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

Monday, November 28, 2011

Israel apologizes for sorry treatment of NYT photographer

Israel's Defense Ministry apologized Monday for the treatment of a pregnant American news photographer who was repeatedly strip searched and humiliated by Israeli soldiers during a security check, the Associated Press reports. (Olive -skinned Lynsey does look vaguely Palestinian, one colleague noted. But this incident shows how few rights can be counted on, especially when tight security is in place at borders.) The rather tepid apology for this so-called "mishap" took more than a month.

Lynsey Addario, who was on assignment for the New York Times, had requested that she not be forced to go through an X-ray machine as she entered Israel from the Gaza Strip because of concerns for her unborn baby.

Instead, she wrote in a letter to the ministry, she was forced through the machine three times as soldiers "watched and laughed from above." She said she was then taken into a room where she was ordered by a female worker to strip down to her underwear.

In the Oct. 25 letter sent by the newspaper said Addario, a Pulitzer Prize winner who is based in India and has worked in more than 60 countries, had never been treated with "such blatant cruelty."

The ministry said an investigation found that the search followed procedures but noted that Addario's request to avoid the X-ray machine had not been properly relayed.

Addario said she made the request not to go through the X-ray machine before arriving at the crossing.

"We would like to apologize for this particular mishap in coordination and any trouble it may subsequently have caused to those involved," the statement said.

It said that security is tight on the border with Gaza "in order to prevent terror from targeting and reaching Israel's citizens."

The defense ministry has "decided to hone the procedure for foreign journalists," it said.

The New York Times bureau chief in Israel, Ethan Bronner, welcomed the planned changes but said the newspaper remains shocked at the treatment Addario received and how long the investigation took.

Foreign journalists working in Israel have repeatedly complained of overly intrusive security checks by of Israeli authorities. Israel says the inspections are necessary measures.

In March, Addario was among four reporters captured in Libya by forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi and held for six days. Another of the four, reporter Anthony Shadid, related later that they were bound with wire, blindfolded, hit with fists and rifle butts and threatened with death. Addario also was groped, he said.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Chelsea Clinton to report for NBC Network News

As first families get accustomed to the spotlight, the offspring of presidents and candidates become attractive hires for television, with instant name recognition.  The latest to join Jenna Bush as a tv reporter at NBC is Chelsea Clinton, 31, a composed campaign trail speaker who presumably has discovered that professional life at McKinsey, a financial management firm,  is rather cut throat and alientating from the other 99 per cent of the population. Today, the New York Times reports that the only child of Bill and Hillary will henceforth be a full-fledged, full-time correspondent for NBC News. (Shades of Maria Shriver, erstwhile First Lady of California?)

Chelsea's new beat will be the "Making a Difference" profiles of community volunteer workers.  Well, the Clinton contact book of family friends is unmatched.  Hmmm. The jury is out until we see how the public handles her first "hot mike" incident. Few former hedge fund employees move on to the media.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Has Poynter's New Romenesko-ish blog, MediaWire, Just Imploded? The Spin's Still Coming In

This is a fractured fairy tale about an aggravated aggregator. His hastened departure at Poynter Institute has touched off a brouhaha of tweets and cybersnark this week. The veteran blogger Jim Romenesko has resigned a full seven weeks before his scheduled "semi-retirement" into reporting mode, and it looks as if he's intent on taking all his advertisers, along with some 38,000 regular followers, with him to his new stand-alone blog, JimRomenesko.Com.

It's all about the clicks, folks. And the Missing Links.

Some disgusted hacks say they won't ever click again on a Poynter link. The respected  Jim Romenesko quit under the shadow of a public rebuke from his boss Julie Moos, who evidently "had a cow" when the Columbia Journalism Review's Erika Fry  emailed her about some attribution concerns.  To pre-empt an interview and forestall an embarrassing expose about frequent under-attribution and over-aggregation on the Poynter Institute's most venerable blog, Moos rushed to post an article that repriminded JR about how his missing quote marks might imply the use of lifted quotes.  This taint of plagiarism smeared the uber-blogger and unleashed an angst storm in cybermedia circles.  It read like the revenge of the nerds.  The piece was then followed up by the personal take from all the Poynter head honchos at the St Petersburg, Florida institute on Journalism ethics.  Meanwhile, the abruptly abandoned blog, which had been running as Romenesko+, has transmogrified further.  The new moniker, MediaWire, sounds rather retro and, um, mediocre.
Kicker, the CJR blog for journos, has been weighing in, as has the NYT's Media Decoder (Behind the Scenes, Between the Lines).  They proclaim: "Romenesko's Posts Now Toast."  The conclusion? Despite all appearances, Ms Moos article was "not a paradoy of church-lady journo etiquette."  Self-aggrandizing and self-promoting hacks are not well served in such circles, commenters reminded the blogger, David Carr.  Let's watch this space.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Cartoonist Arrested at Occupy Oakland Raid

Susie Cagle, a spunky young graphic artist who has been covering the Occupy Oakland protests since the beginning, has been released from jail after her arrest.  She was charged with a misdemeanor for being present at a demo, even though her press accreditation was in order.  Colleagues are encouraging her to take the Blue Meanies of the Oakland police to court for prohibiting her from doing her job as a member of the press, protected by the First Amendment. 

Click here to see a clip of her, courtesy of the Crooks and Liars website.
Her dad, cartoonist Daryl Cagle, has been following her plight.

UPDATE #3: Susie has been released from Santa Rita, but she has been charged with misdemeanor “present at raid.” According to Susie, she had her press pass in full view when she was arrested, and one of the Oakland Police Department officers even recognized her and knew her comics.
UPDATE #2: Susie has been “signed out” of Santa Rita, but it’s still an indefinite amount of time before she is released.

Susie is being held at Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County, California, charged with unlawful assembly, even though she was there covering the event and had a press badge. Obviously, they took her phone when she was arrested, but you can follow updates on her Twitter feed, @Susie_C. It’s being updated by her friend Joel Kraut (@myunderpants).

