‘Arab Media Regulations: Identifying Restraints on Freedom of the Press in the Laws of Six Arabian Peninsula Countries’

My article recently published in the Berkley Journal of Middle Eastern and Islamic law can found here. Such scholarship is rare in the Middle East. On page 2, I list three reasons for the lack of media law research:

Three factors underlie a collective avoidance of research dedicated to the Arab world’s media laws in the academic community. First, a lack of academic freedom in the region hinders rigorous research of media policy. A culture of self-censorship pervades Arab universities because academics that tread too close to “sensitive” subjects (such as the mechanisms used to censor the press) can lose their position or be expelled from host countries. Second, language is a barrier. With many Arabic-speaking researchers avoiding rigorous study of media regulation, English-language academics are left to fill the void. In many Arab countries, media laws are written in Arabic without English translations. Therefore, English-speaking academics—who may also have more knowledge about international approaches to such laws—are unable to examine source material. Finally, a general lack of transparency (in all areas including media laws) makes it difficult to obtain source materials and other specific information, whether in Arabic or English. These factors collectively result in the region seeing little media law scholarship beyond cursory overviews in international media law texts and yearly “not free” rankings from press watchdog organizations.

Hope that other academics follow my lead and contribute more to this field but expect few will be stationed in the region. I purposefully chose an open-access journal, so that the paper can be easily discovered.

This research adds an important component for Arab scholars — how do other countries that have better press freedom rankings handle these issues? Instead of just decrying a government for arresting a journalist, I examine how other countries have balanced the need to keep public order while protecting freedom of expression. The analysis also explores defamation, insult to rulers, licensing of journalists and false news laws.

By | September 30th, 2014|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments

Clay Shirky’s advice for newspaper journalists: Learn data skills, social media to gather news, and how to work in groups

Great read from Clay Shirky, a new media thinker, about the implosion on newspaper journalism. Here’s the three main tips, but you should read the whole post:

The first piece of advice is the most widely discussed in journalism circles — get good with numbers. The old ‘story accompanied by a chart’ was merely data next to journalism; increasingly, the data is the journalism. Nate Silver has changed our sense of political prediction. ProPublica has tied databases to storytelling better than anyone in the country. Homicide Watch can report more murders (all of them, in fact), using fewer people, than the Washington Post. Learning to code is the gold standard, but even taking an online class in statistics and getting good at Google spreadsheets will help. Anything you can do to make yourself more familiar with finding, understanding, and presenting data will set you apart from people you’ll be competing with, whether to keep your current job or get a new one.

Second, learn to use social media tools to find stories and sources. Social media was first absorbed as a marketing tool, but a medium that allows direct access to the public is also a journalistic one. Examples small and large, from photos of a plane landing in the Hudson River to the Guardian’s crowd-sourced analysis of hundreds of thousands of Parliamentary expense reports, rely on a more permeable relationship between the newsroom and the outside world. Practice reading conversations on Facebook and looking at photos on Instagram to look for story ideas; understand how a respectful request for assistance on Twitter or WeChat can bring out key sources or armies of volunteers.

Third, journalism is becoming more of a team sport. Integrated text and visuals, databases the readers can query and annotate themselves, group liveblogging of breaking news — all this requires collaboration far more engaged than the old ‘one story, one byline’ model. Volunteer for (or propose) anything that involves deeper teamwork than you’re used to, and anything that involves experimenting with new tools or techniques. (The irony, of course, is that more news organizations prize teamwork, but still hire individuals. For your next job, you may need to convince your future bosses that you are valuable all by your lonesome, but that part of that value is working well on a team.)

Good advice for today’s journalists and the ones learning the trade in college.

By | August 20th, 2014|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments

“Anonymous Sources: A historical review” just published

Pleased to announce that my academic article “Anonymous Sources: A Historical Review of the Norms Surrounding Their Use” has just been published. It went through three rounds of “revise and resubmit” and finally received the official approval earlier this year. I started the process of publishing this paper in 2011 while in the United Arab Emirates. Here’s the abstract:

This article offers a historical examination of the journalistic norms surrounding the practice of citing anonymous sources. The author examines a variety of textbooks, guidebooks, trade press coverage, and codes of ethics over the past century. The analysis reveals that unnamed attribution, once scorned as a journalistic practice, has gained acceptance over time. After scandals revolving around unnamed sourcing from the 1980s to the 2000s, journalistic norms surrounding their use crystalized in the late 2000s. This analysis also finds that journalism textbooks more often describe common practices of journalists rather than provide normative statements as to how journalists should act. The analysis also reveals that, in guidelines and texts, the journalistic tradition of independently verifying information from unnamed sources diminished over time.

