silicon | Journalists in the crosshairs: the dirty war on information
(Above, inset, lr): Carlos Martinez de la Serna, Program Director, Committee to Protect Journalists; Ricardo Trotti, Executive Director, Inter-American Press Association (SIP in Spanish); Ruslan Gurzhiy, editor, SlavicSac, Russian News in California; and Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief, SupChina. (EMS/Siliconeer/Shutterstock)
The global war on information has caught journalists in the crosshairs around the world. Journalists are killed, intimidated, harassed, imprisoned, internet and social media access is restricted or reduced in many countries, and social media is teeming with disinformation and propaganda campaigns. Public opinion on the media and journalism is at an all-time low.
“We used to take information for granted. We used to take access to news for granted. It may have been the privilege of living in America, but we can’t do that anymore, it seems, no matter where we live,” said Sandy Close, executive director of Ethnic Media Services.
Speakers – Carlos Martinez de la Serna, Program Director, Committee to Protect Journalists; Ricardo Trotti, Executive Director, Inter-American Press Association (SIP in Spanish); Ruslan Gurzhiy, editor, SlavicSac, Russian News in California; and Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief, SupChina – discussed these trends at a briefing on ethnic media services held on April 1.
Carlos Martinez de la Serna provided a very brief overview of how, what is the state of the prison in the world. “Any place where there is a political crisis, where there is a crisis of any kind, could be COVID, which is a global health crisis, could be a change in government elections, could be a place where there are protests or demonstrations, or other types of crises like a racial process or others that you can think of, news and journalism is also a target, so at the same time there is a war journalism and information.
“You can think of the years of COVID which are still here although in some places it’s more relevant than others and governments have enacted different laws to stifle journalism to control information.
“During the racial process and then the black flight model process in the United States, there was a record number of journalists attacked and imprisoned. The current crisis in Eastern Europe is also a war of the information.
“Journalists investigating corruption, and political corruption in particular, are usually the most targeted because of their work, but there are also sort of new trends happening at the same time, for example last year we documented dozens of cases, at least 47 journalists jailed on fake news charges in 2021 alone.
“Most cases of journalists being killed are never told, so killing a journalist is usually not a problem. Governments know how not to be held accountable or not really do their best to get justice done in these cases and that’s extremely important as we’ve seen in places like Mexico or other places where there is a continuous cycle of murders of journalists and impunity. One consequence of this global crisis and attack on journalism is that there is a growing community of journalists in exile. This is becoming a feature of a world in which journalists are reporting on their countries based elsewhere because they cannot do this work in the countries.
Ricardo Trotti: Latin America continues to reap crimes against journalists. “In this first quarter of 2022, 12 journalists were killed in the Americas, eight in Mexico, one in three in Haiti, one in Guatemala and the other in Honduras. The background of widespread violence is organized crime, drug trafficking and cooperation with corrupt government officials, police and paramilitaries, in some countries, are the main causes of this problem.
“In addition to impunity, which rises to 90% of cases, it must be considered that prevention hardly exists. For example, most or all of the murders happen inside countries where there is less of a government presence or more corruption in those places. Moreover, the protection systems do not work in these countries, they are very weak and do not have sufficient human and economic resources to operate.
“Since 2018, the law to regulate social networks allows the incarceration of users and in 2021 there is another law which allows the State to the government to confiscate the material of users who represent what they call a threat to the revolution.
“Other serious issues for depressing Latin American women – access to public information, although access laws are already in place in most countries, this makes it difficult to fight corruption, violence and poverty, plus there is no transparency and governments lie about official data.
“Another widespread problem is the lack of media sustainability. Over the past two decades, now compounded by the pandemic, the most critical revenue – advertising – has migrated to big platforms. The consequences are not yet seen in the long term but one of the main ones is the information desert which continues to grow, although many native digital media have emerged, for example, it is estimated that 60 of the cities of the interior of Colombia do not have local journalism, as in three quarters of Argentina, 14 million people in Brazil and 5 million people in Venezuela live in cities without local journalism,” Trotti said.
In Canada, 340 media have disappeared. More than 2,000 newspapers in the United States have closed between 2005 and 2021, Trotti pointed out.
Ruslan Gurzhiy: “The real Ukrainian war started a month ago (in March) between Russia and Ukraine. It’s been going on for a while.
“I suffered a lot of threats as a Russian-speaking journalist here in California, because since 2014 we have done several investigations on Russian-Ukrainian-American corruption. I went to Ukraine in 2015 and covered a lot of Ukrainian corruption since our community here in California, especially in Sacramento, is closely tied to Ukraine.
“Russian-speaking Ukrainian churches send humanitarian aid to Ukraine and I have made a lot of investigative stories about how this humanitarian aid is distributed in Ukraine.”
Gurzhiy explained how the police, law and order, military were corrupt. He also talked about Russian propaganda and disinformation spread by Moscow media. He added that Russian oil money has also played an important role in this effort. Gurzhiy gave a very explicit account of the reality in Russia and Ukraine and how he was warned and threatened as an international journalist not to report on the facts outside the region.
Jeremy Goldkorn“This is really very pro-state propaganda, even for foreign media, it’s a very difficult time. The Chinese government has evicted most of the offices of The Wall Street Journaland The New York Timesand foreign journalists are constantly harassed on reporting assignments, prevented from reporting, prevented from interviewing people, and there is a growing sense of nationalism which has worsened with the COVID-19 pandemic among Chinese people in line.
“There are also a lot of independent patriotic thugs who harass journalists not because the government told them to, but because they themselves think foreign journalists are misrepresenting China. It’s difficult if you’re a Chinese journalist. In China, you are either in prison, or you have left the profession, or you are essentially writing press releases.
“The environment in the United States is also very complicated and not very easy. Part of that is because of the conflicts within the diaspora community, you have older generation Chinese immigrants and their media who often have roots in Taiwan, which weren’t necessarily sympathetic to the Chinese Communist Party, which was mainland China, and then there’s the more recent immigrants and media companies, many of which are either directly supported by the Chinese government or in fact state media themselves, or are heavily dependent on Chinese companies for advertising or have other business relationships with Chinese companies, which makes it very difficult and inconvenient for them to speak truth to power when it s is about what is happening in China.
“There is another group of organizations that are organized or funded by one or another flavor of dissidents. There is one particularly influential organization, ‘Falun Gong’ which is a religious organization which has a large media presence all over the world but which is banned in China and is really a sworn enemy of the Chinese Communist Party. So you have all these different groups vying to talk.
“The problem, seen from the perspective of a journalist, in a way if you work in the United States as a journalist covering China and the Chinese community, if you are perceived as anti-China, your media can be boycotted by companies and people who are associated with or want to do business in the PRC, and you may be harassed online, and if you have family or personal ties to China, this harassment can be very frightening because that you don’t know what will happen happen in China.
“If you are considered pro-China, you may be investigated by the United States government, which under the China initiative, kind of coming to a halt now, was a Trump-era government program to investigate academics and scientists with a China-related background.
“Many people have been wrongfully accused of professional misconduct of one kind or another in the milder cases and of spying for the Chinese government in some of the worst cases. Some people who were completely innocent of any of these things have had their careers worked on, so that’s another danger.
“Social media has become an extremely toxic place for journalists and I think covering China, covering Chinese community issues, is very bad right now, and that really applies whether you’re considered pro -China or anti-China,” Goldkorn said.