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In The U.S., Rupert Murdoch is best known as the Australian owner of the Fox Broadcasting Company, the parent company of Fox News through which the mogul directs media marionettes such as Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly. Hard as it may be to imagine, Murdoch wields even greater power on the other side of the Atlantic as he revels in the role of ‘decider’ in UK politics. As owner of newspapers such as The Sun and The Times, as well as Sky television, Murdoch has never shied away from politicians’ plaudits and often uses his influence to a worrying degree.

The Sun, as Britain’s most-read newspaper, has long served as the tabloid bludgeon with which Murdoch beats politicians into submission. This was evidenced last week when the newspaper carried out a characteristically contemptible attack on Prime Minister Gordon Brown, formally ending the newspaper and Murdoch’s love affair with the Labour Party. Brown was lambasted as “Bloody Shameful” having handwritten a letter of condolence to the mother of a British soldier killed in Afghanistan. His crime was to have misspelled the name of the soldier in question, which led The Sun to mount its moral high horse and illogically conclude that he was “disrespecting our war dead.” More shameful still was Brown’s reaction, with the UK leader telephoning Murdoch to beg for better treatment.

Brown’s snivelling sycophancy is part of a disturbing trend where politicians cuddle up to Murdoch and his minions in a bid to gain favorable coverage. The Sun’s political zenith came in 1992, when it campaigned tirelessly for the sluggish Conservative Party and was credited by many pundits  for winning the election for then-leader John Major. The Sun’s influence was so unrestrained that, following a policy disagreement, its editor had the impudence to tell Prime Minister Major that he was going to pour “a large bucket of shit” over his head. Tony Blair quickly realized the extent of Murdoch’s power and courted the Australian prior to his 1997 election. The Sun consequently changed sides and supported the Labour Party through Blair’s ten years at the top. In exchange, Blair’s government developed policies in sync with The Sun’s editorial line. One example occurred in August 2003 when The Sun printed a full week of coverage dedicated to criticizing asylum-seekers. One of Blair’s top ministers, David Blunkett, subsequently wrote an article for the paper supporting The Sun’s stance. It later transpired that the campaign was the result of a co-ordinated effort between The Sun and the Government.

Unfortunately for the Labour Party and Gordon Brown, the Conservatives under David Cameron have successfully wooed Murdoch and friends, with The Sun annoucing its switch the day after Brown delivered a major speech at his own party’s conference. Combine the Sun’s headlines with Brown’s disastrous premiership and the Labour Party are destined for a mammoth loss at next year’s general election. Yet as Murdoch and his cronies begin to use their leverage over the new Conservative government, it is British democracy that stands to be the real loser.

Michael Collins, November 2009

michael.mc.collins@gmail.com

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As I sat down to write this post about the blogging scene in Iran, I stumbled upon this excellent video about just that subject.  Check it out!

“Iran: A Nation of Bloggers” was made by Vancouver Film School students Aaron Chiesa, Toru Kageyama, Hendy Sukyara, and Lisa Temes, and written by Kate Tremillis. The video uses powerful illustrations (inspired by Marjane Satratpi‘s “Pesepolis“) to show how for many Iranians blogging is the most effective way to express themselves. Online forums can empower them to discuss and debate topics that are banned from the public discourse.

This video highlights the fact that blogging is a risky endeavor for Iranian citizens. According to Reporters Without Borders, “Iran has the biggest number of threatened cyber-dissidents in the Middle East and dozens of websites are shut down each year”. Some high-profile arrests of bloggers have recently made international headlines. Hossein Derakhshan, referred to as the “Blogfather” of the Iranian blogosphere, is reported to have been arrested for charges of spying for Israel, a crime punishable by death. Another blogger, Shahnaz Gulami, has also been arrested for blogging about Iran’s treatment of ethnic minorities.

The government has felt so threatened by the blossoming of dissident blogs that the Iran Human Rights Voice is reporting that the Revolutionary Guard has started 10,000 weblogs “for the purposes of adding “quality content” to the Internet” and to establish “the presence of the guards in the weblog publishing domain”. Even Iranian President, Mahmood Ahmadinejahd has his own blog.

Iranian Internet users also face the additional challenge of Internet censorship. The government has banned as many as five million websites, including YouTube and Facebook. All Internet Service Providers, or ISPs, must be approved by the Ministry of Culture and must install filters that block all sites and emails deemed inappropriate. All websites must also register with the Ministry. Internet censorship is certainly limited to Iran. Other countries, including Turkey, China, and even Australia, use, or are considering using, filters to block their citizens’ access to illegal and offensive material.

But despite all of these challenges, Iranian bloggers continue to publish their opinions, thoughts, hopes, and criticisms. The diversity of opinion among Iranian bloggers is remarkable. While some call for democracy and reform, others debate the tenants of Islamic law. Still others discuss their personal lives or post poetry and art. Like bloggers around the world, their goal is to express themselves. Hopefully someday that expression will not have to be limited to the Internet.

As I’m sure you have heard by now, Osama bin Laden released a new videotape.

There are a number of theories in play at the moment as to his primary goal, some of which I will discuss below in addition to my own views on the matter.

The message serves a number of purposes. First and foremost, it confirms his continued existence for both his followers and adversaries. There has been speculation in various circles pertaining to his health and ability to elude those who are looking for him. The image he presents is younger and more vigorous then those in the past, bolstering the resolve of his organization and perhaps twisting the thorn in the side of the United States and its allies. That is the primary goal of this tape, and there are there other secondary objectives, which come into play but may not be readily apparent.

Why he is doing it at this point in time remains a key factor in current news cycle. The timed release of this tape has strategic importance for what he intends to accomplish and is critical to his secondary objectives. With General Petraeus and top military advisers ready to deliver their findings on the situation in Iraq this week, the conflict and the Middle East will remain in the spotlight. The continued voice of the mastermind behind 9/11 will never be far from discussion. It’s a key underlying factor that needs to be recognized: he is releasing this tape now to capitalize on the media coverage of Iraq and the Middle East.

Within the tape itself he mentions Iraq in addition to bringing up the pain and suffering of the 9/11 attacks. The inflammatory commentary is designed with two distinct possibilities in mind, which merits further discussion, and would serve to support his organizations long-term goals. These are what I feel best summarize his goals with the release of the video:

It is his hope and in the best interests of his organization for the United States to remain in Iraq and continue to pour its resources into the conflict to the point of destabilizing the nation at home. As much as Bin Laden may criticize the United States, capitalism, and the West; he is highly educated and has an in depth understanding of his adversary and how to strike at them. Think back to the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. In addition to tragedy and pain they caused the nation, they also represented the financial heart of country.

By the United States remaining in Iraq and the Middle East it would serve as a rallying point around his cause. If you take out the U.S. presence it would detract from his ability to point to the “Great White Satan” and their continued violation of The Holy Land. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the military and American presence in Iraq has actually served to increase his credibility and standing in the Islamic world as opposed to striking at the enemy that attacked the country.

If the videotape plays again and again over the course of the week and the media discusses Osama Bin Laden at great length, then his objectives would have been achieved. He would have manipulated the American media into carrying out his own agenda and spreading his message to organizational members and the world.

The height of ironies: Osama Bin Laden using freedom of speech within the United States of America.

If leadership in the United States really wants to focus on handcuffing Bin Laden as much as possible, they should publicly ignore the videotape and give it virtually no airtime. Do not discuss it in press briefings and implore the major media outlets to play it as little as possible or not at all.

The successful strategy to combating violent extremism in the world today is to isolate credibility. The information saturated media environment we exist in is determined by whom we see and hear. By giving Bin Laden an international stage and platform to use, it will only undermine the national security and stability of the United States.

In the long run, the way to combat extremism is by portraying reactionaries and violent individuals for where they are: outside credibility and outside the civilized world.

Hey guys,

Just thought I’d draw your attention to a new web-based radio station that has been getting quite a bit of press here in the UK. It’s called ‘Salaam Shalom’ and it describes itself as "an online radio station broadcasting a mixture of music and speech and focus on the many aspects of Jewish and Muslim life and allow two cultures which have been linked for thousands of years to talk together and share their experiences."

