Tuesday, April 15, 2014

@Democracy in 140 Characters or Less

Photo credit: Facebook
The Associated Press broke a story on Thursday April 3rd 2014 that sounds like something drudged up from the Cold War circa 1961. According to various sources, the U.S. Government implanted a ‘twitter’ like program within Cuba, beginning in 2010 and concluding in 2012. ZunZuneo had 40,000 users at the peak and sent primarily sports and trivia information to users’ phones via text message. The program was developed and deployed by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) “to help Cubans increase their ability to communicate with each other and with the outside world.” Cuba has a long history of limiting Internet access. In a statement by Press Secretary Jay Carney, the Obama administration declared, “it was a development assistance program about increasing the level of information that the Cuban people have and were able to discuss among themselves.”

While the White House claims this ‘discreet democracy' program was meant as a positive force for the people of Cuba, the AP report calls it a covert operation to support political agendas and to promote unrest. The three year grant totaling 1.2 million dollars used “secret shell companies financed through foreign banks” to circumvent Cuba’s Internet policies. The Obama administration is emphatic that the program was not aimed at stirring up unrest nor was it covert (as it was discussed in congress).

Even if the US government was not seeking to cause political unrest, they admitted to using a ‘discrete’ program aimed at promoting democracy without the user’s knowledge. They implemented this program against a nation’s wishes, without the user’s consent, and chose to do so through USAID, which is supposed to be “fair with colleagues, partners, and those we serve, building relationships of trust.” The CIME blog has previously highlighted the potential affects of social media misuse, and while seemingly innocuous this program could have lasting negative affects for the Cuban people. Cuba could decide to deny USAID access, or Internet restrictions could become even more restrictive. Social Media is evolving to be a very powerful tool in a global context. While some countries are denying access, others are planting sites as if they were seeds and hoping for a democratic bloom.

- Carol Davey

Associated Press
White House - Statement of Press Sec. Jay Carney
Al Jazeera
The New Yorker
CIME blog - 'Tweeting' the Wrong Side of Sochi
USAID - Mission, Vision and Values
CIME blog - Turkey Lifts Twitter Ban

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Fastidious: A Guidebook on Ethical Strategies for Social Media Writers

The CIME blog is excited to continue its presentation of several short summaries of the 2012 and 2013 CIME Fellowship for Ethics Leadership fellowship reports. The following is by Fredrick Mugira. Please see the full report HERE


Fastidious: A Guidebook on Ethical Strategies for Social Media Writers

By Fredrick Mugira.

While traditional media values the authenticity and credibility of the news, online media values speed and immediacy. Prizing speed and immediacy poses various dangers to social media writers such as publishing defamatory and false information. The repercussion of these errors is losing readers, paying huge sums of money in damages, facing hatred and persecution, and others.

This guidebook is therefore offered to help social media writers, journalists, and the publics they serve. It intends to forewarn social media writers about the dangers of writing unethically, guide them on how to write professionally, and restore public trust in them.

It is neither a proposal to regulate the work of social media writers nor intended as rules for social media writers.

It tackles areas ranging from social media platforms, defamation, cyber bullying, and responsible social media writing to case studies of social media writers troubled by their posts, comments from social media writers and the Arab spring among others.

See the full report HERE.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Turkey Lifts Twitter Ban

Turkish government unblocked Twitter on Thursday, April 3, after both Turkey’s president and the country’s highest court condemned the ban.

Twitter was blocked on March 21 during the elections to stop the spread of a steam of leaked wiretapped recordings of senior officials that appeared on the social media page, Reuters reports.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said he would “root out” the network, according to the same source. Within hours after Erdogan’s threat, Turkish Internet users were reporting disruption to the service and the hashtags #TwitterisblockedinTurkey and #DictatorErdogan spread worldwide, CNN reports. Turks have sent 1.2 million tweets within the country since the block, using various circumvention tools — including IP addresses being spread via graffiti, according to the Mashable.

Index on Censorship, a freedom of expression campaign group, said the ban, which it called "censorship of which the worst authoritarian regimes would be proud" was "emblematic of the increasingly authoritarian tendencies of the Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan," CNN reports.

Turkey’s highest court ruled that the ban violated freedom of expression, calling it “illegal, arbitrary and a serious restriction on the right to obtain information,” according to The New York Times. Ergodan’s actions were condemned in international circles and the U.S. State Department asked Ankara to consider the court ruling and unblock the social media page.

Youtube, a Google video sharing page, was blocked one week after the ban on Twitter was introduced as a response to a possible leak of information on potential military intervention in Syria discussed by Turkish government officials. The disclosure was categorized as an act of espionage that endangers the government.

European Union and the United States harshly criticized the Turkish Parliament’s new decision to pass a law granting the government broad authority to censor the Internet, The New York Times reports.

