July 9th, 2014
12:39 PM ET

Al-Maliki’s media war

By Fred Abrahams, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Fred Abrahams is a special adviser at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

How Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki plans to defeat the horribly abusive Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) and other Sunni groups that have seized control of large swathes of Iraq remains unclear. And under his government’s new media regulations, the Iraqi public isn’t likely to find out.

The new guidelines, issued on June 18 by the state media commission to remain in effect “during the war on terror,” in effect require local and international media to cheer on the government. For example, the rules forbid media from reporting information from insurgent forces and compel coverage of government forces in only glowing terms.

As one Iraqi journalist put it, the guidelines “basically ban journalists from covering war activities, because whatever you report about terrorists could be considered support for them.”

Some Iraqi media are known for their harsh sectarian lines, including outlets that out-and-out incite violence. But the new restrictions go far beyond what international law allows. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights says governments may limit some rights, including on media, but only when strictly required by the situation. The restrictions must be specified by law, demonstrably necessary to protect a legitimate aim, in a manner that is proportionate to protect that aim, and subject to judicial review. FULL POST

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Topics: Iraq • Media
May 15th, 2014
11:20 AM ET

Don't ignore what's happening inside Russia

By Tanya Lokshina, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Tanya Lokshina is the Russia program director at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

As the crisis in Ukraine escalated this spring, the Kremlin’s vicious crackdown on civil society also escalated. Space for independent civic activity in Russia is shrinking dramatically, but international policymakers and the media have been understandably too distracted to do much about it.

Since early spring, it seems as though every week brings a new pernicious law or legislative proposal.

The authorities have blocked or essentially took editorial control over a number of independent news portals and are pushing new laws to stifle freedom of expression. Just a week ago, President Vladimir Putin signed a law requiring Russian bloggers with significant followings to register with the authorities and comply with the same regulations as media outlets without the same protections and privileges. The same law requires blogging services and social networks to store user activity for six months.

Another legislative proposal reportedly prompted by independent media coverage of the crisis in Ukraine would introduce administrative and criminal offenses for editors who publish “false anti-Russian” information or offer media support to “anti-Russian extremist and separatist forces.” Another new draft law introduces a ban on publishing negative information about the Russian government and military.


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Topics: Human Rights • Media • Russia
May 10th, 2014
09:32 AM ET

World's media under growing pressure

By Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Karin Deutsch Karlekar is project director at Freedom House for ‘Freedom of the Press,’ an annual country-by-country survey of press freedom issues. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

At first glance, the rapidly changing ways information is produced, distributed and consumed should be signs of a golden age for the world’s press. A broader range of professionals as well as citizen journalists and bloggers are writing, broadcasting and posting information in a larger variety of ways. Their news is traveling faster and reaching larger audiences. But the world’s media is facing significant new pressures and growing dangers in almost every region of the world.

Our research for Freedom of the Press 2014, finds that as media evolve and innovate, governments’ attempts to restrict and suppress independent information have become no less innovative and widespread.

By our measures, which evaluate the environment journalists operate within as well as access to news and information, global press freedom has fallen to its lowest level in over a decade. Only 14 percent of the world’s population lives in countries where we rate the press as “Free,” while the vast majority live in “Partly Free” (42 percent) or “Not Free” (44 percent) media environments.


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Topics: Media
China in 2014: The three Rs
December 16th, 2013
05:27 PM ET

China in 2014: The three Rs

By Robert Daly, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Robert Daly is director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Wilson Center. The views expressed are his own. This is the first in the '14 in 2014' series, looking at what the year ahead holds for key countries.

Three stories dominate American coverage of China at the close of 2013: the recent plenum that outlined China’s direction for the next decade, China’s establishment of an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea, and Beijing’s delayed issuance of visas to American journalists. The common thread in these stories is Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Xi Jinping. Xi’s vision and political acumen are the driving force behind reform proposals that could reshape China. Xi would have had to sign off on an ADIZ that has deepened suspicion that China seeks regional hegemony. And Xi has spearheaded a year-long campaign against freedom of information that may culminate in the closing of the China offices of Bloomberg and the New York Times.

Xi’s program to date is Reform, Resurgence, and Repression.  What China becomes under his leadership in 2014 and beyond will depend on whether this modern strongman is truly modern and truly strong, or whether he is cultivating an image of strength in an attempt to rein in a dynamic but fragile nation which an anachronistic CCP can no longer control.

Reform. The policy goals Xi set at the plenum demonstrated that he shares the Chinese people’s concerns for social welfare, sustainable growth, a cleaner environment, and cleaner government. Xi’s self confidence and specificity gave plenum documents the feel of a new social contract. They were a populist’s promise to the masses.


