COMMENT is WACC’s take on the rapidly changing world of communications and social media. The aim is to highlight topics that are of more than passing interest and likely to have a positive or negative impact on people’s lives. Topics may be political, social, economic or cultural in scope. Readers are invited to comment on COMMENT and to express their own views – which will be monitored only to prevent derogatory or offensive remarks. Topics include communication rights and wrongs, shrinking communication spaces, traditional and social media, the Internet of Things, and anything else that grabs our attention!
At a time when the world is rightly focused on the coronavirus pandemic and its long-term consequences, under-reported news includes how far down the road we are (or not) toward the abolition of nuclear weapons.
It’s a familiar story. Toe the government line – any government – and survive. Criticize the government, or its cronies, or policies that benefit the few rather than the majority, and risk censure or worse.Read More
The World Press Freedom Index, compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), suggests that the coming decade will be decisive for the future of journalism.Read More
A key issue arising from responses to the Covid-19 pandemic is surveillance. Once governments have established ways of tracking and monitoring individuals in the name of national health security, they may become very difficult to undo.
More than 100 civil society groups have urged governments not to use the global coronavirus pandemic as cover for future pervasive electronic snooping but to make sure data is erased once the health crisis is over.Read More
Even faced with COVID-19, despotic regimes will stop at nothing.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has expressed its concern at some Middle Eastern governments taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to increase state censorship and to clamp down on the dissemination of news and information.Read More
Civil liberties are most fragile during times of crisis. As conflict the world over has shown, digital communications infrastructures can easily be used to censor, to silence, to monitor, and ultimately to sanction.Read More
Trade relations must not be allowed to threaten hard-won universal rights.
The United Kingdom appears to be trying to wriggle out of applying the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to its post-Brexit existence as a non-member of the European Union (EU).Read More
Collecting personal data for the best of reasons – such as tackling the coronavirus pandemic – has triggered a wave of misgivings.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (www.eff.org) has responded to growing concerns with a statement (10 March 2020) urging “a balance between collective good and civil liberties.” The EFF statement says:Read More
Attacks on the independence of the BBC are multiplying.
The principle of public service broadcasting – or, in these days of digital convergence, public service media – ought to be sacrosanct. The question then becomes one of the need for unbiased oversight and financial autonomy.Read More
A report from Lebanon’s Maharat Foundation examines the role of freedom of expression and media during the 2019 uprising.
Maharat’s aim is to create societal and political conditions that enhance freedom of expression and access to information both online and offline. It equips a progressive community in Lebanon and the region with the skills and knowledge necessary to bring about change.Read More
“Income tax returns are the most imaginative fiction being written today.”
Pulitzer Prize winning American author Herman Wouk may have written that, but it certainly seems to be true of some of the major tech companies whose profits include those from dubious digital surveillance techniques.Read More
Surveillance and loss of privacy are watchwords in the digital transformation of societies worldwide.
Who is watching us and for what purposes? Who is infringing private spaces and closing down public spaces? When it comes to communication infrastructures and technologies, accessibility and affordability are no longer enough, simply because neither governments nor corporate entities can be trusted to play fair.Read More
National Public Radio (NPR) in the United States is demonstrating the importance both of giving a voice to migrants in media, and of ensuring the independence of the public broadcasting platform.
As reported by another public broadcaster, BBC (“The immigrants telling stories history missed” 10 February 2020, two young radio producers, one with Iranian and the other with Palestinian backgrounds, are leading a new podcast series that highlight stories that most people have missed in their history lessons.Read More
The BBC, once a bastion of public service broadcasting, is cutting 450 jobs from its news operation.
In future, and in an effort to save £80 million, journalists will be covering fewer stories as the corporation faces an uncertain future. BBC journalists will increasingly be organised in centralised teams rather than working individually for specific programmes, with an increased emphasis on online output rather than television and radio stations.Read More
Front Line, the International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, has published its Front Line Defenders Global Analysis 2019. It details the physical assaults, defamation campaigns, digital security threats, judicial harassment, and gender-based attacks faced by human rights defenders around the world.Read More
One of the main sites of struggle for global civil society in 2020 will be digital platforms and social media. The authorities in several countries are finding ways to restrict and suppress democratic debate with legislation that casts a wide net around what is considered offensive or derogatory.Read More
Growing tensions between the United States and Iran marked the first two weeks of 2020. News cycles have been dominated by coverage of the attack on the US embassy in Baghdad, the killing of a high-profile Iranian general, Iranian attacks on US military bases, and the horrific downing of a passenger airplane in Tehran, sparking fears that the conflict could ignite another full-out war in the Middle East. The situation has also affected Iranian Americans, many of whom have reported being questioned about their political views when entering or leaving the United States.Read More
It would be wonderful to begin 2020 with an upbeat account of communication rights being strengthened and protected around the world.
There are undoubtedly many instances of positive and exciting changes taking place. Unfortunately, the overall picture is dispiriting. Studies show that organisations like WACC, which advocate for and defend people’s right to communicate, still have much to do.Read More
How wonderful that three women have been nominated for the prestigious Martin Ennals Award – the first time the jury has named three women for this top human rights prize.Read More
Public service journalism has a noble track record. But in the Zuckerberg Era – so-called by veteran journalist, economist, and political commentator Roberto Savio, co-founder of the Inter Press Service news agency – it has lost the high ground.Read More
Freedom House’s latest report on the state of the Internet says, “Repressive regimes, elected incumbents with authoritarian ambitions, and unscrupulous partisan operatives have exploited the unregulated spaces of social media platforms, converting them into instruments for political distortion and societal control.”
In a digital era, Internet freedom is essential.
Internet freedom includes digital rights, freedom of information, the right to Internet access, freedom from censorship, and net neutrality.Read More
How is “digital” transforming the way we live?
Imagine the abode of the future – house, apartment, hotel room, log cabin, prison cell – equipped with a “plasma wall” incorporating all the telecommunications interfaces that enable social and cultural activity. Each wall would integrate computer screen, television, telephone, surveillance system (security and emergency), art and photo gallery, digital concert hall, memory and other personal devices.Read More
Equitable access to the Internet is one of the claims of today’s communication rights.
In January 1990, the President of Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Havel, warned his people, “The worst thing is that we live in a contaminated moral environment. We fell morally ill because we became used to saying something different from what we thought.”Read More
Here is an example of why media independence is vital to people everywhere.
In Poland, the ruling nationalist Law and Justice party (PiS) alleges the media are controlled by Germany and says foreign control should be stopped. The real aim is to bring the media into line with the politics of a country whose ranking in the annual World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders has fallen every year that PiS has been in power – from 18th to 59th.Read More
Children now represent one third of all Internet users. This number is expected to increase once developing countries – where most of the world’s children live –become digitized. This is both exciting and worrisome. Exciting because it has been established that connectivity opens doors to new educational experiences, skills, and other benefits. Worrisome because of what we know and experience about the Internet’s darker side.
Recently, the European parliament voted in favour of stronger EU measures aimed at countering “highly dangerous” Russian disinformation and at upgrading the EU’s anti-propaganda unit.Read More
In September 2019, in a victory for the principles underlying media democracy, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit rebuked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) by overturning the agency’s latest attempts to eliminate long-standing limits on local-media ownership.Read More
Digital technology is a growing force in today’s world. Since advocacy groups during the Vietnam War became incensed by televised images of suffering and torture, information and communication technology has changed the way we interact with the world around us.Read More
It’s surprising that the issue of “fake news” took so long to raise its head. Deliberate misinformation and bias have been around for as long as journalism itself – more than 400 years by some accounts.Read More
Private, public, and civil society actors should work together to encourage more sustainable financing of universal access effortsRead More
On 19 September, Veteran BBC journalist John Humphreys hosted his last “Today” radio programme after 32 years. Known for his aggressive interviewing on a morning news programme that for decades has often set the tone and issues for the day’s news in Britain, he used his last programme to criticise current politicians for avoiding scrutiny by the media.Read More
The rise of “fake news” charges and deliberate disinformation have led to an important counter effort: fact-checking. News agencies, civil society organisations, and concerned individuals have taken on the fight for “truth” – assessing political claims and struggling to prevent misinformation guiding our decisions and behaviour.Read More
Google should have known better!