Salaam Shalom is run by young Jews and Muslims and claims to speak on behalf of the ‘moderate majority’, whose voices are rarely heard in a mainstream media.

Here’s the website if you want to check it out www.salaamshalom.org

Fourteen reprisal killings of Russian journalists since 2000 (when current president Vladimir Putin entered office) have had a chilling effect on Russia’s increasingly fearful and watched free press. International outcry about the plight of Russia’s journalists has built slowly but is now reaching a crescendo, with the EU, Council of Europe, OSCE and many, many human rights and press freedom NGOs slamming the Russian Government for its silence and perpetuation of impunity in response to the spate of journalist murders.

Four days ago, the first sentences in seven years were handed down in a case of the murder of a Russian journalist. It’s a crumb of justice, but I can’t help but suspect that even this much is, at least partially, a response to outside pressure.

From the IHT.

Russian court convicts 7 in journalist’s killing
Friday, August 31, 2007

MOSCOW: A Russian court has convicted seven men in the 2000 murder of journalist Igor Domnikov — one of more than a dozen cases of journalists being killed during President Vladimir Putin’s years in power.

The Domnikov case represented the first time suspects were prosecuted in a journalist’s killing since Putin became president in 2000.

Domnikov, who wrote extensively on official corruption for the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, died two months after being repeatedly hit in the head with a hammer outside his Moscow apartment building.

On Wednesday, a court in the city of Kazan sentenced four men to life in prison, and three others to prison terms ranging from 18 to 25 years after finding them guilty of killing 23 men, including Domnikov, and of eight kidnappings, regional court official Enza Galiulina said.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says at least 14 journalists have been killed since 2000 in reprisal for their reporting. Freedom of press has shrunk notably under Putin, with the government establishing control over all major television channels.

A free, safe, and responsible press is vital to any liberal state. It’s absence, or disappearance, is almost always a sign of darker things to come. These are bad times for the Russian press. For my part, I’ll do everything I can to show solidarity, and add my voice to the chorus calling for greater freedom for, and protection of, journalists in Russia.

The first day of the Rabat, Morocco, conference has just come to a close! We’re all exhausted, but very pleased with the way it turned out! Al Jazeera (Qatar-based pan-Arab TV station) was there broadcasting introductions and two of the three panels all day, which adds a bit of excitement to the mix. In the US, Al Jazeera is perceived as quite negative, portraying a skewed image of the US to the world, but for all of the Middle East, it’s THE moderate news source. But I’ll return to press coverage later…

I kicked off the conference to a room of 80+ with a welcome and introductions including a picture of the rather dismal world opinion of the US. I detailed the purpose of the two-day conference, to increase cross-cultural understanding, to give young people a voice because they so often fall on deaf ears, and to create a space for Americans and Moroccans to discuss their countries’ policies in a neutral forum. Conference partners James Liddell of the Project on Middle East Democracy (Georgetown-based student group) and the President of the Moroccan Center for Strategic Studies spoke about the importance of such a dialogue at this very critical time in history.

Introductions were followed with some very knowledgeable and renowned scholars, activists, and politicians. The first day had three panels entitled:

1) “Talking About Democracy”

2) “US Democracy Promotion Projects in Morocco”

3) “Security in the context of US-Morocco Relations”

All of the panels were fascinating, but perhaps the most fun to watch due to the tension among the panels (and the one that received the most bizarre and misinformed press coverage) was the third panel.

The third panel included the President of the research center partner organization, a Moroccan from a local NGO currently staging a boycott against the American Embassy, and an American Government representative. Awkward? Younes Foudil of the Moroccan NGO participating in the boycott went head-to-head with Craig Karp, the seasoned diplomat from the American Embassy in Rabat (in a very civilized and respectful way, as professionals do, of course. Sorry kids, little to no Jerry Springer action).

