Thursday, April 17, 2014

Ukraine: Ukrainian fighter jet fly-by buzzes Kramatorsk protesters

Amateur footage shows a Ukrainian MiG fighter jet flying at just above zero altitude over the heads of bemused Kramatorsk citizens. LATEST FROM UKRAINE:

Kyrgyzstan: Russian ’Information Wars’ Heating Up

Originally published by
Kyrgyzstan: Russian ’Information Wars’ Heating Up
by Chris Rickleton

Relative to other Central Asian states, Kyrgyzstan has a fairly free and perennially noisy domestic media scene. Even so, Kyrgyz outlets tend to be no match for Russian state-controlled media when it comes to establishing narratives for current events.

A recently released and annually updated poll funded by USAID and carried out by the Gallup-endorsed SIAR consulting company indicates that the Ukraine crisis is enabling Russian media outlets to expand their reach in Kyrgyzstan, a country where 94 percent of respondents claimed to obtain news about politics from television. According to the latest poll, Kremlin-funded Russian Public Television (ORT) is the second most-watched channel in Kyrgyzstan. It also shows that ORT’s popularity is on the rise, with 20 percent of respondents selecting it as their “most frequent” source of political information and 16 percent as the “most trusted” outlet. Those figures are up from 13 percent and 10 percent respectively in the previous year’s poll.

ORT’s rise is coming at the expense of Kyrgyzstan’s national broadcaster, OTRK, which saw its popularity percentage fall to 34 percent this year from 38 percent in 2013. Likewise, OTRK’s perceived reliability slipped to 29 percent from 32 percent.

The polling data has important implications for Kyrgyzstan’s political future, as Russian media now seems better positioned than ever to influence Kyrgyz public opinion. ORT and other Russian-controlled outlets have an established history of trying to shape its coverage to suit the Kremlin’s interests. Most notably, ORT led a media campaign against former Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiyev in the run-up to his violent ouster four years ago.

In the coming weeks and months, analysts of the local press believe that a Russian “information war” will intensify as Kyrgyz officials dither on the issue of joining what is Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s pet project -- the Customs Union. Beyond the government’s hesitation about joining a Kremlin-led economic group -- which currently comprises Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia, and which is expected to metamorphose into a Eurasian Economic Union as early as May -- public opinion in Kyrgyzstan about the country’s growing fealty to its northern neighbor is growing more skeptical. Polling data from the latest SIAR survey showed that the number of Kyrgyzstanis “categorically against” Bishkek joining the union has risen from 10 percent in 2013 to 21 percent this year.

Speaking to local media on April 11, Kyrgyz officials involved in accession negotiations said most of the Kyrgyz side’s key demands for concessions had not been met. The Customs Union -- along with the sale of the country’s gas network to Russian state energy giant Gazprom and the mooted sale of a majority stake in the country’s main airport to another Kremlin firm, Rosneft -- were all sources of discontent expressed at a recent 1,000-strong protest on April 10 in Bishkek, organized by the nominally anti-Russia National Opposition Movement.

Nargiza Ryskulova, a Bishkek-based journalist who writes for the BBC’s Kyrgyz service, suggests most Russian-speaking Kyrgyz tend to tune in to cash-strapped OTRK for national news and ORT for international news. “Now people are interested in Ukraine since Russia is interested in Ukraine. But many people lack an alternative to Russian coverage of world events. Internet penetration is only about a fifth of the population,” Ryskulova said.

Other observers are more worried. In a fiery April 8 op-ed for the Kyrgyz news outlet AkiPress, Edil Baisalov, who served as chief of staff to the former interim government, wrote: “I am willing to bet that the average Kyrgyzstani consumes more products of Russian propaganda annually than the average Tatar, Chechen or Yakut.”

