Sunday, September 28, 2014

Russia's Restriction of Foreign-owned Media: A Political Maneuvering or Tit for Tat for Sanctions?

Rabin Man Shakya

When the Press which is referred to as the Fourth Estate is more and more polarized, it may be used as a vehicle for political maneuvering and that is what exactly is happening in Russia when Russia decided to clamp down on Western involvement in its media with new legislation limiting foreign ownership of media to 20 percent. The new legislation prohibits the news organizations being funded or run by foreign groups or individuals including Russians with dual nationality.

According to latest news stories, top business daily newspaper Vedomosti, the Russian edition of Forbes and dozens of other news, society and fashion magazines would fall under the purview of the bill, which would force the publications to change ownership or close by 2017. It is to be noted that Vedomosti founded in 1999 is a joint venture of The Financial Times, Dow Jones and Sanoma, a Finnish media group.

Meanwhile, according to media reports, the bill's cross-party authors said in an accompanying note that its aim was to prevent foreigners from "having an influence on the taking of strategic decisions."

"The Cold War, namely the information war, which is being unleashed against the Russian Federation, requires us to apply its rules," said Vadim Dengin, the lawmaker who sponsored the bill. (The New York Times. Russia Moves to Extend Control of Media. Sept 24, 2014).

An influential Russian journalist even went on to the extent of asserting "the hastily drawn up law as a form of revenge for Western sanctions against Russia over its actions in Ukraine.

The latest Russian move to limit foreign ownership of media outlets is an attempt to fish in troubled waters at a time when Russia is still in a painful transition.In terms of press freedom, Russia is still going through a painful period of prolonged transition after the downfall of the former USSR in 1992. It is to be noted that 29 journalists were killed in Russia from 1995 to 2005, thereby making Russia one of the most dangerous and vulnerable country for journalists in the last decade.

Although the press in Russia has enjoyed freedom in principle, the job of the Russian journalists is still hazardous because Russian journalists still continue to be assaulted, intimidated and even killed for writing and reporting truths and facts. In press freedom sector, because of harassment and legal entangling of journalists, Russia has slipped from a ranking of "partly free" to "not free" (ranking by Freedom House). And it is to be noted that the largest media outlets in Russia are owned by the state or controlled by business tycoons close to President Putin.

There is no doubt that Russia should take several measures to improve the press freedom scenario. True, improving press freedom especially in a volatile country like Russia (because of troubles in Chechnya-Daghestan) is a daunting task and  cannot be carried out overnight.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Newspaper Reading Habit

Rabin  Man Shakya
Former Associate Editor, The Rising Nepal

Newspaper which is one of the most important miracles of modern technology has done many, many wonderful and commendable things in the history of nations across the world. A newspaper not only publishes news and views of home and abroad, it also provides information about science, culture, arts, business, sports, entertainment  and so on.
 A newspaper in fact is the store house of information and knowledge.  A newspaper is a good source of information for chronicles and history. A good newspaper is a trail-blazer to the society and nation as a whole.Therefore. newspaper reading habit is a passion which provides people with lots of information and knowledge.

I remember I started reading newspapers when I was 15 years old. Taking a trip down memory lane, I remember reading the Nepalese newspapers in Nepali as well as in English: The Gorkhapatra. The Rising Nepal, Samikshya, Matribhumi, Rastra Pukar, The Commoner and Naya Sandesh etc. Obviously, I read all those newspapers in the libraries.  After passing my SLC in 1973, I became a member of Biplavi Pustakalaya in my local neighborhood and also became a member  of the libraries run by the American Center, British Council, Nepal-Soviet Cultural Association and Nepal-China Friendship Association in Kathmandu.

Meanwhile, the frequent news reports about the closures of  newspapers, about the decline of circulation of the newspapers, cutback in the frequency and home-delivery and lay-off of journalists are most alarming for the US newspaper industry. Today, more than ever, less and less American young people are not reading newspapers. As a result, if you ask the young Americans " what are the names of Secretaries of State and Defense of the US?" some will pronounce the name of the Secretary of State, but majority will struggle to say the name of the Secretary of Defense. This happens when young people are not paying adequate attention to newspaper reading habit.

Newspaper reading habit is of utmost importance for the young people because it not only opens the doors for getting to know what is going on in and around the nation and the world, it also helps to build vocabulary skills, general knowledge and background information.

Therefore, given the near-total literacy rate and better economic, educational and cultural opportunities, the decline of newspaper circulation and newspaper reading habit is a matter of grave concern for the United States.

Well, well-informed citizens are the assets of a nation and we can not imagine of well-informed citizens who do not read newspapers and magazines. Political development and democratic process of a country is definitely influenced by the well-informed citizens.

Now, I am going to disclose you  some more of  my personal details about my newspaper reading habit. I had the opportunity to read newspapers of different hues in the past: from communist to libertarian newspapers. Likewise, I have read newspapers in five different languages: English, Russian, Hindi, Nepali and Nepal Bhasa. And my favourite  newspaper is: The New York Times.

By the way, when I used to read the Soviet newspaper "Pravda" during my long stay in Minsk in the eighties, its circulation exceeded 10 million copies daily and it was published from 40 different Soviet cities simultaneously.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Changing Scenario of Global Information Order

Rabin Man Shakya
Former Associate Editor, The Rising Nepal

From 1979 to 1989, I was in the former Soviet Union doing my Masters in Journalism and then Ph. D. at the journalism schools of Belorussian State University (BSU), Minsk and Moscow State University (MSU). The Cold War between the USA and the ex-USSR was at its height. I remember at journalism school at the BSU, we incessantly debated topics like the Cold War, Neo-colonialism,  New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO), Media Imperialism, Non-aligned News Pool etc. We used to discuss the issues about imbalance in global information order and viewed that the Western media should not be given an unfair advantage vis-a-vis the media systems of countries of the Third World.

