[FoME] New CIMA Report: "Soft Censorship" Around the World

Christoph Dietz christoph.dietz at CAMECO.ORG
Do Jan 15 09:26:51 CET 2009

Soft Censorship: How Governments Around the Globe Use Money to
Manipulate the Media
By Don Podesta
Washington DC: Center for International Media Assistance, 2009, 28 p.

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Executive Summary:

As once openly authoritarian regimes have moved toward more democratic
societies —or at least toward the appearance of democratic ones—an
insidious form of censorship has arisen.

Typically, authoritarian regimes exert control over what can and cannot
be published or broadcast by requiring news content to be submitted to a
censor prior to publication, by seizing control of media outlets or by
intimidating or arresting journalists and media company owners. In many
countries, censorship of the news media now manifests itself in far more
subtle ways, phenomena sometimes referred to collectively as "soft
censorship." This report explores the spread of these indirect means of
censorship and examines possible remedies that might be employed to
attack the problem.

Soft, or indirect, censorship can be defined as the practice of
influencing news coverage by applying financial pressure on media
companies that are deemed critical of a government or its policies and
rewarding media outlets and individual journalists who are seen as
friendly to the government. Examples of this practice abound in
countries in every part of the world. It takes several forms:
=> The use of advertising by national and local governments to support
media outlets financially. Often this is legitimate official
advertising: public announcements conveying information about government
business to the citizenry, such as putting government contracts out for
bids. But where there are no rules or transparency about where and how
such advertising may be placed, the sudden withdrawal of this revenue
stream can threaten the independence—and even the survival—of
newspapers and broadcasters.
=> Pressure by the government on commercial enterprises to advertise in
certain media and not in others. This is a more indirect form of the use
of advertising as a club, but the
effect on media companies is the same.
=> Direct payments to journalists in exchange for writing articles
conveying the government's position on specific topics or promoting the
agendas of politicians or companies.

These practices are particularly prevalent in Africa, Latin America,
South and East Asia, and some of the countries of the former Soviet
Union. In much of Latin America and Africa, national, provincial, and
local governments exert pressure on the media by withholding or
threatening to withhold advertising. In Colombia and Ukraine,
journalists are often paid directly by sources, government or private
parties to produce news content that advances the patrons' agendas. And
in Hong Kong, one publishing house has suffered a loss of commercial
advertising because of pressure on advertisers by the Chinese

Proposed remedies have been put forth by non-governmental
organizations, such as the Open Society Justice Initiative and the
Association for Civil Rights in Argentina and various media watchdog
groups, as well as regional institutions, such as the Council of Europe
and the Organization of American States. They include, among others:
=> Greater transparency in awarding advertising contracts to
independent newspapers and broadcasters, including passing legislation
that clearly spells out the rules.
=> Litigation to end the practice of withdrawing advertising as a means
to exert pressure on media outlets.
=> Regulations requiring governments to place advertising in media
outlets that can deliver the intended audience, without regard to the
news content published or broadcast by those outlets.
=> Steps to ensure that the allocation of government advertising is not
concentrated in the hands of political appointees.
=> Efforts to increase the compensation of journalists so they can
support themselves without resorting to seeking advertising individually
or taking payments from news sources.

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