The article represents the last of three works derived from my dissertation. The other two are “Use of unnamed sources drops from peaks in 60s and 70s” in Newspaper Research Journal and “Unnamed Sources: A Utilitarian Exploration of their Justification and Guidelines for Limited Use” in the Journal of Mass Media Ethics.

Have one more article that will be published soon — it’s on limits to press freedoms in the Middle East.

In other news, I’ll be joining the faculty at Berry College as a visiting assistant professor this August. Looking forward to teaching full-time again. 

By | June 10th, 2014|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments

The Public Editor of the NYT is awesome

Margaret Sullivan — who works for the New York Times newspaper as its paid critic — certainly knows how to do her job. Browsing through her archive shows prolific, insightful, on-target analyses of the paper’s foibles.

I especially appreciate her response to the NYT’s selection of Michael Kinsley to review Glenn Greenwald’s book. Kinsley was an odd choice because he has already come out against the type of government whistleblowing that Greenwald has uncovered. The most criticized quote from Kinsley’s review:

The question is who decides. It seems clear, at least to me, that the private companies that own newspapers, and their employees, should not have the final say over the release of government secrets, and a free pass to make them public with no legal consequences. In a democracy (which, pace Greenwald, we still are), that decision must ultimately be made by the government. No doubt the government will usually be overprotective of its secrets, and so the process of decision-making — whatever it turns out to be — should openly tilt in favor of publication with minimal delay. But ultimately you can’t square this circle. Someone gets to decide, and that someone cannot be Glenn Greenwald.

I really have trouble believing that a journalist like Michael Kinsley — who edited The New Republic and the editorial pages of the LA Times — could write these words. Sullivan responds perfectly and with a bunch of hyperlinks to her sources:

Mr. Kinsley’s central argument ignores important tenets of American governance. There clearly is a special role for the press in America’s democracy; the Founders explicitly intended the press to be a crucial check on the power of the federal government, and the United States courts have consistently backed up that role. It’s wrong to deny that role, and editors should not have allowed such a denial to stand. Mr. Kinsley’s argument is particularly strange to see advanced in the paper that heroically published the Pentagon Papers, and many of the Snowden revelations as well. What if his views were taken to their logical conclusion? Picture Daniel Ellsberg and perhaps the Times reporter Neil Sheehan in jail; and think of all that Americans would still be in the dark about — from the C.I.A.’s black sites to the abuses of the Vietnam War to the conditions at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center to the widespread spying on ordinary Americans.

Well said. I hope Sullivan hangs out at the Times for a while.

By | May 28th, 2014|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments

‘Media Law in the United Arab Emirates’ published, available on Amazon

I’m pleased to announce that my book on UAE media laws has been published. Click here to purchase the book on Amazon.

Since I’ll probably only sell about 8 copies, here are the acknowledgements:

I’d like to thank my colleagues at Zayed University’s College of Communication and Media Sciences in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, for the opportunity to teach journalism and international media law in the country. Razi Rizvi, a lawyer with Simmons & Simmons, provided valuable insight into many sections of this book and also provided some of the primary sources. The Center for International Media Education (CIME) and the Department of Communication at Georgia State University have also provided support for this project. Ella Doueiry, a student at Georgia State University and assistant at CIME, helped with some of the Arabic translations. Also, my media law research supported by the Doha Centre for Media Freedom on the Gulf Cooperation Council countries also proved helpful. Finally, I’d like to thank Dr. Kyu Ho Youm, the president of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication and John Marshall First Amendment chair at the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon, for suggesting that I write this book.

I’m not positive, but I think this book is the first to solely address the media laws of an Arab country.

UPDATE: “Media Law in the United Arab Emirates” is also available at Amazon UK.

