Medan, Indonesia – Just a few days before he was fatally shot in the thigh, Indonesian journalist Mara Salem Harahap, who was known as Marsal, took his wife and two children on a family outing to the city of Medan in North Sumatra, about two hours away from their home. During the trip, they took a family photograph together and Marsal shared the picture on social media.
“This was highly unusual,” his friend and fellow journalist, Rencana Siregar, told Al Jazeera. “In the 12 years that we had been friends, he hardly ever posted personal pictures. He wanted to protect his family.”
Marsal, the editor-in-chief of Lasser News Today, an online news site based in Pematangsiantar, a city of about a quarter of million people in the heart of Sumatra, had every reason to be cautious.
During the previous few months, the 46-year-old had written about a local nightclub in the city that he alleged was linked to organised crime, gambling and drug dealing. In addition to writing about the nightclub, Marsal had also posted about it on his Facebook account.
“He was like my adopted brother,” Rencana said. “Two weeks before his death, he came to see me and we talked about his work investigating the nightclub. We talked for a long time, maybe five hours. He was very persuasive when he told me it needed to be investigated and he was a tough journalist. He didn’t seem scared.”
That was the last time Rencana saw Marsal.
On the evening of June 18, Marsal was shot and killed in his car about 300 metres (984 feet) from his home.
Six days later, the North Sumatra police chief, Inspector General Panca Putra, announced that two suspects had been arrested – the owner of the nightclub that Marsal had been investigating and an unidentified army official.
According to the police chief, Marsal had met the owner of the nightclub previously, who had complained about the unflattering media coverage.
The motive for the murder was to, “teach the victim a lesson”, Panca said at a news conference last week, although it is unclear if the army official and the nightclub owner planned to kill Marsal or simply scare him.
“The murder of Mara Salem Harahap is the fourth case of violence against journalists that has occurred in North Sumatra in the past month,” Liston Damanik, the head of the Indonesian Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) in Medan, told Al Jazeera. “Cases like this and atrocities against journalists are increasing, presumably because there is no legal certainty from the police regarding these cases.”
Liston added that, on 29 May, unidentified assailants tried to burn down the home of another journalist also based in Pematangsiantar, and that, on 31 May, a Metro TV journalist’s car was set ablaze. On 13 June, Molotov cocktails were thrown into the home of the parents of a third journalist in the city of Binjai on the outskirts of Medan.
While AJI does not have firm data on acts of violence against journalists in North Sumatra due to underreporting and a lack of prosecutions, Liston said the recent spate of attacks show the dangers faced by journalists in the region. These can include physical violence, as well as legal problems, such as prosecution under Indonesia’s broadly worded Electronic Information and Transactions Law (UUITE).
The law has increasingly been used against journalists in recent years in place of Indonesia’s traditional Press Law, which affords journalists a level of professional protection against libel and defamation cases and which is usually processed in consultation with Indonesia’s Press Council in the first instance, rather than with local police authorities directly.
“Journalists in North Sumatra are not only threatened with being ensnared by the ITE Law, but now their houses are being pelted with Molotov cocktails, allegedly by people who are not happy with their journalistic work,” Liston said.
Freedoms under Fire
In neighbouring Malaysia, journalists have also found themselves under pressure, including Tashny Sukumaran, now a senior analyst at think-tank ISIS Malaysia.
A journalist for 10 years, she previously worked for Malaysian English-language paper The Star and the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.
“I was involved in several cases last year related to my reporting and writing, including a book on the general election I contributed to being banned,” she told Al Jazeera. “On May Day, I reported on an immigration raid in a COVID-19 ‘red zone’ in the heart of Kuala Lumpur and both tweeted and wrote a story on the raid.”
A few days later, Tashny was told that the police wanted to interrogate her under the Communications and Multimedia Act and Section 504 of the Malaysian Penal Code. Her phone was seized and has yet to be returned to her, and she faced approximately five pages of questions about her reportage. Al Jazeera was also investigated for a documentary on the treatment of migrants during the country’s first lockdown.
“Fundamental freedoms have been in decline under the Perikatan Nasional’s government since March 2020,” Nalini Elumalai, the Malaysia senior programme officer at ARTICLE 19, which advocates for the reform of laws that restrict free expression and documents violations of freedom of expression in Malaysia, told Al Jazeera.
“The government has cracked down on criticism of the state and state entities, undermining the important role of public accountability, and sending a clear message that dissent will not be tolerated. Media is one of the main targets of these attacks.”
Nalini added that the authorities in Malaysia have harassed, investigated, prosecuted and denied the right to access information of the media and that, “the government’s stance towards independent media has been particularly aggressive, with journalists regularly facing legal harassment and threats.”