An Associated Press piece in The Guardian newspaper (“YouTube fined $170m for collecting children's personal data”, 4 September 2019) notes a serious violation of children’s right to privacy:Read More
Not everyone is familiar with climate change.
A new survey released by Afrobarometer paints a bleak picture of how agriculture conditions are worsening due to higher temperatures, delayed rainfall, and crop failure. Crucially, among some people, it also identifies little or no knowledge about climate change itself.Read More
Privacy was something that used to be taken for granted.
Ordinarily, the private life of an individual was not open to scrutiny, while public life was the concern of law and order and decency. In communication terms, privacy meant that only the addressee could open letters or telegrams and telephone operators would not listen in to conversations. Unauthorised disclosure could be sanctioned.Read More
“For the past twenty years, the main issue restricting public debate in terms of Turkish laws has been the prosecution and imprisonment of journalists, writers and intellectuals on the grounds that they contribute to violence and terrorism.”Read More
An influential book on communications in the 1980s was Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of Mass Communication, by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky. It proposed a “propaganda model” as a way of understanding how the mass media system intersected with the U.S. economy, political system, and mobilising support for the special interests dominating state and corporate activity.Read More
In an era when misinformation and “fake news” abound on social media, it is important to understand where people get their news.Read More
Walk around any city and your face will be caught on camera and might even be added to a facial-recognition database. That data can now be processed in real-time. Regulations about how it can be used are minimal and generally weak.Read More
There was a mantra among communities and businesses when foreign goods and huge chain stores started crowding out small, local operations. “Buy local” was the cry.Read More
Philip Alston, UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, writes that the impacts of global heating are likely to undermine not only basic rights to life, water, food, and housing for hundreds of millions of people, but also democracy and the rule of law.Read More
Accessibility and affordability are watchwords of the communication rights movement. Yet when it comes to digital access, governments have still not got their act together.Read More
Article 19 – the international freedom of expression organization – has proposed creating Social Media Councils (SMCs) as a way of moderating content on social media based on a “multi-stakeholder accountability mechanism”.
“Elected leaders in many democracies, who should be press freedom’s staunchest defenders, have made explicit attempts to silence critical media voices and strengthen outlets that serve up favorable coverage. The trend is linked to a global decline in democracy itself: The erosion of press freedom is both a symptom of and a contributor to the breakdown of other democratic institutions and principles, a fact that makes it especially alarming.”Read More
A free and independent media sector is one of the cornerstones of what it means for a country to be a liberal democracy. The emergence of the Internet was initially received with much optimism as there was an expectation that it would help democratize media systems, allowing “citizens to report news, expose wrongdoing, express opinions, mobilize protest, monitor elections, scrutinize government, deepen participation, and expand the horizons of freedom."Read More
Every ten years or so the BBC comes in for criticism for being too partial or too impartial.Read More
In its 2019 report, the Internet Society asks whether the Internet economy is consolidating and, if it is, what the implications might be.Read More
It is more and more evident that communication and information issues are intrinsically connected to questions of sustainable development and human dignity.Read More
Subscribers to The Guardian in the UK recently received a message of appreciation from the Editor-in-Chief, Katherine Viner. She announced that after a three-year “turnaround” strategy the newspaper had hit its goal of breaking even – making a small profit that has been ploughed back into supporting their journalism.Read More
As with every new technological innovation, there are pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages, benefits and risks.
It’s a more clandestine and dangerous world when journalists can be threatened with violence, detention, and death for doing their job.Read More
The UK Foreign Secretary has appointed international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney to act as a special envoy on media freedom. She will also chair a high-level panel of legal experts on the issue.
In the “good old days” of traditional media, there were gatekeepers whose task was to apply professional and ethical standards to content. In addition, government and public entities established print and broadcast regulations that were independently monitored to ensure compliance.Read More
The United Nations has declared 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages in order to raise awareness about the importance of linguistic diversity in relation to sustainable development, culture, knowledge, and collective memory. People’s ability to communicate in their own language is one of the cornerstones of communication rights.Read More
Rates of forced migration are the highest they have been in decades. In 2016, approximately 40 million people became internally displaced persons (IDPs) and 22.5 million became refugees, the highest figures on record. These are staggering numbers.Read More
Trustworthy news and opinion is the Holy Grail of journalism today.
An independent report reviewing challenges facing high quality journalism in the UK has been published. The Cairncross Review: a sustainable future for journalism (12 February 2019) recommends a new regulator to oversee the relationship between news outlets and technology giants and urges a public investigation into the dominance of Facebook and Google in the advertising marketplace.Read More
The 30th birthday of the World Wide Web saw its founder publish an open letter reflecting on how the web has changed our world. He identifies what must be done to build a better web that serves all of humanity.Read More
British Members of Parliament are agitating for tougher regulations to combat fake news.Read More
A friend forwarded a YouTube video reporting on an apparent practice in a Central Asian country of abducting women for marriage.Read More
Last year Australia passed a bill weakening security on the iPhones and software people rely on in today’s digital world. This sweeping law could force tech companies to access encrypted data.Read More
How to prevent social networks from damaging the well-being of young people?Read More
Masculine, feminine, or gender-neutral?Read More
Data privacy, also called information privacy, is about what data in a computer system can be shared with third parties.Read More
Genuine communication is all about creating relationships and building trust.Read More
Yet another terrorist act played out in Nairobi just two weeks into 2019.Read More
Media wars can easily get personal. Today the name of the game is Showtime! Ratings trump sober facts and inconvenient truths. Fox News offers foxy entertainment; The New York Post offers sensationalism; the gutter press epitomised by the likes of the UK’s The Daily Mail and the German tabloid Bild Zeitung have been known to peddle downright lies.
At the end of 2018, an astonishing statistic was published by CIVICUS Monitor, a research collaborative effort that rates and tracks respect for fundamental freedoms in 196 countries.Read More
Sobering words for those who still believe that information and communication technologies (ICTs) are the panacea for the world’s ills. In “Developing Countries Losing Out To Digital Giants” (IPS News, 17 October 2018), Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury write:Read More
Communication used to be singular. A letter, a newspaper, a radio or television program. It was a largely one-way, edited version of certain parts of reality. Today, communications are plural: a non-stop barrage of texts, sounds, and images from all directions and at all times. Public space has been whittled away by iPads and iPhones, privacy is at a premium, and digital disturbance (what used to be called static) is everywhere.Read More
Mexico is among the most dangerous countries in the world to be a journalist. Over 70 journalists were killed during the past decade; 8 have been killed in 2018 alone. Many more have been threatened or assaulted in different forms. Worst of all, impunity is rampant.Read More
Social media are accused of bringing about the demise of traditional journalism. They are used to tar news stories with the brush of “fake news” as loud-mouthed politicians eagerly point the finger at what they deem to be critical or unfavourable coverage.Read More
The world’s leading newspapers are struggling to maintain their place as voices of conscience in society when via social media everyone is free to express alternative views and opinions.Read More
How media report on sexual violence when political interests are at play is a litmus test for how serious they are about professional ethics.Read More
During Brazil’s military dictatorship (1964-85), the people’s ability to exercise some of their most fundamental human rights was severely curtailed. In addition to engaging in torture, extrajudicial killings, and repression against opposition groups, the successive military governments that governed Brazil during this period relentlessly restricted freedom of expression, access to public information, and controlled the majority of media outlets.Read More
There has always been a suspicion that radio waves do more harm than good. With the arrival of the Internet of Things – wireless computing devices embedded in such everyday objects as fridges, washing machines and coffee makers – the scenario easily slips into one of doomsday.Read More
On 7 September 2018, former President Obama delivered a pointed critique of the Trump presidency. Speaking to students at the University of Illinois, he urged political awareness and action, saying:Read More
Why do some genocides make the news and others hardly? Let me rephrase: Why do international news media give grossly disproportionate attention to different yet similarly grave "deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group."Read More
According to a 2018 research report from the Pew Research Centre on trends in social media use in the United States, 74% of Facebook users in that country visited the platform at least once a day, and 51% did so several times a day.Read More
“New technologies will enable high levels of social control at a reasonable cost. Governments will be able to selectively censor topics and behaviors to allow information for economically productive activities to flow freely, while curbing political discussions that might damage the regime.China’s so-called Great Firewall provides an early demonstration of this kind of selective censorship.”Read More