World News Media Watch Education The World

World Press Freedom Day reminds us that information is a right not a privilege

The Tempest Exclusive series Media Watch investigates and introspects on the intricacies of free speech around the world, right from The Tempest newsroom. 

May 3rd is World Press Freedom Day. Since 1993, global journalists have used World Press Freedom Day to discuss and implement solutions to emerging challenges to press freedom and journalists’ safety. This year’s theme is “Information as a Public Good,” a fitting reminder considering the state of our world and its increasingly negative view of news media.

Media distrust is on the rise. However, there is a stark difference between journalism and broadcast media commentary. The latter is usually what people are criticizing when they voice skepticism of the news. For example, the article you’re reading now isn’t journalism. While I will be disseminating information—specifically why the dissemination of information is important to global society—the message will be constructed from analysis and opinion.

The internet has muddied how people find, digest, and communicate news, mostly because anyone can pass their thoughts, analysis, and opinions online as fact. While this does have its merits, namely in calling out certain publications for spreading lies, hate, or half-truths, it shouldn’t downplay the importance of journalism and reporting.

Take a moment and imagine a world without news. If there was an emergency, how would your community become aware? Sure, word of mouth is powerful, but can it reach an entire community quickly in order to mobilize the masses? And will the information be accurate? Say the emergency in question is a fire. While one person could have told you there was a wildfire, another person (Sokka) could have told you Combustion Man (a.k.a. Sparky Sparky Boom Man) was detonating large explosions throughout your suburb. While both pieces of information do communicate the need for evacuation, there is an obvious factual flaw, which could affect how people respond to the emergency.

Many ancient global societies realized the importance of both efficiency and accuracy when it came to spreading information. As early as 206 BC, China used palace reports or imperial bulletins known as dibao to make official announcements and inform people of the latest news. In the Greek agora and Roman Forums, spoken news was complemented by daily handwritten sheets that included information on politics, the military, and executions.

Today, the news keeps many communities abreast of important events. Censorship, however, continues to prevent journalists from helping spread crucial information. While news consumption surged at the start of the pandemic last year, global governments restricted and discredited news media as “fake news,” especially after many journalists exposed the failings of governmental responses and regulations to COVID-19.

Media censorship regularly occurs, with stories edited for reasons like length, privacy, national security, or simply to protect news companies from corporate, political, or advertiser fallout. However, the fact remains news media is crucial to the circulation of information, and information should be a right that all people have access to.

But the pandemic also exacerbated the problem of the closing of news media outlets. Many publications shut down last year, and 37,000 news company workers were laid off, furloughed, or had their pay reduced. How can we continue to protect information as a public good without news media and journalism?

One way is through World Press Freedom Day, which reminds many of us that journalism is as important as ever. Local reporters and journalists are often the reason why headlines are picked up by national news companies. Such was the case for the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. Both stories were first reported on by local news publications like The Brunswick News and Kentucky’s Courier-Journal before The New York Times, CNN, and more covered the stories.

Local newspapers are also important because they provide timely, relevant information to communities around the world. In the words of NBC’s Matt Laslo, “independent, close-to-home reporting has always—and will always—be a life-giving resource to communities because information is foundational to modern life.” For communities like mine, this has meant keeping my neighbors and me apprised of news on approaching wildfires, air quality, quarantine guidelines, vaccine availability, and more. This is but one of the reasons why the theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day is so important.

“The theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day, ‘Information as a Public Good,’ underlines the indisputable importance of verified and reliable information. It calls attention to the essential role of free and professional journalists in producing and disseminating this information, by tackling misinformation and other harmful content,” said Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO.

To celebrate World Press Freedom Day this year, I suggest applying the old adage of “think globally, act locally” to our efforts. Support your local news media outlets and other organizations working on the ground in your neighborhoods. It may not seem like much, but small actions do lead to big changes—and both are what is needed to continue to protect the sanctity of information as a public good.

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Press Media Watch Europe Gender The World Inequality

British tabloids’ objectification of women is a step back from gender equality in the UK

In 2019, the UK’s upskirting law made it a criminal offense to take an image or video under someone’s clothing. In the same year, Wales made menstrual products available for free in hospitals and schools, and Northern Ireland finally legalized abortion. Over the last few years, there have been countless wins for gender equality in the UK and Ireland. However, women are far from being equal yet – especially if British tabloids continue to objectify women’s bodies in their newspapers.  

Unlike broadsheet newspapers that provide reliable news stories, tabloids run on celebrity gossip, sex scandals, and conspiracy theories. Yet despite being known for reporting stories that are factually inaccurate, The Sun, The Daily Mail, and The Daily Mirror – all tabloid newspapers – were the most read newspapers in the UK last year.

I’ve spent the pandemic working in my local supermarket, a job which on the morning shift, requires me to put the day’s newspapers out onto the shelves. I try my best not to look at the front page of the tabloids – a 6 a.m. start is hard enough without seeing them hurl abuse at Meghan Markle, and use Brexit propaganda as a way to pedal the UK’s vaccine roll-out – but the other day, my curiosity got the better of me. I took a copy of The Sun, one of the country’s most popular tabloid newspapers, and opened it behind the till. I knew what I would find inside, but I was still shocked when I found it.

Three pages in and there was already a bikini shot of Walking Dead star, Lauren Cohan, blown up in HD, as she ‘spoils readers rotten in her latest photoshoot’; the fact that Cohan was returning to the show’s 11th and final series was buried among the detailed description of her ‘toned torso’ and mention of ‘those fans who think she’s drop-dead gorgeous.’

The Sun page 3 feature with Lauren Cohan
[Image description: The Sun page 3 feature with Lauren Cohan.] The Sun

The fight against Page 3 girls – the tabloid tradition of publishing an image of a topless woman on their third page – has been going on for over four decades. For a 23-year-old like me, this regular soft-core porn feature has been around for as long as I can remember. It took countless campaigns for this feature to finally be stopped in 2015 after 45 years of printing new explicit photos of women’s bodies every single day. 

However, as I saw in the copy of the newspaper I was reading, this ban has a loophole: women in bikinis. As long as their breasts are covered, tabloids can continue to objectify the female body and sell copies of the newspaper by printing suggestive photos. The “women in bikinis loophole” lets tabloids continue to treat women as commodities, and sell their bodies as a form of entertainment.

The “women in bikinis loophole” lets tabloids continue to treat women as commodities, and sell their bodies as a form of entertainment. 

Another way that tabloids are getting around this ban, is by having women write the articles that include these photos. On page twelve of the same newspaper I had picked up that morning, there was a double-page spread of nine female celebrities in bikinis – including a nude photo of the woman who wrote the article herself.

