Public argument is relatively new idea

Really enjoying the recently published “New Ethics of Journalism.” Below is a good bit from Clay Shirky on the nature of public argument and debate. Many cultures in Asia and the Arab world are struggling as the Internet forces governments to concede to these public arguments.

Argument, of course, is the human condition, but public argument is not. Indeed, in most places for most of history, publicly available statements have been either made or vetted by the ruling class, with the right of reply rendered impractical, illegal, or both. Expansion of public speech, for both participants and topics, is generally won only after considerable struggle, and of course, any such victory pollutes the sense of what constitutes truth from the previous era, a story that runs from Martin Luther through Ida Tarbell to Mario Savio, the drag queens outside Stonewall, and Julian Assange.

Important to remember the struggle takes time.

By | August 30th, 2013|Categories: Uncategorized|Tags: , , |0 Comments

Blackstone on the nature of the free press

Here’s what Sir William Blackstone said about the free press in 1769.

The liberty of the press is indeed essential to the nature of a free state: but this consists in laying no previous restraints upon publications, and not in freedom from censure for criminal matter when published. Every freeman has an undoubted right to lay what sentiments he pleases before the public: to forbid this, is to destroy the freedom of the press: but if he publishes what is improper, mischievous, or illegal, he must take the consequence of his own temerity.

Sometimes we forget that a “free press” does operate with some limits. But those limits are narrowly drawn and a premium is placed upon political speech.

By | August 26th, 2013|Categories: Uncategorized|Tags: , |0 Comments

Egyptian General Al Sisi’s thoughts on Middle East democracy

The government watchdog group Judicial Watch has obtained and posted Gen. Al Sisi’s thesis presented to the U.S. Army War College in 2006. The conclusion presents some interesting insights into the general’s opinions on “Democracy in the Middle East.”

To sum up Al Sisi’s main points:

1) The Middle East needs to shift from state-controlled government to people-controlled government.
2) The media must serve the state to help prevent extremism.
3) Religion and politics can be tricky. People must learn to accept the validity and perspectives of other religions.
4) The Arab region should bind together like the European Union. Free-market trading can lead to democracy development.
5) Arabs should ask other countries to come in and promote democracy through educational programs.

Here’s his complete conclusion:

Conclusions and Recommendations
Education and the media will be key enablers towards the establishment of democracy. There must be a shift from state-controlled means to population-controlled means. As media means, such as the internet and television become more prominent, their ability to influence education from the bottom up will tend to energize the masses. Clearly, the extremists understand the power of the media and are attempting to gain influence through their use. To be successful, the media must show that the moderate lifestyle is a better way.

The role of religion in government will be a key issues among many. The moderate view is that there is a place of Islamic beliefs. Historically, for democracies including religion has been a challenge; yet this does not mean the Middle East won’t succeed. A common religious understanding among all ethnicities and cultures must exist and there must be consideration given to non-Islamic beliefs.

The Middle East must view itself much in the same manger as the European Union. They represent various countries and cultures that have varying standards of living, but yet see the need to organize for the betterment of Europe—economics, security and international influence. For these same reasons, the Middle East should organize as a region. This will help galvanize the Middle East as a region and may foster free-market interaction which is conducive to democratic development. And finally, as the Middle East develops the rest of the world should seek ways to assist in promoting democratic values and means. Investing in educational means would be a good starting point.

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

Freedom as a Value in Arab Media: Perceptions and Attitudes Among Journalists

Despite its age, professor Hussein Amin’s journal article published in 2002 still provides some fantastic insights into the problems of Arab journalism. Give it a read:

Freedom as a Value in Arab Media Perceptions and Attitudes Among Journalists

Here’s the abstract:

This article examines the development of freedom of the press and censorship in Egypt and the Arab world. Further, it discusses patterns of influence on freedom of the press and their impact on Arab journalists. It finds that press freedom in Arab countries and the performance of Arab journalists are still threatened by a censorial political culture, one that develops in an environment usually dominated by a single political party. Overt censorship and self-censorship are commonplace in the Arab news media today and journalism education programs, just as the media themselves have, in fact, been recruited into a national enterprise for the production of propaganda. The technological changes sweeping the world will increase the pressure for change and make issues of censorship obsolete as journalists find outlets for reporting among transnational media.

