Seeing red…

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‘This is good, but elsewhere it’s BAD!’

After shock news that a consortium backed by The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has walked away from a multi-million pound takeover of the Daily Telegraph and its sister publications when fears were expressed about foreign ownership of news outlets, our Editor Phil Parry who has been a journalist for 40 years and won numerous awards, looks at the vital importance of media freedom.

 

It’s not all grim news for those who believe in media freedom – some things can be applauded – but it’s pretty bad elsewhere.

Jeff Zucker’s RedBird IMI is a major player in the media world – but a lot of people were up in arms

Last month RedBird IMI – backed by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, vice-president of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – walked away from a £600 milllion takeover of the Telegraph group after it said new legislation meant the planned acquisition was “no longer feasible”.

RedBird IMI had effectively taken control of the Telegraph newspapers and the Spectator magazine in December when it repaid owner the Barclay family’s debts, but now it will not have ownership of them.

Redbird IMI walked away from buying the Daily Telegraph

It declared that it was walking away because the UK Government had published legislation that will block foreign states or associated individuals from owning newspaper assets in Britain.

There is no evidence whatsoever that Redbird IMI wanted editorial input, nevertheless the thought of a key media company effectively been owned by people overseas, where the idea of an independent media may be less important, ruffled a lot of feathers.

The concept of media freedom, and investigative journalism which holds people to account, is under threat as never before in countries all over the world.

It is clear, that network BBC (which has a long and proud history of undertaking important investigations) has had its confidence shaken by recent events, and is being attacked from all sides. But in BBC Cymru Wales (BBC CW) it’s even worse.

The television Current Affairs programme Week In, Week Out (WIWO) (which I presented for 10 years) was closed after 53 years, and the only real Current Affairs series on BBC Radio Wales (RW), Eye on Wales (don’t talk to me about BBC Wales Investigates on TV) has also been axed.

‘Celebratory’ journalism prevails

So much for the broadcaster saying:  Eye On Wales gets to the big issues behind the headlines, spots stories just as they reach boiling point, and broadcasts voices you rarely hear”.

‘Celebrity’ ‘journalism’, and low-quality, dumbed-down, ‘reports’ seem to prevail, which are light years away from the work I do (where I work in a free media environment).

This is all set against a worrying backdrop. For example, after Slovenia seceded from Yugoslavia in 1991, it gave Radio Television of Slovenia (RTV-SLO) a mandate to report independently, unlike the state propaganda that passed for news under communism. But the Government there is now refusing to pay RTV-SLO’s budget, and wants to pass a new media law that will make it easier to control.

Martin Bashir’s notorious interview with Princess Diana may have huge consequences

In the Netherlands the situation seems just as bad. Reporters on the national public news broadcaster, the NOS, have been physically attacked at protests and while reporting on Covid-19 measures. In October the NOS removed its logo from its satellite vans after they were repeatedly harassed in traffic.

In Latvia, the chief risk is the legal and financing structure. At one point the country’s public-media law failed to include a set-aside tax, like the television licence fee that funds the BBC (which has been threatened with being cut after the Martin Bashir affair), and that leaves it vulnerable to political pressure, while it is not clear that the supervisory board will be protected from political appointments.

‘I’M TELLING YOU NOSEY JOURNALISTS, YOU’VE HAD IT!’

The prime example, of course, is Russia where RT (Russia Today) is accused of being a mouthpiece for Vladimir Putin. By the mid-2000s Russian news shows’ agendas were being set at government-led meetings.

When Viktor Orban won power in Hungary in 2010 he adapted Mr Putin’s blueprint, transforming the state media agency MTVA into a propaganda organ. The group was restructured into a shell company in a fashion that exempts it from the law governing public media, and during the European Parliament elections in 2019, editors at MTVA were recorded instructing reporters to favour Mr Orban’s Fidesz party.

Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) Party tried to crack down on the media

Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) party followed Mr Orban’s example when it won power in 2015, and quickly turned TVP, the public television network, into a bullhorn for the party. The network championed campaigns against gay rights and demonised the opposition mayor ofGdansk. After he was assassinated by an extremist in 2019, a court told TVP to pay damages, but it has not complied.

