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South African Public Broadcaster Rocked by Political Brawls

South Africa’s public broadcaster is going through yet another crisis as the government gears up for elections. The scandal may cost the broadcaster hefty audiences.
 
The resignation last June of Jimi Matthews, the head of South Africa’s public broadcaster SABC, didn’t shock many in the country. The public broadcaster has been ravaged by such crises for decades now.
 
But the crisis that Mr Matthews’ departure has triggered is now expected to deliver a much bigger blow to SABC than the government, which has much to do with this resignation, expects.

America’s Advertising Agencies Funnel Ad Cash to Their Own Media

Ad agencies in America have been increasingly buying stock in media companies to secure slots for their clients’ ads. Nothing would be wrong with that if they remembered one thing: to tell their clients, the advertisers, what they actually own.
 
Back in the old days, the advertising sales unit and the newsroom in major independent newspapers were two separate departments. Sometimes people in the two parts of the newspaper wouldn’t even be allowed to meet. The idea was to insulate the newsroom from the pressures of some advertising agencies who wanted inches of flattering coverage in exchange for spending ad dollars in the newspaper. The ultimate goal was to secure independent reporting.
 
Those days are gone. Advertisers, ad agencies and media companies collude more than ever these days.

Trust in Journalists and News Media Sinks to New Lows

The news media industry has been faced with a profound crisis for more than a decade now, and peoples' dwindling trust in journalists has much to do with it.
 
May was a nightmarish month for the 500 staff of Mega, the oldest privately owned channel in Greece, as the station was faced with closure following mounting debts, mostly to banks. In the end, the three families that control the channel - Psiharis, Bobolas and Vardinogiannis - agreed to increase Mega’s capital to save the channel from bankruptcy.
 
But the Mega crisis is illustrative of a much bigger problem that Greek journalism has been facing for years: the collusion between media and politics. Most of the country’s mainstream media was established by businessmen merely as PR channels for their other companies. Politicians don’t touch them as they enjoy the positive coverage; and owners fund the media through profits made in other companies.
 
It doesn’t come as a surprise, then, to see Greece at the bottom of the heap when it comes to trust in news organizations and journalists. Only one in five trust the news in Greece and a paltry 11% trust journalists, according to a survey run in 26 countries worldwide by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ).
 
Greece is not alone. Journalism has a growing trust problem in many other places.
 

CNN Teams up With Crony-Backed Media in Myanmar

Myanmar is set to have its first modern all-news television channel. Its designers are CNN and a local crony.
 
Back in 2011, the United States Campaign for Burma (USCB), a lobby group from America, asked the U.S. government to impose sanctions against 42 people who allegedly supported the military junta regime in Myanmar. They argued that generals, their families and cronies reap massive profits from a bevy of industries and save them in offshore accounts.
 
The list included bigwigs from banks, mining companies, construction and trade businesses.

How Media Has Become Netanyahu & Co in Israel

Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is becoming hypersensitive to his critics. He's figured out how to solve the problem: bring all media into line.
 
On 18 September 2016, Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is going to a court in Tel Aviv to convince jurors to order Igal Sarna, a journalist for Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, to pay him nearly US$ 73,000 in a libel suit lodged by Mr Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, last March.
 
The dispute was triggered by a note posted by Mr Sarna on his Facebook page the same month, in which he alleged that Mrs Netanyahu, angry with her husband, kicked him out of the premier official car on a central highway. Mr Sarna didn’t cite any source for his allegations. He later responded laconically on his Facebook page that the lawsuit was being “taken care of.”
 

How to Neuter Critical Media in Eastern Europe: Buy Them an Ad

The integrity and independence of journalism is in dire straits in eastern Europe. The preferential distribution of state advertising has had to do with much of this.
 
Celebrating 175 years of existence last year, Turkey’s leading telecom provider, Turk Telekom, organized a glamorous reception in Ankara, the nation’s capital city, attended by many of the country’s bigwigs. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan came in person to congratulate the telco’s chairman Mohammed Hariri for the company’s “exceptional service” to Turkey.
 
