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Newspaper readership

Slideshow – Newspaper Readership from Frederik Subei on Vimeo.

Newspapers are in crisis. The sales of newspapers are in constant decline. Obviously the internet is a very strong rival, offering most of the news for free to the user. However, the decline of newspapers is a well known trend since the 1950s, long before the mainstream discovered the internet.

The decline mainly affects America, western Europe, Latin America, Australia and New Zealand. In other parts of the world newspaper sales are even rising.

Despite that, newspapers remain an important source of news also in the UK, especially for getting local news. Over 13 million newspapers are sold in the UK every day. Additionally there are another 70 million local and free newspapers in circulation. Bearing in mind that about 62 million people live in the UK, these are impressive figures.

But the digital revolution seems unstoppable and might swallow the good old paper on its way. Again, it is up to us.

Related articles:
The Guardian “Sales decline is accelerating”

The Economist: “Who killed the newspaper?”


Update: Deportation of human rights?

After Charles Atangana has been arrested last year, he remains on bail conditions, still fearing deportation.However, the bail conditions have been relaxed thanks to the effort of support campaigns such as by the National Union of Journalists.

The court case for Charles has been set for 15 February 2011. It will be accompanied by a demonstration in front of the High Court in London.

Protest for Charles Atangana

In my previous post about this issue everybody was invited to vote in a poll. The question was whether deportation is a human rights violation. Of all people taking part nobody thought that we have already too many immigrants in the UK. 50% of the voters said that everybody should have the right to live where she/he wants. Another 50% voted that it has to be looked at case by case.

Jonathan, a reader of the 4thPillar commented: “I think that the UK is quite liberal compared to other countries (although I may be wrong) on issues with immigration. It seems impossible, and also unfair, to apply blanket regulations.”

A research by the British Council (2007) ranked the UK in Europe’s top 5 most welcoming countries for immigrants. The report said it offered the fifth most favourable policies for allowing foreigners long-term residence. However, concerning integration policy it was ranked 15.

As always with statistics, it depends on what figures you are looking at. A poll published by the German-Marshal Fund thinktank (2009) gives a different impression. The survey says that two out of three Britons, more than in all the other countries surveyed, thought immigration was more of a problem than an opportunity.

The UK also was the only surveyed country where the majority (54%) agreed with the statement that immigrants are taking jobs away from the native born. Interesting as well is that British people believed the number of immigrants in the country was almost triple the actual level (27% compared with 10%).

No doubt immigration is an increasingly important and sensitive issue. It is affecting many human rights issues and ultimately also freedom of press.

I think this is a good occasion to remember the first article of the human rights declaration:

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

You can take action and join an online petition to help preventing Charles from deportation.

Read more: The Guardian “A journalist in danger”

WikiLeaks: Is information a crime?

Some would certainly like to answer yes to this, describing the organisation as illegal and dangerous. Others think WikiLeaks should be rewarded with a Nobel Prize, for its efforts for Freedom of Information.

Julian Assange

Julian Assange, spokesperson and director of WikiLeaks

Since the organisation was launched in 2007 it generated a number of controversial headlines by releasing previously unpublished and sensitive documents. We are not talking about a few drops here, but rather heavy showers of information. In its first year WikiLeaks claimed to have a database containing more than 1.2 million documents. Most of it considered confidential, some of it secret.

The information is mostly leaked by anonymous sources, who see a need for disclosure in the public interest. The topics range from corruption and war to corporations, ecology and freedom of speech.

One of the latest releases caused outrage in the US government. On 28 November WikiLeaks and five major international newspapers simultaneously published confidential diplomatic cables from 274 embassies dated from 1966–2010.

The contents include numerous unguarded comments and revelations such as dealings between various countries, actions in the War on Terror, US Intelligence efforts and other senstitive diplomatic actions. Despite serious criticism by the US, WikiLeaks plans to release the entirety of 251,287 cables within the next months.

Criticism and praise to WikiLeaks has been equally overwhelming. The Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard stated that she “absolutely condemns” Wikileaks actions and that the release of information on the site was “grossly irresponsible” and “illegal.”

Peter King, the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee of the United States House of Representatives, has stated his support for listing WikiLeaks as a “foreign terrorist organisation” explaining that “WikiLeaks presents a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States.”

In April 2010, WikiLeaks posted a video from a 2007 incident in which Iraqi civilians and journalists were killed by U.S. forces

On the other hand the organisation has won a number of awards, including the 2008 Economist magazine New Media Award and Amnesty International’s UK Media Award, in the category “New Media” in 2008. Julian Assange, who is the spokesperson and director of WikiLeaks, has been suggested by Russian president Dmitry Medvedev as a Nobel Prize laureate.

