Jeremy Wright did not have a Twitter account until he was appointed culture secretary

New culture secretary: Jeremy Wright (credit PA Photos)

New culture secretary: Jeremy Wright (credit PA Photos)


|Jim Waterson Media editor, The Guardian|AIWA! NO!|The culture secretary, Jeremy Wright, who is responsible for overseeing the British media industry, has told an audience of newspaper editors that he doesn’t subscribe to any British newspapers or magazines.

He said he “generally reads a summary of newspapers and certain comment pieces” and had a subscription to Time magazine, while getting his news by listening to BBC Radio 4 and watching BBC TV news. He said he also enjoyed certain columnists in the Times.

Asked five times to name a female columnist he enjoyed reading, he named the Daily Telegraph’s Allison Pearson.

Wright, a former lawyer who is also responsible for digital industries and regulating social media, has faced questions about his understanding of the media industry. He did not have a Twitter account before taking up his new job in the summer.

In an appearance at the annual Society of Editors conference in Salford, he said quality British journalism was “not sufficiently rewarded” but any proposals on a new government-supported funding model would have to wait for the conclusion of the Cairncross review of the British newspaper industry.

It’s just an illusion: culture secretary Jeremy Wright’s hologram

“I’m confident that the review will show that there are ways for quality journalism to go from strength to strength,” he said, suggesting there could be a particular provision for the funding of struggling local newspapers.

“Our press has a level of trust and freedom that is rightly envied across the world, but a free and trusted press must also be a sustainable press,” he said.

Wright said the “transfer of trust from generation to generation can no longer be taken for granted” and news outlets needed to invest in investigative journalism and authoritative reporting of politics.

“We need to persuade the public of the value of this kind of journalism to help the public to rediscover the difference between the things you see online that just aren’t true and good quality journalism.”

He also said newsrooms must diversify the social and geographic background of their employees in order to remain relevant and attract readers: “Ask probing questions about the make-up of your own organisations, not simply because it’s the right thing to do but because it makes good business sense.”

He spoke out against politicians using parliamentary privilege to break court injunctions, such as when Peter Hain identified the Topshop boss Sir Philip Green as the subject of a series of articles in the Daily Telegraph.

“It’s a matter for Peter Hain but as a former attorney general it is very important to respect what the court has decided,” said Wright. “I wouldn’t have done it if I had been in his position but I’m not going to criticise him for what he did. I don’t think it’s sensible of us to push the limits of parliamentary privilege too far.”

Global collaboration is a success story for journalism, whatever its impact

International Media Collaboration

|JON ALLSOP, CJR|AIWA! NO!|The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists broke its latest big story over the weekend. Bringing together more than 250 reporters from 36 countries and 59 news organizations—including the BBC, NBC News, the AP, Le Monde, and Süddeutsche Zeitung—the group has started to unveil massive problems plaguing the global medical devices industry. ICIJ and its partners flagged more than 1.7 million injuries and 83,000 deaths linked to implants such as pacemakers, breast implants, and spinal cord stimulators, which manufacturers move around the world as regulators flounder and patients and doctors are left in the dark.
 
The devices investigation was born out of the work of Jet Schouten, a Dutch reporter who, in 2014, asked European regulators to approve what she claimed was a vaginal mesh, but was actually the netting used to hold mandarin oranges at the grocery store. (None of the three bodies Schouten approached took serious issue with her fake product.) Late last year, based on this reporting and years of arduous follow-up work, ICIJ approved a global look at the devices industry. For the past five months, I sat inside its investigation for CJR, hanging out on conference calls, interviewing partner journalists in 11 countries, and spending time with Schouten in the Netherlands.
 
The operation I observed was flush with confidence and camaraderie, and deeply impressive. That should not be surprising: ICIJ and the collaborative model it pioneered are having a moment. Two years ago, the group dropped the Panama Papers, a massive leak of offshore tax documents that exposed the accounting tricks of the rich and powerful and landed with a big global splash, implicating a succession of world leaders. The effort sparked the resignation of Iceland’s prime minister, then won a Pulitzer, then inspired a nascent Netflix movie that is set to star Meryl Streep. Last year, ICIJ followed up with the Paradise Papers, a second leaks story drawing on 13 million more offshore records.
 
ICIJ has been around for 21 years, during which it has worked on many different types of story. The medical devices project was nonetheless a departure from its acclaimed recent work, and thus a fresh test of its model. Could a collaboration based on painstaking (and often frustrating) shoe-leather reporting and public-records analysis work at the same grand scale as an investigation rooted in a single, centralized leak? And could a consumer affairs-facing story have the same impact as the salacious secrets of the world’s super-rich?
 