By | May 9th, 2014|Categories: Uncategorized|Tags: , , , |3 Comments

Great multimedia journalism

I’m going to continuously update this post when I come across examples of multimedia journalism that I want to share with my students. Here’s three works to start off:

  • NPR’s Borderland — examining illegal immigration from Mexico from a variety of perspectives. 
  • Thomas Lake’s “The Ghost of Speedy Cannon” — about a 40-year old football game that featured a possibly race-inspired viscous hit. 
  • Barry Bearak’s “The Jockey” — focuses on Russell Baze, the winningest horse race jockey in American history. 

And just for fun, here’s a collection of great ledes. And here’s an explanation for why journalists spell “lede” that way.

By | April 14th, 2014|Categories: Uncategorized|Tags: |0 Comments

Final readings/videos for media law class

The readings address the nature of the free press in the United States and globally. I’ve updated them slightly since last semester.

April 15

April 17

April 22

      • Class video

April 24

    • Read: Reaction to “Innocence of Muslims” video
    • Watch: Hamza Yusuf discussing free speech and the right to offend in aftermath of “Innocense of Muslims.” He references the attack on the Benghazi embassy in Libya, which occurred at the same time.
    • Read: Amartya Sen talking about press freedom and civil society. Sen is a Nobel Prize-winning academic.
    • Questions to answer before coming to class. Put the answers on paper so you can turn them in.

April 29

    • Readings:
      • Arab Media Laws
      • US free speech and terrorism
      • Answer these questions before class:
        • What are the five areas where Arab media laws differ most with international norms?
        • How does US approach to terrorism speech compare/contrast with Arab media law
        • How should the US change its approach to free speech?
        • How should the Arab world change its approach?
      • Put the answers on paper so you can turn them in.
    • Clay Shirky video. (We’ll watch this in class.)

May 1

Final Exam (6 p.m.): Here’s the study guide.

By | April 12th, 2014|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments

Worry over Qatar’s cybercrime law and other general updates

Here’s a link to my article in Al Monitor on a proposed change to the cybercrime law in Qatar. Al Monitor, by the way, just won the International Press Institute’s Free Media Pioneer Award. The publication has provided some great reporting on the Middle East for the past couple of years. They’ve also just launched the “Gulf Pulse,” which will focus on the Arabian Gulf countries, including semi-regular reports from this correspondent.

By | March 19th, 2014|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments

GCC media laws lead to timid press

Here’s a link to my recent essay published in Mufta on the media laws of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries–Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. It’s an update and summation of the my research last year published by the Doha Centre for Media Freedom. Here’s a snippet from the conclusion:

As a result of these various laws and regulations, the press corps in GCC states is far from free or independent. In 2010, one brave editor inside the UAE complained that “there isn’t enough protection provided to journalists and self-censorship is practiced by our newspapers to avoid angering official bodies and to please the government.”

A newspaper in Qatar, the Qatar Peninsula, expressed a similar sentiment. An article entitled “The Crippled Four Estate” detailed the unpleasant experience of receiving a criminal defamation complaint and visit from the police. “The entire process is so harrowing and humiliating for a journalist that he chickens out when it comes to writing critically on issues,” the article stated. Perhaps tellingly, the article no longer appears on the newspaper’s website.

GCC countries regularly receive poor marks from international press freedom organizations such as Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders. Until the press laws and other regulations in these countries are amended, these states will continue to find themselves at the bottom of the rankings.

In some GCC countries, this is perhaps precisely what the leadership intends.

Please read the rest.

By | February 17th, 2014|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments

Nancy Grace libel case will hinge on whether she knew she was wrong

CNN’s Nancy Grace has been sued for defamation by Michael Skakel, a Kennedy relative who’s spent more than a dozen years in prison for murder. Here’s the New York Times article for full background, but suffice it to say that Grace and one of her guests accused Skakel of being tied to the crime with DNA evidence. No such evidence was ever entered in court proceedings so it’s unclear where they got this information.

In order to win a libel case, the plaintiff must prove that the defamatory information was false, disseminated and caused harm. In addition, public figures must prove “actual malice,” that the information was known to be untrue. Private figures need only prove that the journalists acted with negligence of some kind. It’s unclear whether Skakel will be treated as a public or private figure but previous cases have held that people charged with crimes become limited-purpose public figures.