In 2021, Malaysian online newspaper Malaysiakini was fined 500,000 Malaysian ringgit ($120,328) for reader comments on its site, and five of its journalists were summoned for questioning, Wathshlah G Naidu, executive director of Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) in Malaysia, told Al Jazeera.
Other media outlets including China Press and Free Malaysia Today also had journalists who were questioned by police for their reporting, both this year and in 2020.
“Various repressive and archaic laws were used against the media and journalists last year,” Wathshlah said. “These laws include Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia (CMA) Act 1998, the Sedition Act 1948, Section 504 of the Penal Code, Section 505 of the Penal Code and the Printing Presses and Publications (PPPA) Act 1984. Other laws include Section 203A of the Penal Code and Section 114A of the Evidence Act 1950. The trend is often to target and intimidate the media using these laws when the government is portrayed in a negative light.”
The Perikatan Nasional administration of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin took control of the country in March 2020 amid the collapse of the government elected two years before.
In January of this year, Muhyddin declared an “Emergency” including the suspension of Parliament, in response to the coronavirus pandemic. In March, the government used its emergency powers to impose a sweeping “Fake News” Law, which the previous government had repealed.
“We are rather concerned with the status of media freedom in Malaysia and the related trend of limiting access, harassment and intimidation against the media by the authorities,” Wathshlah said, noting Malaysia’s ranking in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) annual press freedom index had dropped 18 places to 119 (out of 180 countries ranked). The previous year, it had recorded its best-ever ranking at 101.
In the same index, Indonesia was slightly above Malaysia in 113th place, although the report also noted that, “Many journalists say they censor themselves because of the threat from an anti-blasphemy law and the Law on ‘Informasi dan Transaksi Elektronik’ (Electronic and Information Transactions Law).
“In 2020, the government took advantage of the Covid-19 crisis to reinforce its repressive weaponry against journalists, who are now banned from publishing not only ‘false information’ related to the coronavirus but also any ‘information hostile to the president or government’, the report continued.
Rencana says the authorities need to provide more support to journalists, so that they can do their jobs without fear.
“We need the police to help us, especially during the pandemic when our work is even tougher than usual,” he said. “How can we be professional when we have to deal with all of these problems at the same time, and worry about being shot or arrested when we are just trying to do our jobs?”
“This is a democracy, but how can a democracy function in such conditions?”
Alberta Education investigating social media leak of provincial exam answers – CBC.ca
Alberta Education is investigating alleged answers for Provincial Achievement Tests (PATs) leaking to social media, with at least one school cancelling exams.
The ministry notified schools of Grade 9 math answers reportedly circulating on June 18, according to education press secretary Katherine Stavropoulos. The ministry is “reminding school authorities to exercise their due diligence in supervising the remaining PATs.”
“Findings from this investigation may have an impact on future administrations to help minimize the chances of such a breach from occurring again,” she said in an emailed statement Friday.
The ministry is also aware of other photos and other subjects circulating online, which it will investigate.
The PATs — standardized tests administered annually to reflect what students are expected to learn — were written across the province between June 13 and June 24.
The exams were suspended for the 2019-2020 school year, and only language arts and mathematics were available as an option for 2020-2021.
Stavropoulos said schools started having the option to write PATs at different times in the 2018-2019 school year. Around a quarter of schools were asking to write on alternate dates due to local events, transportation, and other issues.
“The window is a way to provide school authorities with flexibility,” she said.
Calgary Catholic Schools spokesperson Sandra Borowski said in an email the division became aware the breach extended beyond the first part of the math PATs to other exams as students who had access to answer keys and wrote the exams earlier posted to social media.
She said St. Martin de Porres School in Airdrie, Alta. canceled PATs because the school runs on a quarter schedule with writing dates extending beyond June 24, “which would result in a more widespread security breach putting into question the validity of Grade 9 PAT results.”
Grade 9 students there were provided with an alternate optional final assessment, Borowski said.
Edmonton Public Schools said last week it was looking into the matter. The Calgary Board of Education said it was aware of a breach and was working with Alberta Education. The Edmonton Catholic School Board said communication was ongoing with the province but that it had not cancelled any PATs.
A search for “Alberta PAT answers” on TikTok shows several videos with thousands of views purporting to reveal the multiple choice answers for science and social studies.
‘They should be voided’
Sarah Elaine Eaton, an associate professor at the University of Calgary who studies cheating and academic misconduct, said it would be natural for the test takers to look at these answer keys, whether they are verifiably correct or not.