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Court to Rule on Julian Assange Extradition Today

The founder of WikiLeaks faces extradition to Sweden to face sex crime allegations. Julian Assange , who wears an electronic monitoring device on his ankle while in Britain, maintains that these accusations are politically motivated. The Press Association reports:
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will hear on Wednesday if he has won or lost his high court bid to block extradition to Sweden where he faces sex crime allegations.
His lawyers asked two judges to rule that extraditing the 40-year-old Australian would be "unfair and unlawful".
The Swedish authorities want Assange to answer accusations of raping one woman and sexually molesting and coercing another in Stockholm in August last year.
Assange, whose WikiLeaks website has published a mass of leaked diplomatic cables that embarrassed several governments and international businesses, denies the allegations and says they are politically motivated.
The high court in London is having to decide whether to uphold or overturn a ruling in February by District Judge Howard Riddle at Belmarsh magistrates' court in south London that the computer expert should be extradited to face investigation.
Judgment will be handed down by President of the Queen's Bench Division Sir John Thomas, sitting with Mr Justice Ouseley.
The Assange legal challenge, which has attracted worldwide attention, centers on a European arrest warrant (EAW) issued by a Swedish prosecutor, which led to Assange's arrest.
His QC, Ben Emmerson, argued at a two-day hearing in July that the prosecutor was not a "judicial authority" entitled to issue the EAW.
The warrant had also contained "fundamental misstatements" of what had occurred in Stockholm last August while Assange was in Sweden to give a lecture, said the QC.

This extradition case is not  linked to the Australian's notorious work as editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, which has so upset U.S. authorities. Assange's organization, which enables the anonymous uploading of secret information onto its website, has published around a quarter million confidential U.S. diplomatic cables in the past year, embarrassing to the government and possibly putting some named informants in potential danger. If the court rules in his favor, he will walk free.

UPDATE:  The British judges have ruled against Assange, but he has two weeks to appeal his case to the highest court, according to the Associated Press. It is increasingly likely that Sweden will be his next destination.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Female Soldier Jailed for Leaking IDF Assassination Policy

Israel is punishing its kosher version of Bradley Manning, the fomer IDF conscript and online reporter Anat Kam, who was just sentenced to four and a half years behind bars, despite her lengthy secret house arrest.  But the journalist who reported on her leaked documents about the IDF's hit list, Uri Blau of Haaretz, is presently holed up in Britain -- in an odd echo of Wikileaks' Julian Assange.  He's not as defiant, though. In a plea bargain, Blau has returned all confidential documents to the Israelis.

So, what is the price of speaking truth to power inside Israel? The Independent of London's Catrina Stewart reports on this crime, its punishment, and the Israeli gag order:

Israel has sentenced a former soldier to four and a half years in prison for leaking classified documents to a journalist who used them to expose an alleged army policy to assassinate wanted Palestinian militants in violation of court rulings.
Anat Kam, 24, was convicted in February for copying 2,085 military documents on to a disc as she completed her mandatory army service and passing some of them to Uri Blau, an investigative reporter with the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper.
She escaped the much more serious charges of harming state security after reaching a plea bargain.
 Her case provoked a domestic uproar - in part because she was held for four months under secret house arrest with the Israeli media banned from reporting on it, but also because it was viewed as an assault on the freedom of the press. The Independent was the first newspaper to report on Ms Kam's arrest.
In passing sentence yesterday, the three-judge panel elected to send a clear message to other would-be whistleblowers. "If the army cannot trust the soldiers serving in various units and exposed to sensitive issues, then it cannot function as a regular army," the judges wrote. They said that Ms Kam's motive for taking the documents was "mainly ideological". Ms Kam has already served nearly two years of house arrest, which will not count towards her prison term, and she received a further 18-month suspended sentence.
As a clerk in the Israeli Defence Forces' central command, Ms Kam stumbled across documents that appeared to point to the premeditated killing of Palestinian militants in the West Bank, despite a Supreme Court ruling that severely restricted such operations, determining that the army should arrest suspects if possible.

 The photo of Anat Kam, above, comes courtesy of SabbahReport, where reporter Gila Svirsky has probed into the scandal of the Shin Bet hit list, the gagging of the gag order, and the perils of whistle blowing.

Crossposted on Israelity Bites

Monday, October 24, 2011

WikiLeaks plugged

A bank blockade is about to staunch the flow of information from Julian Assange's notorious WikiLeaks website. According to reports in the Guardian and the New York Times, two of the newspapers that splashed the news from a torrent of secret documents uploaded to the website mostly by a low-level American soldier, Bradley Manning, publishing has stopped abruptly. What's lacking is, er, liquidity.

Julian Assange announced Monday that his pro-transparency hacker website will temporarily halt publication because of a cash shortage and will now concentrate on fundaising efforts. Bank of America, Visa, Mastercard, Western Union, and Paypal boycotted WikiLeaks last year after the release of thousands of classified U.S. State Department cables and a threat to leak a big stash of documents incriminating the Bank of America. Consequently, the organization has lost about 95 percent of its revenues, Assange said at a press conference in London. Mortgage frauds hinted at in B of A emails were published on the related site Anonymous in March, but had less impact than anticipated. Arizona and Nevada had already filed charges for
a host of deceptive practices by Bank of America, including falsely advising people that they must be in default before getting a modification, promising modifications would be made permanent after an initial trial period, and pursuing foreclosures even after assuring homeowners that the foreclosure process was stopped.
Already, the death knell is sounding and commentators are writing obituaries for the website, like this one in the Atlantic. While Manning remains in solitary confinement, the Australian whistleblower Assange is out on bail in Britain.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Rebel Without A Clause? Review of 'Rimbaud in Java'

Writer Jamie James attempted to fictionalize his research for a novel,  after nine years of investigation, but ultimately he abandoned make-believe dialogue for the dogged truth.  That's a reporter. The book is released this week, and I got a chance to review it.

Long before Rambo, there was Rimbaud.
In fact, the poet Arthur Rimbaud can be seen as a kind of anti-Rambo: a literary child prodigy, army deserter, and blue-eyed French fop.
Consider "Bad Blood": A Season in Hell.

It sounds like an appropriate title for a Sly Stallone action movie sequel, but the punchy phrases are taken from an extraordinary prose poem, self-published by an openly gay teenager in 1873, which still is considered a milestone in French literature.

Jamie James's latest book, Rimbaud in Java-The Lost Voyage,  details the poet Arthur Rimbaud's inspiration and desperation to keep a low profile in a weird bygone Java replete with magic and carnal mysticism, then traces his travels back to Europe incognito as a deckhand aboard a steamer. Detours into sexual deviancy in the Victorian age and amorous French attitudes towards Orientalism and Islam are relevant and gripping.

Arthur Rimbaud, decadent teen poet

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

(Hat tip to cartoonist Matt Bors.)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Hari-kari at the Independent?

