Political and Civil Liberties Plummet in Sub Saharan Africa

By Masimba Biriwasha | Global Editor At Large | @ChiefKMasimba | January 23, 2014

Political liberties and civil rights have fallen in sub Saharan Africa, with the largest decreases in freedoms of expression and association, according to a report issued by Freedom House. The report also notes that there has been a growth in authoritarian rule for the eighth year around the world.

“For the eight consecutive year, we have recorded declines in freedoms around the world, and in the past year’s findings we have discovered 54 countries that have registered declines compared to 40 countries that have recorded gains,” said David Kramer, Freedom House’s Executive Director. Continue reading

Advertisements

Are Native Ads Good or Bad for Digital Journalism?

By Masimba Biriwasha | Global Editor-At-Large | January 01, 2013 | @ChiefKMasimba

Late last year, The New York Times announced that it will be going big on native advertising in 2014 raising questions about authenticity, particularly on what is and what is not journalism.

Native advertising, described by AdAge as the hottest new form of advertising, is a web advertising method that employs content to lure readers. That’s a very basic definition. According to Sharethrough, a company which specializes in the medium, native advertising is a form of paid media where the ad experience follows the natural form and function of the user experience in which it is placed.

On January 8, The New York Times will unveil a new digital look which incorporates native advertising and will be more stronger on visuals such as video and photography.

The New York Times, a lodestar of journalism the world over, will feature the native adverts – first on the newspaper’s website and later on its mobile platforms – as way to shore up revenues in an industry hard struck by technology. Other large publishers such as Washington Post, Vanity Fair, Buzzfeed are already rolling out native advertising which promises greater interaction with users, albeit at the risk of breaking the separation between advertising and editorial content.

There are fears that consumers may be duped by the nature of native advertising – a hot topic in digital publishing – with consumers expected to distinguish between what is paid native advertising versus editorial content. Native adverts are made to be cohesive with the page content, assimilated into the design, and consistent with the platform behavior that the viewer simply feels that they belong, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). Put simply, the ads are supposed to look similar to the surrounding published content

Native advertising seeks to deliver content within the context of a user’s experience with formats including  features like a color bar and the words “Paid Post” would enable readers to identify material as advertising content.

“There is a renaissance underway in digital advertising that is driving brands, publishers and consumers to communicate with each other in more personal and natural ways,” said Patrick Albano, Vice President, Social, Mobile and Innovation Sales at Yahoo, and Co-Chair of the IAB Native Advertising Task Force. “Native advertising is an important piece of this evolution.”

According to IAB, native advertising has emerged both as an exciting new way for digital markets to engage with the consumer, and as a new source of advertising revenue for publishers. If you have been on a web page with branded content, you probably know how intrusive and distracting such content is to user experience. Because such content is formatted just like an news article, users can potentially be waylaid.

New York Times publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr, was quoted in a letter to employees as saying said that features like a color bar and the words “Paid Post” would enable readers to identify material as advertising content. He added that there would be “strict separation between the newsroom and the job of creating content for the new native ads.”

But whether readers will be able to figure out the difference between editorial content and paid advertising is shrouded in controversy. The seamless integration of branded messaging into consumers’ content experiences in order to acquire attention maybe regarded as an art of deception.

The Time quoted Edith Ramirez, chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission critiquing native advertising saying at a conference last year.

““By presenting ads that resemble editorial content, an advertiser risks implying, deceptively, that the information comes from a nonbiased source,” she said.

If readers don’t fall prey to the deception of native of advertising, it’s difficult to see how the ads will succeed.

“I firmly believe that advertising on the modern internet will be defined by meaningful content, not standard ads. There’s a movement happening, away from interruptive, traditional ads, and towards thoughtful brand stories — and native ads are the most potent and effective distribution strategy for content-based advertising,” said Dan Greenberg, Founder and CEO, Sharethrough. “For advertisers, native, content-based advertising is the translation layer between the modern internet and traditional TV.”

In his letter to employees, Sulzberger acknowledged that native advertising is “relatively new and can be controversial,” but is necessary to help “restore digital advertising revenue to growth.”

Wikileaks: Foe or Friend to Open Society?

Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha| AfroFutures.com Global Editor-At-Large| Harare

THERE was furore in Zimbabwe’s highest political circles when WikiLeaks – an international non-profit organisation that publishes submissions of private, secret, and classified media from anonymous news sources, news leaks, and whistleblowers –published classified US state department diplomatic cables on Zimbabwe. The leaks made news headlines and reflected, more than anything else, biases in editorial stance of state and privately-owned media outlets.32

In spite of Wiki Leak’s founder, Julian Assange’s belief that total transparency is for the good of all people, the impact of the spillage of US secrets has been controversial to say the least.

Like in Zimbabwe, the publication of the US state department diplomatic cables caused serious political fallouts in many countries around the world, including the United States itself, Belarus, Palestine, Tunisia among others. In a discussion held recently at the Columbia University Journalism School in partnership with Index on Censorship, one of the world’s preeminent advocacy organizations, panelists put the spilling of United States government secrets under the spotlight.

Mark Stephens, a lawyer who represented Assange at his extradition hearings, explained how Assange redefined society’s traditional view of whistle-blowers.

“The genius of Julian Assange was to recognize a gap in the market,” he said, arguing that Assange pioneered a new way of handling classified information. He also suggested that WikiLeaks has raised questions about how to handle an organization that exists outside of sovereign states’ regulations.

Panelist, P.J. Crowley, a former Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, argued that Wikileaks had backfired against open expression.

“In pushing out 251,000 documents without regard for what was in them, Assange put in danger the very [democratic] activists he thought he was empowering. Possible consequences of this mean less information in cables, less information in discussions, so you have a less informed public service,” said Crowley.

In the wake of the WikiLeaks’ release in Zimbabwe, The Standard newspaper reported on alleged secret diamonds deals involving First Lady Grace Mugabe and the Reserve Bank Governor, Gideon Gono. The First Lady slapped the newspaper with a whooping US$15 million dollar lawsuit. In addition, the state media reported that the attorney general launched a probe to investigate Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s involvement in western sanctions following media reports of a classified US state department cable relating his meetings with Western ambassadors.

Nhlanhla Ngwenya, Media Institute of Southern Africa-Zimbabwe director said that both the state- and privately owned local media had failed to report objectively on the WikiLeaks saga. He said that local media used the cables to buttress their editorial positions.

“The state media used the Wikileaks to sustain their editorial position against the opposition without noting that the leaks merely consisted of subjective assessments by individuals and not the official position of the US government. The private media did not make an effort to seek comment from the implicated sources,” he said.

“The thing is when you report on a personal opinion it should be balanced; the cables consisted of diplomatic opinions. If you report opinion as fact, there’s a problem.”

According to media analysts, Wikileaks risks “collateral murder” in the name of transparency. In other words, it can be used as a tool to suppress what its leader claims it stands for.

Liesl Louw-Vaudran, an associate editor at the Institute for Security Studies, a South Africa-based think tank was quoted by the Voice of America as saying that the spilling of the secrets could lead to destabilization in Zimbabwe. As events in Zimbabwe have revealed, the information leaked by WikiLeaks can potentially be used as a “political tool.”

“Certainly for southern Africa, the WikiLeaks Zimbabwe revelations are most significant, and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say they could destabilize Zimbabwe – and thus the region – even further in the months to come,” she said.

“I am not for one second saying WikiLeaks did not have the right to make the information public; I am merely exploring the possible ramifications now that this information is out there,” she added.

However, US Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Charles A. Ray, was more blatant, calling Assange an opportunist.

“Mr Assange is an opportunist who has used this information for self-promotion. Along with freedom of the media is responsibility. Freedom of the press does not allow you to yell fire in a crowded theatre. It goes along with responsibility,” said Ray while addressing journalists at the Gweru Press Club.

“You need to be careful who you hold up as exemplars of a free press. Assange is certainly not a champion of freedom of the press, and he’s certainly no champion of people when he was told that the lives of some of the people in the leaked cables could be killed and his response was if they deal with the Americans then they probable deserve to be killed. I don’t even call him muckraker, I call him muck.”

At the panel discussion in New York, Richard Cohen, weekly columnist for The Washington Post posited that the massive leak of classified material will actually work against the Wikileaks’ goals of greater transparency in the long term.

“Assange proceeded without thought of the people affected. A lot of what was revealed was interesting but didn’t change any minds. It will intimidate people [in the future] from talking honestly,” he said.

Iranian journalist scoops World Press Freedom Prize

By Chief K.Masimba| AfroFutures.com Global Editor At Large

Imprisoned Iranian journalist Ahmad Zeidabadi is the laureate of this year’s UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, UNESCO recently revealed.

Zeidabadi, who was selected by an independent international jury of 12 media professionals, is a former editor-in-chief of the Azad newspaper and contributor to the Tehran-based daily Hamshahari, the BBC Persian service, and the Persian/English news site Rooz.

Zeidabadi is currently serving a six-year jail sentence following Iran’s disputed presidential election in 2009. Along with 40 other journalists and 100 prominent supporters of the country’s pro-reform movement, he was tried on charges of plotting to overthrow the Iranian government with a “soft revolution”. He was sentenced to six years imprisonment followed by five years internal exile, and banned for life from practicing his profession as a journalist.

Announcing the decision, jury president Diana Senghor said:

“The final choice of Ahmad Zeidabadi pays a tribute to his exceptional courage, resistance and commitment to freedom of expression, democracy, human rights, tolerance, and humanity. Beyond him, also the Prize will award the numerous Iranian journalists who are currently jailed.”

UNESCO’s Director-General, Irina Bokova, endorsed the jury’s decision and called for Mr Zeidabadi’s release from prison.

“Throughout his career Ahmad Zeidabadi has courageously and unceasingly spoken out for press freedom and freedom of expression, which is a fundamental human right that underpins all other civil liberties, a key ingredient of tolerant and open societies and vital for the rule of law and democratic governance,” said Bokova.

“Ahead of World Press Freedom Day and in recognition of the concerns expressed by the international jury for his health and well-being, I call on the Iranian authorities to release Mr Zeidabadi from detention.”

The UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize was created in 1997 by UNESCO’s Executive Board. It is awarded annually during the celebration of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May. It honours the work of an individual or an organization defending or promoting freedom of expression anywhere in the world, especially if this action puts the individual’s life at risk