Monthly Archives: July 2017

Mexican journalist threatened in Michoacán state

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Mexican journalist threatened in Michoacán state

July 26, 2017 11:12 AM ET

Mexico City, July 26, 2017–Mexican authorities must undertake a swift and credible investigation into death threats sent to José Maldonado and ensure the journalist’s safety, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.Maldonado, who is based in Morelia, the capital of the central Mexican state of Michoacán, told CPJ he received a threatening email on July 21 signed Raúl Solorio. The email warned Maldonado, the 49-year-old editorial director of Agencia Mexicana de Noticias Noventa Grados, to stop reporting on the activities of the state’s law enforcement agencies. The message, which CPJ has viewed, ends with a series of implicit death threats against Maldonado. The journalist told CPJ he does not know of anyone named Raúl Solorio.”In Mexico, threats against journalists too often escalate to deadly violence,” said CPJ Senior Program Coordinator for the Americas Carlos Lauría in New York. “Mexican authorities should swiftly investigate the threatening messages sent to José Maldonado, and ensure that he and other threatened journalists have the necessary protections to continue reporting safely.”

Maldonado, who founded Agencia Mexicana de Noticias Noventa Grados in Morelia in 2007, covers a range of subjects, including crime and violence, corruption, and socioeconomic issues.

A translation of the threatening email said, “We have had conversations with you for some time in relation to the activities you have in your pamphlet, because [you are not] a journalist … We believed you had disciplined yourself and had understood as other colleagues have, but we realize, reading your last articles, that you have not.”

The email says that information published by Noventa Grados has become “uncomfortable” to Martín Godoy, the state attorney general, and Rodrigo González Ramírez, who heads the state’s anti-kidnapping unit. The email ends with a series of implicit death threats, including a reference to Rogelio Arredondo Guillén, the director of Investigation and Analysis of the state attorney general’s office, who was killed on July 1, and warns Maldonado that if he writes one more article it will be his last.

On July 13, Noventa Grados published an article about alleged ties between Arredondo and organized crime, following earlier pieces in March and May alleging ties between Michoacán law enforcement and other crime, such as gasoline theft.

Maldonado told CPJ that he believes the death threats are a direct response to at least some of those articles. A spokesperson for the state attorney general’s office said she was not authorized to provide CPJ with comment on the case. Several phone calls that CPJ made to the office of Godoy on July 24 and 25 went unanswered.

Maldonado told CPJ he has been threatened before over his coverage of law enforcement. The Federal Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists has provided him with protection since 2015, after he and his family received several threats over his reporting. He told CPJ the mechanism provided him with a panic button. A spokesperson for the mechanism told CPJ yesterday that his institution is reviewing possibly providing additional safety measures for Maldonado, including police protection.

Ricardo Sánchez Pérez del Pozo, the federal Special Prosecutor for Attention to Crimes committed against Freedom of Expression, told CPJ yesterday that he is aware of the threats and that his institution, which works under the auspices of the federal Attorney General’s Office, has opened an investigation. He said that Maldonado needs to give an official statement to the FEADLE. The journalist told CPJ he intends to do that as soon as possible.

Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. In 2017, at least four journalists have been murdered and one was abducted there, according to CPJ research, CPJ is investigating the case of a fifth journalist to determine if his killing is directly related to his work.

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Turkish journalist defends press freedom as grand trial begins

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Turkish journalist defends press freedom as grand trial begins

Hundreds of protesters gather at court as 17 employees of Cumhuriyet newspaper stand trial

A top Turkish correspondent delivered a powerful defence of press freedom as he took the stand in the largest trial of journalists in the country, saying he was being punished for doing his job and criticising Turkey’s slide into authoritarianism.

Kadri Gürsel, one of 17 journalists, lawyers and executives from Cumhuriyet, Turkey’s oldest newspaper, who are standing trial on charges of aiding and abetting terrorist organisations, urged the presiding judge to drop the charges, saying the fact that he was standing trial on flimsy accusations was proof that his warnings of creeping authoritarianism were prescient.

“I am here because I am an independent, questioning and critical journalist, not because I knowingly and willingly helped a terrorist organisation,” he said. “Because I have not compromised in my journalism and I am persistent until the end. All these accusations directed to me are devoid of wisdom and reason, and are beyond the scope of any law or conscience,” he added.

Turkey has become one of the world’s largest jailers of journalists, with 178 behind bars. Since a traumatic coup attempt last July, 173 media outlets have been shut down and 800 journalists have had their passports and press credentials confiscated, according to opposition statistics.

The government crackdown on the press continued in the aftermath of the coup under the ongoing state of emergency. Much of Turkey’s media has been coopted by the government, and journalists accuse the ruling party of putting pressure on advertisers to abandon struggling opposition newspapers. They say the lawsuits and the imprisonments of journalists have created an environment of fear that promotes self-censorship. Few local newspapers reported on the start of the trial.