Karp, of the Embassy, generously told Foudil that he was encouraged by the development of Moroccan civil society and its realization that boycotting and striking are powerful tools to social change (even boycotting his work….quite generous). Despite the impressiveness of all three panelists, the audience directed a barrage of questions solely at Karp—questions ranging from—more or less—“how do you sleep at night” to more nuanced, less personally offensive questions about official policy towards the contested southern region of Morocco (or region south of Morocco, depending on who you talk to). The first day ended on a high note with applause and positive energy that participants will take to tomorrow’s day of dialogue.

And now for some comic relief: As we all filed outside to the pool terrace of the hotel for Moroccan mint tea and cookies in our business suits, we came across a rather curious sight. Right in the middle of our tea break space was a European couple lounging by the pool facedown, in bikini and speedo, I had to chuckle to myself as Al Jazeera started setting up its cameras to interview us and had to move to avoid this h’shuma (shameful according to Islam) sight.

Laurel Rapp

Rabat, Morocco

Written on May 25, 2007

Fortunately, there are some bright spots at Cornell and students who are taking on the Cornell American for their intolerance (see my earlier post below). Here’s one bright spot — a great letter from Elisabeth Stern to Cornell’s President David Skorton:

Dear President Skorton and Ms. Ann K. Huntzinger,

I am writing to address a distressing article that was published recently in The Cornell American. I know that as a University dedicated to freedom, human rights, tolerance, and equality that you will surely agree that The Muslim Educational and Cultural Association’s annual Islam Awareness Week 2007 was an active and valuable contribution to the Cornell community.

Unfortunately, at least some of those at The Cornell American do not agree. I am aware that Cornell University supports and protects the right to freedom of speech. I agree that freedom of speech is crucial to the values that our community and nation stand on. However, the article on Islam Awareness Week, published in The Cornell American, contradicts those same values. The article not only mocks Muslim people and stereotypes all Muslim people as terrorists, but was an attempt to undermine others’ efforts to break such gross misconceptions. This article projects a frightening message of disrespect and discrimination. One can only hope that it is not a precursor to an even more overt act of intolerance. Even more terrifying, this is not the first time. The Cornell American has repeatedly exhibited support for active discrimination, inequality, and bigotry. The Cornell American is a source of budding intolerance on campus and a disgrace to the Cornell community at large.

Attached is an email that I received today from the president of Americans for Informed Democracy (AID), Mr. Seth Green. It was he who alerted me to this incorrigible article. I have worked with AID on multiple projects to address issues such as the genocide in Darfur, the global environment, and the malaria epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa. I value their activism, support, and contributions to the attainment of global human rights. This article directly attacked the efforts of AID and similar organizations. I believe that in order to redeem the University as a whole, these issues must be publicly addressed.

I understand that the students responsible for this did not explicitly break a rule. I am not asking for the students involved to be punished. However, just as it is their right to compose and publish this article, it is your right to denounce it.

The article at hand, in itself, is not an act of persecution. However, it is a clear statement of support for discrimination against Muslim people. As I’m sure you are aware, most physical acts of discrimination (hate crimes) are preluded by words of generalized indifference or hate towards the group attacked. I urge you to take action now by reiterating your beliefs about the importance of tolerance to the Cornell community. Furthermore, I hope that you will re-evaluate ways in which to actively implement Cornell’s motto: Open Doors, Open Hearts, Open Minds.

If you are interested in discussing this further, I would be more than glad to. Thank you for attentiveness to this threat to the Cornell community.

Sincerely,

Elisabeth A. Stern

I am posting to let you know about a deeply disturbing article in “The Cornell American” that has recently come to our attention at the central office of Americans for Informed Democracy. As you know, our organization works very hard to build understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims because we believe that what we have in common is far greater than what separates us. And we have been amazed throughout most of our work at the tolerance and understanding of young people to see past some of the prejudices of our time.

But unfortunately, the editors at the Cornell American do not share our value of tolerance and instead they seem quite set on promoting a clash of civilizations. A recent article they published is below. It is absolutely unconscionable. To stereotype all Muslims as terrorists is insensitive, inaccurate and most of all dangerous. We are living in a time where relations are already tense. The last thing we need is irresponsible journalists who seek to play on this tension with demeaning and empty rhetoric.
I am posting their piece here so you do not need to visit their website. The last thing we want to do is draw more traffic to their site. If you are as angered by this article as we are, let them know by e-mailing: editor@cornellamerican.com. You may also want to e-mail Cornell University’s President to ask him president.@cornell.edu.