While every indication suggests the project navigated its technical complexities smoothly, the impact question remains open. Industry and regulators are already paying attention to ICIJ’s findings: yesterday, the US Food and Drug Administration promised to overhaul its device approval rules. Change, however, comes more easily in some countries than in others. As Lebanese journalist Alia Ibrahim told me, while many ICIJ partners were “waiting for the earthquakes that are going to happen once they publish,” in Lebanon, “I could give you 100 examples of how investigations proving corruption, proving malpractice, didn’t lead to anybody being held accountable.” And, globally speaking, ICIJ only deals with regulatory failures that are both widespread and entrenched—and, therefore, likely to be persistent.
 
As splashy as the Panama Papers were, efforts to overhaul global tax architecture in the time since have largely failed. ICIJ can’t force change, no matter how many journalists it might corral behind its work. But that isn’t the point of the organization. ICIJ is like any top-class individual newsroom, only much bigger. Its model empowers news organizations the world over to shine a spotlight into deep darkness, then joins those spotlights together to make a powerful single beam.
 
Below, more on ICIJ’s latest investigation: 

  • The Implant Files: You can find all ICIJ’s stories here, its overview of the global medical-devices industry here, and a full list of partners here.
     
  • Under the skin: In my piece for CJR, I go into much more detail about how ICIJ followed through on the project, and what it means for the organization going forward.
     
  • In the US: For the AP, Meghan Hoyer looks at problems with breast implants, and Mitch Weiss and Holbrook Mohr lay out how spinal cord stimulators have left some patients with agonizing injuries. For NBC News, meanwhile, Andrew W. Lehren, Emily R. Siegel, and Sarah Fitzpatrick track how US-made devices export pain overseas, and, conversely, how devices withdrawn from the market overseas can remain on sale in the US.  
     
  • “All Meshed Up”: Watch Schouten and her colleagues at Dutch public broadcaster AVROTROS pass off mandarin orange netting as a vaginal mesh here.

UK – Exiled Zimbabwean Journalist in Great Britain: Immigration; Racism, African Experience; Reflections Or None Of It

Crimson Tazvinzwa: "How to feel and how not to feel as an African immigrant ..."
Crimson Tazvinzwa: “How to feel and how not to feel as an immigrant …”


|CRIMSON TAZVINZWA, AIWA! NO!|For so many years I have worked very hard and waited for my left hand to be right. I’m still working hard and waiting …

I admit. This is not my writing style at all – especially when reporting myself. But then here we go. Eisch!. I have decided I share with you some random snippets of my experience or non of it over the 20-plus odd years I have lived on this side of the pond; for I forever shall live in mortal fear of being misquoted or lack of it thereof; or worse still forgetfulness and forgettable.  Non consequential or just as ‘SHIT HOLE’ as US President Trump’s  characterization of Africa and its populations myself included. 

You see! I have seen it all.  From ‘dog-whispers’ to ‘bull-horns’ of racial slurs. Some deliberated, calculated and unleashed and the outcome assessed, and blatant and yet others random and ignorant.  From people pretending they don’t understand my accent, and least still cannot spell my African surname even as it shows clearly on the identity badge laying on my lapel all the time, all written in English alphabet – and (‘by law’?). Wait! Aah! You name it. But jog on still.

But it still hates …

Take accents for example; and their  names. Already cause anxiety and discomfort among and between some lot.

Exhibit one;

One time years back; just over one-year after September 11: my partner and I planned visiting with friends in New York. Our respective annual leave were generous – could take a good 4 weeks in the summer. We didn’t think much about itinerary or anything except booking the tickets online – lastminute.com and whacked email to our friend Monika – a Czech – American to let her duly know we were on our way and asked what we should bring her from London. Flight Tickets were cheap; £420 apiece return and all. 

Except for me to be denied a visa DESPITE the fact I lived in America before. In Louisiana (Lousyana). Barton Rouge.

Despite I was the professionally fully employed between the two of us. As if it should have mattered.

Despite we had our own two bed room flat in North East London; Walthamstow . We bought it for £182.000.00. On mortgage of cause.

My bank statement at that time was very healthy. No reason to complain in this department … at that time at least.

Despite my manager John Pink at Community Volunteers (CSV) writing a passionate passion-able letter vouching for me; tax returns and payslips; bank statements; and the fact that I had not taken sick leave for all the 3 years I had been working with him. And that there was no reason whatsoever for me to get stranded or live off some American public freebies or on government recourse for that matter – we had enough savings in personal and joint account as it stood.