If a public figure, Skakel would need to prove that Grace and her guest knew the DNA evidence was never present and yet said that it was anyway. CNN hasn’t released any details about where Grace got the information but during the discovery process, she will definitely be asked under oath to explain her sourcing. If a private figure, Skakel would need to only prove the Grace and her guest didn’t follow normal newsroom procedures to verify the DNA evidence information.

Either way, Skakel looks to have a good case since the DNA information appears to be definitely untrue.

Another defense will regard Skakel’s tarnished reputation. Some libel cases have been won when the defense proved the plaintiff’s reputation was so bad that it couldn’t be damaged any further. Given that Skakel is out of prison and receiving a new trial, Grace and her co-defendant’s probably won’t be able to make that defense stick.

It’s an interesting case — one that will be fun to follow, as long CNN’s corporate bosses don’t decide to cut their losses and settle.

By | January 2nd, 2014|Categories: Uncategorized|Tags: , , , |0 Comments

Is there a Santa Claus?

From the New York Sun, Sept. 21, 1897:

… Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding…

— Francis Pharcellus Church

Merry Christmas to all… and to all a Good Night!

By | December 24th, 2013|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments

Readings on nature of free speech in US, globally

For my final four classes in international communication law at Kennesaw State University, I’m assigning readings and videos for the students. If you’d like to follow along, here are the assignments:

Nov. 19


Nov. 21


Nov. 26


Dec. 2

By | November 19th, 2013|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments

Emirati charged with spreading ‘false news’ released

By | November 4th, 2013|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments

Workshop in Tangier: How to use social media to gather news

Tangier, Morocco — Three journalism professors will offer tips on integrating “Social Media in the Newsroom” during a three-hour workshop in Tangier, Morocco on Nov. 14.

The presentation will focus on real-world applications and demonstrate how the top media outlets are incorporating relevant social media features.

Examples will include Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and lesser-known social media tools such as Ushahidi crowd-sourced maps.

“The social media landscape is changing,” Marty Steffans, a professor at University of Missouri, said. “We’ll tell you want you need to know about social media news gathering and news promotion, and what you’ll need to know in the year ahead.”

Steffans will be presenting the workshop along with Kim Fox of the American University of Cairo and Matt Duffy of Kennesaw State University. The workshop will serve both practicing news media professionals and university professors interested in keeping up with the latest social media usage. 

The event will be free to AUSACE conference participants or just 75 Moroccon Dirhams (roughly 9 US dollars) for others. To enroll, send an email to mattjduffy@gmail.com.

AUSACE, the Arab-U.S. Association for Communication Educators, is an academic group dedicated to improving journalism instruction in the Middle East and in the United States.

By | October 17th, 2013|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments

Examining news coverage in United Arab Emirates

The new issue of the Journal of Middle East Media features my peer-reviewed article: “‘Cultures of Journalism’ in Arabic- and English-language Newspapers within the United Arab Emirates.” The study examined news coverage in the English-language newspaper The National and the Arabic-language Al Ittihad. It finds that journalism differs greatly between Arabic and English content. Here’s the abstract:

This article examines the “cultures of journalism” at two newspapers in the United Arab Emirates, the Arabic-language Al Ittihad and English-language The National. Founded in 2008, the latter newspaper promised to bring Western-style journalism to the Middle East, so the analysis helps to examine whether it reached this goal. The author and an Arab-language researcher used a “frame analysis” to examine a sample month of coverage (April 2011) during the “Arab Spring.” The researchers looked for examples of four main concepts based on Kovach and Rosenthiel’s Principles of Journalism: Verification and commitment to truth-telling, holding those in power accountable, providing a space for public criticism and compromise, and comprehensive and proportional reporting. The analysis found that the English-language paper covered the news according to those principles far more than the Arabic-language outlet. But The National deviated from these principles when covering “sensitive” subjects such as actions taken by the nation’s security forces. The author concludes with questions about how the different approaches of the English and Arab press may affect the audience’s culture.

Read the whole thing here.

By | October 9th, 2013|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments