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February 19 2014

February 17 2014

February 16 2014

February 15 2014

February 14 2014

St. Lucian Chef Nina Compton Still the People's Champ

Saint Lucian chef Nina Compton, daughter of the late Prime Minister John Compton, was recently the runner-up for the 11th season of the cooking reality show Top Chef. Nicholas Elmi eventually won, but Compton's participation on the show was a major topic of discussion on social media, particularly in the online group Saint Lucians Aiming for Progress.

The group organized a public screening of the Top Chef finale at the Derek Walcott Square in the middle of the island's capital. Many observers were surprised that Compton was not named the winner, but she did manage to clinch the “Fan Favorite” award and the US $10,000 prize that went along with it – an indication of the high level of online support she received. After the show, Compton was named a “culinary ambassador” by Saint Lucia's Minister of Tourism, Lorne Theophilus.

Compton received massive support over Twitter via the hashtags #TeamNina, #TeamGreenFigAndSaltFish, #Team758 and #NinaNation. Some users of the microblogging service voiced their displeasure with her second place finish, but most were more concerned about congratulating her on her success:

One Twitter user sardonically suggested that Compton could have won she had used his suggestion:

Trinidadian fashion designer Anya Ayoung-Chee, who won the fashion competition Project Runway in 2011, also tweeted her support for Compton:

Ecuador Makes List of Countries Where Press Freedom Has Declined

Ecuador is the only Latin American country featured on the Committee to Project Journalists’ (CPJ) annual Risk List. CPJ explains:

The list is based on the expertise of CPJ staff, but also takes into account press freedom indicators such as journalist fatalities and imprisonments, restrictive legislation, state censorship, impunity in anti-press attacks, and journalists driven into exile. Those places on the Risk List are not the worst press freedom offenders, but rather spots where CPJ documented the most significant deterioration of the media climate during 2013.

Samantha Bagden from the Journalism the Americas Blog gives more context:

The Ecuadorian National Assembly approved the new law intended to regulate editorial content in June. The law gives authorities the right to impose arbitrary sanctions and censor the press and it’s enforced by a state watchdog loyal to President Rafael Correa.

[...]

In its report, CPJ quoted Monica Almeida, editor at Ecuadorian newspaper El Universo, saying that the atmosphere is much worse because of the law.

“Before, there was a level of control by the government … but they did not have this legal framework like the Communications Law which allows them to do many things in their favor.”

Bosnian Protesters Demand Bread, Social Justice and Freedom of Speech

When the citizens of Bosnia’s second biggest city, Tuzla, went out to protest on February 4, 2014, few expected to witness the country-wide riots that the world is witnessing just a week later. Whether the latest unrest in Bosnia-Herzegovina, can be qualified as the “Bosnian Spring”, as some media have named it, isn't what matters at the moment. The reasons behind the unrest and where things are headed are the topics that many locals are asking the international community and media to focus on.

Bosnia’s “Grapes of Wrath”

Protesters have drafted a set of demands, narrowing down their struggle to one about social justice [ba], the end of corruption, and freedom of expression. People have also made it clear that the protests are not motivated by a quest for identity or inter-ethnic tensions. Stefano Fait from Italy commented:

Eric Gordy, a University College of London (UCL) professor who also writes for a group blog about Balkan politics and academics, described snapshots of the recent atmosphere in Bosnia that he observed during a visit there, giving insight into what is fueling the current anti-government protests:

Conversation 1 was with the waiter in a large Sarajevo hotel [...] A colleague and I had heard that the employees of the hotel had not been paid for several months, so we asked. It was true, he told us. Most of the employees had remained at the hotel through a series of ownerships and bankruptcies, and had often faced periods of reduced pay, no pay, or something in lieu of pay. So what were they working for? They wanted to keep the hotel going in the hope that one day it might become profitable again, and they wanted the employer to keep making contributions to the pension and medical care funds. [...]

