TIME Burma

Burmese Journalists Sentenced to a Decade in Prison With Hard Labor

Myanmar Journalist Protest
Burmese journalists hold banners as they protest for press freedom outside the office of the Daily Eleven newspaper in Rangoon on Jan. 7, 2014. Khin Maung Win—AP

Five journalists were handed astonishingly harsh sentences for reporting about an alleged chemical-weapons plant in the central part of the country

Burma may no longer be a pariah state, but its courts have shown that the government’s authoritarian tendencies are alive and well.

On Thursday, a court in Pakokku Township sentenced the CEO of the Unity Weekly current-affairs magazine, and four of its reporters, to a decade in prison with hard labor for publishing an article earlier this year about the possible existence of a chemical-weapons factory in central Burma.

“This is blatant bullying of media workers by the government’s judicial and executive sectors,” Unity reporter Lu Maw Naing told Burmese broadcaster DVB Multimedia as policemen hustled him out of the courthouse.

Following the publication of the article in January, the government cracked down hard on the periodical. It was hit with a lawsuit by the President’s Office, issues of the magazine were seized and reporters were arrested. The journal was soon shuttered as financial pressures mounted.

While the government has confirmed the existence of the factory, Naypyidaw says it is for standard munitions and denies allegations that chemical weapons are being produced on the grounds. The claims are impossible to independently verify because Burma is a not signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

The former generals at the country’s helm remain sensitive about reporting on weapons programs launched by the former junta. Despite the easing of a smattering of sanctions against Burma in the past two years, several nations, including the U.S., have refused to drop sanctions that target members of the country’s shady military.

Thursday’s ruling is the latest in a series of developments that belie Burma’s reformist narrative. Opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi remains barred from holding the country’s highest office, the internal peace process is stagnating and the rise of Buddhist nationalism has ripped massive holes in the diverse country’s delicate social fabric.

In addition, the fourth estate now appears to be firmly in the government’s crosshairs. In the past year, reporters from DVB and Eleven Media have been jailed, and in May the government deported a foreign journalist for covering a press-freedom rally. The palpable optimism that wafted over the nation three years ago is waning rapidly.

“I think [this case] shows the true colors of this government,” Aung Zaw, editor of the Irrawaddy news magazine, tells TIME. “It’s a real reminder of the old days under the previous repressive regime.”

During a radio address to the nation earlier this month, President Thein Sein boasted that Burma’s media environment was one of the freest in Southeast Asia. However, he added the caveat that journalists who undermine “national security” would be punished.

“[If] media freedom threatens national security instead of helping the nation, I want to warn all that we will take effective action under existing laws,” said Thein Sein, according to a state-run publication.

Just a week later, the threat became reality for the reporters of Unity Weekly. The administration relied on the colonial-era Official Secrets Act to wallop the journalists rather than prosecuting them through newly passed media legislation.

“The authorities are clearly shifting from rule of law to rule by law,” says Benjamin Ismail, head of Reporters Without Borders’ Asia-Pacific desk.

“They are just trying to justify their censorship and repression of the press by showing the international community that legal procedures are followed and everything is normal.”

Editors on the ground say the financially ruinous lawsuit launched against Unity is part of the government’s elaborate strategy to silence dissent. With myriad publications struggling to keep their head above the water in the impoverished country, any legal action could prove disastrous.

“There’s a clear glass ceiling from the owners or the business side,” says Toe Zaw Latt, DVB’s Burma bureau chief. “Once there is trouble, of course you lose money.”

Harassment of editors also appears to be on the rise. In the past two weeks, numerous press offices have reportedly been party to unannounced visits from officers from the military’s special branch.

“They come to our office and other media offices asking petty questions: ‘How are you making money?’ ‘Are you making a lot of business?’ ‘Are you making a profit?’” says Aung Zaw. “It’s clearly intimidation.”

TIME Thailand

Thailand’s Junta Arrests an Editor Over a Facebook Comment

Thailand's Military Coup Continues As General Prayuth Receives Royal Endorsement
A man shows his mobile phone while riding the Bangkok sky train on May 28, 2014. A widespread Facebook outage occurred in Thailand one afternoon while the ruling military junta who staged a coup denied causing it. Paula Bronstein—Getty Images

The military continues to silence critics of the May 22 coup

Thailand’s ruling junta set another disturbing precedent over the weekend after arresting a magazine editor in retaliation for comments he published on his Facebook page on July 4.