Cumhuriyet has borne the brunt of the government’s ire because of the newspaper’s harsh criticism of its policies. It condemned as a “witch hunt” a crackdown after the coup that has ensnared tens of thousands of civil servants, judges, military and police officers, academics as well as dissidents, and endorsed a peaceful resolution to the crisis with the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) at a time when tensions with the group were spiralling.

Fethullah Gülen
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 Fethullah Gülen, whose movement has been accused of orchestrating last year’s coup. Photograph: Chris Post/AP

It also embarrassed the national intelligence service by revealing that it had transported weapons to rebels in Syria under the guise of humanitarian aid in 2014, a leak that the government says was orchestrated by Gülenists.

“Cumhuriyet shows the fascist side of the ruling party,” said Bariș Yarkadaș, an opposition MP who visited the imprisoned journalists and was attending the trial. “That is why they want to suffocate it. They are not just prosecuting a newspaper, but they want to prosecute republican values. They want monarchy, not republican rule.”

The Cumhuriyet trial has drawn broad condemnation from human rights and press freedom advocates, who say the allegations are unfounded and politically motivated, with the aim of muzzling the last major newspaper that is strongly critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling party. They see the threat of closure for the staunchly secular newspaper, founded in 1924, as an assault on the founding values of the republic.

Hundreds of people gathered outside the Çağlayan justice palace near downtown Istanbul to protest against the trial, which is taking place nine months after the journalists were first incarcerated. People outside the courtroom clapped for the journalists as they were marched into the crowded premises, which were filled with lawyers, family members and international observers.

The initial phase of the trial is expected to continue until Friday with defenc statements from the journalists, and the judge is expected to rule on whether to release them on bail while the case icontinues. On Monday, Gürsel testified, along with the head of the newspaper’s executive board, Akin Atalay.

The start of the trial coincided with the National Press festival in Turkey, celebrating the declaration of a constitutional monarchy by the Ottoman rulers and the abolition of censorship in 1908, an irony that was pointed out by observers of the case.

Many have also noted the apparent absurdity of the charges, whereby newspaper staff are accused of aiding and abetting terrorist organisations that they have long challenged publicly in their newspapers. The indictment accuses them of supporting the goals of the Fethullah Gülen movement – believed by many in Turkey to have orchestrated last year’s coup – and the PKK.

“The indictment charges them for aiding and abetting terrorist organisations, but what did they do in reality? Nothing but news,” said a statement by the journalists’ syndicate, whose members attended the trial. “The word ‘news’ appears 667 times in the indictment … A newspaper as old as the republic is being accused of supporting terrorism only based on the fact that its employees made news.”

“We will neither leave our friends and colleagues alone in those prisons nor resign ourselves to oppression, threats and thugs,” the statement added.

Since you’re here …

… we have a small favour to ask. More people are reading the Guardian than ever but advertising revenues across the media are falling fast. And unlike many news organisations, we haven’t put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as open as we can. So you can see why we need to ask for your help. The Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce. But we do it because we believe our perspective matters – because it might well be your perspective, too.

I appreciate there not being a paywall: it is more democratic for the media to be available for all and not a commodity to be purchased by a few. I’m happy to make a contribution so others with less means still have access to information.Thomasine F-R.

If everyone who reads our reporting, who likes it, helps to support it, our future would be much more secure.

on charges of aiding terrorists

ASIAN BBC STARS REVOLT OVER PAY GAP

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ASIAN BBC STARS REVOLT OVER PAY GAP

 

THE BBC must do more to bridge the pay gap between ethnic minorities and white employees, according to journalists and presenters at the corporation, with some pointing out that the organisation had a “tick box” approach to increasing diversity in its programming and elsewhere.

A week after the BBC revealed how many of its staff were paid more than £150,000, a former senior employee slammed the broadcaster, saying “racial diversity has taken a back seat since Greg Dyke left [the organisation]”. Of the 96 highest-paid stars at the BBC, only 10 are from a minority background.

Among them is Sri Lanka-born presenter George Alagiah, who is 25th on the list with earnings of £250,000-£299,999. Radio 4’s Today presenter Mishal Husain, who is of Pakistani origin, earns £200,000-£249,999 and is 47th on the list.

BBC Radio 5 Live’s presenter Nihal Arthanayake, who has been with the organisation since 2002, told Eastern Eye on Monday (24) that he was “disappointed to see a lack of ethnic minorities” in the list.

BBC Radio 5 Live presenter Nihal Arthanayake

“The pay gap is an issue which the BBC has admitted needs rectifying,” Nihal said.

An Asian journalist, who did not wish to be identified, told Eastern Eye: “When they say diversity, I don’t think they know or truly mean it. They say: ‘Oh, if we get so-and-so to be on the front of that, then we’ve got the diversity box ticked.”

The journalist added: “I hope this isn’t a conversation that dies down. It would be a shame, especially for minorities, because we want to have our
point of view heard.” While praising the broadcaster for its news
coverage, the journalist nevertheless criticised it for being like an “old boys club – opportunities are given and rules are bent to progress the careers
of a certain mould of people; white, male and from Oxbridge”.