The angle of the piece was celebrating the bodies of the over 50’s, while also attempting to take down the ‘polyfilla-ed twenty-something wannabes’ at the same time.

A double-page spread written by female writer in The Sun that pits women against each other.
[Image description: A double-page spread written by a female writer in The Sun that pits women against each other.] The Sun

At first glance, a piece like this written by a woman to celebrate women’s bodies might seem like a form of female empowerment – a clever way for women to turn this degrading tradition on its head in the fight for gender equality, and release suggestive photos on their own terms as an attempt to control their own narrative. But by posting these photos in a tabloid that for over four decades has used female bodies to sell stories, a spread like this is just another way for men to continue to sensationalize and objectify the female form, marketing it instead as a new form of feminism.

Don’t even get me started on the fact that the piece was celebrating the bodies of women over 50 – something that should be done – by tearing down the younger generation of women below them – something that definitely shouldn’t. If your brand of feminism focuses on bringing other women down, then I’m sorry, but it isn’t really feminism at all.

On a similar note, in all nine photos on this page, the women pictured had what many would consider an ideal body type; likewise, there were only two women of color on the whole double-page spread. Again, if your view of feminism doesn’t include women of all ethnicities, women of all shapes and sizes, and trans women, then you can never truly say that you’re fighting for the rights of all women.  

I am of course not saying that women who share suggestive photos of themselves aren’t real feminists – I understand how empowering this way of creating your own narrative is, and its a great way to encourage female body positivity – but I’ve seen first hand the people who buy these papers, and I’m certain that the first thing they think of when they see these photos isn’t female empowerment or the country’s fight for gender equality.

In a post Me Too era, British tabloids cultivate a misogynistic culture, letting it grow and fester while the rest of the country works hard to scrub it clean; these newspapers provide some of the last remaining drabs of blatant female objectification in print. It doesn’t come as a surprise then, that in a 2012 YouGov survey about the attitudes toward Page 3 girls, 48% of men overall were in favor of keeping the sexist feature – in comparison to just 17% of women.

By British tabloids continuing to print suggestive photos like these, the female body will never be seen as anything but a commodity used to sell stories. It doesn’t matter how hard we fight for gender equality in the UK, if the tradition of page three girls continues to exist in some way, shape, or form, this goal will forever remain out of reach. 


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Media Watch The World

CNN needs to do better at covering sexual misconduct allegations

The Tempest Exclusive series Media Watch investigates and introspects on the intricacies of free speech around the world, right from The Tempest newsroom. 

If we learned anything from 2020, it’s that no one is invincible. From an international pandemic to criticisms surrounding both the former and the new president, it was a year of reckoning for many public figures. Media giant CNN, both revered and despised throughout the political spectrum, proved no different. Star commentator Chris Cuomo, brother of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, is one of the more outspoken, recognizable faces on CNN due to his 9 p.m. slot on  “Cuomo Prime Time.” 

So after nine women came out and accused Andrew Cuomo of sexual misconduct, with harassment ranging from inappropriate touching to unwanted kisses, the world recognized that Chris Cuomo now had a major conflict of interest when covering his brother.

CNN, on the other hand, does not have that same issue–but that didn’t stop the organization from dragging its feet on giving the scandal a headline. 

Throughout Cuomo’s five-season show, it was stipulated by CNN that he can’t cover his brother on air; the conflict of interest is too obvious and undermines the anti-bias that CNN allegedly stands for. However, they made an exception during the COVID-19 pandemic when Andrew Cuomo was praised for how he handled New York. Andrew Cuomo was interviewed multiple times on his brother’s show. 

In essence, Chris Cuomo’s conflict of interest lasted until it was time to pay lip service to how great a leader his brother was; meanwhile, the truth behind Andrew Cuomo’s so-called COVID “success” was that hundreds of people in his state were dying. When it was discovered that the state covered up COVID death numbers, the governor shocked the public by saying during a press conference, “Who cares if they died in the hospital, died in a nursing home? They died.”

New York, which had some of the highest COVID death rates, was further disillusioned in March when Andrew Cuomo’s latest disappointment made headlines. Although Lindsey Boylan had initially accused Cuomo of sexual misconduct in a December 11 tweet, it all came to a head in late February/early March when she published a tell-all essay about her time as an aide to the governor. Since then, eight more women have come forward with their stories, including former aide Anna Ruch, whose harassment was caught on camera at a wedding.

And what do we hear from CNN and Chris Cuomo? Crickets. 

The only reason why they started to cover the story was because of pressure from other news outlets like The New York Post and The Business Insider. But the coverage was delicate, skirting around the topic, never calling it what it is, and always making sure to highlight the governor’s successes amidst the scandal. 

“[The] governor [has] fallen to arguably the lowest point of his decades-long political career just months after hitting his highest high,” says an unnamed aide from a March 16 article on CNN. Isn’t it convenient, the way they drop how lengthy Cuomo’s career is? It also didn’t go unnoticed that they linked this article about how many people approved of the way Cuomo handled the virus in his state when mentioning Cuomo’s “highest high”. The headline gushes, “Andrew Cuomo may be the single most popular politician in America right now”. 

Talk about reverse psychology; the headline all but tells us, Hey, everyone makes mistakes! 

Also problematic is the terminology that the aide uses when referencing the scandal, stating, “It’s something he [Cuomo] always felt was important to remember: that sometimes you get knocked down and you have to get back to work.”

According to CNN, getting “knocked down” is having your sexual misconduct brought to light. What about Lindsey Boylan, Ana Liss, or Anna Ruch, who endured inappropriate comments and touching while working for Cuomo? Weren’t they “knocked down”, too? Why is CNN addressing the resilience of the predator, but not the courage of the victims? 

This is only another case of the media belittling sexual assault victims to suit their narratives, something that’s become the norm. Fortunately, CNN did not shy away from reporting the facts of the case, covering the impeachment inquiry that the State Assembly commenced on March 11, in addition to Democrat leaders like Senator Chuck Schumer and House representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez calling for Cuomo’s resignation.

But this does not erase CNN’s bias, nor did we forget Chris Cuomo’s belated response in covering his brother’s scandal

“Obviously I am aware of what’s going on with my brother,” said the younger Cuomo on a March 1 airing of his show. “And obviously I cannot cover it because he is my brother. Now, of course, CNN has to cover it. They have covered it extensively and they will continue to do so.” 

I don’t live in New York, but I live close enough in New Jersey to be very familiar with the city, its people, and the way their leaders have disappointed them during the COVID-19 crisis. And from that point of view, perhaps Chris Cuomo only said this because people wouldn’t let him get away with ignoring this, especially with how extensively his network covers the scandals of people they don’t like. 

Why is CNN addressing the resilience of the predator, but not the courage of the victims?