Conversation 2 was with a group of postgraduate students in Tuzla. Most of them had or were seeking work as schoolteachers. And they were only able to get short-term jobs. Why no permanent jobs in schools? Because available workplaces are distributed among the local political parties, who fill them with their members and put them on one-year contracts. The effect of this is that no young person can get a job except through the services of a political party, and no young person can keep a job except by repeatedly demonstrating loyalty to the political party. You can probably imagine the wonderful effect this has on the development and teaching of independent, critical thinking in schools.

The government has been claiming that it has no funds to provide even for its citizens’ most basic needs. Some Bosnians have responded with humor, circulating comments and images like the one below, widely on social networks:

The note reads:

The note reads: “Donations for the government”, using the word “sergija”, which is a term for donations made to religious institutions and charities. Image widely circulated on Twitter.

Media coverage

In national and regional mainstream media, the protesters are often labeled as hooligans. A textbook example of media manipulation is the spin around protesters having weapons. Serbian tabloid “Kurir”, considered a government mouthpiece in Serbia, published an article detailing a plot for the “violent unification” [sr] of the ethnically varied cantons of Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH). The article screams, through exclamation marks, images of violence and biased wording, that protesters are amassing a stockpile of weapons with which to lead the alleged “violent unification” of Republic of Srpska, the so-called Bosnian Serb Republic that is one of the two political entities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, with the other, the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Kurir’s piece generously quotes Mehmedalija Nuhić, called a “political analyst from Tuzla” in the article. On social media, people wondered [ba] who this person is, some of them clearly dismissing his claims. Tanja Sekulić, executive editor at Klix.ba, tweeted:

The peak of idiocy: Analyst Mehmedalija Nuhić claims that protesters have acquired weapons that they will allegedly use against the citizens of RS [Republic of Srpska, the Serb majority part of Bosnia-Herzegovina]. #protest

Banja Luka-based Kontakt Radio published an investigative piece [ba] researching the alleged Nuhić, “presented [to the public] as an analyst”. “Every journalist around Tuzla is wondering who this analyst is,” writes Kontakt Radio team. As Kontakt Radio's quick research revealed, Nuhić is in fact a municipal inspector serving in the city of Lukovac. “And we kid you not,” comments the author, cheekily ending the piece with some more readily available information on Nuhić, which dismisses his credibility as a “political analyst” entirely.

People from the region are used to media manipulation and the above example of such machination is one among countless others. In an op-ed [ba], Paulina Janusz reflected on the unity political parties and media in Bosnia's show against protesters. The media, for its part, was quick to report on any rumors of protesters’ bad behavior, but protesters were quick to react to such reports. Activist Emir Hodžić, who attended the Sarajevo protests on February 7, detailed to Radio Slobodna Evropa (Radio Free Europe) what he witnessed, declaring “we are neither vandals nor hooligans”.

Others have been thorough in describing their experiences on blogs as well. The following video of a young woman in tears, imploring police to join the crowd, went viral, accompanied by snarky comments on social media in the lines of “see, these are the hooligans of Bosnia”:

Dario Brentin, among others, has compiled articles from the early days of the protests in a Facebook note. Materials like this are regularly translated into English and updated on Bosnia-Herzegovina Protest Files. A collectively curated compilation of links is also available through the CrowdVoice.org platform.

Now what?

Many politicians and media representatives have already begun to play the blame game quite actively. Lord Paddy Ashdown, who served as High Representative and Europe’s Special Envoy to the country from May 2002 until January 2006, urged the European Union “to make Bosnia functional”. In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Lord Ashdown warned:

At the moment its citizens are complaining about poverty and lack of movement and dysfunctionality of the state and corruptions among politicians” [but it] “could move to something far worse very quickly.[...]

The international community has to act now. If they don’t act now, I greatly fear that a situation where secessionism will take hold could easily become unstoppable as we approach elections.

Alarmism is also present on several sides. Valentin Inzko, an Austrian citizen and the High Representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina, declared to Balkanist.net:

If the situation escalates, we will possibly have to think about EU troops. But not right now.