Commenting on the pay gap, the former senior BBC employee alleged that ethnic minorities in the organisation were “not being looked after”.

“I have great admiration for (BBC directorgeneral) Tony Hall but when he’s looking at gender pay, he also needs to look at ethnic minorities as well. He has to do it all and he has to do it now,” the ex-employee said.

“The most important thing is that they need to get a grip on racial diversity in the BBC because it’s just appalling. What the BBC have singularly failed to understand though is that when it comes to racial diversity, only 10 [of the BBC’s top paid stars] are in the top 100. That tells me that we’re not valued at all.

“Why is it that George Alagiah isn’t being paid as much as Hugh Edwards for doing the same job? Why is Mishal Husain, who fronts one of the most influential radio programme in the UK, languishes where she does?”

Ritula Shah, presenter of The World Tonight on BBC Radio 4, told Eastern Eye that she “[regards] working for the BBC as a huge privilege”.

BBC Radio 4 presenter Ritula Shah

However, she confirmed that her thoughts surrounding the issue were summarised in the open letter written last weekend by 40 female BBC personalities over the gender pay gap. In it, they said many have “suspected [the pay gap] foryears” and that BBC employees “would be willing to meet [Hall] to discuss ways in which [he] can correct this disparity so that future generations of women do not face this kind of discrimination.”

Among those who signed the open letter were Shah, Husain, Anita Anard and Samira Ahmed.

Reposting the hashtag #BBCWomen on Twitter, stars such as Mishal Husain have brought much attention to the issue by demanding that change needs to happen now.

Others, however, have raised concerns that inequality within minorities is not being addressed enough. Channel 4 journalist Darshna Soni tweeted: “Lots of comment about #BBCpay and the #GenderPayGap. Far less about the difference between what White stars and Black/ Asian stars are paid (sic).”

This is the first time that the BBC has had to publicly reveal the salaries of stars who earn more than £150,000.

In response to the open letter, Lord Hall said: “Over the next three years I want the BBC to be regarded as an exemplar on gender and diversity.”

In 2014, Lord Hall announced that one in seven BBC presenters would be of an ethnic minority within the next three years.

Nihal spoke of his love for the BBC and said he was grateful for the opportunities he had. However, “it has also frustrated me at times as any
employer would,” he added.

The popular presenter has been with the broadcaster for 15 years, working at Radio 1, 1Xtra, BBC Asian Network and now BBC5Live. He is on the independent diversity action plan board that hopes to increase diversity across the corporation’s programmes.

“I have gained shows and had shows taken away from me. The BBC has been good to me and I have brought something unique to the BBC,” he
told Eastern Eye.

“At every juncture I have thought about my future, and alongside my agent, tried to orchestrate where I wanted to be. I prefer to focus on getting to where I want to get to rather than complaining about where I am not. I find that is more positive and less poisonous. I’ve seen bitterness eat up people. I want to try and avoid being that guy.”

The journalist who wished to remain anonymous added: “I’m just glad that this conversation has started. This speaks to our whole society. By April next year, everyone will have to reveal their gender pay discrepancies and I would be very surprised if the BBC is the only one that has this issue when it comes to diversity. If the BBC can’t get it right, then who can?

“It would be a shame if this conversation stopped… we have access and insight that I don’t think necessarily all those who are of white privilege
have. Those are skills that need to be invested in and valued. This conversation is not about tripling anyone’s salary.”

Lord Hall added: “We have taken some significant steps forward but we do need to go further and faster. I have committed the BBC to closing the gap by 2020 and if we can get there earlier, we will.”

On the representation of ethnic minorities in the BBC, he said in a speech last Wednesday (19): “I want to achieve right balance when it comes to
BAME talent too. Here, we have a similarly tough target – 15 per cent by 2020. And, again that’s having an impact, with nearly 20 per cent of the leading talent we’ve hired or promoted in the last few years from BAME backgrounds.”

Labour MP and shadow minister for diverse communities Dawn Butler said the pay gap between white and minority ethnic staff was “shocking”.
She told Eastern Eye on Tuesday (25) “the public must have faith that the BBC pays all its colleagues fairly and on merit, yet the pay list sends a bad message with the majority of the BBC’s highest paid employees being both white and male.”

Recent statistics released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) following a survey of job applications showed that candidates who had a distinct ethnic minority name suffered bias.

According to the latest labour market statistics, 10 per cent of ethnic minority individuals are unemployed compared to five per cent of the
overall population.

Farah Elani from the Runnymede Trust told Eastern Eye “the data from the BBC is disappointing.”

“It is a structural issue that starts with employment. We need targeted interventions that will result in a better outcome,” she said.

