Thursday, 14 May 2009

New activism needs internet rights protection


Report: Growing pressure on internet freedom and communication rights of Bulgarian citizens*

Internet and new media have boosted civil society activism in Bulgaria in 2004 - 2008. Coincidentally, the pressure against internet freedom and communication rights of Bulgarian citizens have grown to unprecedented level. These challenges have been outlined by BlueLink's contribution to the internal assessment of the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) in May 2009. To respond to them and meet better the needs of the re-emerging individual activism in Bulgaria further effort to protect internet and communication rights is needed on national and global level, the network suggested to APC and its members.
Similar to other post-socialist countries over its first decade of change Bulgaria had seen an influx of Western donor aid. Unfortunately most of it resulted in the formation of a clique of well-paid NGO functionaries, with little or no connection to the real needs and demands of citizens. New media formats, social networking opportunities and broader access to internet have been instrumental in the emerging of a new generation of activists since 2004. In contrast to the majority of NGO professionals, the new activists are mostly young or in their active age, with regular jobs and incomes, and driven by genuine concern and commitment to certain causes. Environment has been among the first among these causes, which lead to growing protest against the abuse of protected natural areas in the country.
Internet has transformed the growing mass of concerned individuals into a real movement. BlueLink has offered ICT services and know-how to environmental activists and organizations throughout the reporting period. The network has worked with other members to accelerate APC's activities in the area of sustainable development. At the same time, BlueLink has recognised the growing need to put more efforts in the field of internet and communication rights, as essential condition for strengthening civil society. Although as content and IT service provider the network strictly does not campaign on any other issues, not even environmental ones, internet rights, access to information and transparency have been identified by BlueLink's 2008 - 2014 strategy as core campaigning issues to actively engage with.
"We are trying to respond to a pressing need in Bulgarian society to enforce and support activism and participation on individual citizen level", said Dimitur Vassilev - Velin, the interim executive director of BlueLink. Vassilev - Velin, a BlueLink co-founder, has been involved environmental protest and activism since 1988. What we are experiencing today is growing pressure on individual expression, basic rights to assemble and protest, resistance by all means to public access to information and participation, he explained. Internet, communication rights and new media have a lot to suffer - and a lot to offer to civil society in this context, Vassilev - Velin pointed out.
In 2008 BlueLink started the Freenet online campaign against harassment of bloggers and environment protesters by the police and secret services. A broad coalition has been formed by different pressure groups in Bulgaria, to oppose planned law amendments aimed to exclude internet from the scope of basic communication privacy rights guaranteed by Bulgaria's constitution. But this has not been enough, and there is a lot more to be done, Vassilev said.The situation is not unique to Bulgaria. Similar trends symptoms of net oppression could be observed across the EU, certainly in the UK where activists have recently been spied upon by civil servants, and treated as terrorists . Circumstances in the developing world countries are in many ways similar to the developments in Bulgaria and elsewhere in Eastern Europe.
As a Bulgarian member BlueLink will support active international engagement. APC has been a leader in defense of internet rights since its foundation in 1990 and is well are of the issues and problems that exist globally. APC's further involvement will bring credibility, solidarity, and - in many cases - better safety for the members working in the ground. With its access to international donors, APC is well positioned to help with fundraising for ground work, which due to its nature will be difficult to budget for locally. Taking this agenda and problems to the global internet rights community, as well as sponsoring and organising regional or global coordination and awareness raising events like last years Data Retention Conference hosted by Hungarian APC member Green Spider in Budapest in 2008.
*Originally published by BlueLink.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

The media economy of denial

Monbiot: Corrupt journalists and media organisations help climate deniers
Unethical journalists and pseudo-professional newsroom practices are to blame for confusing public understanding of climate change, George Monbiot suggested in his excellent blog on April 29, 2009. He described accurately the practice of journalists working for newspapers, television or radio "secretly taking money from undisclosed interests to champion their views". Monbiot then went on to point at media organisations as "the real suckers" in the climate denial story. He just stopped short of explaining fully the reasons for this.

Media companies like the BBC and Channel 4 gave 15 years of free access to the industry by inviting their paid experts to "balance" the views of genuine scientists, without demanding that they disclosed their sources, Monbiot observed. His explanation that "fake controversy provided better copy than the boring old scientific consensus" limits the problem within editorial logic. But the decisions that made mass media corporations continuously promote climate denial seem to have been made on higher floors than the news desk. They relate to to the political economy of mass media and their forgotten role as ideology gate keepers.

Monbiot's criticism of climate denial publicity was provoked by the last week's revelation by the Washington Post that since 1995 the industry-funded Global Climate Coalition had willingly ignored its own scientists and continued misleading public opinion that man made climate wasn't happening.

Monday, 4 May 2009

The Guardian: Bulgaria cheap for tourism

Tourism story misses environmental damage point.
A Black Sea panorama would better fit Miles Brignall's article in the Saturday Guardian (May 2, 2009) about cheapest summer holiday destinations. Instead, the photo editor chose to show Portugal's coast near Algarve, although it is Bulgaria that appears on top of the "2009 holiday costs barometer" the story tells about. This most certainly graphical rather than editorial decision highlights a link that yet another tourism or real estate article did not make: that cheap tourism comes at a cost, often environmental.

Eye pleasing nature images from Bulgaria's coast do exist. But they are rare - and will become even more so. Untouched pieces of nature to photograph or just enjoy are getting fewer and fewer in the Balkan country. Unparalleled opportunities for quick income have put immense pressure on Bulgaria's coast in the form of unlimited mass construction of hotels, apartments and other holiday properties. Tourists and second home owners from abroad have been the principle target clients of the construction bonanza along the Black Sea during the past decade. The country's weak law enforcement institutions have been unable to prevent the uncontrolled urbanization of the coast, even in the nominally protected natural or architectural areas. Perhaps the only positive outcome of the entire process is the emerging of a massive protest movement since 2005 which has gained strength online and on the streets of capital Sofia.

The Guardian should fairly be credited as one of the UK dailies which have actually covered this, and other similar stories from eastern Europe. Most recently in Benji Lanyado's article that appeared ten days earlier. Indeed, no single article can tell everything about a complex issue. It is different bits and pieces that supposedly build together over time, like a mosaic, the reader's understanding. And shapes her mind on the issue. It is the editors' job to chose and arrange the different pieces so that the right picture appears in the end. What I would be interested to know more about is to what extent does environment ever appear in the stories of correspondents covering tourism, real estate, personal finance, and any other topic fields that are directly targeted to shape individual decisions on spending money.