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April 05 2010

23:39

Reporters Without Borders Issues 'Enemies of the Internet' List

On March 12, 2010, Reporters Without Borders celebrated World Day Against Cyber Censorship. The goal of the event was to rally everyone in support of a single Internet that is unrestricted and accessible to all. It is also meant to draw attention to the fact that, by creating new spaces for exchanging ideas and information, the Internet is a force for freedom. However, more and more governments have realized this and are reacting by trying to control the Internet.

Reporters Without Borders issued its latest list of Enemies of the Internet. This list points the finger at countries such as Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Tunisia that restrict online access and harass their netizens. A list of countries that have been placed "under surveillance" for displaying a disturbing attitude toward the Internet was also released. We can of course easily figure out that China and Iran will once again have one of the worse scores in terms of Internet freedom.

What Does Internet Enemy Mean?

Two main criterias have been selected to define a country as such. First, we count the number of netizens arrested, harassed or threatened in the past year. As of now, more than 100 of them are in jail because of their online activities. The biggest prison for cyber-dissidents by far is China, with 72 of them behind bars, mostly charged with "divulging state secrets abroad." The Chinese authorities have quickly forgotten that the Internet is supposed to have no geographical borders.

internet enemies.jpg

Then, RSF looks at the way that governments monitor the Internet and limit access. For example, Iran has been censoring millions of web pages and limiting the connection speed to make the information less accessible, especially when it comes to the protest movement after elections last year.

And this year, Reporters Without Borders also chose to award the first "Netizen Prize," with support from Google. The prize was awarded to the Iranian women's rights activists of the Change for Equality website, which has made a notable contribution to the defense of online freedom of expression. This is also a way to show that Internet firms are aware of the role they play abroad, especially in countries where the Internet access is restricted.

Google raised awareness of the issue when it announced that it would not censor its search engine results on Google.cn. But this decision also showed that Internet firms doing business in such repressive countries need protection from their own government. Another U.S. company, GoDaddy, announced during a U.S. Congressional hearing that it will stop selling websites with Chinese domain names (those ending in the .cn suffix) because of the controls being demanded by Chinese authorities.

What about the U.S.?

Besides the involvement of Internet firms in repressive countries that help local governments censor online information or restrict the access to it, the U.S. government is not reproach-free when it comes to online free speech.

First, the whole process of adopting a federal shield law to protect reporters' sources has slowed down because of a "blogger issue." The House version of the bill, adopted in April 2009, excludes many bloggers from its protection, limiting the shield to those who gather or report news "for a substantial portion of the person's livelihood or for substantial financial gain." The Senate version has oscillated, with amateurs getting cut in September 2009 and added back in November in a version that looks to the function of disseminating news to the public rather than pay status. And when the bill passed out of the Senate judiciary committee in December, there was an abortive attempt to take non-professionals out again, but it failed.

The U.S. also has had trouble protecting Net neutrality. It is a principle that advocates no online restrictions on content, sites or platforms; on the kinds of equipment that may be attached; on the modes of communication allowed; as well as communication that is not unreasonably degraded by other traffic. Although President Obama took a very clear stance on Net neutrality on February 1, saying that he was a "big believer in Net neutrality," the Obama administration and its allies at the Federal Communications Commission are retreating from a militant version of Net neutrality regulations. This Net neutrality issue, if not adopted, will directly affect the way the information is selected on the web and therefore accessible to the reader.

When it comes to Internet freedom, restricted online access is not necessarily linked to the most repressive regimes. Preserving online free speech and access to online information should be a top priority for the American government, as a pioneer of the Internet and its regulation.

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March 29 2010

18:12

Competition in Internet, Mobile Services Boosts Democracy

Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) such as the Internet and mobile phones are often recognized for their role in helping connect people and communities, and spread knowledge and information. People may be unaware, however, that they're also a powerful force for international development -- provided that they are not suffocated by regulation and censorship.

The ICT Development and Initiative Dossier from June 2002 [PDF file] stated that, "since the beginning of the 1980s almost all national telecom and information technology markets worldwide have been transformed by technological innovation, product diversification (especially the introduction of mobile/cellular telephony and Internet) and market restructuring (particularly privatization, liberalization and the introduction of independent regulators)."

This holds true in some countries more than others. In some instances, the levels of liberalization and regulation in the ICT sector seem to directly correlate with the health of the country's democracy.

Civil and Economic Benefits

Market liberalization and the adjustment of regulation levels for ICT industries results in a growing shift from state-owned monopolies to a more open market which allows for competition from various dynamic and privately driven entities. Some governments and national operators are threatened by the prospect of increased competition and decreased state control, but for civil society and the economy as a whole, there's an array of benefits.

Economic analyst Vlade Milićević argues that, by adjusting the legislative and regulatory mobile telephony frameworks, increased competition leads to improved customer choice, enhanced quality, more efficient services, reduced prices, faster product innovation and growing economic development for both the market and the relevant country. These positive impacts are notable in various case studies on Central Eastern European countries, where the sector has recently been liberalized.

