The Most Dangerous Profession in the World?

The only thing authoritarians hate more than a free public is a free press, given that the latter can help arm the former with knowledge and impetus to push back. But as “fake news” goes from being an American meme to a global phenomenon, despots worldwide are taking note, invoking it in their familiar but growing crackdown on reporters and journalists.

As Vice News reported:

The annual prison census, carried out by the nonprofit Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), found at least 251 journalists languishing in prison on Dec. 1, 2018, the third consecutive year at roughly that level. But of those 251, a record 28 were behind bars on charges of “false news,” a big spike from just two years ago, when there were nine such cases.

Egypt accounted for the most cases of journalists jailed for so-called false news, with 19 behind bars. There were four in Cameroon, three in Rwanda, and one each in China and Morocco.

The report pointed the finger at Trump as “the leading voice” fueling global rhetoric about fake news. “You think #FakeNews rhetoric doesn’t have consequences?” tweeted the report’s author, CPJ’s editorial director Elana Beiser.

It also noted that while no journalists are imprisoned in the U.S., reporters there faced fatal violence and hostile rhetoric. In June, five people were killed in a mass shooting at the offices of The Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, and a mail bomber who embraced Trump’s media attacks sent threatening packages to CNN headquarters, among other places, in October.

To make matters worse, the uptick in state-sanctioned violence and repression of journalists is looking like a long-term trend:

It’s the third year running that the number of reporters behind bars has topped 250 — a stat that suggested that “the authoritarian approach to critical news coverage is more than a temporary spike,” and had become “the new normal,” according to Beiser.

The report found the high numbers had been sustained by renewed crackdowns in China, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, which, along with Turkey and Eritrea, were the five leading jailers of journalists. Turkey, China, and Egypt alone accounted for more than half the world’s jailed journalists for the third year in a row.

The report found that nearly three-quarters of jailed journalists were facing anti-state charges, such as supporting groups deemed to be terrorist organizations, and the vast majority — 98 percent — were jailed by their own governments.

Considering that the balance of power is shifting to the developing world, most of all China, the normalization of constraining a free press sets a very concerning precedent. But when even the ostensible leader of the free world has embraced hostile rhetoric towards media, it is unlikely that this problem is going away any time soon — even though the need for a free press is more important than ever.

Screentime Around The World

The following graph looks at how much time the world spends looking at screens (television, PC, smartphone, and tablet).

Courtesy of Gizmodo, KPCB, and Quartz

Courtesy of Gizmodo, KPCB, and Quartz

Interestingly, developing countries make up most of the top viewers, with the U.S. coming in sixth place overall but ranking the highest in the developed world (the second highest industrialized country, the U.K., is in fifteenth place overall). Japan, France, and Italy rank the lowest among surveyed countries and the developed world.

The preferred medium of viewing varied a lot from country to country as well: Americans and Britons watch the most television out of any other nation in the list, but Indonesians and Filipinos have them beat in terms of smartphone usage. Tablets seem to be far more popular in Asia (with the notable exceptions of Japan and South Korea) than the rest of the world. 

Pretty interesting stuff.

Source: Gizmodo

Judging Women in Media

I hate the way women in media are judged immediately —  and sometimes almost exclusively — by their appearance. Throughout my life, whether I’m watching a music video, TV show, interview, or movie, there’s always at least one person around me – if not several – who criticizes a female character or public figure for some trivial physical feature. Continue reading

A Special Report on Atheism

I don’t watch much television, much less the main media outlets, but I was informed that MSNBC host Chris Hayes did a piece on atheism, which you can find on his website (it’s divided into three clips). The guests included many prominent secularists, chiefly Steve Pinker, Richard Dawkins, and Susan Jacoby, but also Jamila Bey, Jamie Kilstein and Pastor Mike Aus.

Many of their arguments were already familiar to me, and probably most fellow secularists, but they’ll hopefully be illuminating to the overwhelming majority of Americans that know little about the “Godless” and their worldview. It’s very encouraging to see a mainstream media source make an effort to cover what was once a fringe – though still hated – belief system. This shows how much progress we’ve made in giving the secular worldview more space in the public sphere (whereas once it wasn’t even conceivable to hold no religious belief, much less talk about such things openly).

I have a feeling programs like this will only become more common, especially as the nonreligious continue to hold rallies and public awareness campaigns to make their voices heard (and hopefully embolden are largely underground colleagues to “come out” about their lack of faith).

Whether or not you actually hold or agree with a secular position, I think any one with an open-mind could see the merit in allowing more discussion and exploration of alternative worldviews.

Please share your own thoughts and reflections on the topic.

Where Do You Get Your Information?

One caveat to keep in mind: the term “control” is being used as synonymous with ownership, though the two are distinct concepts; in the corporate world, having ownership over another business entity doesn’t necessarily mean you directly manage all its affairs. So many of these companies aren’t directly involved in every and any decision that is made by their subsidiaries. A lot of the news groups that are owned financially can still retain their autonomy when it comes to day-to-day functions, such as what they report – though that varies from company to company.

