press Freedom Index. The country ranked as having the most press freedom is, for the fifth year in a row, Finland. Following among the top ten are: Norway, Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden, New Zealand, Austria, Canada, Jamaica and Estonia. Least free are Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea. France is 38th, the United States 49th, Russia 152nd, Iran 173rd and China 176th.

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Noteworthy: Davos, Ebola, media matters

Davos Conference Center, Switzerland. World Economic Forum photo via Wikipedia, Creative Commons

Davos Conference Center, Switzerland. World Economic Forum photo via Wikipedia, Creative Commons

The World Economic Forum, AKA the “annual summit for the one per cent,” kicks off in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, tomorrow. Subjects range from bicycles for African kids to global trade, Ebola to climate change, “honey laundering” to oil markets. Switzerland’s tourism industry is delighted at the publicity. Even China’s premier will be there. For the rest of us, well, there’s always online attendance. Click here for the WEF agenda and links to online webcasts.

Speaking of Ebola, there’s (somewhat) good news. The head of the United Nations said progress in fighting the disease in West Africa shows it can be done. The World Health Organization reported that Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone this month reported their lowest tally of new cases since August.

It’s possible to fight the virus, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a UN meeting today, after a trip to the region. But he said to avoid a new surge of cases a regional response will be needed.  In case you missed them, two pieces on F&O add perspective to the deadly virus:

Ebola: the Black Death Revisited. By Ewa Bacon

There is no rational reason to fear Ebola in the developed world, writes Ewa Bacon, because we know the source of contagion and have methods to deal with it.  However, panic has set in.  Image: Plague is defeated -- a detail of the "Column of the Plague" (Pestsäule), in Graben, Vienna, Austria. Photo by Jebulon via Wikimedia, Creative Commons

There is no rational reason to fear Ebola in the developed world, writes Ewa Bacon.  Above: a detail of the “Column of the Plague” (Pestsäule), in Graben, Vienna, Austria. Photo by Jebulon via Wikimedia, Creative Commons

It is not Ebola that is stalking the land, but anxiety and fear. We fear an extinction event. We search the environment and note the loss of plants and animals. We worry as we examine “Martha,” the last ever passenger pigeon. We examine the geological record and note that not even the mighty dinosaur survived the cataclysm of Cretaceous period. Could that happen to us as well? We search history and note some sobering examples of global catastrophes. Few are as renowned as the “Black Death.” Early in the 1300’s Europeans received news of unprecedented diseases raging in the wealthy, remote and mysterious realm of China.

Ebola’s first casualty: clear thinking. By Jonathan Manthorpe (paywall)

The ebola panic overshadows far more deadly diseases. Unfortunately, humans are appalling bad at risk assessment. In recent weeks Ebola has tweaked our primal fears of the first Horseman of the Apocalypse, Pestilence, in the same way as my run in with the Black Death. Politicians, world health officials and the media are near hysteria as they pump out fear-inducing prophecies about the looming pestilential scourge.

What else we’re reading, with a focus on media matters:

Preparing for Fidel Castro’s death – How Florida news organizations plan to cover the Cuban dictator’s passing, by Susannah Nesmith in the Columbia Journalism Review is funny, in a black-humour sort of way. Excerpt:

Every year or so, a rumor bubbles up that the world’s most famous Cuban has this time, finally, truly, died. The local press corps sends crews to Versailles, the iconic Little Havana restaurant where presidential candidates appear to appeal to Cuban American voters and where journalists gather when anything about Cuba might be happening. Pretty early in the news cycle of a Fidel-is-dead rumor, The Associated Press writes a story that essentially says Castro might not be alive but no one on the island says he’s dead. This year, on Jan. 9, the AP’s Havana bureau chief, Michael Weissenstein, wrote that story, noting the rumor that the foreign press was being called to a press conference.

Weissenstein also took to Twitter. “Foreign correspondents now furiously calling each other about supposed press conference, an event not usually kept secret from press itself,” he wrote.

For the schadenfreude file: City of Paris Threatens to Sue Fox News Over False Report, in Rolling Stone report. Excerpt:

The city of Paris has threatened to sue Fox News over an erroneous report the network made claiming Paris had “no-go zones” for police and non-Muslims. The network later apologized for the error.