You name it. The whole shebang.

My application failed.

The ‘computer said no.’

Their Sentiment: “There was no sufficient evidence with my application to suggest I would want to return to the United Kingdom after my holiday in America.”

In their pitifully blinkered or myopic eyes on issues of human and social mobility, geography ie population movements and settlements; they had just done some non formulaic calculation;  I wasn’t gonna come back to the UK – would go on a runner. ????

SAY WHAT?

And they said my partner could still go ahead though and travel to visit with our friends as she was on a German passport. They made it sound we were very fortunate at least one of us could still be travelling. Dough!

No refund for airline tickets even as we informed the Airline two weeks in advance.

We took it in our synchronized stride and jogged on.

Images of ‘black men’ doing ‘black man bad man tings

Is it me? Every time I watch news on telly and there is  some robbery or stabbing or even an accident that has taken place. I’m conditioned to quickly check if the aggressor, violent person at that were a black man or not. Simple demographic statistics. And praying … “Oh God Let It Be Not A Black Man This Time.” Of course there is disproportionate representation of black man crime versus white man crime. The media do that everyday. I work there. Masochistic!

Look! As black men we are wired to self doubt; confess; self interrogate, and question our selves first before the other in any situation what ever situation; a bad one or a good one. We can be impressionable, callous, belligerent and gullible. Don’t speak out for fear of being labelled cocky or arrogant or both or self aggrandizing; therefore double-down on self-minimization  and our lack of potential; assumed of course-  trying to prove we can fit in while all the while dying of self-pity. The vulnerability.

I’m not a pub man but when I do do happen to go into one all sorts of things happen.

EXHIBIT 2 – Pub In Barcelona

Imagine the famous and memorable Gaudi Architecture; Las Ramblas and the Olympics village in Barcelona.

Las Ramblas Barcelona;

Las Ramblas is often the first landmark that most tourists identify with the city. It is the central most boulevard which cuts through the heart of the city centre and is a vibrant and lively promenade filled with Barcelona action at its best and sometimes the worst.

Barcelona Miró mosaic on La Rambla

Did you know there is a Miró on La Rambla? The famous painter Joan Miró actually created part of the Ramblas. Many thousands of people walk right over the Miró circle on the Ramblas every day and don’t even know it.
Human Statue:  Galileo

Human statue: Galileo

Antoni Gaudí i Cornet was a Catalan architect who is the best known practitioner of Catalan Modernism.

Gaudí’s works have a highly individualized, and one-of-a-kind style. Most are located in Barcelona, including his main work, the church of the Sagrada Família

Elegant Sagrada Familia Church; Crimson Tazvinzwa, Travel Photos 2005

Magnificent!  We went up to Gaudi House’ by cable car; did little of  nosing around and taking pictures. A cup of coffee.  We were four of us; an English couple who had traveled with us from London; long time friends shall I say, and the two of us. My partner then heavily pregnant; irritable, irritating and all … as you can imagine. We all decided we needed a drink after the excursion up the Gaudi Hill. We headed into the next pub that came to sight by The Ramblers, except I thought I remain outside for a little-while to finish off my ‘fag’. I had just started smoking then, and drinking for that matter. And why not – that was pregnancy stress, anxiety and all.

Another piece of great work by Gaudi/crimson tazvinzwa travel photos 2005

I casually walked in the pub a little while later. Took a quick glance and spotted my little gang patched on a wide table by the corner.

flaherty barcelona


Flaherty’s – Square Joaquim Xirau 

Drinks ordered including my San Miguel. Happy days. Before I realized ; a notably smartly dressed gentleman whom I assumed to be a staffer walked up to me and accosted:

” PARRDONH! My ‘pathronh‘ patrons/customers are not pleased seeing you here.” he said.

“There is another nicer pub down the road,” he added helpfully of course.

Sheepishly and meekly as I always do in ‘these’ circumstances …; I smiled my normal broad smile showing only the white teeth and said something to the effect;

“Sorry. Thank you. Thank you so much. And God’s Blessings!”

What is that all for?

Crimson Tazvinzwa Travel Photos; Ras Ramblas Street Performing Artist; 2005

I believe BLACK CONSCIOUSNESS, BLACK BROTHERHOOD just as SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS has undesired consequences and outer-limits for thoughtful intercultural and interracial dialogue; and our common struggle against prejudice: religious, race, creed or OTHERWISE.

