Archive for the ‘Media’ Category
lmost 15 years have passed since I warned about media “balance” that involved systematically abdicating the journalistic duty of informing readers about simple matters of fact. As I said way back when,
If a presidential candidate were to declare that the earth is flat, you would be sure to see a news analysis under the headline ”Shape of the Planet: Both Sides Have a Point.” After all, the earth isn’t perfectly spherical.
So have things improved? In some ways, they may have gotten even worse. These days, media balance often seems to involve retroactively rewriting history to avoid telling readers that one side of a policy debate got things completely wrong.
In particular, when you see reports on monetary disputes, you often see characterizations of what the Fed’s right-wing critics have been saying that go something like this, in the WaPo:
Among the criticisms: The Fed was keeping interest rates artificially low and fueling speculative bubbles. The helicopter-drop of money known as quantitative easing did little more than inflate stock markets and fund Washington’s deficit spending. The bailout of big banks left them bigger than ever.
Um, no. The people who gathered at the anti-Jackson-Hole eventweren’t warning about bubbles and too-big-to-fail. They warned, in apocalyptic terms, that runaway inflation was just around the corner. Here’s Ron Paul; here’s Peter Schiff.
Why would a reporter credit the Fed’s critics with warnings they didn’t give, and fail to mention what they actually said? The answer, pretty obviously, is that if you were to say “Ron Paul has been predicting runaway inflation ever since the Fed began its expansionary policies”, that would make it clear that he has been completely wrong. And conveying that truth — even as a matter of simple factual reporting — is apparently viewed as taking sides.
So what we get instead is a whitewashing of the intellectual history, in which Fed critics are portrayed as making arguments that haven’t been shown to be ridiculous. It’s a pretty sorry spectacle.
Canada provides a good example of government authoritarianism in how it treats government scientists
In Motherboard Stephen Buranyi describes the struggle to enable Canada’s government scientists to communicate with the public:
As a scientist employed by the Canadian government, every question Janet receives from a journalist or member of the public must be screened by a media officer. These officers decide what questions reach her, and have the final say on what answers come back.
“They have a list of ‘hot-button’ issues that can’t be mentioned, like climate change, or the oil sands. They say ‘Don’t use that phrase’ or ‘Don’t connect it to industry X,’” said Janet, an Environment Canada researcher who agreed to speak about her experience on the condition we use a pseudonym. She fears she may lose her job for speaking openly about policies that she feels have led to her scientific work being repeatedly censored and misrepresented.
“They’ve told me: ‘Say you don’t know the answer to that question,’ even if I do,” she said. “They make me look like an idiot.”
While it is certainly not unusual for government departments to have a media office, the way the Canadian government has systematically used them to restrict the public’s access to researchers and their data has sparked outrage from scientists around the world.
The media officers usually request that questions be sent to scientists by email. Phone and in-person interviews are rarely granted, and it’s not always clear to journalists which questions will be answered, or even who is doing the answering. Instead, the media office may remove the original scientist’s name and return answers attributed to an unnamed group.
From the inside, the system is equally faceless. Janet said that correspondence is carried out through a single departmental email address. She said there are clearly multiple people using the account, but they never identify themselves. They just filter and edit and tinker with the information, in total anonymity.
Canadian journalists were the first to raise the alarm about the practice, what is now known as “muzzling,” around 2008. It was then they realized that the rules had changed, and media officers were preventing them from talking to scientists they previously had no trouble contacting. Since 2012 there have also been significant cuts to scientific programs, with thousands of jobs lost at government research departments. The cuts are projected to continue, and research centered on the hot buttons—climate, energy, and environment—will be taking the biggest hits.
Despite regular media coverage, none of it kind, little about the situation has changed. Like many Canadian scientists, Janet feels that her work is being disrespected and devalued by a government that cares more about message control than the research she was hired to do.
“From here, it really does seem like they hate science,” Janet said.
This has put Canadian scientists in a very uncomfortable place. . .
Graham Templeton reports at Motherboard:
In 1972, a senior analyst at the National Security Agency (NSA) reached out to the editors of the radical left-wing magazine Ramparts and volunteered to give a wide-ranging interview under the pseudonym of Winslow Peck. Though even he didn’t know it at the time, what Peck would tell the editors of Ramparts over several days in a San Francisco hotel room would come to change the course of Canadian history forever.
In that interview, Peck spoke widely about the NSA’s activities around the world, and made two references to Canada—specifically, a major Canadian agency called the CBNRC. According to him, this rather opaque acronym represented the Canadian equivalent to America’s NSA, and the UK’s shadowy GCHQ.
There was just one problem: the Canadian public had never heard of anything called the CBNRC.
