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The Big Facebook Boys in the Russian Commonwealth

Facebook is not particularly popular in the former Soviet Union space when it comes to news media. Outside Russia, though, Facebook news media from other CIS nations are steadily building a strong market.
 
Today, we release Facebook Index CIS/Russia, which measures news outlets in this region based on the number of their followers reported to the size of their local market.
 
The size of the Facebook market in the former Soviet Union space is strikingly small. The Facebook Universe in that part of the world totals some 20 million users. That is less than a fifth of the total combined population in the region. The low popularity of Facebook in the former Soviet Union region, particularly Russia, can to some extent be attributed to the solid position on these markets of Russia-originated social media such as Vkontakte, Odnoklassniki and Mail.ru (originally, an email service that is growing into a social hub). In 2016, Vkontakte alone had a total of some 100 million active users, according to data from the site.
 

Big Brother Building in Romania Phase Two

The companies chosen to build the EU-funded data collection system for Romania’s intelligence agency are hardly the cleanest.
 
In late May 2017, the Romanian Information Service (SRI), Romania’s intelligence agency, selected the companies that will run the controversial SII Analytics project, which IT and surveillance experts described as a Big Brother-like data hoarding system. The winner of the contract is a consortium with Siveco Romania in the driver’s seat, Nova Tech Integrated Solutions as partner, and Romsoft International and BAE Systems as subcontractors, according to information from the SRI.
 

The News of Eastern Europe: Brought to You by Russia

For ten years, the Russian government has built media across eastern Europe. They are becoming a fearsome player in the region’s media market.
 
Last March, far-right British activist Jim Dowson told the Guardian that the website Patriotic News Agency, which he had launched in July 2016 to spread pro-Trump propaganda, has bases in Hungary and Serbia. He said that other such platforms are also based there.
 

Estonian Public Media Gets Government Manpower

The appointment of a high government official in the body that governs Estonia’s public broadcaster is opening a can of worms. He promises to keep his two hats apart - but some people don’t trust him.
 
On 3 May 2017, Riigikogu, Estonia’s parliament, appointed Paavo Nogene to the post of Chancellor of the Ministry of Culture, who is the second highest official in the ministry, in the council of the Estonian Public Broadcasting (ERR). Mr Nogene was appointed thanks to his credentials as an “expert.” The reshuffling included the appointment of three new ERR council members. This was a regular move, given the fact that the terms of three former council members, all appointed because they qualify as experts, had expired.
 

Why Good Journalism Lost to Noisy Populists

Open society media camp has lost the information war with the often inarticulate, yet vociferous, populist lot. To gain back the trust of the masses, they have to learn a more popular language.
 
“If a Republican acted like me and ran for office, it’d be a movement. Donald Trump has proven me right. People are tired of pussies.”
 
It was not the first time Mike Cernovich, the Southern California-based founder of the blog Danger & Play, was sharing such a contentious opinion online. The tweet, posted in the summer of 2015, was both a premonition (about Mr Trump’s rise to America’s presidency) and a telltale sign of the new generation of influencers in the country's political discourse.
 

Marcela Turati: Expose the Hidden Interests of Big Media Companies

Interview with award-winning investigative journalist Marcela Turati, Marcela Turati is an investigative journalist who specializes in covering the impact of Mexican drug war on society.
 
Marcela Turati also has experience in human rights activism, and she reports on poverty and marginalized groups. She has been vocal against the murders and exile of journalists in Mexico. Ms Turati works for Proceso, a leading news weekly in Mexico. She co-founded Periodistas de a Pie (Journalists on Foot), an outfit dedicated to training journalists to improve the quality of their journalism and to defend freedom of expression.
 

The Price of Digital Rights

Internet companies and telcos are not particularly good at disclosing policies on freedom of expression and privacy. On a long-term basis, this could dent their sales.
 
Last summer, as electoral debates were heating up in America, anti-Hillary voters in possession of iPhones could find a facetious method to vent their fury against the Democratic candidate for how negligently she handled her emails. HillAwry, a game developed by John Matze from Base10 company, was made available by Apple on its iPhones. The goal of the game was “to collect as much money through email donations as possible while maintaining a decent approval rating in the polls.”
 

Helena Bengtsson: Bringing People Back to Facts, Our Biggest Challenge

Interview with Helena Bengtsson of the Guardian in Britain, previously the database editor at Sveriges Television, Sweden’s national television broadcaster.
 
Helena Bengtsson is the editor of data projects at the Guardian newspaper in London, United Kingdom. She previously worked as the database editor at Sveriges Television, Sweden’s national television broadcaster. In 2006 and 2007, she was the database editor at the Center for Public Integrity in Washington, D.C. She has been awarded the Stora Journalistpriset (Great Journalism Award) in Sweden twice, in 2010 for Valpejl.se and in 2016 for Innovator of the Year.
 

Orban Launches Attack on Prominent University in Hungary

Hungarian government is poised to shut down the Central European University (CEU), George Soros’ key asset in the country.
 
The Ministry of Human Capacities in Budapest announced today that a number of universities are operating “illegally” in Hungary. Its representatives said that the government found “irregularities” in the operations of several foreign universities that operate in Hungary.
 

Telcos and Internet Companies, Bad at Informing People About Their Rights

The world’s telecom and internet behemoths are far from being transparent when it comes to users’ privacy. It’s time for them to improve.
 
The world’s most powerful telecommunications, internet, and mobile companies are mostly failing at informing consumers about their rights, according to Ranking Digital Rights Corporate Accountability Index
 

How Italy Wants to Slam Fake News: Use Fines and Prison

Italian lawmakers have reacted to the spread of fake news and misinformation with an authoritarian law. Far from solving the problem, though, it in fact creates even more.
 
A new strain of meningitis brought in by African immigrants ravages the country. Members of parliament pass a law setting up a “crisis fund” for their survival if they can’t find a job after completing their mandate. The icing on the cake: the Prime Minister urges Italians to “stop whining and start making sacrifices”.
 

Paul Myers: News Organizations Should Not Be Intimidated

Interview with BBC's Paul Myers
 
Paul Myers joined the BBC in 1995 as an information researcher. In time, with the growing significance of the internet, Mr Myers blended his technical knowledge with journalism. He has devised innovative strategies that have led researchers to evidence they would never have otherwise found. Today, Mr Myers heads up BBC Academy’s Investigation Support project. In the past, he has worked with leading BBC programs such as Panorama, Watchdog, Inside Out, BBC News and the BBC World Service.
 

News Media in Africa: The Big Boys on Facebook

Today, we released Facebook Index Africa, which ranks Africa-based news media according to how much of the local Facebook markets they control.
 
Big Boys on the Block
The African Facebook market is highly concentrated. Unlike other continents, Africa has a fair amount of dominant news outlets. More than 100 news outlets in our Facebook Index reach at least ten readers in their national market. The continent also boasts ten news media platforms with a score of over 50, meaning a reach of over half of the Facebook population in the markets they’re targeting.
 

Where Internet Grows Fast

Fast growth in connectivity and use of the internet in nations such as Myanmar, Malaysia and Algeria is all good news for independent journalism; and bad news for autocratic, corrupt governments.
 
St Kitts and Nevis is a small duo of islands in the Caribbean with a population of a mite under 55,000. That doesn’t include tourists, whose number is always higher than the local populace. The country rarely features in international news. When it does, it’s mostly the topic of travel articles and tourism fairs. The local bromide is “Rush Slowly.” That’s what visitors are advised at all times during their holiday in the islands.
 
But life on the islands is not that slack. Political brawls and politicians evicted from parliament, suspicious deals with money from the local treasury and the role of the country in a controversial citizen-by-investment program were just a few of the peppery stories that made it into the local media this year.
 

Monitoring and Killing Public Opinion Online: A Booming Industry in China

China has traditionally been a masterful manipulator of public opinion. It has finally perfected a system to weed out dissent on the internet, too.
 
Days before the inauguration of the American president-elect Donald Trump, bosses at Chinese media outlets received a list of instructions about how to cover this event. Journalists were ordered to use only reports written by the country’s central state media. The idea was to belittle the investiture of the boisterous American president, who has repeatedly pledged to abandon America’s “One China” policy, a promise that is irking the Chinese upper crust.
 
That is not unusual in a country where the media operates under the watchful eye of the state censorship machinery. Censorship is the norm in China. Directives on how to cover events and issues are common among China’s media and journalists.
 
In order to keep critics aligned, though, Chinese authorities have gone much further: they have turned monitoring of public opinion online into a round-the-clock industry. Its goal is to neuter the very object of monitoring: public opinion.
 

Latin American News Media: Who Is Big on Facebook?

Today, we released the Facebook Index Latin America, which ranks news media platforms from Latin America based on the number of Facebook followers compared to the size of their market.
 

Central America, Still Lagging Behind

In spite of high inequality and rampant poverty, which further contributed to the widening digital divide in Latin America, the internet has experienced accelerated growth. Some 55% of the inhabitants of Latin America used internet in 2015, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), a UN agency.
 

Public Media Must Finally Change

Critics of taxpayer funding for public media are on the rise; and for good reason. It’s time for public media to take their audience seriously.
 
Sieglinde  Baumert, 46, from the small town of Geisa, in the German region of Thuringia, last year became the first person ever sent behind bars for failing to pay the license fee. This is a tax that all German households are obliged to pay to finance the country’s public service media, namely the TV channels ARD and ZDF, and the German radio.
 
Ms Baumert was sentenced to six months in prison. In April last year she was released from jail after two months, as the German public broadcaster dropped the case against her.
 
Increasingly, Germans are caterwauling about legal provisions forcing all households in Germany to pay €17.50 (US$21) a month to keep the country’s radio and TV in business. They say that they should be free to decide what media they want to fund. In 2015, the agency collecting the license fee in Germany issued over 25 million warnings to households who failed to pay this fee, an increase of about 20% compared to the previous year.
 
But Germany is not an isolated case. Controversies over the funding of public media are rife elsewhere.
 

Malaysiakini Under Fire

Malaysia’s embattled government has already offed most of the critical journalistic outlets in Malaysia. Now, it has a new target.
 
When a prime minister has US$ 700m in his private bank account, you have a story. But in Malaysia, only a few publications dared to cover it. Malaysiakini, one of the most dauntless media outlets in Malaysia, did so.
 
That came with grave consequences.
 
Steven Gan, the head editor and co-founder of the online portal Malaysiakini, was charged on 18 November 2016 for “offensive” content in two videos aired online by the portal’s sister company, KiniTV. Local observers said that the move was aimed at spooking critical voices before an antigovernment demonstration that took place the following day in the country’s capital city Kuala Lumpur. The protest was led by a local group of foursquare pro-democracy activists.
 
But the charges against Mr Gan are part of a much bigger game. The country’s government has been feverishly clamping down on a wad of critical media in the past two years. Those who couldn’t be brought into line have been rubbed out one by one. Malaysiakini is probably the last credible independent news site still breathing.
 
Now, Malaysia’s prime minister Najib Razak is hell-bent on weeding them out, too.
 

Tamas Bodoky: Readers Pay for Our Investigative Journalism

Interview with Hungarian-born Tamas Bodoky, a Budapest-based investigative journalist and editor leading Atlatszo.hu. Co-founded back in 2011 by Mr Bodoky, Atlatszo is a watchdog NGO and investigative journalism center whose mission is to promote transparency and freedom of information in Hungary.
 
Besides investigative reports, Atlatszo (which means “transparent” in Hungarian) has built a reputation for being open to whistleblowers and for regularly filing freedom of information requests. If those requests are refused, it takes public authorities to court.
 
Atlatszo.hu operates a Tor-based anonymous whistleblowing platform (Magyarleaks) and a freedom of information request generator to be used by the general public (Kimittud). Through the Kimittud, over 5,000 freedom of information requests were filed in the past three years in Hungary. Atlatszo.hu also provides a blogging platform for other NGOs and independent media. Atlatszo.hu has received a spate of prestigious prizes in the past five years.
 
Mr Bodoky has been a journalist for two decades now, his previous stints including work at Index.hu and Magyar Narancs weekly. He was awarded a sheaf of prizes for journalistic excellence in his career.
 

Know the Power, Know the Media

Media and journalism are changing fast and so should the media research agenda.
 
Analyzing the role of social media in the recent elections in America, Farhad Manjoo wrote in the New York Times on 16 November 2016 that widespread misinformation online was a “primary factor in the race’s outcome.”
 
I would add that some mainstream media have equally (if not more so) contributed to that outcome. Worse, some of them wholeheartedly embraced that role.
 
Audiences drawn by coverage of Donald Trump have just been good for the business of television. Mr Trump drove ratings up and with them ad sales. The head of CBS TV station, Les Moonves boasted last February that all that coverage of Mr Trump “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” On top of corporate dollars, CBS and other major TV channels pulled in hefty revenues from political advertising. The cost of the 2016 U.S. elections was expected to reach an unprecedented US$11.4bn in political advertising and media buying, a significant jump from the US$7bn in the 2012 elections, according to data from the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) released earlier this year.

Theories of American Media Failure: A Post-Election Map

Everybody agrees that media helped, to a great extent, make Trump president. So what went wrong? The week after election day, theories about media failure flooded American public sphere. Minna Aslama summarizes them.
 
Everyone has become a political scientist today: the United States elections have sparked a cascade of theories about why few people within the country and abroad anticipated the outcome. Equally, many commentators, on TV or in the pub, claim that they saw it coming, but that no one listened to them.
 
Judging from the public debate in America and abroad after the elections, no other institution or phenomenon is as much to blame as the media for how badly informed the public was, which in the end was what led to the election of Donald Trump. When citizens, pundits, and the media themselves are all calling for the reinvention of quality journalism, reform of news organizations, and rethinking of social media algorithms, looking back and mapping the explanations of how it all went wrong is a useful, and in some ways cathartic, exercise.
 

Internet Is Censored in Two-Thirds of the World

Many believe the Internet equals freedom of information. Recently, that has been less and less the case.
 
Maung Saung Kha, a 23-year old poet from Myanmar, was relieved last May to hear that he would be released from prison. On 24 May 2016, Mr Saung Kha was sentenced to six months in jail for defaming Myanmar’s former president Thein Sein, but because he had already spent six months behind bars, he was freed the same day.
 
His crime: posting a poem on Facebook in which a newlywed was baffled to see a tattoo featuring Myanmar’s former president on her husband’s genitals. The husband in the poem was Mr Saung Kha. In other parts of the world, such a poem would trigger a smile. But in Myanmar, authorities took this seriously. Using provisions on defamation from the telecommunications law, they justified imprisonment of the young bard in the Insein jail near Yangon, Myanmar’s capital city.
 

Turkish Media: From Bad to Worse

After a decade of manipulations that ensure a cozy relationship between the press and the president, Erdogan is now overseeing a harsh crackdown that is closing media outlets and putting journalists in prison.
 
Last August, the Turkish government shut down Ozgur Gundem, a Kurdish daily newspaper. Police raided the newspaper’s headquarters and arrested more than 20 journalists. The closure was ordered by an Istanbul court, which found the newspaper was a “mouthpiece” of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is outlawed in the country.
 
The closure of Ozgur Gundem is only a small part of the Turkish government’s clampdown on media and journalism in the country, following the failed military coup in mid-July 2016.

Media Diet in Ukraine: Russian Social Media and Oligarch-Owned TV

Ukrainians trust Russian media less and are more aware than ever of who controls their local media. However, they still embrace Russian social networks and watch oligarchs-owned television.
 
In February 2015, I interviewed a top coastguard officer in the Ukrainian city Geniches’k, which is very close to the Russia-annexed Crimea. Before saying goodbye, he gave me his e-mail address to keep in touch. I was surprised when I saw that his electronic mailbox was registered on Mail.ru, one of the leading Russian email services.
 
He noticed my surprise and said: “Yes, yes, I know that it [the email address] should be changed, I’ll do it at some point.”
 
This happened after the annexation of Crimea by Russia, the hottest stage of the war in eastern Ukraine, and in spite of repeated appeals by the Security Service of Ukraine known as SBU since spring 2014 to refrain from using Russian social networks and online services. One of the reasons is that strict anti-terrorist laws in Russia allow local security institutions to get access to a trove of online information. If you use one of the Russian internet services and platforms, it’s likely that some of the authorities in Russia can see part of what you share or do online. It’s thus surprising that even the Ukrainian military ignores this request.
 
However, not only troops are doing this - many people in Ukraine still resort to Russian online services.

Is Donor Funding Bad for Journalism?

Funding from donors in the media has grown significantly during the past decade or so. Journalists welcome the charity. But when these awards come with editorial “advice”, we have a problem.
 
Thisisafrica.me is an online media outlet that brands itself as a “leading forum for African opinion, arts and music.” They cover a jumble of topics ranging from politics to corruption to sex and reproductive policies. The site publishes op-eds, interviews and investigations. Its journalism has been widely praised across the continent.
 
But in spite of its apparent popularity, Thisisafrica.me is in business mainly thanks to donor funding: cash doled out by foundations and deep-pocketed philanthropists. Without cash from donors, Thisisafrica.me wouldn’t exist. That is hardly surprising, especially on a continent ravaged by poverty where markets can rarely support high-quality journalism.
 
But over the past decade or so, as the internet and dwindling economies have clobbered mainstream media companies, funding independent journalism has become a major problem everywhere. Ad spend is down or spread to many more outlets than before. Newspaper circulations have dived. Journalists and media companies take funding from almost all kinds of givers, donors included. Even established media are increasingly resorting to private donors.

Hungary’s Main Opposition Newspaper Shut Down

Nepszabadsag’s publisher, Mediaworks announced that it has suspended the paper’s operations. This is arguably the biggest event in Hungary’s media history since the collapse of communism back in 1989.
 
Last Tuesday, the leftwing daily newspaper Nepszabadsag reported that Antal Rogan, known as the “minister of propaganda” in Hungary’s Viktor Orban government, travelled by a luxury helicopter to a wedding in Szabolcs county, northeast Hungary. Nepszabadsag published a raft of photographs featuring Mr Rogan and his wife, Cecilia and one of their children coming out of a helicopter and getting into a black Mercedes.
 
Mr Rogan denied these claims. He said that the newspaper must have confused him with somebody else. He also threatened to sue anybody who reported further on it. Mr Rogan reportedly went to the wedding of Zsofia Szabo, a local TV star, who is a friend of Cecilia Rogan. Mr Rogan must have spent some US$ 5,500 for the ride, according to information from the company that rented the chopper. That is a hefty sum in a country where average net salary is worth some US$ 600.

EU Helps Romanian Intelligence Agency to Officially Become Big Brother

Thanks to a generous EU grant, Romania’s controversial intelligence agency is mingling stocks of databases from the country’s public institutions to monitor people. That could hurt many, but in particular those critical to the authorities and their friends.
 
Imagine this: you go online in your office and with a mere click you find out that some journalists that you don't like have not paid their tax on income they have generated as freelancers. Next minute you can informally alert the tax office; or, worse, blackmail these journalists and ask them to kill a story on a sensitive topic that can affect you and your friends up in the state administration or elsewhere.
 
That could happen in Romania in no more than a couple of years as the Romanian Information Service (SRI), the nation’s intelligence agency, is building a system that will allow them to hoard data from all key state authorities and public institutions in the country.
 
Ironically, all this is being funded with European Union (EU) money. The SRI is using a hefty €31.5m (US$ 35.2m) from the EU to run this project, called SII Analytics. By 2018, the system should be ready to fly.

The Cuban Lesson: If You Want Free Access to Media, Use Hackers

Bad internet connections, pricey internet packages, censorship, suppressed freedom of expression and content blocking: this is Cuba. How come, then, Cubans are such a well-informed crowd? Hackers and offline social networking are the answer.
 
In the past, it was illegal to own a computer in Cuba; and it was hard to buy one. Because of the U.S. embargo on Cuba, imports of technology were blocked. But in a landmark decision in 2008 when Raul Castro took over the government from his brother Fidel, he allowed Cubans to have computers and cellphones.
 
Eight years later, Cuba boasts a vibrant media content-sharing culture. But these exchanges take place mostly offline. Content from international media, which are fully blocked by Cuba’s government, is feverishly shared through pen drives passed from one to another across the country. The government has turned a blind eye to this growing system of information distribution.
 
But how do these half-secret, real-life social networks of content distribution really work? The offline world is the answer.

Catalin Tolontan: How a Romanian Sports Reporter Turned Into a Bold and Audacious Muckraker

For Romanian-born Catalin Tolontan, the principle that has guided his journalistic work for the past 15 years has been to not  fear those about whom he is writing.
 
Nonetheless, when carrying out investigations, he doesn’t believe in individual courage, but rather in team tenacity. Mr Tolontan is one of the best-known sports journalists in Romania. He heads the Gazeta Sporturilor daily, and his investigations are published in the newspaper’s print and online editions as well as on his blog Tolo.ro. They have so far had a major impact in Romania, attracting the ire of both politicians and authorities.
 
One of Mr Tolontan’s latest investigations was a story about how hospitals illegally dilute disinfectants in Romania that he began to work on in spring 2016. The investigation led to the resignation of the country’s health minister. Known as the Hexi Pharma file, the case prompted the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) as well as the General Prosecutor’s Office to launch two lawsuits.
 

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