Media Law Roundup 8/17

Welcome to this week’s Media Law Roundup. Here, we’ll gather stories surround trending media and policy topics that have developed throughout the week so you can follow along and watch them develop. If you stumble upon something you feel would be a good article, send us a link at

  • International Community calls for Protecting Journalists in Syria

8.14 A series of attacks against journalists in Syria over the past two weeks have included the killing of at least three journalists and the kidnapping of several others, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Pro-government media have borne the brunt of the recent attacks. “We call on all sides in Syria to remember that journalists covering conflict are civilians and attacks against them constitute a serious violation of international humanitarian law,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “Journalists have already paid a heavy price in Syria and are risking their lives daily to cover the news. They must be protected.”

8.15 Unidentified armed men on Monday kidnapped a correspondent for Al-Alam, an Iranian satellite broadcaster supportive of the Syrian government, the latest incident in a series of abductions and attacks against pro-government media in Syria, according to news reports. Ahmad Sattouf, a Syrian correspondent for the Arabic-language broadcaster Al-Alam, was abducted as he returned to his home near Tadmour Square in Homs, according to a statement on his employer’s website. The Al-Alam office where Sattouf works was also ransacked, the broadcaster reported, although it is unclear if it occurred on the same day as the kidnapping.

8.15 Russia has strongly condemned attacks on journalists in Syria and has called on countries that have influence on Syrian rebels to take steps to ensure the security of media representatives working in the conflict-hit country. “Moscow treats with growing concern the information that we have received from Damascus about representatives of Syrian and international media being attacked by illegal armed groups with growing frequency,” deputy foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said. The spokeswoman cited the kidnapping of four employees of Syria’s pro-government al-Ikhbariya TV channel Aug 10 and reports about the killing of a senior journalist of the state-run Syrian Sana news agency Aug 11 as recent examples of such attacks.

  • Freedom of Information & Freedom of Press

8.14 The Global Network Initiative (GNI) is concerned by the restrictions on the right to freedom of expression imposed by the Government of Tajikistan following violence in the region of Gorno-Badakhshan. Last week the government mandated the blocking of video-sharing website YouTube and reportedly shut down communications networks in Gorno-Badakhshan, severely restricting the free flow of information. A number of news sites, including the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), have also been reported blocked.

8.14 Demand Progress, a progressive advocacy group, launched a campaign on Tuesday to urge the Republican and Democratic parties to include a commitment to protecting Internet freedom in their party platforms.”It’s about time for the Democratic and Republican parties to stand up for Internet Freedom — and to do it in writing,” the group wrote. “2012 has been a landmark year for those who believe in the right of Americans to share information and communicate with each other free from censorship and surveillance.”

8.15 The weekend before last, black-clad Burmese journalists took to the streets of main city Rangoon to rail against the suspension of two local newspapers by the country’s censorship board. An estimated 300 protesters wore black T-shirts with the logo “Stop Killing the Press” after The Voice Weekly and The Envoy were suspended for not submitting stories for pre-publication scrutiny, a legacy of the bad old days of arbitrary rule that government has said will soon be history.

8.15 Free Press, the International News Safety Institute and Harvard University’s Digital Media Law Project are hosting two Web events on reporting in conflict areas. The Webinars will have a special emphasis on reporting at the upcoming Democratic National Convention and Republican National Convention, both of which are expected to draw large numbers of protesters. In the last year, nearly 90 people have been arrested while trying to report on protests in the United States, and many others have faced abuse, harassment and press suppression from local authorities.

8.17 The Philippines, a low lying archipelago of more than 90 million people is a perfect laboratory of stories to humanize the impact of environmental problems and concerns. With the influx of people and rapid industrial growth, environmental issues such as: air and water pollution, solid waste management, decline of biodiversity, deforestation, irresponsible mining, and natural resource management are increasingly becoming major concerns.

  • Middle East Media and Criticism

8.14 Following rover Curiosity’s successful landing on Mars, Arabs on Twitter lamented the miserable state of science in the Arab world: little scientific output and very few patents.

