archives

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”.

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.

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.
 

Subtly Silenced by the Hungarian Government

The editor in chief of Budapest Business Journal is leaving the newspaper. Here, he explains why.
 
Along with passing a package of restrictive media laws and seeking to influence ownership of media outlets, Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party is also using bullying tactics and intimidation in its broad campaign to silence criticism of the government. As a recent victim of this subtle strategy, I have to admit that it seems to be working.
 
After being told to stop writing about politics in the editorial column, I resigned as editor in chief of the Budapest Business Journal. Fidesz can now expect criticism of its government to drop by about 1,200 words a month.
 

The Rise of Quality Propaganda in Ukraine: The Story of a Photo

A photo taken by an amateur photographer in the Ukrainian village of Shyrokyne reignites the debate on journalism in conflicted areas: should we stick to the facts or lie?
 
A huge explosion in the background, two soldiers supporting their wounded friend in the foreground, an empty baby carriage in the left corner near the ruins of someone’s house; and contrasting to this dramatic picture you have the blue summer sky of eastern Ukraine.
 
This impressive photo has become popular as an illustration of the failed ceasefire in the Ukrainian village of Shyrokyne where the Ukrainian army is constantly fighting with the pro-Russian separatists. Taken in June 2016, this photo was shared thousand of times by internet users. It was republished by many media and lobby group leaders such as renowned activists and war volunteers. The war volunteers are people who supply goods to the Ukrainian army. They have become very influential in society since the start of the war in 2014.
 
Taken by Dmytro Muravsky, a Ukrainian volunteer and former advisor to the defense ministry, this photo has also attracted heavy criticism from a group of Ukrainian photographers who work for Ukrainian and international media. They slammed Mr Muravsky in a public letter, accusing him of staging the picture.
 

Why Himal is Leaving Nepal

Himal has been in business for three decades. Now it is folding, and Nepal’s authorities have a problem.
 
The end of summer got very heated for Himal Southasian, an English in-depth journalism magazine covering the South Asia region from a newsroom in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital city. The publication announced that it would suspend operations by November 2016 after nearly three decades in business.
 
The closure was prompted by the failure of local authorities to process papers that would allow Himal Southasian to operate legally. More precisely, the Nepalese government prevented the magazine from accessing grants that they received from foreign donors. Organizations in Nepal that are funded by foreign entities have to apply to the authorities for a permit to access these funds. Only then can foreign groups wire cash to them.
 

How Kosovo’s Public Television Lost Its Luster

Built through an international assistance program, for many years Kosovo’s public broadcaster received kudos for its editorial coverage. Local politicians have spoiled that.
 
The building of the Radio Television of Kosovo (RTK) in Kosovo’s capital city of Pristina, and the private home of its Director General were targets of two separate hand grenade attacks in the last week of August. The attacks were a signal that the service is becoming a target, as Kosovo’s restive opposition subscribed to violent methods to block the government from approving important agreements on the road to further democratization.
 
A self-styled vigilante organization, whose alleged links to one of the leading opposition parties are being investigated, has claimed responsibility for the attacks. They were allegedly motivated by the one-sided approach of RTK in its coverage of domestic politics and the ongoing power struggle in the newly independent nation. The real motives, however, remain unknown and the incidents are still under investigation.
 

Paul Radu: Journalists Must Uncover the Media’s Masters

Interview with Paul Radu of Romania
 
Romanian-born investigative journalist Paul Radu manages the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and is co-creator of the Investigative Dashboard concept and of the RISE Project, a new platform for investigative reporters and hackers in Romania.
Mr Radu has been awarded several fellowships, including the Alfred Friendly Press Fellowship in 2001, the Milena Jesenska Press Fellowship in 2002 and the 2008 Knight International Journalism fellowship with the International Center for Journalists. In 2009-2010, he was a Stanford Knight Journalism Fellowship.
Mr Radu has also received numerous awards for his investigative work, including the Knight International Journalism Award in 2004, the Daniel Pearl Award for Outstanding International Investigative Reporting in 2011 and the 2015 European Press Prize.
He wrote about the theft of US$1bn from three Moldovan banks back in 2014, disputes over a number of murky deals involving purchase of forests in Romania, and the wealth of Russian cellist Sergei Roldugin, a close friend of president Vladimir Putin. Now, Mr Radu is working on several cross-border investigations into money laundering.
 
Q: How did you become interested in covering corruption?
Paul Radu: When digging deep into wrongdoing, investigative reporters will inevitably come across corruption. The fabric of wrongdoing is made of corruption acts, so I realized this is what I need to investigate to inform the public.
 

Western Balkans Public Media on Life Support

Public service broadcasters in the Western Balkans have become increasingly unaccountable to their audiences and tone deaf to their needs. At stake is the very legitimacy of public service broadcasting in the region.
 
Public service broadcasters in the countries of the Western Balkans – Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia – are in crisis.
 
In Bosnia & Herzegovina, the state-level public broadcaster BHRT announced in July 2016 that it would stop broadcasting its programs due to the lack of funding, highlighting the deep structural crisis of the public service broadcasting system in the country. The decision was later revoked; but the crisis remains.
 

What Happens When Media Oligarchs Go Shopping?

Mighty, politically well-connected oligarchs are in the mood for retail therapy, and their targets are media outlets. Their influence over journalism has begun to reach worrying levels.
 
Jack Ma of Chinese giant Alibaba, Rupert Murdoch of News Corp, Delyan Peevski from the tobacco maker Bulgartabak, Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris and Saudi prince Al-Waleed are all completely different businessmen. They look totally unalike and live in different places. One is obese, another one is skinny. One hails from Sofia, another one from Cairo. Their tastes are dissimilar.
 
But they also have some things in common: an unwonted wealth, close links with political power and a firm grip on much of the world’s media.
 
The issue of ownership concentration in the media is not new. It goes back to the 1980s and 1990s when some of the now old media moguls began to build their holdings. The rise of disrupting internet behemoths in the past decade or so was expected to dent into their power. It didn’t.

Pages