WikiLeaks is a not-for-profit media organisation, which says its goal is to bring important news and information to the public. They state on their website: “The broader principles on which our work is based are the defence of freedom of speech and media publishing, the improvement of our common historical record and the support of the rights of all people to create new history.”

In particular the organisation grounds on Article 19 of the Human Rights Declaration, which states that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. This right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Naturally governments and organisation, which are negatively affected by the publications, are opposing it strongly. But the question arises how far the freedom of speech reaches, even in stable democracies. Can it really considered to be a crime to reveal information? Don’t we have the right to know about the wrong-doings of governments and other organisations, which might have an essential affect on peoples lives and even our own lives?

WikiLeaks represents an enormous pond of information, which is of high value for journalists to help them to do what they are supposed to: Informing the public about important issues, which is the best stabilizer for a healthy democracy.


Julian Assange, the spokesperson of WikiLeaks, on the Afghan War Logs

An excerpt of John Pilger’s new documentary “The War You Don’t See”, including an interview with Julian Assange

Hilary Clinton condemns WikiLeaks

Deportation of human rights?

Investigative journalist Charles Atangana fears to be sent back to Cameroon.

Atangana hold a speech at the Refugee Week Scotland, just a few days before he was arrested

The fear of a deportation is undeniable. ”For me going back to Cameroon is a death sentence”, he said in an interview with The Herald.

In his last court appearance at 07/10/2010 his case was adjourned. He now is on bail and has to stay in different hostels for immigrants in London.

Charles Atangana is a respected investigative journalist. He exposed corruption within the government in Cameroon.


After the publication members of his family were arrested and tortured. Atangana also faced torture, being stripped, bullied and beaten. A sad reality for dissidents in a country with an extremely narrowed freedom of press.

Atangana saw no other way than to leave the country. In 2004 he fled from Cameroon with a fake passport. He managed to get to Glasgow, where he was living for six years.

In Glasgow, Charles Atangana integrated well to his new environment. He became a member of the National Union of Journalists(NUJ) and started to work as a volunteer for the Citizen Advice Bureau in Parkhead.

“We would fight tooth and nails to keep him in this country”

The NUJ immediately intervened when they learned about his arrest. Paul Holleran of the NUJ branch in Glasgow explains: ”I managed to send texts to him, telling we would fight tooth and nails to keep him in this country. We are campaigning, trying to keep him on a permanent basis.”

The efforts of the NUJ played a key role in his support and have been quite successful. Atangana is still in the country, with improved bail conditions. The NUJ provided evidences and witnesses for the case, highlighting the serious danger for critical journalists in Cameroon.

First the judges were denying a life-threatening scenario, but now the new evidence is taken into consideration. ”The level of political support has been quite phenomenal,” says Paul Holleran, ”that means that they are looking at the case in more depth, than they probably would normally.”

Case is not an exception

Charles Atangana’

s case is not an exception in Cameroon. The authorities are keen to keep the status quo, even with force, against any form of dissidence.

A deportation of Charles Atangana would cause an outcry of journalists and human rights organisations. It is not only a question of the value of the democracy and press freedom in Cameroon, but also of our own democracy and our values of human rights.

Find out more! Here you can listen to an interview excerpt with Paul Holleran from the NUJ.

What do YOU think?

Deportation of human rights? – Read the full article here

Read a message from Charles Atangana here

Public interest is what the government says it is

Although we live in a democratic society which accepted the principles of human rights, like the freedom of information, there are still some significant loopholes. The government is by law admitted to keep information secret, for national safety.  Let’s have a look how it all began: The Official Secrets Act.

In July 1984 Clive Ponting, at that time a senior civil servant at the Ministry of Defence (MoD) sent two documents to Labour MP Tam Dalyell concerning the sinking of the Argentine navy warship General Belgrano.

The case was a key incident in the Falklands War in 1982. The documents revealed that the General Belgrano had been sighted a day earlier than officially reported, and that it was steaming away from the Royal Navy taskforce. And most importantly it was outside the exclusion zone, when the cruiser was attacked and sunk.

On the right – The news coverage of The Sun after the attacks

Clive Ponting admitted revealing the information and was charged with a criminal offence under Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act of 1911. His main defence was that the matter was in the public interest. Ponting was acquitted by the jury in 1985. The verdict came despite the judge’s direction that “the public interest is what the government of the day says it is”.