Peck and the rest of the global security establishment knew that this Canadian agency, known today as the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), had been engaged in comprehensive eavesdropping and code breaking initiatives ever since the end of the Second World War. The Canadian government had secretly collectedthe country’s post-war signals intelligence talent at the National Research Council (NRC) in 1946, establishing the intentionally vague-sounding Communications Branch: the CBNRC.
Three years later, Canada secretly signed a tailored amendment to a prior US intelligence arrangement with the UK, called the UKUSA Agreement. The contract guaranteed a mostly free exchange of intelligence between members, and the CBNRC’s secret activities were the main source of the intelligence Canada brought to the table. Australia and New Zealand signed onto the Agreement in 1956, completing the group widely known today as the Five Eyes.
Unknown even to the majority of parliament, by 1972 the CBNRC had grown to employ some 600 people—slightly smaller than the Department of Justice, and about half the size of the Canadian Forces unit for military signals intelligence. Every successive federal government vehemently denied that Canada engaged in any international espionage, while the CBNRC secretly helped to fight and even escalate the Cold War.
Peck’s interview in Ramparts provided one of the first concrete pieces of evidence pointing to this fact. It practically begged for further investigation—though that investigation wouldn’t begin in earnest until the following year, with an enterprising young Englishman named William Macadam.
George Robertson had only just become head of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Current Affairs department when William Macadam walked in with an absurd idea. Had Robertson been around longer, the young programming director might have been more skeptical; Macadam was a known shit disturber at the CBC, a long-time political operative for the Progressive Conservative party. His primary interaction with the news department had been repeatedly accusing them of favoring the extremely camera-friendly Liberal candidate, Pierre Trudeau, throughout the 1968 federal election.
But despite Macadam’s best efforts, Trudeau went on to win a strong majority government. It was one of many moments that left the young political staffer disillusioned, but it also impressed on him the power of television to affect people’s thinking on political matters. Aimless, but still ambitious, he decided to attempt an unexpected move into freelance video journalism.
Given his history with news organizations, however, he did still have to pay his dues. Robertson thinks someone at the CBC must have decided to have some fun by implying that the best way for Macadam to prove his worth as a new reporter would be to somehow get film of a violent biker gang in their clubhouse in Hull, Quebec. A bookish-looking young man with an upper-class English accent, Macadam naively came to Robertson with an offer to film the piece—with the understanding that if he was successful it would lead to more work, on topics of his choosing.
“I had never met him before,” Robertson recalled in a phone interview. “But he intrigued me. He had a great confidence in his ability to get things done.”
He bought the story, still wondering if Macadam had the skillset to deliver the goods—and Macadam, somehow, delivered. To get the footage, the rookie reporter was forced to employ hidden cameras, enormous at the time, and a sheer audacity that would come to define his later investigative work. Though it was short, the biker piece generated uncommon buzz for the Current Affairs department. The public was clearly interested in getting a window into hidden, even dangerous worlds—a lesson Macadam would learn well.
It was the ability to deliver on such a challenging assignment that pushed Robertson to greenlight an even more ambitious pitch: a 10-minute news segment that would highlight some of the US Central Intelligence Agency’s activities inside Canada. It was just one of several ideas Macadam had at the time, but it fit the public’s interests and seemed well suited to the sorts of clandestine talents he had already displayed.
“The government had constantly denied that Canada was involved in spying or espionage,” Macadam said in one of a series of phone interviews. “I thought it was important to find out if we were.”
If only he had known the depths of the rabbit hole he was about to enter.
Macadam knew that tackling a subject as difficult as the American clandestine services would require some extra talent. There were a number of false starts, as he discarded several able researchers off the bat. “They would tell me that things were impossible, that we couldn’t get an interview with somebody,” he said. “I had no use for that—being defeated before you start.”
Eventually, Macadam’s attention fell on a young Bostonian ex-pat at the University of Toronto named James Dubro. The 26-year-old academic was lecturing in 18th century literature, but had caught Macadam’s eye through his innovative work setting up databases of cross-referenced donor info for the University’s fundraisers. “The joy was that Dubro had a great naiveté,” Macadam said. “He quickly understood my belief that anything was possible.”
It was this attitude, that anything was possible, that led Dubro to take another look at the interview in Ramparts. Like most at the time, he was more interested in the feature interview’s juicy American angle than some boring Canadian acronym, but he did suggest to Macadam that this Winslow Peck might make a good interview subject on the CIA.
Once Macadam saw the reference to Canada, however, their focus immediately shifted to this alleged intelligence agency, the CBNRC.
Rather than arouse suspicion by coming at the Canadian establishment directly, they chose to begin their investigation in the United States. “I think the fact that I was American may have helped,” Dubro admitted over the phone in a thick Bostonian accent. “Once we stumbled on [the Ramparts interview], we started throwing the CBNRC into questions with US intelligence people. And they, stupidly, would tell us more.” . . .
