Index on Censorship » News and Analysis the voice of free expression Mon, 03 Aug 2015 15:32:57 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 the voice of free expression Index on Censorship no the voice of free expression Index on Censorship » News and Analysis Finances threaten independent student media Fri, 28 Nov 2014 16:05:32 +0000 As many campus media struggle to maintain a steady revenue, Index hears from two US university papers about their work and how they finance themselves independently

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Daily Free Press

Independent student newspapers struggle in an increasingly digital world. Advertising revenue is shrinking. Budding journalists must learn how to fill the gap while maintaining news coverage free of administration censorship.

Of the more than 500 student newspapers in the US, Index spoke with two papers about their work and how they finance themselves independently.

“We really value our independent status because it allows us to be critical of the administration and be a watchdog of our university,” Kyle Plantz, editor-in-chief at Boston University’s Daily Free Press, said in an email interview.

The paper formed in 1970 after the university’s then president John Silber cut funding to two campus publications to prevent coverage of Kent State protests. As a result they merged to become the Free Press.

In recent years, Daily Free Press staff has written articles covering topics on campus such as gender neutral housing and students’ issues with the Student Activities Office, which oversees student organisations.  In late 2011-2012, the paper provided extensive coverage of the arrest of two ice hockey players charged with sexual assault.

Nicole Brown, editor-in-chief at New York University’s Washington Square Press, also said her paper acts as a watchdog on the NYU administration.

“We need to be able to question our university and present information to the community,” Brown said. “We also need to be able to voice our opinions without fear of being punished for those opinions.”

The Washington Square Press keeps an open dialogue on campus through its feature, NYU Reacts. It includes students’ thoughts on topics ranging from ISIS subway threats to pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. The paper also publishes articles on sensitive issues, such as a November 2013 piece in which NYU faculty express concern over the London campus’s rapid expansion.

Many student papers struggle to maintain steady revenue. Brown said the Washington Square Press relies on advertising, sold and managed by student staff.

“With a move toward more online content, there are more opportunities to sell ad spaces online, as well as in print,” Brown said.

For the Free Press, nearly $70,000 (£44,576.05) debt to their printers recently threatened to shutter their publication. They switched from publishing four days a week to once a week and, on 10 November, launched a crowd-sourcing campaign.

The paper surpassed their goal and raised over $82,000 in just three days, with Daily Free Press alumnus Bill O’Reilly donating $10,000 and local businessman Ernie Boch Jr. donating $50,000.

“[Reducing publication], along with cutting some other costs, we are able to continue to receive ad revenue and sustain our weekly print edition,” Plantz said. “We are assessing how we want to use [the extra funds] and what will be beneficial to our organization in the future.”

Independent newspapers must find a way to financially sustain themselves or campuses will lose reliable, student-run news.

As Plantz said, “We are one of the only outlets that allow students to have a voice, question authority, and be a place for students, faculty, staff, and the administration to come together to learn about what’s happening on campus.”

This article was originally posted 28 November on

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Pakistan gets YouTube back. Sort of Wed, 18 Dec 2013 12:05:41 +0000 A localised YouTube service will be available in Pakistan. But users are far from happy, says Zofeen Ibrahim

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Who would’ve thought the news earlier this month of YouTube­­ being finally made accessible in Pakistan, albeit as a local search engine, would open a floodgate of criticism?

Minster of State for Information Technology and Telecommunications, Anusha Rehman certainly did not. She probably thought she had done a good turn — wooed many young digital rights activists who had long been demanding unblocking of the website and calmed others who had demanded blocking of objectionable content from it.

“Instead of installing costly filtration mechanisms, Google will easily be able to block blasphemous content on the request of the Pakistan government,” Rehman told the Senate’s Standing Committee on Information and Technology. “Saudi Arabia and Malaysia have also reached a similar arrangement with Google,” she added.

But Farieha Aziz, director at Bolo Bhi, a not-for-profit geared towards advocacy, policy and research in the areas of gender rights, government transparency, internet access, digital security and privacy, dismissed the news out right saying: “There is no arrangement between the company and the government, unlike the perception the government is projecting.”

“I don’t want a localised version. Remember what became of Disney in India with everything getting dubbed in Hindi! I would definitely prefer the original version,” said a resolute 12-year old Khadeja Ebrahim, a YouTube buff. “I love YouTube, my entire school loves YouTube and we hate the people who have blocked it,” she added vehemently.

Yasser Latif Hamdani, who had filed a case for unblocking the website, on behalf of digital rights campaigners Bytes For All  is not too happy with the news. His concern is mainly constitutional.

“It is a matter of principle. I do not think it is alright that the government can decide what I should be able to view,” he said. To him this was a clear violation of Article 19, 19-A and 17 of the Constitution of Pakistan. “Therefore, I do not consider it a great service,” he concluded.

The young lawyer uses the popular video-sharing website to listen to debates on law, politics, constitution, philosophy and history. He accesses YouTube through virtual private networks(VPNs), but complains “the experience is just not the same”.

Nighat Dad, of the Digital Rights Foundation doesn’t find the move “encouraging” either and given “how different vague provisions of different laws and constitution have been misused in blocking the content on internet” in the Pakistan” is, in fact, quite wary.  She warns: “I see a huge wave of internet blocking and censorship coming our way.”

“If it happens, it will be bad news!” pointed out Shahzad Ahmad, country director of B4A.

Simply put, said Ahmad, it means legalising censorship of digital content on this platform. “YouTube may then become like Facebook. You will only be able to see that content which authorities will allow us to see,” he explained.

Presenting a doomsday-like scenario, he further said: “A new war will erupt among religious factions and the stronger ones may demand a ban on the others. Human rights movement will suffer hugely, political expression will become much more difficult and alternate discourse will die.”

