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Press Freedom

2014: The Graveyard of Fevered Hopes?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

The year that is ending in two weeks has exhibited two sobering characteristics. First, it has been marked by apocalyptic violence (the massacre of school children in Peshawar, Pakistan being the latest outrage). Second, it has been marked by pressures on communication freedom, and the relentless squeezing of civic spaces. The violence we all know about; for it seems to be kicking off everywhere. But the causes are legion; the politics in each case is bewilderingly complex. So, we’ll leave these alone and hope for the best. But we might usefully reflect, as the year closes, on what is happening with national public spheres and the emerging global public sphere.

There is a narrative of hope and freedom about the global communication context. That narrative celebrates the mobile wave and the astounding spread of information and communication technologies. It talks about how wonderful all this is for voice, for enlightenment, for freedom. Look, we are told, see all those cool young kids with their fancy gadgets, social media skills, and their ability to launch collective action eruptions, even revolutions! See how admirable and hopeful all this is, we are told. And, yes, events have often backed up the fevered hopes and dreams, even this year. Yet, as the year ends, the overwhelming sense one gets is that dark and powerful forces are counterattacking. They are certainly not on the ropes. Let’s look at the particulars:

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Could Mobile Phones Save Millions From Illiteracy?
Forbes
According to UNESCO, the answer is yes. Or at least, they could help. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization periodically publishes detailed report about mobile phones usage in some of the poorest regions of the world. This time, for the study Reading in the Mobile Age, the organization tried to understand not only if people in developing countries use mobiles at all, but also, if they use them in a way that could help fight illiteracy. The research found out that, while mobile phones are still used primarily for basic communication, they are also, increasingly, a gateway to long-form text. Often, for millions, the only chance of reading a text where books are almost unknown.


Press Freedom at the Lowest Level in a Decade
Freedom House
While there were positive developments in a number of countries, most notably in sub-Saharan Africa, the dominant trends were reflected in setbacks in a range of settings. The year’s declines were driven by the desire of governments— articularly in authoritarian states or polarized political environments—to control news content, whether through the physical harassment of journalists covering protest movements or other sensitive news stories; restrictions on foreign reporters; or tightened constraints on online news outlets and social media. In addition, press freedom in a number of countries was threatened by private owners—especially those with close connections to governments or ruling parties—who altered editorial lines or dismissed key staff after acquiring previously independent outlets.

Campaign Art: Silence Kills, but a Free Press Talks

Roxanne Bauer's picture
People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

Saturday, May 3 is World Press Freedom Day.  In honor of this day, we are sharing a selection of print ads on the theme of  "Silence kills democracy, but a free press talks" from the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
 
Silence Kills, but a Free Press Talks

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
 
By the Numbers: Tracing the Statistical Correlation Between Press Freedom and Democracy
Center for International Media Assistance, National Endowment for Democracy
It is generally accepted that media freedom is beneficial to democratic and economic development, but the exact nature of this relationship and the direction of causality between press freedom and general freedoms is under-researched. Rigorous and in-depth examinations of the relationship between press freedom and general democracy using the available global datasets have been limited. This study investigates the nature of that relationship through detailed statistical and qualitative analysis.

Africa’s Tech Edge
The Atlantic
It’s a painfully First World problem: Splitting dinner with friends, we do the dance of the seven credit cards. No one, it seems, carries cash anymore, so we blunder through the inconvenience that comes with our dependence on plastic. Just as often, I encounter a street vendor or taxi driver who can’t handle my proffered card and am left shaking out my pockets and purse. When I returned to the United States after living in Nairobi on and off for two years, these antiquated payment ordeals were especially frustrating. As I never tire of explaining to friends, in Kenya I could pay for nearly everything with a few taps on my cellphone.

Weekly Wire:the Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
 

World Press Freedom Index 2014
Reporters Without Borders
The 2014 World Press Freedom Index spotlights the negative impact of conflicts on freedom of information and its protagonists. The ranking of some countries has also been affected by a tendency to interpret national security needs in an overly broad and abusive manner to the detriment of the right to inform and be informed. This trend constitutes a growing threat worldwide and is even endangering freedom of information in countries regarded as democracies. Finland tops the index for the fourth year running, closely followed by Netherlands and Norway, like last year. At the other end of the index, the last three positions are again held by Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea, three countries where freedom of information is non-existent. READ MORE

Throwing the transparency baby out with the development bathwater
Global Integrity
In recent weeks, a number of leading voices within the international development movement – including the billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates as well as development economist Chris Blattman and tech-for-development expert Charles Kenny - have come out arguing that corruption and governance efforts in developing countries should be de-prioritized relative to other challenges in health, education, or infrastructure. Their basic argument is that while yes, corruption is ugly, it’s simply another tax in an economic sense and while annoying and inefficient, can be tolerated while we work to improve service delivery to the poor. The reality is more complicated and the policy implications precisely the opposite: corruption’s “long tail” in fact undermines the very same development objectives that Gates, Blattman, and Kenny are advocating for. READ MORE

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

The Guardian
70 journalists killed in six months

“At least 70 journalists and support staff were killed while on assignment in the first half of this year, making it one of the bloodiest periods of recent times.

Fifteen were confirmed dead in Syria alone between January and June, according to the biannual Killing The Messenger survey of news media casualties produced for the International News Safety Institute (INSI) by the Cardiff school of journalism.

The next worst countries were Nigeria, where seven unidentified newspaper staff were killed by a bomb, Brazil, Somalia, Indonesia, where five journalists died in a plane crash, and Mexico.”  READ MORE

Three Harmless Words

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

"Freedom of Information. Three harmless words. I look at those words as I write them, and feel like shaking my head till it drops off my shoulders. You idiot. You naive, foolish, irresponsible nincompoop. There is really no description of stupidity, no matter how vivid, that is adequate. I quake at the imbecility of it. Once I appreciated the full enormity of the blunder, I used to say - more than a little unfairly - to any civil servant who would listen: Where was Sir Humphrey when I needed him? We had legislated in the first throes of power. How could you, knowing what you know have allowed us to do such a thing so utterly undermining of sensible government?"

Quote of the Week: Hugo L. Black

Shanthi Kalathil's picture

"The constitutional guarantee of a free press rests on the assumption that the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public, that a free press is a condition of a free society...Freedom to publish means freedom for all and not for some. Freedom to publish is guaranteed by the Constitution, but freedom to continue to prevent others from publishing is not."

-- U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo L. Black

More on Indices: Evaluating the Evaluators

Shanthi Kalathil's picture

Building partly on a previous post on the value of indices, I'm highlighting this week a new edited volume published by Peter Lang Press, entitled Measures of Press Freedom and Media Contributions to Development: Evaluating the Evaluators. This rich and informative collection of essays, edited by Monroe Price, Susan Abbott and Libby Morgan, focuses a spotlight on well known indices in the area of press freedom and media independence, raising valuable questions about what the indices are measuring, what they are not measuring, and the linkage between assistance to independent media and democratization. I've contributed a chapter to this volume, as have expert colleagues such as Guobin Yang, Andrew Puddephat, Lee Becker and Tudor Vlad, Craig LaMay, fellow CommGAP blogger Silvio Waisbord, and many others.

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Johanna Martinsson's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

AudienceScapes:
Kenya: Citizen Watchdogs Go Online

"Holding government officials accountable is the goal of a new project that solicits citizen reports via mobile phone. Through this Web-based public forum the government’s performance will be scrutinized – and, the hope is – improved."
Kenya - "In a new forum here for citizen complaints, one recent report complains about inadequate medical care: “No medicine, no nurse at Nyamira Hospital. I am tired of this.” Launched a month ago in test phase, the Web-based forum allows ordinary Kenyans to comment on the government’s success in performing basic functions. Using a mobile phone or computer, citizens can post comments which are then published on a public website. Called Huduma (which means “service” in Swahili), the platform solicits reports about government services in five areas: health, education, water, governance and infrastructure." READ MORE 

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