“When we’re insulted, and when we’ve had an image, then I think we’ll have to sue, I think we’ll have to go to court, in order to have these words removed,” Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo told CNN on Tuesday. “The image of Paris has been prejudiced, and the honor of Paris has been prejudiced.”

The comments stem from numerous segments Fox aired last week claiming that police and non-Muslims refuse to enter certain areas in France and England out of fear, with one show, Fox & Friends, erroneously showing a map “highlighting” the non-existent zones.

A F&O reader recommends a disturbing report in the Guardian about how British spies are snooping on journalists, whom they hold in similar regard to terrorists: GCHQ captured emails of journalists from top international media. Excerpt:

GCHQ’s bulk surveillance of electronic communications has scooped up emails to and from journalists working for some of the US and UK’s largest media organisations, analysis of documents released by whistleblower Edward Snowden reveals. …

One restricted document intended for those in army intelligence warned that “journalists and reporters representing all types of news media represent a potential threat to security”.  

It continued: “Of specific concern are ‘investigative journalists’ who specialise in defence-related exposés either for profit or what they deem to be of the public interest.

The country so concerned about journalists as security threats would be the same Britain whose premier David Cameron joined other world leaders in Paris this month, marching in the massive rally for freedom of expression after the terrorist attacks on the Paris satirical paper Charlie Hebdo.

 

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Value for money: journalism and politics

© Greg Locke 2013

From Photo-Essays. © Greg Locke 2013

Everybody is asking for money this week, to beat year-end deadlines. It’s exhausting.

As well as giving money that works sideways at best — to charities and NGOs, from conservative think tanks to environmental groups — I wish more people would be straightforward and donate directly. In my books, the best value is in *real* professional journalism, and in donations to the political actors that have the power to make a difference.

Political parties and candidates are verboten for non-partisan reporters, so I direct my own limited funds to supporting journalism. Quality  journalism is the ultimate democratic project: how will our legislatures, and systems of distributing goods and services, fare without common, evidence-based, non-partisan information sources to inform our decisions? Journalism is, in some ways, an extension of the education system. Unlike the education system, there is little public discussion about it, and even less public support.

There are several outlets that rise above the flood of junk media but, personally, I pay to subscribe to the New York Times, the public-sphere  equivalent of a world heritage site. This year, in addition to pouring resources into Facts and Opinions, which I co-own with my colleagues, I gave a few dollars to a handful of local independent media, and also to ProPublica. ProPublica and the Times are American, but I think they’re worth supporting by anybody, anywhere, because their newsrooms keep tabs on the American politicians and corporations that have an outsize influence on the world. Also, unlike many outlets that defer to advertisers, funders or ideological owners,  they walk the walk on ethics.1

— Deborah Jones

 

Notes:

1. New York Times Standards and Ethics: http://www.nytco.com/who-we-are/culture/standards-and-ethics/
    ProPublica Code of Ethics: http://www.propublica.org/about/code-of-ethics/

 

Help sustain independent, non-partisan and professional journalism by buying a $1 day pass or subscription to Facts and Opinions. An online journal of first-rate reporting and analysis, without borders, F&O is employee-owned, does not carry advertising, and is funded entirely by readers. Click here to purchase a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. Receive free blog emails via the form on FRONTLINES. Please tell others about us.

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The back story behind New York’s fracking ban

Alberta Gas well

New York banned fracking after investigative journalism revealed risks. Above, a gas well in Alberta, Canada.

 

Careful, evidence-based journalism underpinned New York’s decision Wednesday to ban fracking in the state. This story by the not-for-profit investigative news room ProPublica provides the back story of the state governor’s announcement.

Fracking — the technique of fracturing underground rock by piping in hydraulically pressurized liquid  — has boosted oil and gas extraction around the world. The boom in fracking in the U.S. especially has vastly increased America’s domestic energy supply, and is a factor in the recent plunge in global oil prices. Fracking has also led to conflicts over land use, and is also linked to human health and environmental risks, and earthquakes under some conditions. 

Jurisdictions that have banned or suspended fracking include, as of this posting, several counties and municipalities in other American states; parts of Spain; France; Germany; the Netherlands; Bulgaria; and the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Quebec.1 Other jurisdictions have banned or regulated some of the chemicals used in fracking. 

