Hanif on Media

News Media, New Media, Politics, Culture & Spiritual Perspectives from South Florida to Infinity.

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For our freedom, a journalist’s thanks from Baku

November 25th · Barack Obama, Florida Weekly, ONO, Organization of News Ombudsmen

Baku Youth 300x225 For our freedom, a journalists thanks from Baku

Will journalistic and other freedoms boom for this Baku youth the way everything else around him seems to be?

A couple of months after my visit, “Journalism 2.0” author Mark Briggs confirmed from Baku that “There certainly is a lot of interest in journalism for a place that has such struggles with it.”

From my latest offering in Florida Weekly’s Palm Beach Gardens edition, here. Or just keep reading:

And now, to be thankful for something completely different:

Unlike other places in the world we live in a country where, in the words of Stephen Biko of South Africa, “I write what I like.”

We get to cuss out our government officials, even question whether their birth certificates were stamped USA or Kenya, without putting our lives at risk like the anti-apartheid martyr.

In contrast, I met human rights attorney and distinguished former Azerbaijan Parliament member Matlab Mutallimli while in that country in March representing my colleagues of the international Organization of News Ombudsmen.

News ombudsmen field concerns at their news organizations and generally respond publicly.

In Baku, the Caspian sea capital of the oil-rich former Soviet republic that now is the Free Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan, the news the other day: “Azerbaijan must immediately release Eynulla Fatullayev.”

It was for his articles critical of the government that Mr. Fatullayev was arrested in 2007 and eventually sentenced to a cumulative eight years in jail on charges ranging from “Incitement of hatred” to tax evasion. So say his defenders, who include the Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders.

For years Mr. Fatullayev suffered beatings, threats and the persecution of his family because of his outspoken journalism.

In April the European Court of Human Rights, whose rulings Azerbaijan is obligated to observe, found that Mr. Fatullayev’s rights of free expression had been violated and that he had been unfairly tried. The ECHR ordered his release with 27,822 Euros ($37,854) in compensation.

In July, however, Mr. Fatullayev was sentenced to an additional 2½ years on charges of possession of narcotics, which he says are routinely planted by Baku prison guards to silence critics.

On Nov. 11 the Azerbaijani Supreme Court agreed to implement the ECHR decision — while not addressing the drug charges. And in what the Committee to Protect Journalists called a ruling “blatantly tailored to defy the European Court’s order,” a Baku Appeals Court has said he will remain imprisoned while he appeals those charges.

Other Azeri journalists have been even less fortunate.

Enter my host, Matlab Mutallimli. While I broke from a whirlwind schedule of meetings and interviews with journalists and news organizations, he motioned me to follow him through a crowd to the front of a memorial service at the grave of Elmar Huseynov.

Huseynov Flyer 225x300 For our freedom, a journalists thanks from Baku

Baku Rally1 300x225 For our freedom, a journalists thanks from Baku

It was the anniversary of the brutal 2005 shooting murder of Mr. Huseynov.

Baku Dad 300x225 For our freedom, a journalists thanks from Baku

A father's graveside grief for his son.

The award-winning journalist had suffered threats and incarceration for his criticism of Azerbaijani authorities. He was fined and forced to close his popular Monitor after being convicted in 1998 of “insulting the nation.”

The view of many gathered was that the Azeri government was responsible for the assassination of Mr. Huseynov, who our U.S. ambassador at his first memorial service had described as a national hero.

I confess to having little clue about the challenges of establishing a free, democratic, post-Soviet era government.

As a journalist, I also don’t take allegations as givens, one reason I would have liked the organizers of my visit to have arranged for me to speak to “the other side,” so to speak.

Yet one of our government officials there has told me that as for higher levels, they are not open to such meetings. They’ve heard it many times before. Ahh, progress on media? Not really.

A couple of months after my visit, “Journalism 2.0” author Mark Briggs confirmed from Baku that “There certainly is a lot of interest in journalism for a place that has such struggles with it.” Among the hurdles he cited:

“News outlets must receive a special license from the government, which means there is little investigative reporting. (The government doesn’t tolerate criticism.) Independent news sources, mostly online, apparently operate with a single-minded focus on complaining about the government, so the idea of journalistic objectivity and fairness are a ‘are work in progress,’ to put it mildly.’ Still, many journalists I spoke to are hopeful that the Internet will change the game and bring a diversity of voices and reporting to a nation that sorely needs it.”

And the fact that there is no news on regulating the Internet is one place where there is some hope.

Our own news media are not guiltless, of course.

I’ve mentioned before my ombudsman colleagues chastising us U.S. media types for cheerleading our nation and the world into the Iraq disaster. Just this year, we have endured another round of idiotic media fascination over whether President Barack Obama was born in the USA or is a closet Muslim. We’ve had journalists give carte blanc to “angry” folks who threaten to tote weapons to public rallies, rather than call it out as the thinly veiled thuggery that it is.

And sure, our radio and TV blowhards get to say pretty much what they want. But our government doesn’t make us listen. We all get to tune them out. Because — in popular culture jargon — that’s how we roll.

It’s just more of our freedom that we should not take for granted.

So thanks, Dear Readers — especially those of you who fought and marched and even died — for my freedom to write what I hope you and I like.

BakuMan 300x225 For our freedom, a journalists thanks from Baku

On a street in Baku.

Thanksgiving Day addenda:

Voice of America: Azerbaijanis Blog for Freedom

MSNBC: Azerbaijan frees second critical blogger

— C.B. Hanif

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Don’t like election results? This too shall pass

November 13th · Barack Obama, Florida Weekly, news media

Like every other Tom, Dick and Hanif, I too have thoughts regarding what President Obama called the “shellacking” of his Democrats by the Republicans. Thus my latest commentary in Florida Weekly’s Palm Beach Gardens edition, here, here, and click to see this week’s entire Digital Edition here. Or just keep reading:

[Read more →]

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‘Michael The Black Man’ Sentinel ad for West, Rubio

November 1st · news media, Newspapers

Nice job Bob Norman, The Daily Pulp blog.

— C.B. Hanif

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Allen West, ‘American hero’? No, try Pat Tillman

October 31st · Florida Weekly, Newspapers

Per my latest commentary in Florida Weekly’s Palm Beach Gardens edition, here, here, and click to see this week’s entire Digital Edition here.

Said Mary “Dannie” Tillman, mother of the er, “other” hero: “I think they just thought if they spun the story and we found out, we’d just keep it quiet, because we wouldn’t want to diminish his heroism or anything like that. But, you know, nobody questions Pat’s heroics. He was always heroic. What they said happened didn’t happen. They made up a story. And so, you have to set the record straight.”

— C.B.  Hanif

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Gathering in the Gardens to demystify social media

October 25th · New Media, Social Media

My latest commentary in the new Palm Beach Gardens edition of Florida Weekly.

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Akbar Ahmed on Juan Williams, Juan Cole on sanity

October 21st · Islam, Juan Cole, Muslim, news media

Juan Williams off NPRAkbar Ahmed on Juan Williams, and Juan Cole making sense:

“Next Williams will be announcing that he sympathizes with the white police officers who get nervous when they see people dressed like African-Americans traveling in automobiles.”


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Here’s my inaugural column for Florida Weekly’s…

October 14th · Florida Weekly

… Palm Beach Gardens & Jupiter edition, my latest freelancing gig. Vol., No. 1 debuted last night during reception at Robb & Stuckey where guests included such folks as PBC Clerk of Courts & Comptroller Sharon Bock. For years Florida Weekly has been producing award-winning west coast editions delighting readers in Fort Myers, Naples and Port Charlotte. Our new local edition also features such longtime colleagues of mine as foodie extraordinaire Jan Norris, “Mr. Arts” Hap Erstein, Mary Jane Fine and Tim Norris. Check out Bradford Schmidt, Bill Cornwell and other outstanding writers covering the waterfront. In my weekly column I return to chronicling the local scene while having fun tackling issues and ideas cosmic and small. Also look for my special feature pieces from time to time. Look for Florida Weekly free at North County restaurants and other businesses, and online. Or subscribe. To my new (and former) regular readers: Thanks. Let me hear from you.

— C.B. Hanif

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Michael Moore on ‘Good People backing Bad Wars’

September 16th · George W. Bush, Iraq, news media, The New York Times

Where were all those supposedly liberal voices on Iraq? Michael Moore appropriately laments the betrayal by liberal voices that helped squander our national treasure and flush our economy down the toilet:

Early liberal support for this war was the key ingredient in selling it to a majority of the public. I realize this is something that no one in the media — nor most of us — really wants to discuss. Who among us wants to feel the pain of having to remember that liberals, by joining with Bush, made this war happen?

I’m no politician. But I am a professional journalist, who at the time was irritated beyond insubordination. I weep for the loss of human life thanks to our so-called liberal media. And like Moore:

I blame the New York Times more for this war than Bush. I expected Bush and Cheney to try and get away with what they did. But the Times — and the rest of the press — was supposed to STOP them by doing their job: Be a relentless watchdog of government and business — and then inform the public so we can take action.

Instead, the New York Times gave the Bush administration the cover they needed. They could — and did — say, ‘Hey, look, even the Times says Saddam has WMD!

With this groundwork laid, the Bush crowd ended up convincing a whopping 70% of the public to support the war — a public that had given him less than 48% of its vote in 2000.

And today? Our so-called news media are still making us sick (see here and here).

— C.B. Hanif

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Alyssa Peterson: ‘The US Soldier Who Committed Suicide After She Refused To Take Part in Torture’

September 14th · George W. Bush, Iraq, news media

Like Pat Tillman’s, stories such as U.S. Military Intelligence Spc. Alyssa Peterson’s break your heart. Especially because anyone not blinded by fear, ignorance and/or hate could easily see (despite the assurances of Judith Miller, Ahmad Chalabi, President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and sadly, Colin Powell), that what our country was about to do to Iraq was terribly wrong.

Also painfully clear was that as Americans we would pay terribly for what was being done in our name — though not as dearly as untold numbers of innocent Iraqis, and our fine servicemen and women.

A thank-you to reporter Kevin Elston, who would not let Alyssa Peterson’s story fade into the abyss like too many others; and to Greg Mitchell at The Nation, for reminding us of the injustice done her seven years ago this week.

— C.B. Hanif

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Quran Burning Story: How Media Embarrass Themselves

September 10th · Islam, Muslim, news media, Newspapers

As Jason Linkins is latest to confirm, this is a media story as much as anything:

Anatomy of an Epic Media Failure

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