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.

More journalists captured in Libya

Oh no. That's 13 and counting. Four missing Al Jazeera reporters are joined by three from Agence France Presse. And there still is no word of the NY Times quartet under arrest in Tripoli and whose release had been promised Friday, the day before the allied air assault got underway. Harrowing times. Are they part of Gaddhafi's human shield or what?
See here for full story on the LA Times blog.

AFP reporter Dave Clark and photographer Roberto Schmidt had informed the agency in an e-mail Friday night that they planned to meet opponents of Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi and speak with refugees fleeing the fighting between rebels and loyalists. They were accompanied by Joe Raedle of Getty Images, the agency said.

Lotfi al-Messaoudi, a Tunisian, Ahmed Vall Ould Addin, a Mauritanian, Ammar al-Hamdan, a Norwegian cameraman, and British national Kamel Atalua from Al Jazeera were arrested while "carrying out their duties" in western Libya. Al Jazeera cameraman Ali Hassan al-Jaber was killed on March 12 and brave Libyan videoblogger Mohammed "Mo" Nabbous was killed yesterday.

addendum: Six more Libyan journalists are said to be missing, too.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

NY Times Journos Missing in Libya

UPDATE: son of Gadaffi reportedly told newswoman Christine Amanpour that NYT photographer Lynsey Addario had been arrested and would be released Friday in Tripoli. Inshallah. Just passing on a tweet that has been retreated several times and repeated in a Filipino press story. May indicate that all 4 journos are in custody?

The New York Times reported Wednesday that four of its journalists are missing in Libya.

According to the paper, the journalists were last in contact with their editors on Tuesday.

The missing journalists are: Anthony Shadid, a Pulitzer Prize winner and the paper's Beirut bureau chief; video reporter and blogger Stephen Farrell; plus two of the paper's top photographers, Tyler Hicks and Lynsey Addario, winner of a MacArthur genius grant.

"Their families and their colleagues at The Times are anxiously seeking information about their situation, and praying that they are safe," editor Bill Keller said. He also said that the paper has talked to the Libyan government, which says it is trying to locate the journalists.

The fighting in Libya has gravely affected the journalists covering the story. BBC journalists have been arrested and tortured, an Al Jazeera cameraman has been killed, and a journalist for the Guardian went missing. (He was eventually found.)

Jay Rosen retreats from retweets

Reporter Jay Rosen writes about his twitter goof here, in a confessional post called "Anatomy of a Twitter Screw-up: My Own". This should be a warning to new media practitioners everywhere. Bottom line - Check sources and think before you post anything- even a tweet! And for accuracy, it's best not to multitask. Jobs are on the line.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Thanks to Hamilton Nolan , and Gawker, we have a glimpse of WashPost edits. In an embarrassing error, the paper published this piece in progress online (SURELY SHOME MISHTAKE-Ed.) A screen grab was made before it was deleted, with an apology that the piece was "incomplete".
Here's the link. Even at the vaunted Wash Post, editors apparently ask for manufactured quotes, or nag reporters to go back to the source and fish for it.

Monday, March 14, 2011

British, American journalists deported from Yemen

National Security Reporters - please note

Three freelance journalists who were providing the majority of foreign news coverage of Yemen’s increasingly unstable climate were deported from the country Monday, Michelle Shephard filed to The Star.

The two British reporters and an American journalist had been writing for the LA Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Atlantic Monthly and Time magazine, among other publications and blogs.

No major news organization staffs a bureau in Yemen, and with foreign journalist visas difficult to obtain, the daily coverage of the recent anti-government protests has been left to a handful of dogged freelance journalists.

Violence in the country increased over the weekend and Monday, with at least four people reportedly killed in clashes between riot police and student demonstrators calling for the removal of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Police used water cannons, rubber bullets and live ammunition to try to disperse protestors who have waged a three-week sit-in outside the gates of Sanaa University. Yemen’s news agency reported Monday that three soldiers were killed in clashes in the north, and in the central Maarib province, a local governor was critically wounded in a stabbing.

The deported journalists — who had reported extensively on the weekend demonstrations — were told their removal Monday was an issue of “national security.”

A spokesperson from Yemen’s Embassy in Washington was unavailable for comment.

“Over the past three days violence was ratcheted up in the capital and I think that’s the reason I’m not in Yemen anymore, because I was there at the protests every day, reporting,” British journalist Oliver Holmes said in a telephone interview during a flight stopover in Qatar.

“We want this to be known because I’m tired of the Yemeni government just harassing journalists and kicking them out if they’re not happy with what they write.”