Many say this will put a stop to hate speech, a major issue stoking religious sects and minorities, in Pakistan, especially on social media.

Ahmad disagreed. “Banning hate speech will not end till perpetrators and banned outfits are taken to task. If you expect that banning their Facebook/Youtube or Twitter will solve the problem, then the answer is a no, a big no!” he said emphatically.

The blocking of YouTube in Pakistan, began last year on 17 September after the website refused to remove the blasphemous 14-minute video clip “Innocence of Muslim”.

The video had led to violent protests and demonstrations across the Muslim world, killing over 50 people.

Ahmad said the decision to block YouTube had nothing to do with upholding religious values or blocking blasphemous content. He suspects it had “political” underpinnings to it.

“The authorities have used this incident to strengthen censorship and filtering in Pakistan, and spent millions of dollars, a useless wastage of the public’s hard earned tax money, as nothing can be blocked on the Internet. Citizens have already resorted to VPNs and circumvention tools.

That is true. Over the past one year, hundreds of die-hard users of this website have relied on proxy servers to work around the ban.

“I just came back from China- and while Facebook and YouTube were banned everywhere, you can access them in Shanghai Freezone especially the Pudong district of Shanghai,” said Hamdani. “So even authoritarian regimes understand the futility of such censorship,” he added.

These proxy servers are passed on word of mouth and go viral within moments, but expire every few weeks. Then the  process of passing the information starts all over again. “You can imagine our desperation,” pointed out Ebrahim.

But while she and her school friends are mostly using the website for downloading songs or cheat videos for games, there are hundreds who depended on it for their bread and butter.

“I can give you scores of examples of small traders,  who marketed and “networked” for expanding their businesses on this free platform because they could not afford to advertise through the mainstream media. The Virtual University, an online learning institute, had uploaded thousands of lectures for its students to access; all that came to a halt. These lectures benefitted not just Pakistani students but millions of those living abroad. Now they have set up their own servers, and which I suspect must have been a huge investment” said Dad.

Toffee produces songs, stories and activities for children in the Urdu language. They went live on July 2011 and banked on YouTube to take it further and the latter did. It met with enormous success at schools, in homes and even among speech therapists, but saw a huge slump in its business. Before the ban was imposed, TOFFEE was uploading two new video programmes per week with 100,000 new visitors a month and serving five times those many repeat visitors.

The minister for IT said that the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority has been  tasked with drafting an ordinance that would provide intermediary liability protection to Google/YouTube, thereby not holding the company responsible for what users choose to upload to the platform.

Bolo Bhi is quite disturbed by this news. “Why is PTA, a regulatory authority that deals with enforcement and not policy making, being asked to draft the ordinance?” it asked in a press statement. It also asked what became of the expensive filtering equipment that the government had acquired for its telecommunication networks.

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The “nasty little bill” that could kill the Big Society Fri, 06 Sep 2013 14:04:19 +0000 'Chilling effect', 'seriously flawed', 'bureaucratic nightmare': Alex Stevenson looks behind the scenes of the UK's gagging bill

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Image Darrenp/Shutterstock

The stakes are incredibly high as the British government considers buckling in the face of intense pressure over its controversial and divisive lobbying bill. If it does not, there is a real danger that the voice of David Cameron’s “Big Society” is about to be snuffed out for good.

From out of nowhere, the coalition government’s lobbying bill has created a sudden, serious threat to freedom of speech in Britain. Charities are terrified that their campaigning activity will be virtually shut down if the coalition’s proposed measures become law.

After a week of outrage and anger the first indications of a shift in stance are now starting to emerge. One coalition source I’ve spoken to says further concessions as the bill is debated in detail next week will leave the charities “mollified”. A Liberal Democrat source has, separately, suggested amendments will be tabled making clear charities’ activities will not be impinged. At the time of writing it remains to be seen whether that’s the case.

It has happened astonishingly quickly. Before the summer started there was no cause for concern. Now, though, dark partisan motives are underpinning debate on the legislation many of those affected are already calling the “gagging bill”.

This “nasty little bill”, as one Labour MP put it, is ostensibly an attempt to create more transparency in the system by which interest groups of all shapes and sizes put pressure on MPs and ministers. Its proposal to create a statutory register of lobbyists is widely criticised for being fundamentally flawed, though, because it only covers those working for public affairs agencies. In-house lobbyists, representing large corporations, get away scot-free.

Then there’s the real issue: a move against the influence of third parties in election campaigns. Under the proposals of this afterthought, any organisation which isn’t a political party faces a severe clampdown if it wants to campaign actively on its own issues during the election season. Trade unions, whose activity overwhelmingly helps Labour, are overtly targeted. The problem is that charities, which cumulatively form an important part of British political debate, are also going to be affected.

“The bill will have a chilling effect on campaigning activity,” the National Council of Voluntary Organisations’ parliamentary manager Chloe Stables warns. She fears the complexity and the uncertainty of the rule changes will lead many organisations to become “so scared of these rules they’ll stop undertaking campaigning, because charities are very risk averse”.

Not everyone is convinced there is an issue here. Conservative MP Stephen McPartland says charities are already covered by many of these rules. It’s true – charities are already forbidden from endorsing a particular candidate. “I’m very concerned the opposition have been able to portray this bill as a gagging bill,” he worries (says?).

Drill down to the small print, though, and the way in which the bill would dramatically broaden the activities charities are forbidden from undertaking emerges. Under current rules, Laura Pett of the Royal British Legion (RBL) explains, charities only have to prove their “intent” if they are accused of interfering in a specific campaign. Under the text of the bill, though, they’re banned from activity “for the purpose of or in connection with” electioneering.

The question charities are now asking is: what does ‘in connection with’ actually mean? In the run-up to the 2010 general election the RBL persuaded 75 per cent of candidates to sign a pledge promising to ‘do their bit’ for the armed forces if elected. What happens if candidates A and B sign up, but candidate C doesn’t – and then candidate C, having lost by a few hundred votes, complains that literature highlighting the issue influenced the result?