But the party was only a sprinkling in the company’s anniversary budget. On top of it, and other things, Turk Telekom splurged in 2014 on a massive advertising campaign ballyhooing its then upcoming anniversary. However, this spending spree turned out to be a rather clever political maneuver instead of a usual corporate stint. Data from Nielsen Company AdEx, which monitors ad spending in Turkey, show that Turk Telekom doled out some US$ 63m to 16 pro-government media outlets. Opposition newspapers such as Zaman, BirGun or Cumhuriyet didn’t receive a dime.

Middle East: Online Conversation Moves out of Facebook and Twitter

Uncomfortable with the government’s aggressive snooping, internet users in the Middle East are increasingly beginning to move their discussions to more impervious chatrooms.
Last summer, the Saudi Arabian government stunned internet freedom activists, and others, when they announced new legal provisions that allow the naming and shaming of offenders of the kingdom’s anti-cyber crime law. The law enables authorities to throw people who produce, prepare, distribute and even store content that “impinges” on public order, religious values and “public morals” via the internet into jail.
 
As if that was not sufficient, the same law allows the naming and shaming of those found guilty of these offenses. In a region like the Middle East where individual reputation is a cornerstone of societal value, naming and shaming has the potential to be even more intimidating than rotting in a Saudi quod. Local observers saw these legal provisions as another step towards stifling criticism by the local authorities, through such a powerful social deterrent.
 

Czech News Website Motejlek in Disarray After Founder’s Decamping

The Czech server Motejlek.com is a rare success story of paid online news. The departure of its founder is likely to harm the site - and, to some extent, independent journalism, too.
 
The founder and  head of the Czech business news website Motejlek.com, journalist Miroslav Motejlek, quit at the end of April, dealing a blow to the profitable website whose exclusive content, available only to paying customers, has been based mostly on information from his sources.
 
The website, which Mr Motejlek launched in 2008, is a rare success story of paid online news in this Central European country where most publishers, struggling amid a glut of free information on the internet, are reluctant to charge for content, fearing readers would opt for free alternatives.

Why Indian Politicians Buy Cable Operations

India’s cable industry is a buoyant market. Much of that is in the hands of local politicians who use cable companies to reach their constituencies, stave off unfavorable reporting or to influence regulation. The situation is not at all kosher; but nobody seems to be concerned.
 
In 2011, an investigative TV documentary on illegal iron ore mining in Bellary, situated north of India’s IT city of Bangalore, Karnataka, was aired by CNN-IBN, a leading English news channel. The documentary was blacked out on local cable networks in seven districts in Karnataka, including Bellary. The cable network in this mining town, called DEN Bellary City Cable, was then partly-owned by Bellary Sreeramulu, former minister in the state government and a business associate of the three Reddy brothers (Karunakara, Janardhana and Somashekara), who owned several mines in the area, besides being ministers in several governments in Karnataka.
 

TV News Stations Are Now Old News

As massive batches of viewers, particularly young ones, give up watching traditional TV, the broadcasting business is rapidly crumbling. For television news stations, that is a very bad omen.
 
When direct-broadcast satellite provider Dish Network launched  Sling TV in February last year, it was eying those swathes of viewers able and willing to pay for television, but not the fat bill that pay-TV companies send their subscribers at the end of the month. For a monthly fee of US$20, Americans can access a bouquet of TV channels anywhere and on any device through Sling TV, including mobile devices and computers. They don’t have to install a hulking antenna or satellite dish on the roof of their house.
 
In mid-April 2016, Dish Network threatened that it would cut its viewers’ access to the cable channels operated by Viacom. Dish Network was reportedly irked by requests from Viacom for an unreasonable increase (“millions of dollars,” according to Dish Network) in fees for carrying Viacom-owned channels such as MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon in spite of the decreasing audiences of these channels. In the end, they reached a deal.
 
