Press freedom waning in Hong Kong

china hric_umbrellaPress freedom in Hong Kong, long an enclave of liberties in the shadow of mainland China, is increasingly threatened, with journalists assaulted, news organizations censoring stories and advertisers shunning publications that rile the authorities, according to a new report, The New York Times reports:  

The report by the PEN American Center, a New York-based writers’ group, catalogs developments that it says amount to an alarming erosion of Hong Kong’s tradition of freewheeling news media, including self-censorship: journalists avoiding topics or skewing coverage at the behest of superiors.

“We’re ringing an early warning bell to say there are troubling signs,” Suzanne Nossel, the executive director of PEN American Center, said in an interview in Hong Kong. “When you see the pattern that comes together, it’s pretty disturbing, and there’s a sense of a deliberate hand in all of this.”


21st century censorship


Columbia Journalism Review

Columbia Journalism Review

Two beliefs safely inhabit the canon of contemporary thinking about journalism, Philip Bennett and Moises Naim write for the Columbia Journalism Review:

The first is that the internet is the most powerful force disrupting the news media. The second is that the internet and the communication and information tools it spawned, like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, are shifting power from governments to civil society and to individual bloggers, netizens, or “citizen journalists.”

It is hard to disagree with these two beliefs. Yet they obscure evidence that governments are having as much success as the internet in disrupting independent media and determining the information that reaches society. Moreover, in many poor countries or in those with autocratic regimes, government actions are more important than the internet in defining how information is produced and consumed, and by whom.


Moisés Naím is a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance NGO.

Hard-Pressed: Central and Eastern Europe’s media

transitionsonlineThe fall of communism brought with it expectations of an unfettered press safeguarding the young democracies of Central and Eastern Europe. But for the region’s media, the past quarter-century has turned out to be much less uplifting.

hard pressedFrom oligarch-controlled television stations to politically partisan newspapers, from woeful ethical standards to outright corruption, the media often fall far short of acting as independent watchdogs over their societies, despite the existence of some scrappy publications and feisty reporters willing to uncover official wrongdoing and expose poor governance. If that weren’t enough, the region’s press has been hit hard by the same trends transforming the media around the world, including an explosion of alternative forms of entertainment, the growth of social media, decreased advertising revenues associated with the rise of the Internet, and general economic malaise.

Hard-Pressed: a quarter-century of Central and Eastern Europe’s media under the pressures of autocracy, corruption, and capitalism, an e-book  from Transitions (TOL) is a compilation of articles tracing this halting transition over the past 20 years.   It is available on Amazon. Proceeds will contribute to further developing TOL’s content and journalism projects.

Tightening the net: governments expand online controls

internet freedom fhInternet freedom around the world has declined for the fourth consecutive year, with a growing number of countries introducing online censorship and monitoring practices that are simultaneously more aggressive and more sophisticated in their targeting of individual users,  a new Freedom House report concludes.

In a departure from the past, when most governments preferred a behind-the-scenes approach to internet control, countries are rapidly adopting new laws that legitimize existing repression and effectively criminalize online dissent, according to Sanja Kelly, Madeline Earp, Laura Reed, Adrian Shahbaz, and Mai Truong, co-authors of Freedom on the Net 2014. 

As a result, more people are being arrested for their internet activity than ever before, online media outlets are increasingly pressured to censor themselves or face legal penalties, and private companies are facing new demands to comply with government requests for data or deletions….The growing restrictions at the national level are also changing the nature of the global internet, transforming it from a worldwide network into a fragmented mosaic, with both the rules and the accessible content varying from one country to another. 

Blocking and filtering—once the most widespread methods of censorship—are still very common, but many countries now prefer to simply imprison users who post undesirable content, thereby deterring others and encouraging self-censorship. This approach can present the appearance of a technically uncensored internet while effectively limiting certain types of speech. Meanwhile, physical violence against internet users appears to have decreased in scope.

In 2013, Freedom House documented 26 countries where government critics and human rights defenders were subjected to beatings and other types of physical violence in connection with their online activity; that number fell to 22 in 2014.

Key Reasons for Decline in Internet Freedom, 2013–14:

  • Proliferation of repressive laws
  • Increased surveillance
  • New regulatory controls over online media
  • More arrests of social-media users
  • Intensified demands on private sector
  • New threats facing women and LGBTI population
  • More sophisticated and widespread cyberattacks


Russia’s Counter–Color Revolution Doctrine


putinRussia is planning to enshrine non-nuclear deterrence and counter–color revolution strategies into its military doctrine, notes Jamestown analyst Roger McDermott.

Army-General (retired) Yury Baluyevskiy, the former chief of the General Staff (CGS) refers to the United States monitoring the military-political situation in regions of the world deemed to be in its national interests, and using a “strategy of indirect action,” which represents a comprehensive approach—with diplomatic, economic and informational aspects, he writes:

Here he turns to the effectiveness of “non-violent” actions in the color revolution model and applies this to Ukraine in the fall of 2013 and the departure of the legitimate government in February 2014: “In this connection, the potential likelihood remains of employment of transnational and illegal [irregular] armed force elements for the purpose of a violent change in the existing state system and disruption of the state’s territorial integrity; and such a development of events cannot be excluded for Russia, as well, in the foreseeable future. The potential danger of an abrupt exacerbation of domestic problems with a subsequent escalation to the level of internal armed conflict is a real threat to our country’s stability and territorial integrity for the mid-term outlook.

Information warfare with a mass effect on the awareness of the population of individual countries and of the world public with the use of cyber weapons for suppressing not just military command-and-control and communications systems already has become reality and an integral part of all armed conflicts,” Baluyevskiy observes (Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, November 12).

In other words, as the top brass presenters during the Moscow Security Conference in May 2014 consistently stressed, “color revolution” may be perceived as a potential threat to the Russian state, McDermott notes:

The Russian reading of the Euromaidan mass protests in Ukraine earlier this year, consequently, must be understood in this context—viewing these events as an illegal revolution sweeping the legitimate government from power and lacking widespread popular support.

While Russia has clearly conducted an information campaign against Kyiv, it is also asserted by Russian defense specialists that the West is currently engaged in information operations against Russia. This perception is illustrated by Vasily Burenok, the president of the Russian Academy of Missile and Artillery Sciences, who argues that the aim of such a campaign is to “discredit” the Russian leadership and to destroy it.