Promoting Free Media: Informing the 1989 Velvet Revolution

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Czechs and Slovaks regained their freedom in November 1989 through non-violent protests in Prague, Bratislava, and other towns of then Czechoslovakia. Their Velvet Revolution climaxed a decade of renewed civic challenges to a repressive Communist regime that began with Charter 77 dissidents including Vaclav Havel and accelerated after 1986. Deprived of objective information about developments in their own country, Czechs and Slovaks turned to the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and other Western broadcasters for information. Only through Western radio did they learn about accelerating challenges to Communist orthodoxy in Poland, Hungary, and the Soviet Union and about ferment in their own country.

Twenty five years after the Velvet Revolution, Europe today is whole and free, but democracy and prerequisite independent media are on the decline in much of the former Soviet Union and elsewhere. RFE/RL, now operating from Prague, VOA, Radio Free Asia, Middle East Broadcasting Network, and Radio Marti, all publicly funded by the U.S. Congress, work to redress the information deficit.

The first panel will review the contribution of Western broadcasting to the successful Velvet Revolution and consider lessons from that experience. A second panel will examine the challenge faced today by the United States in providing objective information to authoritarian countries and in applying principles of successful Cold War broadcasting to communicating with unfree societies.

RFE/RL, the Embassy of the Czech Republic and the Woodrow Wilson Center invite you to a panel discussion on

Promoting Free Media: Informing the 1989 Velvet Revolution and the Challenge Today

Thursday, October 16, 2014 2:00pm – 6:00pm 5th Floor Conference Room Wilson Center Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center One Woodrow Wilson Plaza 1300 Pennsylvania, Ave. NW Washington, D.C. 20004

RSVP HERE

Panel One – Western Broadcasting to Czechoslovakia 2:00pm-3:30pm A. Ross Johnson Wilson Center Senior Scholar (moderator) Petr Gandalovic Ambassador of the Czech Republic Jiri Pehe Director, New York University Prague Center (via Internet) R. Eugene Parta Former Chair, Conference of International Broadcasters Audience Research and former Director, RFE/RL Audience and Opinion Research Pavel Pechacek Former director, VOA Czechoslovak Service; former director, RFE/RL Czechoslovak and Czech Services Alexandr Vondra Former Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Defense Minister of the Czech Republic; former Czech Ambassador to the U.S. (via Internet)

Panel Two – Promoting Free Media Today 3:30pm-5:00pm Blair A. Ruble  Vice President for Programs; Director, Urban Sustainability Laboratory; and Senior Advisor, Kennan Institute  (moderator) David Kramer President, Freedom House Kevin Klose Professor, Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland; former President, RFE/RL, Inc.; former President, National Public Radio Nenad Pejic Editor in Chief, RFE/RL Tania Chomiak-Salvi Deputy Coordinator for International Information Programs, US Department of State

Reception to follow RSVP HERE

Russia’s international media ‘weaponized’ to poison minds

 

russia todayAt a time when Russia’s image in Europe and the U.S. has sunk to extreme lows, the Kremlin has announced dramatic new plans to increase spending on foreign propaganda, according to George Washington University’s Robert Orttung and the National Endowment for Democracy’s Christopher Walker. The Russian state budget includes a 41 percent increase for RT, the state-backed television network that broadcasts around the world in a number of languages. Rossiya Segodnya, the successor to the now defunct global news agency RIA Novosti, is set to see a tripling of its budget, they write for the Moscow Times:

The Kremlin is focused on poisoning minds through an insidious mix of information designed to muddy the media waters and disorient international audiences. ….It is telling that the growth in resources devoted to media beyond Russia’s borders is now outstripping those within them. At home, the Kremlin’s censorship and mass media control prevent alternative ideas from entering mainstream discussion and enable the government to dominate crucial narratives.

The Kremlin’s international propaganda applies a similarly cynical and manipulative approach, where it insinuates, for instance, that all societies are thoroughly corrupt and craven, suggesting moral equivalence between autocracies and democracies. RT unloads an endless stream of material seeking to portray the West, especially the U.S., in the most decadent of ways…..

As media analyst Peter Pomerantsev observed, debunking false information is time-consuming and expensive; the Kremlin’s fabrication of information is easy and relatively cheap. While the Kremlin tightens restrictions on the Internet at home, state media takes advantage of opportunities to make deeper inroads online beyond Russia’s borders. RT’s YouTube channel has garnered more than 1.3 billion views. Even accounting for clicks from phony accounts, this is a staggering number. 

Russia and authoritarian regimes claim that their media outlets are just like Deutsche Welle, BBC or Agence France-Presse, Orttung and Walker observe:

But RT operates under the direction of unchecked authoritarian political power and is therefore an entirely different enterprise. Accordingly, it should not be understood as a news outlet, but instead seen for what it is: a weaponized media instrument.

While it denies any meaningful space at home for independent voices, beyond its borders the Kremlin is flooding the media space with half-truths and outright lies with the aim of polluting audiences’ understanding of the world.

Given the serious stakes involved, the democracies must devise a far more thoughtful response  to meet the dual challenge of Russia’s intensifying censorship and modern propaganda, they conclude.  

Robert Orttung is assistant director of the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at the George Washington University’s Elliott School for International Affairs. Christopher Walker is executive director of the International Forum for Democratic Studies at the National Endowment for Democracy.