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Topics: 14 in 2014 • China • Human Rights • Media
How Chinese censorship is reaching overseas
October 28th, 2013
11:16 AM ET

How Chinese censorship is reaching overseas

By Sarah Cook, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Sarah Cook is a senior research analyst for East Asia at Freedom House and author of report The Long Shadow of Chinese Censorship, which was released October 22 by the National Endowment for Democracy’s Center for International Media Assistance. The views expressed are her own.

The efforts of China’s leaders to prevent its citizens from circulating information inconvenient to the ruling Communist Party are well known. But while censorship is a daily reality for media outlets inside mainland China, their counterparts abroad are increasingly finding themselves under pressure as well.

China’s leaders, it seems, have become more ambitious in their attempts to control the news.

Take last year, when reports surfaced that China’s ambassador to the United States met with Bloomberg’s editor-in-chief to try to persuade the outlet not to run a story about the finances of Communist Party leader Xi Jinping’s family. Last May, meanwhile, popular Taiwanese talk show host Cheng Hung-yi resigned after station executives allegedly tried to stop his program from touching on topics sensitive to Beijing. And back in 2011, reportedly at Beijing’s urging, a court in Hanoi sentenced two Vietnamese citizens who practice Falun Gong to prison for transmitting radio broadcasts about human rights abuses and corruption from their farm to listeners in China.


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Topics: China • Human Rights • Media
August 28th, 2013
09:04 AM ET

'The first bullet came whizzing past my ear'

By Howard Cohen

Last month, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy was ousted in a military coup just a year after taking office. Almost 1,000 people have been killed in the ensuing violence as pro-Morsy protesters have taken to the streets to demand his reinstatement. GPS intern Howard Cohen spoke with CNN Senior International Correspondent Arwa Damon, who came under fire while reporting on events in Cairo.

A former CNN cameraman, Mick Deane, was shot and killed in Egypt. You were reporting on the outbreak of violence in the country when gunshots sent you ducking to the ground for cover. Are journalists being deliberately targeted?

That’s a very heavy accusation to make. Mick Deane was shot through the chest, it would seem by a sniper. At the time that we came under fire, we could hear a gun battle in the distance. That was, however, on the other side of a fairly crowded square. A few blocks away from that, people in the square were calm, they were chatting, they were walking around. And all of a sudden, the first bullet came whizzing past my ear. So we moved a bit further away from the square, thinking that perhaps it was a stray bullet that had come by. And then, in the middle of the live shot, there was an intense barrage of gunfire. What you don’t see is that after the camera signal goes down as we were trying to move out of that location, there was gunfire that seemed to be directed towards us also coming from elsewhere. Egypt has never been a friendly environment for journalists. They came under attack numerous times during the uprising against Hosni Mubarak back in 2011 and since then, there have been repeated assaults on journalists.


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Topics: Egypt • Media
Turkey silencing the guns – and critics
May 29th, 2013
10:40 AM ET

Turkey silencing the guns – and critics

By Emma Sinclair-Webb, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Emma Sinclair-Webb is a senior Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch who focuses on Turkey. The views expressed are her own.

Sevan Nişanyan, a Turkish-Armenian journalist, wrote a blog entry last September stating that critical comments about religion don’t constitute hate speech. “Making fun of an Arab leader who claimed he contacted God hundreds of years ago and received political, financial and sexual benefits is not hate speech,” he said. “It is an almost kindergarten-level test of what is called freedom of expression.”

An Istanbul court disagreed and on May 22 – for these very words – sentenced him to 13 months in prison for “insulting the religious values of one section of the population.” What makes his prosecution even more chilling is the fact that it followed public comments by Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ recommending that Nişanyan should be prosecuted.

There have been dramatic developments in Turkey in recent months as the government embarks on a bold attempt to end the entrenched conflict with the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and to start down the long road to peace with the Kurdish minority. While the sight of uniformed and armed PKK fighters – male and female – retreating to camps over the border in Iraqi Kurdistan is tangible evidence of progress toward peace, the Turkish authorities and judiciary are still cracking down on people who express dissent in words rather than with an AK47.


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Topics: Human Rights • Media • Turkey
Media freedom takes a hit
May 1st, 2013
12:03 PM ET

Media freedom takes a hit

By Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Karin Deutsch Karlekar is project director of Freedom House’s annual Freedom of the Press report. The views expressed are her own.

At first glance, it might seem counterintuitive that media freedom is on the decline. After all, in a world in which news is being produced by a broader range of professionals – as well as citizen journalists and bloggers – information is flowing at faster rates than ever before. And with news being transmitted through a greater variety of mediums – including newspapers, radio, television, the internet, mobile phones, flash drives, and social media – one might expect the level of media freedom worldwide to be improving, not worsening.