Myanmar: Detained journalists to be charged under colonial-era law

Myanmar: Detained journalists to be charged under colonial-era law

Arrests have alarmed country’s media community, fuelling fears that freedom of speech has become increasingly restricted under Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi’s government has retained loosely-worded security laws that are decried by monitors as violating free speech.
 Aung San Suu Kyi’s government has retained loosely-worded security laws that are decried by monitors as violating free speech. Photograph: Reuters

Three Myanmar reporters detained at an undisclosed location by the army will be charged under a colonial-era statute against “unlawful association” and face up to three years in jail, government and army officials have said.

The military arrested the journalists in Myanmar’s northeastern Shan state on Monday after they covered a drug-burning event organised by the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), an ethnic armed group designated as an “unlawful association” by the Yangon authorities.

The reporters are from two media outlets publishing both in Burmese and English, the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) and the Irrawaddy. They were among the few media organisations providing independent coverage of Myanmar when it was under military rule before a democratic transition began in 2011.

The arrests alarmed Myanmar’s media community, fuelling fears that freedom of speech has become increasingly restricted since the government of Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi took power in April last year.

“Everyone should be treated according to the law,” said Aung San Suu Kyi’s spokesman, Zaw Htay. He added that the military told him it planned to charge the reporters under the Unlawful Association Act. A military source confirmed this.

Citing information from the army, Zaw Htay said the three reporters and four other men arrested with them were “being treated very well” at a military guesthouse and would be handed over to the police “tomorrow or the day after tomorrow”.

Despite pressure from human rights bodies and the West, Aung San Suu Kyi’s government has retained loosely-worded security laws dating to British colonial rule, which ended in 1948, and decried by monitors as violating free speech.

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The Unlawful Association Act has long been used by the authorities to arbitrarily arrest and detain people in Myanmar, in particular people in ethnic and religious minority areas, according to human rights watchdog Amnesty International, which has called on the government to release the journalists.

Western governments have also expressed their concern over the incident.

The US state department said it was “deeply concerned” about arrests of Thein Zaw from the Irrawaddy, and Aye Nai and Pyae Phone Naing from DVB, particularly in light of other recent arrests of journalists.

“We urge immediate action on this matter consistent with international standards of human rights and freedom of the press,” a spokeswoman, Katina Adams, said.

“A free press is vital to the success of peace and national reconciliation process,” she said.

The editors from the publications where the reporters work told Reuters they had tried obtaining explanations from the military and the government, but to no avail.

“We are all concerned about the situation, because we have lost connection with the detainees,” said Than Win Htut, a DVB editor. “Their families have the right to know what happened to them.”

Since you’re here …

… we have a small favour to ask. More people are reading the Guardian than ever but advertising revenues across the media are falling fast. And unlike many news organisations, we haven’t put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as open as we can. So you can see why we need to ask for your help. The Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce. But we do it because we believe our perspective matters – because it might well be your perspective, too.

I appreciate there not being a paywall: it is more democratic for the media to be available for all and not a commodity to be purchased by a few. I’m happy to make a contribution so others with less means still have access to information.Thomasine F-R.

If everyone who reads our reporting, who likes it, helps to support it, our future would be much more secure.

Army Combat Photographer Captures Last Moments Before Her Death

Hilda Clayton

By: Winny Moro
Canadian – Sudanese ANAJ Writer

Two extraordinary photos of combat photographer Spec. Hilda Clayton’s last seconds before her accidental death were released and published by the U.S. Army in their May-June issue of Military Review.
Clayton, along with an Afghan military photographer she was training and three Afghan National Army soldiers were killed in July 2013 when a mortar tube accidentally exploded right in front of them, injuring eleven other people. Astonishingly, right before the device detonated, Clayton and one of her trainees captured two last photos which display the fiery blast, engulfed in smoke and debris as it turned deadly.

It is suggested that at the instant of the explosion, due to the pressure differential of 14.7 Lbs of an atmosphere increase to at least that of a 100 times, the air pressure had almost instantly compressed all of her vital cavities to a combined mass of fluids and tissues. In other words she had been already dead while pictured standing up.

Twenty-two year old Hilda Clayton had been deployed overseas for less than a year when she died and was the first combat documentation and production specialist to be killed in Afghanistan. She was assigned as a visual information specialist to the Army’s 55th Signal Co., known as Combat Camera and was documenting a live-fire exercise in Laghman Province, Afghanistan at the time of her death.
Clayton was attached to the 4th Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, where her mission was to document the training of Afghan forces. As a combat photographer, she was exposed to many dangers but also played a large role in participating in the Army’s efforts to create a visual record of U.S. military operations and having an eye on the ground to give commanders far from the battlefield a view of the action.
“Clayton’s death symbolizes how female soldiers are increasingly exposed to hazardous situations in training and in combat on par with their male counterparts” the Army’s journal wrote. “Spc. Clayton embodied the Cavalry spirit. She was always willing to take on any mission and she pursued every opportunity to tell our story with her images.”
To honor her memory, Combat Camera has renamed its annual photo competition “SPC Hilda I. Clayton Best Combat Camera (COMCAM).” Clayton’s name is also now etched into the Hall of Heroes at her alma mater, the Defense Information School.