“It’s human nature to be tempted, especially when we think that if we don’t cheat, or we don’t take a peek at those answers, that others may gain an advantage over us,” Eaton said.
Eaton said the PATs have been compromised, making the results no longer valid and reliable. She said what happens next should be a straightforward matter — they should be voided.
“There’s no way to put the toothpaste back in the tube, if you will,” she said.
Eaton said there have been numerous cases of answers leaking online in the past several years, including the Ontario bar exams.
“I have heard of this in other jurisdictions, it’s really not that uncommon, so it really does call into question about standardized tests being an effective way for students to show their knowledge,” she said.
Ensuring devices are off, tests are in person using pencil and paper and administering exams at the same time are possible security measures to be employed, she said.
This Right-Wing Québec Media Website Has Mysterious Ties With Alberta's Oil Lobby – PressProgress
This article was originally published by Pivot, an independent, non-profit francophone news outlet based in Québec — PressProgress and Pivot are working together to translate and republish each other’s stories.
Québec Nouvelles, the online media outlet, has links to individuals close to the Conservative Party of Québec (CPQ) and to Alberta’s pro-oil lobby groups.
Mysteriously, after Pivot asked a few questions, evidence of these links began to disappear on the Internet. Well, almost.
Québec Nouvelles, the news and opinion website, was launched in the fall of 2019.
Québec Nouvelles claims to be different from other media outlets. Unlike those that “demand taxpayers’ money in the form of subsidies, taxes, and other imposed measures,” this “alternative independent media outlet” survives solely thanks to donations made by its readers, according to its website.
It claims the media outlet owes its survival to the fact that it “speaks to the people and defends the people against political corruption and the dishonesty of certain elites.”
But the articles that have disappeared suggest a slightly different story.
In spring 2020, a similar news site, but published in English, The Westphalian Times, came into being. At first glance, aside from the editorial position, the connection between the two publications is not obvious.
However, the page devoted to donations on the respective websites makes it clear that the two entities are, in fact, linked to a single company, named Dominion Media, which has links to the CPQ and pro-oil lobby groups.
Very close ties with the Quebec Conservative Party
Headlines such as “I support Éric Duhaime, the only politician who can save Quebec,” leave little doubt as to Québec Nouvelles’s editorial position.
In fact, the website’s content shows that the media outlet maintains particularly close ties with Duhaime and his party.
For example, on November 22, 2020, the media outlet acquired exclusive access to the logo the former radio host was about to unveil during the launch of his Conservative Party leadership campaign.
More recently, Québec Nouvelles published an article announcing, in advance, the results of a poll on voting intentions in Quebec, even before they were released by Utica Resources, the oil and gas company that had commissioned the poll.
The results had also been given to the CPQ ahead of time, which raised questions about the possibility of a breach of the rules governing donations to political parties.
We asked Québec Nouvelles who — from Utica Resources or from the CPQ — gave the survey to the media outlet, but we did not get an answer.
Strangely, the day after we tried to get clarification, the article in question had disappeared. However, an archived version is available.
Furthermore, the business registry indicates that Samuel Racine sits on the board of Dominion Media, which owns both Québec Nouvelles and The Westphalian Times.
He publishes under the pseudonym Samuel Rz in both media outlets. From his LinkedIn profile, we learn that at the Université de Montréal he was president of the Conservative Party of Canada’s campus association.
Samuel Racine, under the pseudonym “Sam Rz,” is also the moderator of a Facebook group in support of Éric Duhaime: “Appuyons Éric Duhaime, chef du PCQ.”
This group appears to have the party’s backing, since its administrators and moderators include such CPQ figures as Fred Têtu (Éric Duhaime’s friend and biographer), Donald Gagnon (national vice-president of the CPQ), André Valiquette (chair of the CPQ’s political commission) and Raffael Cavaliere (executive director of the CPQ).
Ties with the Québec Fier pressure group
Another administrator of the “Appuyons Éric Duhaime” Facebook group is Nicolas Gagnon. He’s also an active contributor to the Québec Nouvelles website in addition to being one of the people in charge of the Québec Fier pressure group.
A report submitted by Québec Fier to Elections Canada during the 2019 federal election states that Samuel Racine was also paid by Québec Fier. His name does not appear on the list of expenses submitted by the organization for the 2021 election.
Québec Fier is a pressure group that is part of an ecosystem of similar groups that belong to the Canada Strong and Proud network.
Nicolas Gagnon is also an administrator with the Proudly New Brunswick, West Coast Proud, NS Proud, and Québec Fier organizations. This network fights mainly for the development of the fossil fuel industry in Canada.