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

The timeless inverted pyramid


Here’s a little clip from a panel at a journalism conference that shows the continued importance of the inverted pyramid in the digital age.

The 2.5-minute clip features three editors — from Buzzfeed, the Huffington Post, and Roll Call — talking about the need to put the most important information at the top of the story. They note that some young journalists thrown into online reporting have missed that lesson.

The Huffington Post’s Jennifer Bendery also makes a fantastic point about the importance of talking with someone else before starting to write the story.

By | August 10th, 2013|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments

Arab Media Regulations: Identifying restraints on freedom of the press in laws of six Arabian Peninsula countries

Below are the slides to my other paper presentation at the AEJMC conference. It greatly expands on my work for the Doha Centre for Media Freedom that was published earlier this year.

The paper examines the limits placed on Arab journalists in the context of the guidelines provided from a United Nations treaty, the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights. Section 19 of that document provides guidance on how to balance freedom of speech with legitimate governmental duties to protect the general welfare of a country (such as defamation or public order.) Read more on this here.

I plan on submitting the full paper for peer-reviewed publication after I get feedback on the presentation.

Here’s the abstract:

This article analyzes media regulations of the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries on the Arabian Peninsula—Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The laws are analyzed and compared to international approaches that aim to balance freedom of expression against other societal obligations. The analysis shows that GCC laws go far beyond international norms in several areas including defamation, insults and criticisms, public order, and the banning of “false news.”

By | August 8th, 2013|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments

Arab defamation laws — major impediment to good journalism in Middle East

Libel and slander laws in the Middle East dramatically hinder good local journalism in the region. Such laws are perhaps second only to “insulting the ruler” charges in their ability squelch freedom of the press and speech. A recent incident in the United Arab Emirates demonstrates their devastating effect.

I wrote an article for Al Monitor about the case of a man who was arrested for recording a video of an Emirati man beating an Indian driver.

However, police also arrested the Indian man who recorded and uploaded the incident. The arrest came after the Emirati man’s family filed a complaint with police alleging an invasion of privacy as well as defamation. According to local reports, the man who videoed the incident actually faces more jail time than the Emirati attacker.

Defamation in the UAE — as well as the entire Arab world — differs from international legal norms in several substantive respects. First, it’s a criminal charge rather than a civil legal issue (jail time versus a financial settlement.) More importantly, truth is not a defense against defamation in the Arab world.

Such an approach has a crushing effect on anyone wishing to record a crime or journalists working to uncover corruption. The approach allows anyone behaving badly to win a defamation charge by simply showing that a true depiction of his actions damaged his reputation.

International legal norms hold that truth is an automatic defense against defamation charges. The approach ensures that the public benefits from the exposition of defamatory behavior. No one should be allowed to protect a reputation that they do not deserve.

I’ll be speaking more about this subject in Washington, DC, this weekend at the annual Association of Educators of Journalism and Mass Communication conference. Will post the slides for the presentation soon.

For more details on Arab defamation laws and other impediments to good Arab journalism, check out my Jadaliyya article, “Despite Arab Uprisings, Press Freedom Still Elusive.”

By | August 5th, 2013|Categories: Uncategorized|Tags: , , , , , |0 Comments

Despite Arab Spring, ‘culture of repression’ continues to undermine press freedoms in Middle East

Anyone looking for an overall picture of freedom of expression and the press since the Arab Awakening that started in 2011 may want to read my recent article published in Jadaliyya. The analysis examines the moves taken in Arab countries since the unrest around the region–particularly the legal actions taken by governments. The result is rather depressing, particularly from the countries that haven’t yet seen any political change.

Most of these countries use the following legal methods to intimidate journalists and social media activists: Criminal defamation, “insult the ruler” charges, laws against “false communication,” censorship to protect public order, and the licensing of journalists.  Years of government intimidation have created a “culture of repression.” Here’s the section about this issue:

But, perhaps the biggest limitation to Arab journalism (and, again, forgive me for speaking in generalities) is the effect of years of repression on the profession. Many journalists simply accept that they cannot do their jobs properly and have acquiesced to the situation. Others, who have been elevated to positions of authority in Arab newsrooms, have become adept at censoring the journalists under them. In countless discussions with journalists in the Arab world, I’ve heard that editors often do the jobs of government officials by killing the stories they sense may cause trouble.