The verdict was seen as a landmark in British legal history and raised controversial debates of the public’s right to know. The Observer began to serialize Ponting’s book “The Right to Know: The inside story of the Belgrano affair.”

The Conservative government reacted by tightening up UK secrets legislation, introducing the Official Secrets Act 1989. This enactment dismantled the defence that a release of information could be seen to be in the public interest, and therefore justified. Since then it was taken that public interest actually is “what the government of the day says it is.”

The Official Secrets Act made it possible for the government to use spy strategies such as phone tapping on citizens or groups, like ngo’s. Although Freedom of information is a basic democratic principle, the government seems to disagree that it should be applied on themselves.

Instead of advocating the investigation of internal crimes, the government seeks to protect itself by tools of a totalitarian regime, which are undermining human rights of privacy, freedom of information and freedom of expression.

As the term says, the public interest should be concerned about public interests and not governmental interests or warfare strategies.

The power of corporations

The increasing influence of media corporations is a worldwide phenomenon. Media conglomerates are merging companies and are growing immensely by that. Competitors are simply absorbed and the mainstream media appears to be dominated by just a few big players.

Click on picture to enlarge and have a look on the world's biggest media conglomerates

Traditionally the UK  has a strong public broadcasting sector with the BBC. The British Broadcasting Corporation, originally a private company, was brought under government regulation in 1927. The aim was to promote virtues of impartiality and balanced news reporting.

However, since 1980’s conservative government of Margaret Thatcher, regulations on media ownership were constantly weakened. This led to a domination in newspaper coverage by Rupert Murdoch’s ‘News International’ which managed to acquire 40% of the overall newspaper coverage.

The trend continued when Tony Blair introduced further deregulations. In 2003 the Labour party established the Communications Act which required the organisation ‘Ofcom‘ to review the media ownership rules.

Ofcom states on their website: “The media ownership rules are designed to strike a balance between ensuring a degree of plurality on the one hand and providing freedom to companies to expand, innovate and invest on the other.”

The question is, what influence the media has on us, the audience. First we should remember what a corporation is and the aims it follows. The main aim can be summarized in one magical word: Profit.

Corporations need to be cost effective. Why touching controversial issues if a trivial report generates more income? Corporations also want to be loyal to their shareholders and advertisers. You don’t want to publish a critical report of someone who has an advert right next to the very article.

And of course the newspapers and broadcasters have to be loyal to their owners.  The problem is that corporations are likely to follow their own political, perhaps commercially driven interests rather than idealistic, journalistic principles.

Like Rupert Murdoch said already in 1970: ”I did not come all this way not to interfere.”

A good way to find out what’s it all about. The trailer for “The Corporation” documentary.

Watch the whole film here.

Read the related articles:

“We need a rebellion against a press that’s damaging our national psyche” The Guardian, 2007

“Ofcom recommends cross-media ownership rules should be relaxed” The Guardian, 2010

“Review of media ownership” by Ofcom

With freedom comes responsibility

We are lucky, I mean those who live in the UK. Maybe we are not blessed with the best weather, but at least we have the right to freedom of expression.

Although this is a human right, which has been accepted throughout the world, in reality it is still a relatively rare condition. Unfortunately the freedom of press in many countries in the world is limited. Therefore being a journalist can be a dangerous job.

According to RWB more than a third of the world's people live in countries where there is no press freedom.

The organisation Reporters Without Borders(RWB) states that in 2010, so far,  26 journalists have been killed and 155 are imprisoned worldwide, because of their journalistic activity. So, yes it is a real value that we can criticise the government without having to expect death threats the next day.

When it comes to freedom of expression the media plays a vital role. It represents the eyes, ears and the voice of the people. The media is nothing less than a crucial cornerstone of a healthy democracy.

The media is supposed to be critical, accurate and as objective as possible. It should investigate what is of public interest and importance. Basically it delivers information to the people. And the quality of this information is fundamental to the quality of a democracy.

So, taking a look at the media can tell us a lot about the state of our democracy.

UK's best selling newspaper with an average of 3 million copies a day

The UK is a country with a good ground for freedom of expression. The question is what are we doing with this.

I think the first the thing we need to realize is that with freedom comes responsibility. This responsibility does not only depend on news organisations and journalists. They wouldn’t be anything without us!

If nobody demands celebrity gossip then we wouldn’t get it. That simply wouldn’t be profitable, in a capitalistic world. We have the power.

That is what a democracy is all about, the power of the people. It is up to us to take this power back.

There is an alternative to treating ourselves just as victims of  circumstances. We can take responsibility and therefore act responsible and shape this society in a positive way.

Read my related film reviews here