8 February 2017
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.
25 January 2017 By TechBrain
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.
19 January 2017 By Anna Orosz
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.
9 January 2017 By Primavera Tellez Giron G.
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.
2 January 2017 By Marius Dragomir
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$21) a month to keep the country’s radio and TV in business. They say that they should be free to decide what media they want to fund. In 2015, the agency collecting the license fee in Germany issued over 25 million warnings to households who failed to pay this fee, an increase of about 20% compared to the previous year.
But Germany is not an isolated case. Controversies over the funding of public media are rife elsewhere.
3 December 2016 By Marius Dragomir
Malaysia’s embattled government has already offed most of the critical journalistic outlets in Malaysia. Now, it has a new target.
When a prime minister has US$ 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.
24 November 2016
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.
30 November 2016 By Marius Dragomir
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.
15 November 2016 By Minna Aslama
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.
10 November 2016 By Marius Dragomir
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.
27 October 2016 By Marius Dragomir
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.
19 October 2016 By Daria Taradai
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.
15 October 2016 By Marius Dragomir
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.
8 October 2016
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.
29 September 2016 By Marius Dragomir
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.
20 September 2016
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.
19 September 2016 By Tom Popper
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.
12 September 2016 By Daria Taradai
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.
6 September 2016 By Marius Dragomir
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.
2 September 2016 By Naser Miftari
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.
24 August 2016
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.
17 August 2016 By Davor Marko
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.
11 August 2016
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.
12 August 2016
Newly released information from the investigation in the case of Sky News report on illegal arms trafficking in Romania points to a massive journalistic flub. The “arms dealers” in the Sky News report were a TV employee and two hunters.
The Romanian Directorate for Organized Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT) made the first arrest in the case of illegal arms trafficking in Romania exposed by Britain’s TV news channel Sky News. He is Attila Szaba Pantics, one of the people who appeared in the Sky News’ video as a gun dealer. He is accused of “spreading false information.”
The other two Romanians who appeared in the Sky News report, Aurelian Mihai Szanto and Levente Pantics, are also under investigation. DIICOT’s officials also want to extend their accusations to the British journalists from Sky News who produced the report, according to the Romanian news agency Agerpres.
By Marius Dragomir 9 August 2016
Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban has been quietly gaining control over a media empire, especially TV assets, with the help of oligarchs fighting to win government contracts; but ahead of general elections set for 2018, the ongoing war between him and former ally media mogul Lajos Simicska threatens to bring the fascist Jobbik party to power – and squash independent media.
Lajos Simicska, one of Hungary’s wealthiest media and construction moguls, is said to be in the cards to buy the online news server Index.hu. In the past several months, Mr Simicska has been frantically restructuring his media empire, shedding some outlets and shopping around for new ones.
The reason? Mr Simicska is hell-bent to skunk Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban in the national elections scheduled to take place in 2018. He knows that having an arsenal of strong news media can make it happen.
10 August 2016
In a report aired last Sunday, British broadcaster Sky News claimed that "gun dealers in Romania are willing to sell illegal weapons to anyone, including terrorists." It turns out that the "gun dealers" who appeared on camera are a group of ordinary Romanians who were paid by journalists to pretend they were weapon sellers.
A recent investigation in Romania carried out by British journalists with the Sky News TV channel was deemed as fake by local authorities, according to the Romanian Directorate for Organized Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT).
Following searches in the counties Bistrita Nasaud and Targu Mures, the Romanian antiterrorism inspectors found that the Sky’s report into gun dealers who illegally sell weapons in Romania was a setup devised by the Sky News journalists. The so-called gun dealers were paid to pretend on camera that they were selling guns, according to Euractiv.ro.
By Daria Taradai 1 August 2016
The lack of definitive rules of engagement and professional standards for Ukrainian public media covering a quintessential topic of national interest – the ongoing war against Russian-backed separatists – also raises questions of self-censorship.
Among the heralded achievements of the Ukrainian Revolution of Dignity, the mass protests in 2014 that led to the ousting of Ukraine’s then president Viktor Yanukovych, was the emergence of two public broadcasters.
However, neither of them, in fact, fits the classic concept of the public media. One was created by journalists as a bottom-up initiative, and is still in the process of reforming. The other is being built by the government on the structure of the Ukrainian state TV and radio corporation. Both still fall short of international standards.
27 July 2016 By Marius Dragomir
Researchers point to clear and consistent bias on the main BBC bulletins in favor of critics of Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn following a wave of shadow cabinet resignations after the UK decided to leave the EU.
The BBC, the U.K.’s flagship broadcaster, has been for decades a model of inspiration for other public media supporters across the globe. The public broadcaster was lauded for its governing structure, which prevented political interference, and for its funding model, which ensures stable, long-term financing. But above all, the BBC garnered kudos for its unbiased, objective, fact-anchored reporting – a paragon of independent journalism.
In recent years, however, the BBC has come under increased critical scrutiny for its slanted coverage. A recent study by the Media Reform Coalition (MRC) and Birkbeck, University of London, browbeat the British broadcaster for its “consistent bias” against Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party.
The study’s findings are worrisome not so much because of the target of the bias, an opposition politician, but for how the BBC is performing its public service media role.