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Speaking out from Iran


Iranian writer and journalist Ebrahim Nabavi has written an amazing passionate letter to ayatollah Khamenei which thanks to the wonderful site we can read in English. I’m so sad I never learned farsi, I would be helping them.

khameneiInstead, I can only marvel at the courageous eloquence of the letter, here are some of my favorite parts:

“You were not to spill blood, which you did, you were to keep the boundaries, which you did not, and you were to preserve respect, which you violated, you trampled theiranprotest right of a whole nation with utmost inequity and total injustice….

Mr. Khamenei!

You do believe in the day of judgment! I’m not talking about the Armageddon that has started now in Tehran, but you do believe in a judgment day in the next world, don’t you? … How are you going to meet your teacher and mentor [ayatollah Khomeini] in that judgment day that you believe in and tell him that you have rejected all of his family? … That you denied the right of an honest man like Mousavi and put a toady liar in his place?…

People would not tolerate oppression, if you burn them their flames will rise into the air, if you beat them their screams will, if you pressure them from above they will flow like a river, and then it will be such that no one can do anything. It is not right to rule unjustly….

There are many graveyards in the world where men of politics who have spoken word similar to yours lie. They had forgot one thing, that death will also conquer the powerful. Hitler, Slatin, Pol Pot, Lenin, the Shah and Ayatollah Khomeini all died, and so will you eventually. When a great man dies there are two reactions in the masses, some of them mourn the loss of the great man, and some send him an eternal curse. Dear sir! Take your words back before death has taken over you and you have been left with that eternal curse.”

Strong stuff. Sites like this and of course Global Voices, which is collecting testimonials including photos and videos of demonstrations, are invaluable as more and more foreign reporters are thrown out of the country. As Ebrahim Nabavi says to Khamenei:

Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, you have restricted all media access, closing all of the information paths such that only the voice of the people can be heard. No other voice can be heard any more, not the voice of America, not the voice of England, not the voice of Israel, only the sound of the noise inflicted by the government on these channels can be heard. But the people’s voice can be heard, it is loud, up to the heavens…

I don’t believe in heaven, but I hope that he’s right.

Khamenei Poster, Tehran by cfarivar via Flickr.
Iran Election by .faramarz via Flickr.

Real journalism, real courage


Speaking in a small basement “banquet room” in the Rayburn Office Building, two journalists who have risked their lives to report the truth and some of the folks who support them reminded me why it is that I care about saving journalism (which does NOT mean saving newspapers).flowersbailey

Jenny Manrique and Fatima Tlisova have reported on the violent, corrupt abuse of power by agents of the governments and criminal elements in Colombia and Russia, respectively. The stories of the things they witnessed and the reaction from those whom their reporting challenged are chilling. Both women were harassed and threatened; Tlisova was detained, beaten and poisoned. Amazingly, each of them said they only decided to leave when the threats involved their families. Tlisova is currently winding up a fellowship at Harvard’s Nieman Foundation;  Manrique was awarded the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Elizabeth Neuffer Fellowship. But these fellowships, wonderful as they are, only last a year.  The violent hatred of their governments for those who speak the truth lasts much longer.

Tlisova opened her talk noting that she had spoken to Congress  two years ago about the threats to human rights in Russia and that sadly she could not report that there was any improvement at all. Nonetheless, even from her location outside her homeland, she continues to report on events in the Caucasus.

Joel Simon of the Committee to evloevProtect Journalists (CPJ), noted that in addition to continued attacks on traditional journalists, online journalists are increasingly at risk and now more of the journalists jailed for their work publish online than in print. Fittingly, CPJ today announced the Ten Worst Countries for Bloggers.  When asked what could be done to mitigate the risks to online journalists of harassment based on the actions of internet providers of platforms, Simon pointed to the recently launched Global Network Initiative as the best hope. Meanwhile, Rodney Pinder of the International News Safety Institute (INSI) called on internet news companies to chip in to support training and other kinds of protection for journalists at risk.

The event was organized by the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and supported by the Congressional Caucus for the Freedom of the Press, whose co-Chair Rep. Adam Schiff opened the panel. It being Washington, someone asked the question of whether trying to get the US make a fuss about jailed journalists didn’t risk “distracting” from the larger issues of US foreign policy. Ugh. Joel Simon answered with great restraint that it wasn’t his job to worry about US foreign policy, it’s his job to worry about the journalists.