 

by Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica

When natural gas companies first pressed into New York in 2008, state environmental regulators barely understood the process of “hydraulic fracturing.” On Wednesday, six and a half years after ProPublica first raised concerns that the drilling could threaten both the state’s water supply and its residents’ health, Gov. Andrew Cuomo banned the process across the state.

The ban makes New York, which holds large natural gas reserves in the Marcellus Shale, the largest and most significant region to bow out of the nation’s energy boom because of concerns that its benefits may be outweighed by the risk. 

The decision comes after a long-awaited report from the state’s Health Department this week concluded that the fracking would pose health risks to New Yorkers. It also follows an exhaustive state environmental review effort that began the day after ProPublica’s first story in July 2008.

Since then, New York has walked an indecisive line on drilling, while an energy boom provoked by advances in fracking technology took much of the rest of the country by storm. Today’s lower oil prices are due, in part, to an oil bonanza in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale that had barely begun when New York first put a temporary halt to new drilling in the state. Likewise, the gas drilling waves that have rippled through states from Pennsylvania and West Virginia to Michigan, North Carolina, Maryland, Texas and Wyoming had yet to run their course.

But by delaying a decision on drilling for so many years, Cuomo also allowed a clearer picture of the impacts and changes that drilling activity would bring to emerge. That clearer picture ultimately dampened the enthusiasm for drilling in New York and validated many of the environmental and health concerns that anti-drilling groups have raised across the country.

Just across the state line from New York’s Southern Tier, where the richest Marcellus gas deposits lie, Pennsylvania landowners dealt with one incident of water contamination after another. They complained of illnesses caused by both the water and new air pollution brought by the drilling. State regulators in Pennsylvania 2013 once enthusiastic boosters of the process 2013 wound up cracking down on drilling companies’ messy practices and strengthening their own environmental laws as a result.

Across the country, similar stories emerged, many of them reported as part of a four-year-long investigation by ProPublica. From Texas and Louisiana to California, drilling waste was being spilled or leaking into drinking water aquifers and high pressures caused by fracking activities were causing wells to leak. Methane gushed from wells and pipelines. And residents’ allegations that the drilling was causing symptoms from nerve disorders to skin lesions and birth defects began to be substantiated through peer-reviewed scientific research.

The potential payoff for such risks 2013 which the drilling industry long maintained were minimal 2013 was that drilling would bring huge economic benefits to rural regions long desperate for new jobs and an injection of economic vigor. That economic promise has been born out across many parts of the country, but in some instances, those who needed the financial benefits most have been denied them.

An investigation by ProPublica earlier this year found that landowners in Pennsylvania who supported drilling and signed leases with drilling companies in order to earn a share of the profits were instead being cheated out their payments, called royalties. In fact, the stories showed, energy companies had withheld royalty payments worth billions of dollars from both landowners and the federal government across states from Texas and Wyoming to Louisiana and Colorado, substantially blunting the prosperity that could come from allowing drilling to proceed.

All of this, it now seems, must have made Cuomo’s decision this week a lot easier. But the ban also reflects the conclusion of a lengthy learning curve for New York State.

When ProPublica reporters, in a joint project with WNYC, first went to Albany to talk with the state’s environment regulators, those officials couldn’t answer basic questions about the process they were poised to permit: What chemicals would be pumped underground near drinking water supplies? Where would the waste be disposed of and did New York have facilities capable of handling it? State officials told ProPublica then that fracking had never once caused pollution to water supplies, and said they were unaware of the hundreds of cases brought to their attention by ProPublica where such damage had indeed taken place.

On the morning of July 23, 2008, then Gov. David Paterson called for those state environment officials to go back to the drawing board in their assessment of the risks of fracking before the state issued any new permits, effectively placing a moratorium on drilling that lasted until now.

Creative Commons

Notes:

1. Wikipedia page: Hydraulic fracturing by country
     Keep Tap Water Safe organization

Further reading on F&O:

Risky Business: The facts behind fracking, F&O Magazine, by Chris Wood (subscription)

F&O NATURAL SECURITY column, by Chris Wood (subscription)

Fracking Water Contamination Feared in California Drought (ProPublica)

Aggressive Tactic on the Fracking Front (ProPublica)

Landowners often losers in deals with U.S. energy companies  (ProPublica)

Drilling for Certainty: The Latest in Fracking Health Studies (ProPublica)

Frack fluids can migrate to aquifers within years, study predicts (ProPublica)

 

Posted in Canadian Journalist, Current Affairs Also tagged , |

UN Security Council and journalists at risk

A legal expert wonders if it’s time for the United Nations Security Council to become pro-active in protecting journalism.

