Category Archives: Media

El Salvador’s El Faro: A light in the underworld

Sarah Esther Maslin has a terrific report on El Salvador's El Faro for the Columbia Journalism Review with A light in the underworld. It's worth checking out in its entirety.
EL FARO IS IN THE BUSINESS of making people uncomfortable. The news site was founded in 1998 by journalist Carlos Dada and businessman Jorge Simán, distant cousins with sharp tongues and unruly hair. They were sick of El Salvador’s media being controlled by a conservative oligarchy and censored by the military and the government. Dada, who is now 46, grew up in exile in Mexico during the 1980-1992 civil war between leftist guerrillas and El Salvador’s right-wing government. When he returned in 1996, he joined the first crop of college-educated Salvadoran journalists. They were eager for an independent press.
Simán and Dada envisioned deep-dive reporting presented in a format that would combine narrative and investigative journalism. “We loved the South American literary magazines, but the reality of our country didn’t lend itself to pure crónica,” says Dada, referring to the navel-gazing  style of glossy journals like Etiqueta Negra from Peru, and Argentina’s Orsai. He found a different model in the clear-headed investigations of The New Yorker—which he brought back by the suitcase-load and translated into Spanish—and also in a handful of Latin American writers who straddled the two styles: Gabriel García Márquez, Elena Poniatowska, Martín Caparrós.
El Faro shunned hierarchy. Young reporters—poached from the Jesuit University and La Prensa Gráfica, the daily paper where Dada was an editor—participated in every aspect of production, from planning coverage to writing headlines. They cobbled together the stories on weekends in Dada’s living room. No one got paid.
El Faro has shaken the traditional media landscape in El Salvador. However, they are still trying to find the right balance between long-form investigative journalism and El Salvador's need for timely independent coverage of what is going on in the country. It doesn't bother me as much but I am not one who needs to worry about how it pays its bills.

In some ways, El Faro has given voice to the voiceless. However, in their case the voiceless are the young men and women who belong to the MS-13 and the 18th Street gangs. Their reporting has gotten them in trouble with the police and politicians (I mentioned some of this in recent Freedom House reports) and ordinary Salvadorans. Its an effective counter-narrative to the government's dehumanization of gang members, but one that comes with costs. See also yesterday's post on the New York Times and El Faro's collaborative project.

Fifth Guatemalan journalist killed this year

I condemn the killings of Diego Salomón Esteban Gaspar and Álvaro Alfredo Aceituno López,” the Director-General of UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova, said in a statement. “Violent crimes must not be allowed to limit media workers' freedom to carry out their work, which is important for society as a whole.”
Guatemala's been a rough place for journalists for quite some time. However, there seems to have been an even greater uptick in violence against them since last year's corruption scandals led to the removal of the country's president and vice-president. While some outlets were involved in Perez Molina's organized crime racket, others have begun to ask dangerous questions about the links between organized criminal groups and political and economic elites.

I can't say directly as a result, but a fifth journalist was just killed in Guatemala. Radio reporter Álvaro Alfredo Aceituno López was shot and killed in the municipality of Coatepeque, Quetzaltenango on June 25. Freedom House and the United Nations have condemned his murder as well as the four that occurred earlier this year.

See also my 2013: A democratic setback in Guatemala for Al Jazeera. That year was considered the worst in recent memory for journalists.

Cameron’s problem is less the EU and more a hostile media

David Cameron undertook a considerable gamble when he promised to try and get some reform of the EU in Britain's interests, in order to then pursue a referendum on continued membership.  Both elements of the same strategy, they were designed to lance the most lethal boil on the Tory body politic, Europe.

The country at large is not particularly bothered about Europe.  It's there, we're members, it's probably corrupt like most political institutions but hey, what can you do.  That's the broad line of thought - if any exists - that the majority probably have towards Europe.  It is completely at odds with the Tory world's utter obsession with the project.  The Telegraph's usually reliable sketch writer, Michael Deacon, tries to have a pop at Cameron's new deal by picking out its most obscure element and sarcastically suggesting it'll be the talk of the pubs (“Oh, well that changes everything. If Cameron’s won a declaration on the subsidiarity implementation mechanism and a burden reduction implementation mechanism, I’m definitely voting to stay in.")  

But the joke is surely on him, and the legion of other vein bursting commentators in today's papers.  People aren't talking about anything to do with Europe, subsidiarity implementation mechanism or otherwise.  This has always been about a Tory war in which the Prime Minister commands much the more depleted army.

Mr. Cameron has probably done as well - or better - as any leader of a single country within a large regional organisation could hope.  One Belgian MEP quickly ran through the gains Cameron had made on the Today programme, and it would be difficult to suggest that nothing has happened as a result of his intensive lobbying.

Whatever the Prime Minister has secured, he must always have known that it would be roundly and vigorously criticised by the die-hard Euro-scpetic establishment.  Herein will lie his most significant and dangerous battle.  Not in Brussels, amongst well-meaning diplomats and fellow politicos who are seeking some sort of helpful compromise that can keep Britain inside the EU.  It will be out in the newspapers of Britain.  Mr. Cameron will follow in John Major's footsteps in unleashing the full fury of the print press on him.  A glance at today's front pages gives you the general gist, and that's before you open up to read the splenetic outpourings of a legion of sclerotic right-wing iconoclasts.

British press owners are relentlessly anti-Europe for relentlessly commercial reasons.  With barely a single British taxpayer among this largely foreign domiciled elite, they can all see that a Britain freed from the market regulating restrictions of the EU is a country in which their commercial interests can thrive and survive with far less intrusive inspection than if she stays in.  It's good for their business to come out, even if that might not be the case for British business at large.  A Murdoch or a Barclay would much rather deal with the looser UK system than the prying eyes of EU commissioners.

The happy press owners are thus keen to give full leeway to their EU-hating writers, editors and pontificators.  This will be Cameron's battle.  He may be Prime Minister, but in this war he and his small band of supporters are going to be very much the David to the British media's mighty Goliath.  Every single news item about Europe, every apparently objective report on Cameron's negotiations and deals, will have to be read through the all-pervading anti-EU filter.  It will be a war of attrition - which started years ago - and the surprise will be if, at the end of the referendum process, the British people remain inured to their newspapers' injunctions and vote to stay in.  If they do, it will be one of the biggest blows to the power of the press ever struck.  The EU is almost a bystander.

7/12/15: A new study on psychology of crisis response & the role of the media

This is a new study developed by an excellent young Irish psychologist - Seamus Power - at the University of Chicago. 

All Irish people, over the age of 18, are eligible to take part in this survey and all walks of life, ages, demographics etc are really needed. The survey should take under 15 minutes to complete.

Seamus is interested in your responses to a range of questions and your reactions to a randomly assigned media article covering the topics relating to policy responses to the recent crisis.

I can't really stress enough how important this topic is for Ireland and for social sciences, so please, take a few minutes to complete it. We need data-based evidence and Seamus will be sharing his findings with all of us.

Study link here: .

Those who can, organise; those who can’t, commentate

Lynton Crosby is certainly entitled to a bit of triumphalism.  Getting Boris to London City Hall is one thing, but getting David Cameron back to Downing Street with a majority against all the odds certainly ranks as one of the great Lazarus tricks of modern politics.  So well done Mr. Crosby.  If you weren't already in the super-league of international political consultants, I guess you must be not only in it but near the top of it now.

He's left us with a bit of a gift too.  Not a big speaker to the press (no good campaign manager wants to be the story during a campaign, as Alastair Campbell should have realised) he has now given a departing interview to the Daily Telegraph.  Amongst all the post-election ink flow, this one provides some of the more interesting and controversial analyses, coming as it does from the man who won.

As I read his interview, I warmed to the man, far more than I might have expected.  It was two points in particular that produced that feeling of positivity towards an undoubted political rottweiler of the right.  First, apropos of a more significant point, he quoted that well worn canard that "Those who can do, those who can't teach".  I sighed internally for a brief instinctive moment as I read that one.  No teacher in this country has gone through their lives without having that one quoted incessantly at them by hilarious friends heading off to their long lunches in the city, or gobby students who have just been told off for yet another tedious infraction.  But my sigh quickly turned to a gasp of surprise.  Crosby was quoting this to do it down.  His wife, it turns out, was a teacher and "I don't really agree with that" he said.   Well, well.  Here was a human side I hadn't realised before.  And a possible explanation for one of his earliest influences on the Conservatives' election campaign - the removal of toxic Michael Gove from the Department of Education to the hidden (until the fiasco of the attempt to unseat the Speaker) realms of Chief Whip.

But the second reason for warming to Mr. Crosby was his second, more significant point.  He claims that it is not only pollsters who should be hanging their heads for failing to misread the nation.  He has a very vigorous, and heartfelt it seems, pop at the world of the political commentariat.  He adapts his teacher comment for the world of politics to read "Those who can do, those who can't commentate."  It was a feeling I'd had myself.  Not, I hastily add, the insight that the commentators had it all wrong.  That was a Crosbian intuition based on extensive internal polling.  My feeling was an increasing level of irritation at the apparently all knowingness of commentators who hadn't stepped out of the metropolitan bubble.  I blogged about it here, getting particularly irate at the desire of the commentators to keep knocking the campaign for its dullness instead of perhaps trying to enagage a little more deeply with the actual issues.  Andrew Marr was an annoying example of one who praised the wonderful brilliance of the commentariat but thought the actual campaign being waged by, you know, actual politicians on the ground, was just "tooth-grindingly awful".

Well, Crosby has launched his mighty artillery at them, and is firing a shot in defence of those who have bothered to participate.  The street pounders, canvassers, representatives and their agents, all seeking to do something a bit more than carp from the sidelines.

We need good commentators.  At their best they provide a much needed guide to the often treacherous paths of political discourse.  Divorced from the need to please an electorate they can bring some objective perceptions that illuminate the world that should so fascinate all of us.  But Crosby rightly condemns those who seem to see politics more as entertainment.  Better paid than many of the ordinaries whose vote is the warp and weft of the active politicians' work and voice, they have become too comfortable in their carping sanctimony.  I don't agree with his picking out of Tim Montgomerie necessarily, who has after all been engaged with the political world of both policy and voters rather more directly than many writers, but I do laud his broader principle.

We get the politics we deserve, but very often it is the media not the politicians themselves who too often frame our polity.  Yes, they should start taking some responsibility for that.