When you work with media and journalists for a long time, cynicism becomes more or less the air you breathe. It’s important (on World Press Freedom Day, which is May 3, and every day) to be reminded of the bravery that many many journalists around the world demonstrate and the dedication of the groups that work every day to support them and keep them safe. I wish I had half of their strength.

Flowers for Bailey
Uploaded on August 10, 2007
by Maynard Institute for Journalism Education

Oakland Post editor Chauncey Bailey was killed in August 2007 allegedly for investigating criminal activities of Your Black Muslim Bakery. (via On the Media)

Magomed Yevloev (Магомед Евлоев), found of, died in Russian police custody.

Kids Crossroads and DCTV take Europe by Cyberbus!


What do 6 teenagers from 3 former Soviet Republics want to learn about Europe? My old long-time friends Jon Alpert and Manana Aslamazyan (at left, expressing their love for each other with the help of a horse) are finding out, as they travel with a group of young journalists from the South Caucasus (2 each from Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan). The journalists are all part of the team that makes an amazing weekly pan-Caucasus youth TV program called “Kid’s Crossroads.” The trip is taking place on Downtown Community Television‘s world-famous Cybercar, which was shipped from NYC to Europe for the trip. After a couple days in Paris, the group headed out into the countryside toward Lyon, where they talked to journalists at Euronews and to students from around the world at  the International School of Lyon.

The cyberbus is a travelling video production studio and talk show set – the visitors from the Caucasus hold “town meetings” where they can show video stories they’ve  produced at home and discuss them. At the same time, they’re filming and interviewing people everywhere they go. The trip is part of a project funded by the European Commission’s European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI) through a grant to Internews Europe in partnership with Internews Georgia, Internews Armenia and Internews Azerbaijan. Today they made it to Strasbourg and the European Parliament. If my previous experience with the Cybercar with Jon and 6 Russian journalists is any guide, everyone involved is having a life-changing experience. All photos by Jon Alpert.

Community media in a new light


What can a Haitian radio station teach people about building a successful local news website?

Something about what it means to really be vital to your community.

Imagine a town of 25,000 people (easy for me, I grew up in one). Now imagine that, for whatever reason, there is really only one news source (in the US, until recently, this would often be nearly true of the local newspaper; we semi-affectionately called ours the Piddletown Mess).  Now imagine that one local news outlet (doesn’t matter – newspaper, radio, TV, website) having 200 fan clubs of 10-50 people each meeting regularly to talk about the outlet’s content, contribute money, discuss how they can help. Are you thinking about that? Somewhere between 8 and 40% of all the men, women and children in an extremely poor community volunteering their time and money to support independent local news and information.

I don’t care where you are, that’s serious community involvement!

With my year as a Berkman fellow officially at an end, I’m now focused on trying to bring what I learned there back into my old life in international media development. First attempt at this was in writing a small piece for a publication put together by Internews on community media and sustainability. The Community Media Sustainability Guide: The Business of Changing Lives (3 MB PDF), is out now and although most of the advice is aimed at and examples (except for my small piece) are drawn from community radio, mostly in developing countries, I think it’s well worth reading for anyone working on not-for-profit media online or otherwise in any country. In fact, there are similarities between the struggles to sustain a radio station in Nepal and a cooperative hyperlocal site in New Hampshire. So much of the time when I was at Berkman, I found myself referring to the same discussions about what is needed for small media outlets to succeed that we had when working with local TV in the former Soviet Union:

  • How can low-budget local content best compete against big-buck national outlets?
  • Should we try to be a one-stop shop, including (or linking to) national/international news or should we focus on original, local content?
  • How do you go beyond your instinct or the comments from your friends and family to learn what your audience is really interested in?
  • How do you achieve the critical mass needed to attract advertisers?
  • What kind of partnerships might bring in useful content or new audiences without threatening your independence or credibility?

I hope this community media guide starts some conversations about how media outlets of different kinds in  in radically different communities might actually have experiences to share with each other. Naturally, as I post this I’m listening to my favorite community radio, even though it’s not my community,’s weird and wonderful mix of talk and music.

Open your ears, your eyes, your mind and your wallet


Why I’m giving money to two wonderful groups bringing international perspectives to American audiences:

Link TV – Global Pulse! A great series, showcasing TV from around the world. Check out the latest –  Must-Watch 5 minutes on George Bush’s legacy as seen by the rest of the world! Like it? Great. It costs money to make – go support it!