In his message, Thanapol Eawsakul, the editor of Fah Diew Khan magazine, said that military authorities had instructed him to refrain from making critical remarks about the junta. He was taken into custody the following day by soldiers clothed in civilian attire.

This is the second time Thanapol has been taken into custody since the army seized power from the country’s caretaker government in late May. He is expected to be held in “administrative detention” for at least seven days.

“Arresting an editor for a Facebook criticism of military rule shows just how far the junta will go to silence critics,” Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “The military can neither arrest all critics nor wish them out of existence.”

Fah Diew Khan is largely associated with the country’s Red Shirt movement, which supports the popularly elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra that was removed from power during the coup.

In a barely disguised display of media favoritism, the junta appointed the chairman of Post Publishing, which owns several periodicals that reportedly have strong ties to Thailand’s ruling class, to the 10-member advisory board it set up days after the coup.

Since seizing the reins of power, the military has relied on the interment of protest leaders, politicians, analysts and journalists critical of their policies to smother dissent.

On May 28, the junta briefly suspended access to Facebook before quickly reinstating the connection. While the military later denied blocking Facebook, a spokesperson from Norwegian telecommunications firm Telenor, which operates the second largest network in Thailand, admitted that the firm did so for one hour after being instructed by Thailand’s National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission.

TIME Law

Supreme Court News Blog Is Yet Again Denied Press Credentials

Two men talk as the sun rises over the Supreme Court in Washington
Two men talk as the sun rises over the Supreme Court in Washington on June 23, 2014 Kevin Lamarque—Reuters

Never mind the awards it has won or the influence it exerts — there is apparently a "conflict of interest" in SCOTUSblog's coverage

What’s particularly ironic — and maybe impressive — about SCOTUSblog’s 12 successful years covering the U.S. Supreme Court is that its reporters aren’t allowed in the courtroom on which they’re reporting.

Not through their employer, at least. The U.S. Senate has once again denied the blog’s appeal for press credentials at the nation’s highest court, citing a conflict on interest: Tom Goldstein, SCOTUSblog’s publisher, is the founding partner of a law firm that deals primarily in cases argued before the Supreme Court.

“Having found that SCOTUSblog fails the fundamental test of editorial independence, the committee looked no further at other questions raised by this application,” the Senate’s Standing Committee of Correspondents wrote in an open letter to Goldstein on Monday. “If SCOTUSblog were to take additional steps to separate itself from Goldstein & Russell and any other lawyer or law firm who is arguing before the Supreme Court, we would welcome a new application.”

Though it earned its journalistic chops as a source of news on the Supreme Court — its diligent coverage of Affordable Care Act hearings and opinion in 2013 earned a Peabody Award — SCOTUSblog also operates as a forum for legal scholars to offer analysis and opinions on judicial decisions.

To fortify its coverage, the blog has pushed for years to earn court press credentials. Its leading writer, veteran court reporter Lyle Denniston, also works for numerous other outlets, on whose press passes he has also relied for SCOTUSblog. Monday’s decision comes in response to Goldstein’s appeal of another credential rejection in April.

“All in all, the refusal by the court and the Senate to credential us have always seemed strange. No one seems to doubt that we are a journalistic entity and that we serve a public function. Winning the Peabody and other awards would seem to confirm that,” Goldstein wrote on the blog. “Credentialing the blog doesn’t give us any special power or recognition; it just makes our jobs incrementally easier. All in all, it doesn’t seem to make sense to impose burdens on us that are greater than those that apply to others who fundamentally do the same thing.”

TIME russia

Five Men Convicted of Murdering Russian Journalist Anna Politkovskaya

A woman places flowers at a portrait of slain journalist Anna Politkovskaya, during a rally in downtown Moscow, in 2009.
A woman places flowers at a portrait of slain journalist Anna Politkovskaya, during a rally in downtown Moscow, in 2009. Pavel Golovkin—AP

But the slain reporter's family says justice won't be served until the people behind the hit are named

A Moscow court on Tuesday found five men guilty of murdering award-winning investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

The renowned reporter and frequent Kremlin critic was shot dead in the elevator of her apartment block in 2006. Fellow activists later described the murder as a contract-style hit, reports Reuters.

