Christmas in Europe Coming Under Leaden Skies

Source: White House Chronicle (WHChronicle.com)

By Llewellyn King

AGRINIO, Greece — There is not a dark cloud hanging over Europe. There are a bunch of them. Taken together they account for a sense of foreboding, not quite despair, but a definite feeling that things are unraveling and, worse, that there is no leadership — second-raters at all the national helms. That was the near consensus at the annual Congress of the Association of European Journalists here in lovely western Greece.

In a class by itself in worries in Europe is Russia. It is creating trouble all over Europe, but especially in the countries that made up the former Soviet Union. It has a propaganda effort the likes of which has not been seen since the days of the Cold War — except modern technology and its social media manifestation have made it more deadly, surreptitious and deniable.

The problem is one that affects news organizations directly. Fake events vie with pernicious posting on social media and relentless cyber-undermining of systems and processes.

Disparaging democracy seems to be a primary Russian goal, making it appear unworkable.

When will Russia move from soft war to hard war? The current standoff over Crimea augers badly for vulnerable Russian neighbors, particularly the Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. They are battling massive Russian undermining of truth and wonder whether they will fall again to the Russian bear.

Add to this fear a new dynamic: What will America do if Russia moves? The fear is it will do nothing. President Donald Trump’s haranguing of the NATO allies is not reassuring to them.

After the existential worries about Russia, comes Brexit. It is here and now. It is, in the eyes of continentals, a ghastly mistake that is going to cost all of Europe dearly. And what for? The vague shibboleth of “sovereignty.” Euros remain sadly hopeful that somehow there will be a second referendum in Britain and that everything will be as it was: Britain being a stabilizer among the 28 nations that make up the European Union.

Since Britain’s entry in 1973, it has been a fundamental side of an iron triangle of the three big economies: Germany, France and Britain. Britain has been an older sibling, the sensible one. Now the odds are that it will be gone, headed for an uncertain future leaving behind the wreckage of a broken marriage and squandered hope for what Tony Blair, the former Labor prime minister, used to call the “European Project.”

Hungary and the ultra-right policies of Viktor Orban are a very great worry in Europe. Similarly, Poland’s shift to the right and the success of right-wing, near fascist parties across Europe, including Austria (heretofore a center of cautious reasonableness), add to the sense of disintegration.

Two other worries are France and Italy. Along with Hungary and Poland, Italy, with an amalgamated government of the ultra-right and ultra-left, looks as determined as the other two to thumb its nose at the European Union and its rules, maybe to withdraw even. Hungary does it over press freedom and human rights, Italy over fiscal probity and open hostility to the EU.

France is a different story. Emmanuel Macron, the young president was, briefly, the great hope of Europe, but his popularity at home has slid and he has had to turn back his ambitious reforms after street demonstrations, violence and fatalities.

Add to all this shifting sand the uncertain future in Germany where Chancellor Angela Merkel is on her way out and, suddenly, she seems a more desirable leader than she was thought to be during her tenure.

Feeding the swing to the right and as far from resolution today as it was when it began, illegal immigration is an undermining pressure, un-addressed on the left and exploited on the right.

Meanwhile, across Europe press freedom is teetering: a big issue at this congress. As a Bulgarian delegate said to me, “When the press goes, so goes democracy.” Then she added, “We thought that, in some way, America would help, but not now. We are on our own.”

Europe will have a fine Christmas — it does Christmas so well. Next year though, some of the stresses may reach breaking point and the carols will have given way to uglier, discordant notes.