The popular and rather egomaniacal columnist Johann Hari, who has admitted lifting quotes and bolstering his own profile on Wikipedia under a pseudonym while savaging his rivals, handed back his Orwell Prize for political reporting before it was officially rescinded. But it appears he kept the cheque! His apology in today's edition of the Independent may have satisfied his editors, though most of his journo colleagues are aghast. The Oxbridge chap, a wily wannabe Christopher Hitchens without Hitch's intellectual wattage , will go on leave from his newspaper for four months, apparently to take a little refresher course in journalism and ethics at his own expense. (Some say this will be at Columbia's prestigious J-school. But how did he get admitted so quickly?) And then , folks, he is expected back at the Independent. You have been warned. Same crass company as Stephen (Shattered) Glass and Jayson Blair , although The Independent has been remarkably soft on him.
For more reaction in the British press on this incident: click here, there, everywhere.

The Orwell Prize and Political Quarterly has invited Hari to make a donation in the amount of the 2000 pound sterling prize to the press freedom charity, English PEN, of which George Orwell was a member, but no donation has yet been made.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Russ Baker bashes New Yorker piece on 'Getting Bin Laden' for sketchy sourcing

The spin cycle apparently ain't what it used to be. Is the New Yorker's exclusive article on the Bin Laden raid mainly based on whoppers circulated by the writer's dad, a top brass with military intel? [pictured above] A veteran reporter warns us not to be, er, schmidled:
When you look closely, nothing seems right about what will surely become the accepted account of the raid that nailed America’s enemy number one. And then things get even weirder…

•It is based on reporting by a man who fails to disclose that he never spoke to the people who conducted the raid, or that his father has a long background himself running such operations (this even suggests the possibility that Nicholas Schmidle's own father could have been one of those "unnamed sources.")

•It seems to have depended heavily on trusting second-hand accounts by people with a poor track record for accurate summations, and an incentive to spin.

•The alleged decisions on killing bin Laden and disposing of his body lack credibility.

•The DNA evidence that the SEALs actually got their man is questionable.

•Though certain members of Congress say they have seen photos of the body (or, to be precise, a body), the rest of us have not seen anything.

•Promised photos of the ceremonial dumping of the body at sea have not materialized.

•The eyewitnesses from the house -- including the surviving wives -- have disappeared without comment.

We weren't allowed to hear from the raid participants. And on August 6, seventeen Navy SEALs died when their helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan. We're told that fifteen of them came, amazingly, from the same SEAL Team 6 that carried out the Abbottabad raid -- but that none of the dead were present for the raid. We do get to hear the stories of those men, and their names.

Of course, if any of those men had been in the Abbottabad raid -- or knew anything about it of broad public interest, we'd be none the wiser -- because, the only "reliable sources" still available (and featured by the New Yorker) are military and intelligence professionals, coming out of a long tradition of cover-ups and fabrications.

Meanwhile, we have this president, this one who according to the magazine article didn't ask about the core issues -- why this man was killed, who killed him, under whose orders, what would be done with the body.

Well, he may not want answers. But we ought to want them. Otherwise, it's all just a game.

Hat tip to the new'Forensic Journalism' website,

How's this for Bad assery??

(Russ Baker, the investigative reporter behind whowhatwhy -- a site that we hope will not overlook where, when, and how??-- points out that he is not the well-known Pulitzer Prize winning columnist

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Elementary my dear!

He may be synonymous with crafty detective work and putting criminals behind bars, but it seems that even Sherlock Holmes never saw this one coming. Mark Gatiss, the executive producer and co-writer of BBC show Sherlock, tweeted how the cast and crew had to abandon the set during the London riots. "This is a new one on me. Scene incomplete owing to approaching looters. Unbelievable times," he tweeted (!/Markgatiss). "Unit evacuated. F*****g terrifying!". The i, P15

hat tip to Media Guardian

Monday, July 25, 2011

Breivik calls journalists 'Category B Traitors'

Killing the messenger in a massive hack attack?
Confessed Oslo attacker Anders Behring Breivik mentioned journalism conferences that attract droves of reporters and editors from around the globe as major targets for possible attacks to advance his xenophobic, right-wing agenda.

In his 1,500-page manifesto, Breivik called these gatherings “THE MOST attractive targets for large scale shock attacks" of what he deemed "category B traitors."

Hat tip to the Center for Public Integrity for this link

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Conrad Black on Murdoch

Before the hacking scandal devolved into humble pie antics today, the pink paper rival to NewCorp's Wall Street Journal ran this piece by another fallen media mogul, Conrad Black, entitled "Taking the measure of Rupert Murdoch". Worth reading

Conrad Black,wrote in The Financial Times, on 15 July:

Rupert Murdoch is probably the most successful media proprietor and operator in history. There is no possible argument about his boldness, vision and skill of execution in conquering the British tabloid market, leading vertical media integration by uniting film studios and television stations, cracking the U.S. television triopoly, being one of the great pioneers of satellite television and founding a conservative-populist American news network. It must also be admitted that The Wall Street Journal is the only quality product Mr. Murdoch has ever bought and actually improved.

He was sometimes very fortunate, especially when Margaret Thatcher exempted his satellite telecasting from regulation (though she was just repaying the favours of The Sun); that his bid for MGM was unsuccessful just before his near-mortal financial crisis in 1990; and that British Satellite Broadcasting was so ineptly managed by Granada and others that it collapsed into his arms 20 years ago. But luck is a small part of the explanation for his success.

It is unlikely that Mr. Murdoch, his son James, or Les Hinton committed crimes (Mr. Hinton is a very decent man). Discerning people should not be impressed by the process familiar to me and other victims of it, of hostile media solemnly citing law professors and retired prosecutors and sources who spoke on condition of anonymity (usually tendentious fantasies of the journalists themselves), to comment on the Murdochs' legal problems. No one should begrudge The Guardian, the BBC, CNN, The New York Times and others their fun at his expense, nor take it too seriously. He is, as Clarendon said of Cromwell and the British historian David Chandler updated to Napoleon, "a great bad man." It is as wrong to dispute his greatness as his badness.

Murdoch-bashing has, until very recently, generally been a disreputable activity, chiefly engaged in by the envious, the far-left and the commercially uncompetitive, all almost incapable of disinterested comment -but not always. It is, on this subject at last, a time for truth. For decades Britain's establishment professed to despise Mr. Murdoch but appeased and grovelled to him, ("I thoroughly disapprove of Rupert, but I quite like him," was the tedious refrain), as when it became clear that most of opinionated London expected him to prevail over The Daily Telegraph in the price war that he launched in 1993. It is a matter of some pride to those of us at the Telegraph then that he did not. As I commend a robust response to the British, I shall not practise unilateral verbal disarmament myself.