Daniel_pearl_highres

Daniel Pearl, Wall Street Journal correspondent, abducted in Pakistan in 2002 and beheaded in a manner copied by the murderers of freelance journalist James Foley this month. READ: International law fails to protect journalists from savagery.

“Statistics suggest that many states are unwilling or unable to deter crimes against journalists by ensuring that the perpetrators are held to account,” writes Carmen Draghici. “The culture of impunity not only infringes the victims’ right to life, personal security and free speech, but also has a chilling effect on the media in general, as well as affecting the public’s right to information.”

An excerpt of Draghici’s essay in Dispatches/Publica:

The vicious execution of US journalist James Foley by militants of the Islamic State deepens the concern that international law and diplomacy may be ill-equipped to address crimes against media workers reporting from conflict zones.

The video depicting the decapitation and cautioning Barack Obama to end military operations in Iraq displays a modus operandi typical of terrorist negotiation strategy. It evokes the murder of freelance journalist Enzo Baldoni in 2004 by the Islamic Army in Iraq, after the fundamentalist group attempted to use the hostage as a leverage tool for an ultimatum requesting the withdrawal of Italian troops from Iraq.

It further echoes the murder of Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl, abducted in Pakistan in 2002, whose captors posted the video of the beheading as a warning after unsuccessfully demanding the release of Guantanamo Bay Muslim prisoners.

Unlawful killings have also been used as a tactic to inhibit the dissemination of information and critical views, as in the kidnapping and shooting of US freelance journalist Steven Vincent by Islamic extremists in Iraq in 2005.

High-profile cases are only the tip of the iceberg … read International law fails to protect journalists from savagery. (Free story*)

*Facts and Opinions is a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  Why? We appreciate, and will continue with, your interest and support:  for $2.95 (the price of a cheap brew) you can subscribe to F&O for a month. If that breaks your budget, a one-day pass is $1. A subscription is required for most F&O original work. Subscribe for free to Frontlines by entering your address in the form on the right (we won’t share your address), or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

 

 

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International law fails to protect journalists from savagery

By Carmen Draghici, City University London
August, 2014

IMG_91001-275x183

James Foley, abducted in Syria in 2012 and slaughtered in August by extremists. Photo © Jonathan Pedneault, courtesy of FreeJamesFoley.org

The vicious execution of US journalist James Foley by militants of the Islamic State deepens the concern that international law and diplomacy may be ill-equipped to address crimes against media workers reporting from conflict zones.

The video depicting the decapitation and cautioning Barack Obama to end military operations in Iraq displays a modus operandi typical of terrorist negotiation strategy. It evokes the murder of freelance journalist Enzo Baldoni in 2004 by the Islamic Army in Iraq, after the fundamentalist group attempted to use the hostage as a leverage tool for an ultimatum requesting the withdrawal of Italian troops from Iraq.

It further echoes the murder of Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl, abducted in Pakistan in 2002, whose captors posted the video of the beheading as a warning after unsuccessfully demanding the release of Guantanamo Bay Muslim prisoners.

Unlawful killings have also been used as a tactic to inhibit the dissemination of information and critical views, as in the kidnapping and shooting of US freelance journalist Steven Vincent by Islamic extremists in Iraq in 2005.

High-profile cases are only the tip of the iceberg. UNESCO reports reveal an alarming 593 journalist killings between 2006-2013, with the highest figures in 2012 (123) and 2013 (91). According to the International Federation of Journalists, 67 journalists and media workers have been killed so far in 2014, with Pakistan, the Palestinian territories, Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine and Syria holding the worst records.

These statistics suggest that many states are unwilling or unable to deter crimes against journalists by ensuring that the perpetrators are held to account. The culture of impunity not only infringes the victims’ right to life, personal security and free speech, but also has a chilling effect on the media in general, as well as affecting the public’s right to information.

As UN special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression Frank La Rue stated in his 2009 report to the Human Rights Council: “Limiting impunity for the perpetrators of crimes against media professionals will function as an important deterrent against the repetition of these crimes.”