(Read more at White House Chronicle (WHChronicle.com))

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Press freedom solidarity mission to Slovakia calls for full justice over Jan Kuciak’s murder

Source: Association of European Journalists (AEJ.org)

Press freedom solidarity mission to Slovakia calls for full justice over Jan Kuciak’s murder

On Thursday December 6 the AEJ joined eight other partner organisations that publish regular press freedom alerts on the Council of Europe’s Safety of Journalists website in making a visit to the Slovak capital, Bratislava. In meetings with Slovak Interior Ministry and police officials members of the mission pressed for all those responsible for February’s murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee to be brought to justice. They also urged the Slovakian government to counter the hostile working environment for investigative journalists and to make legal and policy reforms to ensure the personal safety of journalists as well as their contacts or sources. The full joint Statement is below:

Statement on Council of Europe’s Journalists’ Safety Platform Partners’ mission to Bratislava, 7 December 2018

On 6 December 2018, nine partner organisations of the Council of Europe’s Platform for the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists conducted a press freedom solidarity mission to Slovakia to press for full justice in the case of assassinated journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee, Martina Kusnirova, who were murdered on 21 February 2018.

The delegation – from the Association of European Journalists (AEJ), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Free Press Unlimited, Index on Censorship, International News Safety Institute (INSI), International Press Institute (IPI), PEN International, Rory Peck Trust, along with representatives from the Council of Europe’s Platform for the promotion of journalism and the safety of Journalists – met with officials of the Interior Ministry and the Presidium of the Police Force to monitor the progress of the investigation into the assassination.

The delegation welcomed the arrest of four individuals in relation to the assassination but stressed the urgent need for all those who commissioned the assassination to be brought to justice. Authorities assured that the investigators are “rigorously pursuing all lines of inquiry to establish who ordered the assassination.” The delegation notes that personnel changes within the police in the aftermath of the assassination are widely seen in Slovakia as having strengthened the investigation.

The delegation asked for clarification from the authorities as to why an assessment was made that the threats which Jan Kuciak reported to the police prior to his assassination were not considered serious enough to warrant an investigation. The delegation stressed that unless systematic changes – at a legal and policy level – are introduced which ensure the safety of journalists and their sources, journalists in Slovakia will continue to be vulnerable. The delegation urged that current, internal discussions within the Ministry of Culture on legislation relating to the press should lead to measures that materially strengthen the legal framework for the protection of journalists.

The delegation also raised serious concern about recent remarks made by former Prime Minister Robert Fico in November 2018 in which he said in Slovak that journalists should be “hit… very hard.”[1] Such anti-media rhetoric from those in high office is particularly alarming in the aftermath of the assassination of an investigative journalist, and partners regard such language from a leading politician as unacceptable. Of further concern was the forced confiscation by police on 16 May 2018 of the phone of Pavla Holcova, a Czech journalist who worked with Jan Kuciak, [2]

The delegation also visited the office of Aktuality.sk to learn more about the climate for press freedom and the safety of journalists in Slovakia following Kuciak’s assassination. Peter Bardy, editor of Aktuality, said that while prior to Kuciak’s assassination “investigative journalists felt invincible, now we are much more cautious.” Finally, the delegation laid tributes at the memorial for Kuciak and Kusnirova in central Bratislava.

[1] See https://www.euronews.com/2018/11/17/we-want-a-decent-slovakia-demand-protesters-in-bratislava

[2] For more details, see https://go.coe.int/CWPbD

(Read more at Association of European Journalists (AEJ.org))

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AEJ protests: pro-government media conglomerate in Hungary threatens the survival of media plurality

Source: Association of European Journalists (AEJ.org)

The international Association of European Journalists (AEJ) joins the Hungarian journalists unions HPU and MUOSZ in calling on the national authorities to put a stop to the recently announced formation of a huge media conglomerate that threatens to end media pluralism in Hungary. The AEJ is speaking out against this deeply undemocratic development following its annual Congress and General Assembly in western Greece last weekend, where the deteriorating state of media freedom, and the erosion of safeguards to protect it in Hungary and elsewhere in Europe was debated and strongly condemned. The Association hereby aligns itself with the public position of the European and International Federations of Journalists (EFJ-IFJ). We also remind the Hungarian government that all EU member states have the positive obligation to ensure media pluralism and an environment in which citizens can participate in public debate and express ideas and opinions without fear. With the EFJ and IFJ we call on the European Commission, as guardian of the treaties, to treat attempts by Hungary to threaten media freedom and pluralism as a serious and systemic abuse of power.