Is there any doubt that Cuomo has a conflict of interest in covering his brother’s scandal? No. Was that same doubt apparent when he covered his brothers “highest high?” For sure. Should he have waited so long to address the scandal, and should CNN have covered it more fairly? Absolutely. 

Time will tell whether or not the nine accusers will end up like another Tara Reade or Christine Blasey Ford, their truths belittled, their traumas discredited, and their stories forgotten by the mainstream elites.


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Coronavirus Media Watch Europe Politics The World

Are British tabloids using nationalism to encourage Covid-19 vaccinations?

The Tempest Exclusive series Media Watch investigates and introspects on the intricacies of free speech around the world, right from The Tempest newsroom. 

Before Brexit, I never saw the UK as patriotic. We were proud to be British, yes, in terms of our impact on global culture – British music, British telly, British icons, even our internet meme culture was quintessentially ours – but proud of what our country did in the past and how we’ve made an effort to build on from that in the present? Never. I’ve always been too aware of our role in the empire and how we treated those that arrived on our shores afterwards, to feel anything remotely patriotic. 

But when 52% of my country voted to leave the European Union based on a campaign that fiercely promised to ‘take back control of Britain’ and liberate it from the oppressive chicken coop prison” of the EU, I realized people in the UK were a lot more patriotic than I originally thought.

Along with racially fuelled anti-migrant propaganda, some groups from the Vote Leave campaign ran the rhetoric of ‘Make Britain Great Again’ – an inflammatory slogan that mirrored Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign; a crusade similarly based on bigotry and nationalism.

‘Make Britain Great Again’ wanted to take Britain back to its supposed post-war “glory days”; the time shortly after we had won the war, but also the time when being gay was illegal, there was no anti-discrimination legislation to prevent landlords from refusing to accept tenants of color, and despite all the work by those fighting for women’s suffrage in the war, women were once again being shoehorned into the feminine ideal of the “the perfect mother and housewife”. Ah yes, the good old days.

And a large part of the Vote Leave campaign was run through British tabloids. Popular newspapers like The Sun and The Daily Mail, openly backed the decision to leave the EU, running so-called patriotic front-page news stories that encouraged readers to leave the ‘increasingly greedy, wasteful, bullying, and breathtakingly incompetent’ European Union, and vote leave for ‘our chance to make Britain even greater.’

And it worked. Statistics show that the newspapers with the highest proportion of leave voters were right-wing British tabloids; by these British tabloids openly backing the Vote Leave campaign – and endorsing the idea that Britain was better at a time when minorities had fewer rights – they allowed this harmful way of thinking to become acceptable once again.

If the 2016 Brexit referendum shattered the glass of an already cracked Britain, the British tabloids were the rocks that finally smashed it into pieces. They showed many bigoted Brits, who claim to have felt silenced in the past, that if the country’s press could openly racially discriminate, so could they. And then in 2020, the pandemic hit. And later on in the year, Covid-19 vaccinations came – along with anti-vaccination rhetoric. 

If the 2016 Brexit referendum shattered the glass of an already cracked Britain, the British tabloids were the rocks that finally smashed it into pieces.

I can’t generalize for all readers of the British tabloids – nor would I want to – but many would say that there is perhaps a correlation between those that had their views on the reasons to leave the EU swayed by these papers and those that began to engage with the idea that Covid-19 vaccinations were unsafe. I’ve read enough tabloid newspapers to know that they are perfectly okay with twisting the truth, but when the government backs the science, it’s a lot more difficult to twist hard facts.

So instead, these tabloids are repackaging the Leave campaign’s vision of Britain’s so-called post-war “golden era,” to convince anti-vaxxers of the importance of Covid-19 vaccinations.

Indeed, The Sun’s ‘Jabs Army’ campaign – backed by prime-minister, Boris Johnson, himself – not only includes a heart-shaped logo complete with a union jack, but also makes use of war jargon such as ‘sign up’ and ‘vaccination volunteer force’; phrases that allude to the compulsory conscription and drafting in of soldiers, and the general post-war celebratory mood of the country coming together for the greater good.

And this isn’t the first time in the pandemic these tabloids have used Britain’s obsession with the war to tell their readers what to think; The Daily Mail devoted a whole column to Captain Tom Moore, the late army veteran who raised almost £33 million for the NHS by walking 100 laps around his garden before he turned 100.

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Of course, what Captain Tom did was great, but the tabloids spent longer writing about the fact that it was a war veteran funding the NHS, and not that our shambles of a government had left our National Health Service in such a state that it even needed this funding in the first place.

While I’ve got my own issues with British tabloids, I am definitely not against them running a pro-vaccination campaign – if it means the country is able to get immunized quicker, then I certainly don’t see it as an issue.

But I do worry that by these tabloids using the Brexit utopian dream of a post-war “glory days” Britain as a means to an end for vaccinations, it could quickly become the much more permanent end vision of Britain, that these readers have long been hoping for.  

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Media Watch Race The World Inequality

It’s time we recognize the media’s role in perpetuating Asian hate

The Tempest Exclusive series Media Watch investigates and introspects on the intricacies of free speech around the world, right from The Tempest newsroom. 

It took another tragedy for Black Lives Matter to become mainstream, and the #StopAsianHate movement is no different. Despite the skyrocketing numbers of Asian-targeted attacks across the United States last year – there were 3,800 incidents – recognition that the Asian community is being targeted is only now landing headlines and receiving nightly news segments. 

Perhaps this coverage is too little, too late.

Of course, the Asian-targeted shootings in Georgia on Tuesday, March 16 deserved mass media coverage. But what about the 3,800 biased crimes Asian Americans had to endure in 2020? Those deserved just as much awareness and attention, but there are so many victims out there who have been ignored. 

This has been going on for too long. In February, a Chinese man was walking home in Manhattan’s Chinatown when someone sprang up from out of nowhere and stabbed him in the back. The victim, whose name has not been released, was in the hospital for more than two weeks before being discharged on Sunday, March 14. 

How has this perpetual fear affected the lives of Asian Americans daily? How have Asian-run businesses uniquely suffered because of COVID-blaming and the implications behind the term “Chinese Virus”? 

Asian Americans have faced a long history of discrimination in this country. From “yellow peril” to the myth of the model minority, racism is nothing new to them. The first wave of immigrants from Asia, particularly from China, faced brutal discrimination in America in almost every aspect of society. This culminated in the infamous Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which not only prohibited Chinese immigrants from entering the country but also forbade Chinese Americans from returning after visiting family still in the homeland. The “racial purity” desired by the government didn’t allow this act to be officially repealed until 1943, but Asian Americans had to endure even more government intervention on their rights before then. The Alien Land Laws prevented non-citizens from owning land, which particularly targeted Asian Americans since they were prohibited from earning their citizenship altogether.