Regardless of whose fault it is and who is supposed to “fix” the country, one question persists: Why are so many Eastern European and Balkan countries suddenly protesting? Shortly after protests erupted in Tuzla and Sarajevo, Bulgarian independent research blog Banitza published a thoughtful post, “Waving ‘Democracy’ from Ukraine to the Balkans”:

Why now? Why not 6 months ago; why not one year ago? These are question that were directed at the protests in Bulgaria, which reached their largest numbers in the summer. Clearly, the situation is so dire that either nothing or anything could trigger public outrage. [...]

Of course violence cannot be the answer. It’s destructive. But desperation clearly takes precedence over dialogue in this case. [...] It’s simple – for the people protesting, the assumption of patience is nonexistent. And it is understandable. There is a level of tolerance that is, as has been shown over and over again in the 20th century, very flexible and malleable among human beings. But it has its limits. And within the Balkan countries this year, the sense of tolerance has been exhausted by the outright public arrogance of the Untouchables – call them mafia men, ex-communist, business elites. It makes no difference. Their capacity to flaunt their economic dominance is one thing, but their increasing ability to enforce their political and legal immunity is apparently too much. It has been, for a long time, a fact that democracy is very dysfunctional.

Writing for Balkanist, Darko Brkan formulated four suggestions:

1) Declare Victory for the Citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina
2) End all Police Investigations [against citizens having taken part to the protests]
3) Establish Provisional Governments in the Cantons
4) “Internal Lustration” Within Political Parties

What may be a game-changer is a recent decision by the Cantonal Court in Sarajevo ordering “temporary seizure” of all media property documenting the protests in Sarajevo. Pro-government protests have also been witnessed, as seen in a video from February 10.

February 13 2014

The Iconic Trinidadian Film You've Never Seen

An image from Bim the movie, courtesy SHARC Productions; used with permission.

An image from Bim the movie, courtesy SHARC Productions; used with permission.

The 1970s saw the release of two important indigenous Caribbean films: Jamaica’s iconic The Harder They Come, starring musician Jimmy Cliff, which still takes some measure of credit for introducing reggae music to the world, and Bim, which explores race, politics and working class challenges in colonial Trinidad.

If you’ve never heard of Bim, far less seen it, that’s all about to change, thanks to the power of social media.

Pat Ganase, who has had a long career in journalism, publishing and communications in Trinidad and Tobago, has started a Facebook page called “BIM the movie” in an attempt to ignite online discussion about the film and the issues it deals with.

“I decided it was time for the first all-Trinidad film to have a Facebook fan page,” Ganase says. “It was the first film that didn’t just use our environment as a location and our people as exotic natives or extras. It is a film with a story that is authentic…and ours.”

Fellow journalist and writer Raoul Pantin collaborated on the script. The actors were all local. So was the majority of the film crew. The early fusion soundtrack was composed by Andre Tanker and performed by some of the country’s most outstanding musicians, including Mungal Patasar. But most importantly, it was a Trinidadian story.

Ganase is friends with Suzanne Robertson (who co-produced the film with her late husband Hugh, an American who edited the Oscar-winning film Midnight Cowboy) and says that even back then, the couple saw a bright future for the film industry in Trinidad and Tobago.

“The first Trinidadian film company was SHARC,” she explains, “named for Suzanne, Hugh and their children (Antonio and Anna) Robertson. Bim—and SHARC—probably failed then, for the same reasons that film, as a viable industry, is not succeeding today. There is a failure to appreciate it as a productive industry that can employ many, many people and bring returns on investment through distribution.”

As Ganase notes, the challenges for young filmmakers today are the same: “Funding, institutional support, distribution and marketing. The film industry is not a solitary art, which is why it is an Industry with a Capital I.” But the sense of déjà vu does not stop there—it extends itself to societal challenges as well. While the film marked a particular time in Trinidad and Tobago's history, addressing attitudes towards issues such as racial identity, Ganase believes  its lessons are still relevant. “Maybe it can tell us something about ‘crime’ in our society,” she offers. “It certainly has something to say about young men who grow themselves up, without father or family.”

