Places, people and laws to remember from 2011

This blog’s author is of a buoyant, optimistic cast of mind. I mention this only in case it isn’t already obvious. My general view of the “crisis” in journalism in Europe and the US (not, please note, the rest of the world) is that while the business model for printed daily papers may be in deep doo-doo, journalism and news will find ways not merely to survive but to flourish and improve.

But there are journalists and writers in places for whom 2011 was a year of threats, jail terms, violence and misery. They should not be forgotten This is just a quick selection of those people who deserve to be remembered at the passing of the year – and the governments who deserve to be shamed for what they have done.

  • The Ethiopian government jailed two Swedish television journalists the other day for eleven years apiece on “terrorism” charges.
  • Wondering why you haven’t heard much from Bahrain recently? This despatch from Reporters Without Borders, written in restrained and careful language, will tell you why. They lock up bloggers and journalists, intimidate others and exclude foreign reporters they don’t approve of. Do not forget that in April the founder of the opposition newspaper Al-Wasat, Karim Fakhrawi, was taken into custody when his paper had been shut and he died in custody a week later. His death remains unexplained and no one has been held to account.
  • There are many things to worry the Chinese government nowadays, but they remain terrified of the stubborn handful of men and women who simply refuse to stop speaking their mind. The moment that the strength of the Arab Spring became clear, many of these people began being questioned and detained. Two of those who vanished into jail in the spring, Chen Xi and Chen Wei were given sentences of 10 and 9 years respectively just before Christmas.  They thought and wrote the wrong things.
  • On a quite different level – because no actual curtailment of freedom of expression seems yet to have taken place – is the developing disaster for the news media in Hungary (background here, latest developments here). I’m not enough of an expert on central Europe to know why Hungarian confidence in the the ordinary, boring-but-valuable institutions of democracy is so much more fragile than in neighbouring countries which also endured long decades of suffocation under communism and the Soviet Union. But it is.
  • And let’s never forget Russia, where the manipulation and threats have been normal for a long time. As ever, it’s always worst outside the big cities where the tourists go and the foreign correspondents live. One small, grim example here.

But I did read one cheerful scrap from Russia this holiday. In Dagestan, east of Chechnya there is a newspaper called Chernovik. This name translates into English as “rough draft” and is, I think, the best and most honest name for a newspaper I have heard for some time. I came across it in David Remnick’s superb New Yorker essay on Vladimir Putin and what has happened to news, information and journalism in Russia during his rule.

And to remind us that even scandals have their lighter side, I leave you with a link to the trailer for “Hacks”, a TV comedy due to air (in the UK) on New Year’s Eve. It looks to be exaggerated, crude and funny. Rather like the News of the World was in its day.

I wish all my readers an excellent 2012.



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