Politkovskaya’s murder helped highlight the risks faced by journalists who are willing to speak out against authorities in Russia. Following the verdict, her family and activists continued to call for further investigations into who might have ordered the hit.

“The murder will only be solved when the name of the person who ordered it is known,” Anna Stavitskaya, a lawyer for Politkovskaya’s family, was quoted as saying by RIA news agency.

Russia ranks 148 out of 179 countries surveyed on Reporters Without Borders’ 2014 Press Freedom Index.

[Reuters]

TIME Photos

Barbara Walters: A Career in Pictures

It’s hard to imagine a world where Barbara Walters isn’t on television. After all, this is a woman who entered the news business (as a segment producer on NBC’s Today Show) in 1962 and has been on the air longer than many of her fans have been alive.

But, as she announced nearly a year ago, the groundbreaking journalist will retire from the small screen today after hosting one last episode of The View.

To celebrate her 50 years in television, we’ve assembled a gallery of images from her long and storied career.

 

 

TIME Technology and Media

Facebook Rolls Out a New Plan To Crush Twitter

Mark Zuckerberg arrives for a keynote session on the opening day of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Feb. 24, 2014.
Mark Zuckerberg arrives for a keynote session on the opening day of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Feb. 24, 2014. Simon Dawson—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Facebook launched FB Newswire, which aims to be journalists' social media resource for breaking news

Facebook announced a new service Thursday designed to make it the primary social media resource for journalists covering breaking news, a direct shot across the bow at Twitter.

FB Newswire is a tool accessible via Facebook that features an updated stream of newsworthy and embeddable public content. This includes photos, videos, and status updates about categories ranging from hard news to lifestyle to celebrity to sports. Journalists can grab that content to use it in their own stories across the web.

Newswire is powered by Storyful, bought by Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp for $25 million in 2013, which promised users that it will be vetting all of the content it is providing.

Thus far, FB Newswire has provided content on stories ranging from Kim Kardashian’s views on the Armenian massacre:

To Obama taking pictures with a robot:

Twitter, one of Facebook’s primary competitors, has come to be known as a major breaking news resource for the media. It has built that news-friendly model with strategic hires and tool integration.

TIME Journalism

Greenwald, Poitras Return to U.S. For First Time Since Snowden NSA Revelations

Glenn Greenwald arrives at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.
Glenn Greenwald arrives at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, April 11, 2014. John Minchillo—AP

Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras return to America for the first time since breaking the Edward Snowden story to receive the George Polk Award. They will share the journalism honor with The Guardian's Ewen MacAskill and The Washington Post's Barton Gellman

Two American journalists who reported on the National Security Agency documents leaked by former contractor Edward Snowden arrived back in the U.S. Friday for the first time since their reporting on those files was first published.

Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, who broke the Snowden story and met with the whistleblower in Hong Kong, are in New York City to receive the prestigious George Polk Award. Greenwald, formerly a columnist for The Guardian and now a partner in the upcoming First Look Media venture, and Poitras, a documentary filmmaker, will share the journalism award with Ewen MacAskill of The Guardian and Barton Gellman of the Washington Post, the Huffington Post reports.

Greenwald, who currently resides in Rio de Janeiro, told The Huffington Post that he wanted to return to the U.S. because “certain factions in the U.S. government have deliberately intensified the threatening climate for journalists.” He noted that language used by government officials suggested that reporters who investigated Snowden’s documents were complicit with him.

Greenwald and Poitras, who lives in Berlin, expected to be detained immediately upon their arrival Friday, but they left John F. Kennedy International Airport without incident.