The plot follows the main character Bhim (initially pronounced Beem) Singh, whose father, a union leader for workers in the sugar cane fields, is killed on the day of his sister’s wedding. Bhim leaves the only life he knows in rural Trinidad to live with his aunt and her ne’er-do-well husband in Port of Spain, Trinidad's capital city. From the get-go he's an outcast, and is soon drawn into a life of petty crime, working for an underworld type who re-christens him Bim. Meanwhile, the winds of political change are blowing. Bim seizes the opportunity, crushes the son of the man who killed his father and gets himself elected as head of the sugar cane workers’ union. His victory is short-lived, however, and his demise comes rather quickly, as a result of alcoholism.

Upon its release, the film was not panned by critics, but it didn’t quite get rave reviews either. The New York Times critique in 1974, for instance, opened by saying, “By no conventional standards is ‘Bim’ very good, but it’s still vastly more interesting than lots of other movies you’re likely to stumble on.” ‘Interesting’ may have been an understatement; it certainly struck a note with local audiences, presumably even before anyone had even seen it. Trinidad and Tobago had an active Censors Board at the time and the film’s planned debut in December 1974 never happened thanks to a ban. A month later, after legal action was taken against the Censors Board, the film was finally screened—uncut—at the landmark Roxy cinema in St. James.

“The language is harsh; it had plenty cusswords [obscene language],” Ganase recalls, “but not unwarranted. People who have seen the film are the ones who perceive it as seminal and important. There is a ring of truth in Bim the movie.”

There's certainly a timeless quality to Bim. Ganase says that “viewers of all ages and in every decade respond [to the film] the same way…as if it is something that they were deprived of.” She thinks this is because the story is as relevant now as it was then. “It’s not that I want people to know the film,” she says. “It is that people have a hunger for it.”

In just three days, the Facebook page has received over 130 “Likes” and a substantial amount of commentary, both from people who have already seen the film and from those who would like to. Ganase says the page will develop according to the discussion it generates: “It will point us in a direction that comes from the collective.”

One idea that came out of user comments was the suggestion by Trinidadian visual artist Christopher Cozier to work towards having Bim listed in Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Foundation, which restores and distributes films from countries that are underrepresented in global film culture. “It is a worthwhile idea that might be an avenue for new distribution,” Ganase explains. “There will be a showing in the future. But that will happen when the time is right.”

Janine Mendes-Franco is a communications consultant, media producer and writer. When she's not blogging about the Caribbean for Global Voices, you can find her blogging here and tweeting here.

The image used in this post is from Bim the movie, courtesy SHARC Productions, used with permission. A version of this article first appeared in the Sunday Guardian Arts section.

Self-Censorship in Hong Kong Claims Another Popular Radio Host

China is ranked 175 while Hong Kong is ranked 61 in the freedom of press index 2014 released by Reporters without Border.

China is ranked 175th while Hong Kong is ranked 61st in the World Press Freedom Index 2014 released by Reporters Without Borders.

“Hong Kong's media independence is now in jeopardy”, Reporters Without Borders pointed out in its 2014 World Press Freedom Index. The conclusion echoes the Committee to Protect Journalists’ special report on the practice of self-censorship in Hong Kong, in which Hong Kong legislator Claudia Mo commented:

Self-censorship – it's like the plague, a cancerous growth, multiplying on a daily basis […] In Hong Kong, media organizations are mostly owned by tycoons with business interests in China. They don't want to lose advertising revenue from Chinese companies and they don't want to anger the central government.

In the past ten years, a large number of newspapers columnists, editors, radio and television talk show hosts have been sacked because of their critical stance towards the Hong Kong and Beijing governments. The situation has worsened in the past two years, thanks to the new leadership of Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) adoption of a hardline position on “ideological battle”, which upped the political pressure on media organizations in Hong Kong. The political interference is exercised through replacement of senior news editors and the withdrawal of advertisements by pro-Beijing corporates.