It would be astonishing if some News International employees had not engaged in crimes, revelling in the climate of immunity that has been the group's modus operandi for decades. Successive U.K. governments of both major parties supinely truckled to him. The more vituperatively his titles slagged off the Royal family, the more certain were their books to be excerpted in The Sunday Times.

Although his personality is generally quite agreeable, Mr. Murdoch has no loyalty to anyone or anything except his company. He has difficulty keeping friendships; rarely keeps his word for long; is an exploiter of the discomfort of others; and has betrayed every political leader who ever helped him in any country, except Ronald Reagan and perhaps Tony Blair. All his instincts are down-market; he is not only a tabloid sensationalist, he is a malicious myth-maker, an assassin of the dignity of others and of respected institutions, all in the guise of antielitism.

He masquerades as a pillar of contemporary, enlightened populism in Britain and sensible conservatism in the United States, though he has been assiduously kissing the undercarriage of the rulers of Beijing for years. His notions of public entertainment and civic values are enshrined in the cartoon television series The Simpsons: All public officials are crooks and the public is an ignorant lumpenproletariat. There is nothing illegal in this, and it has amusing aspects, but it is unbecoming of someone who has been the subject of such widespread deference and official preferments.

As it happens, I don't see much practical difference to the public interest between his present effective control of British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB) and his complete ownership of it. If, but only if, News Corp. is reasonably found guilty of institutional criminality -and the potential accused deserves the presumption of innocence (however rarely it has accorded it to others) -its satellite telecasting licence should be revoked.

Before Wednesday's withdrawal of News Corp.'s bid to take full control of BSkyB, I believed that if it was just a matter of a few journalists bribing a few police officers and hacking promiscuously, the authorities should slap their wrists and let the deal happen. That was a sideshow. Spiteful regulatory intrusion is not what was needed, and would only have resulted in another of Rupert's whitewashes and a renewed bid at a lower price.

What matters is the recovery of the integrity of Britain's governing elites. There must be a reckoning with decades of establishment cowardice towards someone whose nature has been well known throughout that time. The fault is the British establishment's and it must not be seduced and intimidated, so profoundly and durably, again.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

James Murdoch in the dock over phone hacks?

Best headline about the sudden shutting of the British tabloid News of the World has got to be this one: Goodbye, Cruel World!
The humor is black and the situation bleak. Now we know exactly why the British journalists call themselves "hacks"!
The fallout is mounting- after two arrests, Prime Minister David Cameron faced down a room of scornful journalists in a press conference about the scandal and his choice of press secretary despite warnings. Police are blamed for collaborating with the sale of information. (Until this century, most people assumed the NOTW made up most of their quotes from 'a source close to the celebrity.) But now Murdoch's son James may face arrest warrants on both sides of the Atlantic for the hacking of up to 4000 people's phones, and journalists at the 168 year old Sunday redtop lost their jobs - over crimes committed five years back- mostly by others. The red-tressed Rebekah Brooks, the erstwhile editor, handpicked by Piers Morgan and Rupert Murdoch, offered to resign, but has escaped the dragnet so far. Rupert Murdoch is jetting to Britain to deal with the Hack Attack scandal, also dubbed War of 'the World' by the Independent on Sunday.
The final edition of the NOTW newspaper was headlined "Thank you & Goodbye."

Monday, June 20, 2011

Vancouver riot couple kiss and tell

After all the chaotic images that emerged from the Vancouver Game 7 [Stanley Cup] riots last week — burning, looting, fighting — one image instantly became iconic: Scott Jones kissing his girlfriend Alex Thomas, as riot police marched down a debris-covered road.
Jones, a bartender from Australia, reached down to comfort Canadian college student Thomas after police knocked her to the ground following Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Boston Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks. Richard Lam, a news photographer on the scene, snapped the photo that became an instant sensation around the globe...Lam, the photographer, said he wasn't aware he had captured the image, as he was being pushed away by police at the time.
But he did, and his photograph remains a beacon of compassion in the middle of such abject malice.

Hat tip to Greg Wyshynski , who linked to the NBC clip on "The Today Show" on Monday.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Syed Saleem Shahzad’s Courage

Syed Saleem Shahzad’s Courage - NYT Editorial

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Is Pakistan Killing Journos?

Syed Saleem Shahzad in 2006. (Banaras Khan, AFP / Getty Images)

Who Killed Saleem Shahzad?

An investigation by Newsweek's Ron Moreau, Fasih Ahmed, and Marvi Sirmed, of Baaghi blog

Courageous Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad, who had scored major scoops on al Qaeda and the Taliban, was abducted and brutally murdered this week. Was the ISI, the country’s shady intelligence agency, to blame? Ron Moreau, Fasih Ahmed, and Marvi Sirmed report on the ISI’s history of intimidation—and why Shahzad’s death may have been a bloody warning to scare off their critics in the media.

About 6 p.m. on Sunday, Syed Saleem Shahzad left his house in Islamabad for the short drive to a Pakistani television station where he was scheduled to appear on a political talk show. The hard-hitting investigative journalist never got there. Instead, he disappeared—picked up by Pakistani intelligence, it's widely believed. Human Rights Watch's country representative in Pakistan, Ali Dayan Hasan, tells The Daily Beast he "put out feelers" when he heard that Shahzad had gone missing and was led to believe "through unspecified but credible sources" that Shahzad was in the custody of agents from Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate. Dayan says his understanding was that Shahzad would be home by Monday night. He adds that Shahzad's family was given the same assurances. Shahzad's wife reportedly got an anonymous phone call on Monday saying her husband would be home in the next 24 hours.

It was not to be. On Tuesday Shahzad's abandoned car and his wristwatch were found about 100 kilometers from Islamabad. His dead body was discovered in a canal several kilometers from that spot. He had been shot in the stomach, and there were marks of torture on his face and body. Shahzad, 40, was the latest Pakistani journalist to die under mysterious circumstances. Since 2010, 15 Pakistani journalists have been killed, making Pakistan one of the world's most dangerous countries for the profession, according to Reporters Without Borders.

