Annual Press Freedom Index

Canada ranked 18th on this year’s annual press freedom index from Reporters Without Borders. Along with Germany, it was one of only two G8 countries to make the list’s top 20.

Most of the countries deemed to have the best freedoms are in Europe, with Iceland at the top. The U.S. ranked 48 (immediately behind Nicaragua), and the press-rights group criticized the U.S. for the the detention of Al-Jazeera’s Sudanese cameraman, Sami Al-Haj, since 2002 at the military base of Guantanamo. France was ranked at 31, and Britain at 24.

The countries at the bottom of the list, deemed the least-free, are China, Burma, Cuba, Iran, Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea.
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Americas press freedoms eroding

Media freedom is increasingly under attack in the Western Hemisphere, especially in Mexico, Venezuela and Colombia, said the Inter American Press Association. At least 13 employees of media organizations were killed and two disappeared in the past six months in the Western Hemisphere, said the association, which promotes free expression in the Americas.

The group is holding its 63rd General Assembly in Miami, and will release its full report Oct. 16. An Associated Press story from the opening session Oct. 14 is here.
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Pro Publica to be a new form of investigative journalism

A longtime editor of the Wall Street Journal is creating a new kind of journalism, backed by a couple of wealthy donors. Paul Steiger is forming a group of investigative journalists who will give away their work to media outlets. “The plan is to do long-term projects, uncovering misdeeds in government, business and organizations,” said today’s story in the New York Times.

The entity will be called Pro Publica, and it’s the creation of Herbert M. and Marion O. Sandler, political Democrats and former chief executives of a U.S. financial company. They have committed $10 million a year to the project, with smaller amounts from other sources. That will fund, said the Times story, a newsroom in New York City with a large staff of 24 investigative journalists and a dozen other employees.

UPDATE: Slate’s Jack Shafer has some strong opinions on the funders/founders of Pro Publica whose past attitude to a free press has been, well, less than respectful, he suggests. His solution?

If I were a newspaper editor considering ProPublica copy for a future issue, the first thing I’d want is proof of a firewall preventing the Sandlers and other funders from picking—or nixing—the targets of its probes. And if I were an editorial writer, I’d call upon Herbert Sandler to provide ProPublica with 10 years of funding ($100 million), and then resign from his post as the organization’s chairman so he’ll never be tempted to bollix up what might turn out to be a good thing.
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Racial journalism in America: “retelling folk tales”

There have been many calls on blogs, journalism sites and various public speakers for more, not less, stories about the so-called Jena 6 (six Americans involved in an incident of noose-hanging then beatings). The issue struck me as not critical to Canadians especially just now, with so many other big issues here and around the world and a dearth of space and time. However today’s thoughtful essay in the New York Times about media coverage of the affair, “Racial Crisis? Or Just Rope in the Hands of Fools,” is I think relevant, and to everyone in modern media. An excerpt:

There are few historic moments as honored and ingrained in the American psyche as those from the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, but how much they translate to the current moment is far less clear. So maybe the product relaunch of the noose as an odious signifier of hate speech bespeaks something fundamentally askew in the national psyche.

And maybe it’s just the distorting mirror of the never-ending media cavalcade, where any moron with a Sharpie and a length of cord from Home Depot can make a statement heard round the world.

“One theory about media is that it’s not so much telling the news as it is retelling old folk tales,” said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. “The idea should be to put facts in context, not to put them into familiar arrangements that reinforce old attitudes.”

See also Jena six case: What’s fact?
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China increasing Internet censorship: AP report

An Associated Press story takes a look at increased surveillance and censorship in China in the lead-up to the Communist Party Congress next week. “”For China’s 162 million web users, surfing the Internet can be like
running an obstacle course with blocked websites, partial search
results, and posts disappearing at every turn,” said the story by reporter Alexa Olesen. The piece also looks briefly at how one blogger, who is also a lawyer, is suing his Internet Service Provider over censorship. An excerpt:

In the lead-up to the sensitive Communist Party Congress, which convenes Monday to approve top leaders who will serve under President Hu Jintao through 2012, authorities have been casting an even wider net than usual in their search for web content they deem to be politically threatening or potentially destabilizing.

“What you see now is unprecedented,” said Xiao Qiang, director of the China Internet Project at the University of California, Berkeley. “They are forcing most of the interactive sites to simply close down and have unplugged Internet data centres. These are things they haven’t done before.”

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U.S. has detained AP Pulitzer winning photog for 18 months

American authorities have now detained Iraqi news photographer Bilal Hussein, who worked for the Associated Press and is a Pulitzer Prize winner, for 18 months.

The AP’s web site today has a special feature on Hussein, which includes a long list of links with comprehensive information:

The U.S. military in Iraq has imprisoned Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein since April 12, 2006, accusing him of being a security threat but never filing charges or permitting a public hearing. “We want the rule of law to prevail,” says AP President and CEO Tom Curley. “He either needs to be charged or released. Indefinite detention is not acceptable.” Military officials say that Hussein was being held for “imperative reasons of security” under United Nations resolutions. A Pentagon spokesman reiterated that stance Sept. 18. Hussein is a 35-year-old Iraqi citizen and a native of Fallujah. AP executives said an internal review of his work did not find anything to indicate inappropriate contact with insurgents, and any evidence against him should be brought to the Iraqi criminal justice system. Hussein began working for the AP in September 2004. He photographed events in Fallujah and Ramadi until he was detained.

Bilal Hussein is one of an estimated 14,000 people detained by the U.S. military worldwide — 13,000 of them in Iraq. They are held in limbo where few are ever charged with a specific crime or given a chance before any court or tribunal to argue for their freedom. In Hussein’s case, Curley and other AP executives say, the military has not provided any concrete evidence to back up the vague allegations they have raised about him. 

 Reporters Without Borders is outraged. And the Committee to Protect Journalists is calling on the U.S. to release him.
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China’s Big Brother techniques

Reporters Without Borders and “Chinese Human Rights Defenders” says their new joint study “reveals how that country’s government censors the Internet and how the Internet Information Administrative Bureau controls the leading news websites.”

Reporters Without Borders calls China the world’s biggest prison for journalists and cyber-dissident. Reporters Without Borders also has a petition, announced in 2001, to boycott the 2008 games in Beijing.)

Also this week, Bob Dietz of the Committee to Protect Journalists gave a speech in which he called on the Chinese government to release the 29 journalists now imprisoned in China and to begin dismantling the country’s vast censorship system. Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, urged China and the International Olympic Committee to meet the free-press promises made when the 2008 Games were awarded to Beijing. The Games are less than a year away. Here’s a link to the speech, before the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

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Media concentration: the Irvings versus an upstart

Irving family companies control most of the media in New Brunswick. Now, they’re in court trying to stop an upstart from setting up a competing newspaper. CBC has a story about the case, and the Irving company’s complaint that a former publisher is using confidential information obtained while he worked for them to go into business. Excerpts:
A former newspaper executive with Brunswick News Inc. in western New Brunswick says the company is trying to prevent him from starting a competing title in Woodstock.

In court documents obtained by CBC News, Brunswick News alleges William Kenneth Langdon is using confidential information he obtained as one of their publishers to establish his own newspaper in direct competition with the Woodstock Bugle-Observer.

Langdon resigned on Sept. 19 after working as publisher of the Bugle-Observer for four years. He worked for Brunswick News, which is owned by J.D. Irving Ltd., for 10 years.    
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Rejigging the news for the Web

Today’s New York Times has a piece about how American broadcaster ABC is reshaping its news cast for the Internet. There are some differences, and some innovations. Excerpts:

Executives at the broadcast networks know they have opportunities online that they do not have on television — namely, to take chances by testing new forms of news delivery and new types of storytelling. They are also mindful that making their content relevant online is a good way to attract the younger audiences who are less likely to tune in to the evening news on television.

But ABC is the only major broadcast network that is using the staff of its evening newscast to produce a separate and distinct daily program for a Web audience. The 15-minute Webcast often features (Charles) Gibson in the anchor chair, but the similarities end there: the segments can run long, and they purposely look raw and personal, as if they were made for MTV rather than ABC.

Over the course of 20 months, the Webcast has evolved from a basic distillation of the day’s news into an original program that incorporates video blogs, first-person essays and interviews. It covers many of the same stories as its television sibling, but often in a different way: in one example, the day after President Bush announced gradual troop cuts in Iraq, Mr. Gibson was shown debriefing the network’s chief White House correspondent, Martha Raddatz, in the Webcast for a full 3 minutes and 20 seconds — an eternity on a half-hour television newscast.

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Screams of panic: the revolution in journalism

 “The screams from newsrooms are those of panic,” Jim Lehrer, the well known American public television anchor, told a group of university students at Northwestern. Journalism is going through an “unpleasant” revolution, he said — but argued that the demise of mainstream media may be exaggerated.

Lehrer is a guy usually worth listening to, imo.

Hat tip to Press Notes from the Society of Professional Journalists

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