The latest example of the poor state of affairs is Commercial Radio Hong Kong (CRHK), which sacked its most popular radio host, Lee Wai-ling, on February 12, 2014 without providing any reason. Back in November last year, Lee was forced to switch from a morning program to an evening program under the excuse of program improvement. Despite the pressure, she vowed to keep her voice heard over the radio. But now she has been silenced, as depicted by Lam Sui-bun's political cartoon.

Ng Chi-sum, a former phone-in host for Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), whose contract was discontinued in 2011 in spite of his popularity, pointed out that such “program rearrangements” are a kind of political punishment and humiliation. He shared his experience:

2004年我從香港電台早上烽煙調到黃昏,類似理由,聽過很多了。香港人收聽台的習慣,晨早上班前是黃金時段,聽眾最多,影響力最大,是兵家必爭之地。調到黃昏,聽眾立刻減少一半,擺明是要削弱你的影響力,如此調動,對節目主持人是懲罰,甚至是悔辱。
我被調到黃昏節目,絕不好過,為了平衡,他們找了幾個極左派來做我的拍檔,每次做完節目,都筋疲力盡 […] 還有向廣管局和電台的投訴攻勢,長官會不時刻意拿給我看,左派報紙一年五、六十篇的大批判文章,卻不聞不問,不發一言,不澄清不辯駁一個字都不回應。這擺明是要羞辱你,等你頂不住而辭職。

Back in 2004, I was switched from the morning to evening phone-in program at RTHK with similar excuses. Hong Kong residents are used to listening to the radio in the morning before they leave home for work. This is the peak hour with the most listeners and thus has the strongest influence [on public opinion]. It is a time slot that everyone wants to compete for. The switch will cut the audience by half and so is a move to reduce your influence. It is a punishment or even a humiliation for the host.

Political Cartoon by Lam Shui-bun.

Political cartoon depicting sacked radio host Lee Wai-ling. By Lam Shui-bun.

After I was moved to the evening, to balance the pro-Beijing voices of my co-host, I was extremely exhausted. […] In addition, I had to face all manners of complaints and attacks. My boss would hand me the articles written by the pro-Beijing newspapers to me. They published 50-60 articles within one year to discredit me. But my boss never spoke up to defend me. All these gestures are to humiliate you and to force you to resign.

Chan King-fai, a current affair commentator, observed that the political tolerance of the Beijing government has continued to shrink to the extent that even moderate critical voices have to be eliminated:

李小姐絕非火爆主持,而是擅長提問、「收風」和拆局,相比10 年前「青筋暴現」的名嘴,溫和太多了吧。同一份落差和驚訝也曾發生在較早之前,即吳志森被港台「封咪」之際:與之前的名嘴相比,「吳志森」猶如謙謙君子。但今天,隨着標準不斷滑落,他也成了必須被拔除的「眼中釘」。

Miss Lee is not radical. Her style is to raise questions, present insider views and analyze the political situation. When compared with the “hot-tempered” host ten years ago, she is too moderate. The same fate happened to Ng Chi-sum, who is like a gentleman. However, the standard [for censorship] keeps lowering and they have to be eliminated as well.

Blogger “hkcritics” asked what society could do to defend itself:

換個角度說,就是我不交代,你能把我怎樣﹖這是一個明確的信號-現時社會所有對政府施加的壓力都不能構成威脅。
被看扁了,但我們還有什麼施壓的板斧﹖包圍政總三百六十五日﹖參與佔中﹖李慧玲事件讓我們看到的香港的絕路,或者是一個溫度計,告訴我們溫水煮蛙的年代完結了,水已到沸點,政府可以對鍋裡的青蛙肆意蹂躪了。

To address the issue from another angle, even if I [the commercial radio] do not give any explanation, what can you do? This is a sign – regardless of the pressure that the public imposes on the government, it doesn't constitute a threat.

We are being looked down, what else can we do? Siege the government building for 356 days? Join the occupy central campaign? What we see here is a dead end. The thermometer tells us that the frog is no longer in warm water, the water is boiling and the government can do whatever it wants to the frog.

Lee Wai-ling talked about the political pressure Hong Kong media organization is facing today.