Countering impunity remains, however, a real problem in countries where political instability and military turmoil render state institutions ineffective. This has led to the rise of a new type of threat facing foreign correspondents: deliberate targeting by private actors.

Unlike states, extremist groups tend to be beyond the reach of both diplomacy and the law. Peer pressure within the international community relies on concerns such as reputational damage, continued support of economic or strategic allies and domestic public opinion. Groups that are driven by a nihilist ideology who resort to terrorist methods do not respond to such considerations.

Daniel_pearl_highres

Daniel Pearl, Wall Street Journal correspondent, abducted in Pakistan in 2002 and beheaded. (Promotional photo)

This is not to say that international law places no obligations on non-state parties. Under international humanitarian law, which protects individuals who take no active part in the hostilities, obligations applying to warring countries in international conflicts also bind non-state parties to internal hostilities.

In particular, Article 13 of Additional Protocol II to the 1949 Geneva Conventions dictates that civilians cannot be the object of attack or acts or threats of violence. Non-international conflicts are also covered by common Article 3 of the four Geneva Conventions, establishing that civilians cannot be subjected to cruel treatment or outrages upon personal dignity or taken hostages.

Journalists engaged in dangerous professional missions in areas of armed conflict are expressly classified as “civilians” in Article 79 of the 1977 Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions. This means they are entitled to the protection of Article 48, which requires warring parties to distinguish between civilian and military objectives.

More recently, UN Security Council Resolution 1738 (2006) reiterated the obligation for all parties involved in conflicts to treat journalists as civilians and respect their rights and professional independence. So media workers in conflict zones cannot be legitimate targets under any circumstance.

But the reality does not match the expectations under the law. To address this crisis, in 2012 UNESCO developed a Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, which is at present being implemented in five pilot countries, Iraq, Nepal, Pakistan, South Sudan, and Tunisia.

The plan involves helping states to develop legislation guaranteeing freedom of expression – including effective investigation and prosecution of crimes against journalists; raising awareness amongst media owners and policy-makers on existing international instruments for the protection of journalists; disseminating best practices on the safety of journalists.

Further international avenues for increasing the safety of journalists may include the adoption of a convention for the protection of journalists in conflict zones in recognition of their being a category at risk – or making the killing of journalists a war crime.

Nevertheless, enhancing the international legal framework may prove valuable in dealing with rational state players. Similarly, international co-operation focusing on capacity-building presupposes the effective control of the legitimate authorities of States receiving assistance over their own territory.

The efforts of the international community to tackle threats to journalists may be insufficient if confined to legal measures and assistance in the administration of justice. In the presence of anarchic private groups such as Islamic State, rethinking international law-enforcement options through the Security Council might be timely.

Creative CommonsThe Conversation

Carmen Draghici does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations. She is Senior Lecturer, City Law School at City University London.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

Further reading on F&O:

 Washington and Tehran find common cause against Islamic State, International Affairs column by Jonathan Manthorpe 
James Foley, Journalist, Frontlines blog post

 

Facts and Opinions is a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  Why? We appreciate your interest and support:  for $2.95 (the price of a cheap brew) you can subscribe to F&O for a month. If that breaks your budget, a one-day pass is $1. A subscription is required for most F&O original work. Subscribe for free to Frontlines by entering your address in the form on the right (we won’t share your address), or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

 

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James Foley, Journalist

foley-libya-2-2011-4-7

James Foley, freelance reporter for the Global Post and Agence France0-Presse, taken before his capture in Libya in 2011. He was eventually released, and went to Syria, where he was abducted the next year. Photo from Global Post site.

James Foley, American teacher-turned-journalist, was abducted in Syria in November, 2012. He reportedly died this week after extremists dressed him up in an orange suit like the ones Americans put on prisoners at Guantánamo, and a man with a British accent cut off his head. His killers videotaped the murder and put it up on YouTube. 

The self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which claimed responsibility for Foley’s murder, reportedly threatened to kill another American journalist kidnapped in Syria, Steven Sotloff, unless United States President Barack Obama ends air strikes in Iraq. (Obama responded today with a denunciation of ISIS.)

Journalists are abducted, wounded or killed regularly in the world’s hot spots. The nature of Foley’s grotesque and public murder pushed this reality into stark relief, and perhaps startled Westerners into awareness.