[BoingBoing]

TIME Syria

Spanish Journalists Held Captive in Syria Are Freed

Syria Journalists
In this file photo taken on May 24, 2012, Spanish reporters Javier Espinosa, right, and Ricardo Garcia Vilanova, left, pose for a photo in Barcelona. The two Spanish journalists were freed after being held captive for six months in Syria by a rogue al-Qaida group. Joan Borras—AP

Veteran correspondent Javier Espinosa and award-winning photographer Ricardo García Vilanova, who were kidnapped by an extremist group while reporting in Syria six months ago, have been freed by their captors and are back home in Spain

Two Spanish journalists who were kidnapped in Syria six months ago and freed on Saturday are now back home in Spain, the daily newspaper El Mundo reports.

Veteran war correspondent Javier Espinosa and Ricardo García Vilanova, an award-winning freelance photographer, were released to the Turkish military near Tal Abyad, a Syrian town close to where the pair was abducted on Sept. 16.

Espinosa’s wife, Mónica García Prieto, posted a tweet on Saturday that read Felicidad pura, or “Pure happiness.” After his return, Espinosa said, “Thanks to those who made ​​it possible for us to come home.”

The journalists were originally abducted alongside several Free Syrian Army fighters and held at a detention facility in Raqqa by a brigade of the extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The group, which released the fighters after less than two weeks, is thought to be holding dozens more aid workers, religious figures and journalists.

Fears that Espinosa was in trouble began when his Twitter followers noticed his account went silent on Sept. 15. Word of his capture began to spread quietly, but a media blackout was imposed until El Mundo went public in December.

Syria is the most dangerous location in the world for journalists, press freedom groups say. The Committee to Protect Journalists said at least 29 journalists were killed there in 2013 and another 61 were detained. About 30 journalists are still believed to be held throughout the country.

Some of the more high-profile cases included that of American journalists Austin Tice, who went missing in August 2012 while reporting near Damascus, and James Foley, kidnapped three months later as he was leaving Syria. Families of both reporters initially chose not to publicize their cases but have since initiated massive support and information-gathering campaigns.

The French government has also been working for months to secure the release of reporter Didier Francois and photographer Edouard Elias, who disappeared in June.

[El Mundo]

TIME press freedom

Another Brazen Attack on Hong Kong Media Sends a Chill Through the City

Journalists and their supporters stand in a five minutes silent around a huge banner reads " They can't kill us all " during a rally outside the government headquarter in Hong Kong, March 2, 2014 Vincent Yu—AP

The assault raises fears for media freedom in China's most open metropolis

Just three weeks after noted Hong Kong editor Kevin Lau was stabbed in the street, masked men set upon two newspaper executives with iron bars — the latest attack in the only city in China accustomed to freedom of the press.

The assault took place on Thursday, outside the Hong Kong Science Museum in the tourist-friendly Tsim Sha Tsui area of Kowloon. The victims were executives for the soon-to-be launched Hong Kong Morning News. The four assailants then sped away in a car.

The brazen nature of this attack has increased concerns for media freedom in the Chinese Special Administrative Region, or SAR.

“This latest incident only underscores the deepening shadows being cast over the media landscape in Hong Kong from violence, intimidation and interference by political and commercial interests,” read a statement from Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club.

The victims were Hong Kong Morning News Media Group Ltd vice-president and director Lei Lun-han, 46, and senior executive Lam Kin-ming, 54. Both were taken to hospital with minor injuries.

Hong Kong Journalists Association chairperson Sham Yee-lan struck a defiant note. “Increased violence against the media is very intimidating for the industry as a whole,” she said, “but at the same time, as we saw with the recent rally, this type of violence gets the industry more united.”

Hundreds marched on Mar. 2 to protest the earlier attack on Lau, the former editor of the Chinese language daily Ming Pao, consistently one of Hong Kong’s most trusted newspapers.

On Feb. 26, Lau was slashed six times on the back and legs, inflicting horrific wounds including one gash 16cm (6in) long. His attacker then sped away on the back of a motorbike ridden by another person, in what was described by police as a “classic Triad hit.” (Triads are Hong Kong’s organized criminal gangs.)

Lau was replaced as chief editor by Malaysian journalist Chong Tien Siong in January, prompting a furious response from staff. He was moved to a new post within the group’s e-books and teaching materials division, in a shift many said was punishment for aggressively pursuing corruption and human-rights stories deemed embarrassing to Mainland China.

Ming Pao is owned by Malaysian tycoon Tiong Hiew King, who has business interests in China. After the attack on Lau, the company offered a $120,000 reward for information leading to arrests.

