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'No time to blame the messenger' warns UN rights chief, amidst media clampdowns surrounding COVID-19 – UN News

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Against the backdrop of restrictive measures against independent media imposed by several States, as well as the arrest and intimidation of journalists, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, expressed alarm over clampdowns that are stifling the free flow information, vital in getting the COVID-19 under control.

“Some States have used the outbreak of the new coronavirus as a pretext to restrict information and stifle criticism”, she said. “A free media is always essential, but we have never depended on it more than we do during this pandemic, when so many people are isolated and fearing for their health and livelihoods”.

Don’t blame the messenger

The UN human rights chief maintained that some political leaders have created a hostile environment, which compromises the safety and ability of journalists and media workers to do their job.

“This is no time to blame the messenger”, she said. “Rather than threatening journalists or stifling criticism, States should encourage healthy debate concerning the pandemic and its consequences”.

According to the International Press Institute, since the start of the outbreak there have been more than130 alleged violations of basic press freedom, including more than 50 reported instances of restrictions on access to information, censorship and excessive regulation of misinformation.  

Moreover, nearly 40 journalists have reportedly been arrested or charged in the Asia-Pacific, the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, for stories critical of government responses to the pandemic or for questioning the accuracy of official numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths. And the actual number of media violations and arrests is probably far higher, the Press Institute said.

The UN human rights office zeroed-in on reports of journalists disappearing after publishing coverage critical of the coronavirus response with several news outlets even being ordered closed by the authorities over their reporting.

“People have a right to participate in decision-making that affects their lives, and an independent media is a vital medium for this”, underscored Ms. Bachelet.

“Being open and transparent, and involving those affected in decision-making, builds public trust and helps ensure that people participate in measures designed to protect their own health and that of the wider population and increases accountability”.

Misinformation epidemic

Independent media provides a platform for medical professionals and experts to freely share information with each other and the public.

Echoing the Secretary-General’s concerns over a “dangerous epidemic of misinformation” surrounding the pandemic that is generating confusion and more ill-health, Ms. Bachelet paid tribute to independent media journalists whose fact-checking provides truth and clarity.

“Journalists are playing an indispensable role in our response to this pandemic, but unlike the grave threats posed to other essential workers, the threats media workers face are entirely avoidable”, the UN human rights chief said. “Protecting journalists from harassment, threats, detention or censorship helps keep us all safe”.

Press briefing

Responding to journalists at a press conference in Geneva, the UN human rights spokesperson, Rupert Colville, said that the leaders criticizing journalists were often those who had previously behaved similarly, refusing to tolerate criticisms of their policies. 

He noted, however, a worrying trend of attacks against journalists that included instances in China, Saudi Arabia and the United States, amongst others. 

When asked about President Trump’s media briefings on responding to the pandemic, Mr. Colville upheld that journalists play an important role, especially in the complex issues surrounding the pandemic – such as when and how it was safe to ease restrictions – saying, “such issues required a public debate”.


Unsplash/Priscilla du Preez

Restrictive measures against independent media imposed by some States threaten accurate information on the COVID-19 pandemic.

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iPolitics AM: Weekend protests likely to come up during PM's daily media update, special committee session – iPolitics.ca

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ALSO TODAY: Singh to hold pre-sitting press conference — Amnesty International, MPs call on Canada to speak out against China’s proposed new national security laws

As previewed in the iPolitics weekly lookahead, the SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC is set to kick off its first full four-day work week with an extended ministerial question period that will include both the small contingent of MPs assembled in the Chamber and those joining the proceedings remotely via webcam. (12 noon)

Barring a last-minute scheduling change, however, the 95-minute session won’t feature an appearance by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

According to his official itinerary, Trudeau will hold his usual mid-morning media availability outside Rideau Cottage, during which he’s virtually guaranteed to field questions on the protests that continued across the United States through the weekend in the wake of the death of George Floyd, as well as an anti-racism march in Montreal that, as Canadian Press reports, “degenerated into clashes between police and some demonstrators on Sunday night.” (11:15 AM)

Also on his to-do list, as per the same advisory: Phone check-ins with his Guatemalan counterpart Alejandro Giammattei and the Sultan of Oman, as well as other “private meetings.”

UPDATE: A hot-off-the-press exclusive from the Star reveals that Trudeau is also expected to unveil “several billion dollars in assistance to help cash-strapped cities whose bottom lines have been battered by the pandemic,” which, according to an unnamed but looped-in senior official, “will be earmarked for infrastructure project.”

Back in the precinct, New Democrat leader Jagmeet Singh will likely also have something to say about the ongoing protests when he drops by the West Block press theatre to chat with reporters before heading to the Commons for the special committee meeting. (9:30 AM)

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer will also make himself available to the media this morning. (10 AM)

ON AND AROUND THE HILL

Amnesty International Canada teams up with the Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, the Toronto Association for Democracy in China and the Vancouver Society in Support of Democratic Movement, as well as Sen. Marilou McPhedran and a trio of MPs from the Liberal, Conservative and New Democratic caucuses to push for a “strong Canadian response to China’s proposed national security law,” which, as per the notice, should include “anticipation of the potential for a growing number of refugees from Hong Kong seeking Canada’s protection.” (2 PM)

ON THE VIRTUAL COMMITTEE CIRCUIT

INDUSTRY members examine the impact of the pandemic on scientific and medical research during a panel discussion that will include Queen’s University astrophysicist Arthur McDonald and Canadian Nuclear Laboratories CEO Joe McBrearty, as well as senior executives from StarFish Medical, Dynamite Network and Bidali. (11 AM – 1 PM)

HUMAN RESOURCES surveys the leaders of some of Canada’s largest labour groups, including Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff, Unifor president Jerry Dias and United Steelworkers national director Ken Neumann. ( 2 – 4 PM)

Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada distinguished fellow Stephen R. Nagy offers his perspective on Canada’s response to the pandemic during a one-hour appearance at GOVERNMENT OPERATIONS. (2 – 3 PM)

FISHERIES AND OCEANS members hold their first virtual organizational session, which is also the first time the committee has gotten together since March. (11 AM – 1 PM)

Due to the ongoing parliamentary shutdown, most House and Senate committee meetings are suspended until regular sittings resume.

