Tag Archives: media

The Largest Drop

Georgia dropped almost sixty spots in the latest media freedom report by Reporters Without Borders – going down from the 66th to the 120th place in the rankings.  This could be one the larger drops in one year that the index has seen. 

The conflict with Russia is mentioned as a key reason for Georgia’s poor performance in the report.  It certainly contributed to the fall with the dangers to journalists in conflicts, but restrictions placed on media in Georgia have not helped either and, perhaps, have been the driving force.  For example, when anti-government demonstrations were sweeping the country last year, the president simply shut down the independent media.  

Earlier this month, this NY Times article  painted a bleak picture of media freedom in Georgia.  An ombudsman for human rights, for example, notes a gap between laws on paper and what the government actually does in regards to media freedom:

We have some of the best freedom-of-expression laws in the world, but in practice, the government is so afraid of criticism that it has felt compelled to raid media offices and to intimidate journalists and bash their equipment.

Another interesting trend highlighted in the report is that bloggers are targeted as much as journalists in the traditional media.

You can view the index here.

If a Bank Fails and No One Reports it, Does it Still Fail?

As my colleague Alex Shkolnikov noted earlier, the Russian press has been relatively mum on the topic of the financial maelstrom enveloping Russian markets.  Now news comes from the Financial Times that the first retail bank has experienced a run on deposits

Globex, a mid-sized retail bank with assets of $4bn (€2.95bn, £2.32bn), is the first Russian bank to experience a run on deposits during the crisis. It lost 13 per cent of its deposits last month, according to Maxim Raskosnov, an analyst at Renaissance capital, and a further 15 per cent this month according to Emilya Alieva, Globex’s vice-president.

At least a dozen other Russian banks have reported a sharp rise in withdrawals and account closures.

Although Prime Minister Putin has directed his government to inject over $84 billion into Russian banks it seems to have had little effect.  The fact that the majority of money was injected directly into the largest state run banks has left those with deposits in other smaller privately run banks wondering just how safe their money really is.  The favoritism has already lead many to transfer their accounts to one of the larger banks that has received the financial blessing of the Kremlin.

Simply omitting bad financial news from the nightly television broadcasts will not solve the problems that Russian financial institutions face.  As Lenin once famously stated, “A lie told often enough becomes truth.”  Unfortunately, with a strategy of opaqueness and misinformation the truth that is stored in many bank accounts across Russia may run out, leaving many impoverished and hungry for answers.

Perhaps the Economist summed the situation up most perfectly in its article “No Crisis Here”  with its typical dry British wit:

Now the Russian media, particularly television, is under tight control.  What most Russians have heard on the news is that America’s financial system has crashed, damaging other Western countries with it. Russia is all but untouched. And Mr Putin got a tiger cub for his birthday, and has released a DVD about judo.

Media Freedoms and Lack Thereof

I was in the Hague earlier this week, participating in an anti-corruption conference, and was able to follow the financial crisis by checking in whenever possible with CNN and BBC on TV and the Wall Street Journal and the International Herald Tribune – all that was easily available around me.  It may not have been much, but enough.  The coverage was certainly extensive, with much time and column space devoted to discussions on problems, solutions, finger-pointing, and other related issues.

One thing that was hard not to notice while in Europe is that the media there spent a considerable amount of time covering their own financial issues, just as in the US much focus is on domestic implications of the crisis as well.

A few days before that, however, I was watching a Russian television channel and it was hard to ignore the fact that in covering the financial crisis in a news segment, they spent about 10 minutes on problems facing developing countries.  At the same time, they included only a brief note on the fact that the Russian government is taking care of things at home.  The bias in coverage, as well as the different tone between Russian and foreign reporting, were quite interesting to observe.

The Moscow Times also noted this divergence, pointing out that on a day when trading was suspended on the Russian market due to the sharp declines:

Instead of reports about the markets’ losses, the three main television channels — state-controlled Channel One, Rossia and NTV — showed billionaire Mikhail Fridman telling President Dmitry Medvedev that the global financial meltdown offered new opportunities for Russian companies abroad. 

“I am convinced that the Russian financial system is protected from such a fundamental shock to a greater degree than many other countries,” Fridman told Medvedev at the Gorky presidential residence outside Moscow.

At the same time, on the cover of WSJ there was an interesting image that showed the declines on the Russian market year-to-date as compared to their developing counterparts.  While developed markets showed around 30-35% declines for the year, Russia was at the bottom of the chart with more than 60%. 

The difference in coverage in Russian media should have been in the opposite direction, at least if one were to look at the markets’ slide.  But I wonder if state media sources have the desire/willingness/and ability to do so (like their counterparts abroad)?

Slipping up on the details

It’s difficult to know exactly what is happening in the north of Sri Lanka these days (media representatives are not allowed into the conflict-riddled war zone), but it’s clear that recent police actions in Colombo could have potentially disastrous effects – in an area rather open to international scrutiny at the moment. As reported by The Economist and the BBC, civilians who have arrived from the northern [Tamil-majority] areas to the [Sinhalese-majority] capital and surrounding areas in the past five years have, over the past week, been required to register with the police, supposedly in an effort to combat the suicide attacks that have become tragically more frequent of late.