Since 2011, 39 professional journalists including 12 foreigners, and 122 Syrian citizen-journalists, were killed in connection with their work in Syria, points out Reporters sans Frontieres. “Three foreign journalists are still being held hostage in Syria, while four others are missing there. Armed groups are currently holding around 20 Syrian (professional and non-professional) journalists, while the Syrian authorities are holding more than 30 Syrian news providers despite the amnesty announced in June.”

Photo courtesy of FindJamesFoley.org

Photo by Nicole Tung, courtesy of FreeJamesFoley.org.

Threats to journalists and press freedoms are documented annually by Reporters sans Frontiers’ Press Freedom Index. While the beheading of James Foley is the most graphic and extreme transgression against journalism, violations range from murder to the ongoing arrests of numerous journalists this month in Ferguson, Missouri. In the United States, the self-styled leader of the “free” world, New York Times journalist James Risen currently risks a jail sentence for refusing to reveal sources in his book about the Central Intelligence Agency; his case has highlighted the crackdown on press rights by the administration of Barack Obama, who entered office with the hopeful award of a Nobel Peace Prize that seems increasingly bizarre. Taking a page from Obama’s book, Afghanistan’s government recently interrogated and this week expelled and banned Matthew Rosenberg, another New York Times journalist.

Journalism matters not least because it informs us, of events in war zones that hit us in our homes in shocking and unexpected ways, and of our own immediate and local vulnerabilities, from health and environmental threats to the 2008 financial crisis, which the Committee to Protect Journalists condemned as  “a story of mass ignorance.”

Nothing can justify or redeem the murder of James Foley, who reported for Global Post, Agence France-Presse and other media, and who was only 40 years old when he died. The least we can do in his name is give some thought to the nature of his work, and why it might matter.

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Photo by Jonathan Pedneault, courtesy of FreeJamesFoley.org

Selected reactions to Foley’s murder: 

Statement by James Foley’s mother on Facebook page, Find James Foley:

We have never been prouder of our son Jim. He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people.

We implore the kidnappers to spare the lives of the remaining hostages. Like Jim, they are innocents. They have no control over American government policy in Iraq, Syria or anywhere in the world.

We thank Jim for all the joy he gave us. He was an extraordinary son, brother, journalist and person. Please respect our privacy in the days ahead as we mourn and cherish Jim.

Reporters sans Frontieres/Reporters Without Borders

“Foley did not work for the US government. He was an experienced international reporter whose sole interest was to report the news, not represent his nation. We express our heartfelt condolences to his family, his mother, his father, who we know, and his friends. And we pay tribute to a man who helped us to provide support to the family of one of his friends, a photographer killed in Libya” — secretary-general Christophe Deloire.

Society of Professional Journalists:

Foley and thousands of other journalists risk their lives every day to seek truth and report it, and it is unconscionable they would face intimidation and violence by those who kill innocents for political gain.

Committee to Protect Journalists:

“Foley went to Syria to show the plight of the Syrian people, to bear witness to their fight, and in so doing to fight for press freedom” — CPJ Chairman Sandra Mims Rowe.

Statement by the family of James Foley on his reported killing, reported by Global Post: 

He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people … We thank Jim for all the joy he gave us. He was an extraordinary son, brother, journalist and person.

Agence France-Presse roundup about homage to James Foley by AFP chief and world leaders

“L’inacceptable et la honte s’abattent une fois de plus et une fois de trop sur le métier d’informer dont James Foley avait fait sa raison de vivre et non de mourir. Ce n’est pas seulement une tragédie, c’est avant tout une barbarie. La dénoncer n’est pas seulement un devoir, c’est aussi un combat pour tous ceux qui pensent que la liberté d’informer est une valeur suprême de nos sociétés démocratiques,” — Président-Directeur général de l’AFP, Emmanuel Hoog. 

There are countless sites showing the video of James Foley being beheaded. I have not watched it, and I don’t want to. We absolutely do need to know what happened. I do not — perhaps no one does — need the videotaped horror of his murder in my head and heart, a piece of propaganda titled “A message to America.” Instead, here’s a video of Foley speaking at his journalism school alma mater, Medill in 2011, after being freed from a Libyan prison. “He wanted to be a conflict reporter,” said his introducer.