“It’s very widely drawn and is totally unclear as to what is and isn’t included,” James Legg of the Countryside Alliance worries (points out?). “You could find ordinary day-to-day campaigning activity, whatever it might be, could be seen to be for electoral purposes. In other words, we’re losing any sort of objectivity to it. It’s becoming very much a subjective test.”

It will be the Electoral Commission which has to make these judgement calls. You might expect it to welcome these new powers, but you’d be wrong. The bill, it warned in evidence to parliament, “raises real questions of freedom of speech”. It is as deeply concerned by the government’s proposals as everyone else.

The Electoral Commission faces a “bureaucratic nightmare”, Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards, a former Citizens Advice employee, believes. His party is worried about the impact the changes could have on the devolved administrations. The bill specifically refers to Westminster elections, but Edwards doesn’t think they can be viewed in isolation from the local and devolved contests. “Often campaigns will cross over, so therefore it wasn’t clear to me, as someone who’s worked in the sector, how employers would be expected to dissect the terms of the bill.”

Perhaps there would be more clarity if the government had given the legislation more time to be improved before bringing it to the Commons. MPs have been left aghast by the lack of pre-legislative scrutiny. The political and constitutional reform committee has issued an emergency report calling for it to be withdrawn completely, saying it is “seriously flawed” precisely because of a lack of consultation.

The truth is this bill is not so much being rushed as rammed through parliament. Its Commons stages will be over by mid-October, leaving it set to enter the statute book by the end of the year. “I understand there are some incentives to get this done by a certain date so organisations can have certainty before the next election,” says Stables of the NCVO, but adds that they would’ve preferred more time.

Both sides privately acknowledge the meetings between the NCVO and the government are not going well. There is a complete standoff over whether the text of the bill leaves charities vulnerable or not. The government lawyers say one thing, the charities’ experts say another.

In the meantime all the talk in the Palace of Westminster is of the politicking which underpins the lobbying bill. “The government’s fobbed everyone off so far,” one MP says. It’s an attempt to get at the unions and make it harder for them to reduce their ability to campaign.” Even government figures week implicitly acknowledge the change is being sought to shift the rules of the game against Labour. “This is not about targeting particular people,” one source close to the leader of the House, Andrew Lansley, says. “This is about making sure there is a level playing field.”

Usually, political parties jostling for advantage like this only really matters to Westminster types. It is ugly and undignified and will not have a decisive influence on the outcome in 2015, after all.

This time is different. The fear is the ability of charities to carry out their vital campaigning work could end up as collateral damage in a much bigger struggle for power.

Three years down the line, the charities David Cameron championed with his promises of a “Big Society” are now asking whether they are about to be gagged – just when they need their voices most of all.

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Hampstead teacher: Leave those kids alone! Fri, 06 Sep 2013 11:13:44 +0000 What right does a North London head teacher have to report an "anarchist" student blogger to the police, asks Padraig Reidy

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hampstead-trashPavan Amara of London’s Camden New Journal has an astonishing story of a head teacher who reported a former pupil to the police, apparently because he student was becoming “more and more enchanted by anti-establishment ways of thinking”.

Jacques Szemalikowski, head at the Hampstead School in North London, said he was worried that A-Level student Kinnan Zaloom, 19, was  “developing into an anarchist” and that he was duty bound to report the teenager to the police for “extremism”. Szemalikowski also contacted Glasgow University, where Zaloom had applied to study, to warn them of his dangerous tendencies.

Szemalikowski told the CNJ:

I must do something. In the last year he has become more and more enchanted by anti-establishment ways of thinking and has even said that there is an inherent risk that every government is corrupt.

Zaloom set up a satirical blog called Hampstead Trash in February of this year. The blog has frequently criticised the way the school is run. Zaloom no longer writes for the blog, having finished school this summer, but it is kept up by current students. It is blocked on the school’s computers.

An editorial posted on the blog last night said in response to the head’s comments to the CNJ said:

You called us dangerous. You called Kinnan “a developing anarchist”. Regardless of Kinnan’s political views and whether he believes in it or not, agreeing with anarchism is not illegal. And we aren’t dangerous. We have never threatened to attack or harm anything or anyone. The only danger is to your ego. We aren’t a paramilitary, we aren’t fighting a dictator who will gas those who don’t agree. All we do is post a few jokes at the school’s expense, often about students and their habits, not at the staff themselves; then occasionally we criticise your and your SLT’s decisions, like the change from 8:40 to 8:35, or giving Sixth-formers late detentions.

Zaloom, who has been banned from the school grounds, told the CNJ: “[W]hat worries me is if I had been a year younger they said they would have expelled me halfway through my A-levels, and that means they would have been prepared to ruin my education because they didn’t like my thoughts.”

Szemalikowski confirmed that he would have excluded Zaloom in that circumstance.

If there’s one consolation to this story, it’s that the police have not been in touch with Zaloom to follow up on Szemalikowski allegations of anarchist extremism.

But it does raise serious questions; if Szemalikowski idea of dangerous anarchism is the notion that governments might be corrupt, how much thought policing is he willing to engage in. Will the young people of Hampstead, home of some of history’s greatest radicals, from Shelley, to Freud to Michael Foot, be allowed think for themselves anymore?