Similar cost benefits patterns have occurred in various ICT sectors. Between 1998 and 2002, retail prices of the fixed telecommunications industry in the EU decreased by 8.2 percent due to liberalizing the regulatory framework. Likewise, the liberalization of Internet telephony, which includes the legalization of voice over IP (VoIP) services in various countries, resulted in a dramatic decrease in phone charges. For example, in the U.S. a few years ago, calls to India were 50 cents per minute -- now they are less than 5 cents per minute from fixed lines.

Other than decreasing costs, information and telecommunication technology liberalization has other benefits. The use of VoIP enabled the advent of outsourced call centers because it offers the possibility of routing a local number offshore. In the U.S. today, 80 percent of companies have call centers located offshore. This cuts costs for the American companies and generates employment and income for the offshore country. These employment and revenue benefits are significant for countries such as India, Malaysia, Singapore, Kenya and South Africa.

Other examples of the benefits of this form of liberalization include community initiatives like Village Telco, "an easy-to-use, scalable, standards-based, wireless, local, do-it-yourself, telephone company toolkit." It uses open source software, VoIP and other technology to offer free local calls, cheap long distance, Internet access and other information services to previously disadvantaged communities in South Africa and other developing countries.

Lack of Liberalization

However, in some countries such as Zimbabwe, VoIP remains in a legal grey zone. According to a report commissioned by the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organization, "African regulators have been reluctant to legalize VoIP, based on a largely misguided attempt to protect the revenue base of the incumbent fixed-line, and in some cases, mobile telcos." Unprogressive regulators can retard growth in the sector, stunt the country's revenue, create lost opportunities, constrict the adoption of new technologies, and leave communities isolated in information vacuums.

The World Bank recently stated that there is positive and direct correlation between growth in gross domestic product and ICT development. Despite this, two factors seem to be preventing some governments from liberalizing ICT markets: The threat of a decrease in revenues for state controlled monopolies, and the decrease in control of the content that is available to the public. ICTs -- and particularly the use of the Internet and mobile phones -- are making it difficult for undemocratic governments to control information and in this age of communication, information is power.

"Freedom of information is...the touchstone of all the freedoms," according to the 1948 UN Freedom of Information Conference. Similarly, the principles from the World Summit on Information Society of 2003 declared that: "We reaffirm, as an essential foundation of the Information Society, and as outlined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; that this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. Communication is a fundamental social process, a basic human need and the foundation of all social organization. It is central to the Information Society. Everyone, everywhere should have the opportunity to participate and no one should be excluded from the benefits the Information Society offers."

This sentiment was again reiterated in a recent poll by the BBC, which found that 80 percent of the 27,000 people surveyed around the world believe that access to the Internet is a fundamental human right. However, only about 25 percent of the world's population has access to the Internet, and various countries moderately to severely censor the information available.

Along with many other economic and technological benefits, a global shift to a more liberalized ICT market would honor fundamental human rights, and help create a more equitable and informed world.

March 26 2010

21:32

4 Minute Roundup: Google Uncensored in China; iPad Mania for Mags

This episode of 4MR is brought to you by GoDaddy, helping you set up your own website in a snap with domain name registration, web hosting and 24/7 support. Visit GoDaddy to learn more.

Here's the latest 4MR audio report from MediaShift. In this week's edition, I look at Google's recent move to stop censoring its site in China and instead redirect traffic to its uncensored Hong Kong site. Google is also running real-time search results and asking Congress to punish countries that filter the Net, but will the move backfire? Plus, magazine publishers are moving quickly developing iPad apps and even selling advertising on their apps before they even exist. Will people pay for those apps? I ask Just One Question to Susan Currie Sivek about how the iPad will change the magazine business.

Check it out:

4mrbareaudio32610.mp3

>>> Subscribe to 4MR <<<

>>> Subscribe to 4MR via iTunes <<<

Listen to my entire interview with Susan Currie Sivek:

Background music is "What the World Needs" by the The Ukelele Hipster Kings via PodSafe Music Network.

Here are some links to related sites and stories mentioned in the podcast:

Google's Tangled Chinese Web at WSJ

Google Shuts China Site in Dispute Over Censorship at NY Times

Google's China Temporary Redirect Shenanigans at MediaPost

Google adds Twitter feed in China, again defying that country's rules at LA Times

Google Calls for Action on Web Limits at NY Times

U.S. Push on Internet Freedom Could Backfire at WSJ's Real-Time China blog

Advertisers Show Interest in iPad at NY Times

Apple Scrambles to Secure iPad Deals at WSJ

Advertisers Break Out Checkbooks for iPad Magazine Deals at WSJ Digits

Magazines Use the iPad as Their New Barker at WSJ

WSJ on iPad for $17.99 a month, magazines to be at or near newsstand prices? at Engadget

Check out some of the write-in answers of our recent poll asking what people thought about their cable and satellite TV service:

cable survey grab.jpg

Also, be sure to vote in our poll about how you think the iPad will affect the media industry:




Fill in the blank: The iPad will ______ the media industry.survey

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

This episode of 4MR is brought to you by GoDaddy, helping you set up your own website in a snap with domain name registration, web hosting and 24/7 support. Visit GoDaddy to learn more.

