Father Christmas’s winter wonderland homes are hotting up

Source: TheGuardian.com

Many towns claiming to be the birthplace of Santa Claus have seen unseasonal temperatures.

After a year in which the climate has been far more naughty than nice, even Father Christmas – in his various guises – is feeling the heat, according to the towns that claim to be his birthplace.

From Alaska to Finland, half a dozen Arctic towns have staked a claim to be the home of Santa Claus or whatever other name he is locally known as. And almost without exception, these winter wonderlands are hotting up.

In Sweden, festive tourists flock to Mora, which boasts a Santa headquarters known as Tomteland that follows local traditions dating back to the Viking era. But the effects of global warming are becoming harder to ignore.

Reindeers are becoming confused by unseasonal temperatures, according to the indigenous Sami. This spring, there were bad floods, and in summer, nearby woodland was destroyed by wildfires that swept through many areas in Sweden.

“I have consulted Mr Santa – or ‘Tomten’ which is his real Swedish name – and he is very concerned about climate change,” Anders Rosén, Mora’s communications manager, told the Guardian. “He has a very strong message to the decision makers of the world: ‘Please take climate change seriously and make decisions in order to save the planet.’“”

(Read more at TheGuardian.com)

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EJN Christmas Party and 20th Anniversary

13 December 2018 — Helsinki, Finland

It was an honour to host the Irish Ambassador, Her Excellency Maeve Collins at such a timely moment in history. While her talk and our discussion was off the record, most of us will agree that whatever was said could change within 24 hours and hence, any report would no longer be applicable or trustworthy. She was not only gracious but astute in her observations regarding Brexit.

The party was held at Nomad Cellars, a private wine club in the heart of Helsinki. Since most of us would be indulging in Finnish Christmas at a later stage, Indian food was served with samosas as starters, curry chicken and dhal as a main course and a chocolate-mascarpone cake for dessert which Bilal Dalklic, a board member, generously donated.

Thanks to André and Bilal for helping with transportation and setting up. Here’s wishing you all a merry Christmas and a very happy New Year.

Violetta Teetor


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Can Europe Remain Democratic?

Written by Violetta Teetor

Agrinio, Greece, 2018 The question was described as ‘curious’, ‘amazing’ and ‘existential’ by the various panellists who shared their views with delegates from 15 countries attending the annual congress of the Association of European Journalists in Agrinio in November 2018.

The congress was attended by members of the Association of European Journalists and other journalists

Glimmers of optimism were threatened by a sombre mood enshrouding the problems facing Europe. With unemployment at 20% in Greece, 40% for youth between the ages of 18 and 25, attitudes towards systems that have failed them are influential in potentially discarding traditional values. Greece is not alone. Spain and other countries, see their young people performing jobs well below their graduate status or not at all.

Not for the first time, populism is rearing its ugly head once more, preaching to the sceptics of the EU as well as to the disenfranchised whose opinions of refugees strengthen their resolve to keep them out. The message from the Mayor of Brussels, Christos Doulkeridis, was touching in its sincerity. He apologised to refugees as an EU citizen for the way Europe has behaved towards them, he apologised that the EU has not done enough to keep Britain within the ranks even though it was their chivalry that saved Europe during WW2. His own story is one of gratitude to the people of Belgium and Brussels in particular that made it possible for a Greek like him to flourish and get to the position that he is in today. His message of tackling the onslaught of difficulties is for Europeans to stand together, for politicians to have a common goal in order to pave the way for future democracy.

Climate change was on everyone’s agenda and there was no doubt that this could not be faced by individual countries or for that matter by the bloc on its own and that the refusal of President Trump of the USA to sign the Paris Treaty, is a blow to a vital unified approach. According to Otmar Lahodynsky, President of the AEJ, journalists have been given the mandate to fight for solidarity highlighting the severe approaching storms and make citizens aware of the added value of a unified Europe to remain democratic.

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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.
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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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