(HT @BrianWhelanHack)

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German press at war over Snowden leaks Wed, 28 Aug 2013 11:00:14 +0000 The NSA surveillance affair has been extensively covered in the German media. It has also sparked a battle of words, Christina Hess writes

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In early August, the topic led to a sequence of accusations between two of the most influential German media outlets, the Bild Zeitung, a conservative daily tabloid newspaper, and Der Spiegel, a left-leaning weekly magazine. Both publications have the highest circulation in their respective sector in Germany. Firing first, Bild accused Der Spiegel of spreading “nonsense saying that the German population is standing under “total surveillance.” Rather than total surveillance, writes the Bild Zeitung, the German intelligence service BND gave the NSA only information on one specific person of German heritage, an abducted former Spiegel journalist. Firing back, Der Spiegel claims the intentional omission of the case from its reporting was based on the journalistic principle not to endanger abductees through reporting – an unwritten journalistic law the Bild seemed to be willing to breach.

This publicly fought battle indicates the juxtaposition of opinions on the surveillance affair between left-leaning and conservative media. It is also a window into the diverging public opinion on the matter.

With the upcoming September federal elections in mind, the NSA affair has been widely discussed in German media with sentiment raging from understanding to harsh criticism. Although opinion polls show that the majority of the German population is disappointed with the German government’s reaction, many view the surveillance programs as a benevolent necessity.

The reasons for the strong interest of Germany’s media in this issue stem from the country’s history and its involvement in the current affair. The state surveillance by the Stasi, the secret police in East Germany during the Cold War, has led to a strong public opinion against an Orwellian state. Recent disclosures, such as the wiretapping of European embassies in Brussels and Washington, therefore, led to first outcries.

Further, with the NSA recording up to 60 million German metadata connections per day, Germany has been the European country under closest scrutiny by the US and its allies. What is more, according to the whistle-blower Edward Snowden, the German intelligence, and maybe even the German authorities as some journalists assume, have had knowledge of the NSA surveillance system for many years.

“German authorities are in bed with the NSA,” Snowden said in an interview with Der Spiegel.

This aspect is taken up and heavily criticized by Germany’s left-leaning media. According to Der Spiegel, the muted reaction of the current German chancellery demonstrates its connivance, while also showing its inability to prevail against the US. The distorted notion of security since 9/11 and the disruption of the fundamental pillars of the constitutional state – particularly distinctive in the US – are further focal points for the left-oriented media.

The USA has “fallen ill” since the attacks on the World Trade Center, writes Klaus Brinkbäumer, deputy editor of Der Spiegel. According to him, the US is willing to breach every international law if it serves its national security and, therefore, the War on Terror. In his opinion, the US has gone off the democratic track into the abysses of unlawfulness.

The “super-fundamental right of security”, as described by Germany’s Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, “sneaked into legal and domestic policy discussions and outweighs all other fundamental rights,” Heribert Prantl, head of the domestic division of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, wrote in an editorial.

In contrast, the conservative Bild Zeitung justifies the intelligence services’ actions against the privacy of the public. They happened “for the benefit of the German population,” reads an editorial by Hugo Müller-Vogg.

“In times of global terror, more surveillance than we prefer becomes necessary,” writes Bild editor Daniel Killy.

Bild’s headline “Who wants to thwart terror must be informed earlier,” illustrates the propagated notion: the necessity of these surveillance programs for the greater good. While the Bild Zeitung expresses gratefulness towards the US for helping to secure the German population, it also agrees with the left-leaning media on the wrongness of the US wiretapping of European authorities.

As for Snowden, his depiction in German media also diverged along political lines. For the Bild Zeitung “Snowden is no hero.” His disclosure of practices of Western intelligence services is alleged to have aided the “enemy,” says Bild. From now on, argues the paper, it will become increasingly difficult to track down terrorists.

Der Spiegel depicts Snowden as a person who helped to “broaden the understanding of the architecture of the so-called security system.” As a ‘thank-you’ for his deeds, that have already led to a long overdue public discussion about the daily state surveillance and its consequences, Der Spiegel suggests that states around the world should offer Snowden asylum.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung, which depicts Snowden as a “classical political refugee,” goes even further by proposing Germany should give Snowden a temporary residence permit in order to enable him to fight for asylum on German soil.

“Edward Snowden (…) served the constitutional democracy with the disclosure of US intelligence practices; he started a discussion that can save the constitutional state in destroying itself; he revealed the misuse of power and the fundamental rights of European citizens and the fundamental rights of their elected representatives in the EU boards,” Heribert Prantl of Süddeutsche Zeitung writes in an op-ed.

However, the majority of the German public disagrees with these propositions. According to a recent opinion poll by YouGov, although 61 per cent of the German public view the disclosures as a positive action, 58 per cent would vote against an asylum for Snowden in Germany. While more than two-thirds of those polled are disappointed by the reaction of the German chancellery on the matter, 40 per cent approve state monitoring of private communication for security reasons.

But, extensive communication surveillance can have wide-ranged repercussions for the public, German media warn.

“The internet has become the life-world of many Germans,” writes Johannes Boie from the Süddeutsche Zeitung, “to monitor it, means to monitor whole lives.”

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Greeks protest public broadcast closure Wed, 12 Jun 2013 10:25:46 +0000 Antonis Samaras, prime minister and leader of the Greek coalition government, announced that the state TV channel ERT, the equivalent of the BBC, would be shut down from midnight on 11 June. Dawn Foster reports. Plus: Index condemns ERT move

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Greeks protested their government's decision to shutter public broadcaster ERT. (Photo: MICHALIS MICHAILIDIS/Demotix)

Greeks protested their government’s decision to shutter public broadcaster ERT. (Photo: MICHALIS MICHAILIDIS/Demotix)

It happened so quickly, few people inside Greece, and fewer watching from outside could comprehend it. Antonis Samaras, prime minister and leader of the Greek coalition government, announced that the state TV channel ERT, the equivalent of the BBC, would be shut down from midnight on 11 June. Dawn Foster reports.

The caveats provided little relief — Samaras claimed ERT would reopen, with far slimmer staffing levels than the current 2,656 journalists it currently employs across the country.

