Friday, February 17, 2012

Why the Feral Beast is going into Hibernation


Shudder. We guess it's bound to be like News of the Screws redux as the old Dingo dodges another crisis. Never mind that the former prime minister's wife is suing for being wiretapped. Nonetheless,
...Murdoch Tries to Reassure Staff After Arrests

This media news, coupled with the untimely death of Tony Shadid, the NYT's wisest Middle East correspondent, makes this beast dismayed and disheartened.

For awhile at least, bye bye 

They just keep falling. We abhor the targeted killing of Marie Colvin, the veteran Sunday Times war reporter, in Homs, where she died, together with French photographer Remi Ochlik, and at least 60 others shelled by the Syrian army that day. Very hard to take this in.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

What the Frack? Republicans turn on Fox journalist

The high profile documentary-maker Josh Fox issued the following statement to the press after Republican legislators called for his arrest while he was filming a congressional committee hearing on the environmental impact of fracking chemicals (He was not accredited.):
I was arrested today for exercising my First Amendment rights to freedom of the press on Capitol Hill. I was not expecting to be arrested for practicing journalism. Today's hearing in the House Energy and Environment subcommittee was called to examine EPAs findings that hydraulic fracturing fluids had contaminated groundwater in the town of Pavillion, Wyoming. I have a long history with the town of Pavillion and its residents who have maintained since 2008 that fracking has contaminated their water supply. I featured the stories of residents John Fenton, Louis Meeks and Jeff Locker in GASLAND and I have continued to document the catastrophic water contamination in Pavillion for the upcoming sequel GASLAND 2. It would seem that the Republican leadership was using this hearing to attack the three year Region 8 EPA investigation involving hundreds of samples and extensive water testing which ruled that Pavillion's groundwater was a health hazard, contaminated by benzene at 50x the safe level and numerous other contaminants associated with gas drilling. Most importantly, EPA stated in this case that fracking was the likely cause. As a filmmaker and journalist I have covered hundreds of public hearings, including Congressional hearings. It is my understanding that public speech is allowed to be filmed. Congress should be no exception. No one on Capitol Hill should regard themselves exempt from the Constitution. The First Amendment to the Constitution states explicitly "Congress shall make no law...that infringes on the Freedom of the Press". Which means that no subcommittee rule or regulation should prohibit a respectful journalist or citizen from recording a public hearing.
This was an act of civil disobedience, yes done in an impromptu fashion, but at the moment when they told me to turn off the cameras, I could not. I know my rights and I felt it was imperative to exercise them.
When I was led out of the hearing room in handcuffs, John Boehner's pledge of transparency in congress was taken out with me.
The people of Pavillion deserve better. The thousands across the US who have documented cases of water contamination in fracking areas deserve their own hearing on Capitol hill. They deserve the chance to testify in before Congress. The truth that fracking contaminates groundwater is out, and no amount of intimidation tactics --either outright challenges to science or the arrest of journalists --will put the genie back in the bottle. Such a brazen attempt to discredit and silence the EPA, the citizens of Pavillion and documentary filmmaking will ultimately fail and it is an affront to the health and integrity of Americans.
Lastly, in defense of my profession, I will state that many many Americans get their news from independent documentaries. The hill should immediately move to make hearings and meetings accessible to independent journalists and not further obstruct the truth from being reported in the vivid and in depth manner that is only achievable through long form documentary filmmaking.
I will be thinking on this event further and will post further thoughts and developments.
I have been charged with "unlawful entry" and my court date is February 15.
Josh Fox
Washington D.C.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Whoa Knelly - NPR's new headman

Vanity Fair dishes on NPR's new head honcho, Gary Knell and his challenge to counteract years of "impotent, ineffectual, absentee, and alien management." the balance hangs NPR’s future and perhaps even its soul—as either a nonpartisan defender of in-depth journalism or a target of the partisan sniping of the sound-bite era. David Margolick explores how NPR’s management managed to squander the advantages of the national dole, deep-pocketed donors, a roster of top-notch reporters, and the loyalty of legions of devoted Click and Clack fans—and whether it can recover from the annus horribilis of 2011.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

'Death to Bloggers' decrees Tehran

One dismal news item noted by the Washington Examiner's
Joel Gehrke  does not bode well for so-called citizen journalists who want to get the truth out:
Iranian courts have sentenced two bloggers to death for "spreading corruption," and government security forces have arrested four other journalists, in the lead-up to the nation's March elections.
"In the past two weeks, security forces have reportedly arrested four journalists," the U.S. State Department said in a statement, "including Shahram Manouchehri, Sahamedin Bourghani, Parastoo Dokouhaki, and Marzieh Rasouli, and Iranian courts confirmed death sentences for bloggers Saeed Malekpour and Vahid Asghari, both of whom were not accorded due process and now face imminent execution on charges of 'spreading corruption.'"
The State Department faulted Iran for trying "to extinguish all forms of free expression and limit its citizens’ access to information in the lead-up to March parliamentary elections."