The new right-wing media conglomerate is to be operated through a so-called Central European Press and Media Foundation, and it will include cable news channels, online news portals, tabloid and sports newspapers and all the counrtry’s provincial newspapers, some national daily newspapers, several radio stations and numerous magazines. The owners of a majority of Hungary’s pro-government media outlets announced last week that they would be committing their titles to the foundation. The move is widely seen as sounding the death knell for media independence, and as an attempt to consolidate the growing stranglehold that pro-government media have created in Hungary under the leadership of prime minister Viktor Orban’s ruling Fidesz party.

According to media reports, most of the publications included were acquired or founded by allies of Prime Minister Viktor Orban over recent years. Some were transformed from relatively independent outlets into mouthpieces of the government, with copious state and government advertising. The Foundation’s media operations will be led by Gabor Liszkay, a newspaper publisher known for his loyalty to Viktor Orban, and the formal leader of the Foundation is a Fidesz MP who is by profession a lawyer.

The National Federation of Hungarian Journalists (MUOSZ) has sent a letter to the Media Authority and the Competition Office, dominated by pro-government experts, denouncing the hegemonic position of the new conglomerate in every major sector of the media, including national commercial radio and regional newspapers across the country.

(Read more at Association of European Journalists (AEJ.org))

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Lounge on the Book Heaven floor in Oodi, Helsinki’s stunning new library

Source: LonelyPlanet.com

Like a wave sweeping between the buildings of what is known as Citizens’ Square, Oodi (pronounced ‘awdi) is a veritable ode to Helsinki. The new central library breaks the boundaries of silence and invites children, tourists, contemplatives, rock bands, the whole world, in fact, to partake in its multi-faceted facilities and what’s more, it’s all for free!

In a country with the highest literacy rate in the world according to the UN in 2016, libraries are used by the 5.5 million locals at a rate of 68 million books per year. It is hardly surprising that the people of Finland and residents of Helsinki, in particular, are delighted at the prospect of this communal space created by ALA Architects. Believe it or not, there will be 100,000 books for borrowing on the Book Heaven floor where you can lounge around on a sofa musing about your next read.

(Read more at LonelyPlanet.com)

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You thought fake news was bad? Deep fakes are where truth goes to die

Source: TheGuardian.com

Technology can make it look as if anyone has said or done anything. Is it the next wave of (mis)information warfare?

In May, a video appeared on the internet of Donald Trump offering advice to the people of Belgium on the issue of climate change. “As you know, I had the balls to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement,” he said, looking directly into the camera, “and so should you.”

The video was created by a Belgian political party, Socialistische Partij Anders, or sp.a, and posted on sp.a’s Twitter and Facebook. It provoked hundreds of comments, many expressing outrage that the American president would dare weigh in on Belgium’s climate policy.
World’s first AI news anchor unveiled in China
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One woman wrote: “Humpy Trump needs to look at his own country with his deranged child killers who just end up with the heaviest weapons in schools.”

Another added: “Trump shouldn’t blow so high from the tower because the Americans are themselves as dumb.”

But this anger was misdirected. The speech, it was later revealed, was nothing more than a hi-tech forgery.

Sp.a claimed that they had commissioned a production studio to use machine learning to produce what is known as a “deep fake” – a computer-generated replication of a person, in this case Trump, saying or doing things they have never said or done.

Sp.a’s intention was to use the fake video to grab people’s attention, then redirect them to an online petition calling on the Belgian government to take more urgent climate action. The video’s creators later said they assumed that the poor quality of the fake would be enough to alert their followers to its inauthenticity. “It is clear from the lip movements that this is not a genuine speech by Trump,” a spokesperson for sp.a told Politico.

As it became clear that their practical joke had gone awry, sp.a’s social media team went into damage control. “Hi Theo, this is a playful video. Trump didn’t really make these statements.” “Hey, Dirk, this video is supposed to be a joke. Trump didn’t really say this.”

The party’s communications team had clearly underestimated the power of their forgery, or perhaps overestimated the judiciousness of their audience. Either way, this small, left-leaning political party had, perhaps unwittingly, provided the first example of the use of deep fakes in an explicitly political context.

