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Week of March 26, 2018

Columnists flee newspaper, citing editorial independence
strange bedfellows

Eight columnists severed their relationship with Kenya’s largest circulation newspaper Daily Nation this week, citing a "loss in editorial independence” at publisher Nation Media Group NMG). In a joint statement the columnists, several associated with human rights groups, pointed to recent dismissals of editorial workers. “We refuse to continue to clothe the loss of editorial independence and media freedom at the NMG with respectability.”

“We respect their right to take a collective decision,” said a NMG statement published in Daily Nation (March 27). “We wish to reiterate that overall we have honored our obligation to respect their views and did not tamper with their positions except to correct basic errors.” NMG is the largest media owner in east Africa. (See more about media in Africa here)

The Daily Nation op-ed columnist’s mass resignation came hours after journalists were “punched and kicked” by security services while covering the arrival of opposition politician Miguna Miguna at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. Mr. Miguna had been deported in February and a local court ordered his re-entry granted. On arrival he was removed by police officers, first to an aircraft bound for Dubai then to a holding facility.

Police officers on the scene were not happy with news coverage. “I watched a police officer kick my colleague in the back, then kick his camera, then with his other leg kick in him in the head,” said Daily Nation reporter Ibrahim Oruko, quoted by Reuters (March 27). NMG owned television channel NTV was, with other channels, temporarily removed from the airwaves this past January for covering the mock presidential swearing-in ceremony of unsuccessful presidential candidate Raila Odinga. (See more about elections and media here)

Mr. Odinga has threatened to sue the notorious international election dirty-trickster Cambridge Analytica after UK Channel 4 reported (March 26) it had worked “extensively” with president Uhuru Kenyatta, according to Nairobi News (March 27). To The Guardian and New York Times (March 17) former Cambridge Analytica employee turned whistleblower Christopher Wylie said his predecessor at the company died under uncertain circumstances while working on Mr. Kenyatta’s 2013 election campaign.

Into never-never land with your favorite bot
"banners not so popular"

Online advertising - and all the fun that goes with it - is rockin’. Zenith’s quarterly Advertising Expenditure Forecast, released this week (March 26), predicts even bigger global ad spending growth - 4.6% - than they foresaw three months ago, which was 4.1%. Online advertising will keep taking more; this year 40.2% of all ad spending from 37.6% last year. By 2020 it will be 44.6%.

“We are observing sustained ROI from digital transformation,” said Zenith global brand president Vittorio Bonori in the statement. “And we are now at the forefront of a transformation as brands shift budgets along the consumer journey, benefit from powerful algorithms and advanced machine learning techniques, and invest in new e-commerce solutions. This transformation is at the heart of driving brand growth.” (See more about digital and online advertising here)

Roughly translated: the ad people are shifting to direct response strategies and away from traditional brand building through display advertising. Nobody is squeamish about Facebook ads. Algorithms rule. Bots are among us.

“For many consumers, checking their mobile devices for social media has become a regular, ingrained habit, while social media ads blend seamlessly into their mobile app newsfeeds,” said the Zenith statement, quoted by Reuters (March 26). The big number for 2018 is US$579 billion: tack on another US$77 billion by 2020 as digital advertising “matures.” Zenith is a Publicis Group subsidiary and the quarterly forecasts are a composite of six contemporaneous studies.

“As a format, banners are simply not so popular,” said Magna marketing intelligence chief Vincent Letang, quoted by digital advertising newsletter AdExchanger (March 26). “The supply is shrinking and the pricing is not great. Now the bulk of programmatic is native and auto-play video.” As for TV advertising: “We’re not seeing a terminal decline like print is experiencing, but we don’t see it coming back to growth for some time.”

Scandal plagued government defines fake news
"wholly or partly false"

There are, we have learned, no bounds to fake news. It is no longer simply a tabloid newspaper chuckle over UFOs and Loch Ness monsters. The Cambridge Analytica scandal in the UK - and elsewhere - launched a robust discussion about the weaponization of fake news through social media beyond commercial fun to political profit.

Many potential corrections have been put forward. Each is fraught with undesirable consequences. A new law to threaten or punish somebody is the accepted first response. Laws, we have also learned, can be exploited. (See more about fake news here)

An Anti-Fake News Bill proposed by the Malaysian government has moved to the Parliament for consideration. If passed, highly likely considering the government party majority, there can be big fines and jail terms for anybody found guilty of publishing - or even uttering - “news, information, data and reports which is or are wholly or partly false,” according to Reuters (March 26). The law covers all media, even foreign “if Malaysia or a Malaysian citizen” is mentioned.

It comes as Prime Minister Najib Razak is under a cloud of scrutiny for, allegedly, misappropriating money from the state investment company 1MDB. He says he has no idea how that money got into his personal bank accounts and that it’s “fake news.” And, too, elections are coming.

"We are gravely concerned in allowing one party to have unquestionable power to remove articles it disagrees with could be easily abused,“ said National Union of Journalists Peninsular Malaysia general secretary Chin Sung Chew, quoted by Malaysian news portal The Sun Daily (March 26). He noted the proposed law “states a removal order by the government against a publication that is possibly prejudicial to public order or national security cannot be applied to be set aside.”

"Fake news is now whatever the government says it is,” said Malaysiakini chief editor Steven Gan. “Two plus two do not make four, if the government says so. This Anti-Fake News Bill is plunging the country into an Orwellian nightmare."

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