40 journalists in Iran lost jobs

ANA news

PRESS Release

July 19 -2

017 The Association of North American Ethnic Journalists and Writers is greatly disappointed by the news that forty journalists from three news outlets have been laid off  in Iran , this Week.

According to one  the journalists the layoffs are resulted from the fact that their reports were in line and accordance of the Policies   of News agencies . the fired journalists are from “ANA- Azad university News Agency  –  “Iska News” and “FarRarhikhtegan News paper /online

 

ISka News

ISka News

Frhightagan

Frhightagan

ANA news

ANA news

–  “Iska News” and “FarRarhikhtegan”

Mexican journalist wins International Press Freedom Award from CPJ

mexian journalist

Mexican journalist wins International Press Freedom Award from CPJ

By Lillian Michel

Mexican journalist Patricia Mayorga, a correspondent for the magazine Proceso, was among the recipients of the 2017 International Press Freedom Award, presented Tuesday by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Patricia Mayorga. (Screengrab taken from Periodistas de a Pie video).

Mayorga’s reporting focuses on organized crime, corruption, disappearances and homicides in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua, according to CPJ. She also covers discrimination and violence against indigenous communities and activists in the Sierra Tarahumara region. Mayorga was also one of the founding members of the Red Libre Periodismo, a network of reporters dedicated to providing professional support to journalists in Chihuahua with the aim of promoting the free practice of ethical journalism, according to its website.

Mayorga fled the state with CPJ assistance after Miroslava Breach, another Mexican journalist based in Chihuahua, was shot and killed outside her home in March. Mayorga feared for her life after receiving threatening messages, according to CPJ.

She participated in the #NoAlSilencio campaign through her personal Twitter account, calling on the Mexican government to put an end to the killing of journalists. She has also continually denounced impunity now that almost four months have passed without anyone being arrested for Breach’s murder. “Your absence hurts, a lot, but we won’t allow your voice to be silenced,” Mayorga tweeted.

In a video published by Periodistas de a Pie last month, Mayorga read a written statement decrying the worsening situation in Chihuahua and called the state “one of the most dangerous places to practice journalism.”

“We as journalists are stating that we will continue to do our reporting with the intention of fulfilling our duty to inform society. Because you can’t kill the truth by killing journalists,” Mayorga said in the video. “Like our colleagues throughout the country, we assume the risk that comes with practicing journalism, but we do not assume the impunity nor the corruption that have worsened that risk.”

CPJ has counted four journalists murdered in Mexico this year for reasons directly related to their work. The organization is also investigating the motive behind the killing of two other journalists and the disappearance of another.

Other recipients of the International Press Freedom Award 2017 were Cameroonian journalist Ahmed Abba, Thai journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk and Yemeni reporter and blogger Afrah Nasser. “The journalists have faced government harassment, death threats, or imprisonment in their pursuit of the truth,” CPJ wrote in its official press release.

“Journalists around the world face growing threats and pressure,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said in the press release. “Those we honor are the most courageous and committed. They stand as an example that journalism matters.”

CPJ will also present its inaugural Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award to Judy Woodruff, managing editor of “PBS Newshour.”

All of the winners will be honored at CPJ’s annual award dinner on November 15 in New York City.

 

Jailed Cameroon journalist named winner of top press freedom prize

cameron journalsit

Jailed Cameroon journalist named winner of top press freedom prize

Radio France International’s Hausa service journalist Ahmed Abba who was sentenced to 10 years in prison this year by a Cameroon military tribunal has been named the 2017 International Press Freedom Award recipient.

The annual prize is awarded by media rights body Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) to honour journalists who show courage in defending press freedom despite facing attacks, threats, or imprisonment.

Ahmed Abba is the only African to be awarded the prize this year, which he jointly shares with Patricia Mayorga, a Mexican journalist; Pravit Rojanaphruk from Thailand; and Afrah Nasser, a Yemeni reporter and blogger.

Veteran Journalist Becomes South Sudan MP

Veteran Journalist Becomes South Sudan MP

Veteran Journalist Becomes South Sudan MP

A veteran South Sudanese journalist says he has joined the SPLM-in Opposition (SPLM-IO) Taban Deng faction to speak out on behalf of the people of Yei River state.

Alfred Taban Lo Gune, who was appointed a member of parliament in South Sudan’s Translational National Legislative Assembly earlier this week, said he joined politics to bring about much-needed change for the people of Kajokeji.

He told South Sudan in Focus the country needed courageous leaders like himself in the national assembly to speak up for the people.

“It is my duty to do something about the situation,” Taban said, adding that he could not stay aloof while his people were suffering, either in exile or in the bush.

Taban, founder and editor in chief of the privately run Juba Monitor, a daily newspaper, and a former BBC correspondent in Khartoum, said that while he was now a member of the SPLM-IO Taban Deng division, he did recognize factions within the SPLM-IO. “I have been a SPLM member for many, many years, and I still remain SPLM,” Taban said.

Taban contended that the SPLM-IO was, at the moment, a unified body.

“The Arusha agreement of 2104 made it very clear that the SPLM is not under the state, so there is no SPLM former detainees, SPLM-IO or SPLM in government. It is now one SPLM,” Taban told South Sudan in Focus.

Pact not implemented

Various factions of the SPLM and SPLM-IO have had their own spokespersons for the past several months. Taban said that was the problem in South Sudan.

“Even the peace agreement that we are now quarreling over, it is because the people have not decided to implement it,” he said. “Likewise, the Arusha agreement has not been implemented, but it is there.”

Taban vowed to continue fighting for the rights of the people of South Sudan, “the rights of journalists and the rights of the oppressed” as a member of parliament.

“In the media here, we were at the mercy of the government, but I still continued to struggle and I’m going to take the same struggle to parliament,” Taban said.

On May 29, Taban declined President Salva Kiir’s offer to sit on the president’s National Dialogue Committee. Taban said he wanted no part in the dialogue steering team unless the president released journalists in prison and ended aggressive acts toward press freedoms in South Sudan.

In a time of war, investigative reporting in Ukraine is a tough sell

ukrine press

In a time of war, investigative reporting in Ukraine is a tough sell

 

Dmytro Gnap, an investigative reporter at Hromadske TV, being interviewed by another television station in regards to a story about a wealthy driver who won’t be charged for murder after striking and killing a pedestrian in Kyiv. (Photo credit Cheryl L. Reed)

THE MORNING AFTER JOURNALIST PAVEL SHEREMET was blown up in his car in Kyiv last July 20, a US State Department expert told Fulbright Scholars headed to Ukraine that the post-Soviet country would only become truly democratic when journalists expose its corruption.

I was among a handful of former journalists in that large DC conference room. My Fulbright project—to teach investigative reporting to the next generation of Ukrainian journalists—suddenly took on new significance.

Now, after 10 months of teaching in one of Ukraine’s top graduate journalism programs, I see major challenges to reporting corruption there in a way that makes a difference, especially in the everyday lives of Ukrainians. Most investigative reporting in Ukraine focuses on high-level corruption and pays little attention to failing institutions, which is where most citizens intersect with the government. Too often, it fails to identify and humanize the victims of corruption, or show how changes could be made to improve people’s lives. Investigative reporters are largely uninterested in reporting in-depth about crime and courts, and as result they aren’t pushing the government to open these critical records.

Moreover, the cadre of 25 to 30 reporters who do independent investigative journalism are constantly under attack. Even media watchdogs have disparaged their investigations. Because Ukraine is at war with Russia, journalists who report critically about the Ukrainian government—including the president, military, or police—are labeled tools of Russian propaganda.

“It’s one of the attempts to split journalists,” explains Anna Babinets, 33, an investigative reporter at Hromadske TV, an independent media outlet in Kyiv. “They are saying that either you are with the government and against Russia, or you are with the Kremlin. The war has made people see the world in either black or white.”

Since Ukraine’s independence in 1991, more than 60 journalists have been killed, according to the Kyiv Post, an English-language newspaper and website that has tracked the deaths. The gruesome murders—poisonings, a beheading, point-blank shootings, and the latest, Sheremet’s car bombing—are warnings to future reporters, and, to some degree, it’s working. Up and coming journalists say they are reluctant to put their lives on the line.

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“We can write about all this corruption and the bad oligarchs and no one will care,” explains Mariia Yuzych, a Ukrainian journalist and one of my graduate students at Kyiv Mohyla Academy School of Journalism. “Young journalists do not have a prime example of how their work can really change our system of government.”

While journalists face extreme risks in Ukraine, aspects of their professional practice also open them to criticism. Investigative journalism in Ukraine has no uniform ethical standards. Investigative reporters routinely use hidden cameras, don’t always identify themselves as journalists when interviewing people, and in their reports, use dramatic music and effects, like over-the-top re-enactments, to heighten drama.

Ukraine’s journalism schools are partly to blame for the lack of quality reporting. Most are stuck in a Soviet mode in which professors with little or no newsroom experience teach theory—not the practical application of reporting and editing, and certainly not the modern skills of shooting video and using social media. Students themselves often lack the ambition to tackle investigative stories, another legacy of the Soviet system, which seldom rewarded hard work. As a result, the reporters and media executives I spoke with said journalism graduates arrive in their newsrooms unprepared to do basic stories, let alone investigative pieces.

“I’m not seeing anybody coming up who can do the work,” says Vlad Lavrov, one of Ukraine’s leading investigative journalists.

Last year, Lavrov offered data training for journalism students from some of the country’s best schools at an investigative reporting conference in Kyiv. Lavrov gave the students information on Ukrainian businessmen, provided access to the Panama Papers online database, and asked them to write 300- to 500-word stories from the information they developed using those and other sources. Out of about 100 students, no one produced a single story, he says.

“Whenever we said, ‘You have to dig deeper, they didn’t do anything,’” says Lavrov, 40, who was educated to become a businessman but decided journalism was a better fit.

The war in eastern Ukraine—which has claimed 10,090 lives, including about 2,777 civilians, and internally displaced more than 1.5 million people, according to the United Nations—has profoundly altered the climate for investigative reporting.

“There are many sensitive topics—like criticizing the Ukrainian army—which if you cover them, you may be deemed unpatriotic or pro-Russian,” says Oksana Grytsenko, 36, a war correspondent for the Kyiv Post. One of Grytsenko’s recent stories looked at how people who did little or no fighting were receiving lush military benefits, while some who had suffered serious injuries were denied them.

In May 2016, Grytsenko and 4,500 other journalists worldwide discovered that their names, cell phone numbers, and addresses had been posted on the internet site Myrotvorets, which purports to expose “enemies of Ukraine.” The site claimed the journalists had “cooperated with terrorists” because they received accreditation from separatists to report in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. Several of the journalists received threatening phone calls and emails. “It was really dangerous for some of them,” says Grytsenko, who believes she was spared any reprisals because her stories appear in English.

A few months later, Grytsenko wrote a story about the Ukrainian Security Police (SBU) operating secret prisons in which they detained people who had voiced pro-Russian sentiments. I invited Grytsenko to speak to my journalism class about her work, which I hoped would inspire my students. Instead, the students grilled her about her decision to report such stories during wartime.

“It makes the army look bad,” one student said. Another said: “It is bad for society. We need to support the government.”

Grytsenko told the students that such stories push the country to improve by forcing it to weed out corruption. “The real journalists are the ones who tell what the real problems are in the army, in the country, in the government,” she said.

After her talk, three students out of 21 expressed a vague interest in investigative reporting, and no one wanted to cover the war.

“Americans romanticize being war correspondents,” said Mariia Ulianovska, 24, a journalism graduate student with a bachelor’s degree in law. “When the war is fought in your country and not overseas, it’s more real. We see the devastation and the danger up close.”

Her reasoning—echoed by several others in class—struck me as remarkably lucid for such a young journalist. Even US war coverage in Iraq and Afghanistan tended to be pro-government.

Lavrov, who is technically on staff at the Kyiv Post, but whose salary is largely paid by the global Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), isn’t surprised by the students’ attitudes.

“When it comes to war correspondents, you must understand there is no consensus on their role [and] whether it is to cover the facts fully, which would be super difficult because Ukrainian journalists do not have not access to the other side,” he says. “It’s an unfortunate situation with media watchdogs in Ukraine taking the stance that journalists should be on the side of the government.”

Lavrov and his colleagues Babinets and Dymtro Gnap—who have their own investigative NGO called Slidstvo.info—have been highly criticized for their reports about President Viktor Poroshenko’s administration. Last year, the three worked on a video report that aired online at Hromadske TV. Entitled “President Poroshenko’s Secret Life,” the report was based on documents that were part of the the database known as the Panama Papers. The 20-minute investigation showed a re-enactment of Poroshenko’s lawyers setting up offshore accounts while the Ukrainian army was engaged in some of its bloodiest battles with Russian-backed separatists.

“People were asking: ‘How could you accuse our president of setting up offshore accounts during a time of war?’” Lavrov remembers. “I still stand behind it because during the worst military conflict in your country, you don’t expect the president, who is commander in chief of the army, to be working simultaneously on tax evasion offshore schemes.”

Poroshenko said the accounts were established to set up a blind trust, not to avoid taxes.

An independent media council made up of journalism critics and lawyers summoned the reporters to defend their story.

“They asked us why we used every word of the text in that story,” says Babinets, who lost her appetite for mountain climbing and extreme sports once she became an investigative reporter. “Then they said we are working for the Kremlin. And from then on, that became the discussion. Even our former [journalism] colleagues criticized us.”

 

Journalism Critics

Yevhen Fedchenko, who sits on the board of Hromadske TV, has also been critical. A former TV anchor and current director of Kyiv Mohyla Academy School of Journalism, he is familiar with Western journalism standards, having been a Fulbright Scholar for a year at USC-Annenberg.

“Investigative reporting is a growing sector in Ukraine,” he says. “But it is self-centered and sometimes infantile in its approaches and its critical judgment of it results. It’s self-centered because the journalists see themselves as the most important part of the project.’’

Fedchenko criticized the Panama Papers’ juxtaposition of war scenes and re-enactments as an attempt to play on people’s emotions. “The Panama Papers report was a simulation of a real investigative project,” he says.

In late May, OCCRP released an investigative documentary of the Sheremet car bombing, titled Killing Pavel. The documentary took almost 10 months to report and produce, and the reporters believed its quality would make it a model for future investigative pieces.

Unlike the Panama Papers piece, which used moody music and special effects, the Sheremet documentary is Western in its approach and style. The 50-minute film shows reporters collecting and analyzing security footage taken near Sheremet’s apartment. The reporters—who included Lavrov, Babinets, and Gnap—painstakingly track down a man with former ties to SBU, who on closed-circuit videos appeared to be staking out Sheremet’s apartment the night before the assassination. The story suggests that SBU may have been behind the murder, and that police have done little to find the killers. The film’s narrator lists the government authorities who declined to meet with reporters.

As soon as Killing Pavel was released, the stinging backlash began. The team was criticized for a host of purported offenses, including not sharing their findings with authorities prior to release. (The reporters say they prepared a two-minute video summation of their findings to show Poroshenko, but still couldn’t get a meeting, a key point that was bewilderingly absent from the film.) Media critics questioned whether the report had jeopardized the police investigation.

“The documentary didn’t deliver anything,” Fedchenko says. “It’s just bits of scenes glued together with emotional stuff. It was the same as the Panama Papers. It’s conspiracy theories.” He added, “It didn’t produce any answers or valuable outcome. The result was that it basically framed law enforcement. That’s no secret. Everyone knows they’re not doing enough.”

The loudest detractor was Natalia Ligachova, a media critic at the website “Detector Media: a Ukrainian Media Watchdog.”

“The authors make a claim that SBU might be involved in Pavel Sheremet’s murder. But, when watching this film, we see that there are no sufficient arguments for such a strong allegation. That is to say, there’s whipping up of emotions without a sufficient body of evidence,” Ligachova explains in an email. She also questions why reporters didn’t turn over the identity of a key witness, instead of waiting months until the documentary aired.

Ligachova and reporter Gnap got into a spat on Facebook. “I claimed to be the real watchdog, and not a Maltese,” says Gnap, 39. “I didn’t call her personally a dog. I said, ‘You are a media critic and you also need to support and protect the media community from soft censorship of the government. You need to support reporters. You need to be a real watchdog of Ukrainian media society, and not act like a Maltese.’”

Fedchenko characterized Gnap’s portion of the exchange as arrogant and unprofessional. Ligachova is “a very well respected media critic,” he says. “She asked a lot of questions, which sounded reasonable. Instead to getting answers, she was brushed off.” He adds: “Dmytro [Gnap] is not a journalist. He’s a politician. He really needs to switch sides of the barricades. He’s basically using journalism for his own personal agenda.”

Gnap says he was surprised at Fedchenko’s criticism, since he says Fedchecko had lauded him as “a brave and professional investigator” only a few years ago when Gnap exposed the large-scale corruption of former President Petro Yanukovych and his friends, who siphoned millions from government coffers. “But now when I do the same things about President Poroshenko and his friends, Fedchenko says I’m not an objective journalist. Could there be some connection here?”

Fedchenko says that Gnap was courageous for his investigative reporting during the Yanukovych regime. “It was dangerous for a journalist,” he says. “The added value was that journalists could make a difference. But you cannot be a professional ‘opposition journalist’ all the time just because it’s a good position and you will always get your portion of attention with that.”

Katya Gorchinskaya, CEO of Hromadske TV, which airs many of Gnap’s stories, strongly disagrees with the criticism. “Fedchenko is in the patriotic camp that says in the times of war, we shouldn’t be criticizing the president because we are undermining trust. I think it’s just wrong. If you don’t identify problems, they’ll never get fixed. If you don’t look for graft, the army will continue to be starved. I think it’s very unpatriotic not to do it.”

Fedchenko admits he’s a Poroshenko supporter. “I consider Poroshenko to be the most able president in recent Ukrainian history, but that does not mean that he should not be subject to criticism. But the criticism should be grounded and justified and scaled according to his wrongdoings. He should also be credited for all his positive efforts in nation-building during times of war.”

Fedchenko says he’s simply trying to raise the level of journalism in his country, and he feels the investigative reporters are “an incestuous group” who are not critical enough of their own work. “If you say something against their work, then you become kind of a foil.”

 

Oligarch-funded vs NGO-funded Investigations

Part of the reason investigative reporting is growing in Ukraine is that oligarch-owned TV stations have their own investigative teams, though they largely target their employers’ enemies.

“They’re just over-sensationalized stories taken out of context,” says Gorchinskaya, who was a well-regarded former editor and reporter before leading Hromadske. “It’s actually quite shocking what people think is investigative reporting. The media in Ukraine is used to either promote business interests of the oligarch directly, or to promote political interests. It’s very effective.”

Even President Poroshenko owns his own media station, and seems to hold sway over the other oligarchs who own media outlets. According to a 2016 VoxUkraine content analysis, there were almost no negative mentions of the president on the country’s largest television stations, where most Ukrainians get their news.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are three or four independent investigative teams, financed by Western grants. The teams produce their own content and contract with various media, usually small and medium independent outlets, to publish their work. This arrangement allows the teams to retain editorial control. The partnership gives media organizations the option of publishing or not publishing the work, but the outlets do not have any editorial input.

Critics say dependence on donor-supported reporting creates a quest for big stories involving top officials at the expense of uncovering smaller-scale corruption in local city councils, courts, police departments, hospitals, and schools.

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