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The Tickle File is ftm's daily column of media news, complimenting the feature articles on major media issues. Tickle File items point out media happenings, from the oh-so serious to the not-so serious, that should not escape a shorter, more informal format.

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Week of May 1, 2017

World Press Freedom Day - Ten Quotes
"We need leaders"

  • Freedom of the press is fundamental for democracy and without freedom of the press, a country cannot be called enlightened, democratic, modern or civilized.

    German MP Cem Özdemir on public radio WDR (May 3).

  • Media freedom is the barometer of democracy and prosperity

    Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Stelios Kouloglou at the United Nations in Geneva (May 3). He is a Greek journalist and documentary producer.

  • We all know the role of the media in promoting democracy, because democracy itself guarantees nothing, it’s just a set of ideals that people utilizing the freedom that democracy brings apply to organize their lives in such a manner that delivers social progress and economic development.

    Speaker of the Nigerian House of Representatives Yakubu Dogara, in a press statement (May 3). Nigeria ranked 122nd in the RSF 2017 Press Freedom Index.

  • Far too often, murder remains the most tragic form of censorship.

    UNESCO director general Irina Bokova, in a statement (May 3)

  • Journalism is not a crime, we say. Without journalism, there will be no democracy. If there is no journalism, there will be no law. We urge citizens to stand firm with journalists to claim their rights to receive news.

    Turkish Journalists Union chairman Gökhan Durmus, in a statement (May 3)

  • We need leaders to defend a free media. This is crucial to counter prevailing misinformation. And we need everyone to stand for our right to truth.

    UN Secretary General António Guterres, in a statement (May 3)

  • There is no real democracy without a press committed to continue revealing corruption. There is no rule of law after censorship and coercion and there will be no freedom when a journalist prefers to reserve an opinion than to expose it.

    Madrid city councilor and lawyer Begoña Villacís in El Pais (May 3)

  • Free, diverse and independent media are indispensable to promoting and protecting democracy worldwide. A free press and freedom of expression are among the very same foundations of democracy, contribute to stable, inclusive, and resilient societies and can help defuse tensions and contain conflicts.

    European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini, in a statement (May 3)

  • A free press is something we have become accustomed to and take for granted. However, it is not automatic to have an independent and critical press. When we look around, press freedom is under heavy pressure. At home, some politicians have adopted the American response to critical questions from the press by denouncing it as fake news.

    Member of the Norwegian Parliament Arild Grande, to (May 4). The RSF 2017 Press Freedom Index ranked Norway #1 in the world.

  • The press is the enemy of the American people

    United States president Donald Trump, on Twitter (February 17)

Chocking the news ascending, training provided
"egregious cases"

Observing World Press Freedom Day (May 3) in recent times comes with undeniable caution. Leading press/media freedom watchers have issued worrying reports of a falling darkness. (See more on RSF and Freedom House press freedom reports here) The fragile state of independent and accurate news media in the face of ascendant autocracies is this year’s theme.

The People’s Republic of China demonstrated, again, disdain for dissenting voices. Restrictions on news content, prevalent for print and broadcast media, have been extended to all online platforms, according to the official Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), reported Bloomberg (May 2). All platforms disseminating news or opinion must be editorially under the supervision of government minders. “There should be an editor-in-chief for all online news service providers and their staff should be qualified,” said State news agency Xinhua (May 3). The CAC is providing the necessary training. (See more about media in China here)

The new rules requiring “online news service providers to abide by the law, promote healthy internet culture, and safeguard national and public interest,” take effect June 1st., Earlier the Chinese government announced it would be hiring 20,000 “scholars” to produce an online encyclopedia by 2018 to rival the partially-blocked Wikipedia.

Late last week access to Wikipedia in Turkey was blocked. “It has become part of an information source which is running a smear campaign against Turkey in the international arena," said telecom regulator BTK, quoted by Reuters (April 29). Access to internationally available social media portals have been blocked periodically in Turkey.

