Friday, July 25, 2014

The need for highest standards in brave new world exploding with social media



William Morris reflects on the current state of media ethics on becoming Chairman of the International Communications Forum (ICF)

Few are old enough to remember the heady days before the newspaper revolution when computers replaced hot metal. But having been brought up in and around newspapers as a copy boy, I can remember the smell of the ink and the dirt and the clatter of the little presses and the deafening hum of the big monsters that rolled rivers of newsprint three stories into the air and back down again. For many of us those days are gone. Gone too are the great teams of investigative journalists. The Sunday Times’s ‘Insight’ team was, perhaps, the last of these but even they have long disappeared into the mists.
In those days who were the guardians of ethical journalism? The broadsheet proprietors cared about their reputations. And even the tabloid newspaper owners cared in some measure. Editors in chief took pride in the standards they adhered to. Even subeditors had a conscience, though then as now they could be staggeringly ruthless.
Have things changed? Well yes and no. Men and women of conscience still run some of our newspapers. Men and women of vision and mission still comprise many of our radio and television broadcasters and newspapermen. But the pressures are perhaps greater. For most journalists, spending a week working on a story is a luxury they can only dream of. Was it ever thus? Perhaps they always had to churn out copy but there was, I believe, more space for investigative journalism, if only because proprietors once had deeper pockets and more journalists to share the load.
Many Western papers have less than little time to sub copy anymore because of ever tighter budgets. There are the exceptions such as the Washington Post with its awesomely professional and well-staffed Foreign Desk (I must confess a bias because my daughter works for the Post) but such exceptions are rare.
What then does this mean for ethical journalism? It means that the journalist becomes the guardian of media ethics. It is a world in which we each take our own responsibility for what we do. We no longer have the moral conscience of the sub or the editor to fall back on. The editors themselves – for the most part – are still great women and men of conscience and principle. They still do heroic work shaping the overall vision of their publications. The great names are there. Alan Rusbridger, Editor in Chief of the London Guardian is a classic current example. But can Rusbridger even begin to read more than a small proportion of the vast quantity of copy the Guardian churns out in its online and print editions? Most modern editors are simply too busy to concern themselves on a day-to-day level with being the conscience of their junior reporters.
So, is xenophobia an issue? Sure it is. Media stories about classic pariah groups, the gypsies, the Romanians, the Arabs, the ‘Islamists’ and so forth, can descend into obscenity so easily and we don’t even notice. One Jewish writer I know wrote a whole opinion piece titled ‘LONDINISTAN’ and does not understand, to this day, that the mere headline (and it was of her choosing) was pejorative. She would be horrified to be called racist and, of course, she is not, just more than a little thoughtless perhaps.
In a similar vein, is desensitisation to violence an issue? Of course. Here in the West we think nothing of broadcasting images of brutality and torture if they are screened past the ‘9 o’clock watershed’, with little consideration given to the fact that many pubescent, vulnerable children are unlikely to head for their beds before midnight. And in the rest of the world things can be worse. The images of blood and violence on television sets in countries such as Israel and Iraq are breeding a generation desensitised to gore to such a degree that it is truly flabbergasting.
Is disinformation an issue? Absolutely. The current Syrian civil war has bred such a flood of intelligence agency feeds, as did the Iraq war little more than a decade ago, that it is near unbelievable. And most, I repeat, most, of these stories are published without serious qualm or question. My late father, a newspaper editor himself, had a maxim: ‘A story without a source is a source of trouble.’ This maxim we still use in our Media Ethics Code. He had a far better one too. It ran: ‘When in doubt, cut it out.’
So where do we go from here? Perhaps the key is that a number of prominent journalists make a public commitment to truth in Gandhiesque fashion. An affirmation that Absolute Truth is their standard. Or is that too extreme? Too fanatical? Undoubtedly we need to do something. If the editors can no longer always be our bellwethers we must find new heroes, new women and men we can point to and say: ‘They believe in fair play.’
Ethical journalism requires standards of vigilance that are unprecedented precisely because we are our own moral guardians and cannot lean on our bosses any longer. We should embrace that challenge with excitement. It heralds a better age. We are no longer children. We must stand up for ourselves. Gandhi once wrote (and I paraphrase slightly): ‘By experience I have found that people rarely become virtuous for virtues’ sake. They become virtuous by necessity. Nor is there anything wrong in becoming good under the pressure of circumstances.’ Raghvan Iyer, Gandhi’s main disciple, added: ‘Human life is an aspiration, a continual striving after perfection, and the ideal must not be lowered because of our weaknesses.’
Exactly! Herein lies a role for organisations like the International Communications Forum. We should extol virtue and excellence where we find it, through every means possible from the razzmatazz of the International Award to the private and personal accolade. And where necessary we should gently and respectfully cajole and criticise, through conferences and seminars if nowhere else. And we should support, nurture and foster media ethics, by doing everything from extolling the merits of media ethics codes to encouraging training in best practice.
Just as physicians and other health care professionals swear a Hippocratic Oath to practise medicine honestly, perhaps the ICF should promote our own oath of journalistic integrity which members of the trade could swear to in an effort to bolster internationally recognised standards of media ethics. After all, the world has changed. In a brave new world exploding with social media, demonstrations are called on Facebook, corruption is exposed in blogs, and reputations are destroyed by Twitter. In an era in which the internet provides an arena in which citizen journalists abound, it is the professional press that must adopt the highest standards of media credibility if they are to have a distinct place of their own, a territory that is truly theirs, in a world peopled with rumour and the viral tweet.
And it is exciting, truly exciting, that that should be the case.   