The plug would be pulled at midnight, Samaras announced a few hours before. Citizen journalists reported seeing riot police marching to transmitters, and ERT offices in Athens, Thessaloniki and beyond were surrounded by riot police, stopped only by the huge crowds of protestors who quickly thronged the streets in fury at the shock decision.

Index on Censorship Chief Executive Kirsty Hughes commented today: “The sudden closure of Greek public broadcaster ERT by the government shows an attitude to media freedom that is extremely troubling. Throughout the Greek economic crisis the authorities have been eager to shoot the messengers, whether they be ERT employees or Kostas Vaxevanis, publisher of the ‘Lagarde list’. Narrowing the discussion through undermining free media will not solve Greece’s problems”

ERT journalists responded by occupying their buildings, and continuing to transmit wherever possible. After years of criticism for often acting as little more than an adjunct of government communications, ERT journalists became vociferous in their criticism of politicians, and government policy. The economist Yanis Varoufakis, admitted live on air that he had been banned from appearing on ERT by a PASOK spokesperson after stating that Greece needed to restructure its debt:

“…as you know, your government bosses had me blacklisted from this station ever since I refused to keep quiet about Greece’s bankruptcy. That act of totalitarianism was a prelude to the much grosser one that we are experiencing tonight. Clearly, I am not the person to say that ERT was a splendid organisation unblemished by censorship, political interference or corruption. But I think I am the person possessing the moral authority to stand here tonight in front of you and say that, despite all its ills, the totalitarian manner in which ERT was closed down was a crime against all civilised people the world over.”

The president of the European Broadcasting Union, Jean Paul Philipott, roundly condemned Antonis Samaras’s decision and urged the Greek government to reverse the shutdown with immiediate effect noting: “The existence of public service media and their independence from government lie at the heart of democratic societies, and therefore any far-reaching changes to the public media system should only be decided after an open and inclusive democratic debate in Parliament — and not through a simple agreement between two government ministers.”

Samaras and New Democracy have attempted to justify the censorship of state broadcasting by arguing that the shutdown was necessary to meet public sector redundancy targets set by the Troika, due to be re-examined at the end of July.

For many Greeks, the closure carries memories of the junta. The military dictatorship’s rule is still within living memory of many Greeks, and blank screens were often a precursos to another coup. Several ERT journalists, and opposition leader Alexis Tsipras of SYRIZA referred to the move as a “coup”, a particularly loaded term in Greece. Tsipras told protesters assembled outside an ERT station “This is completely illegal … The government has overstepped its authority. You can’t do this without parliamentary approval, it’s an issue of democracy.”

ERT journalists broke ranks in their anger at the sudden clampdown, speakig candidly on air, and outside ERT buildings of the pressure to bring government ministers on air and silence dissenting voices.

Samaras’s decision to shut down ERT with force, and without consultation with coalition partners PASOK and Democratic Left, has been widely described as inherently undemocratic. It remains to be seen whether the row will force a political crisis in the coalition, or if it heralds much wider, and more drastic sackings across the Greek public sector.

Dawn Foster works for the Guardian’s Comment is Free. She tweets at @DawnHFoster

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Free speech groups protest violence against Ugandan journalists Wed, 05 Jun 2013 10:59:45 +0000 Index on Censorship has joined Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) in writing a letter of protest to the country’s president President Yoweri Museveni, after the network’s national coordinator, Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala was attacked and arrested by police

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Index on Censorship has joined Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) in writing a letter of protest to the country’s president President Yoweri Museveni, after the network’s national coordinator, Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala was attacked and arrested by police, Padraig Reidy reports.

Police and protesters clash at the offices of the Daily Monitor, Kampala. Picture Isaac Kasamani/Demotix

Police and protesters clash at the offices of the Daily Monitor, Kampala. Picture Isaac Kasamani/Demotix

According to HNRJ-Uganda, Ssebaggala was beaten and detained during a protest against the seizure of the headquaters of Monitor Publications Limited in Kampala last week. Daily Monitor, Dembe FM, K-FM and Red Pepper, were all raided by police on 20 May, after the Daily Monitor published a leaked letter concerning an alleged presidential succession plot. The outlets have subsequently reopened. But journalists in Uganda remain concerned by police harassment of journalists. According to HNRJ-Uganda, 42 of the 85 attacks on journalists carried out in the country in 2012 were perpetrated by members of the police forces.

HNRJ-Uganda and its partners in the International Free Expression Exchange (IFEX) are calling ofnPresident Museveni to uphold a commitment to press freedom made by Uganda at the Pan African Parliament in May of this year.


Read the letter below


Your Excellency,

 We the undersigned members of IFEX, the global network defending and promoting free expression, are writing to vigorously protest against violations of freedom of expression and assembly in Uganda. We are particularly concerned about the beating and arrest of the Coordinator and Chair of an IFEX member – the Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda). The attack and detention occurred during a protest against media censorship in Kampala last week, where police fired teargas and used excessive force.

 On 28 May 2013, police violently dispersed a crowd of journalists and activists who had camped outside the Monitor Publications Limited, whose offices had been taken over by police – despite a court order for the police to vacate the premises. The police also sealed off the street where the Monitor building is located and confiscated two video cameras.

 HRNJ-Uganda’s National Coordinator Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala was arrested along with journalist Mulindwa Mukasa, who is also Chair of the HRNJ-Uganda Board. Journalist William Ntege was also arrested. Ssebagala was freed shortly after and the other two were subsequently released.

 In addition to those arrested, other journalists suffered injuries as a result of the brutality, including a foreign journalist who was hit with a baton on  her left eye Other journalists injured include Bahati Remmy of NBS television and Sudhir Byaruhanga of NTV (a sister media house to The Daily Monitor), among others.

