Fair Comment

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression


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Restricted freedom

 According to the group Reporters without Borders, the internet has been part of Egyptian society since the 2005 legislative elections. Many middle eastern countries lack transparency and candidness in sharing of information. Reporters without Borders says that in January alone, 31 legal cases were launched against bloggers and journalists.

Gamal Eid, director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights, says 2008 had been the worst year for freedom of expression since Egypt was declared a republic in 1952. But with the advancing ways of communicating across the internet, the authorities still struggle to keep undercover about their actions and their impact on ordinary people.

The outspoken Egyptian blogger Wael Abbas and Palestinian journalist Laila El Haddad both shared the minute details of their experience of custody, in two separate incidents, with fellow Twitter users.

In about 40 tweets, Wael Abbas managed to inform his readers of his day-long experience in a Cairo city centre police station, where he had gone to complain about an alleged assault by two men, one of them a police officer, but ended up being arrested himself. The number of his page followers increased dramatically during the day (11 April), adding around 300 new followers, as his friends re-tweeted his messages, spreading them around to reach more readers. Step by step the tweets gave an insight into what it is like to be in custody in Cairo.

On the other hand, 31- year-old Palestinian female journalist Laila El Haddad was travelling from Washington DC to Cairo on the way to her home which is the Gaza strip. But the Egyptian authorities wouldn’t allow her into the country. She twittered so that everyone could know what was happening to her. In the end she was sent back to the US.

Being in police custody in Egypt is not noted for being open to the public gaze, so earlier this month thousands of user of the micro-blog service Twitter were surprised to read updates, or “tweets”, from police cells.


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The end of local news as we know it?

It’s fair to say that local and regional media’s received a bit of a beating recently. First, the rejection of BBC Local-a new super-local news service aimed at a younger audience, Secondly, the homogenisation of ITV regions, meaning a loss of programming from Plymouth, and finally, the big one, our beloved friend, the local rag.

So why is local media suffering? Firstly, there’s a lack of advertisers, or people who want to advertise within local papers. When a recession bites, the advertising budget is usually the first to be slashed within a company. Secondly: people are buying less papers, due to content being put ‘online’. Finally, local news, as a business venture, is usually not the most efficient means of making money. The NUJ recently complained that newspaper groups had put profits before it’s people, following a slew of job cuts.

So why is the decline of local news a problem, and what does it have to do with media freedom and digital technology. Well, as I alluded to earlier, digital technology could be the culprit in all this. With newspapers moving to online, multi-platform, twittery, whizzy sites, readership is valued more in clicks than copies. Online is cheap, and online content can be readily and regularly updated rather than waiting for the next printed edition of the paper.

But if digital media is so great, then why not switch today, ditch the paper and move across to the net? What many fail to realise (or just forget) is this. Depending where you look, between 35 and 40% of homes in Britain still don’t have access to the internet.  For some, the local Gazette/ Echo/Chronicle/Post is the most readily available and accessible form of local news. Scrap newspapers, and you reveal a level of technology-poverty, with those on the wrong side of the digital divide unable to access local information, and essentially, unable to have a voice within their local area.

Whilst progress, profit and technology are all important, the remit of local news should (in an ideal world) be to serve and reach as many people as possible throughout communities, so that they can be informed and engaged. Getting rid of local newspapers will only serve to cut people off from society.


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No more fun for The Sun?

Although our official blog deadline has passed, i’ve decided to carry on….

In just under a month, The Sun will be launching it’s own radio station   on the Internet. Though the mind boggles at how the contents of Page 3 might be translated into an aural medium, the launch raises serious questions about who might, and should regulate such a high profile station, with former disgraced Talksport host John Gaunt at the helm.

This pair of tits will have to stick to twittering

This pair of tits will have to stick to twittering

In his Guardian blog Roy Greenslade asks whether a new system of regulation should be bought in to fill the Internet void for multimedia content from established press or broadcasting corporations. At present, online copies of newspapers are subject to  PCC codes and broadcasters are regulated by Ofcom, but a separate online-only radio station does not fit into either of the regulatory frameworks and, at the moment, would not be subject to regulation.

Greenslade points out that the Sun’s popularity and its power of influence, (plus the fact that many elements of the newspaper, such as Sport and Dear Deirdre will feature in the online station) gives it a high power of public influence and that the public may see the station as purely an extension of the paper rather than a separate entity.

One solution to the problem of SunTalk, dubbed “the home of free speech”   could be to have a single multimedia regulator. However, the task of unpicking all UK online radio stations, websites, web with audio and video content would be a mammoth one, and serve to impart complicated beuracracy on to web-based media.

The PCC have been criticised in the past for having no teeth, and perhaps, as more newspapers launch unrestricted multimedia content and sister content, it could be time to review the remit of the regulator, and reform it in a way that it can offer individual protection, without restricting the generation of content, in all its various forms.        


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My MA Project and Free Speech

My MA Project, see here –, about the conflict between Christians and Hindus in India’s Orissa, touches on censorship issues over there.

One of which is this.

Also, I may encounter some freedom of speech issues my self, although I hope not. Any that I do I will log on this blog.

 

On the actual topic, even though I have learnt a lot from my own research, through you on the team and through other groups with their comments and their own presentations i still think that press and broadcasting freedom is one helluva big topic and difficult to get a grip on. So much comes into play; culture, religion, economy as well as politics and history and not forgetting technology.

Finally I would just like to say thanks to the team . Although I was sceptical about the whole affair blogging about press freedom business at the start it is now making a lot more sense. Especially the practical aspects.

Keep on keeping on…


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Fair Comment…

As our blog deadline looms and we’re all getting around to wrapping up and doing our last few posts I’d just like to take this opportunity to comment on how much I’ve learned from this whole experience in group blogging. Not only do I feel like I’ve become a mini expert on press freedom and digital technology but I also think that our ‘fair comment’ group has created a quality blog that will be useful to anyone, anywhere in the world who’ interested in the subjects we’ve covered. We have delved into so many different areas of press freedom and I cannot believe how digital technology like blogging and Twitter are changing the face of news output.

From looking at all of the other blogs from other course members it’s clear to see how everyone’s topics interlink with one another. I thought that the Citizen Journalism blog particularly crossed over with a lot of our content. One website in particular that I picked up on in our presentation and I know the Citizen Journo’s came across too, illustrates just how important blogs are becoming in giving people a voice. BBC World Services’ Your Story project relies heavily on bloggers to have a voice and report on things that perhaps the mainstream media can’t get close to. Take the Israel/ Gaza conflict, the worldwide press couldn’t get in, so bloggers in both countries were called upon to provide in depth, live audio coverage on the BBC World Service. Of course it’s not all good news, in some places where freedom of speech is still restricted there are severe consequence for people who use digital technology to have a voice. Take Fouad Al-Farhan, the Saudi blogger who was sent to jail because he weighed up the advantages and disadvantages of the S.A government. He was later freed thanks to a public outcry via online petition, youtube videos and blogs. Digital technology is certainly changing the face of journalism. Platforms like blogs, Twitter, Youtube and facebook are allowing people from around the world to speak out. In terms of press freedom and gaining access to information, this developing use of digital technology is opening many doors that would have been firmly shut to the media before. How objective and reliable many of these platforms are is an argument that could take up another whole page….


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Where next for Fair Comment?

As we come towards the end of the posting period on Fair Comment, I’ve thought about where the future lies for the global press freedom, within a new media template. In my presentation, i touched on the way that Western Technology was creating a New Media Colonialism, where the privileged few have access to the technologies required to post messages, tweet or interact globally. However, the opposite may also be true, with developing countries shifting away from regulation to a more participatory means of global communication, as telephones, computers and internet access becomes more available, and crucially more affordable.

 However. I still feel that the old addege is ultimately true. Knowledge is Power and I am aware of a growing divide between those who have access to forms of knowledge and those who do not. Increasing media freedom, as this blog has shown, is possible, but not without barriers of government regulation and international and cultural conflict. I doubt there will ever be an overarching set of rules for the Internet and what can and can’t be said, as the space itself is uncontainable and unpoliceable, but in having such a free space, those who have access to it have a voice that can shape future cultural understanding and provide a vehicle for democracy.