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Committee highlights courtesy of our friends at iPoliticsINTEL.

Don’t miss today’s complete legislative brief in GovGuide.ca!

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Trump's social media regulation push faces key hurdle at the FCC – National Post

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WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump’s effort to regulate social media companies’ content decisions may face an uphill battle from regulators who have previously said they cannot oversee the conduct of internet firms.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai did not endorse Trump’s proposal on Thursday but said in a written statement “this debate is an important one” and added the FCC “will carefully review any petition for rulemaking.”

In August 2018, Pai said he hoped social media companies would embrace free speech but did not see a role for the FCC to regulate websites like Facebook, Alphabet’s Google and Twitter.

“They are not going to be regulated in terms of free speech,” Pai said at a forum. “The government is not here to regulate these platforms. We don’t have the power to do that.”

Another Republican on the five-member commission, Mike O’Rielly, expressed mixed feelings.

“As a conservative, I’m troubled voices are stifled by liberal tech leaders. At same time, I’m extremely dedicated to the First Amendment which governs much here,” O’Rielly wrote on Twitter.

Trump signed an executive order Thursday directing the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration to petition the FCC to write rules clarifying social media companies’ legal protections under Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act.

Former FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, a Republican, wrote on Twitter that the review is “based on political #speech management of platforms. So many wobbly parts to this govt ‘nudge.’ I don’t see how it survives.”

Another barrier is timing. The FCC will spend at least a few months reviewing and likely seeking public comment before potentially drafting proposed regulations. It could take a year or longer to finalize any rules, long after the November presidential election.

Section 230 protects internet companies from liability for illegal content posted by users and allows them to remove lawful but objectionable posts.

Trump wants the FCC to “expeditiously propose regulations” to determine what constitutes “good faith” by firms in removing some content. He also wants Congress to repeal the Section 230 protections.

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, a Republican, said he expects the commission will seek public comment on the forthcoming NTIA petition to provide clarity on what “good faith conduct” by companies means and draw a line between permissible and improper behavior.

“When a final decision is reached, my hope and expectation is that it will provide clarity about that line,” Carr said.

Twitter called Trump’s executive order “a reactionary and politicized approach to a landmark law…. Attempts to unilaterally erode it threaten the future of online speech and Internet freedoms.”

Alexandra Givens, chief executive of the Center for Democracy & Technology, said the order “not only violates the Constitution, it ignores 20 years of well-established law. The Executive Order is designed to deter social media companies from fighting misinformation, voter suppression, and the stoking of violence on their services.”

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, suggested turning the FCC “into the president’s speech police is not the answer. It’s time for Washington to speak up for the First Amendment.” (Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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In China, U.S. protests a hot topic on state, social media – TheChronicleHerald.ca

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By Huizhong Wu

BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese state media is giving extensive coverage to violent protests roiling cities across the United States, while the unrest has also featured widely in Chinese social media.

The death of George Floyd, a 46-year old black man, while in police custody last week has sparked demonstrations and unrest across the politically and racially divided country.

China’s state-run CCTV aired parts of an interview that his brother, Philonise Floyd, gave to U.S. news channel MSNBC in its noon broadcast on Monday, where he said U.S. President Donald Trump did not give him the opportunity to speak during a phone call and where he cried at the mention of his brother.

While the unrest in U.S. cities has been widely reported by international media, China’s interest comes at a time when relations between the two are particularly strained.

CCTV featured reports from one of its reporters running with protesters in Minnesota, as well as short videos shot by Americans depicting police violence against protesters.

On China’s social media platform Weibo, at least five news items on the protests were among the top 20 trending topics by midday, led by reports Trump had been temporarily taken to a bunker as protesters surrounded the White House.

On Twitter, the protests also featured widely among the top 20 trending items, with the hashtag #BunkerBoy at a prominent second place.

For some analysts, the Chinese media coverage of the protests echoed their reporting on the coronavirus situation in the United States.

“The number one thing they want to show is that the Communist Party is doing a better job in terms of fighting the coronavirus and managing society,” said Alfred Wu, associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.

“That’s the main message: the U.S. is not doing good.”

Some Chinese media have made comparisons between the U.S. protests and those in Hong Kong, the latest flashpoint in U.S.-China tensions. Trump has begun the process of eliminating special U.S. treatment for Hong Kong to punish Beijing’s decision to impose new national security laws on the territory.

The state-run China Daily posted a political cartoon showing a coronavirus patient saying “I can’t breathe” – the dying words of Floyd – as a figure resembling Trump walks away after cutting the line to an oxygen tank labelled “WHO”.

That was a reference to his decision to withdraw the United States from the World Health Organization on Friday.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying wrote on Twitter on Saturday “I can’t breathe” in response to a tweet from U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus criticising China’s actions in Hong Kong.

(Reporting by Huizhong Wu; Editing by Tony Munroe and Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

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