Related:

BBC profile of James Foley http://www.bbc.com/news/world-28865508
RSF Press Freedom Index, 2014: http://en.rsf.org/reporters-without-borders-releases-12-02-2014,45849.html
Find James Foley Journalist: http://www.freejamesfoley.org
The Men Who Killed James Foley, by Jon Lee Anderson in The New Yorker

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The response by the activist Kafranbel Media Center in Syria (see related New York Times feature) to James Foley’s murder.

 

 Further reading on F&O:

Al-Qaida Jihadists Suspicious of Iraq-Syria Caliphate, by Jonathan Manthorpe (paywall)

Half a dozen so-called Islamic states have been created out of countries in crisis in the last 20 years, and each new one is more brutal and bloodthirsty than the last. The latest is the “caliphate” created by the messianic descendant of the Prophet Mohammed, soldier and Islamic scholar Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in the territory he and his followers control in the border region of Syria and Iraq.

Bin Laden’s disciples move to realize his dream, by Jonathan Manthorpe (paywall)

There has never been a satisfactory explanation why George W. Bush and his Praetorian Guard nursed such a visceral hatred of Saddam Hussein. Blitzkriegs built on lies never end well. Hundreds of thousands of people have died in over a decade of warfare in Iraq. But now it gets even worse. It is beginning to look as though the Bush coven has created the conditions for bin Laden’s heirs to realize their master’s dream. Well armed fighters of the fanatical Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), an al-Qaida spin-off group, are marching on the Iraqi capital Baghdad after capturing the central towns of Tikrit and Mosul.

The Cold War 2.0, by Jim McNiven (paywall)

For 40 years, one big contest played out in the world. It was a kind of arm-wrestling match between the Soviets and the Americans. I use the word ‘Soviets’ to distinguish one contestant from its successor of sorts: today’s Russians. Eventually, the Soviets could not keep their end of the game going and walked away from the table, into history. The last decade of the century was one where there was but one superpower — and it wanted to party. The attacks on America on September 11, 2001, brought that party to a halt. It signified a new game was beginning; not one of two superpowers engaged while the rest of the world largely stayed out of the way, but one where arm-wrestling was replaced by a kind of hide-and-seek.

  

Facts and Opinions is a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  Why? Please support us:  for $2.95 (the price of a cheap brew) you can subscribe to F&O for a month. If that breaks your budget, a one-day pass is $1. A subscription is required for most F&O original work.

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Rwanda revisited 20 years later.

FAO-RWANDA-church-LOCKE

Ntarama, Rwanda. By Greg Locke © 1995
…click to enlarge

I could say it seems like just last year, but it’s been twenty years this month that the first journalists headed into Rwanda, on news that a mass slaughter of one ethnic group by another was taking place. A civil war turned genocidal and an estimated 800,000 would die in just 100 days in the small central Africa country. The mass killing ended when Paul Kagame’s forces swept in from neighbouring Uganda and took control of the country, but the ongoing conflict carried on across the border in eastern Congo, and continues to this day with various factions and proxy militias.

 

Associated Press photographers  Jean-Marc Bouju and David Guttenfelder relive their time in Rwanda in Revisiting the Rwandan Genocide: Origin Stories From The Associated Press, by Pamela Chen on the National Geographic website.

Bouju’s quote rang true for me and I’d guess everyone who has covered conflict, war and continuous refugee crisis.

 

“What I saw was a vision of hell,” Bouju describes, “A particular hell where you have daily life going on, people shopping, but meanwhile other people are butchering each other right there in the same street. The nonchalance of death was astonishing. And I cannot get that out of my mind. To this day, I don’t understand it. But I left a little bit of my soul there somewhere.” …Jean-Mac Bouju

 

The nonchalance of death is striking. But maybe only to those from the west, where life is supposed to be so precious and sacred, with urban violence only occasionally spilling over into middle and upper class suburbs. One thing for sure, it proved to me that the banality of evil is true. A year later, as I stood among the bones of thousands who died in the little church in Ntarama, Rwanda after a day-long orgy of murder, I could not help but think of the methodical and bureaucratic order of the slaughter. When the killers grew tired of using their machetes they herded everyone inside, and fired rocket propelled grenades into the church. The casualness of how one human being or group can dismiss, objectify, demonize and kill another is frightening and the lesson does not always have to be from a civil war in a far-off developing country.

— Greg Locke

Under a Malaria Moon is Greg Locke’s photo-essay, with field notes, from nearly a decade in Africa. (Subscription required)

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