Lee Wai-ling talked about the political pressure Hong Kong media organizations are facing during a press conference.

Sacked radio host Lee Wai-ling believed that the incident is political in nature in a press conference on February 13. According to inmediahk.net's Facebook live-cast, Lee believes that:

她的事並不是單一事件,從《明報》換總編輯、《信報》,到《AM730》及《蘋果》被抽廣告可見。她期望香港人會醒,看清楚外面發生什麼事。今日還沉默的話,明日便會被集體沉默。

What happened to her is not a single issue. It is related to the replacement of Ming Pao's chief editor and Hong Kong Economic Journal's political reporter team, the withdrawal of commercial ads from AM730 and Apple Daily. She hope that Hong Kong people would wake up and see what's happening to the society. If they choose to remain silent today, tomorrow they have no choice but remain silent.

While some suggested that online new media can be an alternative to mainstream media, as big corporates start to withdraw advertising from independent news organizations, whether or not the commercial model of local new media initiatives can survive is in question. As for the voluntary based citizen media model, so far very few have had the resources and organizational backup to produce original news and investigative reports. Once Hong Kong's mainstream and conventional media organizations have fallen, the online media will be further ghettoized and marginalized.

February 12 2014

Drug Bust Holds Lessons for Caribbean Distribution Chains

Of the recent drug bust originating out of Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados Underground says:

The fundamentals are clear. Supply chain security in the Caribbean is weak, and known local and regional solutions need to be applied and strengthened.

Journalists in Hong Kong and Taiwan Battle Beijing's Influence

Committee to Protect Journalist released a report on self-censorship practice in Hong Kong and Taiwan under the increasing influence from Beijing:

Self-censorship–it's like the plague, a cancerous growth, multiplying on a daily basis.

February 11 2014

South Korean Film About Samsung Worker's Death Slowly Winning Over Moviegoers

A film about the tragic death of a Samsung worker is slowly gaining traction in South Korea, the birthplace of electronics giant Samsung and a country notoriously nicknamed “The Republic of Samsung“ for the corporation's enormous power and influence there. 

“Another Promise” faced many hurdles from the very beginning. According to an extensive interview with local media [ko], the director recalls getting countless rejections from investors and production houses, adding that without the help of many generous citizens, the movie would not have been possible.

Poster Image of movie Another Promise, Fair Use Image

Poster for the film “Another Promise.” Fair use.

The film, which depends entirely on crowdfunding and small, private donations, tell the story of a Samsung worker who died from acute leukemia and her father's draining legal battle with the corporation as he struggled to prove that disease was linked with the company's harsh and unsafe working conditions. A series of legal fights continue between Samsung and labor groups who allege that employees suffering from leukemia and other rare diseases contracted them because of working at the company's factories.

Amid rising suspicions [ko] that some multiplex theaters are too afraid to expand the number of screens showing the movie even without pressure from Samsung, the movie seems to have deeply touched and inspired moviegoers, many of whom took their reviews to Twitter and popular South Korean online venues, encouraging other users [ko] to see the movie. 

After his daughter died in the back seat of his own taxi, the father calls the labor attorney and says, “Yumi has just passed away. There is no one around I can tell this.” No one to complain to, no one willing to take their side. There are over 58 cases of similar deaths. Watching this movie is listening to those voices.

It's my second time watching the movie. Since it is so realistic, it almost felt like watching a documentary, especially since I witnessed that particular scene with my very own eyes – where people blocked with the bus. But back then, I merely found that people's cries coming from inside were just bit too noisy. Why did I not take interest in what was going on in this society back then?

After watching a romantic film, people wish it would happen in their real life. However, after watching movies depicting ugly facts of reality, they wish to keep them where they were, as something that exists only on the screen. But actually, when these responses are reversed, people can bring positive changes to the real world. “Another Promise” is a reality which needs to be changed outside a movie theater.

Many of the comments were about the seemingly unfair treatment that the movie is getting – less active promotion by distributors and not many screens are showing the film. People also mentioned that the title of the movie, “Another Promise”, is a satirical use of Samsung’s famous advertising slogan “Another Family”. 

