30 episodes

A weekly programme that examines and dissects the world's media, how they operate and the stories they cover.

The Listening Post Al Jazeera English

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A weekly programme that examines and dissects the world's media, how they operate and the stories they cover.

    • video
    Racism in Portugal: A blind spot for the media?

    Racism in Portugal: A blind spot for the media?

    In Portugal's election last October, Romualda Fernandes, Beatriz Gomes Dias, and Joacine Katar Moreira made history by becoming the first women of African descent elected to Parliament.

    Dias, Gomes and Moreira all represent different political parties - the Socialist Party, Left Bloc and Livre, respectively - but their critiques of racism in Portuguese society have been credited with catalysing a debate that many see as long overdue.

    A 2016 report by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, while noting that Portugal had grown more tolerant and inclusive over the previous two decades, criticised the persistence of "Afrophobia" and "institutional racism" in the country.

    In the years since, Portugal - like much of Europe - has witnessed a spike in far-right sentiment, with the 2019 election also marking the first time a far-right party won a seat in Parliament since the fall of the Salazar dictatorship in 1974.

    However, observing the way the debate played out in Portugal's mainstream media, one could get a rather different impression. A slew of opinion-makers - most, if not all, white - responded to concerns from anti-racist politicians and campaigners with a mixture of disbelief and denial: "Are the Portuguese racist?" asked the newspaper Sol. Columnists at the right-wing news website Observador were more definitive: "Portugal wasn't and isn't racist," wrote one; another, meanwhile, derided the "myth" of a racist Portugal.

    "I think we're all racist," explains Observador's editor, Jose Manuel Fernandes, speaking to The Listening Post's Daniel Turi. "That's a battle that never ends. However, when it comes to institutional racism - I don't think that exists in Portugal."

    For Moreira, member of parliament for Livre, reactions such as these came as no surprise: "This is very specific of Portuguese racism - the absolute denial that there is racism in Portugal."

    In trying to explain this discourse of denial, some point to the lack of diversity in Portugal's media industry. Portuguese journalists of colour are few and far between - something that Fernandes, too, acknowledges can skew the reporting of race.

    However, Portugal is not the only country with a diversity problem in its newsrooms. For many, a stronger explanation lies in an ideology of Portuguese exceptionalism - one with deep roots in the country's colonial past.

    Portugal was the world's first global empire, with outposts across Africa, Asia and South America. From its beginnings in the 15th century all the way up to the handover of Macau to China in 1999, it was also the longest lasting.

    Despite the many horrors of that history, including Portugal's leading role in the transatlantic slave trade, a sense of nostalgia for that era runs deep in the here and now. The media are no exception and appeals to a rose-tinted view of Portuguese colonialism are a common feature of the recent denials of racism in present-day Portugal.

    "We travelled across Africa and Asia with native populations, had children with them and in many cases we assimilated them," notes the writer of the Sol article referenced above.

    "Having this discourse about the past is then transferred to the present," says Joana Gorjao Henriques, author of Racism in Portugal. "As a result, the media are incapable of noticing the inequalities that exist in Portuguese society."

    However, for Mamadou Ba, director of the NGO, SOS Racismo, these attempts to defend the colonial record are also a response to the fact that critiques of racism - both historical and contemporary - are more visible than in the past.

    "There's a certain right-wing elite who are trying to glorify the colonial past. They're well aware that people of colour are getting more of a voice in the media, and so this is part of their strategy to undermine the rise of anti-racist politics."

    Contributors:

    Jose Manue

    • 10 min
    • video
    Iran: From patriotism to protests | The Listening Post (Full)

    Iran: From patriotism to protests | The Listening Post (Full)

    On The Listening Post this week: How the downing of a Ukrainian passenger aircraft flipped the narrative in Iran. Plus, the challenges of reporting race in Portuguese media.

    From mourning Soleimani to protesting against the regime
    When a US drone strike killed Iran's most important military figure, General Qassem Soleimani, two weeks ago, it provided Tehran with an opening to rally the Iranian people to back their Islamic leaders against the United States.