Thanks for taking this matter seriously.


HERE IS THE ARTICLE FROM THE CORNELL AMERICAN


Islam Awareness Week 2007!

This past week, The Muslim Educational and Cultural Association held its annual Islam Awareness Week 2007. As if Islam wasn’t made painfully aware to Americans already, we at The Cornell American decided to co-sponsor some events of our own. The following schedule of events this past week were both enlightening and entertaining…

Monday, 4/9

4:30 — Book signing with Moqtada al-Sadr at the Cornell Store
Come with your copies of “The American, the Infidel, and Jew” to be signed by
Iraq’s biggest militia personality.

7:00 — Cornell Cinema Presents: The Bin Laden Tapes
With commentary and Q & A session with Cornell’s resident expert on Middle Eastern affairs, Laura Taylor. At Willard Straight Hall.

Tuesday, 4/10

3:30 — Campus-wide militant riot. Meet at CJL. B.Y.O. AK-47.

5:00 — Flag-burning on Ho Plaza
Denounce the imperialist agressors.

8:00 — Sunni-Shia Hockey Showdown at Lynah Rink
Losers beheaded according to the will of Allah.

Wednesday, 4/11

4:30 — IED Construction Dos and Don’ts with the Chemistry Department
(Baker 101 E) What has some bang? What fizzles? Don’t embarrass yourself—come to this instructional seminar!

7:30 — Make your own kidnapping video with the Film Department
(Schwartz SB23) Ropes, victims, masks, and large blades provided.

10:00 — CUTV presents Jimmy Carter’s self-detonation for Palestinian rights
Broadcast live from
Haifa.

Thursday, 4/12

10:00 — Okenshields “Oil for Food”
Instead of meal plan, Okenshields will trade full-day passes to the dining hall for a pint of crude.

1:30 — Taliban fighter recruitment with John Walker Lindh
(Barton Hall) Want to make a statement? Get involved with the “American Taliban!”

8:30 — Burqa Beauty Pageant @ Schwartz Auditorium in Rockefeller Hall
Grand Prize: Be stoned to death for being a shameless harlot. Runner-up gets a goat.

Friday, 4/13

Noon — Jihad on Day Hall
Occupy Day Hall until the Campus Code of Conduct is changed to reflect sharia law!

9:30 — Public Execution of Eric Shive
Round out your Islam Awareness Week by helping dispose of this campus’s biggest infidel!

* Camel Parking provided.

** Security at all events provided by CUPD and Hezbollah.

The FP Passport Blog links to a new report by Jill Carroll (the CS Monitor who was kidnapped in Iraq last year) about the latest endangered species: foreign correspondents.  Carroll notes that the numbers of foreign correspondents, the reporters that live and report from overseas, have dropped significantly both among television networks and newspapers.  Many news managers are cutter down on their foreign bureaus in order to cut costs, but a lot of valuable insight is being cut, too.

As Carroll writes: "The quality of the information provided by the news media determines to a large extent the quality of the national debate and resulting policies. Having many sources of good quality, in-depth, insightful, well-informed foreign reporting is essential to keeping the national debate vigorous and churning. This moral argument won’t hold sway in many boardrooms, but the financial incentives to produce good quality foreign news should. Hopefully financial decision makers will have the foresight to realize they are drastically undervaluing foreign news coverage and have the wisdom to hang onto and invest in this valuable asset."

Carroll’s report shows that 249 total foreign newspaper correspondents were employed in 2006 (down from 2000 and 2002).  A whopping 109 of those correspondents are employed by the Wall Street Journal!!–which leaves a sparse 141 foreign correspondents at all the other newspapers in the country.  The LA Times comes in second to the Wall Street Journal with 30 foreign correspondents.  As news consumers, we should do what we can to show news producers that we care about good foreign affairs coverage, which means foreign affairs coverage at least sometimes from foreign bureau.

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