Shahzad, a father of three, covered a particularly dangerous beat—and landed stories that no one else had. In 2008 he interviewed the bloodthirsty Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, who would be killed in a drone strike the following year. And two years ago he scored an interview with Ilyas Kashmiri, the al Qaeda-affiliated jihadist believed to have masterminded the 2008 terrorist rampage that left more than 160 dead in Mumbai. Shahzad's latest book, Inside al Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond bin Laden and 9/11, has just been published, and only two days before his disappearance he posted a story on Asia Times Online about the deadly May 22 attack on Karachi's Mehran naval air station. "Al Qaeda carried out the brazen attack on the PNS Mehran naval air station in Karachi on May 22 after talks failed between the navy and al Qaeda over the release of naval officials arrested on suspicion of al Qaeda links, an Asia Times Online investigation reveals," Shahzad wrote.

“We don’t know if the ISI killed him,” Dayan says, “but the manner of his killing is consistent with the other murders where there has been credible evidence of ISI involvement.”

Pakistan's TV news outlets, known more for their passion than for accuracy, have all but accused the ISI of Shahzad's abduction and death. The ISI and other Pakistani intelligence entities have a history of intimidating—and sometimes abducting—outspoken, unruly, and uncooperative reporters and politicians. Umar Cheema, a first-rate reporter for one of the country's largest English-language dailies, The News, published some articles critical of Pakistan's armed forces and got a warning from the ISI. "They approached me," he tells The Daily Beast. "They said what they wanted to say, and in a nice manner. Going by what I'd heard, I feared they wouldn't be so nice in future—that the next message would be a harsher one."

Cheema was driving home from dinner in Islamabad last Sept. 4 when a group of men in black commando-style shirts stopped his car, blindfolded him, and took him to a house where he was stripped, beaten, and videotaped in humiliating positions. He believes they were ISI. "They continue to deny it, but I'm convinced it was them," he says. Nevertheless, he says, it's too soon to accuse the ISI of killing Shahzad. "His beat was al Qaeda and the Taliban," says Cheema. "So it could be them. But if it's not the ISI then they [the ISI] need to locate the people who did this, because they certainly can." Cheema is more concerned than ever for his own safety. "Obviously I feel really vulnerable," he says. "We need an independent commission to look into [Shahzad's death]."

Shahzad became fearful for his family and himself after being summoned to the ISI's Islamabad headquarters last October. The next day he sent an email to Dayan of Human Rights Watch, describing his meeting with Rear Adm. Adnan Nazir, director general of the ISI's media wing, and Commodore Khalid Pervaiz, Nazir's deputy. They demanded that Shahzad explain an Asia Times article he had written in which he alleged that Pakistan had released Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Afghan Taliban's former second in command who had been arrested the previous February. Admiral Nazir, according to Shahzad's notes, said that the "story had caused a lot of embarrassment for the country" and suggested that Shahzad write a retraction.

Shahzad refused, calling the idea "impractical." He said the story was leaked to him by "an intelligence channel"—meaning an ISI agent—and confirmed by "credible" Taliban sources. Shahzad's email said the conversation with the ISI officials was held in an "extremely polite and friendly atmosphere." But Admiral Nazir seemed to interject a note of menace at the end, informing Shahzad that the ISI had recently arrested a terrorist who had a lot of material in his possession, including a hit list. "If I find your name on the list," Shahzad quoted him as saying, "I will certainly let you know."

Shahzad's email to Dayan explained: "I am forwarding this email to you for your record only if in case something happens to me or my family in the future." After the meeting at ISI headquarters, according to Dayan, "he said he was being followed and receiving threatening phone calls." Nevertheless, Dayan adds: "He'd factored this into his life and kept going."

Although it's too early to accuse the ISI, Dayan says, he nevertheless thinks the directorate has to be a top suspect. "We don't know if the ISI killed him," Dayan says, "but the manner of his killing is consistent with the other murders where there has been credible evidence of ISI involvement. The fact is that no military or intelligence personnel are ever punished for crimes that may have been perpetrated by them." Asked about his own safely, he replies: "I'm fine until further notice."

But the ISI has been in a defensive crouch ever since the discovery of Osama bin Laden living comfortably just down the street from the country's military academy. Pakistani journalists on Shahzad's difficult and dangerous beat fear that the ISI may have made an example of him in order to scare them off of criticizing the directorate. "The ISI is under fire at home and abroad, so perhaps it has just sent a very bloody and scary message to the rest of the media here," says a Pakistani journalist, asking not to be named.

The Daily Beast visited Shahzad's widow after his body was found. Aneeqa Saleem sat in shocked disbelief on the corner of a bed. Trauma seems a small word for the expressions on their three children. The youngest, 7-year-old Rehman Shah, was completely focused on trying to make his mother smile. "Mom, you still not happy?" he kept asking. "When will you smile?" His mother only looked at him helplessly.

She said she wants no criminal charges filed, nothing said to accuse any institution or organization, no autopsy. The case should be buried with her husband, she insisted. On a television in the room, a newscast showed pictures of his battered corpse. "My handsome husband!" she said. "Just look what they have made of him."

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Commenters, bloggers, hacks, and authors

Commenters are men and women in real life, presumably, but on the Internet they are disembodied pixels of pure judgment that trade little more than an e-mail address for the privilege of hearing themselves speak in the virtual pages of publications otherwise inaccessible to the voice of the layman, in this case, the venerable Gray Lady. Many do so anonymously or with a user name, believing that though their words may be read, they are in no danger of facing the consequences of their free speech, least of all the very real consequence that working writers must face when they put fingers to keyboard: a libel suit. Some brave (or stupid) folks use their actual names, perhaps emboldened by the carnival-like spectacle that welcomes the performance of every comer willing to step right up.
Journalist Miriam Markowitz riffs on the blogosphere.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

State Department Censors Web Sites China Allows

Excerpt from Peter Van Buren's blog, We Meant Well

Just to make sure our quotient of irony stays at Defcon 99, the State Department plans to spend $19 million on breaking Internet censorship overseas. State says it will give $19 million dollars to efforts to evade Internet controls in China, Iran and other authoritarian states which block online access to “politically sensitive material.” Michael Posner, the Assistant Secretary of State in charge of human rights, said that the funding would support technology to identify what countries are trying to censor and “redirecting information back in that governments have initially blocked; this is a cat-and-mouse game. We’re trying to stay one step ahead of the cat through email or posting it on blogs or RSS feeds or websites that the government hasn’t figured out how to block.”