In his book, “The New Arab Journalist,” Lawrence Pintak reveals many examples of self-censorship in the Arab world. An editor for a Saudi paper says “we know our limits and in a way practice self-censorship. There have been troubles when red lines have been crossed.” And an Egyptian reporter working for an Emirates newspaper said he had asked himself “two or three times what will be the reaction” before publishing an article. Another Gulf editor said it plainly: “Our press is infected with the self-censorship virus.”

The effect of this self-censorship is depressing. Perhaps some of the troubles of the Arab Spring—unemployment, government corruption, and stagnant economic growth—could have been addressed if the news media weren’t beaten down by government harassment. But, these issues were ignored by a timid Arab press and allowed to fester. Despite the proliferation of media outlets in some of these countries, the overwhelming stance is for the media to continue to tow the government line. One newspaper that challenged the status quo in Egypt, the Egypt Independent, sadly shut down earlier this year because it couldn’t stay afloat financially.

These broad criticisms refer to the local press in each country and how they cover their own government and business interests. Many press outlets provide laudable coverage of situations in neighboring countries. For example, The National in the United Arab Emirates closely covers arrests in Kuwait, Oman, and other Arab countries over freedom of speech issues. However, when reporting on arrests in its own country, the paper defers to government statements or muted trial coverage.

Fed up with the old media outlets that self-censor at home, many residents have turned to Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to give and receive impartial and unfiltered information. The result was an explosion throughout much of the Arab world. Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen have all seen their long-time autocratic rulers depart. The state-aligned local media could not protect them. And those countries that haven’t yet seen a change in leadership are worried about their future and keen to stop social media from evolving into a space for free expression. All of the Arab sheikdoms have made arrests for speech on Twitter—sending an important signal the people that they expect boundaries to be respected. Kuwait has arrested dozens of people on “insulting the Emir” charges, while the UAE has arrested scores of residents (mostly over what they said on social media platforms) and ultimately charged them with sedition. Even in Qatar–which hosts the Al Jazeera and the Doha Centre for Media Freedom–convicted a poet and sentenced him to 15 years in prison because of a poem in which he said that all Arabs lived under similar free speech conditions as pre-revolution Tunisians.

Please read the rest of the article–it includes a slew of hyperlinks to my sources.

Case study for failure of local press in Gulf

The online news outlet Doha News just published an e-book on the Villagio Mall fire in Doha, Qatar, that left 19 people dead including many small children one year ago. It’s an excellent resource that documents the events and reactions to the tragedy. Importantly, the 60-page book details the failure of the local media and how the void in coverage has led to a general lack in accountability for those involved. Here’s a section of the book:

Weeks later, on Sept. 6, the trial to determine criminal responsibility for the fire deaths commenced. However, the hearing was postponed after some of the defendants failed to turn upin court. Shortly thereafter, on Sept. 20, Villaggio mall did reopen tothe public, but offered no information about what changes were made to the facility to make it a safer place.

Qatar received the news with an ambivalence that continuesto this day.

As people began heading back to the mall, Jane Weekes expressed her pain to Doha News: “One of the hardest things about losing a child orchildren is how quickly the world seems to return tonormal whilst ours remains shattered. This will equally be the case for the families of the 4 teachers and 2 firefighters who perished, who are not only someone’schild but also leave behind children of their own.”

In the months to follow, the court proceedings would be post-poned three more times because of the absence of Gympanzeeco-owner Iman Al Kuwari, who had moved to Belgium withher family after the fire, as her husband Sheikh Ali Bin Jassim Al Thani began his post as Qatar’s ambassador there.