 From entertainment to politics, recognizable Asian groups like BTS and Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) have spoken out about #StopAsianHate, but stereotypes persist. 

Plus, the lack of media coverage naming events like these as hate crimes and holding people accountable has allowed for such horrific events to persevere. I can’t help but wonder that if the news media had appropriately covered these events, would there be as much Asian hate today? Identifying these attacks as hate crimes could contribute to people understanding this as a major problem in America. 

The media has had a major hand in sensationalizing the hardships Asian communities have faced, as many people blamed Chinese Americans for the COVID-19 pandemic, including news outlets themselves. French newspaper Le Courrier gained notoriety when they published a January 26 article with the headline “Yellow Alert”. Even when the media seems to be trying to help the situation, sensationalism and ratings are always their priority. With the constant coverage of COVID-19 and the debate on whether or not the virus was released from a lab in Wuhan, China, sensationalism has only strengthened the racist fear of Asians. 

It didn’t help that former President Donald Trump had branded COVID-19 with terms like the “Chinese Virus” and “Kung-Flu”. His viscious rhetoric encouraged many people  to believed that Asian Americans spread the virus and therefore deserved hate, ridicule, and violence. 

It wasn’t until eight women were killed, six of them Asian, that the media started to address #StopAsianHate instead of the “Chinese Virus”. While many news outlets have condemned former President Donald Trump’s use of the phrase, the nonstop coverage of its political incorrectness has rooted itself in people’s heads–in a drastically negative way. After Robert Aaron Long, 21, open-fired on three Asian-owned massage parlors across the Atlanta, GA area, he told Cherokee County authorities that he had a sexual addiction and by murdering the targeted victims, he was eliminating his “temptation”. Considering that this is not the first case of Asian-targeted violence in America, many have analyzed this alleged motivation. 

“We’re perpetually foreigners, and that idea plays out with women as being oversexualized,” said Helen Kim Ho, founder of the Atlanta chapter of Asian Americans Advancing Justice in an article from The Washington Post. “All of that had to have played out in this man’s own mind. In addition to the unspoken notion that Asian people are easy targets.” 

On the topic of perpetuating fear/hatred toward the Asian American community through sensationalism, John C Yang, president and executive director of AAJC, directly addressed the media’s role in all of this. “The media has a responsibility to […] lift up the stories of Asian Americans,” he said on an episode of Only in America, a podcast from the National Immigration Forum. “If they do that responsibility, we’ll start to see a different narrative about what Asian Americans are.”

Next month is May, Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. While the conversation about #StopAsianHate should be a year-long discussion, it’s important to remember this message in May while these communities are hard at work to promote ending systemic racism in America. The media has the power to shape the news into how they want people to view events, people, and the world itself. So when they change their narratives to influence certain ethnic groups, particularly Asian Americans who have shouldered the blame for the world’s current problem, we can finally walk the path that ends Asian hate. 

To learn more about Asian hate and how to join the conversation, click here for guidance and resources from the Asian American Journalists Association

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World News Media Watch The World

A record number of journalists have been jailed worldwide in 2020

The Tempest Exclusive series Media Watch investigates and introspects on the intricacies of free speech around the world, right from The Tempest newsroom.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an advocacy group, has released its annual report showing the number of journalists imprisoned across the world.  At least 274 journalists were in jail as of December 1, up from 250 last year, the most since the New York-based group began collecting data in the early 1990s. According to the US-based media watchdog, an authoritarian approach to critical news coverage is more than just a temporary spike, accusing governments worldwide of suppressing the media and increasing misinformation amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

This marks the fifth consecutive year that repressive governments have imprisoned at least 250 journalists. As of December 2020, China has jailed the most journalists for the second consecutive year with 47 reporters and journalists identified in prison. Authorities in China detained a Bloomberg staff member on December 11 on suspicion of endangering national security.

Turkey saw the second most journalists in custody, with 37 imprisoned this year. The country continues to try journalists free on parole and arrest new ones. CPJ found that the there is a decline in the statistics as compared to the previous years. However, it is not as positive as it seems and does not represent an improvement in the fortunes of Turkish media. Due to COVID-19, judicial proceedings were suspended for three months in 2020, prolonging prison for those in custody and anxiety for those free pending trial.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia also went to great lengths to keep journalists in custody while they were not convicted of any crime, with 27 jailed in each country. This year in Egypt at least three journalists were arrested for their work on COVID-19. Their only ‘crime’ was criticizing a lack of state media coverage of doctors and nurses who contracted the illness.

Protests and political tensions were the cause of many arrests, most of which took place in the above mentioned countries, according to CPJ’s annual report. A veteran journalist in Egypt was arrested on June 15 on charges of joining a terrorist group, spreading false news and misusing social media, after he criticized the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, including in a May 26 interview and June 14 column on Al-Jazeera.

In a statement, the CPJ’s Executive Director, Joel Simon said, “It’s shocking and appalling that we are seeing a record number of journalists imprisoned in the midst of a global pandemic.”

Not to mention that the number of journalists killed for their reporting nearly doubled in 2020, with 21 reporters slain as a direct result of their work according to the CPJ report. Of this number, Simon said, “It’s appalling that the murders of journalists have more than doubled in the last year, and this escalation represents a failure of the international community to confront the scourge of impunity.” Those responsible for their deaths include organized crime groups and corrupt politicians, to name a few. 

The report also blamed a lack of global leadership on democratic values, and in particular attacks on the media by the US President Donald Trump, which it said gave cover to authoritarians to crack down on media personnel in their own countries.

“The record number of journalists imprisoned around the world is President Trump’s press freedom legacy,” Simon said. As authoritarians leveraged Trump’s “fake news” rhetoric to justify their own actions – particularly in Egypt – the number of journalists jailed on “false news” charges steadily increased.

Ironically, no journalists were in prison in the US as of December 1. However, 110 were arrested or criminally charged in 2020 and around 300 were assaulted, the majority by law enforcement, according to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker while covering demonstrations against police violence. At least 12 are still face criminal charges, some of which carry jail terms. Observers told CPJ that the polarized political climate in the country and a militarized law enforcement which has consistently encouraged vitriol toward the media caught on fire during a wave of protests this summer. Due to lack of trust from the US – the champion of human rights and supposed leader in Press Freedom – where President Donald Trump has inexhaustibly denigrated the press and cozied up to dictators instead of making sure that a truthful account of news reaches the masses, the global atmosphere of the press has been adversely affected.

Countries where the number of jailed journalists rose significantly include Belarus, where mass protests have ensued over the disputed re-election of the long-time president and Ethiopia, where political unrest has degenerated into armed conflict. At least two journalists died after contracting the coronavirus in custody there, the report said.