Yet Freedom House’s annual Freedom of the Press report, which measures the environment journalists operate within as well as access to news and information, shows that the world’s media are often facing growing pressures in a range of political settings. An overall decline in the level of global media freedom – reversing last year’s improvement – was driven by declines in almost every region of the world. Reasons for the deterioration included the continued, increasingly sophis­ticated repression of independent journalism and new media by authoritarian regimes; the ripple effects of the European economic crisis and longer-term challenges to the financial sustainability of print media; and ongoing threats from nonstate actors such as radical Islamists and organized crime groups.


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Topics: Human Rights • Media
Beijing’s Growing Credibility Gap
August 1st, 2012
11:08 AM ET

Beijing’s Growing Credibility Gap

By Kelley Currie, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Kelley Currie is a senior fellow with the Project 2049 Institute in Washington. The views expressed are her own.

Authoritarian regimes have traditionally relied heavily on controlling the flow of information that their subjects receive as a critical element of maintaining political power. The Chinese Communist Party is no different: they have an extensive and well-funded propaganda apparatus that’s integrated into all aspects of the Party’s operations, coupled with a sophisticated set of tools that are used to control the Chinese public’s access to alternative sources of information. After decades of maintaining a fairly successful monopoly on the flow of information, the party-state’s current approach is much more calibrated and nuanced. It seems to be based on the principles of modern flood-control techniques: allow a greater flow in certain channels when necessary to take the pressure off the highest risk zones. While these techniques are generally successful, recently we’ve seen how freak events and unexpected storms can overwhelm systems that are based on routine handling of high probability events.

The analogy to flood control is an apt one given the latest disaster to tax Beijing’s information management apparatus: the deadly floods that swept through the capital on July 21. The systemic failures that led to at least 77 flood-related deaths have been broadly commented on, and have recalled another deadly infrastructure disaster that occurred almost exactly one year earlier: the Wenzhou high-speed-rail crash on July 23, 2011.

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Topics: China • Media
What we need to know about Syria
July 18th, 2012
10:16 AM ET

What we need to know about Syria

By Fareed Zakaria

The death of Syria's defense minister – in an apparent suicide bombing for which the Syrian rebels have claimed responsibility – is a sign that the rebellion is gaining strength and the Assad regime is cracking. I certainly hope so, but it's important for us to admit that we actually know very little about what is going on in Syria.

Naturally, our hearts are with the rebels and the Free Syrian Army, so when we hear reports about this bombing, we hope it is a sign of their growing reach and effectiveness. But we don't really know much about the circumstances. Is the use of suicide bombing, for example, a sign of the greater involvement of Islamic jihadis?

Similarly, when we hear about a massacre, such as reports last week surrounding events in Hama province, we naturally assume that it has been done by the Syrian military in the most brutal possible way.


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Topics: Media • Middle East • Syria
March 20th, 2012
03:37 PM ET

Slaughter: A pivot to the people

Editor's Note: Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former director of policy planning in the US State Department (2009-2011), is Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University. For more from Slaughter, visit Project Syndicate or follow it on Facebook and Twitter. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Anne-Marie Slaughter.

By Anne-Marie SlaughterProject Syndicate

On February 1, the United Nations Security Council met to consider the Arab League’s proposal to end the violence in Syria. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton represented the United States. Midway through her remarks, she began speaking not to the Syrian ambassador, who was in the room, or even the Syrian government, but directly to the Syrian people. She said that change in Syria would require Syrians of every faith and ethnicity to work together, protecting and respecting the rights of minorities.

Addressing those minorities, she continued: “We do hear your fears, and we do honor your aspirations. Do not let the current regime exploit them to extend this crisis.” She told Syria’s business, military, and other leaders that they must recognize that their futures lie with the state, not with the regime. “Syria belongs to its 23 million citizens, not to one man or his family.” FULL POST

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Topics: Diplomacy • Innovation • Media • Technology
Italy's cell phone for cheaters
November 7th, 2011
11:59 AM ET

Italy's cell phone for cheaters

Stefano Nesi may just be the next big name in Italian couture fashion merchandising. No, he’s not a designer about to grace Milan’s runways during international fashion week. He’s actually a graduate economics student, turned carpet salesman, turned cell phone entrepreneur. And his legacy? The New Generation Mobile (NGM) empire, complete with a deluxe line of phones customized to a range of possible consumer demographics. Whether you’re a customer of the bestselling ‘Vanity line’ phone or inclined to buy the Van Gogh Bluetooth-enabled device, Nesi has found a way to seamlessly cater to his diverse clientele network, and perhaps more importantly, to all of their illicit needs. FULL POST

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Topics: Europe • Media • Odd
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