Tag Archives: Journalism

I negazionisti usano la pandemia per costruire un mondo più disuguale

Il sociologo Keith Kahn-Harris ha scritto uno dei testi più affascinanti sul negazionismo. In Denial: the unspeakable truth (uscito nel Regno Unito nel 2018) distingue tra negazione e negazionismo. La negazione è un processo individuale che rimanda al rifiuto psicologico di accettare come vero un fatto assodato. È una specie di processo di rimozione che ricorda il tentativo di ignorare una verità scomoda il più a lungo possibile. Il negazionismo, invece, non si limita a rimuovere la realtà ma ne costruisce una alternativa. In questo senso è un processo più complicato, che chiama in causa le diseguaglianze e le strutture di potere della nostra società.

Esistono molti esempi di negazionismo: da quello che minimizza, o respinge, i rischi del riscaldamento globale, a quello che mette in discussione l’olocausto, fino al negazionismo dell’hiv, che ha portato un’ex presidente del Sudafrica come Thabo Mbeki a bloccare la fornitura di farmaci antiretrovirali causando la morte di circa 330mila persone, secondo uno studio di Harvard. Il negazionismo rivela la volontà di confutare fatti empiricamente accertati per costruire una società alternativa, a partire spesso da un desiderio inconfessabile.

Negli ultimi mesi il concetto di negazionismo è stato evocato in tutti i paesi colpiti dall’epidemia di covid-19. Per riprendere le categorie di Keith Kahn-Harris, anche in questo caso possiamo distinguere tra negazione e negazionismo. Raccontando l’aumento dei contagi in Africa, per esempio, la Bbc ha parlato di negazione per descrivere la reazione della popolazione di alcuni paesi. In Nigeria, dove il lockdown è stato introdotto ancora prima che il virus si diffondesse per evitare il collasso del sistema sanitario, queste misure sono state accolte con diffidenza dall’opinione pubblica. Molti hanno una sorta di rifiuto psicologico nell’accettare la pandemia come un problema reale.

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Posted by on July 15, 2020 in Uncategorized


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Julian Assange in Limbo

Julian Assange​ was running WikiLeaks in 2010 when it released a vast hoard of US government documents revealing details of American political, military and diplomatic operations. With extracts published by the New York Times, the Guardian, Der Spiegel, Le Monde and El País, the archive provided deeper insight into the international workings of the US state than anything seen since Daniel Ellsberg gave the Pentagon Papers to the media in 1971. But today Ellsberg is celebrated as the patron saint of whistleblowers while Assange is locked in a cell in London’s Belmarsh maximum security prison for 23 and a half hours a day. In this latest phase of the American authorities’ ten-year pursuit of Assange, he is fighting extradition to the US. Court hearings to determine whether the extradition request will be granted have been delayed until September by the Covid-19 pandemic. In the US he faces one charge of computer hacking and 17 counts under the Espionage Act of 1917. If he is convicted, the result could be a prison sentence of 175 years.

I was in Kabul when I first heard about the WikiLeaks revelations, which confirmed much of what I and other reporters suspected, or knew but could not prove, about US activities in Afghanistan and Iraq. The trove was immense: some 251,287 diplomatic cables, more than 400,000 classified army reports from the Iraq War and 90,000 from the war in Afghanistan. Rereading these documents now I’m struck again by the constipated military-bureaucratic prose, with its sinister, dehumanising acronyms. Killing people is referred to as an EOF (‘Escalation of Force’), something that happened frequently at US military checkpoints when nervous US soldiers directed Iraqi drivers to stop or go with complex hand signals that nobody understood. What this could mean for Iraqis is illustrated by brief military reports such as the one headed ‘Escalation of Force by 3/8 NE Fallujah: I CIV KIA, 4 CIV WIA’. Decoded, it describes the moment when a woman in a car was killed and her husband and three daughters wounded at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Fallujah, forty miles west of Baghdad. The US marine on duty opened fire because he was ‘unable to determine the occupants of the vehicle due to the reflection of the sun coming off the windshield’. Another report marks the moment when US soldiers shot dead a man who was ‘creeping up behind their sniper position’, only to learn later that he was their own unit’s interpreter.

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Posted by on June 15, 2020 in Reportages


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On Saturday, there will be a march from Australia House in London to Parliament Square, the centre of British democracy. People will carry pictures of the Australian publisher and journalist Julian Assange who, on 24 February, faces a court that will decide whether or not he is to be extradited to the United States and a living death.

I know Australia House well. As an Australian myself, I used to go there in my early days in London to read the newspapers from home. Opened by King George V over a century ago, its vastness of marble and stone, chandeliers and solemn portraits, imported from Australia when Australian soldiers were dying in the slaughter of the First World War, have ensured its landmark as an imperial pile of monumental servility.

As one of the oldest “diplomatic missions” in the United Kingdom, this relic of empire provides a pleasurable sinecure for Antipodean politicians: a “mate” rewarded or a troublemaker exiled.

Known as High Commissioner, the equivalent of an ambassador, the current beneficiary is George Brandis, who as Attorney General tried to water down Australia’s Race Discrimination Act and approved raids on whistleblowers who had revealed the truth about Australia’s illegal spying on East Timor during negotiations for the carve-up of that impoverished country’s oil and gas.

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Posted by on February 25, 2020 in Uncategorized


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With WikiLeaks, Julian Assange did what all journalists should aspire to do

I was in Kabul in 2010 when Julian Assange and WikiLeaks first released a vast archive of classified US government documents, revealing what Washington really knew about what was happening in the world. I was particularly interested in one of these disclosures, which came in the shape of a video that the Pentagon had refused to release despite a Freedom of Information Act request.

When WikiLeaks did release the video, it was obvious why the US generals had wanted to keep it secret. Three years earlier, I had been in Baghdad when a US helicopter machine-gunned and fired rockets at a group of civilians on the ground who its pilots claimed were armed insurgents, killing or wounding many of them.

Journalists in Iraq were disbelieving about the US military’s claims because the dead included two reporters from the Reuters news agency. Nor was it likely that insurgents would have been walking in the open with their weapons when a US Apache helicopter was overhead.

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Posted by on February 25, 2020 in Uncategorized


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A Reporter From Hell

The title of the talk was “The War in Syria Is Not Over,” but it was more like Nir Rosen’s valedictory address. For roughly 20 minutes, the gonzo war-journalist-turned-mysterious-diplomatic-operator—who counts top advisers to both former U.S. President Barack Obama and Syrian dictator Bashar Assad among his acquaintances and admirers—laid out his narrative of Syria’s civil war, the most lethal and defining conflict of the 21st century. In the speaker’s view, no one but he had gotten it right.

The U.S., Europe, and others that continued to sanction and isolate the Assad regime would be culpable for the “new social collapse” likely to follow Assad’s reconquest of much of his devastated country, Rosen told his audience at a Valdai Discussion Club event in Moscow in late February of 2019. “The same countries who claimed to care about the Syrian people and speak on their behalf supported insurgents, tried to overthrow the government and now are trying to starve Syrians,” the published version of the speech reads. “That the Syrian government behaved abhorrently does not justify the international intervention that followed and in fact the intervention helped cause these crimes.” The West’s motives for these ongoing “crimes” in the Levant were so obscure that they could only be described in theoretical terms. “Capitalism doesn’t work the same way everywhere,” he explained. “[T]he value of the Middle East is the accumulation of capital through war.”

In the text, one can forget Rosen is discussing a government that had murdered tens of thousands of people in a network of secret torture camps, bombed bread lines and hospitals, and gassed entire towns. In fact the Syrian dictator and his backers deserved thanks for defending the global order against the jihadist hordes at a steep cost in manpower and prestige. “The world owes Russia and Iran a debt of gratitude for preventing the collapse of the Syrian state,” Rosen said, to an audience that included senior Iranian and Russian foreign policy officials, as well as Robert Malley, the National Security Council’s Middle East director for most of Barack Obama’s second presidential term.

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Posted by on November 6, 2019 in Reportages



Why can’t we agree on what’s true any more?

We live in a time of political fury and hardening cultural divides. But if there is one thing on which virtually everyone is agreed, it is that the news and information we receive is biased. Every second of every day, someone is complaining about bias, in everything from the latest movie reviews to sports commentary to the BBC’s coverage of Brexit. These complaints and controversies take up a growing share of public discussion.

Much of the outrage that floods social media, occasionally leaking into opinion columns and broadcast interviews, is not simply a reaction to events themselves, but to the way in which they are reported and framed. The “mainstream media” is the principal focal point for this anger. Journalists and broadcasters who purport to be neutral are a constant object of scrutiny and derision, whenever they appear to let their personal views slip. The work of journalists involves an increasing amount of unscripted, real-time discussion, which provides an occasionally troubling window into their thinking.

But this is not simply an anti-journalist sentiment. A similar fury can just as easily descend on a civil servant or independent expert whenever their veneer of neutrality seems to crack, apparently revealing prejudices underneath. Sometimes a report or claim is dismissed as biased or inaccurate for the simple reason that it is unwelcome: to a Brexiter, every bad economic forecast is just another case of the so-called project fear. A sense that the game is rigged now fuels public debate.

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Posted by on October 10, 2019 in Reportages


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The seven deadly sins of journalism

A crisis is rarely singular. That’s the problem. The international community could very well have got global warming under control during the last thirty years. That was certainly how it looked at the 1988 World Conference on the Changing Atmosphere in Toronto. Unanimity prevailed – among scientists and politicians. Unanimity that the Earth’s climate was warming and that humans were the cause. And unanimity that action had to be taken as quickly as possible. The conference statement clearly ‘urges immediate action by governments’ in order to limit CO2 emissions. Since then, as we know, nothing of the sort has happened. CO2 emissions continue to increase throughout the world.

This history of political failure has been accompanied by a failure of the media. Politics has not responded to the climate crisis and neither have newspapers, radio stations or TV. Since Toronto, there has been a failure throughout the media to properly describe global warming, to explain the necessary measures, and to demand them from politicians. Climate crisis is one thing. But it could only grow to the extent it has because of a simultaneous crisis in communication, culminating in fake news and disinformation. We define a crisis in communication as the deterioration of public discourse. This process has multiple causes. An incomplete list would include the global deregulation of the media sector in the 1980s and 1990s; the triumph of commercial television and, in America, of conservative talk radio; the increasing pressure of  viewer targets and circulation; media change and the crisis of the newspaper sector; and the emergence  of disinformation, often but by no means always emanating from Russia. In order to understand the climate crisis, we urgently need to examine this crisis in communication.

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Posted by on September 14, 2019 in Reportages


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Bolsonaro’s Attacks Show Why Our Reporting Is Vital

When news emerged this week that the Federal Police had arrested four people accused of hacking the Telegram accounts of various Brazilian officials and providing some of that content to The Intercept, many of our readers asked: What effect will this have on the reporting that we have done and are continuing to do on this secret archive?

The answer, in one word: None.

The public interest in reporting this material has been obvious from the start. These documents revealed serious, systematic, and sustained improprieties and possible illegality by Brazil’s current Minister of Justice and Public Security Sergio Moro while he was a judge, as well as by the chief prosecutor of the Car Wash investigation, Deltan Dallagnol, and other members of that investigative task force. It was the Car Wash task force, which Moro presided over as a judge, that was responsible for prosecuting ex-President Lula da Silva and removing him from the 2018 election, paving the way for the far-right Jair Bolsonaro to become president. The corruption exposed by our reporting was so serious, and so consequential, that even many of Moro’s most loyal supporters abandoned him and called for his resignation within a week of the publication of our initial stories.

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Posted by on August 7, 2019 in South America


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A Private War

When young women come to me and say, “I want to be a war reporter!” after seeing Hollywood films that glamorize the job, I always tell them gently to consider the life that it entails. Perhaps the mantra that first-wave feminists gave us is not true after all: you cannot have it all. Or at least not without dark consequences.

In 2012, while working on a story about war criminals in Belgrade, Serbia, I got a devastating early morning phone call: my colleague and friend Marie Colvin was dead, killed by Bashar al-Assad’s bombs in Homs, Syria. Her roller-coaster life is captured in a new film, A Private War, currently in theaters.  

The director of A Private War, Matt Heineman, won accolades for his brilliant documentaries on the drug war (Cartel Land, 2015) and the Islamic State (City of Ghosts, 2017). He struggled, as did the actors, to make the film truly authentic. But because it is not a biopic (Heineman resists the term) and some characters are composites, the movie is confusing to those of us who know the real story. There were no good guys at the Sunday Times, where Colvin worked, who cared for her well-being. There were instead editors who wanted scoops at the expense of the safety of their reporters. Colvin had many friends in London, but none of them were similar to the Bridget Jones–style girlfriend character (portrayed by Nikki Amuka-Bird) in the film. Her last boyfriend was not a caring and loving Stanley Tucci but rather a man who gave her immense heartache and distress. There were no “heads on sticks” in Bosnia, as the character meant to be Colvin’s first husband, Patrick Bishop, says in one of the opening scenes (heads were on sticks in Chechnya). Colvin’s second husband, Juan Carlos Gumucio, is erased from the script altogether, though he played an important role in her life.
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Posted by on March 5, 2019 in Uncategorized


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Making ‘the Guardians’ Time person of the year is courageous – but it ignores America’s relationship with power

It’s always good to have our profession honoured, albeit that the living martyrs of journalism should be accompanied by the ghost of another. But the moment I learned of Time magazine’s person of the year front cover – the award going to Jamal Khashoggi and the other “guardians” who have “taken great risks in pursuit of greater truths” – I remembered Spielberg’s movie Bridge of Spies.

When captured Soviet agent Rudolf Abel’s defence lawyer (Tom Hanks) asks Abel (Mark Rylance) if he is worried, he replies: “Would it help?”

The right question. Would it make any difference? Is Time’s choice of its 2018 front page going to change anything? Or was it chiefly aimed at Trump? The raving lunatic in the White House was its “person of the year” in 2016, just before he took office. He said he expected the accolade again this year, and indeed he’s the 2018 runner-up. If he had known this, Khashoggi himself would surely turn in his grave – wherever the Saudis eventually reveal it to be.

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Posted by on December 12, 2018 in North America


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