The journalists – led by HRNJ-Uganda – had walked to the Namuwongo area of Kampala on the morning of 28 May and camped outside of the Monitor offices to show solidarity and to demand that the government re-open the Daily Monitor, Dembe FM, K-FM and Red Pepper. These media outlets were raided and shut down on 20 May by security forces, who were searching for a controversial letter authored by the coordinator of security services about an alleged presidential succession plot. The Daily Monitor had published the letter.

While we are pleased that the media houses have since been reopened by a government order, we are disturbed by the pattern of police violence against the media, and the resulting impunity.

 According to HRNJ-Uganda’s annual report, half of all attacks on the media in 2012 were by police – 42 of the 85 recorded attacks on journalists last year. The police rank as the biggest violators of media freedom in Uganda since 2009. According to the 2012 report, “most of the attacks happened while journalists were covering controversial political issues as well as matters related to freedom of assembly and association.” And the pattern has continued into this year, with attacks on the media by police having been reported in February and now in May 2013.

As Uganda’s ruler since 1986, it behoves you to uphold the democratic rights to freedom of expression and assembly, according to Uganda’s international obligations.  We therefore urge you to:


·         Investigate the pattern of police violence and hold those responsible accountable; and

·         Uphold the principles of the resolution supporting a press freedom campaign that was launched at the Pan African Parliament (PAP) earlier in May, and which was supported by Uganda’s representatives.

 Yours sincerely,

 Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda)

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Police apologise for withholding name of charged officer Thu, 02 May 2013 13:21:15 +0000 Secrecy of Warwickshire police "against open justice" says Index on Censorship chief

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Secrecy of Warwickshire police “against open justice” says Index on Censorship chief
A UK police force has named a former officer charged with theft after a barrage of criticism when it attempted to keep his name secret.

Paul Andrew Greaves, 54 has been charged with stealing £113,000 from a police evidence locker. Warwickshire police had initially refused to name him.

According to the Daily Telegraph, a Warwickshire police spokesman said:  

“As a result of concerns raised following the publication of a press release regarding a man charged with theft, we accept that our decision not to name him was wrong and inconsistent with the current national guidance.”

“We will now be adopting the national Association of Chief Police Officers guidance in respect to naming individuals on charge.

“We apologise that our previous approach has not been consistent with this.”

In an announcement released on Wednesday the Warwickshire Police said that “a 54 year old man from the Stratford area has been charged with the theft of £113,000 from the former Warwickshire Police headquarters at Leek Wootton. The man, a retired police officer, will appear before magistrates in Leamington on May 22.”

But the announcement also said included this note to editors: “Due to a change in policy we no longer release the name of an individual on charge.”

A senior officer apparently blamed this move on a recommendation made in the Leveson report into press standards.

Neil Brunton, Deputy Chief Constable (temporary) with Warwickshire Police, later tweeted, “The policy was recently changed to align with national policy post Leverson [sic] and not because of today’s outcome.”

Lord Justice Leveson did recommend anonymity for arrested people, but stopped short of suggesting that people charged with a crime should not be identified.

The Association of Chief Police Officers is set to recommend that officers “neither confirm nor deny” the identity of people who have been arrested. But ACPO told Index that the new guidelines have not yet been signed off.

Index on Censorship CEO Kirsty Hughes commented:

“Keeping secret the names of people who have been charged with crimes goes against the principle of open justice that we have in this country. Although there may be instances when it is appropriate not to release a name, this should not be a general policy. That the police have decided not to name a former police officer is extremely worrying.”

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India: Kumar versus the censor Thu, 04 Apr 2013 15:10:31 +0000 Despite making two award-winning documentaries, Indian filmmaker Ashvin Kumar has faced difficulty having his films shown. Mahima Kaul reports on his battle with India's Censor Board

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Despite making two award-winning documentaries, filmmaker Ashvin Kumar has faced difficulty having his films shown. Mahima Kaul reports on his battle with India’s Censor Board

InshallahKashmirIndian filmmaker Ashvin Kumar is in a curious position. His documentary, Inshallah Kashmir, recently won this year’s India’s National Award for “Best Investigative Film”. Kumar also won the 2012 National Award for “Best Film on Social Issues”, for his documentary Inshallah Football. Despite the press and adulation he has received, Kumar is still struggling to have his films screened on TV. Even the public service broadcaster refuses to air his films as they have received an “A” (Adult) certificate — a “polite” form of censorship, as Kumar told Index.

Kumar’s story begins in Kashmir, the backdrop for both of his films. His first film, tracking the journey of young footballers trying to arrange visas to attend a tournament in Spain, exposed raw nerves within Kashmiri society. What should be a simple process for any talented footballer became an ordeal for one young boy, who was refused a visa for having a surrendered militant for a father. Out of this story came Kumar’s next documentary, a raw and in-depth look at the Kashmiri people, including those who participated in militancy against the Indian government in the 1990s.

When Kumar applied to the Censor Board to approve Inshallah Football in 2010, his application got rejected outright, despite an early indication that he would get approval. This, after he had been assured by the Board that certification was only a formality at this point. In 2011, the Censor Board eventually awarded Kumar’s film Adult (A) certification. Confused, Kumar filed a RTI (Right to Information) request and was told that the Board felt the characters were not authentic. The board also felt Kumar’s film was too critical of the government.

What bothers Kumar is the “quasi ban” that results from the A-certificate, a decision normally reserved for feature films with gross violence and nudity. The film, which amazingly went from censored by the government to being honoured by it, can’t be shown on TV because of its alleged adult content. At the time Kumar stated in an extremely frank interview:

“The cynical view is that they are now trying to come across as more equal and liberal than they are. Some other filmmakers I’ve spoken to said this is exactly what they do. They first ban it, and then when they see that public opinion is not working in favour, they give it a National Award. I hope we got the National Award on the merit of the film and not because of political reasons.”