    For a few days, that seemed to be the case.

    Then a passenger plane was shot down over Tehran, and Iran's leaders chose to lie to the public, before finally admitting three days later that they had taken the plane down by mistake.

    Iranians have since taken to the streets - not to mourn the loss of a fallen soldier, but because they are outraged after years of official lies, ineptitude and impunity.

    That messaging opportunity is long gone. The Iranian government now has a PR nightmare on its hands.

    Contributors:
    Arash Azizi - Writer and historian, New York University
    Ali Vaez - Director, Iran Project, International Crisis Group
    Hosein Ghazian - Author, journalist and sociologist
    Sanam Shantyaei - Senior Journalist and anchor, Middle East Matters, France 24

    On our radar
    Richard Gizbert speaks to producer Johanna Hoes about cracks appearing inside the Murdoch empire when it comes to reporting on Australia's bushfires; and about the restoration of the internet in Kashmir - with caveats.

    Racism in Portugal: A blind spot for the media?
    A few months ago, three women of African descent - Beatriz Gomes Dias, Romualda Fernandes and Joacine Katar Moreira - made history, becoming the first black women elected to parliament in Portugal.

    They have faced all kinds of racial abuse on social media.

    In the mainstream media, the hostility has been more subtle but no less direct: Portuguese commentators and news columnists have contested the idea that racism even exists there.

    This is a story rooted in a rose-tinted view of the country's history - its colonial past.

    The Listening Post's Daniel Turi reports from Portugal on a state of denial in the country's media when it comes to race.

    Contributors:
    Jose Manuel Fernandes - Publisher, Observador
    Mamadou Ba - Director, SOS Racismo
    Joana Gorjao Henriques - Columnist, Publico and author, Racism in Portuguese
    Joacine Katar Moreira - Member of Parliament, Livre

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    • 25 min
    • video
    US versus Iran: Tension over the airwaves | The Listening Post (Full)

    US versus Iran: Tension over the airwaves | The Listening Post (Full)

    On this episode of The Listening Post: Media in the US and Iran are vastly different but when it comes to war, they stumble in similar ways. Plus, the media collectives in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas.

    US versus Iran: Covering Soleimani's assassination
    A little more than a week ago, most Americans had never even heard of the name Qassem Soleimani. Now, Iran's top military leader, assassinated in a US drone strike, has been cast as the "world's number one bad guy".

    And that is not Donald Trump talking; those are the words of US news network CNBC.

    This story - and some of the coverage coming out of Washington - harkens back to 2003, the Iraq war. Too much airtime given to the hawks prowling news studios. Not enough scrutiny of their motives, or the legality of a possible war.

    In Iran meanwhile, Soleimani's killing has given the country's leaders an historic messaging opportunity that is now reverberating across news outlets the government there controls, as well as in the streets.

    Contributors:

    Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi - Lecturer, Goldsmiths

    Holly Dagres - Non-resident fellow, Atlantic Council

    Pouya Alimagham - Historian, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

    Document, mobilise, amplify: Media activists in Rio's favelas
    Perhaps you see favelas as the Brazilian media; and many international outlets have depicted them as lawless communities, virtual no-go zones for police, where the only realistic solution is a security show of force.

    That portrayal plays well for two politicians in particular, President Jair Bolsonaro and Rio's Governor, Wilson Witzel, both of whom have given police more authority to use lethal force in the favelas.

    There is, however, an alternative media narrative coming from the favelas, which has emerged from community-based journalistic collectives. They use video footage, posted on social media, to document police violence and security abuses to counter the dominant mainstream narrative on one of Brazil's most important stories.

    The Listening Post's Tariq Nafi reports on two of those collectives - Papo Reto and Maré Veevee - and the work they do.