Monday, February 10, 2014

FINAL CALL FOR NOMINATIONS FOR 2014 INTERNATIONAL MEDIA AWARDS

The Next Century Foundation wishes to issue a final call for nominations for the 2014 International Media Awards. With shortlisting due to take place by mid-February, nominations sent in after Friday, 14 February will not be considered. This year's awards will be held on May 10, 2014.

The International Media Awards are presented at a ceremony held each year by the International Council for Press and Broadcasting, a subsidiary body of the Next Century Foundation. The awards honour editors, journalists, TV producers and broadcasters in recognition of the vital role that the media can play in fostering understanding, the essential pre-requisite of any peace process.

The Award categories are: Lifetime Achievement, Peace Through Media, Cutting Edge, Breakaway, New Media, Photography and Visual Media, and Outstanding Contribution to Broadcasting and Media

Please send your nominations, and if possible a short biography of the nominees and why you are nominating them, to the International Media Awards via ncfmediagroup@aol.com.

For further information about the International Media Awards, visit www.internationalmediaawards.org

You may remember that the 2013 winners were:
 
Peace Through Media Award
  • PAT LANCASTER, editor of Middle East Magazine.
  • IGAL SARNA, columnist for Yediot Ahronot.
  • WAEL DAHDOUH, Al Jazeera correspondent in Gaza.
Photography and Visual Media Award
  • DON MCCULLIN, photojournalist and author. 
Lifetime Achievement
  • BENJAMIN POGRUND, contributor for the Guardian and previous sub-editor on the Independent foreign desk.
The Cutting Edge Award
  • LINA SINJAB, Damascus correspondent for the BBC.
  • RACHEL SHABI, journalist and author of ‘Not the Enemy: Israel’s Jews from Arab Lands’
  • NABILA RAMDANI, columnist and broadcaster for BBC and Al Jazeera.
The New Media Award
  • MAHMOUD AL YOUSIF, blogger. 
The Breakaway Award
  • GEORGE BUTLER, war artist.
Award for Outstanding Achievement
  • RANIA ALATTAR, journalist for BBC Arabic.

Friday, January 10, 2014

CALL FOR NOMINATIONS FOR 2014 INTERNATIONAL MEDIA AWARDS

The Next Century Foundation wishes to remind you that the nominations for the 2014 International Media Awards will remain open to the public until the end of January. This year's awards will be held on May 10.

The International Media Awards are presented at a ceremony held each year by the International Council for Press and Broadcasting, a subsidiary body of the Next Century Foundation. The awards honour editors, journalists, TV producers and broadcasters in recognition of the vital role that the media can play in fostering understanding, the essential pre-requisite of any peace process.

The Award categories are: Lifetime Achievement, Peace Through Media, Cutting Edge, Breakaway, New Media, Photography and Visual Media, and Outstanding Contribution to Broadcasting and Media

Please send your nominations, and if possible a short biography of the nominees and why you are nominating them, to the International Media Awards via ncfmediagroup@aol.com.

For further information about the International Media Awards, visit www.internationalmediaawards.org

You may remember that the 2013 winners were:
 
Peace Through Media Award
  • PAT LANCASTER, editor of Middle East Magazine.
  • IGAL SARNA, columnist for Yediot Ahronot.
  • WAEL DAHDOUH, Al Jazeera correspondent in Gaza.
Photography and Visual Media Award
  • DON MCCULLIN, photojournalist and author. 
Lifetime Achievement
  • BENJAMIN POGRUND, contributor for the Guardian and previous sub-editor on the Independent foreign desk.
The Cutting Edge Award
  • LINA SINJAB, Damascus correspondent for the BBC.
  • RACHEL SHABI, journalist and author of ‘Not the Enemy: Israel’s Jews from Arab Lands’
  • NABILA RAMDANI, columnist and broadcaster for BBC and Al Jazeera.
The New Media Award
  • MAHMOUD AL YOUSIF, blogger. 
The Breakaway Award
  • GEORGE BUTLER, war artist.
Award for Outstanding Achievement
 
RANIA ALATTAR, journalist for BBC Arabic.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

INTERNATIONAL MEDIA AWARDS 2014

The Next Century Foundation is delighted to announce that the nominations for the International Media Awards 2014 are now open to the public. They will close by the end of this year on 31st December 2013.

The International Media Awards are presented at a ceremony held each year by the International Council for Press and Broadcasting, a subsidiary body of the Next Century Foundation. The awards honour editors, journalists, TV producers and broadcasters in recognition of the vital role that the media can play in fostering understanding, the essential pre-requisite of any peace process.

Please send your nominations, and if possible a short biography of the nominees and why you are nominating them, to the International Media Awards via ncfmediagroup@aol.com.

For further information about the International Media Awards, visit www.internationalmediaawards.org

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Another False Flag "Chemical Weapon" Attack?

This has just come in from Conflicts Forum:

Reports and commentaries on Syrian developments beginning with a comment on the recently claimed "chemical weapons" attack — we strongly advise readers to read these interviews carried out by the Brown Moses blogger with international scientific experts on chemical weapons (from May 2013) which cast serious doubt on all previous claims by the Syrian opposition – see here: http://brown-moses.blogspot.it/2013/05/three-chemical-weapon-specialist-answer.html:

Syria: Another False Flag "Chemical Weapon" Attack

Moon of Alabama blog, 21 August 2013

Whenever there is some international action with regards to Syria, a United Nations security council meeting or a G8 conference, the Syrian insurgents create and/or propagandize some "massacre" that they allege to have been perpetrated by the Syrian government. On Monday UN chemical weapon inspectors arrived in Damascus to investigate some older claims of chemical weapon use. Just in time a new incident happens with the insurgents alleging use of "chemical weapons" by the Syrian government just some 10 miles away from the inspectors hotel:
Syrian regime forces fired intense artillery and rocket barrages Wednesday on the eastern suburbs Damascus amid a fierce government offensive in what two pro-opposition groups claimed was a “poisonous gas” attack that killed dozens of people. The claims came as a 20-member U.N. chemical weapons team was in Syria to investigate three sites where chemical weapons attacks had allegedly occurred in the past. The timing raises questions on why would the regime employ chemical agents during a visit by the U.N. experts.
The government promptly denied the reports of Wednesday’s chemical weapons’ attack as “absolutely baseless.”
Videos of the incident show many people, including children, with respiratory problems. But non of the first responders and medical personal in those videos wear any protection against chemical weapons. Real chemical weapons, like Sarin, are persistent agents. They stick to the cloth of the victims and any contact with those victims would practically guarantee to kill the people who try to help them unless those people take serious precautions. Whatever happened in Syria today is therefore unlikely to be the consequence of military grade chemical weapons. Many other chemical agents, like insecticides based on organophospate or some industrial process chemicals, could induce the observed symptoms.
It would of course be totally irrational for the Syrian government to use chemical weapons just the moment that chemical weapon inspectors arrive in the country. But it makes a lot of sense for the insurgents and their foreign supporters to create such an incident, as the did previously, and to use it to renew their propaganda campaign against the Syrian government. It is therefore no surprise that the British government immediately jumped all over the case.
Simply answer "cui bono?" and you will know who is responsible for this incident.

Washington Deliberates Whether To Embrace Geneva II

Mohammad Ballout Translated from As-Safir (Lebanese independent 'leftist' newspaper), 14 August 2013

The international Arab mediation team in Syria is set to resume work for the Geneva II conference. According to diplomatic sources, the UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi arrived in Geneva on Aug. 19, 2013 after the Egyptian authorities requested that he vacate the guest residency allocated for the work of the UN team in Cairo.
The team will work over the next three days to prepare for the Geneva II conference since a new tentative date was set for mid-October of this year. This information is according to preliminary communiqués carried out by UN diplomats overseeing preparations for the conference to inform them of the preliminary date decided upon after American-Russian deliberations.
The French capital last week hosted a series of intensified meetings held by the American Ambassador Robert Ford to look over the circumstances of the Syrian opposition abroad. He presented a new “road map” for the conference including the formation of a delegation, the issues that will be looked into, the alternatives suggested by the opposition members to go to Geneva and the potential of arriving at some sort of acceptable balance of power from all sides to sit around the negotiating table.

Syrian opposition sources stated that the American ambassador had presented a new perspective that may be able to break through the prevailing pessimism that caused the Geneva II conference to be postponed until the end of the year at least. He said that the Americans who granted Saudi Arabia and its intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, six months [to achieve] brief victory and to shift the balance of military power on the ground, have come to the conviction that the upheaval of the balance of power in the opposing direction will twist the regime’s arm into going to Geneva.
A prominent opposition member said that the Americans had deduced that it would be best to try to gather the opposition in Geneva as soon as possible. In reality, Geneva II has become an acceptable option in light of the threat posed by the escalation of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which carries out most of the military operations in northern Syria. This latter is also the foremost beneficiary of the balance of power with the Syrian army, as can be clearly seen on the fronts of Latakia, Aleppo, and the Ming military airport.

Another element is prominent in the likelihood of Geneva’s choice and re-mobilizing Brahimi’s team. The Western diplomatic source stated that the Americans’ confidence disappeared once again because of the weakness of information shared by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the inability to rely on it. Ford quoted the head of the Syrian National Coalition Ahmed al-Jarba as saying that they must wait for one additional month before launching the Geneva process, while Gen. Salim Idriss speaks of six additional months necessary to help the Syrian army and shift the balance.
The Americans feel that it is jihadists who are progressing on all fronts, in Raqqah, Latakia, Aleppo and Deir ez-Zor. The new internal crisis toward which the coalition is headed is worrying, as it faces demands for a re-election of its political body. This has made setting up the opposition’s internal structure difficult once again, and made it preferable to aim for a transitional government in Geneva.
It would appear that disputes have to do with the formation of a plurality delegation for the opposition that includes its three main groups to help in moving toward Geneva II. It has become apparent that all sides, if a delegation was to be formed from the coalition, the coordination authority and the Supreme Kurdish Authority, with varying percentages, negotiations would proceed accordingly without excluding anyone.

A prominent Syrian opposition figure stated that there is a trend toward holding a meeting that aims to specify the common ground shared with national Syrian opposition based on the necessity of forming a single delegation that follows a shared political platform as follows:
1. The international conference shall be regarded as the commencement of the civil democratic transitional period, not a period for continued authoritarianism or dictatorship in the country and its institutions.
2. The binding and executive nature of the conference’s decisions is of upmost importance, including the means of direct UN participation in the field.
3. The agreement upon a national shared Syrian charter that forms the basis of building the new Syria and authorizing founding texts consecrated during the Helion conference, the National Assembly documents, the coalition and the national agreement at the conference in Cairo.
4. The preparation of a shared draft of the constitutional principles for the transitional period and the priorities of transitional justice according to the circumstances in Syria.
5. Specifying the traits of the ruling authority as not only a government in the traditional sense (with executive power) but a transitional authority with powers that go beyond executive to legislative and judicial during the transitional period.
6. The agreement upon applicable mechanisms related to the role of formations and the role of the security apparatuses in the country, as well as the reformation and building of the military institution.
7. The division of work between political components in a way that is comprehensive and not competitive, allowing them to take advantage of energies and relationships built by the opposition over the past two years of political and diplomatic struggle regionally and internationally.
8. Setting out a national salvation plan that relies upon international mobilization that accompanies the political process wherein the central tasks of relief and reconstruction can be merged into a project that resembles reconstruction projects in bloody conflict areas such as Europe following World War II and the countries that made up the former Yugoslavia.
9. The formation of a chamber for joint operations for the Syrian opposition participated in by competent and experienced figures to draw out a shared media policy, to sow the fabric of powerful relations during the conference and to form lobby groups that back the shared platform.
10. The National Coalition, the coordinating authority, the Supreme Kurdish Authority and the sides not included in these three components shall be invited; military sides may participate in the meeting to contribute their two cents and offer counsel for everything having to do with security and the military. It is assumed that the number of invitees shall not exceed 25 individuals, and decisions are made by consensus.

Syria rebels move HQ from Egypt to Turkey

Barçın Yinanç



, Hurriyet Daily News, 17 August 2013

The headquarters of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) is being transferred from Egypt to Turkey, as the new administration that toppled President Mohamed Morsi has limited the movements of the Syrian opposition, according to the coalition’s Turkey representative. 
Many Syrian dissidents are leaving the country, and the main headquarters of the SNC is being moved to Turkey, Khaled Khoja told the Hürriyet Daily News. “Many Syrian opposition figures are leaving Egypt, Mouaz al-Khatib, the former head of the Syrian National Coalition, has plans to settle in Turkey.” 
Al-Khatib had resigned in recent months protest at the world’s “inaction” over violence in Syria.

The coup has had a negative effect on the Syrian opposition according to Khoja, who said some of the pro-opposition decisions which were taken during Morsi’s presidency were overturned under the new administration.
“Just a few days before the coup, a meeting on Syria took place in Cairo. Morsi had said they would freeze diplomatic relations with the Bashar al-Assad regime. Right after the coup, this decision was overturned and the new regime said they would upgrade relations with Syria,” Khoja said.
Egyptian Interim Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy said last month that the country continued to support the Syrian uprising but that Cairo had no intention of “waging jihad” in Syria. Fahmy said Morsi’s decision to cut diplomatic ties with war-torn Syria would be “re-examined,” while stressing that did not mean they would “resume or not resume.”
He said Egypt’s new military rulers had re-imposed a visa regime on Syrians, who used to enjoy visa-free travel even during the times of Hosni Mubarak, who ruled the country for decades before being toppled by a popular uprising two years ago.
Khoja also said a lynch campaign was being conducted against Syrians in Egypt.

"Chemical attack" kills scores near Damascus, Syrian opposition claims


Al-Akhbar English, 21 August 2013

Updated at 2:40pm: An apparent chemical attack in rebel-held districts near the Syrian capital of Damascus killed scores of people on Wednesday, wire services reported.
In videos posted on YouTube, the Syrian Revolution General Commission, an activist group, showed what it called "a terrible massacre committed by regime forces with toxic gas, leaving dozens of martyrs and wounded."
The veracity of the videos could not be verified by Al-Akhbar. Casualty numbers are also hard to confirm in the war-torn country.
The intensive bombing on the outskirts of the capital could be heard by residents of Damascus, where a grey cloud capped the sky, an AFP correspondent reported.
Bayan Baker, a nurse at Douma Emergency Collection facility, said the death toll from the attack, collated from medical centers in the region, was 213.
"Many of the casualties are women and children. They arrived with their pupil dilated, cold limbs and foam in their mouths. The doctors say these are typical symptoms of nerve gas victims," she said.
"People working in the field hospital are overwhelmed and unable to do anything for the wounded. There is a severe lack of medicines. The wounded are being treated using just water and onions," Abu Jihad, an activist in Irbin, told AFP via the Internet.
One photo purportedly taken by activists in Douma showed the bodies of at least 16 children and three adults, one wearing combat fatigues, laid at the floor of a room in a medical facility where the bodies were collected.
Syrian opposition activists claimed rockets with chemical agents hit the suburbs of Ain Tarma, Zamalka and Jobar in the Ghouta region.
The opposition Syrian National Coalition said on social media that several hundred had been killed.
"Over 650 confirmed dead result of deadly chemical weapon attack in Syria," it wrote on Twitter.
The Local Coordination Committees (LCC), a network of activists reported hundreds of casualties in the "brutal use of toxic gas by the criminal regime in parts of Eastern Ghouta".
The attack "led to suffocation of the children and overcrowding field hospitals with hundreds of casualties amid extreme shortage of medical supplies to rescue the victims, particularly Atropine," the LCC said in an English-language statement.
Eastern Ghouta "was also shelled by warplanes following the chemical attack that is still ongoing which led to hundreds of casualties and victims, among them entire families," it claimed.
Syrian authorities denied charges that the army used chemical weapons.
"Reports on the use of chemical weapons in (the suburbs of) Ghouta are totally false," state news agency SANA said.
It dismissed as "unfounded" the reports from opposition activists carried by al-Jazeera, Sky and other satellite news channels "which are implicated in the shedding of Syrian blood and support terrorism."
State television quoted a source as saying there was "no truth whatsover" to the reports, which it said were aimed at distracting a visiting team of United Nations chemical weapons experts from their mission.

The incident took place during the visit to Damascus of a UN chemical weapons team investigating the possible use of chemical agents in Syria.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon insisted Monday that the inspectors be granted unrestricted access to Syrian sites where chemical weapons have allegedly been used in the country's 29-month-old conflict.
The inspectors, expected to visit three sites including Khan al-Assal near Aleppo in the north, are due to be in Syria for 14 days, with the possibility for an extension of the mission.
"In order to credibly establish the facts, the mission must have full access to the sites of the alleged incidents," the secretary general told reporters.
Al-Watan newspaper said the Syrian government had "pledged to cooperate and facilitate the work" of the inspectors who launched a mission in the country on Tuesday.
The Arab League, as well as several Western countries, called on the UN inspectors to immediately visit the site of the alleged chemical weapons attack in Ghouta.
Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi urged the inspectors in a statement to "go immediately to Eastern Ghouta to see the reality of the situation and investigate the circumstances of this crime."
The head of the United Nations chemical weapons inspectors in Syria said the case should be investigated.
Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom told news agency TT that while he had only seen TV footage, the high number of casualties reported sounded suspicious.
"It sounds like something that should be looked into," he told TT by phone from Damascus. "It will depend on whether any UN member state goes to the secretary general and says we should look at this event. We are in place."
The United States and European countries say they believe President Bashar al-Assad's government has used poison gas including the nerve agent Sarin in the past, which Washington called a "red line" that justified international military aid to the rebels.
However, previous reports of chemical weapon usage have not been confirmed.
Khaled Omar of the opposition local council in Ain Tarma said he saw at least 80 bodies at the Hajjah Hospital in Ain Tarma and at a makeshift clinic at Tatbiqiya School in the nearby district of Saqba.
"The attack took place at around 3:00am. Most of those killed were in their homes," Omar said.
(Reuters, AFP, Al-Akhbar)