The report also found that two-thirds of imprisoned reporters were charged with anti-state crimes such as “terrorism” or membership of banned groups, while no charges were disclosed in nearly 20% of cases. This rising tide of censorship and self-censorship indicates a clear pattern pf stifling global dissent and activism as a means to maintain power and exploitation.

CPJ has published recommendations to the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden for restoring US press freedom leadership globally, which include ensuring accountability for the domestic attacks on journalists as well as instructing diplomats abroad to attend trials of journalists and speak out in support of independent media. It also found the lack of trust in media in the US to be particularly dangerous during the global pandemic due to misreporting of facts and figures.

Media is known as the fourth estate in a democratic country. For a country to stand independently and to be able to maintain balance, it becomes important that this fourth estate is given the power, clarity, safety and authority it deserves, without the barriers of censorship.

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USA Editor's Picks Media Watch The World

All news needs storytelling, no matter how important

The Tempest Exclusive series Media Watch investigates and introspects on the intricacies of free speech around the world, right from The Tempest newsroom.


“This is the only way I want to receive my news,” one user commented on a TikTok by the Washington Post. In the video, Washington Post’s Dave Jorgensen dances to short bits of information about how the coronavirus vaccine will be rolled out. I’ll admit, it’s catchy.

@washingtonpost If the vaccines are approved, this would be an unprecedented scientific accomplishment. #coronavirus #vaccinations ♬ original sound – Logan Isbell


Jorgensen was recognized in the Forbes list of “30 Under 30 in Media 2021” for racking up over 30 million likes on TikTok and over 780,000 followers. He isn’t the only news source who has taken off on social media. Stay Tuned by NBC already has a large audience on Instagram and Snapchat, but has also found over 700,000 followers on TikTok as well. 

Let’s take it back for a moment. In 2016, a segment from “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” showed a then-nine-year-old clip of an Orlando Sentinel journalist asking the newspapers’ owner, billionaire Sam Zell, how they intend to balance readers’ wants for “puppy dogs” with the importance of informing the community. Zell responded by calling it “journalistic arrogance” and swearing at the reporter. That was over 13 years ago.

However, the Orlando Sentinel journalist’s concerns were real. In the early 2010s, Buzzfeedknown for its cat videos, listicles, personality quizzes, and memeswas the envy of other news outlets for the traffic they were getting. From 2015 to 2016, their website was gaining between 78 to 83 million unique visitors, beating out the New York Times, Washington Post, and Fox News. The popular conclusion: People were quitting the news. 

The belief was that people were tired of serious, stressful articles and turning their attention to “mind-numbing” content that went viral. Websites like Buzzfeed were easy ways to “unplug” from the worrisome news of the world and still engage in the fun parts of the Internet. After all, it’s much easier to ask yourself what type of cheese are you than where you stand on costly infrastructure changes that adjust for climate change.

And yet, the tide seems to have turned again. According to Vox, more traditional news sites such as the New York Times, Washington Post, and Fox News have once again eclipsed Buzzfeed. Rather than drop off and unplug, readership has continued to grow around political tensions and the presidential election, moving back to informative news rather than retreating to “soft” news

Ultimately, this has nothing to do with the type of content people want. It’s not about “puppy dogs” versus coronavirus vaccines. Instead, this is about how we get our information. It’s about storytelling and the paths we build to get to that story.

In the past few years, we have also seen traditional news outlets reach out more on social media and online platforms. At the end of 2014, the New York Times hired an audience team to build their readership, not only through SEO and online searches but also through community development and journalists. Today, most of the articles that I read from the New York Times are directly from reporters’ Twitter accounts. The Washington Post not only embraced social media through Facebook, but also began producing more video contentsuch as the type found on their TikTok account. 

News outlets aren’t the only ones finding out that people want their information in different ways. I took pause when I saw California governor Gavin Newsom join TikTok at the start of December. Newsom’s account provides similar information that could be found in his press releases and yet, his first video already has almost a million viewsmore views than I imagine the governor’s press releases typically get. As it turns out, he’s simply following the trend. The app, formerly skirted by politicians in 2019, has become a promising platform and more politicians, such as Senator Matt Little and Jon Ossoff, are joining in on the fun.

TikTok is not the only platform. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez regularly shares infographics and posts stories to her 8.2 million Instagram followers. Her Instagram stories range from day-in-the-life to step-by-step explanations of Congressional procedures, such as how leadership and offices are formally chosen. In this manner, politicians are building their own circles of dedicated followers.

During 2020 protests and demonstrations surrounding Black Lives Matter and police brutality, Instagram has also become a platform for sharing information, especially for those who were not able to physically participate. It didn’t take long for accounts dedicated solely to political protest and social justice to pop up. This included accounts like DiversifyOurNarrative, WhyDontWeDiscuss, TheSlacktivists, and NowSimplified.

Whether that is through politicians or news outlets, for better or for worse, it’s coming to us through shorter, easier to consume social media platforms. It’s true that these shortened types of content aren’t always going to give the full story, and may lack the type of depth we typically hope to see from informative news outlets. It’s going to be a challenge for journalists and politicians to present better storytelling and compelling narratives but, ultimately, isn’t that what politics and news are all about?


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Media Watch The World

The New York Times’ ‘Caliphate’ claimed to be real, but was all fabricated

The Tempest Exclusive series Media Watch investigates and introspects on the intricacies of free speech around the world, right from The Tempest newsroom. 

The New York Times has landed itself in what might be termed as a breach of the ethics of journalism or a failure of responsible journalism. The newspaper’s 2018 hit podcast series Caliphate has been revealed to be all fabricated, based on unreliable sources and an untrusted central figure like Shehroze Chaudhry who claimed that he had to join the Islamic State and travel to Syria to bring truth to the forefront.

The podcast series revolved around a Canadian young boy who went to Syria to join the IS before finally escaping the trap he fell in.

According to the executive editor Dean Baquet at NYT, they “fell in love” with the fact that they had gotten a member of the IS “who would describe his life in the caliphate and would describe his crimes”.

Baquet also added that when they saw evidence that maybe he was a fabulist, that he was making some of it up, they did not listen hard enough in an interview regarding the controversy that brought the NYT’s fact checking and credibility under scrutiny.

On December 18 of this year, after a two-month review and investigation, the newspaper retracted the podcast series on the basis of red flags indicating that the story which made it so powerful – giving insights about the allure of the world of terrorism -could not be trusted as a truthful narrative and therefore failed to meet editorial standards.

Chaudhry, the man in question, currently faces criminal charges in a federal court in Ontario under the charges of perpetrating a terrorism hoax.

The host of the series, Rukmini Callimachi has been taken off the terrorism beat and will be reassigned duties. The golden word here is ‘reassigned’ as it is a clear signifier of the power dynamics prevailing in today’s journalism industry in which a lower level staff reporter would have likely been immediately taken off the desk and fired before anyone would even get a chance to figure out what actually happened. Or, would have been subject to a much more rigorous fact-checking and source building procedure. But, this is Callimachi. A four time Pulitzer Prize finalist.

Talking to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in May 2018 as Caliphate episodes were all set to go on air, Callimachi said that Chaudhry gave the newspaper and the team focusing on terrorism “a gift with the story” and as they say, gifts are only accepted with joy. Who would ever wanted to get into details where the gift came from or who sent it? However, this “gift” was one of those unpleasant surprises that leaves a bad taste in the mouth for long time.

According to Baquet, “This failing was not about any one reporter. It was an institutional failing.”

After the NYT’s report on the matter, Callimachi apologized on Twitter for “what we missed and what we got wrong.” What once propelled Callimachi into the wide journalistic horizon, has now left the journalist high and dry.

The series was labelled as a highly produced work in the domain of terrorism reporting at the South By Southwest Conference in Austin, Texas in March, 2018. Caliphate became a huge deal when the podcast started getting nominations and winning several awards and acclaims. It also helped gather new listeners for the NYT podcasts, ultimately resulting in new paying subscribers.

The recent investigation resulted in the return of a Peabody Award that the Calipahte won, followed by The Overseas Press Club rescinding its Lowell Thomas Award given to the podcast’s producers.

Baquet said to look at the controversy as part of what he says is a push for transparency.

The New York Times has done tremendously ambitious journalism over the last few years. All of it has held up to the greater scrutiny,” Baquet said in the interview.

He further added, “When we get it wrong, I want people to understand we are going to talk about it and what I am hoping is that by talking about it, people will understand that we want to win their trust. And we want them to believe what we report.”

Like Baquet said, it is important that other journalists and reporters learn from this incident since journalism is fighting an internal battle against fake news slogans and Trumpism. One mistake, like this one which nearly proves their claims about the mainstream news media, could give them all the ammunition they need to diminish the reputation of journalism altogether.

Assistant managing editor, Sam Dolnick said in unveiling the podcast, “Caliphate represents the modern New York Times.” If really this is the standard being set by one of the top media houses in the world, then God save journalists. Especially in this day and time where journalists are competing against one another for the next big story, while also on a run to gather more clicks and likes on the story rather than making sure that the information that they are putting out there is hard-core reporting, combined with rigorous storytelling that makes the audience want more.

Times are tough for journalism and journalists all across the world with lines being blurred between what is truth and what is manufactured. It is upon each individual who claims the label ‘journalist’ to make sure that the story that is being pushed out with their name is factually correct and meets the ethics of the field of journalism. Otherwise, it is simply misinformation.


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Media Watch The World

Here’s what you need to know about Eritrea, the pinnacle of censorship in north-eastern Africa

The Tempest Exclusive series Media Watch investigates and introspects on the intricacies of free speech around the world, right from The Tempest newsroom.


Have you heard of Eritrea? It’s a small East African country on the coast of the Red Sea. Not many people are up to date on the current events within this unique nation, and that’s most likely a result of its strict censorship laws.

According to a 2019 list compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Eritrea is ranked the world’s most censored country. Yes, that is even more so than widely known censored countries like North Korea or China! The CPJ is an independent non-profit, non-governmental organization, based in New York City, with correspondents around the world.

Eritrea is ranked the world’s most censored country

The CPJ determines censorship rankings based on the following factors:

  • Restrictions of privately-owned or independent media
  • Defamation laws
  • Restrictions on the dissemination of false news
  • Internet and website access
  • Surveillance of journalists by authorities
  • License requirements for media
  • Targeted hacking

Evidently, there are many critical factors to consider when evaluating censorship in a country, most of which we take for granted in countries with press freedom laws. For this reason alone, Eritrea’s top ranking is a major cause for concern.

[Image description: President of Eritrea, Isaias Afwerki, standing in front of a podium, 2002.] via Wikimedia Commons
[Image description: President of Eritrea, Isaias Afwerki, standing in front of a podium, 2002.] via Wikimedia Commons
To understand the complete context of this worry, we need to rewind to September 18, 2001, when the Eritrean government shut down seven independent media outlets and imprisoned 10 journalists. They were punished for allegedly failing to comply with the country’s media licensing requirements. However, it’s widely believed that the decision was fueled by the end of the Eritrea-Ethiopia war in mid-2000. Although the war technically ended,  President Isaias Afwerki was on a mission to clamp down any political opposition and continue to fight Ethiopia for more border territories. This significant moment in history is known as “Black Tuesday” and it marks the beginning of a gruesome dictatorship in the country.

“Repressive governments use sophisticated digital censorship and surveillance alongside more traditional methods to silence independent media.” – CPJ

So, you might be wondering how Eritrea even got to this point. In the 1930s and ’40s, the country’s economy was stimulated by Italian colonial activity and the turbulent circumstances of World War II. After the war, the economy deflated and thousands of Eritreans were forced to start a new life in neighboring Ethiopia. By 1960, Ethiopia had annexed Eritrea, forcibly taking control of the country’s territories. This resulted in an armed struggle known as the Eritrean War of Independence, and it lasted almost 30 years. However, when tensions had seemingly calmed down and Eritrea gained independence in 1993, the two countries began fighting for control over a border town named Badme and other lucrative land. In 1998, another 20 years of violent conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea emerged, leaving Eritrean media a propaganda-filled mess.

Given these circumstances, 400 000 Eritreans fled the country in the past few years, causing the diaspora population to grow. There’s also an expanding network of Eritrean activists living outside the country. They collaborate with radio stations, online platforms, phone hotlines and undercover sources inside the country. One of their main goals is to find ways to circulate accurate news in Eritrea without the government cracking down on the operation. Most Eritreans have not been fooled by Afwerki’s propaganda and hope for a better life. As reported by Vice News, one in every 10 migrants headed to Europe are from Eritrea. 

The CPJ confirmed that most journalists in Eritrea who were jailed in 2001 remain behind bars today. To make matters worse, the government still controls most broadcast outlets and foreign radio signals are jammed. There isn’t even the option of browsing the internet as the country has the lowest rate of cellphone and computer ownership in the world. According to the U.N. International Telecommunication Union, less than 1% of Eritrea’s 5 million citizens have the necessary devices to go online.

[Image description: A group of Ethiopian soldiers in Mogolo, Eritrea, 2008.] via Wikimedia Commons
[Image description: A group of Ethiopian soldiers in Mogolo, Eritrea, 2008.] via Wikimedia Commons
As a result of the Eritrea-Ethiopia conflict, many journalists fled the country after President Afwerki’s new policies, and few have spoken out about their experiences. In an interview with Financial Times, Afwerki made it clear that he thinks most journalists are “a threat to national security.” He also believes they aren’t very professional or honest about where they get their information from, thus distorting the truth. Ultimately, his intentions are to promote nationalism in Eritrea and prevent citizens from immigrating. He wants the media to reflect positively on his government, thus feeling the need to control it at all costs. Since 2012, it’s been compulsory for Eritrean journalists to attend military drills and guard government offices. Today, there are no independent media outlets in Eritrea and citizens can’t legally leave the country from ages 9-51 without official permission. This makes it nearly impossible to get accurate news about Eritrea unless you consult foreign media outlets that are working with insiders.

Another notable act of censorship in the country included the government shutting down social media before Eritrea’s independence day celebrations on May 24, 2019. Clearly, the government is aware that citizens don’t feel independent and they would express their true feelings on social media if given the opportunity.

In my opinion, censorship in Eritrea is horrifying, especially in the 21st century when information should be at our fingertips. Freedom of press plays a vital role in keeping citizens informed and holding authorities accountable. If it ceases to exist, basic human rights could be dangerously overlooked to the point of no return. Journalists have been detained and even perished under the hands of the Eritrean government and this ill practice must be put to an end. Unfortunately, there aren’t many platforms for Eritreans to speak of the political and media-related injustices in their country. However, as outsiders looking in, we can do our very best to speak out on the matter and create a level of awareness that could potentially change the future of Eritrea.

Organizations that are doing incredible work to help Eritrea include the Norwegian Refugee Council, The America Team for Displaced Eritreans, and the Eritrean Development Foundation. Unfortunately, I couldn’t source a direct donation link to the grassroots campaign ‘Freedom Friday.‘  However, I highly encourage you to get involved and make donations where possible. 


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World News Media Watch Tech The World

Here’s why YouTube putting ads in non-monetized content is problematic

YouTube decided to update its Terms of Service on November 18, and things aren’t looking promising. The video streaming platform now has a ‘Right to Monetize’ (RTM) update that grants them the right to run ads on any video, including the ones that aren’t monetized. It might not seem like a big deal, especially since online advertising has become the norm for mega-corporations. However, there’s a catch.

YouTube monetization refers to the practice of companies paying youtubers and channels to place their ads in videos. Every time viewers watch an ad, the relevant party gets paid. According to the new update, however, YouTube will be pocketing all the ad revenue from videos that aren’t monetized. This means smaller channels on the rise won’t benefit from the new policies at all. The unwarranted ads will disrupt their videos, making it much more difficult to retain an audience and grow on the platform.

Prior to the amended Terms of Service, YouTubers could join the YouTube Partner Program (YPP) to earn money from video ads. The program was designed for dedicated creators with 1000 subscribers and 4000 hours of watch time in a 12-month period . On top of all that, you have to live in a region where the program is available and have an Google AdSense account.

So if creators have to jump over all these hurdles for their content to get monetized, how can YouTube have the audacity to monetize videos on their behalf? It is not just greedy and capitalistic, it also makes the existing program far less meaningful. Essentially, there will be ads on your videos whether you’re part of the program or not. There’s no way to avoid that repetitive Holiday sales ad for the third time in 2 hours.

On that same vein, MaStar Media, a youtuber with a relatively large following (3.5 million subscribers), expressed his concerns about the exploitation of small creators. He believes that youtubers put their blood, sweat, and tears into their content and unfortunately they can’t make a single cent until they qualify for the YPP.

More so, there are creators who actively reject ads based on principle and the Terms of Service update overrides these conscious decisions. For example, full episodes of Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj get uploaded to the ‘Netflix is a Joke’ YouTube channel without being monetized. Bear in mind that these videos get millions of views and could generate a decent a mount of revenue if they were monetized. Nevertheless, choosing to eliminate ads allows viewers to freely access the videos and ensures the content isn’t influenced by advertiser ideals.

YouTube seems to have an ‘our platform, our rules’ mentality which gets them into trouble  time and time again. Naturally, many of the creators used their own YouTube channels and social media to express their concerns with the Terms of Service update. A creator with a firm stance on the matter is freelance creator and youtuber, Roberto Blake, a creator with over 490K subscribers. He made an incredible video that highlights just how problematic the new terms of service will be. Blake explained the situation by pointing out that, “as a content creator, you will not have control over you viewers’ experience. They could have non-skippable ads playing before your videos and that could frustrate them to the point of not continuing to even bother watching the video.”


More than anything, the amended Terms of Service comes across as a heartless cash-grab because YouTube already made a reported $5 billion exclusively in Q3 of 2020. That means the annual ad revenue for this year is going to be an unbelievable amount of money. In addition, the company has majorly benefited from the internet-driven, stay-at-home lifestyle of 2020. Although ad sales significantly fell in March, they’re still having one of their most profitable years yet.

On that note, I urge YouTube to focus on keeping their creators happy. Although more ad revenue is enticing to the company, they have to remember that the creators keep the platform afloat and should be able to reject advertising if it doesn’t align with their values. Ultimately, if the creators are unhappy, it manifests a hostile partnership that could jeopardize the future of YouTube for good.


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USA Media Watch Tech The World

Here’s why you should be worried about Muslim Pro’s alleged privacy breach

The Tempest Exclusive series Media Watch investigates and introspects on the intricacies of free speech around the world, right from The Tempest newsroom.

This week, in an all-new episode of “get your private information stolen by a tech giant”, was Muslim Pro’s scandal of indirectly selling user data to the US military intelligence and counterterrorism unit.

Muslim Pro is a comprehensive religious app, boasting about 100 million downloads across 216 countries, dubbing itself as the “most popular Muslim app” on its website. It features religious content, ranging from the direction of Mecca which Muslims pray facing, to audio versions of the Quran. So how did a seemingly innocent app, aiming to reinforce Islamic values, become a pawn of state surveillance?

According to a riveting expose published by Vice, Muslim Pro seems to have allegedly handed off sensitive location data to a third-party data broker, X-Mode. Such brokers typically auction off data to contractors, who in turn sell it to buyers. And apparently, the buyers could also be the US military.

How did a seemingly innocent app, aiming to reinforce Islamic values, become a pawn of state surveillance?

Due to non-disclosure agreements at play, X-Mode refused to identify the specific contractors they were disseminating information to. But they did confirm that the international contractors are focused on three types of cases: counter-terrorism, cybersecurity, and predicting future COVID-19 hotspots. In a recent interview with CNN, the company’s CEO Joshua Anton revealed that the company tracks 25 million devices inside the United States every month, and 40 million elsewhere, including in the European Union, Latin America, and the Asia-Pacific region.