    Contributors:

    Thaina de Medeiros - Papo Reto Media Collective

    Naldinho Lourenco - Mare Vive Media Collective

    Vinicius Donola - Journalist, former special correspondent, Record TV

    Renata Souza - Deputy, Rio State Legislature

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    • 25 min
    • video
    The science and the art of open source journalism | The Listening Post (Full)

    The science and the art of open source journalism | The Listening Post (Full)

    A special edition of The Listening Post on a new kind of reporting: open-source journalism.

    Citizen journalism allows anybody with a mobile phone to document current events and produce content that is now routinely used by news organisations.

    Open-source journalists often start with that kind of material - and then they apply some of the same investigative techniques that are used by police and intelligence agencies. It is a growth industry, partly because of the decline in press freedom across many parts of the world.

    Tariq Nafi explores how open-source reporters have proved valuable on the story in Syria.

    Dubbed the first "YouTube conflict", the Syrian civil war has produced a goldmine of raw material - hours of images and information - for open-source investigators to analyse, interpret and authenticate without having to go there and take the risks that come with the assignment.

    Daniel Turi goes on to examine how open-source researchers in China have proven the existence and the location of so-called re-education camps for Muslims in the province of Xinjiang - camps whose existence Beijing had previously denied.

    And even if the authorities are successful in shutting down specific individuals, there are more open-source researchers out there. That is Beijing's challenge on this story, as it is for the Bashar al-Assad government in Damascus. It is not just the reporters doing this kind of work - it is also the technology that makes their work possible. And that is a much more difficult thing to suppress.

    Contributors:
    James Palmer - deputy editor, Foreign Policy

    Shawn Zhang - law student, University of British Columbia

    Adrian Zenz - open-source researcher

    Yuan Yang - China tech correspondent, Financial Times

    Eyal Weizman - founding director, Forensic Architecture

    Hadi al-Khatib - founding director, The Syrian Archive

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    • 25 min
    • video
    Journalism that changed 2019 | The Listening Post (Full)

    Journalism that changed 2019 | The Listening Post (Full)

    In this special episode of The Listening Post to mark the end of 2019, we highlight four cases of reporting that have made a significant effect on the world of journalism. The stories we have chosen get across geographies, different topics, and various forms of media.

    Picking just four was hard but we settled on West Africa and a documentary film Sex for Grades produced by Africa Eye, the investigative arm of BBC Africa.

    It follows a radio presenter and investigative journalist, Kiki Mordi, as she exposes the extent of sexual harassment in West African universities.

    Speaking from personal experience, she told The Listening Post: "People like to make excuses for abusers and people like making excuses for harassers. But right there, visualising it, seeing it and putting your own daughter in that room, I think you would have a rethink about the excuses you were going to make for abusers or lecturers who harassed their students."

    Next, we took a look at some of the work happening on the front line of the Hong Kong protests. Stand News and its new generation of digital journalists have led the way with innovative coverage of the demonstrations, often live-streaming them - capturing the police violence, putting it out there unedited - well before the police and the politicians had a chance to spin the story.

    We spoke with one of their reporters, YP Lam, who has not only been caught in the crossfire but who has been targeted despite wearing some of the tools of the trade.

    "The challenges of working on the front line mainly come from the police. At the beginning of the protests, they might have yelled, chased you, or blinded our camera lenses with a torch. Recently, they have started using pepper spray, and many in the industry, like my colleagues, have suffered from rubber bullets or tear gas - everyone has been exposed to this. And now they have started arresting reporters saying they are obstructing police work."

    On the other side of the world, in South America, Brazil has seen the biggest anti-corruption investigation in the history of the country - Lava Jato, or Operation Car Wash. It is an investigation that resulted in the arrest of hundreds of politicians and business figures, the fall of one president, and the imprisonment of another.

    But this past June, online news outlet The Intercept Brasil published another investigation, a series of exposes - largely based on leaked phone text messages - exposing corruption at the core of the anti-corruption investigation.

    We asked Leandro Demori, the executive editor at The Intercept Brasil, why he felt it was important to expose the information?