Québec Fier was co-founded by Maxime Hupé, the former director of communications for Maxime Bernier. According to a report in the Huffington Post, Éric Duhaime offered advice to Jean Philippe Fournier, one of the former hosts of Québec Fier’s Facebook page. Fournier was himself a candidate for the Conservative Party of Canada and the CPQ. He no longer has ties with Québec Fier.
During the 2019 federal election, Québec Fier received $45,000 from the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, a conservative advocacy group that was recently renamed Canada Strong and Free Network. This organization has also contributed $240,500 to the Canada Strong and Proud network.
During the 2021 federal election, Québec Fier received close to $93,000 from Canada Strong and Proud and nearly $2,500 from the Modern Miracle Network, a fossil fuel advocacy group.
We asked Québec Nouvelles if the media outlet received any money from the Modern Miracle Network, from the Canada Strong and Free Network, or from the oil industry. All responses, which were written by a certain Michael Binnion, have also disappeared, without explanation, from the Québec Nouvelles website. Fortunately, a number of archived versions are still available.
Michael Binnion and the influence of Alberta oil
On April 1 of this year, an open letter published in The Westphalian Times defended “the moral imperative” of exploiting Canadian hydrocarbons within the context of the war in Ukraine. The author of this letter is Michael Binnion, an Alberta businessman.
On April 4, Québec Nouvelles published this letter in translation, but without naming its author.
Michael Binnion is the CEO of Questerre, an Alberta oil and gas producing company that has interests in the Saint Lawrence Valley.
This little detail is not mentioned by either The Westphalian Times or by Québec Nouvelles. Binnion is also the chairman of the Québec Oil and Gas Association.
Binnion also chairs the board of directors for the Canada Strong and Free Network (formerly the Manning Centre) and is the founder of the Modern Miracle Network.
In 2019, the Globe and Mail revealed that some conservative politicians and heads of oil companies held a meeting at the invitation of the Modern Miracle Network. The goal of the meeting: Come up with strategies for overturning Justin Trudeau’s government.
Québec Nouvelles claims, in all seriousness, that while several Québec media outlets have forsaken impartiality for ideology, it provides “quality information.”
This statement would be much easier to take seriously if Québec Nouvelles owned up to its political and financial ties and if articles didn’t disappear each time a reporter asked a question.
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Company set to buy Trump’s social media app faces subpoenas – Global News
The company planning to buy Donald Trump’s new social media business has disclosed a federal grand jury investigation that it says could impede or even prevent its acquisition of the Truth Social app.
Shares of Digital World Acquisition Corp. dropped 10% in morning trading Monday as the company revealed that it has received subpoenas from a grand jury in New York.
The Justice Department subpoenas follow an ongoing probe by the Securities and Exchange Commission into whether Digital World broke rules by having substantial talks about buying Trump’s company starting early last year before Digital World sold stock to the public for the first time in September, just weeks before its announcement that it would be buying Trump’s company.
Trump’s social media venture launched in February as he seeks a new digital stage to rally his supporters and fight Big Tech limits on speech, a year after he was banned from Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
The Trump Media & Technology Group – which operates the Truth Social app and was in the process of being acquired by Digital World – said in a statement that it will cooperate with “oversight that supports the SEC’s important mission of protecting retail investors.”
The new probe could make it more difficult for Trump to finance his social media company. The company last year got promises from dozens of investors to pump $1 billion into the company, but it can’t get the cash until the Digital World acquisition is completed.
Stock in Digital World rocketed to more than $100 in October after its deal to buy Trump’s company was announced. The stock traded at just around $25 in morning trading Monday.
Digital World is a special-purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, part of an investing phenomenon that exploded in popularity over the past two years.
U.S. Capitol siege hearings focus on Trump’s pressure campaign to overturn 2020 election
Such “blank-check” companies are empty corporate entities with no operations, only offering investors the promise they will buy a business in the future. As such they are allowed to sell stock to the public quickly without the usual regulatory disclosures and delays, but only if they haven’t already lined up possible acquisition targets.
Digital World said in a regulatory filing Monday that each member of its board of directors has been subpoenaed by the grand jury in the Southern District of New York. Both the grand jury and the SEC are also seeking a number of documents tied to the company and others including a sponsor, ARC Global Investments, and Miami-based venture capital firm Rocket One Capital.
Some of the sought documents involve “due diligence” regarding Trump Media and other potential acquisition targets, as well as communications with Digital World’s underwriter and financial adviser in its initial public offering, according to the SEC disclosure.
Digital World also Monday announced the resignation of one of its board members, Bruce Garelick, a chief strategy officer at Rocket One.
© 2022 The Canadian Press
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