Of course, Doha News was later banned from covering the trial because it wasn’t considered an “official” media outlet. The result is that the best news outlet in Qatar couldn’t cover the most important trail of the year. Here’s the full book:

Villaggio Fire: A Tragedy Silenced by Omar Chatriwala

By | May 28th, 2013|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments

The 9 Principles of Journalism

(Left to right) GlobalPost Executive Editor Charles M. Sennott, HuffPost Live host Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, Egyptian journalist Abeer Saady and me.


I referenced these Principles of Journalism during a panel on the difficulty of training journalists at the International Press Institute’s World Congress in Amman, Jordan. These principles were developed by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel in their book “The Elements of Journalism.” I think they’re the best encapsulation of the definition of good journalism.

1) Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth.2) Its first loyalty is to citizens.

3) Its essence is a discipline of verification.

4) Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover.

5) It must serve as an independent monitor of power.

6) It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise.

7) It must strive to make the significant interesting and relevant.

8) It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional.

9) Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience.

Some of these are quite easy to support — governments and press alike. “Obligation to truth” and “discipline of verification,” for instance. However, in countries without an elected leader or ruler, the government might not appreciate the “first loyalty to citizens” and “independent monitor of power.”

Hence the inherent subversiveness in teaching good journalism.

By | May 20th, 2013|Categories: Uncategorized|5 Comments

DCMF chief criticizes media coverage of Villagio fire trial in Doha

Great interview with Jan Keulen, the director of the Doha Centre for Media Freedom, in which he talks extensively about the problem with Qatari journalism.

Below is good bit about the trial coverage of the tragic Villagio Mall fire, in which 13 children in a daycare lost their lives. The judge in the trial barred an online outlet, Doha News (the best online news outlet in the Gulf), from covering the trial. That leaves the trial coverage to the local newspapers, and their coverage has been less than exhaustive.

Kuelen notes:

Yes, I don’t think (the local media) did a very good job. Not only the coverage of the incident but also what happened afterwards has been fairly ambiguous. What happened to the relatives of the victims? What kinds of safety and security measures were really taken? Is it safer now? We haven’t really seen anything about that in the media.

… I would be very surprised if we do not hear anything about the final judgement but there have been more than 11 court hearings. As somebody who lives here, I would like to have a little bit more information about what happened during those court cases. And if there’s any reason not to publish them, it should be conveyed to the public.

But I haven’t read anything about that and so there’s an atmosphere that suggests lack of transparency surrounding that case which I find regrettable. Sometimes a judge might have to disallow media inside a court room for privacy or security reasons but then that should be said, so that the people are aware that media is not covering up, what is in principle, important news. It should be highlighted that the absence of details is because according to the court, for specific and stated reasons, it would be detrimental to the case proceedings.

I think sometimes there is a misunderstanding on how the role of media is perceived. While news and amusement are both expected of media, they also have another important role and that is to take care of the cohesion of the community.

There is a role played by media which is to console, I think, especially in cases of disasters or calamities and this was the aspect in which media was not able to stand up to the communities’ need and expectation in the case of Villaggio fire where 13 children died.

Good points. And kudos to the Doha Gulf Times for printing the interview.

The problem with the trial can be seen throughout the Gulf — a lack of transparency in the issues most important to the public. This approach is entrenched in the political and cultural DNA of the region. Only a new generation, raised in a different communication environment, will be able to change the status quo.

By | May 12th, 2013|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments

ICCPR helps draw proper lines around freedom of expression

Anyone interested in exploring the boundaries of freedom of expression should start with the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

The ICCPR is a United Nations Treaty that outlines the ideal goals by which governments should operate to both provide safety for the society while ensuring individual human rights regarding freedom of speech and the press.

No country considers freedom of expression an absolute. For instance, all societies prohibit untruthful defamation of reputation or the incitement to imminent lawless action. However, freedom of expression is an important human right that must be protected against overly aggressive states usually seeking to ensure stability.

The United Nations treaty acknowledges the need for balance between these two interests by creating a framework to help guide policy makers in developing regulations around freedom of speech. Section 19 of the ICCPR states:

1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.

2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.

3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:

(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;

(b) For the protection of national security or of public order or of public health or morals.

Therefore, this covenant explicitly guarantees freedom of speech but expressly notes which areas justify limits being placed upon it: Protection of reputation (defamation), national security and public order, and public health and morals.