Still, I find the trend towards consolidation no less disconcerting. Even if these conglomerates aren’t definitively calling the shots, the opaque nature of most business affairs means there’s no telling what their level of involvement is, or if they will always remain hands-off about how they run their media outlets. The potential for monopolization and abuse is high, especially as current business trends – not only in media but in other industries – seem to be leading to ever larger mergers.

The only consolation is that public awareness of this “corporatization” of media has grown, as has technology: the ubiquity of the web, along with a desire for alternative new sources, is leading to a wellspring of citizen journalists and grassroots new groups. Most people, particularly the young, are increasingly distrustful of major news sources, suggesting a healthy future for smaller and less-conventional news sources – assuming they don’t eventually get bought off once they become popular.

>>>Note: alternatives to corporate media are not necessarily better by nature of their greater autonomy. Such sources are still just as liable to be wrong, dishonest, or poor quality as any other, and the internet has given voices to a lot of cranks who would otherwise be dismissed if it weren’t for their web savvy. One should still be wary of their source of information no matter who or where it comes from.

The Video Game Boom

What began as a simple curiosity has grown into a billion dollar industry that pervades our society, media, and commercial market. Video games have become a staple in entertainment, popular culture, and the average young person’s life for well over a decade. But they now seem posed to become the single-largest form of media ever, if current growth trends persist. The Economist reports:

OVER the past two decades the video-games business has gone from a cottage industry selling to a few niche customers to a fully grown branch of the entertainment industry. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), a consulting firm, the global video-game market was worth around $56 billion last year, and has grown by over 60% since 2006, when the Nintendo Wii console was launched. The gaming industry is more than twice the size of the recorded-music industry, nearly a quarter more than the magazine business and about three-fifths the size of the film industry. PwC predicts that video games will be the fastest-growing form of media over the next few years, with sales rising to $82 billion by 2015. The biggest market is America, whose consumers this year are expected to spend $14.1 billion on games, mostly on the console variety. Consoles also dominate in Britain, the fifth-largest gaming market. In other parts of Europe, and particularly Germany, PC games are more popular. China has overtaken Japan to become the second-biggest market, and  is one of the fastest-growing, with sales rising by 20% last year.

And since I’m a visual man myself, here are two charts that better reflect the growth and dynamism of this massive industry:

Notice how games are booming outside their traditional markets – namely North America and Japan. As in most things, China is set to become one of the largest game markets in the world, and with time, may very well begin to churn out prominent video game companies of its own (so far, its game developers are largely domestic and relatively unknown).  The “Others” section is also pretty massive, suggesting that video games – like so many other products and media – are globalizing far beyond the long-established developed rich-world markets.

As a semi-serious gamer and world-culture enthusiast, I for one think it will be exciting to possibly see more game selections emerge from other countries. Of course, that assumes that the old guard of Japanese and (especially) American game companies don’t try to retain their long-held market advantage by buying off or out-spending their competitors.

Sounds familiar? These titans of industry are not unlike their contemporaries in other markets, from Hollywood to news media to oil: as their commercial markets expand, so to does their influence and power, and many gamers – myself included – are concerned about the perverse influence that all this growth and money will have on small or up-starting developers. Companies like EA Games, one of the largest media corporations period, have already developed a reputation suited to Industrial Era conglomerates: trying to dominate the market through cunning business practices and brute force.

Alas, that’s the way it goes for most things. People lament the loss of artistic and individual freedom in Hollywood, now dominated by a core of powerful studios and their mass-produced blockbusters; or of reliable news outlets similarly absorbed into just a handful of huge media corporations. The novelty and adventurism of a new idea – a sort of Wild West frontier that nearly all industries start off of – makes way for something that becomes too conformist, greedy, and soulless: the rehashing of the same formulaic but money-making stuff the draws in the larger crowd but leaves the veteran and enthusiasts reeling.

Granted, I’m not this cynical about it, but I’ve certainly heard this sentiment expressed with respect to video games, just as I have about virtually everything else that inevitably becomes commercialized once it’s popular enough. I think it’s a valid concern, but like anything else, this sort of development is a double-edged sword: after all, more money also means more technical innovation, and we’re seeing games become more cinematic and groundbreaking by the year.

Furthermore, the backlash against this sort of commercialization, coupled with the ubiquity of technology and programming skills, means that small-time game makers still have their niche, and we can still expect a fair share of quirky, innovative, and diverse selections to complement the “big box” stuff (which can also be pretty fun too). I know its all still debatable, and I don’t have the time to go into much more detail, but the game industry is moving so fast there’s no telling where it’s really going. I think there is reason for excitement and anxiety, and I’d like everyone’s thoughts on the matter.