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Journalism in Africa: Rwandan journalists protest new law; Kenya’s media voted most trustworthy institution

November 5th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Journalism, Press freedom and ethics

Rwanda

Rwandan journalists have officially petitioned their upper parliament to shoot down a stringent media law that would force journalists to reveal their sources.

The proposed law would criminalize any story on cabinet proceedings, internal memos and documents in public institutions.

Under the legislation, anyone starting a newspaper would be required to pay $20,000 (£12,500) and 10 times more to begin a radio or TV station.

Speaking to Journalism.co.uk, Gasper Safari, president of the Rwanda Journalists Association, said the new laws were a death sentence to investigative journalism.

“How will investigative journalism survive? It is a rope and we are just being asked to practice journalism and the hangman will pull the rug under your feet,” he said.

Safari explained how his organisation had initially written a protest letter to the lower house of parliament, but it was ignored.

“We will explore other methods in dealing with the upper house. People cannot be allowed to shout they support press freedom while deep down they do not support the existence of the media,” he said.

Kenya

The media is the most trusted institution in Kenya – and the country’s electoral commission (ECK) the least, according to a recent survey by Gallup International affiliates Steadman Research.

The quarterly poll found that 80 per cent of Kenyans trusted the media – exactly the same number that found the ECK the most dishonest.

Fortunes for the media and the ECK have been on a downward trend since the violence surrounding last year’s disputed presidential election, but the media has regained some ground in the last two months after two major commissions backed by both the United Nations (UN) and the African Union (AU) returned a not guilty verdict on most of the media.

“Kenyans are saying that their last hope is with the media, their trust for institutions is at an all time low, but they have their thumbs up for journalists,” Tom Wolf, a lead researcher at Steadman, told a press conference in Nairobi.

The media was placed ahead of Kenya’s President, Prime Minister and parliament by the survey.

“We are not very happy to be ahead of all other institutions. It means we have a duty to assist them in getting to the highest level of trust, but our work is easier since we have the trust of our readers and viewers,” said Martin Gitau, general secretary of the Journalist Association of Kenya (JAK).

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Jeremy Dear responds to regional media/BBC Local row

October 27th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Newspapers, Online Journalism

Following coverage of last week’s comments by National Union of Journalists (NUJ) chief Jeremy Dear, about his bemusement with the regional press’ opposition to the BBC’s proposals to extend local video offerings online, the general secretary has responded, saying that there’s ‘room for everyone’ in the regional market.

“My point is that the local newspapers campaign is for their own vested interests – they don’t care about ensuring local people have a variety of sources of news, comment and entertainment. They want to be able to capture the market themselves. I fully support the newspapers’ expansion in to online media and I hope they capture a significant part of the audience – but it has to be done through quality content, with enough staff and resources to win ‘eyeballs’ not by stopping the licence fee payer being able to access BBC local services,” he writes in a blog post.

Dear adds that he has replied to a letter from Trinity Mirror’s director of corporate communications about his remarks, but is yet to receive a response:

“I simply asked him the question that if we believe in media plurality and we accept that commercial local TV and radio can exist alongside the BBC what is so different about online?”

Regional newspaper publishers have previously told Journalism.co.uk that ‘enough staff and resources to win “eyeballs”‘ would be a much easier prospect if a £68 million, five-year investment plan was available.

The final decision on the plans is fast approaching – it’s scheduled for February 25 2009 – and perhaps now is the time for the regional press to ask themselves what can be done if their opposition fails.

Is there potential for collaboration with the BBC online, and could this drive further innovation by regional titles online in response to the competition? Or will approval of the scheme lead to a reduction in online investment by the regional media?

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NUJ release video showing police treatment of journalists

September 10th, 2008 | 2 Comments | Posted by in Online Journalism

As reported in Press Gazette, the NUJ’s General Secretary, Jeremy Dear, used his appearance on Monday at the the TUC Congress Conference 2008 to call for a motion against the erosion of journalists’ civil liberties and media freedom in Britain.

In a follow-up, the NUJ yesterday released this video, ‘Press Freedom: Collateral Damage’ by Jason N Parkinson : nine minutes of film documenting the treatment of journalists by police.

The film highlights a number of incidents in which the NUJ feel the police unnecessarily obstructed reporters and photographers.

The NUJ motion identified the cases of Robin Ackroyd and Shiv Malik, who have both risked jail because of the legal requirement to reveal confidential information from sources. In his speech to the Congress, Dear also referred to Sally Murrer, a journalist who is facing criminal prosecution for receiving information from a police source.

“Journalism is facing grave threats in an age of intolerance,” Jeremy Dear said in the NUJ’s statement.  “Whilst on the streets dissent is being criminalized, independent journalism is being increasingly caught in the civil liberties clampdown,” he said.

Members of the TUC conference unanimously backed the NUJ’s motion on Monday. The NUJ statement, with more excerpts from Dear’s speech, can be read here.

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MediaGuardian: Trinity Mirror announces redundancies for all 300 editorial staff in Midlands

August 20th, 2008 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Jobs, Newspapers

According to the Guardian, all 300 editorial staff at Trinity Mirror’s Midlands titles have been made redundant and are being asked to reapply for new roles.