Authoritarian governments really do not like a free press. And Britain shows how an authoritarian government responds to the threat a free press represents to it. Duncan Campbell reports in The Intercept:
I stepped from the warmth of our source’s London flat. That February night in 1977, the air was damp and cool, the buzz of traffic muted in this leafy North London suburb, in the shadow of the iconic Alexandra Palace. A fellow journalist and I had just spent three hours inside, drinking Chianti and talking about secret surveillance with our source, and now we stood on the doorstep discussing how to get back to the south coast town where I lived.
Events were about to take me on a different journey. Behind me, sharp footfalls broke the stillness. A squad was running, hard, toward the porch of the house we had left. Suited men surrounded us. A burly middle-aged cop held up his police ID. We had broken “Section 2″ of Britain’s secrecy law, he claimed. These were “Special Branch,” then the elite security division of the British police.
For a split second, I thought this was a hustle. I knew that a parliamentary commission had released a report five years earlier that concluded that the secrecy law, first enacted a century ago, should be changed. I pulled out my journalist identification card, ready to ask them to respect the press.
But they already knew that my companion that evening, Time Out reporter Crispin Aubrey, and I were journalists. And they had been outside, watching our entire meeting with former British Army signals intelligence (Sigint) operator John Berry, who at the time was a social worker.
Aubrey and I were arrested on suspicion of possessing unauthorized information. They said we’d be taken to the local police station. But after being forced into cars, we were driven in the wrong direction, toward the center of London. I became uneasy.
It was soon apparent that the elite squad had no idea where the local police station was. They stopped and asked a taxi to lead them there. We were then locked up overnight, denied bail and sent to London’s Brixton prison.
Aubrey had recorded our interview. During three hours of tapes that the cops took from Aubrey, Berry had revealed spying on Western allies. When the tape was transcribed, every page was stamped “SECRET” in red, top and bottom. Then, with a red felt-tip pen, “Top” was methodically written in front of each “SECRET.”
Our discussion was considered so dangerous that we — two reporters and a social worker — were placed on the top floor of the prison maximum security wing, which guards told us had formerly held terrorists, serial murderers, gang leaders and child rapists. Meanwhile, police stripped my home of every file, every piece of paper I had, and 400 books.
Our case became known as “ABC,” after our surnames: Aubrey, Berry and Campbell. We hoped it would end quickly. We knew that the senior minister responsible, Home Secretary Merlyn Rees, had announced three months before that the “mere receipt of unauthorized information should no longer be an offense.” The day after we were arrested, I was told he was furious to be woken with news that the security agencies had delivered a fait accompli. Historian Richard Aldrich found an official letter from the head of MI5, Britain’s Security Service, saying they considered me at the time theperson of the greatest interest to see incarcerated.
In my 40 years of reporting on mass surveillance, I have been raided three times; jailed once; had television programs I made or assisted making banned from airing under government pressure five times; seen tapes seized; faced being shoved out of a helicopter; had my phone tapped for at least a decade; and — with this arrest — been lined up to face up to 30 years imprisonment for alleged violations of secrecy laws. And why do I keep going? Because from the beginning, my investigations revealed a once-unimaginable scope of governmental surveillance, collusion, and concealment by the British and U.S. governments — practices that were always as much about domestic spying during times of peace as they were about keeping citizens safe from supposed foreign enemies, thus giving the British government the potential power to become, as our source that night had put it, a virtual “police state.”
A decade later, in a parliamentary debate, Foreign Secretary David Owen revealed that he was initially against our being prosecuted, but was convinced to go along after being promised that we journalists could be jailed in secret. “Everybody came in and persuaded me that it would be terrible not to prosecute. … I eventually relented. But one of my reasons for doing so was that I was given an absolute promise that the case would be heard in camera [a secret hearing].”
In the face of this security onslaught, the politicians collapsed and agreed we should all be charged with espionage — although there was no suggestion that we wanted to do anything other than write articles. I was alleged to be “a thoroughly subversive man who was quite prepared to publish information which was secret,” my lawyer later wrote in his memoir.
My lawyer saw it differently. “Campbell is a journalist … a ferret not a skunk,” he told the magistrates’ court in Tottenham, North London. But when he inquired about the possibility of a misdemeanor plea and a £50 fine (about $75), he was cut down: “That course might be acceptable for Berry and Aubrey. But the security services want Campbell in prison for a very long time.”