8.14 “Journalism,” wrote the British satirist Craig Brown, “could be described as turning one’s enemies into money.” That was in 1990. Today it’s the other way around, as money has become journalism’s enemy. The availability of free news online has hurt traditional media in general, but particularly the print industry, where steadily shrinking subscription rates produced a decade of incessant layoffs, pay cuts, downsizings, mergers and closures, highlighted by spectacular falls from grace like the Chicago Tribune’s bankruptcy, TV Guide’s sale for a dollar, and New York Times NYT -0.75%  stock diving since 2002 to less than $10 from more than $50. Israel’s vibrant newspaper industry has been no exception.

  • Strides taken for Free Press in Africa; Conferences,Advocacy, etc.

8.16 A ground-breaking project to bring together journalists and economists to improve public debate on finance and business issues will be launched in West Africa next week. Eight journalists and eight economists will swap skills in a series of three-day workshops at Ghana University’s School of Communication Studies.The project, called Africa Means Business, is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and run by the UK-based media development agency, Thomson Media Foundation. Other partners in the project include Oxford University’s Centre for the Study of African Economies, the Financial Times’ Wincott Foundation and the Africa Economic Research Consortium.

8.16 The 16th edition of the Highway Africa Conference, an annual gathering of African journalists and communications experts, has partnered with the Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD), which will be co-hosting its third world conference with Highway Africa. Following a brief sojourn to Cape Town last year, Highway Africa (HA) returns to Rhodes University in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape province, South Africa, and will run from 9-11 September 2012.

8.16 ZiFM Stereo was officially launched yesterday in Harare. From business people, church leaders, musicians to ordinary people, they all came to witness history in the making, as the second privately owned radio station in Zimbabwe blazed the airwaves at midday. Operating under the tag line “My Station Your Station”, ZiFM Stereo boasts some of the freshest Zimbabwean talent. Starting off with one of its youthful presenters Tony Friday and co-host Evangelista Mwatse, the station broadcasts in Harare on 106.4 band and 106.7 band in Bulawayo.

  •  WikiLeaks’ Assange Seaks Asylum, Causes International Stir

8.16 A major diplomatic row over the fate of the fugitive Julian Assange erupted after the WikiLeaks founder was offered political asylum by Ecuador to escape extradition from Britain over allegations of serious sexual assaults.The foreign secretary, William Hague, responded by warning the Ecuadorean government that diplomatic immunity should not be used to harbour alleged criminals. He said Assange would be arrested if he leaves the embassy in London where he has lived for nearly two months.

8.16 The prospect of police breaking into the Ecuadorean embassy in London any time soon to arrest Julian Assange and extradite him to Sweden for questioning on allegations of sexual offences does not seem very imminent. Despite the dramatic announcement on Thursday by Ecuador‘s foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, that his country granted asylum to the WikiLeaks founder, little in reality has changed. Assange is unable to leave the embassy as he would still face immediate arrest.

8.17 The WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange spent a comfortable night in the Ecuadorean embassy in London after the South American country’s decision to offer him asylum, and is said to be “doing all right”, according to a diplomatic source.More than a dozen Metropolitan police officers stood guard outside the redbrick Knightsbridge mansion block on Friday morning, accompanied by a handful of his supporters who are understood to be planning a show of solidarity and direct action tonight in protest at the British government’s treatment of Assange.

  • Googled

8.14  “At Google, we’re constantly trying to make important collections of information more useful to the world. Since 2006, we’ve let people discover, search, and read United States patents online. Starting this week, you can do the same for the millions of ideas that have been submitted to the European Patent Office, such as this one….”

8.14 Google is improving its patent search tools by expanding results from just United States patents but also those in Europe. Starting this week, Google will be adding millions of submitted patents to the European Patent Office. This will surely all come in handy for anyone researching or just curious about the countless new patent lawsuits in the technology world these days. But that’s not all Google is doing to improve its patent searching resources. The Internet giant is also unveiling a new “Prior Art Finder” feature, which essentially searches multiple sources for related content that existed at the time the patent was filed.

