U.N. expert accuses White House of ‘onslaught’ against media

By Emma Farge

GENEVA (Reuters) – The U.N. special rapporteur on freedom of expression on Monday accused the White House of mounting an “onslaught” against the media and referred to a negative “Trump effect” on global press freedom.

In his last official press briefing before his six-year tenure ends later this month, David Kaye said in a series of forthright comments that he hoped “attacks” on U.S. journalists would end when President Donald Trump leaves office.

“Clearly the signature issue over the past four years now has been the way in which this particular president addresses the media: The way he denigrates the media, denigrates freedom of expression,” he told journalists in Geneva.

Kaye specified that the so-called onslaught consisted of criticism of reporters and spreading “disinformation,” as well as partnerships with conservative media organisations.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Asked about the impact of that on press freedom around the world, he said: “There clearly is a Trump effect, a very negative one,” adding that previous U.S. administrations had been more critical of attacks on the press, such as the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. He added that the Trump administration has created a global culture of permissiveness.

Kaye also raised broad concerns about government crackdowns that has worsened with the COVID-19 pandemic in a trend he described as “very disturbing” and contributing to the spread of the disease.

“Unfortunately often under the guise of trying to restrict disinformation, governments have resorted to old tools of clamping down on the free flow of information,” he said, without naming specific countries.

He was also critical of China’s “highly repressive approach to freedom of expression” and urged resistance to this approach.

“I think that there’s a real challenge to the democratic world to deal with what China considers to be the managed Internet approach and its approach to managing freedom of expression generally,” he said.

(Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Aurora Ellis)

China orders some American media to give details on staff, after U.S. move

BEIJING (Reuters) – China has asked four U.S. media organizations to submit details about their operations in the country, the foreign ministry said on Wednesday, in what it described as retaliation for U.S. measures against Chinese media outlets.

The Associated Press (AP), UPI, CBS and National Public Radio (NPR) are required to provide information about their staff, financial operations and real estate in China within seven days, ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a daily news briefing.

“We urge the U.S. to immediately change course, correct its error, and desist (from) the political suppression and unreasonable restriction of Chinese media,” Zhao said.

The United States and China have been locked in a series of retaliatory actions involving journalists in recent months, amid increasing tensions over issues ranging from the coronavirus pandemic to Hong Kong.

Last month, the United States said it would start treating another four major Chinese state media outlets as foreign embassies, following similar measures taken by Washington earlier in the year.

That designation similarly required the outlets to report their personnel and real estate holdings.

In March, China expelled about a dozen U.S. journalists from the New York Times, the News Corp-owned Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post. At the time, it also asked those outlets, as well as broadcaster Voice of America and Time magazine, to provide details on their China operations.

That had followed Washington’s move to slash the number of journalists permitted to work in the United States for four major Chinese state-owned media outlets.

“NPR is in communication with the relevant authorities and we are studying the request,” said an NPR spokesperson.

The AP said in a statement that it was “seeking more information about the requirements announced today and will review them carefully”.

CBS and UPI did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In May, Washington limited visas for Chinese reporters to a 90-day period, with the option for extension. Previously, such visas were typically open-ended.

(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian and Gabriel Crossley; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Kim Coghill and Mark Heinrich)

Trump blasts media as anxious Americans come to grips with coronavirus pandemic

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday capped a tumultuous week as Americans faced sweeping life changes and massive Wall Street losses amid the fast-spreading coronavirus outbreak by turning to a familiar playbook: attacking the media.

In a contentious press briefing, the Republican president lashed out at an NBC reporter who noted Trump’s tendency to put an optimistic spin on the situation and asked what his message was to the American people who may be scared.

“I say that you’re a terrible reporter. I think that is a nasty question,” Trump said.

Two of the nation’s most populous states – California and New York – have enacted their toughest restrictions yet affecting some 60 million people, while federal authorities this week moved to close the borders with Canada and Mexico. More than 200 people have died in the United States and over 14,000 cases of the highly contagious respiratory illness had been confirmed by Friday.

Trump and top administration officials for weeks downplayed the outbreak, which began in China in December, before shifting their tone about the severity of the health crisis more recently.