                                                                                                                           

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Ecuador ‘following Russia’s lead’ – USAID forced out

USAIDUnder pressure from Ecuador’s left-wing government, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is shutting down its operations in the South American nation after 53 years, John Otis reports for NBC News:

In a telephone interview with GlobalPost, Adam Namm, the US ambassador to Ecuador, called the decision “very disappointing.” But it was no surprise. The government in Quito had refused to allow Washington’s aid agency to renew its programs or start any new activity in the country.

President Rafael Correa is a fierce US critic who has already pulled the plug on US counter-narcotics operations at a Pacific coast base and expelled Namm’s predecessor as well as 14 US military advisers, whom he claimed were infiltrating Ecuador’s security forces.

The agency had worked in Ecuador for 53 years and spent more than $800 million in development projects, AFP adds:

The US embassy has said it tried for two years to reach a deal that would allow USAID to keep working in the South American country.

“Officials can now essentially decide what groups may say or do, seriously undermining their role as a check on the government,” Jose Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director for Human Rights Watch, said after Correa signed Decree 16.

Vivanco added: “Instead of adopting reasonable measures to facilitate the work of NGOs, the Correa administration is following the lead of countries such as Russia, Bahrain, Uganda, and Venezuela, which have imposed unjustified restrictions that violate fundamental rights and limit spaces that are critical to democratic society.”

Since Decree 16 went into effect, several other Ecuadorean NGOs have closed their doors, NBC adds:

So has Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Foundation, which runs civic education programs in more than 100 countries and is affiliated with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union political party.

The foundation said the group was shutting its Ecuador office Sept. 1 due to the government’s “increasing control” over NGO work. Quito’s international cooperation department “reserved the right to see and ultimately modify [independent organizations'] plans,” Konrad Adenauer Foundation director Winfried Weck told Germany’s Deutsche Welle…..

About 10 percent of USAID’s $12 million annual budget for Ecuador was earmarked for “democracy and governance” programs. For example, the Quito-based free expression group Fundamedios received about $280,000 from USAID in 2011…..

“The attacks against NGOs have been fierce,” said Cesar Ricaurte, the director of Fundamedios. “The government tries to paint us as destabilizing the country.”

RTWT

Kremlin targets journalists investigating deaths of Russian soldiers

 

Credit: BBC

Credit: BBC

Journalists investigating the deaths of Russian soldiers that news reports claimed were killed during Russia’s alleged involvement in Ukraine’s conflict have been targeted in a series of attacks since late August, writes Elena Milashina, Moscow Correspondent for the Committee to Protect Journalists. The attacks, mostly by unknown assailants, began after they tried to investigate the mysterious deaths of Russian soldiers.

According to the Glasnost Defense Foundation (GDF), the Moscow-based press freedom group, attacks on local and international journalists covering the story have spiked. In at least five cases in August, GDF documented threats, arbitrary detentions, denial of access to public information, use of violence, and physical assaults……

The attacks started after the independent newspaper Pskovskaya Guberniya, published a series of reports claiming members of 76th Division had been deployed secretly to eastern Ukraine, and had been actively involved in the conflict with pro-Russia separatists. Russia denies the claims. On August 29, the newspaper’s publisher, Lev Shlosberg, who is also a politician with the opposition party Yabloko, was the victim of a vicious attack that he said was in retaliation for his paper’s investigation into the deaths of Russian paratroopers in Ukraine. In a series of reports, the newspaper alleged that up to 100 soldiers from Pskov were killed in eastern Ukraine in August. …..

On Tuesday, Shlosberg filed a formal request asking the office of the Russian general prosecutor to investigate the deaths of 12 soldiers who served in Pskov region, the Moscow-based independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported.

After he filed the request, the state-owned news channel Vesti released a lengthy report on Shlosberg’s case. But instead of following up on his inquiry, the broadcaster portrayed him as a traitor and recipient of foreign grants, including from the U.S. government-funded National Endowment for Democracy.

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Tying up the internet, Balkanizing the digital world

iraninternet freedom ftConcerns are rising that efforts to protect citizens from foreign surveillance will Balkanize the digital world. Blocking websites, bottling up information so it cannot flow freely around the world and ramping up the monitoring of people who are online are becoming increasingly common ways to manage the internet – and not just in authoritarian countries, according to a special FT report: .

Developments such as these are often depicted as a fight between the forces of darkness, represented by reactionary governments, and the forces of light, in the form of internet idealists trying to keep the medium open, says Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, a professor of internet policy at Oxford university.

But that perception is a fiction, he says. “A global commons of the internet was something that never existed. It was a useful aspirational thing for internet companies.” In reality, he adds, “there were always vacuums of power on the internet, which were seized by different organisations”.

One danger, however, is that the cause of defending a nation’s citizens is being used as a pretext for repressive political action. This year Turkey banned YouTube and Twitter for carrying allegations of political corruption, though the bans were overturned in the country’s constitutional court.

“The law used to be about protecting children from harmful content,” says Yaman Akdeniz, a law professor at Istanbul’s Bilgi university. “Now it is all about protecting government from content they deem undesirable.”

If even democracies cannot be trusted as stewards of an open internet, the power of all governments must be kept in check by companies and civil society through processes based in a common commitment to keep cyber space free and interconnected, argues Rebecca MacKinnon, the author of ‘Consent of the Networked’ and director of the Ranking Digital Rights project at the New America Foundation:

But if companies are to win civil society over to their side, activists must be able to trust them not to violate their privacy or restrict speech. Strengthening trust in public and private institutions that shape the internet should be a priority for anyone with an interest – commercial, moral or personal – in keeping global networks open and free.

RTWT