It’s important to note what’s not included — licensing of journalists, laws against false news and bans on insulting or offensive language.

The ICCPR offers any nation struggling with finding proper boundaries of free expression with a useful blueprint.

By | May 5th, 2013|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments

Kudos to local Atlanta press for fighting judge’s gag order

The judge in the trial of the Atlanta Public School cheating scandal case just lifted the gag order that had prohibited defendants from talking to the press. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported:

(Superior Court Judge Jerry) Baxter granted a motion jointly filed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News seeking to remove gag orders on the APS defendants that were made a part of their bonds. The orders restricted the administrators and educators from talking to the media and public about the case.

Tom Clyde, a lawyer for the AJC and WSB-TV, said “a core part of being an American citizen” is a defendant’s right to profess his or her innocence.

Quinn countered that the defendants agreed to the condition in exchange for getting their bonds reduced. “This was something they did knowingly and voluntarily,” he said.

Baxter disagreed.

So, the judge asked, they could either post bonds of several million dollars or agree not to talk about the case?

“I’m striking that,” he said.

The gag order limited the press from covering the story fairly by giving prosecutors a monopoly on access to reporters.

Gag orders are considered a form of “prior restraint” — a serious abridgment of freedom of the press. However, they aren’t necessarily viewed as unconstitutional since the U.S. Constitution guarantees both a right to a free press as well as a right to a fair trial.

The Supreme Court generally holds that gag orders must directly lead to a more fair trial for defendants in order to uphold any restrictions on press coverage.

Given that standard, it’s hard to see how the gag order in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating case would lead to a more fair trial for the defendants.

The AJC and WSB deserve praise for paying their lawyers to fight the gag order. They are owned by the same company, Cox Communications — a reminder that bigger isn’t always badder when it comes to media outlets.

By | May 4th, 2013|Categories: AJC|Tags: , , , , , |0 Comments

Sheikh Hamza Yusuf on Islam, freedom of speech and global communication

This is a great talk from American Islamic scholar Sheikh Hamza Yusuf on issues surrounding global communication and Islam. He spoke after the YouTube video portraying the Prophet Mohammed caused so much offense in the Muslim world last year.

He makes some great points. First, he describes how Islamic scholars sometimes limit freedom of speech by labeling anything they disagree with as an insult to the prophet. He mentioned his own experience in which Islamic scholars said he needed to make public repentance for defending someone who had insulted the prophet. Yusuf said:

That certainly wasn’t my intention. But, I was pointing out a nuance. Well, we’re living in a world where nuance is no longer in our vocabularies. We are in the cartoon world of black and white. It’s not even color cartoons.

Fantastic point that could apply to some Islamic scholars as well as many segments of American society. In my opinion, Islamophobia and Islamic extremism are essentially two sides of the same coin.

He then goes on to discuss freedom of speech with some nuance. Yusuf discusses Holocaust denial laws, the confusion between the support for free speech vs. support for the specific speech, and the shifting perspectives on protection of reputation. Give it a listen.

By | April 29th, 2013|Categories: Uncategorized|Tags: , , |0 Comments

NY Times covers my departure from UAE

Just wanted to link to the article earlier this week in which a NY Times reporter used my case as a foil to examine the issue of teaching free expression in the Gulf Arab States. Here’s the lede:

DOHA, QATAR — When Matt J. Duffy first got a job teaching journalism at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi in 2010, he was thrilled.

Besides teaching courses in storytelling, journalistic ethics, and media regulation at Zayed, Dr. Duffy, an enthusiastic blogger, became a frequent contributor to Gulf News, a Dubai newspaper. He also was chairman of a conference on the role of the media in the Arab Spring, started a student chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and organized campus celebrations of World Press Freedom Day last May.

Three months later, he was expelled from the United Arab Emirates without any explanation.

In Doha, the capital of the neighboring Gulf state of Qatar, students at Northwestern University’s campus there were discussing recently the relevance of the admonition by the investigative journalist I.F. Stone that “all governments lie” to a society whose leaders seldom feel the need to explain their actions. The classroom debate was as spirited and irreverent as it might be on any U.S. campus, and the students — a mix of Qataris, Gulf-based expatriates and foreigners — seemed adept at negotiating the contradictions between the uninhibited reporting on Al Jazeera, a network based in Doha and funded by the local government, and the fact that as one student put it, “If they don’t like what you say here, they can deport you.”