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

9 Ways Journalists Show They Don't Get Science

Over on Guardian blogs, there's hot discussion about perceptions of hacks and lab geeks, who often seem to work at cross purposes. It was sparked by a post authored by the online editor of Nature, Ananyo Bhattacharya.   The comment below turned the discussion around and drew widesread approval from academics.  Definitely there are some salient points.  Hat tip to "jferdy5" for his/her insights on science reporters' shortcomings, listed below:
  • 1. False equivocation: one of the reasons why there's doubt about global warming is because journalists take a handful of crackpots, many of which have never studied science, and then "equivocates," or gives roughly equal weight, to this argument versus broad scientific concensus.
  • 2. Anecdotes do not equal systematic evidence (they're inferior): "while vaccinations may work for millions of people, that will not help little Billy who now has autism." Sounds familiar?
  •  3. Manufacturing dissent: taking a fringe opinion (anti-Global warming, anti-vaccination, anti-evolution, etc) and giving it a disproportional amount of space. 
  •  4. Expert opinion: articles should clearly define why Dr. X is considered an expert. Frequently, I find they're either an economist, statistician, or other person who hasn't published in a particular area and seems to be motivated by political views rather than dispassionate scientific debate.
  •  5. Data journalism: this is a particularly insipid form of pseudo-science: journalists should not simply tabulate national rates based on their own analyses because they do not do the correct statistical tests (Fisher exact tests, etc) to check if a result is scientifically valid or not. It's bad to do this because the result may look scientifically valid when it is not.
  •  6. The use of "narrative:" linking together anecdotes using emotive language manipulates and misleads readers. In law it's called "leading the witness," in science, "systematic bias." In journalism, why is it considered "good writing?"
  •  7. No clear authors of articles: it's hard to examine the validity of science "reporting" if we do not know who is doing it. Simply putting "Guardian" or "New York Times" does not help. Scientists are required to disclose their names and sources of funding, journalists should do the same. 
  •  8. No citations: most Guardian articles, and in many papers, will discuss a study in inflammatory terms and not provide a link to the article, when they're available on pubmed. As well, no one cares what an untrained journalists' interpretation is. Just put the results and let us make up our mind. And no, sassy science headlines don't draw in readers, they just make your paper look stupid.
  •  9. Sending a reporter to a country does not trump public health statistics: if the WHO reports that malnutrition in Malawi or India is declining, it does not matter how many people your "Development" reporters interview, you cannot recalculate / dispute a national malnutrition / AIDS / TB rate based on a few subjective, systematically biased, personal interviews.
  •  The Guardian does all of these. Perhaps we can have a discussion about it, and why journalism is responsible for driving pseudo-science and the decline of Western civilization?

Oops - should have coordinated with the ad dept

Sometimes the advertising department and editorial need to open the lines of communication.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The 10 most dangerous places for journalists in 2011

 Reporters Without Borders website has compiled a list of the world’s 10 most dangerous places for the media – the 10 cities, districts, squares, provinces or regions where journalists and netizens (internet citizens &/or online entities) were exposed to violence and where freedom of information was flouted.
The Arab Spring, the protest movements it inspired in nearby countries such as Sudan and Azerbaijan, and the street protests in other countries such as Greece, Belarus, Uganda, Chile and the United States were responsible for the dramatic surge in the number of arrests, from 535 in 2010 to 1,044 in 2011. 

There were many cases of journalists being physically obstructed in the course of their work (by being detained for short periods or being summoned for interrogation), and for the most part they represented attempts by governments to suppress information they found threatening.

The 43 per cent increase in physical attacks on journalists and the 31 per cent increase in arrests of netizens – who are leading targets when they provide information about street demonstrations during media blackouts – were also significant developments in a year of protest. Five netizens were killed in 2011, three of them in Mexico alone.The 10 places listed by Reporters Without Borders represent extreme cases of censorship of the media and violence against those who tried to provide freely and independently reported news and information.