    "We immediately realised the obvious public interest that this material had because it revealed several illegalities and the unethical actions from the Lava Jato prosecutors and the judge Sergio Moro. So we decided to publish this material for its authenticity and value for the public," he said.

    Our last example of impact journalism is a deep, investigative dive into the Jeffrey Epstein story, the American financier who sexually trafficked and abused underage girls.

    Perversion of Justice was published by the Miami Herald as a three-part interactive web series produced by a team led by reporter Julie K Brown.

    Executive Editor Aminda Marques Gonzalez explained to us why it was that their piece of reporting had such an effect.

    "There was a point in the investigation where Julie Brown came into my office and she said, I have a key law enforcement source who doesn't want to talk to us because he says we're going to be cowered into not publishing the story as other publications have been. And I said absolutely not. We have never backed down from an investigation and we're not going to do it now."

    Journalists take a lot of heat. Some of them deserve it and we will be back on that case next week. But for now - four examples of the 4th e

    • 25 min
    • video
    How internet blackouts are going global | The Listening Post (Lead)

    How internet blackouts are going global | The Listening Post (Lead)

    Imagine what an internet blackout would mean to you: shut out of messaging sites, forced off social media, deprived of news, information and the means to contact loved ones.

    Now imagine you are Kashmiri, and the Indian government has left you in the dark for four months now. Or you are Iranian, and you have just experienced your most serious internet shutdown ever.

    Both shutdowns were imposed by governments that said they were trying to prevent "security threats". Critics say it is about silencing dissent and deliberately severing connections between people as a form of collective punishment.

    Blackouts are now a standard feature in the government internet playbook and an increasingly common response.

    In Kashmir and Iran, the blackouts have been criticised as a means of trying to control the narrative and flow of information about what was happening inside the country.

    "These are two very extended internet shutdowns that happen around a political crisis in a country," says Adrian Shahbaz, Research Director for Technology and Democracy at Freedom House.

    "What's marked these two shutdowns was just how long that they have lasted and sort of the humanitarian and economic cost that they have wrought on the population."

    Srinagar, Kashmir is the unofficial internet shutdown capital of the world. According to a Delhi-based non-profit, the Software Freedom Law Centre, Narendra Modi's government has cut off mobile and internet services to the region 55 times this year alone.

    The latest blackout has lasted so long that Kashmiris have become unintended casualties of protocols policed by the messaging app WhatsApp, according to which any account that has been inactive for 120 days is automatically deactivated by the company.

    "What has been unprecedented is the scale of it," says Akriti Bopanna from The Centre for Internet & Society. "I mean, these measures were not even taken during the wars."

    The impact of the shutdown has cut across many layers of society, says Bopanna. "An array of activities that have been affected, from education to medicine to just communication within family members," she adds.

    Iran may shut down internet access far less often than India, but when the shutdowns do take place, they are comprehensive. When fuel price hikes led to flash demonstrations in November - and the security forces' response cost the lives of 130 protesters - it took only 24 hours for internet connectivity to plummet to 5 percent of normal levels.

    Mahsa Alimardani, researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute, says this is not simply a matter of flicking a "kill switch".

    "This was basically coordination across all the internet service providers in Iran," says Alimardani. "It wasn't a kill switch. It didn't happen immediately."

    Forcing ISPs to take orders is one way to control the internet. Another way is to create your own. China and North Korea are among a number of countries to have their own national intranets in place, and Iran is following suit.

    Intranets allow a government to unilaterally cut off its citizens from content that the rest of the world sees. UN experts consider this a breach of basic human rights, events in Kashmir "a form of collective punishment", and Iranians as having been deprived "not only of a fundamental freedom but also basic access to essential services".

    "I think in this day and age, given the ways in which the internet is utilised for everything from banking and economic services to personal communication and everything in between, we do have to consider access to the internet as a human right," says Jillian C York of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

    "We should not allow governments like Iran's to restrict access for its citizens. People need to be able to communicate, they need to be able to access services and so shutting down the entire internet should absolutely be off-limits."

    Produced by T

    • 9 min

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