Or some pointless meaningless mumble of some sort.

This all happened in full glare of the Mexican and Brazilian dance troupe who stared at the scene in bewilderment, and bemused . World vision! Consequently my lot including the cacophony of the dance ensemble – wobbled out with some apologizing on ‘their behalf’ to me … which was bizarre but understandable for such brazen attack will not happen in the UK where I live; as I am still aware. I presume.

EXHIBIT 3 – Black on black crime and the language of self – hate and hurt.

I don’t know about you. I have decided the British Law of Etiquette & Decorum still works.

It doesn’t really matter what you are at and where are you at in life as long a you are not hurting or hating others, fair and fine.

For no reason.

Sometimes.

UNITED NATIONS Investigates Saudi Arabia’s Human Record In Wake of The Murder of Washington Post Reporter Jamal Khashoggi


More than three million displaced in Yemen – joint UN agency report

Journalist and reporter for Washington Post Jamal Khashoggi murdered by a Saudi hit squad in Turkish Consulate in Istanbul.

|CRIMSON TAZVINZWA, AIWA! NO!|SAUDI ARABIA faces international condemnation and censure for the apparent murder of its citizen at a Turkish Consulate in Istanbul in October; and its ongoing war in Yemen.

The United Kingdom and the US are working towards a joint resolution, and consequently a joint communique ending four-year conflict that has claimed millions of lives and made even more millions of peopled internally displaced.


Yemeni families are on the brink of famine. On top of forced displacement, hunger now looms across Yemen, leaving the lives of millions of children, women, and men at risk. UNHCR is working hard to provide displaced families with vital support like food, shelter and healthcare in their time of greatest need. But we cannot do it without you. 

This is the world’s largest humanitarian crisis and it deserves critical attention.
Your donation could help to provide displaced families with the essentials they need to survive: shelter, blankets, medical care and emergency assistance.
UNHCR can make your gift reach the people most in need – fast. We are on the ground within 72 hours from an emergency helping families forced to flee. It is our job to protect and safeguard refugees’ rights and help rebuild their lives.

UNHCR, THE UN REFUGEE AGENCY
More than three million displaced in Yemen – joint UN agency report


More than three million displaced in Yemen – joint UN agency report

A joint report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has found that the conflict in Yemen has resulted in the displacement of some 3,154,572 people, of which 2,205,102 remain displaced across the country and some 949,470 have attempted to return home.

“The crisis is forcing more and more people to leave their homes in search of safety,” Ita Schuette, UNHCR’s Deputy Representative in Yemen said in a news release on Friday, announcing the report.

The news release added that due to the escalating conflict and worsening humanitarian conditions, displacement across the country has seen an increase of about seven per cent since April, with 152,009 individuals fleeing from violence during this period.

The report, prepared by the Task Force on Population Movement, a technical working group led by the two agencies as part of the humanitarian response to the crisis in Yemen, also said that a significant number of those displaced are attempting to return home, a 24 per cent increase of some 184,491 individuals. However, it cautioned that movements remained fluid and correlated to moments of lulls or perceived improvements in the conflict.

“IDP returnees are considered to remain within the displacement cycle as long as they have not achieved a sustainable reintegration and their needs remain high, as is also the case for the non-displaced host community,” said Laurent De Boeck, IOM Chief of Mission to Yemen.

African Reflections: Exiled Zimbabwean Journalist In the United Kingdom; The Murdered Saudi Journalist Jamal Khashoggi And The Remainder Of Us All …


Itai and Sheffra Dzamara’s children, Nokutenda and Nenyasha.


Mugabe may have gone, but the young Itai Dzamara, journalist cum human rights activist’s family is still picking up the pieces after his disappearance and are still demanding answers.

Three Billboards at a Zimbabwe bus terminal. They read: “Abducted at the barber. Still no arrests. How come ED [President Mnangagwa]?” Credit: Baynham Goredema.

Three Billboards at a Zimbabwe bus terminal. They read: “Abducted at the barber. Still no arrests. How come ED [President Mnangagwa]?” Credit: Baynham Goredema.


|CRIMSON TAZVINZWA, AIWA! NO!|You see! Sometimes you begin by reminiscing those pleasant moments and occasions visiting friends and relatives in the villages. Often around Christmas festive season – when families and extended families gather for annual reunions. They would travel all the way from across Zimbabwe boundaries.

Myself. Not even a journalist then; barely through high school. Things were dandy. Happy days.


