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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 notice...in a shorter, more informal format.

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Week of March 19, 2018

No cover, no shade, no shield - journalists hunted down with impunity
only assailants remain anonymous

Mexico is the most dangerous place in the world for reporters and media workers after Syria. This week Leobardo Vazquez, who published an independent online news site, was murdered by “assailants on a motorcycle,” reported the Los Angeles Times (March 22). He had previously written for a local newspaper in the notorious Veracruz state. Syria, at least, is in a civil war fought by well-known enablers and terrorists.

Global news agency AFP and UNESCO announced this week the Breach-Valdez Prize to “honor journalists who risk their lives to cover human rights abuses in Mexico,” said the AFP statement. Miroslava Breach and Javier Valdez were murdered last year. Both had been AFP collaborators. (See AFP statement here)

Sr. Vazquez once wrote for La Opinion de Poza Rica in Veracruz state. Another reporter for that newspaper was shot last year. Since seeking a degree of anonymity by working as a street vendor - not uncommon for threatened reporters - he published several pieces shedding light on local politicians and law enforcement officials. The Veracruz state attorney generals office dismissed Sr. Vazquez’s murder, issuing a statement, according to the LA Times, saying he was “operating a taco stand.”

In February journalist and satirist Pamika Montenegro was shot dead in the resort city Acapulco. Journalist Carlos Domínguez Rodríguez was murdered, stabbed to death, in January near the Texas border. As with most murders of media workers in Mexico assailants have not been identified.

State media reorganized for maximum message control
"magic weapon"

China’s state broadcasting services are being merged into one, gigantic voice. China Global Television Network (CGTN), China Central Television (CCTV), China National Radio and China Radio International (CRI) will become Voice of China. The merger results from consolidation of government services within the Chinese Communist Party clarified at the recent National People’s Congress by President Xi Jinping, widely referred to as “China Dream.”

The Communist Party Central Committee published the announcement, reported by Reuters (March 21), that the Central Publicity Department will direct all media; newspapers, broadcasting and film. Voice of China will “guide hot social issues, boost multimedia integration and development, strengthen international communication, and tell good China stories.” It will play a “special and important role in propaganda ideology and cultural entertainment.”

Functionally, the new Voice of China will be managed through the United Front Work Department, which ties the Communist Party to other groups, including Chinese living abroad. President Xi Jinping referred to it as the “magic weapon.” The combined staff of 14,000 will become Party functionaires, if they aren’t already. The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) has been restructured to clear a path for transfer media policies, operations and regulation from the State Council to the Party Central Committee. (See more about media in China here)

SAPPRFT continues censorship duties. This week it issued an “urgent notice,” reported SupChina (March 22), banning ““defaming, distorting, and parodying” films and TV shows to prevent “misunderstanding of the works’ original meaning.” Chinese video producers have been known to change titles and voice tracks on old videos to attract search engine traffic.

Strong media response after harassment complaint dismissed
"Respect and security are not privileges"

Non-state Russian news media tread carefully when reporting government matters. There can be consequences, sometimes very nasty. So more than a few eye-brows lifted this week when several news outlets withdrew reporters covering the State Duma.

They were responding to the State Duma (lower house) ethics committee finding “no violations in the conduct” of prominent deputy Leonid Slutsky. Three reporters had brought sexual harassment complaints and were questioned by the committee. Several committee members suggested the women were attempting to disrupt the elections, another said they were serving “enemy media” and another referred to one reporter as a “floozy.” Russian news portal Meduza, which operates from Latvia, released audio and transcripts from the questioning of TV Dozhd producer Daria Zhuk and BBC Russian reporter Farida Rustamova.

RBC, Ekho Moskvy, Kommersant, TV Dozhd, Novaya Gazeta, lenta.ru and others announced they would boycott State Duma proceedings. “With this decision, the Ethics Committee effectively sanctioned the potential sexual harassment of journalists by public figures,” said RBC editorial board director Elizaveta Golikova. quoted by Meduza (March 21). “We do not agree with this approach, and we refuse to sanction the Duma’s position on this matter.” Ekho Moskvy chief editor Alexei Venediktov called the State Duma "an unsafe workplace for journalists of both sexes.” (See more about media in Russia here)

State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin responded in-kind. News outlets that withdrew employees found their accreditations withdrawn and were refused entry. Two weeks ago, Mr. Volodin told reporters working in the State Duma to “find another job” if they felt unsafe.

That brought ire from the editorial board of well-respected newspaper Vedomosti, which said it will no longer cover Deputy Slutsky or members of the ethics committee. “If the rights of citizens are protected by selectively, if MPs are allowed to flout the dignity and safety of people… then at risk are not only the rights of all journalists,” said a blistering editorial (March 22). “Respect and security are not privileges and we demand these rights from the leadership of the State Duma. We insist on condemnation of any harassment. We express our support for colleagues from other media, which condemned the conduct of Deputy Slutsky and the decision of the ethics committee.”

Press freedom violator condemned, again, by top court
no factual basis

The continued detention of two media workers by Turkish authorities violates their rights, ruled the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Thousands of individuals, not limited to journalists, were rounded up following the July 2016 coup attempt after continuing states of emergency have been declared by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The United Nations Human Rights Office asked (March 20) for this practice to cease as they “point to the use of emergency powers to stifle any form of criticism or dissent vis-à-vis the Government.”

“The investigating authorities had been unable to demonstrate any factual basis” that they “had committed the offenses with which he was charged,” said the ECHR decision, reported Hurriyet Daily News (March 20). Along with the ruling the Turkish state was ordered to pay both Sahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan €21,500 compensation for “damages.” ECHR justices made the ruling February 20th but it was not official until publication thirty days later. (See more about press/media freedom here)

Lower courts ignored an order by Turkey’s Supreme Court for Mr. Alpay and Mr. Altan to be released, though Mr. Alpay was moved from jail to house arrest after the decision. His trial is ongoing. Mr. Altan was convicted in February and is serving a life sentence. (See more about media in Turkey here)

Mr. Alpay wrote for the daily newspaper Zamen, associated with Fethullah Gülen, an Islamic scholar living for many year in the United States accused of terrorist activities by president Erdogan. Zamen was seized by Turkish authorities in March, 2016, and its now editorially favors the government. Mr. Altan was a well-known television commentator. “Criticism of the government should not be punished as terrorist support,” said the ECHR decision.

In recent weeks, Turkish authorities have released government-critical newspaper Cumhuriyet reporter Ahmet Sik and German news magazine Die Welt correspondent Deniz Yücel.

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