8.17 Earlier this year Google announced that it had partnered with the EPO to introduce free new language translation technology on the EPO’s website. At the time the EPO said that it had provided Google with “several hundred thousand high quality translations of patents” in English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Swedish which Google had used to “train” its existing automated translation software.

  • Digital Media Piracy

8.14 A 38-year-old Briton who made £35,000 a month through a website that linked to pirated copies of films and TV shows has been sentenced to four years in prison. Anton Vickerman, whose website had around 400,000 users a day, was convicted of two counts of conspiracy to defraud in June following an eight-week trial at Newcastle crown court. He is the first British man to be jailed in the UK for a website that linked to illegal copies of films and TV shows.

8.14 What’s the price of piracy? For convicted British fraudster Anton Vickerman, it’s four years of his life. That’s the sentence Vickerman got at the Newcastle crown court today for creating SurfTheChannel, a website that linked to both legal and illegal video content. Vickerman received the sentence on two counts of conspiracy to defraud by facilitating copyright infringement. If the “conspiracy to defraud” charge sounds vague to you, then join the club. The charge refers to two or more parties (in this case, Vickerman and his wife) working together to defraud a victim. Similar conspiracy charges were used to unsuccessfully convict Alan Ellis, the founder of music sharing site OiNK….

8.15 …Indeed, when police and the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) raided Vickerman’s home in 2009, the police declined to prosecute him at all. The police then handed over Vickerman’s servers, financial records and mobile phones to FACT, so the rights-holder group could pursue a private prosecution over conspiracy to defraud, rather than copyright infringement. That raid followed an sting operation set up by FACT and the MPAA, which uncovered the fact that Scopelight — Vickerman’s company — generated £300,000 a year, much of which was funnelled to an offshore bank account. “This case conclusively shows that running a website that deliberately sets out to direct users to illegal copies of films and TV shows will result in a criminal conviction and a long jail sentence,” FACT director Kieron Sharp said in a statement on Tuesday.

  • Warrant-less Cellphone Tracking

8.14 A federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday that police do not need a warrant to track the location of a suspect’s phone. The United States Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ruled that the Drug Enforcement Administration did not violate the constitutional rights of Melvin Skinner when it collected his phone’s GPS data. DEA agents tracked Skinner’s pay-as-you-go phone as he transported drugs between Arizona and Tennessee. They arrested him at a rest stop in Texas with a motor home filled with more than 1,100 pounds of marijuana. Skinner’s lawyers argued that the police violated his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches by collecting his phone’s GPS data without first obtaining a warrant.

8.14 …The decision, a big boost for the government’s surveillance powers, comes as prosecutors are shifting their focus to warrantless cell-tower location tracking of suspects in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling in January sharply limiting the use of GPS vehicle trackers. The Supreme Court found law enforcement should acquire probable-cause warrants from judges to affix GPS devices to vehicles and monitor their every move.

8.16 On Tuesday, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that law enforcement officials don’t need a warrant to track suspects via cellphones. Attorneys argued to overturn Skinner’s many convictions, citing that the GPS location information that led to the defendant’s arrest was obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment, which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures. This didn’t wash with the majority of judges over the case, who voted in a 2-1 ruling.

  • Social Media Buzz

8.15 There’s yet another way to post writing and photos and share them with other people online. Mediumis a new blogging tool for people who feel constrained by Twitter and overwhelmed by Blogger or Tumblr. Currently only in preview mode, the project is getting attention because of its founders’ impressive pedigree. Evan Williams and Biz Stone co-founded Twitter and Blogger, so they know about blogging, both long and short form. Medium is the latest product out of their Obvious Corporation, which incubated Twitter in its early days, and the duo has a grand vision for the blogging tool, elucidated in a long announcement post by Williams.

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