That ad slogan “Another Family” – they would have never imagine this would come back to bite them like a boomerang. I really hope they pay the full price for taking advantage of their “family” in the ad without really taking responsibility for the customers, labor workers and victims.

With members of my group “Power to the People”, I watched the movie “Another Promise”. I've tried to take a confirmation photo proving that we watched it, but there was no movie poster displayed inside the theater, and not even one banner stand. And they say the movie is screened only twice a day. What a pathetic situation. 

Russia's Patriotic Overdrive in Sochi?

Hans Woellke (left) and Julia Lipnitskaia (right) compared. Ashley Wagner's reaction-face meme responds. (Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.)

Hans Woellke (left) and Julia Lipnitskaia (right) compared. Ashley Wagner's reaction-face meme responds. (Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.)

The Soviet Union may have defeated Hitler, but modern-day Russia’s war against fascism wages on. In just the last month, Russian authorities have used their battle with “the rehabilitation of Nazism” as a pretext [ru] for attacks on three different media outlets.

In late January, Russia’s only independent TV station got into hot water, when it aired a survey asking viewers if the USSR could have saved more lives by abandoning Leningrad to the Germans. On February 7, 2014, a Russian Senator demanded [ru] that officials temporarily suspend the broadcasting of CNN, after it published a story (later deleted) calling the Brest Fortress World War II memorial in Belarus “one of the world’s ugliest monuments.”

Most recently, there is trouble at Echo of Moscow, Russia’s premier liberal radio station (and a major hub for opposition-leaning materials online), where satirist Victor Shenderovich (best known for creating a political puppet show that aired in the 1990s) published a controversial blog post [ru] about the politics of Russia hosting the Winter Olympics.

Speaking on the floor of parliament today, Vladimir Vasilyev, the deputy chairman of the Russian Duma, demanded that Echo of Moscow apologize for Shenderovich’s post. (Curiously, Vasilyev addressed only Echo of Moscow, though the text was originally published on the less-trafficked website Ezhednevnyi Zhurnal.) Echo’s chief editor, Alexey Venediktov, wasted no time refusing to apologize [ru], pointing out that Shenderovich’s piece was never broadcast over the radio and only appeared in his blog (hosted on Echo’s site). (Shenderovich has also refused to apologize [ru].)

The post in question, titled “Olympic War: Putin and the Girl on Skates,” describes how liberal oppositionists suffer from a certain “schizophrenia” during the Olympics, struggling to reconcile their love of Russia’s historical accomplishments (Tolstoy, constructivist art, and so on) with Vladimir Putin’s apparent exploitation of these feats to boost his own popularity. Most memorably, Shenderovich also likens fifteen-year-old Julia Lipnitskaia’s performance in Sochi this week to Hans Woellke’s triumph in the men’s shot put competition in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. “Something, however, prevents us from enjoying [Woellke’s] victory today,” Shenderovich adds, warning against pride in an authoritarian state’s Olympic athletes.

While many things undoubtedly do keep us from celebrating Woellke today (in the war, he served as a captain in the Waffen SS, and his murder precipitated the massacre of a village in Belarus in 1943), Shenderovich’s comparison has proved controversial for many Russians. Though the Internet-savvy might regard it as nothing more than quick service of Godwin’s law, Shenderovich’s decision to equate Russia’s newest national treasure—a charming adolescent girl, no less—with a Nazi jock couldn’t have come at a worse time.

With the Winter Games underway in Sochi now, Russia is (understandably) in patriotic overdrive. That means anyone toying with the World War II narrative—to this day, Russia’s most sacred unifying myth—better be careful. TV Rain’s survey about ditching Leningrad crossed the line. CNN’s mockery of the Brest Fortress went too far. Shenderovich seems to have committed an even greater sin by abusing young, pretty Lipnitskaia, but it’s possible that any of these offenses would have passed as minor kerfuffles, were it not for the Olympic adrenaline now filling the country’s veins.