I emailed a colleague in Beijing, and yes, Tom Dispatch is available there to him, at home. In his US Embassy office however, the site is still blocked.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

NY Post Rises to Occasion and gives us Head

Here's a headline that grabs your attention. Whora Bora indeed.
There is some speculation that the smut actually belonged to the three wives in the Bin Laden household, who were on rotation in the bedrooms. Or to one of the pre-teen sons. Source?
A rather dubious one: Um Tareq, tweeting @binLadenWidows. The online women are supposedly mourning their has-bin hubby by tweeting.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

May Day!! Hermetic and Arrogant Grey Lady breaks the news as if she's breaking wind

Felix Salmon of Reuters assesses how the NY Times claims to have "broken" the Bin Laden raid. Click here for the complete post.
An excerpt:
has dinosaurs like Bill Keller and Arthur Brisbane, whose respective columns this weekend betray the fact that the people with the bully pulpits are stuck in a completely different world, seemingly ignorant of some of the biggest stories in social media.

[Arthur] Brisbane is the NYT’s ombudsman, and today he describes the way that the paper broke the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death. Well, he can’t do that, because the NYT didn’t break the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death. But he ignores the people who did break the news, and just tells the story of how the official NYT machine worked. His story starts at 10:34 last Sunday night, when a source told NYT reporter Helene Cooper that Osama had been killed. By 10:40, an alert was up on Then, by Brisbane’s account, Twitter got involved:

One minute after Ms. Cooper’s news alert was posted on the Web, Jeff Zeleny, The Times’s national political correspondent, posted on Twitter: “NYT’s Helene Cooper confirming that Osama Bin Laden has been killed. President to announce shortly from the White House.”

At virtually the same time, Jim Roberts, an assistant managing editor, sent a similar Twitter message. Next to come was an automated Twitter post generated by, regurgitating the original news alert.

Those links are all Brisbane’s, by the way, including the rather hilarious link to the homepage of the very site his column is on. All of the links are internal; none are to the actual tweets in question. But here’s the first tweet that Brisbane mentions, from Zeleny. As Brisbane says, it was posted at 10:41pm.

For a very different look at how the Osama news broke check out SocialFlow’s exhaustive analysis of 14.8 million tweets on Sunday night. As far as Twitter is concerned, the news was broken by Keith Urbahn at 10:24pm. But it really got momentum from being retweeted at 10:25pm by NYT media reporter Brian Stelter, who added the crucial information that Urbahn is Donald Rumsfeld’s chief of staff. Urbahn, here, gets the goal, but Stelter absolutely gets the assist:

Monday, May 2, 2011

Er - an even worse typo! Fox's Freudian slip

An anchor at the Fox station in Washington, WTTG, said – first thing out of his mouth as the President walked away from the podium:

“President Obama speaking from the East Room of the White House, telling the nation and the world: President Obama is in fact dead. It was a U.S.-led strategic (horrified co-anchor mumbles correction) I’m sorry. Osama Bin Laden is dead.” Read more on world wide coverage of the raid, as it happened in Abbotabad, on ReaderSupportedNews

And lets give a cybersalute to tweeter Sohair Attar, the world's virtual witness in Abbottabad, self described as an "IT consultant taking a break from the rat-race by hiding in the mountains with his laptops".

It was somehow fitting that President Obama's announcement about the death of bin Laden interrupted Donald Trump's "Celebrity Apprentice" reality show on Sunday night.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Oops - a typo that will haunt her!

In an attempt to release the news of Osama bin Laden’s death quickly late Sunday night, MSNBC correspondent Norah O’Donnell accidentally reported on Twitter that “Obama” had been “killed” instead.

“Obama shot and killed,” Norah O’Donnell posted on Twitter, citing NBC Chief Pentagon Correspondent Jim Miklaszewski as her source.

It was announced Sunday that Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind behind the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, was killed by American forces. President Obama addressed the nation to deliver the news around 11:30 p.m. ET.

Read more:

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

RIP for Hetherington, Restrepo Shooter

Tim Hetherington's reported death in action has devastated his war correspondent colleagues and the American troops he documented; Chris Hondros was also mortally wounded by mortars. Guy Martin, a Briton affiliated with the Panos photo agency, and Michael Christopher Brown - were wounded by shrapnel but expected to survive.

Read more:
Reports are still sketchy. Update: see the New York Times coverage for further information. Here's one obit from the Wall Street Journal blog:

Tim Hetherington, co-director of the Oscar-nominated documentary “Restrepo,” has been killed in Libya. Several news outlets, including ABC News, have reported on his death, and Vanity Fair, where he worked as a contributing photographer, tweeted that his passing had been confirmed.

The 41-year-old Hetherington apparently was the victim of a mortar attack in Misrata that wounded several other journalists.

“Restrepo” tracked a platoon of soldiers in Afghanistan, and was co-directed by Sebastian Junger, author of “The Perfect Storm.”

Hetherington began his career in photography in 1997. His assignments took him to Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Liberia and other places.

His last tweet reads “In besieged Libyan city of Misrata. Indiscriminate shelling by Qaddafi forces. No sign of NATO.”

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Three Cups of Tea - With a Grain of Salt

The air must get rather thin up there.
Jon Kraukauer vs Greg Mortenson, Mountaineer vs Mountaineer, who's gonna fall first?

This author rage seems more than a tempest in a teacup. The accuracy of Krakauer's own book, "Into Thin Air", was once disputed by other mountaineers, too. But this journalist-alpinist seems to be driven by the ferocity of a man duped. (JK had once donated $75,000 to GM's outfit, the Central Asian Institute.)

Should readers (and wannabe donors) be charitable? A career is imploding at warp speed...because people love a legend, but hate to be hoodwinked, even a little. And where is the well-remunerated ghost, David Oliver Relin, in all this? Back in Portland keeping mum. And keeping half the royalties of the bestseller, 3 Cups of Tea too, it appears.

The hero-making process really began about eight years ago:
Kevin Fedarko in Parade Magazine, extolled Mortenson the Montana mountain man who builds schools for Muslim girls in the Hindu Kush. The heartrending article was published just a couple weeks after the US invaded Iraq and the reader response was overwhelmingly generous. American individuals could make more of a difference than the dread war machine- and the force of change would be schooling village women.

Two ghost-written books, hundreds and hundreds of appearances on the road, and a multi-million dollar charity outreach followed. Some schools were erected in the flyblown spots where girls, especially, lack literacy. And a celebrity with almost a cult following emerged, hailed by the Pentagon. The tale has touched many. Schoolchildren donated pennies for peace.