As there is no news without reporters, their work has been noted. Ukraine’s Minister of Information Policy Yuri Stec nodded to World Press Freedom Day by announcing a rule requiring compulsory insurance for journalists, reports Detector Media (May 3). "Given the egregious cases of impunity the safety of journalists is worrying,” said the minister.

TV exec sought by Iran murdered in Turkey, assassins escape
business or something else

The assassination last weekend in Istanbul of GEM TV chief executive Saeed Karimian and Kuwaiti investor Mohammad Metab Al-Shallahi remains something of a mystery. The victims had been tracked by the assassins for some time, police indicated. The unruly reality of life in the Middle East is widely suspected.

What’s known is that both men had been in Mr. Al-Shallahi’s Mercedes Benz driving through Istanbul Saturday evening (April 29) when overtaken then blocked by an SUV. Two masked gunmen emerged, fired several rounds into the Mercedes Benz then sped away. Mr. Karimian, a dual British-Iranian citizen, died at the scene, Mr. Al-Shallahi shortly thereafter. The SUV was found, burned out, several kilometers away. Istanbul police collected security cameras from the crime scenes and continue to investigate.

GEM TV operates Persian-language (Farsi) satellite TV channels, mostly overdubbed Western and Turkish entertainment shows, throughout the Middle East. Two years ago the company launched Arabic-language channels. The company is headquartered in Dubai with an Istanbul office. Mr. Karimian has been unpopular with Iranian authorities who recently passed a six-year jail sentence, in absentia, for anti-government propaganda against the Iranian State. Official and semi-official Iranian sources posted a wide variety of conspiracy theories. (See more about media in the Middle East here)

Local police believe the murders are attached to a financial dispute, indicated Istanbul Sarıyer district mayor Sukru Genc, quoted by reasonably reliable Turkish daily Hurriyet (April 30). Mr. Al-Shallahi was from a large, prominent and wealthy Kuwaiti family. In some reports he was identified as a business partner of Mr. Karimian.

Digital transactions are the new black hole
tax abyss

The compensation online service providers receive for customer data they collect, use and often resell, said Austrian Social Democrat (SPÖ) deputy chairman Andreas Schieder, should be subject to taxation just like any other barter transaction. “The business transaction that’s going on here is that users are paying with their personal data,” he said, quoted by Bloomberg (April 29). “The business model of those internet companies is based on massive revenues that are generated with the help of those data.” And, yes, indeed, it is being called “Google Tax.”

Also included in the SPÖ proposal are extending the 5% Austrian advertising tax to online services, collecting tax from companies based outside Austria and revising bi-lateral tax agreements. All this has been submitted to the Austrian People's Party (ÖVP), majority partner in the governing coalition, for negotiation. ÖVP Finance Minister Hans Jörg Schelling called the proposals “unworkable,” quoted by Der Standard (April 28).

Understanding digital economics is an evolving skill. Everybody wants to get there before somebody else. There’s no end, or no end point, but the effort is justified.

In March the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) took a stab at defining digital transactions in cross-border commerce. Written by statisticians for policy makers the paper starts with standard definitions - B2B, B2C and such - and wades into the great unknown of data flows. For example, “cross-border data flows do not necessarily result in a monetary transaction per se, but they may support one, such as generating advertising revenue.”

“There is scant information concerning the extent to which firms (particularly SMEs) use digital channels (whether through intermediaries or their own sites) to sell goods and services across borders, and even less information concerning the size of these flows,” said the paper. “In addition, a significant grey area remains on the operations of multinationals (conventional multinationals and digital intermediaries such as AirBnB, Amazon and Uber) and their ability to either record services or primary income flows depending on how they deliver services (to third parties or intra-firm). And it is not clear that consistent treatment of the underlying flows exists across countries, affecting not only on estimates of international trade and investment flows but also GDP.”

Got that? If nobody has a realistic idea of value created by these data flows policies - including taxation - are always, as we say, a day late and a dollar short.

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