The consequence of such viewing habits, he added, can be seen in the national parliament, where lawmakers are considering bills almost identical in substance to those discussed in the Russian state Duma, and among illiberal youth groups that parrot the Kremlin’s homophobic and anti-Western rhetoric at press conferences that receive disproportionate airtime. These trends showed some Kyrgyz have become “tired of independence,” Baisalov asserted.

In print media, traditionally pro-Russian publications have been mirroring ORT’s narrative concerning Ukrainian events (i.e. that Ukrainian fascists are trampling on the rights of Russian speakers) and other topics. The introduction to an article titled Russophobic Hysteria in the April 9 edition of the Russian language weekly Delo Nomer vented against Washington-funded Radio Free Europe, which earlier had alleged that the Kyrgyz periodical received funding from Moscow. The remainder of the article featured an interview with “political scientist and ex-diplomat” Bakyt Baketaev, who opined: “let’s speak openly - if there was a referendum on Kyrgyzstan entering the Russian Federation, many Kyrgyz would vote [yes], first and foremost those who remember the Soviet Union.”

Pro-Russian periodicals in Kyrgyzstan offer a heavy dose of anti-Americanism. Another article in same edition of Delo Nomer, for example, raised alarm about the supposed danger posed by “The United States’ Kyrgyz Front.” It linked a recent visit to Bishkek by the US State Department’s Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, Nisha Biswal, to the April 10 National Opposition Movement protest. US officials have denied financing such activity. Meanwhile, Dengi i Vlast, another newspaper that leans pro-Russian ran a story in its April 4 edition with a headline that read "Who is this bird Jomart Otorbayev?" The story featured a cartoon of Kyrgyzstan's new prime minister on a tank with an American flag. Otorbayev's "great mission" is "to block Kyrgyzstan's entry into the Customs Union," it alleged.

Funding sources for Kyrgyz media outlets are notoriously difficult to trace, prompting speculation that Russia is funneling money to local periodicals and broadcasters. It is “completely possible” that Kyrgyz media platforms receive money from Russian and other foreign sources, acknowledges Ilim Karypbekov, the chair of the public advisory board at the Kyrgyz broadcaster OTRK. But, he adds, the republic’s media woes go deeper than that. Kyrgyz media is generally unprofitable, he says, meaning that “any sharp political confrontations” are “a means to earn money in exchange for coverage of a certain kind.” What results is less an information war and more an “information vacuum” wherein outlets “attack politicians and each other, but don’t really highlight issues,” Karypbekov told

Given its weak, fledgling democracy and strategic geopolitical location, Kyrgyzstan remains vulnerable to media manipulation, adds Karypbekov. “In our current situation we are located at the crossroads of a number of interests – internal and external -- political speculation is profitable and objectivity is expensive,” he said.

Chris Rickleton is a Bishkek-based journalist

South Africa: Are foreign-owned private security companies a threat to South Africa's national security?

Source: ISS

Are foreign-owned private security companies a threat to South Africa's national security?

The South African Minister of Police, Nathi Mthethwa, is on record as saying that foreign ownership of private security companies is a threat to national security. However, to date there has been no substantive explanation to show how this may be the case.

The idea that foreign-owned private security companies are a threat to national security emerged in a debate over the recently adopted Private Security Industry Regulation Amendment Bill. Indeed, the private security industry faces various shortcomings. These include the non-registration of personnel and businesses, poor training, inadequate vetting and background checks, the issuing of firearms to persons who are not competent to use them and the failure to pursue criminal or disciplinary action against security personnel who break the law. These are all credible and legitimate reasons for improving regulation.

Currently, there are 445 000 registered active private security ‘guards’ in South Africa. This means that private security officials far outnumber the 270 000 public security officers, a number that includes those working for the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). Given the large number of people that the private security industry employs – many of whom are armed – it is important that it should be well regulated.