Flash forward.

Krakauer's devastating long screed ran on the new website. Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson,
Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way.
This made a huge impact everywhere, as a follow up to the "60 Minutes" segment on Greg Mortenson and the Central Asian Institute. (These initials are too much like "CIA" for my liking, and most of the schools are located in South Asia, not Central Asia. But such quibbling is beside the point.) Central Asia Institute's Mission: To promote and provide community-based education and literacy programs, especially for girls, in remote mountain regions of Central Asia. Was this mission accomplished or compromised?

Here's an official statement from Greg Mortenson about the charges leveled against him. His home state, Montana, now has launched an inquiry into the charity's finances, however belatedly.

Outside Online's post-expose interview with Greg Mortenson about the "60 Minutes" expose shows him squirming a bit, especially compared to Fedarko's paen in 2010...but does not press him hard about the dubious kidnap. "We Never Kidnapped Greg Mortenson", one of the Pakistanis falsely accused of being a Taliban abductor tells Newsweek.

The charity and Viking, the publisher, rushed statements online. Furthermore, Viking announced its own forthcoming investigation. Self defense? Spin control?

The charity navigator, which ranks NGOs on admin costs vs program costs and has awarded CAI Four Stars, released a donor advisory, flashing red on their webpage, after the 60 Minutes expose aired on Sunday night:

A similar website, called Charity Watch, raised alarms last year, which may have helped tip off the CBS investigation. See here

If this expose prevents people from setting up or giving to vanity NGOs, that's some small good - providing that charismatic people who are inspired to do good works can find experienced organizations who have a good track record and audited accounts. (Red tape is not only for the hassle factor.) One senior journalist suggested that
"Three Cups of Tea" belongs to an outside category of inspirational nonfiction in which feel-good parables take precedence over strict truthfulness. Its object is to present a reassuring picture of the world as a place... where all people are fundamentally the same underneath their cultural differences, where ordinary, well-meaning Americans can "make a difference" in the lives of poor Central Asians and fend off terrorism at the same time. Heartwarming anecdotes come with the territory and as with the happily-ever-after endings of romantic comedies, everyone tacitly agrees not to examine them too closely. "Three Cups of Tea" is a wonderful tool for eliciting donations for the very worthy cause of educating Afghan and Pakistani children, which is its purpose.
It's feel-good fiction, not reportage. Uh-huh. But follow the money....We all must be a bit more cynical now. Should some stories be too good to check? Nope. Not if donors' cheques are involved.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Correction of the Week

"The Post incorrectly attributed a quote to Toni Braxton in an article published on March 25. Braxton did not say: ‘I have a big-ass house, three cars and I fly first class all around the world. Some say I have the perfect life.’” - New York Post

Hat tip to the Columbia Journalism Review

Friday, April 8, 2011

Gadaffi loyalists try to muzzle foreign press

More than 70 attacks on the media covering the war in Libya have been committed since revolutionary fervor hit the oil rich North African country, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which is keeping a log, linked here

These include “two fatalities, a gunshot injury, 41 detentions, 11 assaults, two attacks on news facilities, and the jamming of Al Jazeera and Al Hurra transmissions,” the committee stated. Additionally, “at least six local journalists are missing amid speculation they are in the custody of security forces.” Others from 20 different news organizations have been deported , despite an official "invitation" to be accredited in Tripoli. Two American freelance journalists and two photographers were grabbed today. James Foley, of the GlobalPost, Clare Morgana Gillis, an American freelancer writing for The Atlantic; Manu Brabo, a Spanish photographer; and Anton Hammerl, a South African photographer are believed to be held prisoner by loyalists.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor RIP


February 27, 1932 – March 23, 2011

considered to be the "first victim of the paparazzi".

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Vicious Fighting in Libya: CNN vs Fox News!

War reporters sometimes war, sometimes err, even on air!
A supposed scoop by Fox's Jennifer Griffin about British missiles enraged CNN reporter Nic Robertson, who went ballistic on air. Murdoch's plucky Pentagon correspondent reported that her sources said a followup British airstrike on Gadaffi's compound had to be called off because crews from CNN and Reuters tv were in the way yesterday, and unwittingly were used by the Libyan government as human shields. She said the Brits only were able to release two of seven warheads because the journalists were in the way. Later she corrected her report, and acknowledged that Fox News had in fact sent one person along. The Daily Mail and other tabloids repeated that "SAS spotters" called off strikes after seeing the western journalists, and the report was quickly regurgitated by the Agence France Presse. It has since come to light that Fox News sent a security guard with a video camera on the official press bus while its correspondent Steve Harrigan stayed in a Tripoli hotel room in order to broadcast live-- rather than "be duped". Was this guard considered more expendable than a staffer? Certainly it is a distressing management decision.
(The cable news smackdown continued, with one of Huffington Post's paid phone interviewers filing response from the much-maligned Harrigan.

A busload of approximately 40 western journalists had stayed for a half hour at the compound, where Gadaffi was conspicuously absent, Robertson said. On board was at least one Murdoch reporter, from the London Times, as well as the security guard with a flip-cam or a cell phone. Press reports that a number of Libyan civilians, including children and women, have volunteered to act as human shields are very widespread. Presumably, even unwitting human shields would not have been allowed to leave, but be forced to stay in place. A British wing commander interviewed by the Press Association said of the Libya operation: "It went very well; it went as we briefed it." This account appears to contradict Griffin's defense scoop out of Washington, however.

What gets lost in all the rancor between Fox and CNN tv channels is the fact that any western journalist who flew straight to Tripoli would have been accredited by Gaddafi's government. The accredited media would be offered a chance to ride along on some official tours to get soundbites of the government line and photos of the official targets struck. (This tour of the compound, also bombed in the 80s, has been standard Libyan practice for the past quarter century!) Most media reps aware that they might be seen to be manipulated in this way, and would include any official quotes as balance to whatever else they might ferret out through investigative reporting. Some journalists had hesitated to go into Tripoli because of this ethical dilemma of providing safer but possibly slanted reports. Other reporters and photographers who crossed over from the chaos of Egypt and had no official stamp in their passports would be considered illegal entrants, and subject to deportation. (Or worse: capture as suspected spies if found behind rebel lines, as happened to 4 NY Times journalists, and thirteen others.)