The awful abuse I have endured online is as nothing compared with the suffering of others worldwide. In Belarus for instance the situation is also appalling. At least 16 journalists there are behind bars, and riot police are singling out reporters for arrests and beatings at protests as the media is intimidated.

Roman Protasevich was arrested

The embattled dictator Alexander Lukashenko, forced a Ryanair passenger plane to make an unscheduled stop in his capital in order to arrest the editor of an internet channel, NEXTA, that has been reporting on his crackdown. Roman Protasevich, aged 26, was taken off the plane, which was flying from Athens to Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital. Citing what it said was ‘evidence’ that there were explosives on board, the authorities forced the aircraft to land in Minsk as it passed through Belarusian airspace on its way to neighbouring Lithuania, sending a MiG fighter plane to escort the Ryanair jet down. The state news agency later reported that no explosives had been found, and it seems certain that the incident was invented purely as a way of arresting the journalist.

Marina Zolotova – ‘journalists have become targets’

The worrying news came after Marina Zolotova, the editor of Tut.by, an independent news website in the counrry, said: “Blue press jackets and press badges have become targets. When journalists go to cover a protest they cannot be sure that they will come home. This is a real war by the authorities against independent journalism and their own people.” It is clear that Mr Lukashenko is waging a war against journalists who have dared to report on his regime’s brutal crackdown against peaceful protesters.

Yekaterina Bakhvalova was arrested for doing her job

At least eight protesters have been killed and hundreds more have alleged torture and rape, in police custody.  Among the most high-profile of those in prison is Yekaterina Bakhvalova, who was arrested as she filmed riot police firing stun grenades into a crowd demonstrating against the death in police custody of a fellow protesters.

Around the world it appears to be becoming worse for media freedom and investigative journalism – while dumbed-down ‘news’ is seemingly wanted by authorities everywhere.

Thousands protested after the killing of George Floyd

Dozens of reporters covering the anti-racism protests after the killing of the unarmed black man George Floyd that rocked the US, were apparently targeted by security forces using tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray. In many cases, the reporters said they were attacked despite showing clear press credentials.

Such assaults “are an unacceptable attempt to intimidate (reporters), said the Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based lobbying group. Attacks on journalists carried out by protesters have also been reported. The arrest of a CNN news crew live on air in Minneapolis, first drew global attention to how law enforcement authorities in the city were treating reporters covering the protests.

Scott Morrison – why did the police use force against an Australian news crew?

The Australian Prime Minister at the time Scott Morrison, asked his embassy in Washington to look into the use of force by police against an Australian news crew, as officers dispersed protesters there the previous day. It came after dozens of attacks on journalists and media crews across America over a single weekend were reported on social media.

In total the US Press Freedom Tracker, a non-profit project, says it is examining more than 100 “press freedom violations” at protests. About 90 cases involve attacks.

‘Hello, is that the media office? Tell journalists to publish what I say!’

In Russia a special website is devoted to the numbers that have been killed for simply doing their jobs. Sometimes the persecution has official backing. Mr Putin recently signed a law that will allow Russia to declare journalists and bloggers as “foreign agents” in a move that critics say will allow the Kremlin to target government critics.

Under the vaguely worded law, Russians and foreigners who work with the media or distribute their content and receive money from abroad would be declared foreign agents, potentially exposing journalists, their sources, or even those who share material on social networks to foreign agent status.

Phil gets angry at being called a ‘bastard’ and a ‘liar’!

In the past I have been called (wrongly), a “bastard”, a “liar”, a “misogynist”, a “little git”, and (accurately), a “troublemaker”, a “nuisance”“irritating”, as well as “annoying” but this pales into insignificance with what is happening elsewhere around the globe.

Investigative journalists like me need to have the freedom to make inquiries, and this is underlined now by a planned new law against overseas owners of sections of the media forcing Redbird IMI to walk away from The Telegraph. 

 

‘BUY MY BOOK!’

The memories of Phil’s astonishing decades long award-winning career in journalism (where he has always worked in an environment of relative media freedom) as he was gripped by the rare disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order the book now! 

How many have been wrongly put behind bars?

Tomorrow – how the sister of a man she believes was wrongly jailed for one of the worst murders in Welsh history has declared that the announcement of new DNA tests for contested serious convictions, could prove her brother’s innocence.