- Paula Munteanu

The New York Times
Mashable - 1.2 Million Tweets Sent in Turkey, Despite Ban
Mashable - 3 Ways to Tweet from Turkey
Mashable - Fighting Turkey's Twitter Ban With DNS Graffiti
Mashable - White House: Twitter Bans Undermines Turkey's Freedoms

Friday, April 4, 2014

Geraldine Smyth: Media Ethics in the Northern Irish Peace Process

The CIME blog is excited to present an interview between CIME associate Heather DeVaney and Dr. Geraldine Smyth, of the Irish School of Ecumenics, on media ethics during the Northern Irish peace process.


Ireland and Northern Ireland experienced a partisan conflict from the late 1960s-1998, and many consider the peace process to be ongoing. These difficult times are colloquially called simply, “The Troubles.” Dr. Geraldine Smyth, of the Irish School of Ecumenics, spoke with CIME Associate Heather DeVaney about media ethics, peace processes, and shaping society in Northern Ireland.

HD: What are some ways that the media and media ethics might have influenced the Northern Irish peace process or the Troubles as a whole?

GS: Well, I couldn’t give you a trajectory of it, but I do know that with the BBC and UTV, which were the main British channels at the time, reporting was pretty heavily biased towards British government policy and towards censorship of paramilitary groups. Also, they accepted allegations made by the security forces about people being killed because they were carrying guns, even though it was discovered that they weren’t carrying guns.

I couldn’t tell you exactly when that bias began to change but it certainly did. The media on the whole has been very constructive since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, and the Downing Street Declaration in 1993. The partisan newspapers began to broaden their agenda and have columns for the other side. You know, they weren’t just following public opinion; they were also trying to shape it and open up another, more inclusive horizon.

HD: What do you consider to be the media’s role in a peace process?

GS: I know they have to go for the news story, and the sound bite, and I know there are editorial time constraints, but I think they need to give prominence and oxygen and traction to the good news stories. And I think they need to avoid sensationalism.

HD: Can you think of any occasions in which the media negatively influenced the Northern Irish peace process?

GS: One of the moments that I felt badly let down was the Eames-Bradley group on dealing with the past. They presented a big conference at the Europa hotel, and came with the fruits of their year’s work; advice from victims groups, NGOs on how to constructively deal with the past. They had about 30 recommendations and the only one that emerged from that press conference, or seminar, was the recommendation to pay 12,000 pounds to every family who had lost someone in the Troubles. The Unionist, Loyalist victims groups, partisan victims groups, called out for only what they call ‘innocent victims;’ people who were blown up by a bomb that he was planting or she was planting, their families shouldn’t get the 12,000. Of all 30 or so, recommendations, the media just zoned in on that 12,000 pounds payment. A group of protestors came up to the stage and just stood there, and the media, there were about 30-40 members of the media present, they all came out of the woodwork and they did nothing but focus on the protestors. I honestly think that the media atomizing that part of the presentation was one of the main causes for the rest of the presentation and its recommendations being put in the shelf.

HD: So on the whole, the media helped rather than hindered the peace process in Northern Ireland?

GS: Yes. I think they were worse in the first 20 years and better in the last 20 years. I think there was less bias and more attempt to actually get behind the peace process, to take the referenda seriously that were conducted post-Good Friday Agreement. We had over 90% in the south and over 70% in the north accepting its terms. So I think they accepted that mandate. And there’s been some really good creative journalism. The media are actually trying to put a camera lens on the new plurality of cultures in Ireland, north and south.

HD: Do you have any advice for media professionals moving forward when trying to cover peace processes in their own countries?

GS. Inclusivity would be the primary one, and to widen their nets. Because sometimes people are ahead of the politicians, and sometimes they just watch the Track One level, which are politicians. Listen to people who are actually working at critical level: academics. At a grassroots level: activists and community workers. And speak to people who are not partisan, but do also to talk to the partisan people, because you need to try to get what they are really looking for. Sometimes it can get underneath the surface demands. It can be something much more fundamental, like recognition. Sometimes it’s about being able to participate. And give more air time to young people. Because otherwise, what’s our education system about, if we don’t believe young people have useful things to say?

Another thing I’d say, when they’re formulating a radio program, for example: I think the formula of bringing in people from diametrically different extremes, it just becomes a slinging match. They can do programs like that, but if they’re actually wanting to contribute to a peace process, they also need to counterbalance with people who can speak reasonably to one another. There are people from different perspectives who know how to listen, who know how to take points, who know how to argue respectfully. In other words, help to show the middle ground that’s there. The middle ground is not always a bland ground. You’re going to have people who have quite different perspectives.

Dr. Geraldine Smyth, OP, is Associate Professor in Intercultural Theology and Interreligious Studies and Head of Discipline for the Irish School of Ecumenics, at Trinity College Dublin.