The minister also argued that the growth of the private security industry in South Africa ‘has outstripped other countries.’ However, according to a 2011 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) that compares civilian private security services internationally, South Africa is not that different to many other countries. In fact, South Africa’s ratio of private security officers to police officers (2,87:1) did not differ much from that of developed countries (the USA has a ratio of 2,26:1 and Australia 2,19:1). It also compares favourably to other middle-income or developing countries (Honduras has a ratio of 4,88:1, India 4,98:1 and Guatemala 6,01:1).

The 2013 draft Green Paper on Policing referred to another threat when it expressed concerns about the private security industry’s ‘ability’ to ‘destabilise any security situation’ in South Africa. This was ostensibly due to the involvement of ‘former military and police officers at management level,’ and the deployment of ‘highly trained, legally armed operatives’ within this industry. However, most of these former security officials are South African citizens, which therefore does little to support concerns relating to foreign ownership.

The Green Paper also alleged that the private security industry is ‘increasingly performing functions which used to be the sole preserve of the police.’ However, the growth of the private security industry is directly linked to high levels of crime and violence, along with public perceptions that police officers are unable to provide adequate security. The Green Paper also contradicts itself by pointing out that private security companies have no special powers beyond those of private citizens. It is therefore difficult to see how these companies can be seen to undermine the state’s law enforcement power.

Once again – as has been the case with the Protection of State Information Bill and the security ministers’ attempted cover-up of the exorbitant amount of public money spent on the president’s private Nkandla homestead – the term ‘national security’ is being used to justify government decisions or behaviour that cannot be properly explained. It is for this reason that Barry Buzan, in his 1991 book titled People, states and fear, says that elites in weak states more readily view various threats as ‘national security threats’ – especially when they seem to have negative implications for the power of those elites.

Similarly, much of what the current administration refers to as national security threats, appears to have more to do with removing the duty to account for political decisions, rather than any real danger to South African sovereignty.

Craig Snyder, in his 1999 book titled Contemporary security and strategy, says that ‘national security’ should be about freeing people from constraints such as poverty, poor education, political oppression and war. This is why, both internationally and locally, there has been a move away from the term ‘state security,’ which often narrowly equated a nation’s security with 'regime security.'

Indeed, South African policy has largely been in line with progressive understandings of ‘national security.’ For example, the South African White Paper on Defence (1996), states that (in the absence of any external or military threat), ‘the greatest threats to the South African people are socio-economic problems like poverty and unemployment … as well as the high level of crime and violence.’

National security, therefore, can best be described as freedom from external and internal threats, which may manifest as military, political, economic, societal and environmental threats, crime and violence and the threat of anarchy.

It is therefore difficult to see how foreign ownership or majority shareholding of private security companies by foreigners can be a threat to South Africa’s national security. Many businesses operating in South Africa have foreign ownership, including those in the field of information technology, which could be perceived as a potential threat. So why single out the private security industry?

Less than 10% of the local private security industry is foreign owned, and the 445 407 security officers that are registered as active are all South African citizens or have permanent resident status. They do not constitute a coherent, well-organised semi-military force ready for deployment against a particular target. Rather, they're spread across 9 031 registered businesses, providing more than 20 different categories of security and services as locksmiths, car guards, body guards and armed reaction teams. So, where is the threat?

Surely, limiting foreign investment and the jobs it may bring is more of a threat to our national security than the mere foreign ownership of a small number of companies. Most of these companies are listed on stock exchanges and are therefore subject to rigorous oversight. Unfortunately, given the absence of a rational, evidence-based argument to explain why foreign ownership of security companies is a threat to national security, questions now arise as to the real reason behind the controversial clause in the Private Security Industry Regulation Amendment Bill.

Johan Burger, Senior Researcher, and Gareth Newham, Head, Governance, Crime and Justice Division, ISS Pretoria

Algeria: Ahead of Algerian elections, both foreign and local journalists face restrictions


Reporters Without Borders

Reporters Without Borders urges the Algerian authorities to allow both Algerian and foreign journalists to freely cover tomorrow's [17 April 2014] presidential election.

“We registered arrests of Algerian journalists during street protests against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's decision to run for a fourth term, and this does not bode well for their ability to cover this elections in an unimpeded manner,” said Lucie Morillon, head of research at Reporters Without Borders.

“As for foreign journalists, many of them were issued visas late in the day accompanied by drastic restrictions, and yet the international media have a important role to play in a country in which the domestic media are badly lacking in pluralism and the level of self-censorship is very high.”

Minefield for foreign journalists

The Algerian authorities tightened their grip on visa requests by foreign journalists. Visas are usually issued in two weeks but have been taking much longer in the run-up to the elections.

Journalists with French media (L'Express, Le Point, Journal du Dimanche, Le Monde and BFMTV), German media (FAZ and ZDF) and Spanish media (Agencia EFE and El Mundo) have all had to wait many weeks and have only received visas in the past few days.

They will be able to cover voting day itself but, in practice, they have been prevented from doing any investigative reporting ahead of what is a crucial election for Algeria, one marked by protests about Bouteflika's candidacy and questions about his health problems, which have prevented him from campaigning.

Some media told Reporters Without Borders that the late delivery of visas has forced them to abandon plans for certain stories and campaign coverage.

The visas are subject to geographic, editorial and time restrictions. Foreign reporters must obtain special permits to visit certain regions. The documents they get from the information ministry instruct them to limit their questions to matters relating to the election. And the visits expire on 20 April, just three days after the first round, which suggests that either the authorities are ruling out a second round or intend to subject journalists to a second application process.

Difficulties covering pre-election protests

Several journalists were arrested while covering pre-election protests or were harassed afterwards for reporting them.

Echorouk TV reporter Zineb Benzita said she and several other journalists were arrested while covering a demonstration outside the Benyoucef-Benkhedda Faculty in Algiers in 1 March. “I wasn't participating in the demonstration, I was just there as part of my work,” she said.

Hacen Ouali, a political reporter for the daily El Watan, was arrested along with other journalists on 6 March while trying to cover a demonstration by members of the “Barakat” (That's enough!) movement.

“We showed them our press cards but they didn't give a damn,” he told RFI. “They took all of us away and we spent the entire day in a police station. The police had clearly been told to arrest everyone. It's true that this is not Ben Ali's Tunisia, but it's very tough working as a journalist in Algeria.”

Meziane Abane, a journalist with Al-Watan Week-End and an active member of the “Barakat” movement, was arrested while in his hotel room in Batna, 500 km east of Algiers, on 17 March. He had been planning to do a report on the incidents that rocked the region after Bouteflika's campaign manager, former prime minister Abdelmalek Sellal, mocked someone's Chaoui (Berber) origins while being recorded by journalists.

The prosecution of Djamel Ghanem, a cartoonist with the daily La Voix de l'Oranie, also caused a stir. He was accused of “insulting the president” in an unsigned cartoon alluding to Bouteflika's fourth term that was never published. On 11 March, an Oran court acquitted him of the charge, which carried a possible 18-month jail sentence and fine of 30,000 dinars (380 dollars). But the prosecutor's office appealed against his acquittal a week later. Intimidated by the prosecutor's determination and fearing for his and his family's safety, Ghanem decided to leave Algeria and seek asylum in France.

The case of Al-Atlas TV, a foreign-owned station that began operating in March 2013, is illustrative. Its premises were raided three times in two days last month. First, plainclothes gendarmes with a search warrant swooped on its headquarters at around 4 p.m. on 11 March. Then gendarmes with no warrant placed seals on the studios 25 km outside Algiers rented by Alpha Broadcast, a production company that supplied Al-Atlas TV with programming.

Accompanied by the state prosecutor, police officers returned to the TV station's headquarters on the afternoon of the next day, seizing equipment and placing seals on the computer room. According to the Algérie Focus news website, the authorities then pressured the Jordanian TV satellite operator Noorsat to stop carrying the Al-Atlas TV signal. The signal was removed the next morning (13 March). Al-Atlas TV's CEO said the authorities targeted the station because of its critical coverage of the government, and President Bouteflika, in particular. The station also covered the protests by those opposed to a fourth Bouteflika term.

Fake pluralism

Many of the law's provisions restrict freedom of information in a disproportionate manner. They include article 112 on the right of “any person or entity” to respond to articles “attacking national values and national interest,” article 123 on “causing offence to foreign heads of state” and article 119 on “publishing a document that violates the confidentiality of a judicial investigation.”

Law 11-14 of 2 August 2011 decriminalized defamation of government officials by amending articles 144 (b) and 146 of the criminal code. Similarly, Law 12-05 on information abolished prison sentences for media offences. This should have ended the threat to journalists posed by articles 144 (b), 146 and 77 to 99 of the criminal code, but the fines are disproportionate and articles 296 and 298 of the criminal code maintain prison sentences for defaming individuals.

The state of the media and free speech cannot be gauged by the number of newspapers. Many of them are published directly by businessmen with links to the government and intelligence services. According to a report by the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, published on 12 June 2012, fewer than six newspapers are really independent in Algeria.

While judicial proceedings against journalists or media may be slowed down or even “forgotten,” the threat of a judicial decision subsequently emerging constitutes a threat that forces journalists to censor themselves.

As for broadcasting, a new law that was adopted on 20 January is supposed to end the state monopoly that has existed since Algeria obtained independence. But its 113 articles, which aim to regulate and control the broadcast media, will not take effect until after the presidential election.

If it is implemented, privately-owned TV stations will be allowed to broadcast from Algeria for the first time. But they will have to be thematic in nature, and the length of their news programmes will be limited. The state will continue to have a monopoly of general news TV stations.

Many groups have voiced concern about the lack of independence of the Broadcasting Regulatory Authority (ARAV) that is to be created. Its nine members will be appointed by presidential decree and five of them will be chosen by the president himself. Its powers include the ability to restrict the length of the news programmes of the privately-owned stations.

The print media, which have been pluralistic in principle since the 1990s, continue to suffer from monopolistic practices, especially as regards printing and distribution. Most are dependent on state-controlled printing houses (such as the Société d'Impression d'Alger) and distribution networks, and the state acts as it sees fit, deciding arbitrarily which publications will be printed and distributed.

Advertising is also used to pressure the media. Created in December 1967 and operational since April 1968, the National Publishing and Advertising Agency (ANEP) allocates advertising on behalf of state agencies and companies. State advertising is a major source of funding for the print media and strings are always attached to its renewal. Private sector advertising often comes from companies that support the ruling political elite and is above all channelled to newspapers that kowtow to the military and the Intelligence and Security Department (DRS). 

Iran: Iran eager to expand ties with African states

Source: IRNA

Tehran, IRNA – Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab-African Affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said in a meeting with the Burundi President special envoys on Wednesday that Iran is willing to develop relations with the African states.

Burundi Presidentˈs special envoys Sharif Majid Abdulrahman and Leonard Komana submitted Burundi Presidentˈs message to Iran President Hassan Rouhani.

Amir-Abdollahian underlined significance of the Iranian relations with the African states and constant follow-up of the agreements already reached between the two countries.

Amir-Abdollahian emphasized importance of dialogue and consultation between the two countriesˈ officials on key regional and international issues.

The Iranian and Burundi officials reviewed latest developments in the Central African Republic, the role of the governments of Burundi and other African countries to guarantee security of the peacekeeping forces in the Central African Republic.

Muslims have been exposed to massacre and bloodshed in the Central African Republic due to ethnic violence and unjust enmity with the Muslim population of the Republic.

The United Nations deployed peacekeeping forces to stop violence against the Muslims in the Central African Republic.