(Listed by alphabetical order of country)
Manama, Bahrain
The Bahraini authorities did everything possible to prevent international coverage of the pro-democracy demonstrations in the capital, Manama, denying entry to some foreign reporters, and threatening or attacking other foreign reporters or their local contacts. Bahraini journalists, especially photographers, were detained for periods ranging from several hours to several weeks. Many were tried before military tribunals until the state of emergency imposed on 15 March was lifted. After months of demonstrations, order was finally restored thanks to systematic repression. A blogger jailed by a military court is still in prison and no civilian court ever reviewed his conviction. Bahrain is an example of news censorship that succeeded with the complicity of the international community, which said nothing. A newspaper executive and a netizen paid for this censorship with their lives.
Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire
Abobo, Adjamé, Plateau, Koumassi, Cocody, Yopougon... all of these Abidjan neighbourhoods were dangerous places for the media at one stage or another during the first half of 2011. Journalists were stopped at checkpoints, subjected to heavy-handed interrogation or physically attacked. The headquarters of the national TV station, RTI, was the target of airstrikes. A newspaper employee was beaten and hacked to death at the end of February. A Radio Yopougon presenter was the victim of an execution-style killing by members of the Forces Républicaines de Côte d’Ivoire (FRCI) in May. The post-election crisis that led to open war between the supporters of the rival presidential contenders, Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara, had a dramatic impact on the safety of journalists. During the Battle of Abidjan, the country’s business capital, at the start of April, it was completely impossible for journalists to move about the city.
Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Egypt
The pro-democracy demonstrations that finally forced Hosni Mubarak to stand down as president on 20 February began at the end of January in Tahrir Square, now the emblem of the Arab Spring uprisings. Foreign journalists were systematically attacked during the incredibly violent first week of February, when an all-out hate campaign was waged against the international media from 2 to 5 February. More than 200 violations were reported. Local journalists were also targeted. The scenario was similar six months later – from 19 to 28 November, in the run-up to parliamentary elections, and during the weekend of 17-18 December – during the crackdown on new demonstrations to demand the departure of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
Misrata, Libya
After liberating Benghazi, the anti-Gaddafi rebels took Misrata, Libya’s third largest city and a strategic point for launching an offensive on Tripoli. But the regular army staged a counter-offensive and laid siege to the city, cutting it off from the rest of the world and imposing a news and information blockade lasting many weeks, during which its main road, Tripoli Street, was repeatedly the scene of particularly intense fighting. The Battle of Misrata highlighted the risks that reporters take in war zones. Two of the five journalists killed in Libya in 2011 lost their lives in this city.
Veracruz state, Mexico
Located on the Gulf of Mexico and long dominated by the cartel of the same name, Veracruz state is a hub of all kinds of criminal trade, from drug trafficking to contraband in petroleum products. In 2011, it became the new epicentre of the federal offensive against the cartels and three journalists were killed there in the course of the year. Around 10 others fled the state as a result of the growing threats to freedom of information and because of the inaction or complicity of the authorities in the face of this threat.
Khuzdar, Pakistan
The many cases of journalists who have been threatened or murdered in Khuzdar district, in the southwestern province of Balochistan, is typical of the extreme violence that prevails in this part of Pakistan. The province’s media are caught in the crossfire between the security forces and armed separatists. The murder of Javed Naseer Rind, a former assistant editor of the Daily Tawar newspaper, was the latest example. His body was found on 5 November, nearly three months after he was abducted. An anti-separatist group calling itself the Baloch Musallah Defa Army issued a hit-list at the end of November naming four journalists as earmarked for assassination.
The Manila, Cebu and Cagayan de Oro metropolitan areas on the islands of Luzon and Mindanao, Philippines
Most of the murders and physical attacks on journalists in the Philippines take place in these three metropolitan areas. The paramilitary groups and private militias responsible were classified as “Predators of Press Freedom” in 2011. The government that took office in July has still not come up with a satisfactory response, so these groups continue to enjoy a total impunity that is the result of corruption, links between certain politicians and organized crime, and an insufficiently independent judicial system.
Mogadishu, Somalia
Mogadishu is a deadly capital where journalists are exposed to terrible dangers, including being killed by a bomb or a stray bullet or being deliberately targeted by militias hostile to the news media. Although the Islamist insurgent group Al-Shabaab withdrew from the capital, fighting continues and makes reporting very dangerous. Three Somali journalists were killed in Mogadishu this year, in August, October and December. And a visiting Malaysian cameraman sustained a fatal gunshot injury to the chest in September while accompanying a Malaysian NGO as it was delivering humanitarian assistance.
Deraa, Homs and Damascus, Syria
Deraa and Homs, the two epicentres of the protests against Bashar al-Assad’s regime, have been completely isolated. They and Damascus were especially dangerous for journalists in 2011. The regime has imposed a complete media blackout, refusing to grant visas to foreign reporters and deporting those already in the country. The occasional video footage of the pro-democracy demonstrations that began in March has been filmed by ordinary citizens, who risk their lives to do so. Many have been the victims of arrest, abduction, beatings and torture for transmitting video footage or information about the repression. The mukhabarat (intelligence services), shabihas (militias) and their cyber-army have been used by the regime to identify and harass journalists. Physical violence is very common. Many bloggers and journalists have fled the country. Around 30 journalists are currently believed to be detained.
Sanaa’s Change Square, Yemen
Change Square in Sanaa was the centre of the protests against President Ali Abdallah Saleh and it is there that much of the violence and abuses against journalists took place. Covering the demonstrations and the many bloody clashes with the security forces was dangerous for the media, which were directly targeted by a regime bent on crushing the pro-democracy movement and suppressing coverage of it. Two journalists were killed while covering these demonstrations. Pro-government militiamen known as baltajiyas also carried out punitive raids on the media. Physical violence, destruction of equipment, kidnappings, seizure and destruction of newspapers, and attacks on media offices were all used as part of a policy of systematic violence against media personnel.
Yearly total of journalists killed since 1995