Itai Dzamara, 35, is Sheffra’s husband and Nokutenda and Nenyasha’s father. He was abducted three years ago today. He was getting a haircut on a Monday morning when four men bundled him into an unmarked vehicle and sped off. Itai’s whereabouts and the identities of those behind his kidnapping have remained unknown ever since.
“Every day I think that I’ll hear him coming through the gate,” continues Sheffra. “I think maybe I’ll see him on the news, or someone will send me a WhatsApp. These days my phone is always on, ready to receive news that Itai has been found. Maybe someone will phone, and he’ll be on the other end, or someone will give us information about where he is or tell us he’s on his way back. It’s hard to live like this, every day waiting to hear good news.”

AFRICAN ARGUMENTS

The season. Culminating into Christmas festivities; people celebrate and reflect the successes and failures of the year gone or going by, by  way of feasts and prayers.

Bulls, goats, chickens, pigs and sheep or all of them and sometimes at once are slaughtered. This is ‘MEAT-CURE‘ Season at its best and for a REASON. People joke about this and say you can only come across vegetables at your next door neighbor’s – around this time. 

People eat; drink, talk, sing and dance.

Little harmless verbal fights. Little harmless white  lies here and there. Catching up and harmless gossip are in order. There are also sideline activities; plots: engagements or and birthdays.

People constantly talk and hardly sleep; sometimes music blurring  uncontrollably and catatonic-ally on ‘fading and dying batteries’ throughout the night – and to be honest; this exhausts me a  lot though.

There are no open quarrels except if they are, they are communicated via hidden messages in songs and folktale, proverbs and metaphors. Communication is delicate, deliberate as it is loose due to alcohol consumed and weed smoked –  necessary tasks given the circumstances. This is one of the things so dear to me that I have missed for over – 20 -odd- years and counting. The thought of it alone sends my head into a spindle.

And often wonder allowed as to when I would one day visit the motherland Zimbabwe. I scratch my head often – only for my bare fingers to scratch over a bump, ‘dent on the middle of my head’ – a stuck reminder of how close I came close quarters with  death. This dent on my head:  left by a cocoa-cola bottle struck from one of Mr. Mugabe CIO agents. Challenging my lectures and my views on a current affairs programme I used to co-present on ZTV; Sundays.

On the Zimbabwe Television program. It was a Sunday evening current affairs program. I just happened to have been co opted onto presenting the program by the Head of Radio 4; Sam Munyavi. The editorial content comprised of simple question and answer sessions and general dialogue.

One fateful day though I drew the ire of the then minister of Environment and Tourism Francis Nhema. I queried the minister on the inflated fees for foreign tourists; that included ‘tourist price’ for things like transport, shopping and meals. I pointed out:

  1. I had lived in Kenya in the previous years; had seen how Kenya promoted tourism, including nominal fees and such
  2. Foreign tourists are arriving in droves simply because of President Chiluba’s land and business policy: “I don’t care whether a cat is black or white for as long as it catches the rats”
  3. And that South Africa had embarked on amicable and equitable redistribution of the land
  4. And that Nigeria had just offered Zimbabwean white commercial farmers land leases that span 90 – years if they chose to settle in Nigeria.

That query alone landed me the nickname: Mr. ‘Been-to’ although I would have rather Mr. Bantu.

It has taken me this long to face and accept the reality of my British-ness; and for Zimbabwe to remain a pipe- dream destination; probably as it should be.

In the beginning it used to get to my head and my dreams too.

I reminisce weekends of barbecues/braai KWA MEREKI – HARARE. Fake birthday parties from and among friends to attend to – excuses for PARTIES and having fun. That was grand.

But when mum went to be with the Lord on July, and realised still I couldn’t travel to Zimbabwe for the funeral – for the danger is still as real now as it was under Dictator Robert Mugabe. Imagine! 

My beloved aunt remarked recently: “By the time you visit Zimbabwe all the people would be gone. Dead!. That scared me. For it is the stuck reality.


The narrative

It doesn’t get any better. Thinking of my former graduate journalism student cum human rights activist Itai Dzamara who disappeared into ‘thin air’ from some hair salon downtown Harare; and in broad daylight.

He was abducted three years ago. He was getting a haircut one Monday morning in March 2016 when four men bundled him into an unmarked vehicle and sped off. Itai’s whereabouts and the identities of those behind his kidnapping have remained unknown ever since. 

Rumors has it that he was ‘murdered’, his body soaked in sulfuric acid and dumped in Lake Chivero/McIlwaine – 5 miles west of capital Harare. 

“Every day I think that I’ll hear him coming through the gate,” says Sheffra, his wife.

“I think maybe I’ll see him on the news, or someone will send me a WhatsApp. These days my phone is always on, ready to receive news that Itai has been found. Maybe someone will phone, and he’ll be on the other end, or someone will give us information about where he is or tell us he’s on his way back.

It’s hard to live like this, every day waiting to hear good news.”


And then there is the fateful Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi

A Saudi Arabian journalist, dissident, author, and a former general manager and editor-in-chief of Al-Arab News Channel and Columnist for Washington Post who was assassinated at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on 2 October 2018 by agents of the Saudi.  


The CIA has a recording of a phonecall in which Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman gave instructions to “silence Jamal Khashoggi as soon as possible”, a Turkish news website has reported.
Gina Haspel, CIA director, is said to have revealed the existence of a wiretapped call between Prince Mohammed and his brother Khaled bin Salman, who is Saudi’s ambassador to the US, to Turkish officials during a visit to Ankara last month, according to Hurriyet.
“It is said that the crown prince gave an instruction to silence JamalKhashoggi as soon as possible and this instruction was captured during the CIA wiretapping,” Hurriyet columnist Abdulkadir Selvi wrote on Thursday. “The subsequent murder is the ultimate confirmation of this instruction.”

The Telegraph

It sends shivers through my spine. My head goes into an ‘intoxicated’ like dangerous spin. Imagine a journalist; one so prominent at that; can be murdered in a Turkish consulate and nobody knows how it happened; and no knowledge of the whereabouts of his body so family can lay him to rest with respect.


And for President Trump to say ;

“Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event — maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” Trump said. “In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran. The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region. It is our paramount goal to fully eliminate the threat of terrorism throughout the world!”


And for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to say:


“It’s a mean, nasty world out there — the Middle East in particular,” Pompeo told reporters at the State Department. “There are important American interests to keep the American people safe, to protect Americans — not only Americans who are here, but Americans who are traveling and working, doing business in the Middle East. It is the president’s obligation, indeed the State Department’s duty as well, to ensure that we adopt policies that further America’s national security.”

All in front of a ‘dead body.’

Shame! It is a shame.

Shall we ever live in fear for as long as we remain trained and practising journalists?

International Declaration on Information and Democracy: governments need to open information and communication space. And more …

– International Declaration on Information and Democracy –

In a historic step in the context of the Paris Peace Forum today, 12 countries launched a political process aimed at providing democratic guarantees for news and information and freedom of opinion – a process based on the declaration issued last week by an independent commission that was created at the initiative of Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

|JAVIER PALLERO, accessnow|AIWA! NO!|On November 2, an independent commission set up by Reporters Without Borders published a new declaration on issues relevant for human rights in the digital era. The “International Declaration on Information and Democracy: principles for the global information and communication space“ addresses difficult and pressing issues such as misinformation, privacy, and the role of tech intermediaries in ensuring freedom of expression.

The declaration, endorsed by a number of important figures in journalism and human rights, has valuable references to freedom of the press and the protection of journalists, and it calls for a better technological ecosystem for information exchange. Today at the Paris Peace Forum,12 countries launched a political process aimed at providing democratic guarantees for news and information and freedom of opinion – an initiative based on the declaration.

While we share that goal, our analysis offers a word of caution with regard to the recommendations on the role of internet information intermediaries. We explain why this part of the declaration may be problematic for the freedom of expression online if poorly implemented or interpreted by decision-makers.

A necessary call for better conditions for journalism

At the request of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the Eiffel Tower’s lights were turned off for a minute at 6:30 p.m. today on the eve of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists to pay tribute to Saudi newspaper columnist Jamal Khashoggi and all the other journalists in the world whose murders have so far gone unpunished.

The declaration takes stock of the current challenges for the free press, which are shared by traditional and digital journalism. It reinforces the key role that journalists play in democratic societies, and makes a call to increase their safety. From our point of view, this clearly includes strengthening digital security, a challenge that journalists face in light of the illegal eavesdropping by both governments and private actors. Journalists need to be able to rely on technology that works for them and protects their sources. That’s why we view the protection of strong encryption as fundamental for the work of journalists, and we commend the declaration’s call for privacy for those participating in the public debate.

Privacy facilitates the exercise of the freedom of expression, which comprises the right to impart and receive information. Both technology and the press play an important role in facilitating our access to information in the public interest. The declaration recognizes this and stresses the social function of the press. We add that our ability to access the internet in times of political and social unrest is also essential in fulfilment of that role. Therefore, states should abstain from ordering internet shutdowns or blocking applications. Despite growing public awareness of such network interference, this dangerous trend is nevertheless escalating, as we recently indicated in a joint report to the United Nations Human Rights Council. We also call for increased attention to the wave of repressive legislation that is targeting online expression and putting journalists’ work and lives at risk.

Another laudable inclusion in the declaration is its call for further transparency. This includes transparency as a means of improving the quality of information but also as a way to understand more about how the content curation algorithms in digital platforms work.

Cautions and considerations regarding free expression

The declaration raises concerns about issues including liability for content dissemination, bias in digital platforms, and the proliferation of misinformation on the internet. We acknowledge and share those concerns. However, we worry that some parts of the declaration may be misinterpreted by decision-makers to adopt solutions that, without further analysis, could harm free expression.

Liability for expression — some important distinctions

The declaration makes note of liability for those participating in the public debate, particularly for content they disseminate or “help to disseminate.” There are critically important distinctions to be made in this area in order to avoid ill-informed implementations of this idea. First, there are technical intermediaries on the internet that help disseminate content, but, as a general rule, should not be held liable for third-party expressions. That is the case with regard to hosting and domain name providers, for instance, which do not participate in the curation or prioritization of content and merely provide technical infrastructure to web pages and apps to function. Legal sanctions for these intermediaries for the content they host would represent a disproportionate measure at odds with internationally recognized human rights principles.

When we consider social media platforms, there is no clear solution and any efforts in the area must be evidence-based. When platforms use algorithmic curation of content, it implies making a decision about the dissemination of information, but that decision is typically informed not only by the creators of the algorithm but also by the conduct of users. Further, design choices and decision-making for curation that rewards user engagement may create an incentive for companies that use these platforms for advertising to track and surveil users, which implicates other rights. The bottom line is that we need more information to understand how content consumption and dissemination really works. Before we engage in any public policy consideration of liability for digital intermediaries on content, which raises clear and significant risks for free expression, we must have clarity on the extent to which different actors in the information ecosystem exert influence over content creation and dissemination.

Neutrality — what kind?

The declaration also calls for “political, religious, and ideological neutrality.” It states that platforms should be neutral on those issues when “structuring the information space.” While we understand the concerns regarding possible bias in the curation of content, public policy actions based on the call for neutrality in the ”structuring” of the information space may leave room for abuse if important questions are not answered first. There is no doubt that arbitrary discrimination is an obstacle for the exercise of free expression. But, what could neutrality mean in the digital information context? Would that mean equal treatment for different kinds of information that are fed into a curation algorithm? Or would that mean striving for an ideal of a balanced output in search results or social media feeds? The definition of neutrality, as we can see, can be tricky. It implies a neutrality of information input, treatment, and output that is hard to achieve across diverse information systems. Take a search engine, for instance, and compare it with a social media service. A search engine indexes a broader range of information not directly influenced by the user, but its processing and presentation of search results is indirectly influenced by user behavior. That’s how search services offer personalized results. Should a search engine’s neutrality efforts be focused on non-discriminatory crawling of sources? Or should it be non-discriminatory in the processing and presentation of results? How is neutrality in a search engine compatible with user personalization? If this is a matter of degree, how much personalization or neutrality is enough, and who gets to decide that?

The question of “neutrality” for social media platforms is perhaps even more complicated. Users themselves input content, and users tend to follow the people and pages that they like. The choices they make reflect their own ideas, religious beliefs, and more. Should companies or governments intervene in the choices of users? To what degree? Should some content or user posts be sponsored to promote “neutrality” or diversity of opinion? Who makes that decision?

The information ecosystem today has characteristics that appear to be promoting polarization and reactivity, which in turn can have a negative effect in democracy. However, confronting this challenge will take much more than asking companies for “neutrality.” It requires addressing business models, information literacy, design for user choice, and social and educational problems. Consider the reports about the use of WhatsApp, a closed communication channel, to spread misinformation in Brazil before the recent elections. This could be considered a “neutral” channel since there is no algorithmic prioritization of the messages that run through the platform. Yet in the broader context of the information ecosystem in Brazil, including the dominance of this channel because WhatsApp is often “zero-rated” and therefore free to use, its use may also have increased the challenges for information diversity and fact-checking.

We agree with the declaration’s emphasis on the idea that with the greater influence, there is more responsibility and a corresponding need for increased transparency. However, given the considerations outlined above, assigning editorial responsibility or possible liability may not be an appropriate answer in all cases. Platforms should, instead, provide users with effective tools to exert the maximum amount of control over their information experience. By default. This could include options such as giving users the capacity to turn off prioritization in a news feed, or adjust it with their own preferences, for example, or to disable tracking and behavioral advertisements. This might represent the type of “neutrality” for platforms that would benefit users.

“Reliable” information — a difficult quest in the digital space

Finally, the declaration’s call for platforms to favor reliable information also raises complex issues for free expression. The declaration recommends as tools in this endeavor transparency, editorial independence, verification methods, and journalistic ethics. In addition to the challenges we explore above related to editorial responsibility, there are also challenges when it comes to a platform’s use of verification methods and journalistic ethics. The expression of opinion is protected as a fundamental human right, and opinion pieces are not necessarily “verifiable.” Speculation, theorizing, satire, and opinion present challenges to fact checking, online or off. It is also vital that neither states nor companies define journalistic ethics. On a number of social media platforms, one’s news feed contains a mix of personal opinion, news items, editorials, and advertising. Although journalistic ethics could play a role in the design of a news feed or help inform the development of a content curation algorithm, independent and human rights based human intervention is essential to mitigate the spread of misinformation on communication platforms.

Conclusion: in assigning responsibility, take care not to deputize platforms as guardians of truth or neutrality

All the issues we have explored are difficult, and a thorough analysis of all their implications would exceed the bounds of this post. The challenges the declaration seeks to address are only starting to be adequately researched and there is a need for more information from internet platforms.

However, we can start with one initial recommendation to those seeking to apply the content of the declaration to public policy decisions: avoid deputizing social media companies or any internet intermediary as a guardian of the truth or neutrality, as this risks consequences for free expression and other protected human rights. Social media platforms, and the dominant players in particular, must take heed of their responsibility to consider the human rights impacts of their products. If by encouraging them to take more responsibility, we also make them the arbiters of truth, however, we put those same rights at risk. And we transfer even more power from the people to dominant platforms.

Today, people access, create, share, comment on, and react to information in complex ways. In the challenges that this poses for our democracies, we must find solutions that empower us to deal with information in a constructive, but also fundamentally free way. This means putting users in control, by giving them more options for how they find, consume, and share content free from manipulation. It also means providing more transparency, especially with regard to ads, including political advertising. Finally, it means looking at the bigger picture and developing business models that do not reward poor quality information that increases “engagement” by playing on basic human instincts of fear, alarm and discord.

Continue reading International Declaration on Information and Democracy: governments need to open information and communication space. And more …

Trump warns he could pull other reporters’ White House access

The White House yanked CNN’s Jim Acosta’s ‘hard pass’ earlier this week.

U.S. President Donald Trump | Mark Wilson/Getty Images

|AIWA! NOWASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Friday he does not know whether CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta’s press access will be reinstated and said other reporters could have their security badges revoked too.

“As far as I’m concerned, I haven’t made that decision,” Trump said of restoring Acosta’s press pass. “But there could be others also.”

The White House yanked Acosta’s “hard pass,” a security badge that allows reporters to freely enter and exit the White House complex, following a contentious exchange with Trump during a press conference Wednesday.

“When you’re in the White House, this is a very sacred place to me, this is a very special place, you have to treat the White House with respect, you have to treat the presidency with respect,” Trump said Friday, adding that he thinks “it’s a disgrace” the way Acosta has interacted with press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Trump did not say which other reporters were at risk of losing their White House badges, a step that was virtually unheard of before Wednesday and drew an outcry from White House correspondents. Trump also criticized April Ryan, a White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, who has peppered administration officials with pointed questions.

“You talk about somebody that’s a loser,” Trump said of Ryan. “She doesn’t know what the hell she’s doing.”

Trump also defended video Sanders posted on Twitter of Acosta during the Wednesday press briefing. Sanders said Acosta’s press access was being revoked because of an interaction with a White House aide who tried to take his microphone when the reporter talked over the president. Sanders said Acosta inappropriately touched the aide. But CNN and others said the video she used to prove her point appeared to have been edited in a way that made Acosta seem more aggressive.

“No one manipulated it. Give me a break, see that’s just dishonest reporting,” Trump said. “All that is is a close-up. They made it close up, they showed it close up.”

Trump seemed to indicate, however, that the security badge was not pulled solely over that incident, which he said “wasn’t overly, you know, horrible.”

“I think Jim Acosta’s a very unprofessional man,” the president said. “Look, I don’t think he’s a smart person, but he’s got a loud voice.”