It would be helpful if the antagonistic "moonbats" and "wingnuts" were more interested in the truth about the West's third war front in the Islamic world than in discrediting one another. It cheapens everyone involved.

Ordeal ends for 4 Captive Hacks; Firefights and Shelling continue in Libya

UPDATE: A cautionary tale of Libya. The brutal captivity of the New York Times Four, as told by themselves. A must-read.

The dangers of the pursuit of journalism are underlined in an op-ed piece in today's New York Times. After the paper's four captive journalists in Libya were released to a Turkish envoy and then drove out through Tunisia, some details of their ordeal are trickling out. It was a hellish five days for these pros, who were caught behind enemy lines at a pro-Gaddafi checkpoint, nearly executed, and detained incommunicado for several days. Their driver is still unaccounted for. Photographer Lynsey Addario, small in stature but tough in outlook, recounted some of the harrowing events: she was subjected to sexual mauling and whispered threats. Taylor Hicks also spoke about their travails. More details surely will be forthcoming as the writers, Anthony Shadid and Stephen Farrell, pen their narratives. They are relatively lucky: the Committee to Protect Journalists reminds us that at least 852 journalists have been killed on the job since 1992. Exceprts from the Times:

As they were being pulled from the car, rebels fired on the checkpoint, sending the four running for their lives.

“You could see the bullets hitting the dirt,” Mr. Shadid said.

All four made it safely behind a small, one-room building, where they tried to take cover. But the soldiers had other plans. They told all four to empty their pockets and ordered them on the ground. And that is when they thought they were seconds from death.

“I heard in Arabic, ‘Shoot them,’ ” Mr. Shadid said. “And we all thought it was over.”

Then another soldier spoke up. “One of the others said: ‘No, they’re American. We can’t shoot them,’ ” Mr. Hicks said.

The soldiers grabbed whatever they could get their hands on to tie up their prisoners: wire, an electrical cord from a home appliance, a scarf. One removed Ms. Addario’s shoes, pulled out the laces and used them to bind her ankles. Then one punched her in the face and laughed.

“Then I started crying,” she recalled. “And he was laughing more.” One man grabbed her breasts, the beginning of a pattern of disturbing behavior she would experience from her captors over the next 48 hours.

“There was a lot of groping,” she said. “Every man who came in contact with us basically felt every inch of my body short of what was under my clothes.”

Their captors held them in Ajdabiya until the fighting with the rebels died down. Soldiers put the four in a vehicle and drove them out of the city around 2 a.m. One threatened to decapitate Mr. Hicks. Another stroked Ms. Addario’s head and told her repeatedly she was going to die.

“He was caressing my head in this sick way, this tender way, saying: ‘You’re going to die tonight. You’re going to die tonight,’ ” she said.

On the third day they were on the move again, this time to an airfield. Mr. Shadid, who speaks Arabic, had overheard one of the soldiers saying something about a plane, and the four assumed they would be flown somewhere. As they were loaded on the plane they were blindfolded and their hands were bound tightly with plastic handcuffs.

“I could hear Anthony at this point yelling ‘Help me!’ ” Mr. Hicks said, “which I learned later was because he had no feeling in his hands.” In a rare show of mercy, a soldier loosened the cuffs.

They landed on Thursday in Tripoli, where they were handed over to Libyan defense officials. They were transferred to a safe house, where they said they were treated well. They were each allowed a brief phone call.
That was the first time since their capture two and a half days earlier that their whereabouts became known to their families and colleagues at The Times.

Their disappearance had kicked off an intensive search effort. The Times canvassed hospitals and morgues, beginning a grim process-of-elimination search. The paper also turned to a variety of people on the ground who might have heard or seen something — local residents, security contractors for Western businesses, workers for nongovernmental organizations. It also notified American diplomats.

Three days of diplomatic wrangling ensued, followed by allied airstrikes. The ugly incident shows some of the difficulties of the 24/7 news cycle, when rolling deadlines make it difficult to determine how long to stay in order to cover unfolding news. This unfortunate quartet survived.

Flash: Getty photographer Joe Raedle, and two wire journalists from Agence France Presse, Dave Clark and Roberto Schmidt, had been missing for three days. They were captured by Libyan loyalist troops and were also released in Tripoli tonight.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

US State Department to fund BBC anti-jamming

The BBC World Service is to receive a "significant" sum of money from the US government to help combat the blocking of TV and internet services in countries including Iran and China, reports the Guardian

In what the BBC said is the first deal of its kind, an agreement is expected to be signed later this month that will see US state department money – understood to be a low six-figure sum – given to the World Service to invest in developing anti-jamming technology and software.

The funding is also expected to be used to educate people in countries with state censorship in how to circumnavigate the blocking of internet and TV services.

It is understood the US government has decided the reach of the World Service is such that it makes investment worthwhile.

The US government money comes as the World Service faces a 16% cut in its annual grant from the Foreign Office – a £46m reduction in its £236.7m budget over three years that will lead to about 650 job cuts. The money will be channelled through the World Service's charitable arm, the World Service Trust.

The deal, which is expected to be formally announced on International Press Freedom Day, 3 May, follows an increase in incidents of interference with World Service output across the globe, according to its controller of strategy and business, Jim Egan.

BBC Persian television, which launched in early 2009 and airs in Iran and its neighbouring countries, has experienced numerous instances of jamming. The BBC Arabic TV news service has also been jammed in recent weeks across various parts of north Africa during the recent uprisings in Egypt and Libya.

"Governments who have an interest in denying people information particularly at times of tension and upheaval are keen to do this and it is a particular problem now," said Egan.

Another area in which the BBC World Service is expected to use the US money is continuing its development of early warning software.

This will allow it to detect jamming sooner than it does currently where it relies on reports from users on the ground.

"Software like this helps monitor dips in traffic which act as an early warning of jamming, and it can be more effective than relying on people contacting us and telling us they cannot access the services," said Egan.

The BBC also expects to use state department money to help combat internet censorship by establishing proxy servers that give the impression a computer located in one country is in fact operating in another, thereby circumnavigating attempts by repressive governments to block websites.

"China has become quite expert at blocking websites and one could say it has become something of an export industry for them – a lot of countries are keen to follow suit," said Egan.

"We have evidence of Libya and Egypt blocking the internet and satellite signals in recent weeks."

Egan added that the battle against jamming is likely to be an ongoing one because repressive countries are likely to develop methods to counter any anti-censorship technology that is developed.

"It is a bit of a game of cat and mouse," said a BBC source.