Yep, that about sums it up. The article goes on to explore different aspects of education and journalism in the Gulf and includes quotes from a couple of well-respected deans of journalism schools, including the one at Northwestern-Qatar. Sounds like academics at his university have a little more freedom to address “sensitive” subjects.

I’ve written an article for “Arab Media and Society” that explores this issue a little more. I believe that will be the final nail in the coffin.

By | April 26th, 2013|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments

Journalism educators group blasts White House for aggressive prosecuting of press leaks

My professional group, the Association for Journalism and Mass Communication Education (AEJMC), just released a statement decrying the current administrations approach to prosecuting press leaks.

It’s an important statement because President Obama is taking an unprecedented tack with these historically common leaks. Our group — obviously concerned with protecting good journalism and public accountability — should not remain silent while this happens. Many are quite surprised that Obama — who promised to be transparent and more open in dealing with the press — appears to many to be no different that his predecessor.

For the average person, the value of leaking classified information is lost. However, most “big stories” that uncover government abuse and waste came to the press by way of an anonymous whistleblower who leaked the information. The statement opens:

The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) is committed to freedom of speech and the press in the United States and abroad. AEJMC believes that this commitment must include a free exchange of information and ideas, even some information that the U.S. government considers or wishes to be “secret.” The Pentagon Papers, Watergate, the Iran-Contra affair and the existence of clandestine CIA prisons are examples in which secret government information was leaked to and publicized by the news media. In these and in many other cases, the dissemination of secret information served a greater good to American society by informing the public and by allowing for a needed debate on the ethics of secret government policies and covert actions. We believe that a democracy shrouded in secrecy encourages corruption, and we agree, as Justice Louis D. Brandeis of the U.S. Supreme Court said, “sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

The statement then goes on to outline the current approach:

AEJMC, therefore, calls attention to the current administration’s zeal in prosecuting those in government who leak secret information. Only three times in its first 92 years was the Espionage Act of 1917 used to prosecute government officials for leaking secret information to the press. However, the current administration has already brought six charges under this Act. The accused in all of these cases appear to represent whistleblowers, not those engaged in attempted espionage for foreign governments that “aid the enemy.”

Huge difference between giving information to an enemy spy and leaking it to the press — at least if you live in a democracy where press freedom is seen as an important check on the power of the government. But the current administration isn’t acknowledging that difference:

We caution that the prosecution of U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, who released a trove of secret data to the WikiLeaks website, appears to be excessively punitive, with a chilling effect on a democracy’s requisite freedom of speech and the press. The release of this information advanced and clarified public debate on the morality of U.S. policy. Some observers even suggest that the honest (albeit secret) diplomatic assessments of Middle Eastern regimes helped spark the Arab Spring. Pfc. Bradley Manning has already admitted in military court that he did break the law through his actions. But to accuse him of “aiding the enemy” is egregious, given his credible stated intentions and the global breadth of the dissemination.

The government’s current approach toward leak prosecutions sends a message to the rest of the world that the United States’ actions are not fully aligned with its stated “exceptional” commitment to freedom of speech and the press as a human right

Great point. We can’t just go around lecturing the world about the value of a free press and then prosecute an important part of its function here at home. The statement concludes with suggestion for future action

Therefore, in recognition of the historical benefits of leaked information to our nation and to the principles and values of democracy, in particular the freedom of speech and the press, AEJMC calls on the U.S. government to make prosecutions as rare as possible, to consider the credible intent of the accused in these prosecutions, and to seek punishment that is proportionate and commensurate, not only with credible intent, but also with resulting harm and benefit to our democracy, its principles and values. Furthermore, we ask that prosecutors consider reviewing existing press leak cases in light of the public good and the First Amendment. AEJMC believes that this will ensure an environment in which the public will continue to be served through the occasional leaking of secret information by those whose credible intent was the public good.