The mass restructuring of editorial staff will pave the way for the integration of multimedia, production and news desks across Trinity’s titles in the region.

A central multimedia desk will be created to take control of editorial content for the Birmingham Mail, Birmingham Post and Sunday Mercury with particular responsibility for online platforms.

A similar hub will be developed to produce content for its Coventry-based titles, while a regional production unit will oversee the multimedia desks’ work.

In addition a new work process of ‘content creation, multimedia desk, page finishing’ will be implemented.

Yesterday Trinity Mirror said the changes would require ‘substantially fewer journalists’ and the publisher has entered into a consultation process with the National Union of Journalists (NUJ).

“Whatever the company may claim, you simply can’t take dozens of journalists out of your local operations and continue to report news to the same standard. Bosses at the company are sacrificing quality journalism to appease the short-term whims of the financial markets,” said Jeremy Dear, NUJ general secretary, in response to yesterday’s announcement.

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NUJ plans ‘concerted campaign’ against Johnston Press cuts

August 13th, 2008 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Jobs, Journalism

National Union of Journalists (NUJ) representatives are gearing up for ‘coordinated action’ in response to cutbacks announced by Johnston Press.

Reps will tonight discuss plans for a campaign, the NUJ has said, following news of cuts at the Sheffield Star, Scotsman Publications, the Glasgow East News and the Ayrshire Extra.

Restructuring has put up to 30 jobs at risk at the Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and Edinburgh Evening News, though no specific figure for the number of editorial job losses has been given.

A further 15 positions are to go as Johnston Press ceases publication of the Glasgow East News and Ayrshire Extra.

The union has also received complaints about working conditions at the Blackpool Gazette, which it has sent in a memo to the company.

The memo included claims that four news sub-editors have been working 55-hour weeks, while a junior reporter worked 110 hours in 11 days.

The publisher has disputed the figures stated in the memo, the NUJ said.

“Our members in Johnston Press want to produce high quality local papers, but they are finding they have to work incredibly long hours – sometimes dangerously long hours – in order to do so.

“Many of our members are already facing high levels of stress and these latest cuts will simply make an intolerable situation even worse. No wonder our members are calling for a concerted campaign against the company’s failure to invest in quality journalism,” said Jeremy Dear, NUJ general secretary, in a press statement.

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General secretary calls on bloggers to join NUJ

December 18th, 2007 | 2 Comments | Posted by in Online Journalism

Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the NUJ, has posted a welcome to bloggers to join the union on the Guardian’s Comment is Free site.

Last month the union admitted it’s first full-time blogger, freelance Engadget writer Conrad Quilty-Harper.

In the post, Dear said the change to the union’s membership would better reflect the shape of the industry and that those questioning such decisions fail to recognise ‘the changing media landscape’.

“Bloggers may be particularly concerned that they get paid a fair deal for their work or that their copyright is protected. Many are also interested in protecting journalistic standards,” wrote Dear.

“They believe that employers should devote the same level of care and attention to a piece of work online as you would in any other part of the industry. That’s not always easy, given the scant investment in journalistic resources that too many companies are willing to make in their online operations.”

Dear added that the role of the union would remain ‘as vital as ever’ in the face of new technology and new media platforms for news.

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NUJ report gets a hold on new media

December 6th, 2007 | No Comments | Posted by in Online Journalism

The NUJ has finally published its Shaping the Future report looking at the effect of cross-media conversion and the adoption of internet publishing on its journalist members.

The report is intended largely to raise concerns that newspaper groups are committing to newsroom conversion by increasing the workload of journalists, asking them to work harder and longer without any great recompense, all the while continuing to reduce the size of the staff.

However, the report balances this through its recognition that the industry was in a ‘transitional period in which many employers are still undecided on the level of investment they are prepared to put into new media…in the long run staffing should stabilise with proper job allocation and training’.

It also highlighted that many national and some of the leading regional publishers – particularly Johnston Press and Trinity Mirror – were already engaged in planning ‘seriously for better resourced “web first” operations’.

The final section of the report, entitled The Future offers an informed look – somewhat away from the tendency toward doom and gloom of the questionnaire findings – at the development of the industry against a backdrop of Web 2.0 developments, suggesting that the industry has to grow into a word of social networking, widget technology, greater personalisation, mobility and communication.

Despite these allowances, the report raises a worrying set of issues, highlighting often how professional standards are compromised in the name of cross-media production. How corners are cut and publications are often seem as product, to be filed at a lower editorial standard, rather than focusing fully on more established news values.

“Instead of seizing the opportunity to enhance journalistic content and build and maintain quality media, many simply seized the opportunity to reduce costs and boost profits, viewing the erosion of quality journalism as a necessary sacrifice,” Jeremy Dear, NUJ general secretary wrote today.

The report singled out what it saw as examples of poor practise, with the Telegraph coming in for stern criticism:

“It panicked and tried to transform their news operations overnight, imposing large-scale redundancies in the move to a 24/7 multimedia operation,” the report stated.

It quoted – anonymously – journalists working on the integrated newspaper:

“We are regularly expected to file for the internet after [an event]. This sometimes means missing out on vital parts of the story or important interviews just so we can file a substandard version for the web.”

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