However, just a day after the fiasco unfolded on social media, with many angry users expressing their apprehension, Muslim Pro’s team sent out a press release on Twitter clarifying that the “media reports circulating” were “incorrect and untrue”. In the same statement published, they also claimed that they have “terminated relationships with all data partners” especially their four-week-long liaison with X-Mode.

In their defense, Muslim Pro also clarified that “every single feature of the app is available without signing up or logging in” which contributed to the “anonymity”. And the greatest selling point, of course, is that it is free.

But remember: “if you’re not paying for a product online, you are the product.” These words from the 2020 Netflix documentary, The Social Network, could not be truer in the case at hand. Our naïve illusion of a tech ecosystem where we are the willful consumers, and the app or the network is the product needs to be shattered. Many skeptics have long pointed out that users and our experiences are actually the product of these apps. The consumer or buyer for this “product”, you might wonder? Giant corporations and state organizations.

Harvard Professor Zuboff, who coined the term “surveillance capitalism”, suggests that our private information is far more derogatory than a product: it is simply the raw material or the input for a future product. And this commodification of human experiences, feelings, emotions, and desires is conveniently euphemized as “data” to cushion the blow on the terms and agreements page. An average layman, with little tech literacy, is overwhelmed by such legal jargon and cannot be fully cognizant of the repercussions of letting their data be accessed. So we all become victims of this so-called “transparent agreement”.

An interesting tweet in response to the issue stated: “True, apps have long been selling users’ data to third parties since the discovery of smartphones. However, in Muslim Pro’s case, which is patronized by millions of the very people who are most vulnerable to be cataloged as terrorists, the betrayal seems to be far deeper.”

We all become victims of this so-called “transparent agreement”.

And rightly so, though the extraction of data for advertising has been the oldest trick in the tech trade, here it is exacerbating vulnerability for a particular religious community. Here, the unilateral and non-consensual extraction of data has far more grave repercussions: the US military can use location-sensitive data to accurately target drone strikes.

It is one thing for algorithms to generate attractive advertisements on your Instagram based on your Google searches (we’ve all been subjected to the sorcery of Artificial Intelligence, haven’t we?) But it is an entirely different affair for technology to assist state security, in particular, the U.S. Special Operations Command, a branch of the military tasked with counterterrorism that became the key beneficiary of this “leak”.

Muslim Pro has promised to “launch an internal investigation”. But this was just another in line with multiple major privacy breaches in the past few years. The Cambridge Analytica scandal, for instance, revealed the hideous truth about Facebook’s new realm of power and its capability of contorting the organic human experience. One might be compelled to wonder: are these isolated incidents or are they glimpses into the dark underbelly of the tech world?

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Media Watch The World

The worrying threats to media freedom in Cambodia

The Tempest Exclusive series Media Watch investigates and introspects on the intricacies of free speech around the world, right from The Tempest newsroom.

In April of this year, Cambodian journalist Sovann Rithy was arrested after quoting Prime Minister Hun Sen in a post about COVID-19. 

Rithy, who is the director of the online news site TVFB, quoted an excerpt from a speech made by Hun Sen on his personal Facebook page. The Prime Minister stated: “If motorbike-taxi drivers go bankrupt, sell your motorbikes for money. The government does not have the ability to help.” 

Rithy was charged with incitement to commit a felony. 

The government insisted that this was intended as a joke and charged Rithy with incitement to commit a felony, in addition to revoking TVFB’s broadcasting license on the grounds that it broadcasts information which is a threat to the security, public order and safety of society.

On May 13, Sok Oudom, the owner of Rithysen Radio News Station in Cambodia, was arrested and also charged with incitement to commit a felony. The charge came after a news broadcast aired about a local land dispute. Rithysen Radio News Station’s media license was later revoked as authorities claimed it used its platform to spread news that is exaggerates, incites violence and causes a threat to social security. 

On June 25, Ros Sokhet, the publisher of Cheat Khmer, was arrested under those same charges. The day before his arrest, Sokhet had posted criticism of Hun Sen on his personal Facebook page.

These arrests of journalists are an unsettling reality which points to the intense clamping down on media freedom in Cambodia which began in 2017. 

These arrests of journalists are an unsettling reality which points to the intense clamping down on media freedom in Cambodia which began in 2017. 

In 2017, the independent Cambodia Daily shut down after being accused of failing to pay taxes. The Ministry of Information also forcibly closed down 19 radio stations in the same year. The Cambodian office of the National Democratic Institute, which works to support and strengthen democratic institutions worldwide, was shuttered as well. 

An additional crackdown on media freedom and freedom of speech by the Cambodian government is the lèse-majesté law, which makes it a crime to insult the royal family. In other words, it is an offense against the dignity of a reigning sovereign or the state. This offense is punishable for up to one to five years in prison. In 2018, The Ministry of Information warned Cambodian media outlets that they should not publish or distribute content that insult the royal family. If they do so, it will fall under lèse-majesté and they will face severe repercussions.

The lèse-majesté goes against international human rights laws by criminalizing freedom of speech. 

Furthermore, the Cambodian government often uses the term “fake news” to silence government critics. This is a threat to media freedom and freedom of speech because if the term is not strictly defined, the government could claim that any information is fake news. Thereby, shutting down possibly valuable access to information. 

The lèse-majesté goes against international human rights laws by criminalizing freedom of speech. 

With the advent of social media, it has become easier for journalists to share their criticisms and opinions publicly such as in the instance of Rithy and Sokhet. However, Cambodia is taking steps to ensure the digital space is regulated and restricted as well.

A draft of a cybercrime law raises concerns about the restrictions of freedom of speech and internet freedom. VOA Khmer obtained an August draft of the cybercrime law, in which it details that authorities are permitted to fine or imprison people who internationally make false statements online which could be interpreted as a threat to public safety. If convicted, a person could spend a maximum of three years in prison. 

The issue that arises is: how can it be proven that someone made intentionally false statements? It can’t be. Virtually anyone could be accused of distributing fake news and false statements purposefully. If implemented, this law makes every Cambodian citizen vulnerable to arrest. 

The issue that arises is: how can it be proven that someone made intentionally false statements?

Similarly, the use of terms such as “incitement to commit a felony” and “threat to social security” allows for open-ended interpretations. This effectively grants the Cambodian government the ability to arrest and convict journalists for any criticism against the government. 

Media freedom, as well as freedom of speech, is an international human right. It is the duty of the press and media to serve the public, not the state. Media outlets can only serve the public by informing them with news and information objectively, without pervasive government influence. And without fear enforced by government actions – such as the arresting of journalists for daring to do their jobs.


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