For more information about Dr. Smyth and the Irish School of Ecumenics, visit https://www.tcd.ie/ise/staff/geraldine-smyth.php

Monday, March 31, 2014

'Tweeting' the Wrong Side of Sochi

Journalistic integrity does not end at the final punctuation mark on a piece of writing. As a credible writer, one becomes a public figure. Social media is no longer a place for college coeds to keep in touch. As Aveseh Asough detailed on the CIME blog on March 28th, social media can have an impact on journalism ethics. Take for instance the Sochi Olympic games, which began on the 7th of February and continued until the 23rd. While the world’s eye was turned on Russia, journalists took to Twitter to comment on their stay within the country. Soon, the Twitter account @Sochiproblems began spreading through the Internet like wildfire. Covered on hundreds of news outlets, these tweets and photos were the focal point of the ‘news’ leading up to the games. The road to Sochi may have been a bit bumpy for the traveling journalist, but as Sarah Kaufman claims on PolicyMic, @Sochiproblems should have been more embarrassing for the Western journalist.

By engaging with social media in droves to complain about dirty water and construction issues, these journalists failed because they missed the real story and allowed Russia to perpetuate human rights abuses by damaging the credibility of the Western journalists covering the region. Not only did journalists shift the focus from real issues, they also created an anti-Russia mentality for all the wrong reasons. Vladimir Yakunin, a top official in charge of building Olympics infrastructure, was quoted on Al Jazeera stating: “I'm very offended that the closer we get to the opening of the Olympics, the more hysteria around Russia becomes inflamed in the Western media.” While readers on the Web were ablaze laughing at the ‘screwy’ Sochi construction, they were not given the story of housing evictions, forced and unpaid labor, and, of course, the beginnings of the Crimea crisis. Media ethics should be considered every time a reporter puts their name to a piece of work, even 140 characters on Twitter.

- Carol Davey


CIME blog
The Washington Post
Human Rights Watch
Al Jazeera

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Newspaper Editors' Perception of the Solicitation and Acceptance of Cash and Gifts in Exchange for News Coverage by Journalists in Malawi

The CIME blog is excited to continue its presentation of several short summaries of the 2012 and 2013 CIME Fellowship for Ethics Leadership fellowship reports. The following is by Grey Mang'anda. Please see the full report HERE.


Newspaper Editors' Perception of the Solicitation and Acceptance of Cash and Gifts in Exchange for News Coverage by Journalists in Malawi

By Grey Mang'anda

My fellowship study is on the practice of media ethics in Malawi. After some three decades of operating under severe political interference, the media gained its own freedom in the early 1990s when the country reverted to democracy.

Political freedom brought with it media freedom, which in turn provided fertile ground for unethical behaviour among news reporters. One such unethical behaviour is the soliciting and taking of gifts and outright bribes in order to write favourable stories.

The study asked Malawian newspaper editors whether they were aware that their reporters engage in malpractice and what they have done or recommend to be done about it.

Without exception, all editors in the survey said they were aware of malpractice and that they are totally against it. Their preferred recommendation was outright dismissal for all reporters known to engage in the malpractice.

Curiously, no editor actually carried out the recommended punishment.

The editors blamed personal greed and a general decline in moral standards in the country as the main causes of malpractice.

The study makes several recommendations to help maintain professionalism among reporters. Among these recommendations, editors are asked to use their influence to initiate continuous sensitisation of reporters and those who offer gifts and pay bribes. Such sensitisation should be provided by the editors' own forum in collaboration with media bodies and training institutions.

See the full report HERE.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Social Media and Ethics - The Impact of Social Media on Journalism Ethics

The CIME blog is excited to present several short summaries of the 2012 and 2013 CIME Fellowship for Ethics Leadership  fellowship reports. The following is by Aveseh Asough. Please see the full report HERE.


Social Media and Ethics - The Impact of Social Media on Journalism Ethics
Focus: The Ethical Challenges of Journalists Using Social Media Websites in Their Reporting

By Aveseh Asough

Social Networking sites first appeared purely as sites where people could just interact informally and play. But they have fast become tools for breaking news. It has become possible for ordinary people to be able to share ‘news’ on these sites.

Conventional journalists too have found these sites very useful when sourcing for news and sharing news. But for this group, it is different! While these tools offer great resources, journalists and their employers cannot forget the rule of the game: Media Ethics.

Citizen Journalist’s for instance can afford to break the ‘news’ without blinking. But this is not same with conventional journalists. A trained journalist cannot just be ‘first with the news’ without having to deal with editorial issues.

Most breaking news on social media are great news leads. But there are all sorts of stories that do not meet journalistic standards. Taking the issue of pictures for example, all sorts of offensive pictures get to be posted on social media sites by citizen journalists. Trained journalists would not get away with posting such pictures like those we see on social media.

My research paper sought to examine how conventional journalists can best utilise social networking sites for their work and do so within journalistic ethics.

Please see the full report HERE.