Next, Global Voices. Why? My latest reason is this wonderfully silly story about a Costa Rican collaborative Christmas video, reminding us that not all world news is depressing. The opening line sets the tone: “Costa Rican online collective which translates into ‘I can´t pronounce the R’…”

Plus what other truly worthy nonprofit would dare use a LOLcat to ask for your money? Support Global Voices here!

Full Disclosure – I have friends working at both these great organizations. But that’s why I know about them, not why I donate. I donate because the work is terrific.

Vote for human rights media!


I care about journalists and human rights

Just a few hours left to cast your vote for the audience award for next Saturday’s Every Human Has Rights Media Awards. There are 30 finalists, and the professional jury has already made its choices. The contest is part of a celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The stories are not cheerful – the first few I looked at included torture, rape, and child labor – maybe a good excuse to remind ourselves of everything we have to be thankful for this weekend.

Above, a photo from a story by Mario Magalhaes in Folha de S. Paulo on the slave-like conditions of sugar cane workers in Brazil. I’ll be at the awards ceremony on Saturday, looking forward to meeting the 30 finalists from around the world. They’re doing God’s work (despite my deep atheism, I have no good replacement for that phrase – suggestions welcome).

Your daughters can do math (if you believe in them)!


“Cultural or environmental factors, not intellect, are what really limit women’s math achievements.” This according to a study reported on in today’s Boston Globe. Interesting to me to see that the study draws on the achievements of women mathematicians from countries in Eastern Europe. I find the cultural differences with European women around gender roles fascinating – to me, European women seem more confident and less hung up about positions in public life, yet some female Western European colleagues say they feel that working in technology specifically they are far more welcome in the United States. Interestingly, the Globe article quotes the study as noting that “80 percent of the female tenured and junior faculty at the top five US math departments were born in other countries.”

Maybe it’s just that being a foreigner gives you a special status. Maybe if everyone had to live in a foreign country for a few years we’d all be more open minded about who can do what? Easier anyway than trying to live as a member of the other gender. Except that you could live as the other gender online. Is anyone working on having girls and boys role-play the other gender in online gaming? Anyway, I’m digressing. Just nice that there’s some new scholarship confirming what we knew – that women’s brains are just as good for math as men’s.

Occupations related to mathematics
WPA poster, ca. 1938 by trialsanderrors

[cross-posted from Berkman Explores Gender and Technology blog]

Burma, Kenya and the role of the Internet


A new case study over at Internet & Democracy, The Role of the Internet in Burma’s Saffron Revolution, has given rise to a discussion at the I&D blog, where Veronica Alfaro has challenged what she sees as its overly pessimistic assessment that the protests did not lead to “tangible political change.” You can join the discussion here.
Ivan Sigal has written some interesting posts about Burma at his Burning Bridge Blog.

The busy folks at I&D have also just released a study on the role of networked digital technology in the period of violence following Kenya’s elections. A fascinating example of diaspora and in-country activists using SMS, blogs and other tools to combat attempts to spread hatred and violence using the same networked tools. Folks interested in the Kenya case will also want to check out James Deane and Jamal Abdi’s policy briefing on the role of the media generally, which they wrote for the BBC World Service Trust.

Myanmar-Monks, uploaded on July 26, 2007
by worak

Kenya Election Mural, uploaded February 4, 2008
by OpenDemocracy

NPR – Nationalist Public Radio?


I thought I might lose my Trader Joe’s Blueberry Muesli this morning, listening to Adam Davidson chat with Morning Edition co-host Ari Shapiro about free trade, Colombia and the US election. Their 4-minute conversation is ickily chatty (“Hey Adam, hey Ari”) and unbearably arrogant and US-centric. Adam contends that making a big fuss over trade agreements with Colombia is, in his words, “nutty” because Colombia is just too small to matter: “I did the math and… the entire Colombian economy is the size of Hollywood, Florida, not Hollywood, California” They both laugh. Indeed, what could be more entertaining than living in a country where the per capita gross domestic product is less than $20 a day?

So, Ari persists, why do US politicians care about this silly little country, since only “some people here and there” (Adam’s words) will be affected by any trade deals? Well apparently, unions are upset because a lot of union leaders get killed there, but as Adam goes on to observe in the same cheerful “gosh-how-silly” voice, “a lot of people get killed in Colombia, it’s a very violent society.” Wow, that’s even funnier than being poor!

