Disaster tends to catch New Yorkers at their best, and the reaction to Hurricane Sandy’s onslaught on America’s East Coast is no exception. Stories of courage and altruism abound – even from the unlikeliest of sources. Inevitably, however, there is the exception that proves the rule, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, it was in the murkier backwaters of Twitter that mendacity and rank skullduggery did their best to sully the pure waters of civic solidarity. Shashank Tripathia, a hedge fund manager and sometime Republican activist, made it his mission to anonymously propagate noisy misinformation about the storm under the Twitter handle ‘@comfortablysmug’, spiking emergency communications with malicious and seemingly pointless untruths. Many of his tweets, such as ‘BREAKING: Confirmed flooding on NYSE. The trading floor is flooded under more than 3 feet of water’, were repeated unchallenged by CNN and other mainstream broadcasters before being finally repudiated, and were received with obvious anxiety and alarm.
freedom of speech
‘Privacy is for paedos’. ‘Circulation defines the public interest’. ‘In 21 years of invading people’s privacy I’ve never found anybody doing any good’. Fleet street veteran Paul McMullan’s take on modern journalism as related to the Leveson inquiry may not be pretty, but it sets in sharp relief the starkly amoral wasteland of sections of the tabloid press, the precise contours of which Lord Justice Leveson has been tasked to expose. In defending, amongst other things, hacking into the mobile telephone of a murdered schoolgirl, McMullan’s stance is abhorrent; yet it is also compelling, since it is the definitive articulation of what the Guardian called ‘the end point of the regulation-free, market-driven, anything-goes tabloid morality’.
Solutions to the present crisis are not noted for possessing a similar degree of uncompromising certainty, unless it is for that which is emphatically not desired. Large sections of the printed media face a paradoxical impasse, recognizing that the status quo of self-regulation has failed, but viewing any sort of official or statutory regulation as the death knell for freedom of speech. Before Leveson reports next month, therefore, the Carnegie Trust has taken the startlingly innovative step of bothering to ask the public exactly what they think should happen next, the results of which are rather revealing.
The micro-blogging site Twitter announced yesterday that it had blocked the account of a neo-Nazi group accused by German authorities of inciting hatred towards foreigners. In a landmark case, unprecedented in pitting concerns over censorship and free speech against national laws on the incitement to racial hatred, the company said it had complied with a request by German police who have been monitoring the activities of the banned far-right group ‘Besseres Hannover’ (‘Better Hannover’) for some time. In a tweet posted on the website, Twitter’s chief lawyer Alex Macgillivray stated:
‘We announced the ability to withhold content back in Jan. We're using it now for the first time re: a group deemed illegal in Germany.’
Following its last highly controversial issue which featured cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammed, satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has printed two editions this week, one "responsible" and one "irresponsible." Last week’s cartoons mocked the explosive reaction to the film "The Innocence of Muslims" by parodying a popular French film, "Untouchables," and portrayed Muhammad in a series of poses, in one of which he is naked.
In addition to the standard issue, this week’s "responsible" edition of Charlie Hebdo contains no pictures and very little text – the clear message being that to be "responsible" is extremely limiting and does not actually mean doing real journalism. Aside from an editorial from Stéphane Charbonnier, or Charb, the weekly’s publisher, the paper only contains headlines and blank spaces. The ironic headlines include “Tunisia – all is well,” “Morocco – all is well,” “Egypt – all is well” and “Libya – all is well,” following by “Mali – all is going very well.” Others include “Prudence is the mother of safety” and “Do you know how to plant cabbages?”
Are comment sections really all they’re made out to be? While most news organizations welcome user feedback in some form or another, the debate is far from settled as to whether comments help or hurt online newspapers. Intended to encourage intelligent online discussion—but often dominated by vicious trolls, or users who post inflammatory statements for no reason other than to provoke others—comment sections clearly have both their pros and cons.
In an article from the Animal New York website, which is currently redesigning its format, Joel Johnson asserts that most comments are not intellectually stimulating or educational, but rather just spam and “drive-by internet hate.”
“Comments are a dinner party,” Johnson writes. “If I’ve invited you to have a seat at my table, at least have the courtesy to not call me an idiot for serving you food slightly different than you preferred…”
Johnson also suggests that the cost of monitoring comments outweighs the editorial benefit that insightful comments might bring.
He writes, “comments are likely a cost-of-doing-business for most content sites, not a revenue generator. This has been somewhat known for years for any high-volume site that is forced to require human content moderation—humans cost money, whether they are hand-moderating content, shepherding conversation, or building automated tools to allow user-moderated content.”
The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the World Editors Forum have welcomed Ecuador President Rafael Correa's decision to pardon the executives and former opinion editor of the El Universo newspaper, but said the charges and conviction should never have occurred in the first place.
"We are delighted that President Correa has decided to issue a pardon, but the charges should never have been issued and the Ecuadorean courts should never have levied jail sentences and a US$40 million fine," the global organisations said in a statement.
"We are also pleased that the president has decided to withdraw a separate suit against Juan Carlos Calderón and Christian Zurita, two journalists who were ordered to pay US$2 million," the statement said. "Jail sentences and excessive fines have a chilling effect on the press and violate all standards of freedom of expression. We call on the president to ensure that Ecuador reforms its libel laws to conform with international standards."
Ecuador's National Court of Justice earlier this month upheld a libel judgment, a 40 million dollar fine and 3-year prison sentences against El Universo and its directors Carlos, César and Nicolas Pérez. Two of them fled the country, while a third took refuge in the Panamanian Embassy in Quito.
The Ecuadorian National Assembly have passed changes made by President Rafael Correa to the country's Democracy Code restricting media outlets from publishing positive or negative material about political candidates in the run up to elections, due to take place on January 20, 2013.
The changes come into effect on February 4 and prohibit news media from directly or indirectly promoting any kind of material that carries positive or negative messages about any candidate, electoral preference or political opinion.
The press freedom organisation Fundamedios has condemned the new law, saying that it "represents the imposition of censorship in advance on the content of news media". The group notes that "the legislation due to come into effect contains ambiguous language that will make journalistic work subject to the discretion of the National Assembly".
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With 120 participants from across the Arab world and beyond, the three-day 'Forum for Media Freedom Defenders in the Arab World' kicked-off on Monday in the Jordanian capital, Amman.
The Forum was organised by the Amman-based Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists (CDFJ), an organisation concerned with protecting Jordanian and Arab journalists and their liberties and rights, in addition to developing the Arab media sector. The event has been funded by The Royal Norwegian Embassy in Amman.
During the first two days, the Forum has conducted open discussion sessions on the role played by the media during the uprisings in the Arab world. The goal is to identify the challenges facing the Arab media and discuss how to create a better future for freedom of expression in the region. The last day of the Forum will be a closed workshop session where participants will form working groups to discuss how to "develop strategies and plans to assist in institutionalising mechanisms of defending media freedom in the Arab world".
The office of Paris-based satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was set ablaze last night at around 1am, protesting the satirical magazine's cartoons in the the latest issue that "celebrated" the victory of moderate Islamist party An-Nahda in Tunisia and the announcement that Sharia law would be the foundation of the new post-Ghadaffi Libyan state. The most controversial was on the front page, where the magazine portrayed its "guest editor", the prophet Muhammad, accompanied by the phrase "100 lashes if you don't die of laughter."
The fire was reportedly started by a petrol bomb thrown through a window, and the publication's website was also hacked to display an image of Mecca.
The magazine strongly supports "Laïcité", the idea of secularism in society, and launched this satirical bombardment on religious law in response to current events in North Africa. Some of the cartoons included in the magazine are shown on Le Monde's website.
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