Eleven people have so far been arrested in connection with the attack on Lau, including two suspected “hitmen” with ties to the Triads. However, police commissioner Andy Tsang Wai-hung has come in for criticism, after he initially said that there was “nothing to tie the attack directly to Lau’s journalistic work.”

“Saying that the attack was not related to his job … somehow gives the public the impression that Kevin is hiding something, which is absolutely not true,” says Sham.

Ronny Tong, a Hong Kong legislator and barrister, tells TIME that his confidence in the police “is beginning to wane” and officers should concentrate on finding rather than interpreting evidence.

“For [Tsang] to suggest there is no evidence that the attack has anything to do with his work with the press seems to suggest that his mind is made up, which is regrettable,” says Tong.

Although Hong Kong, as a SAR, enjoys markedly less censorship than the mainland, it does boast an incongruous history of attacks on journalists and media personalities.

Nevertheless, Tong says things never have been “as serious” as the present climate. “We have almost reached a critical moment in the history of Hong Kong,” he says. “The media is under unprecedented attack.”

Hong Kong was ranked 61st in the world for press freedom in 2014, down from 18th place when Reporters Without Borders complied its first survey in 2002.

TIME Media

9 Depressing Facts From the Latest Women in Media Report

Promotional poster for "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire"
Promotional poster for "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Jennifer Lawrence makes $11 million less than Adam Sandler

Women are inching towards media equality, but it’s slow going. That’s what we learned from the Women’s Media Center’s annual report on the status of women in TV, news, movies, and even social media. Some things are unsurprising, like the fact that women are vastly underrepresented in sports journalism. Other things are more interesting, like the fact that the Melissa Harris-Perry Show has more diversity than all the other Sunday political talk shows combined.

  1. The highest-paid female movie star, Angelina Jolie, makes about the same per movie as the two lowest-paid male stars, Denzel Washington and Liam Neeson. Her $33 million paycheck is dwarfed by the $75 million Robert Downey Jr. rakes in as the highest-paid movie star for the Iron Man movies.
  2. Female representation in newsrooms has budged very little since 1999: back then, women made up 36.9% of the newsroom staff– now, it’s 36.3%. The gender disparity is widest among white men and women, and there is slightly more gender equality among different races in newsrooms.
  3. Women are vastly underrepresented in sports journalism: Of the 183 sports talk radio hosts on Talkers magazine’s “Heavy Hundred,” only two were women. The 2012 Associated Press Race and Gender Report Card gave most of the sports journalism industry straight Fs when it came to gender diversity.
  4. Women were quoted in only 19% of news articles in January and February of 2013. This follows a pattern of men being 3.4 times more likely to be quoted on the front page of The New York Times, 4.6 times more likely to be quoted in political stories, and 5.4 times more likely to be quoted in international stories.
  5. Women are faring worse at making movies in 2013 than they were in 1998. Of all the top-grossing movies of 2013, women accounted for only 16% of the writers, directors, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers.
  6. Women had fewer speaking roles in movies in 2012 than in any year since 2007–only 28.4% of speaking roles in the top 100 films went to women. But on TV, 43% of speaking parts are played by women. Of the women who who did get speaking roles in movies, 34.6% were black, 33.9% were Hispanic, and 28.8% were white. And of all the speaking characters, Latina women were most likely to be depicted semi-nude.
  7. The Melissa Harris-Perry Show on MSNBC has more diversity than all other Sunday news talk shows combined, with 67% non-white guests, compared to the 16% of guests on NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox combined. The gender breakdown of almost all the Sunday political talk shows hovers around 75% male, 25% female.
  8. Only 33 directors of the 500 top-grossing movies from 2007 to 2012 were black, and only 2 of those were black women. In 2013, women directed 50% of the competition films at Sundance, but only 1.9% of the top-grossing movies.
  9. Our columnists are still overwhelmingly old white men. There are four times as many male columnists as female columnists at the three biggest newspapers and four newspaper syndicates. (The Washington Post has 25 men to 7 women, and The New York Times has 10 men to 2 women.) The median columnist age is 60, while the median age for the American population is only 37.

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