It was a small-scale demonstration of how this technology might be used to threaten our already vulnerable information ecosystem – and perhaps undermine the possibility of a reliable, shared reality.

Fake videos can now be created using a machine learning technique called a “generative adversarial network”, or a GAN.

(Read more at TheGuardian.com)

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Finland to start its Presidency of the Council of Europe

Source: UM.fi – Ulkoministeriö (Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland)

Finland’s Presidency of the Council of Europe will start on 21 November 2018. Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjørn Jagland will visit Finland on 8 November.

During his visit, Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland will meet Minister for Foreign Affairs Timo Soini, President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö and Speaker of Parliament Paula Risikko.

Finland’s Presidency will emphasise the Council of Europe’s work to promote human rights and the rule of law and to reinforce the rules-based international system.

(Read more at UM.fi – Ulkoministeriö (Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland))

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The world’s $80 trillion economy – in one chart

Source: WEForum.org (World Economic Forum)

The latest estimate from the World Bank puts global GDP at roughly $80 trillion in nominal terms for 2017.

Today’s chart from HowMuch.net uses this data to show all major economies in a visualization called a Voronoi diagram – let’s dive into the stats to learn more.

The world’s top 10 economies.

Here are the world’s top 10 economies, which together combine for a whopping two-thirds of global GDP.

(Read more at WEForum.org (World Economic Forum))

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“You Cry at Night but Don’t Know Why” – Sexual Violence against Women in North Korea

Source: HRW.org (Human Rights Watch)

Oh Jung Hee is a former trader in her forties from Ryanggang province. She sold clothes to market stalls in Hyesan city and was involved in the distribution of textiles in her province. She said that up until she left the country in 2014, guards would regularly pass by the market to demand bribes, sometimes in the form of coerced sexual acts or intercourse. She told Human Rights Watch:

“I was a victim many times … On the days they felt like it, market guards or police officials could ask me to follow them to an empty room outside the market, or some other place they’d pick. What can we do? They consider us [sex] toys … We [women] are at the mercy of men. Now, women cannot survive without having men with power near them.”

She said she had no power to resist or report these abuses. She said it never occurred to her that anything could be done to stop these assaults except trying to avoid such situations by moving away or being quiet in order to not be noticed.

Park Young Hee, a former farmer in her forties also from Ryanggang province who left North Korea for the second time in 2011, was forced back to North Korea from China in the spring of 2010 after her first attempt to flee. She said, after being released by the secret police (bowiseong) and put under the jurisdiction of the police, the officer in charge of questioning her in the police pre-trial detention facility (kuryujang) near Musan city in North Hamgyong province touched her body underneath her clothes and penetrated her several times with his fingers. She said he asked her repeatedly about the sexual relations she had with the Chinese man to whom she had been sold to while in China. She told Human Rights Watch:

“My life was in his hands, so I did everything he wanted and told him everything he asked. How could I do anything else? … Everything we do in North Korea can be considered illegal, so everything can depend on the perception or attitude of who is looking into your life.”

Park Young Hee said she never told anybody about the abuse because she did not think it was unusual, and because she feared the authorities and did not believe anyone would help.
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© 2018 Human Rights Watch

The experiences of Oh Jung Hee and Park Young Hee are not isolated ones. While sexual and gender-based violence is of concern everywhere, growing evidence suggests it is endemic in North Korea.

This report–based largely on interviews with 54 North Koreans who left the country after 2011, when the current leader, Kim Jong Un, rose to power, and 8 former North Korean officials who fled the country–focuses on sexual abuse by men in official positions of power. The perpetrators include high-ranking party officials, prison and detention facility guards and interrogators, police and secret police officials, prosecutors, and soldiers. At the time of the assaults, most of the victims were in the custody of authorities or were market traders who came across guards and other officials as they traveled to earn their livelihood.

Interviewees told us that when a guard or police officer “picks” a woman, she has no choice but to comply with any demands he makes, whether for sex, money, or other favors. Women in custody have little choice should they attempt to refuse or complain afterward, and risk sexual violence, longer periods in detention, beatings, forced labor, or increased scrutiny while conducting market activities.