But after the collapse of the USSR, the world became increasingly uni-polar, process of globalization and global migration set the pace after the millennium, and Internet, technology and social media etc have rendered the concepts like New World Information and Communication Order, Media Imperialism and Non-aligned News Pool etc far less relevant today.

New World Information and Communication Order was a UNESCO sponsored drive to counter media imperialism by envisioning an information and communication order which gives a more balanced and credible view of the countries of the Third World than has been generally presented by Western media coverage.

The purpose of UNESCO with its NWICO plan was viewed as a means of creating two-way information flow by launching organizations like Non-aligned News Pool. The US was always against the NWICO idea and took it as barriers to the free flow of information and to the interests of global media outlets. As a result, the US withdrew its membership from UNESCO in 1984 followed by the UK and Singapore.

During the Cold War period, the media was one of the strongest weapons of both the super powers - the US and the ex-USSR in disseminating ideas and information attempting to consolidate their influence across the world.. Both the global super powers understood the role of media. It was like the countries of the Third World were caught in the crossfire in the media and propaganda war between the US and the ex-USSR, hence giving birth to the idea of NWICO.

During the Cold War period, mass media like newspapers, news agencies, radio and TV channels were used to enhance the influence of the super powers across the world. AP, UPI, AFP, Reuters and TASS were five major news agencies which dominated the world of news dissemination. Satellite TV broadcasting was considered like a 'personal checking account' of few developed countries like the US, the ex-USSR, the UK etc. It looked like the Western media sometimes rode roughshod over the feelings and emotions of the people of the developing countries.

When I joined The Rising Nepal in 1992, it still was the only broad-sheet English daily newspaper of Nepal. Since developing countries like Nepal could not afford hiring correspondents abroad, the media outlets of Nepal had to fully rely on AFP and AP for the international news. Coverage of news from the developing countries always had the Western slant. AP, AFP and Reuters news agencies dominated over 80 per cent of international news flow in the world in those years.

But today tremendous strides have been made towards the two-way flow of information, thanks to the technological innovations. Al Jazeera is a testimony to the changing global media scenario.. Al Jazeera is the most watched and popular news channel in the entire Middle East and Arab World. And as if the Middle East media dominance is not enough, Al Jazeera America has been effectively and successfully launched in the US.

Today, Nepalese living in the US can watch the Kantipur TV with the cable network hooking, not to talk about watching major Nepalese TV channels in the Internet. Likewise, today, the prominent broadsheet daily newspapers of Nepal boast of their correspondents in New York, London and New Delhi etc thereby not wholly relying on the news disseminated by AP, AFP and Reuters. Similarly, major radio stations of Nepal can be heard abroad with the help of Internet. Digital journalism has helped the people across the world to read the newspapers from their respective countries instantly.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

And Then Journalists Become Victims of Terrorism

Rabin Man Shakya

Global Islamic terrorism is like the dangerous, violent and ugly monster which has taken roots not only in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan, Nigeria and other Muslim countries but has posed a big threat even in countries like Russia (Chechnya-Daghestan), India (Kashmir) and China (Uighur). When the war on terrorism is at stake, the international correspondents and aid workers are in the firing line. And then the journalists become  the victims and easy targets of the notorious terrorists.

Daniel Pearl of the Wall Street Journal was beheaded by the Islamofascists in 2002 in Pakistan. Now journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff have been mercilessly beheaded by militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The release recently of the video showing the beheading of journalists Foley and Sotloff who had been working as international correspondents in the Middle East brought to the fore the serious threats posed by terrorism. The merciless beheading of Steven Sotloff was carried out despite televised pleas from his mother Shirley Sotloff to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to give amnesty to her son who was captured  by the Islamofascists in northern Syria a year ago.

Now the ISIS has been continuously grabbing the international headlines for one or the other terrorist activities. For that matter, even few years ago, ISIS was only a tiny visible tip of the iceberg of Islamofascists. But today, even al-Qaeda has been eclipsed by the ISIS which, in fact, was an al-Qaeda breakaway group. Today, the bunch of the Islamofascists, the ISIS, has become a formidable and powerful terrorist organization.

There is no doubt that the threats of the Islamofascists should not be taken merely as hoax. They are capable of doing any kind of merciless, mean, monstrous and ugly acts. The purpose of terrorism is to create terror and panic among the people. The terrorists can not do this without the help of the media and social media. Terrorists and terrorist organizations are widely known to have extensively used social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube etc to disseminate their ideas, messages and consolidate their power base. YouTube and Twitter can not and should not be the effective tools of terrorist propaganda.

The act of terrorism is against civilization, peace and humanity, and as such, violence and terrorism must be nipped in the bud. For this, the historical experience has already demonstrated that Washington, London and Paris alone are not able to effectively fight against the terrorist forces. Washington must join hands with Moscow and Beijing to do away with the Islamic terrorists.

Also, the acts of terrorism and their continuing coverage in the world media have raised the specter that the international media is directly or indirectly helping the notorious terrorists just by covering stories  about their sinister and heinous activities.

For right now, ISIS activities are confined to Iraq and Syria and this has made Syria and Iraq the most notorious and dangerous countries for journalists. Last year, 70 journalists were assassinated for doing their jobs, according to Committee to Protect Journalists. Over the last few years, some 70 journalists have lost their lives while covering Syrian war, and about 20 are still missing raising the question how many journalists still will have to face the ISIS's monstrous and merciless  act?