‘Blogging Ghana’ to Establish Country's First Physical Social Media Hub

Blogging Ghana's proposed Social Media Hub. Photo used with permission.

Blogging Ghana's proposed Social Media Hub. Photo used with permission.

Internet penetration in Ghana is about 14 percent and has been on the up and up for the last decade as more Ghanaians, especially young people, have hooked up to the web. As a result, the number of Ghanaians on various social media platforms is also increasing rapidly, and some now see a need for a physical social media hub to facilitate the activities of the many people who use social media or want to learn about it.

Enter Blogging Ghana, the country's largest organization of bloggers and social media enthusiasts with more than 100 members. The group launched a campaign on January 20, 2014 to establish Ghana's first ever social media hub, explaining on their website:

A physical meeting place, a hub, will go a long way to provide a platform for the experienced bloggers in the organisation to train students and professionals on how to use blogging for creating #MoreStories and use social media to advance their agenda as citizens in Ghana.

As part of the campaign, Blogging Ghana hopes to raise 10,000 US dollars through crowdsourcing platform Indiegogo. The hashtag used for the online campaign is #morestories. The organisation also launched a video campaign on YouTube:

Africa on the Blog, a multi-author blog by people of African heritage, which is supported by Babs Saul and Sarah Arrow, explained the history of blogging in Ghana:

The blogging and social media scene in Ghana has improved in the last five years. The West African country has seen the number of bloggers in the country grow from just a handful in 2005 to several hundreds this year. This trend was facilitated by a bold step taken by a Swedish blogger who had moved to Ghana some five years ago. Kajsa Hallberg Adu who is now the Chair of Ghana’s biggest association of bloggers brought all the bloggers who were active online under one roof to discuss their passion. With time, this small group of internet users decided to introduce blogging and the use of social media tools to many other people who may be interested but just didn’t know how. This selfish desire to spread such knowledge lead to what has today become the nation’s biggest blogging and social media event.

Edward Amartey-Tagoe, the director of corporate services at Blogging Ghana, also recounted how things were half a decade ago:

Some five years ago, there were only a handful of bloggers in Ghana, since then, bloggers and Internet enthusiasts have been organised under one umbrella body to build capacity, learn and share ideas from one another. Today, we are an influential organisation with a yearly event and awards ceremony who produce local content online on blogs and on various social media channels. We want to share our skills and create #morestories!

ENews Ghana published the campaign on their website:

Bloggers in Ghana are creating Ghana’s first Social Media hub for bloggers and social media enthusiasts to meet, interact and share more local content from and we think it will make a great feature on GOOD.

Social Media is growing in Ghana and we (Blogging Ghana) has over the past 5 years been a leader in Ghana. In 2012, with funding from USAID, UKAID, EU & DANIDA, we used social media to cover Ghana’s elections; raising awareness of the issues and empowering politicians and citizens. We also in 2013 organised Ghana’s first social media awards which was huge success. The organisation’s work has been featured on Joy FM, Citi FM, Mashable, Aljazeera and BBC.

We want to do more and get more Ghanaians to use social media to tell their stories. We want to overcome the internet and power challenges bloggers face.  We have therefore launched a crowdfunding campaign to create a haven/hub with a co-blogging space to and create the much needed local content.

Spy Ghana, an online news agency, quoted Blogging Ghana Chair Kajsa Hallberg Adu (@kajsaha):

It makes sense for a social media organization to use our online network and do crowd-sourcing to fulfill our dreams. We think Ghana in ready for a meeting place for social media enthusiasts and we cannot wait to create #morestories about Ghana for the world to read!

Award-winning blogger Macjordan (@Macjordan) expressed his support for the social media hub on his blog:

BloggingGhana is pleased to launch an Indiegogo campaign towards the creation of a Social Media Hub in Ghana for bloggers and citizen journalists to be trained in Social Media and increase local content creation.

BloggingGhana – Ghana’s largest community/network of bloggerscitizen journalists and social media enthusiasts is reaching out to all and sundry to chip-in and support this worthy cause.

I’m very pleased and honored to be a part of this organization and would appreciate your support in any way.

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