Worried that his next venture would be met with the same fate, especially since Inshallah Kashmir deals directly with militancy and its fallouts in Kashmir, Kumar decided to release it online for one day, 26 January 2012, India’s Republic Day. At the moment, the film has both an “A” certification and despite its honour from the government, it still cannot be aired on TV. Kumar has now put the film online for free.


The exchanges with the Censor Board has made Kumar and others question both its role and its intentions. Many filmmakers feel that the censor board’s excessive and unnecessary interference has resulted in “pre-censorship” for filmmakers. Kumar told Index that, as a result, he feels like movies from this generation will not reflect today’s realities, and because of censorship “we are losing precious documentation of where we are as a civilisation.”

An online petition to Save Indie Cinema is challenging this status quo. The petition, which includes some of India’s most respected names in film, is trying to draw attention to the fact that indie cinema is being marginalised by both the government and distributors. They feel the government should budget for exhibition space for smaller movies, and even A-rated movies should be screened by the public broadcaster, albeit at a later time at night. The other complaint is that some of India’s biggest blockbusters, shown freely on both state and private channels, get “U” (universal) ratings by the Censor Board, despite containing violence and vulgarity. And distributors often relegate indie films to awkward showtimes, therefore sidelining them.

Perhaps as a response to this, the government has recently announced that  National Award winning films will be broadcast on Doordarshan, an Indian public broadcaster. They also added that they will consider screening them in commercial theaters.

For Kumar, this is a moment for cautious joy. “I hope this is true,” he wrote on Facebook about the news.

Mahima Kaul is a New Delhi based journalist. She tweets from @misskaul.

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Spain: The formidable voices of the plazas Tue, 19 Mar 2013 17:56:26 +0000 Attempts to criminalise demonstrations in Spain could change the face of citizen protest, says Juan Luis Sánchez

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The international economic crisis led to widespread demonstrations that changed the face of citizen protest in Spain and shaped activism in many cities across Europe. But now there is a move to criminalise one of the most powerful movements in recent years, says Juan Luis Sánchez

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Today, headlines from around the world resonate with the news that there are nearly six million Spanish citizens currently unemployed. Spaniards are in the process of losing their quality of life, along with their access to health, education and even food. The number of homeless people is rising and cutbacks and “reforms” continue without respite.

How is it possible for the country to accept that over half its population of under 25-year-olds are unemployed? How does a society sustain itself with over a million members living in households where not so much as a euro comes in by way of a monthly salary? How sick is a society when the only social group not to lose its purchasing power in recent years are the retired and when there are more than 150 home evictions per day? What is the impact of such a profound crisis on freedom of expression?

As could have been foreseen, street protests have only increased in size and intensity since the start of the crisis in 2008. And authorities have responded in equal measure.

 Jose Luis Cuesta / Demotix

Evictions are one of the most dramatic consequences of the economic and financial crisis — there are more than 150 home evictions per day in Spain. Jose Luis Cuesta / Demotix

The turning point was 15 May 2011, when — summoned by organisations such as Juventud sin future (Youth without a future), Democracia real YA! (Real democracy NOW!) and about 200 smaller citizen platforms — thousands of protesters occupied plazas and streets in 58 cities, starting with Puerta del Sol in Madrid. They claimed they weren’t being represented by traditional politics; they demanded a radical change in society. Immediately, the media linked the protests to the Icelandic rallies of 2009, to the 2011 revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt and to the movement set out in the best-selling book Indignez-vous! by Stéphane Hessel, a French Resistance hero, concentration camp survivor and co-author of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Indignez-vous! (Time for Outrage!) rails against apathy and argues that anger and indignation can be a powerful motive for change. The protesters became known as the Indignados movement, or 15M, and became a global symbol.

A survey published by RTVE (Spanish public TV) reported on 6 August 2011 that, since 15 May 2011, between 6 and 8.5 million citizens had participated in the 15M movement, visited the campsites where protesters gathered, joined assemblies or took part in the demonstrations organised by Democracia real YA!

On assuming office in December 2011, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy unleashed a seemingly unstoppable agenda of cuts intended to slim down Spain’s welfare state. It had to be defended. The protection of and provision for society had been secure for decades, but now it was regarded by Rajoy’s party as a luxury, and by the opposition as a key political victory that had to be won. For grassroots activists, it provoked an even stronger reaction, led by 15M.

As one reform followed another in waves, the 15M movement discovered who its allies were: state employees and civil servants who now perceived public services — basic health, education, assistance to immigrants and disabled people in vulnerable situations — to be at great risk, along with their own jobs. Civil servants became a target for conservative media. They were slow,they were “lazy”, they were “privileged”, they abused the system. A type of Orwellian Newspeak was being born. Spain has over three million state employees and the tales spun by the media talked endlessly of an over-abundance of public sector workers, in spite of the fact that, according to the International Labour Organisation, the percentage of public sector employees, compared to the overall workforce, is lower than that of some 15 other European countries.

Alvarez / Demotix

An “indignado” struggles to escape from a policemen during riots in Barcelona’s main square (Plaça Catalunya) during ‘Movimiento 15M’ — The occupy movement in Spain. Juanfra Alvarez / Demotix

Seeing that the regenerated social movements, along with trade unions and public sector employees, were uniting against government policies, it was virtually guaranteed that the streets would be permanently filled with protesters. “Labour reforms are going be at the cost of a [general] strike,” Rajoy practically bragged in January 2012, unaware that the television cameras were on him as he had an informal chat with his Finnish counterpart, Jyrki Katainen, on the fringes of a Council of the European Union meeting. Rajoy’s government has lived through two brutal general strikes that have affected the entire country and thousands of demonstrations. In Madrid alone, at least ten demonstrations are recorded daily.

Doctors, underground train and bus drivers, journalists, judges, district attorneys, lawyers, teachers, firefighters … every day a demonstration, almost never assembled by a trade union, but which can regularly count on the support of other movements, always connected through online social networks.