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14:00

This Week in Review: Anonymous news comments, two big media law cases, and a health coverage critique

[Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week’s top stories about the future of news and the debates that grew up around them. —Josh]

Anonymity, community and commenting: We saw an unusually lively conversation over the weekend on an issue that virtually every news organization has dealt with over the past few years: anonymous comments. It started with the news that Peer News, a new Hawaii-based news organization edited by former Rocky Mountain News chief John Temple, would not allow comments. His rationale was that commenting anonymity fosters a lack of responsibility, which leads to “racism, hate and ugliness.”

That touched off a spirited Twitter debate between two former newspaper guys, Mathew Ingram (Globe and Mail, now with GigaOm) and Howard Owens (GateHouse, now runs The Batavian). Afterward, Ingram wrote a fair summary of the discussion — he was pro-anonymous comments, Owens was opposed — and elaborated on his position.

Essentially, Owens argued that it’s unethical for news sites (particularly community-based ones) to allow anonymous comments because “readers and participants have a fundamental right to know who is posting what.” And Ingram makes two main points in his blog post: That many online communities have anonymous comments and very healthy community, and that it’s virtually impossible to pin down someone’s real identity online, so pretty much all commenting online is anonymous anyway.

Several other folks chimed in with various ideas for news commenting. Steve Buttry, who’s working on a fledgling as-yet-unnamed Washington news site wondered whether news orgs could find ways to create two tiers of commenting — one for ID’d, the other for anonymous. Steve Yelvington, who dipped into Ingram and Owens’ debate, extolled the values of leadership, as opposed to management, in fostering great commenting community. The Cincinnati Enquirer’s Mandy Jenkins offered similar thoughts, saying that anonymity doesn’t matter nearly as much as an active, personable moderator.

J-prof and news futurist Jeff Jarvis and French journalist Bruno Boutot zoom out on the issue a bit, with Jarvis arguing that commenting is an insulting, inferior form of communication for news organizations to offer, and they should instead initiate more interactive, empowering communication earlier in the journalistic process. Boutot builds on that to say that newspapers need to invite readers into the process to build trust and survive, and outlines a limited place for anonymity in that goal. Finally, if you’re interested in going deeper down the rabbit hole of anonymous commenting, Jack Lail has an amazingly comprehensive list of links on the subject.

The iPad and magazines: The iPad will be officially released next Saturday, so expect to see the steady stream of articles and posts about it will or won’t save publishers and journalism to swell over the next couple of weeks. This week, a comScore survey found that 34 percent of their respondents would be likely to read newspapers or magazines if they owned an iPad — not nearly the percentage of people who said they’d browse the internet or check email with it, but actually more than I had expected. PaidContent takes a look at 15 magazines’ plans for adapting to tablets like the iPad, and The Wall Street Journal examines the tacks they’re taking with tablet advertising.

At least two people aren’t impressed with some of those proposals. Blogger and media critic Jason Fry says he expects many publishers to embrace a closed, controlled iPad format, which he argues is wearing thin because it doesn’t mesh well with the web. “With Web content, publishers aren’t going to be able to exercise the control that print gave them and they hope iPad will return to them,” he writes. And British j-prof Paul Bradshaw calls last week’s VIV Mag demo “lovely but pointless.” Meanwhile, Wired’s Steven Levy looks at whether the iPad or Google’s Chrome OS will be instrumental in shaping the future of computing.

Aggregation and media ownership in the courts: In the past week or so, we’ve seen developments in two relatively outside-the-spotlight court cases, both of which were good news for larger, traditional media outlets. First, a New York judge ruled that a web-based financial news site can’t report on the stock recommendations of analysts from major Wall Street firms until after each day’s opening bell. The Citizen Media Law Project’s Sam Bayard has a fantastic analysis of the case, explaining why the ruling is a blow to online news aggregators: It’s an affirmation of the “hot news” principle, which gives the reporting of certain facts similar protections to intellectual property, despite the fact that facts are in the public domain.

Meanwhile, the Lab’s C.W. Anderson analyzed the statements of several news orgs’ counsel at an FTC hearing earlier this month, finding in them a blueprint for how they plan to protect (or control) their content online. Some of those arguments include the hot news doctrine, as well as a concept of aggregation as an opt-in system. Both Anderson’s and Bayard’s pieces are lucid explanations of what’s sure to be a critical area of media law over the next couple of years.

And in another case, a federal appeals judge at least temporarily lifted the FCC’s cross-ownership ban that prevents media companies from owning a newspaper and TV station in the same outlet. Here’s the AP story on the ruling, and just in time, we got a great summary by Molly Kaplan of the New America Foundation of the “what” and “so what” of media concentration based on a Columbia University panel earlier this month.

Health care coverage taken to task: Health care reform, arguably the American news media’s biggest story of the past year, culminated this week with the passage of a reform bill. Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz was among the first to take a crack at a postmortem on the media’s performance on the story, chiding the press in a generally critical column for focusing too much (as usual) on the political and procedural aspects of health care reform, rather than the substance of the proposals. The news media produced enough data and analysis to satisfy policy junkies, Kurtz said, but “in the end, the subject may simply have been too dense for the media to fully digest…For a busy electrician who plugs in and out of the news, the jousting and the jargon may have seemed bewildering.”

Kurtz was sympathetic, though, to what he saw as the reasons for that failure: The story was complicated, long, bewildering, and at times tedious, and the press was driven by the constant need to produce new copy and fill airtime. Those excuses didn’t fly with C.W. Anderson, who contended that Kurtz “is basically admitting the press has no meaningful role in our democracy.” If the press can’t handle meaningful stuff like health care reform, he asked, what good is it? And Rex Hammock used Kurtz’s critique as an example of why we need another form of context-oriented journalism to complement the day-to-day grind of information.

Google pulls an end-around on China: This isn’t particularly journalism-related, so I won’t dwell on it much, but it’s huge news for the global web, so it deserves a quick summary. Google announced this week that it’s stopping its censorship of Chinese search by using its servers in nearby Hong Kong, and two days later, a Google exec also told Congress that the United States needs to take online censorship seriously elsewhere in the world, too.

The New York Times‘ and the Guardian’s interviews with Sergey Brin and James Fallows’ interview with David Drummond give us more insight into the details of the decision and Google’s rationale, and Mathew Ingram has a good backgrounder on Google-China relations. Not surprisingly, not everyone’s wowed by Google’s move: Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan says it’s curiously late for Google to start caring about Chinese censorship. Finally, China- and media-watcher Rebecca MacKinnon explains why the ball is now in China’s court.

Reading roundup: I’ve got a bunch of cool bits and pieces for you this week. We’ll try to run through them quickly.

— Jacob Weisberg, chairman of the Slate Group, gives a brief but illuminating interview with paidContent’s Staci Kramer that’s largely about, well, paid content. Weisberg explains why Slate’s early experiment with a paywall was a disaster, but says media outlets need to charge for mobile news, since that’s a charge not for content, but for a convenient form of delivery.

— Since we’ve highlighted the launch and open-sourcing of Google’s Living Stories, it’s only fair to note an obvious downside: Florida j-prof Mindy McAdams points out that it’s been a month since it was updated. Google has acknowledged that fact with a note, and Joey Baker notes that he guessed last month that Google was open-sourcing the project because the Washington Post and New York Times weren’t using it well.

— Like ships passing in the night: USC j-prof Robert Hernandez argues that for many young or minority communities in cities, their local paper isn’t just dying; it’s long been dead because it’s consciously ignored them. Meanwhile, Gawker’s Ravi Somaiya notes that with the rise of Twitter and Facebook, big-time blogging is becoming more fact-driven, professionally written and definitive — in other words, more like those dead and dying newspapers.

— Colin Schultz has some great tips for current and aspiring science journalists, though several of them are transferable to just about any form of journalism.

— Finally, I haven’t read it yet, but I’m willing to bet that this spring’s issue of Nieman Reports on visual journalism is chock full of great stuff. Photojournalism prof Ken Kobre gives you a few good places to start.

Mask photo by Thirteen of Clubs used under a Creative Commons license.

March 11 2010

08:58
08:57

March 09 2010

18:55

Turkish Reporters Unite to Protest YouTube Ban

The Turkish courts banned YouTube in May 2008, and now a new protest campaign launched by the editorial team of the Milliyet newspaper is drawing attention to how long the country has been prevented from using the website.

The initiative, which was was launched on February 19, is not the first campaign of this type. But it's notable because previous protests came from the blogosphere and, as a result, did not receive international coverage. The current ban is the fourth such action by the Turkish courts since 2007; hopefully, this campaign will draw attention to this policy of censorship.

WSJ Piece Sparks Outcry

The editors of Milliyet were inspired to act by a February 16 piece in the Wall Street Journal by David Keyes, a founding member of Cyberdissidents.org. Keyes wrote that "there is nothing European, let alone cultural, about prohibiting citizens from viewing YouTube. Turkey's status as the 2010 European 'Capital of Culture' should be suspended until this ban is repealed."


haberturk.gif

The article received significant pick-up in the Turkish press. A columnist at Haberturk, a national daily, commented that the ban and the resulting situation were an embarrassment. The ban of YouTube was issued on May 5, 2008, by three Ankara magistrate courts who ruled that YouTube had not acquired a certificate of authorization to operate in the country. The columnist at Haberturk wrote that the minister of transportation should do everything in his power to change the relevant law, and then ask YouTube to pay taxes.

In announcing the protest campaign, Milliyet columnist Mehveş Emin said:

Everybody has changed their DNS settings and can access YouTube, just like the Prime Minister does and has said he does. This is why people have become insensitive about this ban. But YouTube is still blocked in Turkey and this affects Turkey's image negatively and this issue needs to be resolved. So as the editorial team of Milliyet Cadde, we agreed to show everyday how many days have passed since the ban.

Following that, on February 17, technology journalists at the daily newspaper Hürriyet published their view on Internet Freedom in Turkey:

We as Turkish technology journalists have stressed the importance of a free Internet over and over again. Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review did a remarkable job by documenting non-censored computers for the use of the IMF and World Bank delegations during their summit this summer. We said it was not a clever move to try to hide something you are ashamed of, especially if the rest of the world knows about it. The fact that Iran is on the same level as Turkey in terms of free Internet is a shame on the politicians of a free, democratic society. Just as Iran, Turkey would like to create a national search engine and a national Internet, which is an oxymoron to many.

3,700 Websites Blocked

According to Reporters Without Borders' 2009 Press Freedom Index, Turkey is ranked 102 out of 173 countries. In testimony given during a Congressional hearing held on Dec. 3, 2009, Reporters Without Borders noted that, "In 2009, Turkey has experienced a surge in cases of censorship, especially censorship of media that represent minorities [especially the Kurds]."

In Turkey, law No. 5651, "On the fight against online crime," allows a prosecutor to ban access to any website that incites suicide, pedophilia or drug use, or that defames Kemal Atatürk. During 2008, ten web sites, including YouTube, Dailymotion and Google Groups, were blocked by court decisions. Clearly, this law is being applied indiscriminately and as a tool to suppress free speech.

"In its current form, Law 5651, commonly known as the Internet Law of Turkey, not only limits freedom of expression, but severely restricts citizens' right to access information," said Milos Haraszti, media freedom monitor for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), in a January Reuters story.

He said that Turkey, a European Union candidate, was blocking access to 3,700 Internet sites because Ankara's Internet law was "too broad and too subject to political interests."

Turkish newspapers also reported that in April 2009 the army sorted 292 Turkish-language websites and 138 foreign-language sites into categories such as "separatist," "in favour of the EU," "Islamist." The list included a number of human rights websites, as well as newspapers such as The Independent and the New York Times.

The question now is whether Turkey's online censorship will land it on the list of "Internet Enemies" that we at Reporters Without Borders will publish this Friday":http://www.rsf.org/World-Day-Against-Cyber-Censorship.html -- and how its Internet policies will impact its EU membership.

Clothilde Le Coz has been working for Reporters Without Borders in Paris since 2007. She is now the Washington director for this organization, helping to promote press freedom and free speech around the world. In Paris, she was in charge of the Internet Freedom desk and worked especially on China, Iran, Egypt and Thailand. During the time she spent in Paris, she was also updating the "Handbook for Bloggers and Cyberdissidents," published in 2005. Her role is now to get the message out for readers and politicians to be aware of the constant threat journalists are submitted to in many countries.

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January 16 2010

00:09

4 Minute Roundup: Text Donations to Haiti; Google.cn Uncensored

Here's the latest 4MR audio report from MediaShift. In this week's edition, I look at the way social media and text-to-donate has helped to transform charitable giving in Haiti after the earthquake. Plus, Google announced it would stop censoring its search site in China after having Gmail accounts of dissidents and free speech proponents hacked there. And I ask Just One Question to Tribune Media's Kate O'Hare (@KateOH) to see if time slots still matter for TV shows.

Check it out:

4mrbareaudio11510.mp3

Background music is "What the World Needs" by the The Ukelele Hipster Kings via PodSafe Music Network.

Here are some links to related sites and stories mentioned in the podcast:

Haiti in Rubble - Marketers, Aid Groups Rush To Help at MediaPost

Mobile giving to help Haiti exceeds $7 million at MSNBC

In Haiti earthquake coverage, social media gives victim a voice at Guardian

Haiti and New Media - How NPR is Using Twitter and Facebook To Report on the Earthquake at BayNewser

Social media help find quake survivors at CBC

Haiti - Search for missing loved ones leads friends and relatives online at LA Times

Best Online Resources for Following Haiti News, Taking Action at PBS MediaShift

A new approach to China at the Official Google Blog

What's at Stake With Google's Threat to Withdraw From China? at ClickZ

Why Google Wasn't Winning in China Anyway at AdAge

White House, Beijing Joust Over Censorship at WSJ (paid subscription required)

Why Google is quitting China at Silicon Dragon

Conan O'Brien Statement - I Will Not Follow Jay at Huffington Post

Here's a graphical view of the most recent MediaShift survey results. The question was: "What do you think about 3D TV?"

3d tv grab.jpg

Also, be sure to vote in our poll about Google and China:


What do you think about Google's intent to run an uncensored site in China?(online surveys)

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

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January 15 2010

15:00

This Week in Review: Who’s responsible for local news, and Google plays hardball with China

[Our friend Mark Coddington has spent the past several months writing weekly summaries of what's happened in the the changing world of journalism — both the important stories and the debates that came up around them online. I've liked them so much that I've asked him to join us here at the Lab. So every Friday morning — especially if you've been too busy to stay glued to Twitter and your RSS reader — come here to recap the week and see what you've missed. —Josh]

Who reports local news?: Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism released a study Monday that aimed to find out “who really reports the news that most people get about their communities?” In studying the Baltimore news media ecosystem for a week, the study found that traditional media — especially newspapers — did most of the original reporting while new media sources functioned largely as a quick way to disseminate news from other places.

The study got pretty predictable reactions: Major mainstream sources (New York Times, AP, L.A. Times) repeated that finding in perfunctory write-ups. (Poynter did a bit more with it, though.) It inspired at least one “see how important newspapers are?” column. And several new media thinkers pooh-poohed it, led by CUNY prof Jeff Jarvis, who said it “sets up a strawman and then lights the match.” Steve Buttry (who notes he’s a newspaper/TV exec himself) offered the sharpest critique of the study, concluding that it’s too narrow, focuses on stories that are in the mainstream media’s wheelhouse, and has some damning statistics for traditional-media reporting, too. Former journalist John Zhu gave an impassioned rebuttal to Jarvis and Buttry that’s well worth a read, too.

(A couple of interesting tangential angles if you want to dig deeper: New York Times media critic David Carr explains why blogs aren’t geared toward original reporting, and new media giant Gawker offers a quick can’t-we-all-just-get-along post saying web journalism needs more reporting and newspapers need to get up to speed.)

My take: I’m with CUNY’s C.W. Anderson and USC’s David WestphalOf course traditional media organizations report most of our news; this finding is neither a threat to new-media folks nor ammunition for those in old media. (I share Zhu’s frustration here — let’s quit turning every new piece of information into a political/rhetorical weapon and start working together to fix our system of news.) Clay Shirky said it well last March: The new news systems won’t come into place until after the old ones break, not before. Why would we expect any different now? Let’s accept this study as rudimentary affirmation of what already makes sense and keep plugging away to make things better.

Google talks tough with China: Citing attacks from hackers and limits on free speech, Google made big news this week by announcing it won’t censor its Chinese results anymore and is considering pulling out of the country altogether. The New York Times has a lucid explanation of the situation, and this 2005 Wall Street Journal article is good background on Google/China relations. Looking for something more in-depth? Search engine maven Danny Sullivan is your guy.

The Internet practically blew up with commentary on this move, so suffice it to say I’m only scratching the surface here. (GigaOm has a nice starter for opinions outside of the usual tech-blog suspects.) Many Google- and China-watchers praised the move as bold step forward for freedom, like Jeff Jarvis, author of “What Would Google Do?”; China/IT expert Rebecca MacKinnon (twice); New York Times human rights watchdog Nicholas Kristof; and tech guru Robert Scoble, to name a few.

TechCrunch’s Sarah Lacy was more cynical, saying this was a business move for Google. (Sullivan and Scoble rebut the point in the links above.) Global blogging advocate Ethan Zuckerman laid out four possible explanations for the decision. The Wall Street Journal and Wired had some more details about Google’s internal arguments over this move, including their concerns about repercussions on the China employees. The China-watching blog Imagethief looked at the stakes for Google, and the Atlantic’s James Fallows, who got back from China not too long ago, has a quick take on the stakes from a foreign-relations standpoint.

Jarvis also took the opportunity to revisit a fascinating point from his book: Google has become an “interest-state,” an organization that collaborates and derives power outside of the traditional national borders. Google’s actions this week certainly seemed very nation-like, and the point is worth pondering.

Fox News ethics: Fox News was the subject of a couple of big stories this week: The biggest came Monday, when the network announced that it had signed Sarah Palin to a multiyear deal as a contributor. Most of the online commentary has focused on what this move means from Palin’s perspective (if that’s what you’re looking for, the BBC has a good roundup), but I haven’t found much of substance looking at this from the Fox/news media angle. I’m guessing this is for two reasons: Nobody in the world of media-thinkers is surprised that Fox has become a home for another out-of-office Republican, and none of them are taking Fox very seriously from an ethical standpoint in the first place.

Salon founder and blogging expert Scott Rosenberg found this out the frustrating way when he got an apathetic response to his question of how Fox will cover any stories that involve her. As I responded to Rosenberg on Twitter, I think the lack of interest in his question are a fascinating indication of media watchers’ cynicism about Fox’s ethics. It seems to be a foregone conclusion that Fox News would be a shill for Palin regardless of whether she was an employee, simply by virtue of her conservatism. Regardless of whether you think that attitude is justified (I do), it’s sad that that’s the situation we’re in.

Fox News was also involved in a strange chain of events this week that started when The New York Times published a front-page profile of its chief, Roger Ailes. It included some stinging criticism from Rupert Murdoch’s son-in-law, British PR bigwig Matthew Freud. That led to speculation by The Daily Beast’s Lloyd Grove and Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff that Ailes’ days were numbered at Fox, with Wolff actually asserting that Ailes had already been fired. Then the L.A. Times reported that Ailes was still around and had News Corp.’s full support. Um, OK.

Facebook says privacy’s passé: In a short interview last week, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg gave a sort-of explanation for Facebook’s sweeping privacy changes last month, one that ReadWriteWeb’s Marshall Kirkpatrick recognized as a dramatic break from the privacy defenses Zuckerberg’s given in the past. Essentially, Kirkpatrick infers, Zuckerberg is saying he considers us to now be living in an age where privacy just doesn’t matter as much to people.

Kirkpatrick and The Huffington Post’s Craig Kanalley give two spirited rebuttals, and over at the social media hub Mashable, Vadim Lavrusik says journalists should be worried about Facebook’s changes, too. Meanwhile, Advertising Age media critic Simon Dumenco argues that we’re not getting enough out of all the information we’re feeding Facebook and Twitter.

Reading roundup: These last few items aren’t attached to any big media-related conversations from this week, but they’re all worth a close read. First, in the Online Journalism Review, Robert Niles made the bold argument that there is no revenue model for journalism. Steve Buttry filed a point-by-point rebuttal, and the two traded counterpoints in the comments of each other’s posts. It’s a good debate to dive into.

Second, Alan Mutter, an expert on the business side of the news industry, has a sharp two-part post crunching the numbers to find out how long publishers can afford to keep their print products going. He considers a few scenarios and concludes that “some publishers may not be able to sustain print products for as long as demand holds out.”

And finally, Internet freedom writer and activist Cory Doctorow explains the principle “close enough for rock ‘n’ roll,” and how it needs to drive our new-media experimentation. It’s a smart, optimistic yet grounded look at the future of innovation, and I like its implications for the future of journalism.

Photo of Sarah Palin by The NewsHour used under a Creative Commons license.

January 12 2010

00:37

2009 Was a Terrible Year for Free Speech Online

2009 was an unprecedented year for online repression.

For the first time since the Internet emerged as a tool for public use, there are currently 100 bloggers and cyber-dissidents imprisoned worldwide as a result of posting their opinions online in 2009, according to Reporters Without Borders. This figure is indicative of the severity of the crackdowns being carried out in roughly 10 countries around the world. (In one example, Burma handed out long prison sentences to online dissidents.)

The number of countries pursuing online censorship doubled in the past year -- a disturbing trend that suggests governments seek to increase their control over new media. In total, 151 bloggers and cyber-dissidents were arrested in 2009, and 61 were physically assaulted.

The crackdown on bloggers and ordinary citizens who express themselves online comes at the same time that social networking and interactive websites have become extremely popular, not to mention powerful vehicles for free expression.

China Still Leads in Online Censorship

China was once again the leading Internet censor in 2009. Countries such as Iran, Tunisia, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Uzbekistan also blocked websites and blogs, and engaged in surveillance of online expression. In Turkmenistan, for example, the Internet remains under total state control. Egyptian blogger Kareem Amer is still in jail, while the famous Burmese comedian Zarganar still has 34 years left on his prison sentence. These are but a few examples.

The list of approximately 120 victims of Internet censorship in 2009 also includes leading figures in the defense of online free speech, such as China's Hu Jia and Liu Xiaobo, and Vietnam's Nguyen Trung and Dieu Cay.

People are usually targeted because they speak out on political matters, but the global financial crisis is also on the list of subjects likely to provoke online censorship. In South Korea, a blogger was wrongfully detained for commenting on the country's disastrous economic situation. Roughly six people in Thailand were arrested or harassed just for making a connection between the king's health and a fall in the Bangkok stock exchange. Censorship was slapped on media in Dubai when it came time for them to report on the country's debt repayment problems.

Overall, wars and elections constituted the chief threats to journalists and bloggers in 2009. It is becoming more risky to cover wars because journalists themselves are being targeted for murder and kidnappings. It's also just as dangerous for reporters in some countries to do their job at election time. Journalists have ended up in prison or in a hospital thanks to their election reporting. Violence before and after elections was particularly prevalent in 2009 inside countries with poor democratic credentials.

Iran Election Crackdown

Iran saw the most violence, censorship and arrests due to an election. Its elections this past summer saw more than 100 arrests, and many prison sentences handed down. The country, which is on the Reporters Without Borders list of "Enemies of the Internet," has also deployed a sophisticated system of Internet filtering and monitoring, especially in recent months. The country's main ISPs depend on the Telecommunication Company of Iran, which recently came under control of the Revolutionary Guard, and does not hesitate to flout international treaties or to restrict the free flow of information.

Within hours of the announcement of President Mahmoud Ahmadinedjad's election "victory," journalists were being arrested by the intelligence ministry, Revolutionary Guard, and other security services. Most were taken to Tehran's Evin prison. At least 100 journalists and bloggers have been arrested since June, and 27 are still being held. Today, Iran is one of the world's five biggest imprisoners of journalists.

Since the election, national and international media in Iran have been subject to massive and systematic censorship that is without precedent. For the first time since the 1979 revolution, the security services are vetting the content of newspapers before they're published.

The Iranian regime's offensive against online free expression took a new direction in December after Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi announced he was going to prosecute two conservative websites for "insulting" Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Meanwhile, several Internet service providers cut access to prevent political opponents from disseminating information during opposition demonstrations on December 27. After the demonstrations, the intelligence ministry and Revolutionary Guard began rounding up government opponents and journalists, arresting an estimated 20 people in the latest wave. Those targeted included a dozen or so journalists and cyber-dissidents. Alireza Behshtipour Shirazi, the editor of Kaleme.org (opposition leader Mirhossein Moussavi's official website), was arrested at his Tehran home and taken to an unknown place of detention.

Trouble in Democratic Countries

Democratic countries have also enacted online censorship. Several European nations are working on new steps to control the Internet in what they say is a campaign against child porn and illegal downloads. Australia is also planning to set up a compulsory filtering system that poses a threat to freedom of expression.

Communications minister Stephen Conroy announced in December that, after a year of testing in partnership with Australian Internet service providers, the government will introduce legislation imposing mandatory filtering of websites with pornographic, pedophilic or particularly violent content.

Google Australia's head of policy, Iarla Flynn, raised concerns, saying, "Moving to a mandatory ISP filtering regime with a scope that goes well beyond such material is heavy-handed and can raise genuine questions about restrictions on access to information." In a Fairfax Media poll of 20,000 Australians, 96 percent strongly opposed a mandatory Internet filtering system.

Yet that proposal -- as well as many others around the world -- continues to move ahead. Hopefully, 2010 will be a better year for free speech online.

Clothilde Le Coz has been working for Reporters Without Borders in Paris since 2007. She is now the Washington director for this organization, helping to promote press freedom and free speech around the world. In Paris, she was in charge of the Internet Freedom desk and worked especially on China, Iran, Egypt and Thailand. During the time she spent in Paris, she was also updating the "Handbook for Bloggers and Cyberdissidents," published in 2005. Her role is now to get the message out for readers and politicians to be aware of the constant threat journalists are submitted to in many countries.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

December 04 2009

20:14

Iran Cracks Down on Internet Expression, Bloggers, Journalists

45298227.jpgLast week, the Iranian blogger Sasan Aghaei, who runs the site Azad Tribun, was arrested by intelligence ministry officials after they carried out a search of his Tehran home. It is not known where he was taken. Aghaei is also a reporter for the daily newspaper Farhikhteghan, and he's the third employee of the paper to be arrested since the election. His two other colleagues, Reza Norbakhsh and Masoud Bastani, were both given six-year jail sentences.

The Iranian police recently stepped up their efforts at Internet censorship by creating a special 12-member unit. The unit is under the supervision of the prosecutor general and is charged with acting "against fraud attempts, commercial advertising and false information" and hunting down "insults and lies."

This is just the latest troubling development in a country that is now the biggest imprisoner of cyber-dissidents in the Middle East. Currently, eight Iranian cyber-dissidents are in jail for expressing their opinions online. Among them, four were jailed after the disputed June 12 presidential election. At least 100 journalists and bloggers have been arrested since the election, and 32 are still being held. At the same time, roughly 50 other journalists have been forced to flee the country to escape the relentless repression.

Back in August, Iran adopted a new cyber-crime law that gave the police free reign to crack down on the Internet, and they are taking full advantage of it in order to prevent government opponents from sharing information. So far, the police are blocking thousands of news websites, and putting people in jail.

As the world saw in the aftermath of the election, Twitter and Facebook were used by Iranians to fill a void left by the regime's censorship of journalists. More than a million Iranians took to the streets to demonstrate during Friday prayers on July 17, and they relied on the Internet and mobile phones to help organize and communicate. Local and international journalists were not allowed to cover the event. On top of that censorship, people who used the Internet and social networks to spread news and information are now being accused of spying or "conspiring against the Islamic Republic."

At one point, the regime described the news media as a "means used in an attempt to overthrow the state." It's therefore no surprise to see it ridding itself of these undesired witnesses by jailing them or forcing them to flee the country.

Revolutionary Guard Goes After Bloggers, Others

The Revolutionary Guard, a branch of the Iranian military that's closely linked to the Supreme Leader, is directly involved in online censorship. On June 17, it ordered all website editors to remove "any content which encourages the population to riot or which spreads threats or rumors."

cartoons.jpgSince June 12, at least 10 bloggers have been detained by the authorities. Hadi Heidari, a well-known cartoonist who edits a Persian cartoon website, was arrested in Tehran on October 22. He was attending a religious tribute to political prisoners at the home of Shehaboldin Tabatabai, a leading supporter of the reformist party Participation. Tabatabai was also arrested. Heidari was eventually released in November.

Aside from him, Hassin Assadi Zidabadi, a blogger who also heads a student human rights committee, was arrested in October. Mohammad Davari, the editor of reformist website Etemad Melli, is also in prison. His colleague, Fariba Pajooh, a journalist who also runs a Persian blog, was arrested on August 24, and is still imprisoned at the Evin jail after being summoned to the Tehran Revolutionary Court.

Of course, the most famous journalist to have been arrested and held by the regime is Maziar Bahari. He recently gave an interview to Fareed Zakaria, which you can watch here:

Journalists Fleeing Iran in Droves

The list of people detained and arrested in Iran grows longer every day. Bloggers are being targeted just as much as traditional journalists. Newspapers are now controlled by the regime. As a result, Iran is currently experiencing its biggest exodus of reporters since the 1979 revolution.

Among the fleeing reporters and bloggers, many have been mistreated, tortured or jailed. They leave the country in order to avoid physical violence or another arrest. Most of them escape with the help of smugglers, a process that exposes them to great danger. In the countries where they initially seek refuge, such as Turkey, Iraq or even Afghanistan, they are exposed to more harassment and police surveillance.

The current campaign of brutality, intimidation and censorship in Iran is slowly but surely thinning the ranks of the country's independent journalists and bloggers. They are being forced to choose between saying nothing, speaking out and being jailed, or fleeing the country. In truth, that's no choice at all.

*****

In light of the reporters' exodus, Reporters Without Borders is launching an appeal for financial support for these journalists and bloggers. You can learn more and do your part here.

Clothilde Le Coz has been working for Reporters Without Borders in Paris since 2007. She is now the Washington director for this organization, helping to promote press freedom and free speech around the world. In Paris, she was in charge of the Internet Freedom desk and worked especially on China, Iran, Egypt and Thailand. During the time she spent in Paris, she was also updating the "Handbook for Bloggers and Cyberdissidents," published in 2005. Her role is now to get the message out for readers and politicians to be aware of the constant threat journalists are submitted to in many countries.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

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