Women not in custody risk losing their main source of income and jeopardizing their family’s survival, confiscation of goods and money, and increased scrutiny or punishment, including being sent to labor training facilities (rodong danryeondae) or ordinary-crimes prison camps (kyohwaso, literally reform through labor centers) for being involved in market activities. Other negative impacts include possibly losing access to prime trading locations, being fired or overlooked for jobs, being deprived of means of transportation or business opportunities, being deemed politically disloyal, being relocated to a remote area, and facing more physical or sexual violence.

The North Koreans we spoke with told us that unwanted sexual contact and violence is so common that it has come to be accepted as part of ordinary life: sexual abuse by officials, and the impunity they enjoy, is linked to larger patterns of sexual abuse and impunity in the country. The precise number of women and girls who experience sexual violence in North Korea, however, is unknown. Survivors rarely report cases, and the North Korean government rarely publishes data on any aspect of life in the country.

(Read more at HRW.org (Human Rights Watch))

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Google walkout: global protests over sexual harassment scandals

Source: TheGuardian.com

Thousands of employees staging demonstrations against workplace culture.

Thousands of Google staff are staging a walkout in protest at the company’s lenient treatment of executives accused of sexual misconduct.

Demonstrations at the company’s offices around the world began at 11.10am in Tokyo and are due to take place at the same time in other time zones. An image from the Singapore office showed at least 100 staff protesting.

Employees are being urged to leave a flyer at their desk which reads: “I’m not at my desk because I’m walking out in solidarity with other Googlers and contractors to protest [against] sexual harassment, misconduct, lack of transparency, and a workplace culture that’s not working for everyone.”

The Walkout for Real Change protest comes a week after it emerged that Google gave a $90m (£70m) severance package to Andy Rubin, the creator of the Android mobile phone software, but concealed details of a sexual misconduct allegation that triggered his departure. Rubin has denied the allegations.

(Read more at TheGuardian.com)

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AEJ says “No impunity“ for Saudi journalist’s murder: joint statement issued with Arab media NGO

Source: AEJ.org (Association of European Journalists)

AEJ says „No impunity“ for Saudi journalist’s murder: joint statement issued with Arab media NGO

An international crime: Journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Turkey and punitive sanctions are required – Joint Statement of the Association of European Journalists and Journalist Support Committee on 21 October 2018

The Association of European Journalists (AEJ) and the Journalist Support Committee (JSC) express their horror and dismay at the Saudi authorities‘ announcement about what they have said was the „accidental killing“ of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey. The announcement makes clear that the assassination of Khashoggi is a crime of international dimensions with far-reaching implications that requires serious and international efforts to pursue the murderers and the masterminds, who must face justice before an independent international tribunal.

The Association of European Journalists (AEJ) and the Journalist Support Committee (JSC) call on the Turkish authorities to disclose all the available information related to this crime. Our organisations urge strenuous, independent and transparent investigations to determine the motives and the full facts about the circumstances of this crime, and to determine the whereabouts of the journalist Khashoggi’s remains.

The AEJ and the JSC both insist on full accountability for this appalling murder through a prompt and effective international investigation which must determine the identities of every person involved in this crime, including the perpetrators and those who ordered it, and ensure that there is no impunity for anyone who is found to be responsible.

The Association of European Journalists and the Journalist Support Committee fully support the statement of the Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, who condemned the crime and urged “fighting for press freedom since it is an essential element for the establishment of democracy”. She also spoke of an imperative need for these crimes to be subject to accountability, saying that „this is not debatable.” The AEJ also welcomes the calls of EU authorities for an impartial investigation.

The AEJ and the JSC further call for a thorough, independent review of the record of violations by the Saudi authorities of fundamental human rights through political decisions or laws that infringe the international principles set out in the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights as well as Economic and Social Rights. The JSC also renews its call for the release of all prisoners of conscience detained in the prisons of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

(Read more at AEJ.org (Association of European Journalists))

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