They meant it. In March 1977, one month after our nighttime arrest, we were all charged with breaking Britain’s Official Secrets Act, for the “unlawful receipt of information.” Then we were charged with espionage. Each espionage charge carried a maximum of 14 years. I was also charged with espionage for collecting open source information on U.K. government plans. In total, I faced 30 years.
The interview, and then our arrests, were a first encounter with the power of Government Communications Headquarters, better known by its acronym, GCHQ, Britain’s electronic surveillance agency. . .
Notice the chilling idea that it’s okay for the government to lock people up if that is done secretly, so that the people simply disappear.
Read the article to see where the US and the UK are headed. It’s an interesting but frightening story.
It’s a very dark sign when government goes after journalists for publishing reports that are demonstrably true. I understand that the German government does wish that a person in government (the fault here lies within the government) leaked a classified document, but it should recognize that journalists took no oath to respect government secrecy. That’s the job of the government.
Morgan Marquis-Boire reports in The Intercept:
Two journalists at the prominent German news website Netzpolitik are under investigation for treason after publishing details about the planned expansion of the German Secret Service’s Internet surveillance program.
On Wednesday, the organization received a letter from the Federal Attorney General of Germany confirming ongoing investigations against reporters Markus Beckedahl, Andre Meister (pictured), and an “unknown source” for the articles, one of which waspublished in February and detailed a secret budget plan for surveillance activities, and another, from April, describing a new surveillance unit for monitoring social networking and online chats. Meister has characterized the plans as being part of Germany’s “post-Snowden” internet surveillance push.
Netzpolitik, which reports on politics and technology, learned within the last several weeks that Federal Attorney General of Germany was investigating the stories, but believed its sources were the target of the investigation rather than its journalists, Meister said in an interview. Only yesterday did it became clear that Meister and Beckedahl were also under investigation.
“This is a direct attack on freedom of the press, such as hasn’t been the case in around 50 years in Germany, since the ‘Spiegel scandal’ in 1962,’” Meister told The Intercept, citing an incident in which the German newsweekly Der Spiegel was searched and some of its journalists were arrested on treason accusations stemming from an article questioning the preparedness of West German armed forces.
“These charges are an intimidation against media and against potential sources — which are an integral part of investigative journalism,” he added. “The public needs whistleblowers to find out about what’s done in their name and with their money. So the original investigations against our sources were already a direct attack on freedom of press and freedom of information.”
The attorney general’s letter cites a section of the German penal code that states:
Whosoever … allows a state secret to come to the attention of an unauthorised person or to become known to the public in order to prejudice the Federal Republic of Germany or benefit a foreign power and thereby creates a danger of serious prejudice to the external security of the Federal Republic of Germany, shall be liable to imprisonment of not less than one year.
Meister railed against the implication that he or his publication have attacked the German state, saying that, as part of a “fourth pillar” in German society, their job is to “dig deep, investigate, and provide the public with information that has not previously been public … providing the public — and thus the sovereign — with information for public debate that’s integral for informed consent.”
“Germany won’t be invaded because of our reporting,” he added. “On the other hand, one could argue that the pervasive mass surveillance of the digital world is an attack on the basic freedoms of a free society. Without privacy, there can be no freedom of thought and freedom of association without a protected, un-invaded private space. We want to enable a public debate about these integral issues.”
The charges have generated significant attention in Germany. A public demonstrationhas been organized in support of Netzpolitik, and today they received high-level support when the Heiko Maas, the German Federal Minister of Justice and Consumer Protection, expressed doubts to the Attorney General that journalists intended to harm Germany or aid a foreign power.
Asked if Netzpolitik would continue to report using materials gained from whistleblowers, Meister replied, . . .
Kari Paul reports in Motherboard:
A law Spain passed in October 2014 charging online aggregators like Google News a fee for linked content has backfired, according to a new study.
The legislation, which went into effect January 1 of this year, requires aggregation sites to pay a fee to original publications when posting links or excerpts from them online. The law, which caused Google News to shut down in Spain, was pushed by the Association of Editors of Spanish Dailies as a means to protect the print industry. But the study commissioned by the Spanish Association of Publishers of Periodical Publications (AEEPP) found it has been harmful to Spanish media at large,
“The negative impact on the online press sector is also very clear, since a very important channel to attract readers disappears, resulting in lower revenues from advertising,” the study said.
The report found clear evidence news aggregators actually expand the market for original sources rather than diminish it. It also showed the law disproportionately hurt smaller publications that relied on Google News and similar aggregators for traffic.
In addition to Google News, other aggregators including Planeta Ludico, NiagaRank, InfoAliment, and Multifriki shut down for fear of legal and financial liability. Companies that don’t pay the tax could face fines of up to €600,000 or $654,480.
The shutdown of these sites, particularly NiagaRank, was a blow to innovation in Spain, the report stated. . .