Police brutality

To every action there is always equal reaction on the opposite side. Excessive behaviour on the part of the police is hardly new, even at the least officially organised smaller demonstrations taking place in Spain. In their annual review of human rights across the world, Amnesty International has been recording police abuses of power in the country for some time. But in the course of the last two years, both political discourse and police heavy-handedness have increased to such an extent that public protest has been virtually criminalised.

In previous times, police only charged the crowds after dark, once the number of protesters had diminished and only those considered to be the most radical stayed behind. But recent months have seen police charge into town squares filled with families protesting peacefully.

The 15M movement emerged in a relatively peaceful environment. The first reports of major brutality by police were during a march to support miners from northern Spain in June 2012. On 11 July, a small group of troublemakers set off fireworks (an act that on earlier occasions would have raised tensions but not led to anything more disruptive), resulting in the deployment of hundreds of police, who, moving at full speed, shoved, hit and used truncheons against anyone in their way, many of whom sought refuge in the shops and bars that were still open. Seventy-six people were injured and seven were arrested.

Similar episodes took place outside the Congress building in September 2012, when the slightest provocation resulted in a massive police charge, with officers lashing out indiscriminately, firing off rubber bullets and pursuing individuals even inside train and underground stations, whether or not they had participated in the demonstrations. The media reported that 64 people were injured and that 35 had been arrested. Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz declared the police had acted ‘magnificently’ and that ‘some demonstrators’ had used ‘excessive violence’.

Such an excess of police zeal gives rise to intermittently absurd situations. Feli Velasquez was stopped in the doorway of her own court hearing. She had been brought before the judge for having joined in one of the daily protests against the fact that, on average, 517 people are made homeless every day in Spain. As she entered the courthouse, a small group of people gathered in the doorway to support Feli and her colleagues. She was detained for participating in a gathering “without official approval”.

Repression has not always been physical: at times, it has taken the form of a political or economic deterrent, criminalising the act of protest. Members of local government in Madrid have indulged in phrases such as “extreme right-wing”, “extreme left-wing”, “illegal demonstration” or “coup d’etat”, soundbites that the press are often reluctant to question. This is clearly a strategy to typecast those who call for demonstrations as always violent, and one that seeks to damage the movement’s immense success in and reputation for attracting the support of people from all backgrounds. Prime Minister Rajoy has often praised those “normal ‘ people who “remain at home”.

Once the demonstration has taken place, the strategy of dissuasion goes on: in December more than 300 individuals received a fine of €500 euros (US$656) for nothing more than having attended a protest on 27 October against the 2013 budget. According to information published by Spanish state news agency EFE, they constituted 10 per cent of the participants. The legal pretext was that the authorities had not been notified in advance of the gathering, a ruling that could have been applied exclusively to the organisers and not to the protesters as a whole.

Alejandro Martínez Vélez / Demotix

A demonstration through the streets of Madrid in Spain Square to Puerta del Sol to protest against the European financial markets. Alejandro Martínez Vélez / Demotix

As journalists, we have taken to wearing high visibility identity jackets and helmets. We’ve not quite reached the stage of wearing gas masks, as now happens in Greece. Yet. However, there have never been so many cameras, both professional and amateur, photographing everything — every police action, or reaction on the part of the protesters. Despite all this, and despite being clearly visible, there is no lack of examples of journalists being beaten, wounded or detained over the course of the past two years.

It has often been impossible to find out who is responsible for the brutality: the law states that police officers must identify themselves, displaying relevant information on their lapels. But riot police have on several occasions removed insignias from their uniforms or else covered them up with other articles of clothing as soon as they come into direct contact with demonstrators. The outrage on behalf of both the public and the media regarding the concealment of police identification numbers has evoked no political response whatsoever.

Has public protest become a crime?

In practice, the opposite has occurred: the Director General of Police, Ignacio Cosidó, let slip during a session of parliament that the Ministry of the Interior was looking into prohibiting the recording of police actions that could then be shown over the internet. It was a way of seeing how the idea was received and intended to cause alarm rather than lead to actual implementation. Still, even mention of it demonstrated a clear threat to press freedom in Spain.

Former minister of the interior and current president of the Grupo Popular (the governing Popular Party)in the European Parliament Mayor Jaime Oreja endorsed it on numerous occasions, commenting that it was “crazy that it was possible to view all these problems of public order on television because it only incited people to demonstrate all the more”. Although Cosidó moderated his remarks later on, dozens of journalists and commentators reacted to the director general’s statement with anger and vociferous debate.

The new penal code, to be introduced later in 2013, is more than just a threat. It will make passive, peaceful resistance — for example, chaining yourself to a door so you cannot be forcibly removed, or throwing yourself to the floor while being forcibly evicted from your home —  into a serious crime against the authorities, equivalent to the public disorder of violence on the street. There has even been discussion about a clause permitting legal action against those who use the internet to encourage people to attend demonstrations that could potentially result in violence.

The endless ways to discredit, harass and criminalise citizen protest has direct opposition online. Social networks have become dramatically re-politicised since 15 May 2011. It was then that the seeds of indignation were sewn. They have developed into a vigilant citizen lobby, a furious but peaceful movement informed by a sense of outrage and distrust of power. Social movements give validity to the rearguard, to the intellectual construction of a model that resists both attacks and criminalisation. The network has confidence in itself as an underground labyrinth, well adapted to slip loose from the reins of power.

Further cutbacks are predicted, along with further economic adjustments, and more austerity, in the course of this year. No doubt they will come accompanied by further demonstrations.

Juan Luis Sánchez is a Spanish journalist and deputy editor of He tweets from @juanlusanchez

magazine March 2013-Fallout

This article appears in Fallout: free speech and the economic crisis. Click here for subscription options and more.

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