The president, who is running for re-election on Nov. 3, has long sparred with the media, blasting coverage of him as “fake news” and “hoaxes,” and slamming news outlets and journalists on his Twitter feed. His re-election campaign also recently filed lawsuits against several outlets, including the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Yet the crises has propelled Trump recently to give briefings with news outlets nearly every day in the White House briefing room, a place he eschewed during his first three years in office.

On Friday, in a particularly unusual twist, Trump’s first White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, attended the briefing and asked a question in his role working for Newsmax. Spicer repeatedly sparred with reporters during his time as a spokesman early in Trump’s term.

During his recent engagements with the press, Trump has sought to display unabashed optimism despite more sober comments from public health officials, medical experts, state governors and others who have sounded the coronavirus alarm.

One reporter on Thursday asked about the impact on the economy as many businesses have had to dramatically shift operations or shut down entirely during drastic measures to slow the spread of the virus.

“Thanks for telling us. We appreciate it,” Trump said. “What’s the rest of your question? We know that. Everybody in the room knows that.”

Asked last week about his role regarding the disbanding of a National Security Council pandemic preparedness team on his watch, Trump told a PBS reporter: “That’s a nasty question… When you say me, I didn’t do it.”

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Alexandra Alper, and Jeff Mason; writing by Susan Heavey; editing by Bill Berkrot)

Pakistani plan for media courts sparks fears for press freedom

Pakistani plan for media courts sparks fears for press freedom
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistani government plans to launch specialist media courts sparked a furious backlash on Wednesday from media and rights advocates who said the move was an attack on freedom of speech.

Government spokesman Firdous Ashiq Awan said late on Tuesday that cases against the media would be heard by the special tribunals, which would be overseen by higher courts.

The All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) said the move was a “black day” for the Pakistani media and that they would fight the measures in the legislature and judiciary.

“Special courts aimed at intimidating and strangulating the media and freedom of expression are not only unconstitutional but also contrary to the spirit of democracy,” Hameed Haroon, APNS president, and Sarmad Ali, APNS secretary-general, said in an emailed statement.

Journalists and human rights advocates have feared the introduction of the courts amid complaints of growing pressure on broadcasters and newspapers to avoid covering critics of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s administration.

In July, opposition parties accused Khan of intimidating broadcasters into a blackout on TV coverage of his critics, after several channels were briefly taken off-air and opposition protests and news conferences passed unreported.

Khan, who took office last year, has denied censoring media and has called the accusations a “joke”.

Government spokesman Awan said in a tweet that the existing media oversight body to be replaced by the special courts had been criticized for being under state control and that the new courts would meet judicial standards and process cases faster.

“The whole process will be a true reflection of laws and high democratic values,” she said, adding that journalists could also take complaints about the government to the media courts.

But that did not quell the fears of many freedom of speech advocates, with the non-governmental watchdog Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) saying it was alarmed.

“How are tribunals expected to maintain the media’s independence?” it said in a tweet. “Given the government’s woeful record on press freedoms, HRCP urges it to refrain from pressurizing the media further.”

Pakistan’s press has had a turbulent relationship with successive governments and the powerful military for many years.

Writers and bloggers say several cases of reporters being abducted and beaten, critical columnists being denied space, advertising business cut to media houses and sackings of TV commentators have created a climate of fear and self-censorship.

(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield in Islamabad and Syed Raza Hasan in Karachi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Let’s take the fake out of our news!

The Fake News Highway - Image by John Iglar

By Kami Klein

There was a time when the news wasn’t so confusing.  Before the internet, most families had their morning newspaper delivered conveniently to their door. In order to keep your business or be competitive, newspapers battled over the facts and dug deeper to reach the truth per investigative journalism.  The stories would be presented without opinions but based on legitimate proof. Of course, just as internet news does today, a powerful headline didn’t hurt.  

Once the workday was winding down, the evening news of the day was given through well-respected television journalists such as Walter Cronkite and Tom Brokaw, who presented the unbiased facts, trusting in the abilities of their listeners to ponder and come to their own conclusions.  The news itself was taken quite seriously. The worst thing to happen to a reporter was to be proven or accused of dishonorable reporting. To be respected in the journalism field was the goal and not how many facebook followers or tweet responses happened in a day or whether they have stayed true to their personal beliefs. Becoming a journalist was a calling… not the way to fame.

Suddenly we have the internet highway where everyone can have an opinion, Competition requires all journalism to be the fastest news source which yields little time for investigation or vetting and by presenting a portion of the facts which in many cases is served to the public with a generous amount of opinion gravy poured on top. Conservative or Liberal, it is rare to find an unbiased news source. Add to this confusing issue the hot topic of “Fake News” and it is a wonder any of us really knows what is going on. 

Every day, in social media across the world, fake news is often more prevalent in our feed than those stories that are actually the truth or at least close to it.  These (articles) are spread by the misconception that if it is on the internet, it must be true, or because the story sits right in line with the personal beliefs of the reader, it must be correct.  The share button gets a hit, and the lie continues on its journey. Where we used to be able to hold the reporter or journalist accountable for their information, the responsibility is now ours. In an age where anyone can post a news story, how do we take the fake out of our news? 

There are several kinds of fake news on the internet.  The following information comes from a story written by MastersinCommunication.org.. Called “The Truth about Fake News”. It is important for us to be able to identify and beware of the following:    

 

  • Propaganda – News stories designed to disparage a candidate, promote a political cause, and mislead voters
  • Sloppy Journalism – Stories containing inaccurate information produced by writers and editors who have not properly vetted a story. Retractions do little to fix the problem, even if there is one since the story has spread and the damage done.
  • Sensationalized Headlines – Often a story may be accurate but comes with a misleading or outrageous headline. Readers may not read past it, but take everything they need to know from this skewed title.
  • Clickbait – These stories are deliberately created to create traffic on a website. Advertising dollars are at stake, and gullible readers fall for it by the millions.
  • Satire – Parody websites like The Onion and The Daily Mash produce satirical stories that are believed by uninformed readers. The stories are written as satire and not meant to be taken literally, but unless you check their website, not everyone will know. 
  • Average Joe Reporting – Sometimes a person will post an eyewitness report that goes viral, but it may or may not be true. The classic example of this was a tweet by Eric Tucker in Austin, Texas in 2015. Posting a picture of a row of charter busses, Tucker surmised and tweeted that Trump protesters were being bussed in to rally against the President-elect. The tweet was picked up by multiple media outlets, and Mr. Trump himself, going viral in a matter of hours. The only problem is, it wasn’t true.

 The 2020 elections are upon us and fake news will be used as a weapon.  False news can destroy lives and ultimately do great harm to our country. 

How do we beat these fakes and stop them?  Here are some tools available to anyone who does not want to be duped by those that are attempting to manipulate for power, creating greater discourse or for money. If we can all take responsibility for what we share, we are one step closer to legitimate news.   

HERE ARE QUICK TIPS FOR CHECKING LEGITIMACY OF A NEWS STORY

 

  1.  Pay attention to the domain and URL – many times these sites will make something very close to a trusted news source.  Sites with such endings like .com.co should make you raise your eyebrows and tip you off that you need to dig around more to see if they can be trusted. This is true even when the site looks professional and has semi-recognizable logos. For example, abcnews.com is a legitimate news source, but abcnews.com.co is not, despite its similar appearance.
  2. Read the “About Us” section- Most sites will have a lot of information about the news outlet, the company that runs it, members of leadership, and the mission and ethics statement behind an organization. The language used here is straightforward. If it’s melodramatic and seems overblown, you should be skeptical.  This is where satire sites will let you know that what you are reading is only meant for entertainment. The laugh is then on us when we take what they say as the truth. they are counting on you NOT to check. 
  3. HEADLINES CAN BE MISLEADING!! -Headlines are meant to get the reader’s attention, but they’re also supposed to accurately reflect what the story is about. In fake stories, headlines often will be written in an exaggerated language with the intention of being misleading.  These will then be attached to stories that give half-truth or the story proves that the headline would never or has not actually happened.  
  4. Fact-Checking can be your friend –  Not only is fact-checking smart, looking to see if your particular news story leans to conservative or liberal points of view is just as important. Mediabiasfactcheck.com is one of my go-to places.  They also provide a great list of fact-checking sites that are highly recommended. You will also find a wonderful list of news web sites that have been deemed as non-biased. 

  While Facebook and Twitter are being held accountable for much of what is on our social media today, they will only succeed with our help. Together, we can take the fake out of the news and make responsible choices for our future!  

 

Foreign media reporting conditions in China worsen, group says

Red flags flutter on the top of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China September 30, 2018. Picture taken September 30, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee

BEIJING (Reuters) – Last year marked a “significant deterioration” in reporting conditions for foreign journalists in China, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China said on Tuesday, with no reporter saying in a new survey that conditions had improved last year.

The group said 55 percent of respondents to its 2018 reporting conditions survey said they believed conditions deteriorated last year, the largest proportion since 2011.

“Not a single correspondent said conditions improved,” the group said, unveiling results of a survey of its 204 foreign correspondent members, 109 of whom responded to questions.

“Rapidly expanding surveillance and widespread government interference against reporting in the country’s far northwestern region of Xinjiang drove a significant deterioration in the work environment for foreign journalists in China in 2018.”

Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular news briefing that the report was “not worth refuting” and could not represent the views of all foreign journalists.

The government has repeatedly said it is committed to ensuring foreign media can report easily, but that they must follow the rules and regulations.

According to rules issued just before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, foreign reporters can interview anyone as long as they have permission.

But the government often interprets the rules to suit its needs, rights groups say, especially when it comes to sensitive subjects. Tibet remains off limits for foreign journalists apart from government-organized visits.

While foreign journalists are occasionally harassed or temporarily detained, domestic media operate under strict government controls. Chinese reporters have been fired or jailed for writing stories that stray too far from the government line.

President Xi Jinping has overseen a sweeping crackdown on dissent since assuming office six years ago and his administration has tightened Communist Party controls on all levels of society, including in Xinjiang.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina; Editing by Neil Fullick)

Parents of U.S. journalist missing in Syria appeal to U.S., Syria

FILE PHOTO: Marc and Debra Tice, the parents of American journalist Austin Tice, walk after a news conference in Beirut, Lebanon July 20, 2017. REUTERS/Jamal Saidi

BEIRUT (Reuters) – The parents of an American journalist kidnapped in Syria six years ago appealed on Tuesday for the United States and Syria to work together to find their son and said they had applied for Syrian visas to lobby there for his release.

Austin Tice was 31 years old when he was detained in August 2012 at a checkpoint while reporting in Damascus on the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

He has not been heard from publicly since a video posted online weeks after he disappeared showed him in the custody of armed men, though both Washington and his parents say they believe he is alive.

“We urge both the United States government and the Syrian government to work together to resolve this humanitarian issue,” Marc Tice said at a conference in Beirut.

This is the eighth trip Debra and Marc Tice have made to Beirut in their quest to seek their son’s release and they say they have increased hope that the administration of President Donald Trump could make progress in the case.

“One of the continuous requests we make of the U.S. government is that they make direct contact with their peers in Syria. And that never occurred during Obama administration,” Marc Tice said. “We are very encouraged during this new administration.”

Robert O’Brien, U.S. President Donald Trump’s special envoy for hostage affairs, said in November the United States believes Tice is alive but did not elaborate on his condition.

O’Brien urged Russia, a close ally of Assad, to push for Tice’s release. The Syrian government says it is unaware of Tice’s whereabouts.

Marc and Debra Tice did not comment on who might be holding their son, but said they believed he was in Syria and that the Syrian government was best placed to help find him.

The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation has offered a reward of $1 million for information that leads to Austin’s safe return. Recently, a coalition of media and other organizations in the United States announced plans to match the FBI reward.

“Through these long years we have periodically been told by reliable sources that Austin is alive and is being properly cared for,” Debra Tice said.

(Reporting by Ellen Francis; Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

Malaysia outlaws ‘fake news’; sets jail of up to six years

Commuters walk past an advertisement discouraging the dissemination of fake news at a train station in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia March 28, 2018. Picture taken March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia on Monday approved a law against “fake news” that would allow for prison of up to six years for offenders, shrugging off critics who say it was aimed at curbing dissent and free speech ahead of a general election.

Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government secured a simple majority in parliament to pass the Anti-Fake News 2018 bill, which sets out fines of up to 500,000 ringgit ($123,000) and a maximum six years in jail. The first draft of the bill had proposed jail of up to 10 years.

The government said the law would not impinge on freedom of speech and cases under it would be handled through an independent court process.

“This law aims to protect the public from the spread of fake news, while allowing freedom of speech as provided for under the constitution,” Law Minister Azalina Othman Said told parliament.

The law defines fake news as “news, information, data and reports which is or are wholly or partly false” and includes features, visuals and audio recordings.

It covers digital publications and social media and will apply to offenders who maliciously spread “fake news” inside and outside Malaysia, including foreigners, if Malaysia or a Malaysian citizen were affected.

Co-opted by U.S. President Donald Trump, the term “fake news” has quickly become part of the standard repertoire of leaders in authoritarian countries to describe media reports and organizations critical of them.

The U.N. Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, had earlier on Monday urged the government not to rush the legislation through parliament.

“I urge the government to reconsider the bill and open it up to regular and genuine public scrutiny before taking any further steps,” David Kaye said in a Twitter post.

OTHERS CONSIDER LAWS

Other countries in Southeast Asia, including Singapore and the Philippines, are considering how to tackle “fake news” but human rights activists fear that laws against it could be used to stifle free speech.

Malaysia is among the first few countries to introduce a law against it. Germany approved a plan last year to fine social media networks if they fail to remove hateful postings.

Malaysia already has an arsenal of laws, including a colonial-era Sedition Act, that have been used to clamp down on unfavorable news and social media posts.

News reports and social media posts on a multi-billion dollar scandal at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) have hounded Prime Minister Najib, who faces arguably his toughest contest in a general election this year that could be called in days.

Najib has denied any wrongdoing in connection with losses at the fund.

A deputy minister was quoted in media last month as saying any news on 1MDB not verified by the government was “fake”.

Lim Kit Siang, a senior opposition lawmaker with the Democratic Action Party, described the bill as a “Save Najib from 1MDB Scandal Bill” which would criminalize news on the affair.

(Reporting by Joseph Sipalan; Writing by Praveen Menon; Editing by Robert Birsel)

North Korea cancels joint performance with South Korea, blames South media

North and South Korea women's ice hockey athletes stand in a line at a dining hall at the Jincheon National Training Centre in Jincheon, South Korea January 25, 2018

By Christine Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea has canceled a joint cultural performance with South Korea scheduled for Feb. 4 blaming South Korean media for encouraging “insulting” public sentiment regarding the North, South Korea’s unification ministry said on Monday.

The North said it had no choice but to call off the performance, which was to be held in the North Korean territory of Mount Kumgang, as South Korean media continued to insult what Pyongyang called “sincere” measures regarding the Winter Olympics Seoul will host next month, the ministry said.

Early in January, North and South Korea launched rare talks to bring North Koreans to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics after the North’s leader Kim Jong Un said he was willing to open up discussions with Seoul.

The two Koreas had been in discussions regarding final details over the joint performance. They were also talking about a different concert in South Korea by a North Korean orchestra and sending South Korean athletes to train at a North Korean ski resort.

The North added that the agreement on the Mount Kumgang joint performance had come despite conflict with its internal celebrations, the unification ministry said. North Korea has at least two major holidays coming up next month – Kim Jong Il’s birthday and a military founding anniversary.

Seoul said North Korea’s decision to cancel the joint performance was “very regrettable” and stressed Pyongyang should uphold all agreements made between North and South Korea.

President Moon Jae-in’s administration has faced criticism for its response to North Korea’s participation in the Games, especially after it decided to form a combined women’s ice hockey team with athletes from the two Koreas for the Winter Olympics.

Many South Koreans have complained the unified women’s hockey team – the only such joint team to be formed – was unfair to the South Korean players, going so far as creating over a hundred petitions against the unified team on the presidential Blue House’s website.

The controversy has sent South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s overall approval rating below 60 percent for the first time since he took office in May last year, according to a survey released last week by South Korean pollster Realmeter, dropping more than 6 percentage points since the previous week.

(Reporting by Christine Kim; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)