Tag Archives: Al Jazeera

Media freedom and human rights

Journalism about human rights is both important and dangerous. That was the message at the K. George and Carolann S. Najarian Lecture on Human Rights at Faneuil Hall, endowed by the Armenian Heritage Foundation and held Thursday night.

The lecture, titled “Truth to Action: Media Freedom,” featured Ray Suarez of Al Jazeera America and PRI; Boston Globe investigative reporter Stephen Kurkjian, who’s also an adjunct professor at Northeastern University; and Thomas Mucha, editor of the Boston-based international news agency GlobalPost.

To see a Storify of live tweets about the event, please click here.

Net neutrality and the future of journalism

This article was originally published by the media-reform organization Free Press and is posted here by permission. Josh Stearns is the journalism and public media campaign director for Free Press. You can follow him on Twitter at @jcstearns.

Josh portraitBy Josh Stearns

Tuesday’s court decision, which struck down the FCC’s open Internet order and threatened the future of net neutrality, has huge implications for the future of journalism and press freedom.

According to the Pew Research Center, half of all Americans now cite the Internet as their “main source for national and international news.” For young people the number is 71 percent. While we are nowhere near stopping the presses or tearing down the broadcast towers, the Internet is increasing how we distribute and consume the news today.

The future of journalism is bound up in the future of the Internet.

That is why net neutrality is so important and why the court decision this week should worry digital journalists and publishers. For newsrooms the decision means that a company like AT&T or Verizon could decide where their users can go for news and what stories get buried or blocked online. Verizon could strike a deal with CNN and hamper their users’ ability to access alternative news sources. Comcast could slow access to Al Jazeera, because it wants to promote its NBC news offerings.*

That’s why, in 2010, U.S. Sen. Al Franken argued that “net neutrality is the First Amendment issue of our time.”

No journalist or publisher should be held hostage by the commercial or political whims of an Internet service provider. In the end, however, the biggest media companies aren’t likely worried about this court decision. As Stacey Higginbotham wrote:

In many ways this will be a win for the large content companies such as Disney or Viacom. Yes, they might have to pay for prioritization on the broadband networks, but they have deep pockets and such a move would help them ensure their content continues to reach consumer eyeballs as the television industry fragments online. It’s possible we could see the emergence of a pay TV bundle of content that is either exempt from caps or just delivered with pristine quality while YouTube videos sputter.

But it is not just sputtering YouTube videos we need to worry about. It is people’s ability to access the independent journalism and diverse voices, which have thrived on the Web.

In 2009 a coalition of nearly 50 online journalism innovators sent a letter to the FCC, calling on the commissioners to protect the open Internet. “Net Neutrality ensures that innovative local news websites and national nonprofit reporting projects can be accessed just as easily as legacy media sites,” they wrote. “Net Neutrality encourages journalists to pioneer new tools and modes of reporting and lowers the bar for citizens to participate.”

Net neutrality is about creating a level playing field for all voices.

In an ironic twist, when it argued against net neutrality at the federal appeals court, Verizon claimed it actually had a First Amendment right to block and censor Internet users. And while the court largely ignored Verizon’s First Amendment claims, its ultimate decision essentially gave Verizon the green light begin “editing” the Internet.

As more and more news and information moves online, we need to ensure that the flow of online information is free and unencumbered. Traditional battles over press freedom are critical, as the recent Committee to Protect Journalists report so clearly showed, but today we also have to understand that keeping the Internet free goes hand in hand with keeping the press free.

The court decision this week is bad news for the Internet and for independent media, but it is not the last word in this debate.

The Federal Communications Commission can reclassify broadband as what it is: the fundamental communications infrastructure of our time. That simple action would re-establish its legal authority and ensure that its can protect consumers and journalists from online discrimination. Protecting freedom of the press can’t stop online.

* Because of the conditions placed on their deal to buy NBC in 2011, Comcast has to abide by net neutrality principles until 2018 regardless of this court case.

Standing up for freedom of the press in Kazakhstan

Screen Shot 2013-01-07 at 8.31.55 AM

Click to watch documentary at Al Jazeera English

Yevgeniya Plakhina, a young media activist from Kazakhstan whom I met at a conference in that country’s largest city, Almaty, in 2009, is asking supporters of free and independent journalism to sign a petition on behalf of her former newspaper, Respublika. She writes:

Unfortunately, Kazakhstan is passing through “Turkmenization” phase, and after events in Zhanaozen where local police opened fire at peaceful demonstration our government tries to close down all the remaining critical media (please, find details in the text of the petition), including Respublika newspaper where I used work for several years. We are seeking support from our colleagues overseas to demonstrate solidarity with Kazakh journalists. If you can, please, sign or share this petition (http://chn.ge/12y7BWW) with your colleagues, maybe they’ll be willing and able to support us. Thank you for your help!

You can learn a lot more about media repression in Kazakhstan by watching a documentary about Respublika, “The Fight to Publish” (above), which was broadcast last spring on Al Jazeera English. Among other things, you’ll see a Respublika journalist covering shootings in Zhanaozen.

Despite my skepticism that any more than a handful of people are going to watch the new Al Jazeera America, this is why it’s important that it be available — as old friend Rory O’Connor points out in the Huffington Post.

About that “Kony 2012” video

We may not have previously seen a social-media phenomenon quite like “Kony 2012,” the online video aimed at raising public awareness about Joseph Kony, the leader of the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. I saw it on Tuesday, urged on by my son. He was skeptical from the beginning, having seen this. Today, some 50 million views later, “Kony 2012″ is on the front page of the New York Times.

You may be familiar with the criticism by now, which I will attempt summarize as follows:

  • It oversimplifies a complex situation.
  • Kony’s forces, which once terrorized Uganda, have dwindled to a few hundred, and have long since fled for parts unknown.
  • Invisible Children, the not-exactly-transparent nonprofit that made “Kony 2012,” is pushing for the U.S. to launch an ill-advised military action.
  • The film plays down the brutal nature of the current Ugandan government, which, among other things, is considering a measure calling for the death penalty for gay men. (A star of the film is U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, who has been accused of inadvertently helping to foment anti-gay hatred in Uganda.)
  • The underlying message of the video is that bringing Kony to justice is something white people must do for poor, helpless black people.

“While I’ve been waiting years for a spotlight to be shown on Kony, what Kony 2012 is all about is shining the spotlight on [filmmaker] Jason Russell,” writes my WGBH colleague Phillip Martin on Facebook. “This is indeed a great white hope form of self-aggrandizement, albeit whatever good intentions he has.”

Personally, I’d been going back and forth on “Kony 2012″ until last night, when I ran across this lengthy blog post by Ethan Zuckerman, an Africa expert who is director of MIT’s Center for Civic Media as well as the co-founder of Global Voices Online, which has rounded up African reaction to the film. It’s exactly the sort of nuanced, deeply knowledgeable analysis I would expect from Zuckerman, and I urge you to read it. (If you haven’t seen “Kony 2012″ yet, this will take you less time.)

There’s no question that “Kony 2012″ will raise awareness, and it’s possible that it will even do some good. But it’s not entirely clear what the goal is, or for that matter should be.

Video recorded by @rosebellk for Al Jazeera.

N.H. television station cuts off Al Jazeera

Al Jazeera English newsroom in Doha, Qatar

New Hampshire-based media commentator, political activist and all-around force of nature Deborah “Arnie” Arnesen may lose her gig as a contributor to Al Jazeera English, the English-language service of the Qatar-based news service.

Last week WMUR-TV (Channel 9) in Manchester, N.H., apparently shut off access to Al-Jazeera, which Arnesen had used to broadcast several segments. According to the Concord Monitor, Arnesen had been scheduled to appear on Al-Jazeera to discuss President Obama’s outreach to women and minorities. Instead, she had to do it by phone.

The Monitor reports that WMUR has not responded to requests for comment. But Sarah Alansary, a producer for Al Jazeera, is quoted as saying the station sent a message cutting off access:

They sent an e-mail telling them sorry, the studio’s no longer booked for you. We don’t wish to do business with your organization. I don’t know what’s the reason.

Unless someone from WMUR chooses to speak, it’s hard to know what’s going on. But by staying silent, station management has fostered the perception that it doesn’t want to do business with Al Jazeera, which is controversial in some circles, for political reasons.

“Every candidate on the planet who thinks of running for president is coming here,” Arnesen tells the Monitor. “Don’t you want the Middle East to know what’s going on? What message are they sending by shutting them off?”

I spoke briefly with Arnesen about this last week. Needless to say, she was perplexed and annoyed.

Al Jazeera is a legitimate news organization. As this New York Times “Topics” page notes, Al-Jazeera reaches 40 million viewers around the world, and it acts as a wire service for CNN and other American news operations. The perspective it offers is quite different from that of the Western media, but isn’t that the point?

Al Jazeera English is available on very few U.S. cable systems, but it does offer a YouTube channel. Its current lead story — about drug addiction in Iran — is exactly the sort of thing you’re unlikely to see on American television.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.