The “census,” as it is being called, could of course be just that – a simple tally of how many people are living where, most of them ethnic Tamils. Yet set against the context of the government’s recent push to end the war in the north, such a list could have a sinister application in the hands of the wrong people. Now – today, right now, and before it is too late – is the time to ask why the census has been taken, and to what end it will be used. The government has not announced what it intends to do with this information. We should be reminded that at other times in history, such lists have played conveniently into the plans of ethnic elitists.

While no one is watching, we may later discover later that the freedoms of these Tamils have quickly slipped away into what could be a truly horrific humanitarian crisis. In a country where media freedom is granted only selectively, the world needs to be taking a good hard look at what is currently being reported. And it needs to be asking what is going to be done with that list.

Losing Press Freedoms

Significant growth in violence in Afghanistan has been capturing the headlines over the past few weeks.  But somewhat beneath the surface, another type of attacks has become everpresent in the country — attacks on media.  These attacks are carried out by government agencies unhappy with reporting.  Interesting is the government’s position in regards to media, especially when reports clash with national security interests:

Some officials argue that these bounds are crossed when critical reporting weakens the central government and strengthens the Taliban. They point out that given present security conditions reporters also have an obligation to protect the national interest.

“The media does not reflect the achievements of the government,” Sadeq Mudaber, the deputy director of general policy, told reporters in November. “Although the media law guarantees freedom of press, the national interests of the country should be a priority over anything else.”

A few months ago, leading a training session for African journalists, I came across a similar issue.  A presenter from the President’s press office noted that media should be responsible as far as not weakening the position of the fragile government through negative reporting.  Interestingly, the response from journalists was quite mixed.  While some noted that it is their responsibility to cover what happens in the country, others took to heart the idea that journalists should think about the shaky foundation that governments stand on before publishing their stories. 

My take on this is that governments should be capable of dealing with criticism.  The ethical responsibility of journalists in this regard is not withholding information for fear of their own well-being — it is to provide constructive criticism; highlight problems and the institutional sources of those problems to give governments some idea on how to address issues.

In the end of the day, journalists in countries like Afghanistan already have many more enemies than friends.  Not having the government on your side (moreover, having the government after you for doing your job) does not help.

Controlling the Media? Tried it Before…

Belarus has been flying under the radar lately, but reforms are not standing still.  Following a secret ballot, the parliament passed a new legislation in the first reading that will give the goverment greater control over media.   

Civil society has several issues with the law as its been written up, but primarily it is that the law gives the government the right to shut down a media outlet after the first warning - one mistake and your are out! 

Others have complained that the law would also apply to online media – and the Internet is the only place in Belarus where alternative voices are heard.  The explanation is simple

However, Liliya Ananich, first deputy information minister, said in May that her ministry favored a registration requirement for online media outlets, as “there is a problem of disinformation flows” from abroad. According to Ananich, such a problem has been successfully tackled by China, “which has cut off access to its territory for such sites.”

The law also gives the government a right to punish those media outlets that distribute false information that causes damage to the public.  This is something the government has already addressed in the past (for example by passing a law that includes criminal prosecution of discrediting the country).

The problem of course is that in a weak rule of law climate who is to say what is a false piece of information and how can you dispute accusations?

In many emerging markets, new rules to control the media are sometimes well-reasoned, but the implementation of those laws more often than not has a political context (i.e. punishing the opposition rather than ensuring freedom of information).  Figuring out how to beef up voluntary ethical standards within media may be an alternative to restricting laws and regulations.  An alternative that I doubt the government of Belarus will consider…

Arab countries…Do they ever agree on anything other than more repression?!

Arab countries have always failed to agree on any cooperation policies, any reform agendas, any economic integration policies, and any international agenda.  It is just surprising how they managed, with no extensive meetings or discussions, on pressing the already limited freedoms.  Not to mention the freedom of speech and expression, the Arab ministers of communication, agreed to issue a charter for satellite TV in a major setback, to also restrict freedom of “listening”.

Arab Ministers met in Cairo on February 12, 2008 at the request of Egypt, and with the strong support of Saudi Arabia. The final document adopted by ALL member states of the Arab League (with the exception of Qatar and Lebanon) requires Satellite TV broadcasting in the region to:

  • Refrain to offend the leaders or national and religious symbols in the Arab world
  • Abstain from damaging social harmony, national unity, public order or traditional values (I guess it means here the relation between the citizens and government which is interpreted wrongly in Islam as (Al Raee wa Al Raeya
  • Conform with the religious and ethical values of Arab society and take account of its family structure (assuming that everybody believes in one religion)
  • Refrain from broadcasting anything which calls into question God, the monotheistic religions, the prophets, sects or symbols of the various religious communities, and
  • Protect Arab identity from the harmful effects of globalization (Doesn’t this contradict with the economic reform agendas most countries pretend to adopt?)

The provisions, if implemented, will inevitably mute and hinder the only avenue for free expression in the region: satellite TV. They stand in direct contradiction with Article 32 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights which guarantees the right to information and freedom of expression and which was adopted by the Council of Ministers of the League of Arab States in 2004. The provisions also violate article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ratified by many governments in the region.

Egypt Minister of Communication defended this charter yesterday in a talk show saying that with the “increase in the role of the private sector and the diminishing role of the state owned TV channels, governments need to find a way to regulate the sector”.  He also noted that 80% of the Arab satellite channels are currently owned by the private sector.

Would the major international policy players take action against this decision? Hopefully…