The 24-year-old has lived in the country’s capital on a residency visa, studying Arabic and reporting since October 2009.

“They came into our house at 7 a.m. and told us to get dressed and took us,” said 28-year-old freelance journalist Haley Sweetland Edwards in a telephone interview from Sanaa’s airport, before she boarded a flight to Istanbul. “Four hours later they took us home, let us pack up our stuff and brought us to the airport.”

In addition to Edwards and Holmes, British journalist Portia Walker and American photographer and researcher Joshua Maricich, who had started a Yemen adventure club in 2007 to help youths learn how to rock climb, were also deported.

The four shared a home in Sanaa and were together when armed security forces detained them Monday morning.

Edwards, who had applied for her month-long visa through the U.S. Embassy, had lived in Sanaa for 10 months last year to work as a stringer and study Arabic. She said Monday she would return to her apartment in Tbilisi, Georgia but will apply for travel to Yemen again as soon as possible.

“I would love to get back,” said Edward. “Yemen is very important to me and I’ve been covering this story for two years now.”

Freelancer Laura Kasinof, who writes for the New York Times, is one of the few remaining foreign journalists in the country.

“It’s certainly very tense here for the Western journalists who are left and we’re tying to figure out the best way to proceed,” the 25-year-old said in a telephone interview from a friend’s home.

Press freedom in Yemen is considered better than most Arab countries, but as anti-government demonstrations grow and the government’s crackdown on protestors intensifies, journalists are increasingly being targeted.

The U.S. Embassy issued a statement earlier this month saying American officials had watched with “concern” over “recent infringement of press freedom.”

Yemen Times Managing Editor Jeb Boone said he had been picked up by police on his way home Sunday night and held for an hour before being escorted back to his house.

“Just today I figured out I could hide my camera in a packet of cigarettes to get through the security line to the protests,” the 24-year-old Augusta, Georgia native said in an interview Monday.

Human Rights Watch issued a statement last month urging the authorities to allow protestors to demonstrate peacefully and journalists to report freely.

“Beating up journalists is a blatant attempt by authorities to prevent Yemeni people and the world from witnessing a critical moment in Yemen,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, director of the group’s Middle East and North African division.

first Published On Mon Mar 14 2011

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Quote of the Day - that's Rich!

Believe it or not, an opinion writer can sometimes get sick of his own voice.
--Frank Rich, on quitting his Sunday political column in the NY TImes after a 17 year run. He is moving on to a weekly, New York magazine.

Read his 'confessions of a Recovering Op-Ed Columnist' here

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

China blogger angered over losing Facebook account

Chinese blogger and activist Michael Anti wants to know why he is less worthy of a Facebook account than company founder Mark Zuckerberg's dog.

Anti, a popular online commentator whose legal name is Zhao Jing, said in an interview Tuesday that his Facebook account was suddenly canceled in January. Company officials told him by e-mail that Facebook has a strict policy against pseudonyms and that he must use the name issued on his government ID.

Anti argues that his professional identity as Michael Anti has been established for more than a decade, with published articles and essays.

Anti, a former journalist who has won fellowships at both Cambridge University and Harvard University, said he set up his Facebook account in 2007. By locking him out of his account, Facebook has cut him off from a network of more than 1,000 academic and professional contacts who know him as Anti, he said.

"I'm really, really angry. I can't function using my Chinese name. Today, I found out that Zuckerberg's dog has a Facebook account. My journalistic work and academic work is more real than a dog," he said.

Facebook officials weren't available to comment on his case. The company says its policy leads to greater trust and accountability for its users.

"We have tried to keep the rule simple and fair by saying personal profiles must always be set up in the real legal name of the individual concerned," it said by e-mail to Anti.

Dissidents in a variety of countries have argued that Facebook's policy can endanger human rights activists and others if their identities become known.

Anti said there is a long tradition in China for writers and journalists to take pen names, partly as protection from retaliation from authorities. If Facebook requires the use of real names, that could potentially put Chinese citizens in danger, he said.

"For my fellow Chinese, this policy could easily help Chinese police identify them," he said.

It's not the first time Anti has had problems with an Internet site. In 2005, his blog on a Microsoft site was shut down by the company following pressure from Chinese officials. Microsoft's action led to a public outcry.

Zuckerberg recently set up a Facebook page for his newly acquired puppy, "Beast," complete with photos and a profile. [Feral Beast emphasizes that there is no relation!] More than 29,000 people have clicked "like" on this page.

Tini Tran of Associated Press reports from Beijing. Microsoft famously shut down Michael Anti's controversial blog at the end of 2005, sparking debates about Chinese censorship online.


Daily Star not so shining. Reporter complains of anti-Muslim propaganda and lies

"Scrabbling to pump out a national newspaper with fewer staff hacks than it takes to man a yacht" is folly, according to ex-tabloid hack Richard Peppiatt, in his letter of resignation to the proprietor of the Daily Star. His screed was excerpted in the Guardian, alongside a statement from the red top paper that denied any negative stance towards Islam (despite all appearances). The plucky tabloid reporter used to be a quick-change artist in pursuit of scoops, and in his excoriating letter, he admits to making up headline grabbing incidents or quotes involving prominent celebrities. But apparently he now feels remorse:
"The lies of a newspaper in London can get a bloke's head caved-in down an alley in Bradford. If you can't see that words matter, you should go back to running porn magazines," he wrote to his erstwhile boss Richard Desmond.
Full story here.
Hat tip to Irris Makler for this gem. But did anyone actually take the stories running in the Daily Star seriously?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Another Scribe Down.

In Tribute

Derek A. Brown, Journalist, Born May 7, 1947 in Bearsden, Glasgow, Scotland; married Eileen J. Brailsford, 1972; died February 23, 2011 in Herefordshire, England

The correspondent who countered brutality with humour and wordplay

Hogamany was celebrated in style at Nizamuddin East in the early 1990s thanks to the British foreign correspondent, Derek Brown. You couldn’t predict which tall, dark man would cross his threshold first on any given Scottish New Year, but a burra peg of whisky and a sumptuous spread of food would be waiting. Laughter would always punctuate Brown’s parties.

Derek Brown, who died last week in England at age 63, had worked as a journalist for four decades with the same newspaper, The Guardian. He was based in Delhi from 1987 through 1993 as their South Asia Bureau Chief, where he worked together with the reporter Ajoy Bose. Brown and his wife, Eileen, regarded India as their favorite posting during the 13 years spent “in foreign parts”, which included assignments in Brussels and Jerusalem. From Delhi, the couple took many road trips in their cherished white Ambassador before shipping out, in Derek’s jocular phrase, “from Bombay back to Blighty”. Brown’s final newspaper column appeared in The Guardian Weekly the day before he died. He is survived by his wife Eileen, his sister Sylvia and brother David, and his mother, Renee, who is 94.

While Brown clearly relished storytelling, he was a stickler for accuracy. His reporting frequently covered conflict, whether in Belfast, West Bengal or the West Bank, and perhaps it was to counteract the brutality Brown witnessed that he had fine-tuned his sense of humour and wordplay. The reporter of Falstaffian proportions took delight in the unexpected, and he was a close observer. On holiday, he might make do with “mutual incomprehension, moderated by much giggling and goodwill”, but he analyzed unfolding events with care and pulled no punches. He did not hesitate to “put the ugh in ugly” and to disclose the reality of that polite euphemism, communal strife. He covered Ayodhya, Kabul, Kashmir, caste wars and the long war in Sri Lanka.

Brown observed: “The civil war in Sri Lanka was unavoidable, and is unwinnable. It is the ghastly outcome of a sequence of events compounded of bigotry, obstinacy, and muddled thinking on both sides of the narrow straits separating the poor, bloodied little island from its gigantic neighbour, India.”

Much to his annoyance, Brown was briefly banned from Sri Lanka because of a headline that accompanied his extensive profile of its leader, Ranasinghe Premadasa. Presidential staff perceived an insult and withheld visas after reading the following title:
“Dhobi wallah to president: The rise to prominence and power of Sri Lanka’s new leader, Ranasinghe Premadasa, whose roots lie far from the country’s traditional ruling caste”.

The author Simon Winchester, a lifelong friend, recalled how, in addition to his collection of adventure tales and Penguin first editions, “Derek kept a hoard of newspaper headlines from his time in India in a tin box in the living room, many of them so funny one would weep.” That unfortunate one from Brown’s own news desk probably did not make it into this Pandora’s box of clippings.

In 1997, Derek Brown returned from the Middle East to London to help launch the online edition of The Guardian, and he stayed on staff until 2002, after which he contributed columns for the weekly print edition from his home office in Herefordshire county.

In order to mourn him in cyberspace, friends and colleagues must first tick a box on a Facebook page that says “I like Derek Brown, Rest In Peace.” Surely he’d chortle about that, as well as the fact that this obituary was outsourced to America, near Silicon Valley.

(The author is a journalist who has worked with The Independent and The Lancet. She reported from South Asia, West Asia and Southeast Asia for over a decade)

Obituary in the Indian Express
Photo of Derek Brown in New Delhi c 1991 is courtesy of Roger Hutchings