The hilarity continues as Davidson notes that in some states “trade is a big, big deal” even though those foolish voters are just wrong about trade being the reason they lost their jobs. Davidson presumably thinks that American voters in those states may be almost as stupid as the people who choose to live in poor, violent Colombia.

I’ll leave union members and residents of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio to defend themselves against Davidson’s flip dismissal of their concerns. On behalf of the rest of the world, though, I urge NPR to make both Ari Shapiro and Adam Davidson spend a few hours learning something about Colombia. Wonderful place to start is on Global Voices, which will steer them to a heart-breaking series of short videos on the struggles of a brave group of women to fight back against the violence and economic hardship in the Barrancabermeja region, home to the country’s biggest oil refinery. Hey, did Davidson really fail to mention that petroleum accounts for almost 30% of Colombia’s exports? Yup, I listened one more time to be sure.

This offensive piece of “analysis” (perhaps that’s just another word for “filler” at Morning Edition?) added nothing to our understanding of trade issues or the election politics it was supposedly about, while actively encouraging the worst sort of American closedmindness. Which public is public radio aiming for?

Photo: Bogotá
2600m + montañas paisas…
Uploaded on December 27, 2006
by One*mandarino
AttributionShare Alike
Some rights reserved

Media & governance 2gether 4ever (World Bank/Harvard conference redux)


I continue to ponder the interesting discussions at a 2.5 day conference put together by the World Bank’s CommGap (that’s COMMunication for Governance and Accountability Program, not “communication gap”) and the Shorenstein Center at Harvard Kennedy School. Definitely read Charlie Beckett’s thoughtful 5-part summary for a real roundup, I’m only highlighting a few things that struck me.
The focus was on international development, specifically on how to convince the good people who fund international development that media is important to good governance* which in turn drives human development. To this end, the organizers had gathered a great group of folks (present company excluded, I begged to come when I learned who would be there). There were three tribes: academics, World Bank people and then a motley group of “practitioners” that included people working in media, media development, and media for development.**

Finally meeting the terrific Sheila Coronel, whose presentation (do read the real thing) on the role of investigative journalism was thoughtful, historical, passionate and practical all at once. Conclusion: watchdog journalism is not always heroic or perfect, it can even be counterproductive sometimes and its effectiveness depends on many factors but we need watchdog journalism no matter what, in fragile states and stable, to remind us how democracy could and should work.

Learning (in the lunch breaks) about Media Tenor, a fascinating international media analysis group that’s been around for 15 years monitoring high-profile mainstream media, with all the data freely available. Only 30% of their work is done for paying clients; those fees support the other 70%, which is all available for free. CEO Roland Schatz explained that they do not hide this fact from their clients; everyone accepts it. (speaking of business models, Ethan!) Moreover, they are careful not to let any one client dominate their revenue so they can remain independent of any political or business agenda. Can’t wait to dig through their stuff.

Cheering on Warren Feek, head of the Communication Initiative Network, as he called on us to correct some of the limitations he saw in the papers and discussions. I hope he will post the slides he showed, meanwhile, my takeaways:

— remember that media is part of society: we need to understand its place in each country, which requires close collaboration with local experts in research, program design,
–get beyond traditional media either in the sense of delivery mechanisms or in the narrow paradigm of “objective” journalism. New media is playing a growing role, advocacy media is vital.
— rephrase our work more positively: we are promoting enhanced political participation, dammit, we are not the poor cousin

Listening to the presentation by Ibrahim al Marashi and (my long-time pal) Monroe Price of their work together with Nicole A. Stremlau on media in conflict societies. Their paper-in-progress, examining media in Iraq, Uganda and Ethiopia, is well worth your time. No simple soundbites here; as the conclusion says of the three cases: “Each is a messy, nonlinear project.” (I hope Ibrahim will post the riveting images from Iraqi TV he shared at the conference somewhere.)

Being reminded by the Open Society Foundation’s Marius Dragomir about the importance of broadcasting through his research on the many incarnations of “public broadcasting.”

The more I learn about what’s happening in new media in the “developed” world, the more eager I am to integrate it with the work in other countries, to the benefit of both.

Image: Glowing Globe,
originally uploaded by Trooper3d

* The term “democratic governance” turned out not to be popular with all the World Bank’s partner-states.

** “Media Development” is when people support the creation or improvement of local media as a good in its own right. “Media for Development” is  when media is used as a vehicle to promote other aspects of human development, through ads promoting condom use or radio dramas about the free market. In recent years, the two tribes have forged an uneasy peace.