The Sling TV venture and Dish-Viacom tussle are more than business as usual. They epitomize the jouncy ride the television business is having these days; not only in rich markets like the U.S., but increasingly, everywhere. The reason: consumers, particularly ballooning young audiences, have stopped watching the television diet fed to them on TV sets.
 
That is good news for some of the fast-growing online video providers. But for the television news industry, it practically means its demise.

Reviving Greek Journalism With AthensLive

The pathetic state of Greek journalism is not a mystery to anyone anymore. The number of disgruntled readers looking for fresh journalism is growing and stories from Greece aimed at foreign audiences are poor or slanted. Now, AthensLive wants to change all of that.

Tassos Morfis, Angelos Christofilopoulos, Yannis Drakoulidis and Gerry Domenikos are a group of journalists and photographers living in Athens who have, in the past few years, grown increasingly frustrated with the state of Greek journalism, but also with the quality of news that comes out of Greece to the broader, international public.
 
“The year 2015 was a very turbulent year for Greece,” says Mr Morfis in a presentational video. “We had elections twice with a radical left government getting elected, we almost got kicked out of the eurozone, we had a referendum and now we are dealing with a huge refugee influx.”
 
But that is all already known.
 

The Middle East: Have You Been Watching?

As online video consumption skyrockets in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, power holders are desperately looking for smart blocking tools. But the audiences they fight against are hard to stop unless internet giants agree to play the censorship game.
 
Tzipi Hotovely, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, made headlines last December when she traveled to Silicon Valley to meet with executives from Google to negotiate ways to block videos posted by Palestinians on YouTube, the video sharing platform owned by Google. The visit followed complaints by the Israeli government that some of these videos incite Palestinians to carry out attacks on Israelis. 
 
Ms Hotovely claimed that she was victorious. After the meeting, she said that Google joined Israel in the fight “against incitement”, something that Google denied. But whatever the real agreement was, the Israel-Google meeting speaks volumes about the growing interest and anxiety politicians and governments in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have been showing when it comes to online videos.
 
The reason? A massive increase in online video consumption in the region, particularly on YouTube.

Reform of Myanmar’s Media System: Bracing for a Slow Ride

Local journalists are investing much hope in the newly installed power in Myanmar to reform the country’s media system. But that will be a gargantuan task. Manny Maung argues that it will happen, but slowly.
 
Myanmar has for the first time in five decades sworn in an elected president without military ties. The  road towards democracy has been somewhat flawed, but this marks a significant turn of events from authoritative military rule which the country endured for more than 50 years.
 
Myanmar’s newest president, Htin Kyaw, was until recently a diminutive public figure. The 69 year- old former school friend of Aung San Suu Kyi is seen as a “proxy” president, who she says will act in her place. Aung San Suu Kyi herself cannot step into the top job as a clause in the constitution bans politicians with foreign family members from the presidency – her two sons are British. 

Big Brother is Getting Smart

In George Orwell’s 1984, telescreens could capture any sound “above the level of a very low whisper.” Today, that gadget exists. For independent journalism, smart TV is not necessarily bad news: provided it’s not found its way into the wrong hands. 
 
Imagine this: you and your wife sitting comfortably in your living room watching the primetime newscast, followed maybe by an evening series and then a late night political talkshow to learn more about who’s fighting in the upcoming mayoral elections. You might loudly curse a politician you see on one of these programs, go to the loo during a commercial break and frown when you learn from the TV that the government is imposing yet another tax on your income. 
 
These days, if you have a smart TV, which is increasingly common in many countries, you will not be alone in your room. Not only all the words coming out of your mouth, but also your angry face and the short trip to the john are likely to morph into data parcels that are shipped instantly to companies listening and watching at the other end of the pipe, which at the moment are mostly marketers and ad shops. Smart TVs, in some technologists’ view, are the final frontier for real-time interactivity. But how are they going to change journalism, news consumption and delivery? 
 
The impact there is going to be massive and come in totally unanticipated forms.
 

Government Removes All Critical Voices From Croat Public Broadcaster

Shortly after grabbing the country’s political helm, Croatia’s government has begun brashly purging institutions of whomever is not their friend. The public broadcaster HRT is one of their more prominent victims.
 
Croatia’s public service broadcaster, Croatian Radiotelevision (Hrvatska Radiotelevizija, HRT), has undergone many crises in the past two and a half decades, like many of the public service broadcasters in the region. Now, many of its renowned journalists are being removed. This and other editorial changes and shifts at HRT are triggered solely by the change of government, which shows that HRT is far from being a true public service broadcaster.
 
Although it is financed through fees charged on taxpayers, HRT is not close to its public, but serves mainly as a weapon in political power games.

Donald Trump: New Media Success, or Old Media Problem?

The Donald may be master of the Twitter-verse, but his influence extends at least as much from the structural contradictions of old media campaign coverage.
 
A year ago, experts were saying Donald Trump had little chance of winning the Republican nomination for the U.S. presidency. A political outsider, he was an insult-prone, ticking time bomb who had never held political office; he exhibited not just ignorance of but contempt for the basic knowledge required for running the country, and he lacked the support of the party hierarchy.
 

The Romanian Public Television on the Brink of Insolvency

The Romanian public service broadcaster has undergone scores of crises in the past two and a half decades. But now, talk about its insolvency is starting to get serious. The decision-makers’ obsession with the politics involved rather than the reality is likely to provide the last nail in Romanian public media’s coffin.
 
Managed by an interim board of directors and with debts of almost €160m (US$216.5m) at the end of 2014, the Romanian public television Televiziunea Romana (TVR) is closer to collapse than ever.
 

How Indalo Group Used Taxpayers’ Money to Buy More Media

A journalistic investigation unearths a raft of favors the former Argentinian government made to the group Indalo. But it also highlights an unsettling pattern of tradeoffs and favors between mighty media moguls and state institutions.
 
In their past four years in power, the Kirchner regime in Argentina allowed the businessman Cristobal Lopez to get away with accruing some US$550m (something close to ARS 8bn in local currency) in debts. The money was owed to the Federal Public Revenue Administration (AFIP), Argentina’s fiscal administrator. That debt is unlikely to be paid in the near future, according to an investigation from the Argentinian newspaper La Nacion, which analyzed a bevy of balance sheets from Indalo, the group controlled by Mr Lopez and his business partner Fabian De Sousa.
 

 
The debt consists of taxes on gasoline that Oil Combustibles, one of Indalo’s companies, failed to pay to the state. For each ARS 14 per liter of gasoline sold, Oil Combustibles was supposed to transfer some ARS 4 to AFIP. 
 
It didn’t do so. 
 

Macedonia's Digital Muck-Up: Politics as Usual Means "No TV for You!"

Digitization of broadcasting was hoped by many in Macedonia to pave the way for new voices to enter the media market. Instead, a digital dictatorship was established.
 
The 35 residents of the village Novo Selo, in Demir Hisar municipality in southwestern Macedonia, do not have much choice on their TV sets. They learn about what is happening beyond their homesteads solely from the three channels aired by the country’s public broadcasting service, MRTV, including one parliamentary channel showing essentially what lawmakers discuss in Skopje, the country’s capital city.
 
People invested in new devices in anticipation of what was supposed to be a digital revolution. As of 1 June 2013, households with older models of TV sets in Macedonia had, in fact, to buy new devices to be able to capture TV signals as, according to the state plan for digital migration, transmission in analog signal was discontinued. In short, without a new device set owners would not have been able to watch TV anymore.
 
In Macedonia, a country in which most mainstream media are strictly controlled  by the government, many people dreamed about what digital TV would bring them: not only new ways to search for programs, sparkling TV images and even the opportunity to shop online, but what swathes of viewers are missing most: more voices on television and better journalistic content.
 
But the people in Novo Selo are still denied even minimal benefits of digitization. And they are not alone.

Asian Telcos, the Poorest at Reporting on Anti-corruption

Telecom behemoths drive technology advancement and help to grow the digital economy. But many of them have serious problems with reining in corruption. Asia leads in that category. 

Chang Xiaobing, the chairman of the telco China Telecommunications Corp (China Telecom), came under investigation last December under suspicion of serious disciplinary violations, which in the local legal lingo usually means corruption-related crimes. Mr Chang is the highest-ranking official from the country’s telecom industry to date being investigated for corruption.

But that was not the first corruption investigation case in the Chinese telecom sector. In November 2014, two top executives from China United Network Communications Group (China Unicom), the second largest telco in China by number of subscribers, came under investigation for a slew of legal violations.
 

Slovak Prime Minister Wins Less Than Expected, Votes Go to Neo-Nazis

Slovakia’s election was not short of surprises with some gaining more votes and some less than expected. Prime-minister Robert Fico eventually won the election but with fewer votes than he anticipated. Overall, his party Smer-SD gained roughly 29% of the votes, according to the nearly complete results.
The big surprise was the far-right People’s Party Our Slovakia, which won seats in Parliament for the first time. Mr Fico, a leftist, nationalist prime minister with a harsh anti-migrant rhetoric, lost much of his expected support and made it easier for the far-right party, led by Marian Kotleba, to be represented in Parliament after gaining more than 8% of the vote. Mr. Fico is in a real pickle now, as he will be forced to form a new government that is likely to be very divided. No fewer than eight parties are likely to be represented in it. Slovakia will take over EU presidency in July 2016.
 
 
Related stories
 
2 March 2016
 

Analytics in the Newsroom: Just How Powerful Can They Become?

The use of data and analytics to track audience behavior is becoming increasingly more central in newsrooms around the world. A data-informed approach, once associated with brands like BuzzFeed or Gawker, is now making inroads in organizations like the Guardian, Die Welt or the BBC. But significant gaps remain in how different newsrooms use analytics for editorial purposes. 
 
A new study by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism analyzes how a range of different newsrooms across Europe and North America are developing their use of analytics – systematic analysis of quantitative data on audience behavior – as part of the battle for attention. 
 
The first and most evident sign of the rise of analytics in newsrooms around the world is the spread of tools to track audiences. Many newsrooms employ some sort of off-the-shelf tools and gather real-time traffic insights, which they often use in an ad-hoc manner to help increase day-to-day traffic and reach.
 
In many cases though, this generic approach – focused on short-term optimization goals - pretty much summarizes the organization’s analytics strategy. 
 

Prime Minister’s War With Critical Journalists Puts off Slovak Voters

The Social-Democrat party Smer-SD in power in Slovakia now expects another victory in the upcoming elections on Saturday. But its leader’s unabated nastiness towards critical journalists might cost them some votes. 
 
Prostitutes, crooks, idiots, hyenas: this is what the incumbent prime minister of Slovakia, Robert Fico, has repeatedly called those journalists who dared to ask him critical questions. The best that Slovak journalists could ever expect from Mr Fico at news conferences was to ignore a question and turn to another journalist. 
 
But Mr Fico’s bumptiousness and refusal to talk to some media seem to irk an increasing number of Slovaks, even those who support him and were planning to give him a vote on 5 March 2016.

China Plans to Push out Foreign Owners From Its Internet

Chinese authorities have never liked dissenting voices. Now, they want to solve that problem by removing foreign players from their internet. This would be a major blow for international news producers.
 
The Chinese government traditionally doesn’t cope well with critical voices and has done all they can to fence opinionated people off of its internet. But as of next month Chinese authorities seem poised to purge their online space of all foreign players, according to a new set of rules adopted by the country’s industry and IT ministry, which are to take effect on 10 March 2016.
 
 
The move has triggered anxiety amongst some of the larger international media groups that operate in China, as they have pumped hefty investments into building their businesses there. Essentially, if these rules are implemented verbatim, foreign-owned companies with operations on the Chinese internet have to pack up and go. These include news media outlets, entertainment companies, gaming sites and publishers.
 

The Constitutional Issues Behind Apple iPhone Dispute: Individuals’ Freedom Is at Stake

Is it right for Apple to refuse a government’s request to create software to snoop into a terrorist’s phone? Three legal experts say it was the right call. Doing otherwise would have set a dangerous precedent.
 
A lot of noise has been made about the open letter Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO sent after the US government requested the Cupertino company's help to decrypt a terrorist’s smartphone.
 
More than one constitutional issue is at stake.
 

Myanmar's Government Hints About Closure of State-Run TV Are Merely an Odd Hoax

Many media observers were discombobulated when a state official hinted that Myanmar’s state-run TV could be shut down. But that’s just part of an outlandish government gambit to confuse people and, if possible, garner more support.
 
Media experts and journalists were left dumbfounded when last Sunday an official of the information ministry in Myanmar insinuated at a powwow of ethnic media groups in Arakan state that the country’s state broadcaster Myanmar TV (MRTV) would or could be dismantled. If MRTV is dissolved, then ethnic media will suffer, said U Tint Swe, a permanent secretary at the ministry.
 
The state has been pumping hefty cash in the past few years into strengthening its mouthpiece, as MRTV is known. Why would the government want to shut it down now?

The Most and Least Affordable Internet: From the U.K. to the Central African Republic

Journalists are now able to reach billions of people all over the world. But for many people in the global south, consuming their products is an extremely costly venture.
 
There has been no major journalism or media event in recent years without the word “digital” on the agenda. Digital gurus evangelize journalists about how easily they now can reach people anywhere in the world.
 
There is no doubt that journalistic content, bad or good, in today's age makes it to unknown corners of the world and reaches larger swathes of readership than ever before. And there is no doubt that the internet has hobbled vast parts of media industries.
 
But how many people can, in fact, surf the internet ad infinitum is a different story. The most connected people today are in places where journalism is facing the fewest problems (although it still goes through painful changes), and, ironically, they pay the least for their internet connection.
 
Elsewhere, the internet remains a significant cost for its users and in many countries in the global south it’s a luxury.
 

Bracing for Elections, Iran’s Government Wants to Hire an Internet Censoring Company

Back in 2013, Iran didn’t meddle with the internet before the presidential elections because they knew people liked the then would-be president Rouhani. But now, two weeks before parliamentary elections, the country’s government wants to hire a company to fence critical voices out. This is a bitter reminiscence of the 2009 government clampdown on dissenting voices, on- and offline.
 
While almost 50% of the top 500 visited websites worldwide, including Facebook and YouTube, are already blocked in Iran, the country’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology has recently launched a tender to select a company that would do smart filtering of social media. 
 

Controversial Businessman Vlad Plahotniuc Buys Two More TV Stations in Moldova

Controversial entrepreneur Vlad Plahotniuc has gained control over two more media outlets, namely the TV stations CTC Moldova and Super TV, according to Agora.md. The deal was sealed at the beginning of 2016. The local broadcast regulator has confirmed that the deal was concluded.
 
CTC Moldova and Super TV were acquired by the company Real Radio, company owned by Dorin Pavelescu. Mr Pavelescu has business links with Mr Plahotniuc, according to a recent investigation from RISE. Mr Pavelescu is the head of the advertising agency Casa Media Plus, which is headquartered at the same address as  General Media Group, Mr Plahotniuc’s media conglomerate. General Media Group owns Public TV, Prime TV, Canal 2 and Canal 3.
 
Related stories
4 February 2016 By Victor Gotisan
 
 

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