Note that the statement doesn’t call for the absolute prohibition of prosecution of press leaks — however, we certainly feel that they should far more rare than they are right now.

The president of AEJMC, the presidential advisory committee, and the Professional Freedom and Responsibility Chairs of each division (including myself, Media Ethics Division) helped draft the statement. I’m proud that we as a group are standing strongly for press freedom and that we live in a country where such speech is protected and valued.

Redefining copyrights for a digital age

A group of British academics has just published a paper similar to one I was planning to write about the need to re-evaluate the ethics of the copyright system given the drastic changes in the new digital landscape. Here’s the abstract for “Framing the consumer: Copyright regulation and the public” by Lee Edwards, Bethany Klein, David Lee, Giles Moss and Fiona Philip:

With illegal downloading at the centre of debates about the creative economy, various policy initiatives and regulatory attempts have tried (and largely failed) to control, persuade and punish users into adhering to copyright law. Rights holders, policymakers, intermediaries and users each circulate and maintain particular attitudes about appropriate uses of digital media. This article maps the failure of regulation to control user behaviour, considers various policy and academic research approaches to understanding users, and introduces an analytical framework that re-evaluates user resistance as expressions of legitimate justifications. A democratic copyright policymaking process must accommodate the modes of justification offered by users to allow copyright law to reconnect with the public interest goals at its foundation.

Exactly. We must have a public conversation about just how powerful copyright holders should be, particularly amid “legitimate justifications” of resistance. I will probably build on this paper to create a more overt ethical argument for individuals to follow as they wait for policymakers to adapt.

For instance, I think one can ethically justify downloading illegal content that has been paid for in some fashion. If I pay iTunes for the rights to watch a television show, then I should be able to watch it by hooking the computer up to my TV. However, some copyright holders digitally block that type of arrangement. (I’ve literally had iTunes tell me that my license didn’t allow for content to be displayed on a TV screen, only on a computer.) I have “resisted” this copyright over-reach by downloading the show illegally and watching on my TV via a USB port. This action, I believe, is a legitimate ethical justification.

Other specific examples of group resistance are probably equally justified — but we must be careful that we don’t justify wholesale theft of copyrighted works. I look forward to thinking about this problem further — and using this work as a welcome starting place.

By | February 22nd, 2013|Categories: Uncategorized|Tags: , , |0 Comments

On Palestinian despair and US news

Russia Today news anchor Abby Martin makes some good points about the treatment of just one Palestinian — Samer Issawi, who’s on a hunger strike in an Israeli jail. He appears to have been detained without reason and held indefinitely without any court supervision.

When the third intifada comes and we wonder what’s wrong with all those enraged Palestinians, remember this report. Terrorism seems like a valid alternative when there appears to be no movement whatsoever to alleviating excruciatingly bad conditions. That’s the predicament Palestinians find themselves in today. They, of course, share some of the blame for the current situation — but Israel, too, seems quite unwilling to make any movement toward finding a solution. Both sides need to make big concessions to find a solution to their current impasse.

On another note, the media outlet that chose to bring light to Issawi’s case is Russia Today. For various reasons, US-based outlets would rarely speak so stridently in favor of a Palestinian.

By | February 21st, 2013|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments

US envoy to UAE makes unfortunate remarks on human rights

Ambassador Corbin

In a recent interview with a decidedly pro-government newspaper in the United Arab Emirates, the U.S. ambassador dismissed suggestions that the detention of more than 90 Emirati citizens was a “human rights” issue.

Since the middle of last year, the UAE security forces have mysteriously detained 94 citizens and held them in undisclosed locations without charges. In early January, as the country  prepared to present its report on human rights in the country to the United Nations, prosecutors announced formal charges against all of them. The government has yet to release a list of all the people in detention.

Prosecutors allege that these Emiratis were plotting to overthrow the government. However, many of the people detained have simply asked questions publicly — many on social media sites such as Twitter — about the decisions of the government, according to observers. One of the detainees, Dr. Mohammad al Rokr, is a lawyer who represented the five activists convicted in 2011 on charges of insulting the president.

When the Khaleej Times asked about the human rights record in the United Arab Emirates, Ambassador Michael Corbin was quite upbeat:

The country just made a very successful presentation to the Human Rights Council in Geneva on the subject of what the UAE does, such as focusing on human trafficking. There are issues that every country is facing in this region and the announcement by the UAE that they’re going to try 94 people for working against the country is not a human rights issue because the accusations are over what the charges are in these cases and now the Government is going to present the cases, so we’ll see. When you look at countries that are under the spotlight for human rights, this is not one of them.

So Corbin says there’s no human rights concern at all because the 94 people are going to court. There are several problems with his reasoning:

1) Many of these people were held for months without any charges or due process whatsoever.
2) The courts in the UAE are not independent, a fact noted by the US government’s Department of State.
3) Most of the detainees face charges because of their speech. Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right that can’t be negated because a country’s laws makes some speech illegal.

Of course, the local media has totally ignored all of these detentions. Moves by the security forces are an understood “red line” in news coverage that simply isn’t crossed. Of course, positive statements from a high-ranking U.S. official are totally acceptable.

The United Arab Emirates is a major U.S. ally in the Middle East, so we can understand that the Ambassador wouldn’t want to make critical comments in the press about the country’s internal policies. However, making this statement — essentially defending the human rights record of the country — is ridiculously out of step with America’s stated positions regarding the ideal conditions for free expression and the rule of law.

In the future, the US Ambassador should just stay quiet rather than embarrass himself — and all U.S. citizens — with false platitudes about the UAE’s human rights record.

By | February 14th, 2013|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments

Law, Ethics, and Social Media: A Primer on US Copyright Law, Fair Use, and Defamation in a Digital World

Above is my presentation from #SoCon13, the social media conference held at Kennesaw State University last weekend. Here’s a link to all the presentations. Perhaps the biggest misnomer out there is just how much power copyright holders have — they tend to want to forget about the “fair use” provision of copyright law. Fair use allows for the use of copyrighted work for purposes of “comment and criticism.” Taking a picture (or even a short video) of a live show or off television should fall well-within the boundaries of fair use.

By | February 11th, 2013|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments

Regarding academic freedom in the #UAE

Here’s my interview with U.K. journalist Denis Campbell on his World View show. I discuss my tenure at Zayed University as well as the current level of free expression in the United Arab Emirates. To be clear, I really appreciate and value my time as an academic in the UAE — I only wish my tenure wasn’t cut short.

By | January 31st, 2013|Categories: Uncategorized|Tags: |0 Comments

Martin Luther King on the value of forgiveness

Martin Luther King, Jr.

President Lyndon Johnson shakes hands with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. after the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. (Source: Flikr, some rights reserved)


For his birthday, I offer this excerpt of his writings on forgiveness, penned from a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama. He was non-violently protesting the treatment of black people in the segregated South:

First, we must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. It is impossible even to begin the act of loving one’s enemies without the prior acceptance of the necessity, over and over again, of forgiving those who inflict evil and injury upon us. It is also necessary to realize that the forgiving act must always be initiated by the person who has been wronged, the victim of some great hurt, the recipient of some tortuous injustice, the absorber of some terrible act of oppression. The wrongdoer may request forgiveness. He may come to himself, and, like the prodigal son, move up some dusty road, his heart palpitating with the desire for forgiveness. But only the injured neighbor, the loving father back home, can really pour out the warm waters of forgiveness.

Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship. Forgiveness is a catalyst creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning. It is the lifting of a burden or the canceling of a debt. The words “I will forgive you, but I’ll never forget what you’ve done” never explain the real nature of forgiveness. Certainly one can never forget, if that means erasing it totally from his mind. But when we forgive, we forget in the sense that the evil deed is no longer a mental block impeding a new relationship. Likewise, we can never say, “I will forgive you, but I won’t have anything further to do with you.” Forgiveness means reconciliation, a coming together again.

Without this, no man can love his enemies. The degree to which we are able to forgive determines the degree to which we are able to love our enemies.

As someone who carried around resentments for the first three decades of my life, forgiveness has certainly worked well for me. May we all consider its value a little more as we ponder King’s impact on the world.

By | January 20th, 2013|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments