In April, I bylined a story in BuzzFeed News about how during the pandemic, British newspaper The Daily Telegraph continued to sell advertising space on its site to the People’s Daily Online, the official newspaper and mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), enabling it to publish state propaganda and medical disinformation aimed at a British audience.
As reported in another story I co-bylined with Jim Waterson for The Guardian later that month, The Daily Telegraph subsequently cut ties with the People’s Daily Online and another China-backed newspaper, China Daily, which for more than a decade reportedly paid the Telegraph £750,000 annually to carry a supplement called China Watch.
Now it appears that The Economist, the international weekly newspaper, has disappeared an “advertisement feature” on its site paid for by the CCP-backed Beijing Review.
The section, dubbed “China Focus,” included titles such as “Western Take on Coronavirus: Schadenfreude, Xenophobia and Racism” by Beijing Review associate executive editor Liu Yunyun. Her article claimed that “Accusations [by western news and media outlets] of the [Chinese] government hiding the scope of the disease” are based on “Rumors, misinformation and fears,” and that “Global readers are largely kept in the dark” about how “China is sacrificing its own economy to keep the world safe.”
That article, and others like it, were previously available via the subdomain, chinafocus.economist.com. But now when you click on that link, you’re directed to an HTTP 503 error page, which occurs whenever a server is “unable to handle the request due to a temporary overloading or maintenance of the server,” according to the World Wide Web Consortium, founded in 1994 by Tim Berners-Lee.
Site information for chinafocus.economist.com states that its security certificate expired on July 26. A message reads: “This certificate has expired or is not yet valid.”
Dear Dean – Thank you for reaching out on this. I’ll have to look into it. Can you let me know who you are writing for and the focus of your story. Kind regards, Lauren
Hackett and The Economist did not reply to multiple follow-up emails I sent asking the paper to clarify whether it had cut ties with the Beijing Review. But here’s what Free Tibet’s campaign manager John Jones sent me when I asked him for comment:
We have been following China Watch and its presence in papers like The Telegraph for a couple of years now with a mixture of despair and grim fascination. Some of the articles last year on “60 years of democracy in Tibet” were particularly appalling, with articles titled “Tibet marks 60th anniversary of democratic reform” and “Memorial Hall built to commemorate freed Tibetan slaves” appearing in The Telegraph. This anniversary and alleged freeing of slaves is actually a reference to what Tibetans know as the Tibetan Uprising, when thousands of Tibetans in the capital, Lhasa, gave their lives to protest against the Chinese occupation of their country. Since then, occupied Tibet has become an increasingly repressive place. Freedom House, a think tank that compares the openness of different societies around the world, has for the past five years ranked Tibet as the second worst place in the world for political freedoms and civil rights, ahead of only Syria (some of their analysis is here in their latest report: https://freedomhouse.org/country/tibet/freedom-world/2020). For media outlets in free societies to be running material praising the dire state of affairs in Tibet is truly shocking.
Our hope for this new campaign action is that the editors of The Economist and Wall Street Journal drop content that is nothing more or less than Chinese government backed propaganda from their publications. It does seem that the coronavirus and some of the nonsense reporting on it by Chinese state media has sent a signal to several newspaper editors that these puff pieces can be dangerous in the falsehoods that they spread, not just for the billion people under CCP rule but also for their own readers. There is a backlash against disinformation around the pandemic and neither of these newspapers will want to be associated with that in any way. We hope that this will have set off alarms in their minds that it really is not ethical to run features that ultimately are the product of a dictatorial government and that what we need at the moment is scrutiny of the CCP – scrutiny of their handling of the pandemic and their silencing of whistleblowers, but also scrutiny of their treatment of the Uyghurs and scrutiny of their repressive rule in Tibet. If the readers of The Economist and The Wall Street Journal make it clear that they do not want to see this content then there is a great chance that these two outlets could follow in the footsteps of The Telegraph, The New York Times and The Washington Post and scrap these propaganda sections.
It’s unclear whether the print edition of The Economist is still carrying the Beijing Review material, as U.S. news site the Washington Free Beacon reported in March. To anyone who knows the answer, please get in touch by leaving a comment below, or by clicking here.
Twitter deletes ‘insulting’ tweets/accounts by critics of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan following court order
Since 2016, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has sued, arrested, and detained thousands of opposition journalists, academics, civil servants, and other critics of his government’s increasingly authoritarian policies.
Online, Erdoğan’s efforts to control his public image have been equally aggressive, with a seemingly endless string of takedown requests, censorship demands, and court orders demanding the removal of mocking satirical cartoons and images, “hurtful, exaggerated words,” and “humiliating” news reports comparing him to Adolf Hitler.
Now it appears that Erdoğan has found an ally in U.S. social media platform Twitter.
Within the past month, Twitter has deleted over a dozen tweets and suspended a number of users for violating “[Erdoğan’s] personal rights by being insulting,” in compliance with a December 28, 2018 court order obtained by the Turkish leader and subsequently posted by the Lumen Database, which archives online takedown requests.
The court order does not specify the substance and manner of the insulting content. However, details gleaned through a review of a few remaining uncensored tweets suggest that Erdoğan objected to the online dissemination of a Guardian newspaper article titled “2018: Year of the Autocrat” by foreign affairs reporter Simon Tisdall.
That article, which included stinging criticisms of “America’s first ‘rogue president'” Donald J. Trump, Russia’s “rigged poll” president Vladimir Putin, and North Korea’s “ever-grinning dictator” Kim Jong-un, described Erdoğan as having “bullied his way to another presidential term and sweeping extra powers.”
The court order also sought to halt the dissemination of news of a corruption scandal involving Erdoğan’s son Bilal, and at least one tweet that appeared to mock Bilal’s moustache.
According to that same report, in 2018 Twitter withheld 1464 tweets and “filed 113 legal objections with Turkish courts in response to 508 court orders on the grounds that they did not comply with the principles of freedom of speech, freedom of press, and/or did not specify the content at issue. Four objections were accepted in full and one was partially granted.”
The U.K. Statistics Authority just censured Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders for “hugely” exaggerating rape conviction statistics – here’s a list of news outlets that published the bogus figures
Britain’s top prosecutor has been blasted by a watchdog for claiming the number of rape convictions is more than double the real figure.
Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions, was warned that the hugely inflated figures in a report on violence against women were ‘misleading’.
She was told in a letter from the UK Statistics Authority that the true number of people convicted of rape last year was under 1,400. This is less than half the 3,000 she alleged in the report by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) earlier this month.
The huge gap is because the CPS includes crimes that were originally investigated as rapes but later downgraded to less serious offences.
Last night, TV company executive Leon Hawthorne, who complained about the statistics discrepancy, said: ‘Alison Saunders went on the media to boast about how more and more rapists are being found guilty. The problem is her figures are a calculated deception.’
Here’s a list of news outlets that published the “hugely” inflated figures, including two major British newspapers that last year issued corrections as a result of efforts by this blog:
• The Independent – Last year, The Independent falsely reported that in 2016 there were “a record number of rape prosecutions (4,643) and convictions (2,689).” The paper later issued a correction “to reflect the fact that the CPS rape conviction figure of 2,689 also include cases where a conviction was obtained for an alternative or lesser offence.”
Earlier this month, the paper again falsely reported that the number of convictions for violent crimes against women including rape “had increased, from 69 per cent in 2007-08 to 75.3 per cent this year – the highest ever recorded.”
• The Daily Telegraph – Last year, The Telegraph falsely reported that in 2016, the “conviction rate for rape cases rose to 57.9 per cent of the 4,643 cases brought.” The paper later issued a clarification, plus a lengthy explanation. It did not report the 2017 statistics.
Last year, I blogged about how the U.K. Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) inflated the rape conviction rate with its annual Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) crime report.
In a press release, the CPS claimed that in 2015-16 it convicted “more cases of rape…than ever before,” with “a rise in the rape conviction rate [from 56.9 per cent] to 57.9 percent.” Those figures were widely reported by the British press. However, a close look at the accompanying data showed that those figures included “cases initially flagged as rape where a conviction was obtained for an alternative or lesser offence” and “where a rape charge is subsequently amended.”
Efforts via this blog to report the actual figures resulted in corrections in two major British newspapers, including a page two correction in the print edition of The Daily Telegraph.
Earlier this week, the CPS released its 10th annual VAWG report. The report again boasts the “highest volumes ever recorded” of rape convictions, with a rise “from 2,689 in 2015-16 to 2,991 in 2016–17.”
The accompanying data also includes the caveat that “CPS data on successful rape prosecutions includes not only cases resulting in a conviction for rape, but also cases initially flagged as rape where a conviction was obtained for an alternative or lesser offence.” The data report further states that CPS figures include cases “where a decision is taken to charge an offence other than rape, or where a rape charge is subsequently amended.”
Obscene domain names once owned by Trump associate Felix Sater get snapped up after articles by Shooting the Messenger and The Daily Beast
Last week I scooped the story that Donald Trump’s former business partner, Felix Sater, possibly used to own a number of obscene domain names intended to disparage Sater’s Bayrock Group colleague, Jody Kriss.
Apparently, somebody thought this was the perfect opportunity to troll 2016 presidential candidate Ted Cruz.
Yesterday, an anonymous troll re-registered IAmAFaggot.com. Only instead of Sater’s old site, visitors are now redirected to a blank page that says “Ted Cruz Is The Zodiac Killer,” before being redirected yet again to Cruz’s official U.S. Senate site.
“Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer” is a meme that began in 2013, and which according to The Guardian newspaper “satirizes the fact that political discourse in America has sunk so low that this kind of spurious accusation can actually get traction.”
Another domain mentioned in the articles, IAmADirtBag.com, is currently on sale for $6,000 at UnreasonablyPricedDomains.com, a side project of Brooklyn native Jeff Koyen’s Chaotic Neutral, a satirical site about management speak.
The sale tag reads: “Oops, someone forgot to renew their attack domain.”
Trump’s Bayrock Group business partner Tevfik Arif demands takedown of news reports that he was arrested and charged with human trafficking
According to the Lumen Database, which collects and analyses takedown requests of online content, Arif recently sent Turkish court orders to Google and Automattic (WordPress’ parent company) demanding the removal of a number of sites and blogs – including The Huffington Post and The Guardian – that reported about his 2010 arrest aboard the MV Savarona, the presidential yacht of the Republic of Turkey.
Arif was charged with human trafficking after Turkish police raided the $57 million yacht where he was attending a private party. According to news reports, they found “nine young girls” from Russia and the Ukraine, “a huge amount of contraceptives and a file with escort girls’ pictures and hotel receipts.”
Sent on October 02, 2016
Mountain View, CA, 94043, US
Received on October 02, 2016
SENT VIA: UNKNOWN
NOTICE TYPE: DMCA
Copyright claim #1
KIND OF WORK: Unspecified
DESCRIPTION Contents on the following websites/blog urls were taken from my private emails without my permission – after my email was hacked. Parts of my email can still be seen in whole or in part on both sites, in the blog narratives; neither site will respond to my requests for removal of that hacked email. Private email is protected by copyright, both sites know this but still post that material within their blogs, and without my permission.
Although 2016 was by most accounts the worst year in living memory, for me it was also a lot of fun. There were yuge cultural and political upsets – right (or should I say “alt-right”?) – but there were also a couple of inspiring victories for the good guys.
On the blogging front, I made some winning changes in the tone and form of my writing, transforming from snarky opinionator to part-time sleuth. My efforts in this direction were not in vain, and I turned up a number of original news stories, some of which served as the basis for articles in Techdirt, FoodMed.net, FOODStuff SA, Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI), and the Comic Book Legal Defence Fund (CBLDF).
Blogging became an exercise in minimalism, even as I explored often strange new terrain running the gamut from issues of censorship to alternative medicine, at times bridging the nexus between free speech principles and the scientific method.
There was the Scottish police inspector who apologised for an Orwellian tweet, the British celebs who abused UK privacy laws to censor critical news stories about their open marriage, the LA-based integrative medicine organisation whose owner ‘fessed up about patient deaths, plus much more.
Special thanks to my pals in Atlanta, Peter M. Heimlich and his wife Karen, whose joint example certainly helped inspire this citizen journalist. On that note, I strongly recommend paying a visit to Peter’s website, MedFraud.info, about their “improbable odyssey” into the fraudulent world of Peter’s famous father, Dr. Henry Heimlich, of the maneuver.
And lastly thanks to my incredible girlfriend Kelsi M. White, who listens patiently to every draft of every article I write – without complaint!
Without further ado, here’s a collection of my personal favourite posts of the year in blog.
For the uninitiated, IMMA – via its online university, Meta-Health University (MHU) – claims to have trained over 1,000 practitioners in the “art and science of self-healing,” an elaborate philosophy of preventive health based on the discredited theories of Ryke Geerd Hamer, a ghoulish German doctor who lost his medical licence in 1986 after a number of patients in his care died.
During the course of a month-long e-mail exchange, I asked Fisslinger about IMMA’s relationship to Hamer, and his opinion of Hamer’s anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
Fisslinger credited Hamer with providing the basic framework for IMMA’s philosophy of preventive health, but made clear he does not endorse Hamer’s racial views or his “do-nothing” approach to treating patients.
“I agree that Dr. Hamer’s method and therapy is ineffective or dangerous,” said Fisslinger, alluding to a 2001 Swiss study of Hamer’s cancer theories.
“[Hamer] basically did not use any therapy at all, telling people to just allow the body to heal without doing anything. This is 100% opposite to what we are doing.”
Fisslinger insists IMMA closely monitors its practitioners to ensure that they adhere to the company’s lengthy code of practice.
I asked Fisslinger if he was aware of these reports; if he had spoken with and/or reprimanded Kolås and Madsen; and if he had carried out an investigation to ensure that other practitioners aren’t advising patients to refuse potentially life-saving treatment.
“Our code of ethics and policy is very clear about this,” said Fisslinger. “A client needs to make the decision together with their doctor and the Meta-Health professional. [Advising] not to use a potentially life-saving procedure is absolutely irresponsible.”
Fisslinger said Kolås’ and Madsen’s conduct was “absolutely unacceptable” and confirmed there had been an investigation into the deaths in Norway.
IMMA practitioners Dagfrid Kolås and Bent Madsen (source)
He also denied that Kolås and Madsen were ever on IMMA’s Advisory Council.
Based on Hamer’s widely discredited theories, HBCF believes that cancer can be prevented and even cured via a “biopsychosocial and holistic understanding of the body, mind, spirit and environment connection.”
After having sent my email (Date: Thu, June 17, 2010) to Prof. David Katz, and having spoken with his office I thought that he would stop from making further contacts with the “meta-mediciners”. But that is not the case: Prof. David Katz AGAIN is on the list of speakers at a “meta-mediciner” “symposium”. But this time he can not claim to have known nothing.
Responding to Deckers’ accusations, Dr. Katz said he doesn’t recall the exchange, but reiterated that he “did not support anything,” stating: “I gave a talk, and permission to promote only that.”
As of publication, Dr. Katz is still listed as a “Guest Faculty Speaker” at MHU.
This is an overview of a story I blogged throughout 2016 about a censorious retraction demand by the Center for Science in the Public Interest of New York Times best-selling author/journalist Nina Teicholz’s BMJ US dietary guidelines critique
In December, the BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) announced it would not retract a “controversial” 2015 article by investigative journalist Nina Teicholz, author of NYT best-seller The Big Fat Surprise.
The DGAC’s advice is consistent with dietary advice from virtually every major health authority [but] Teicholz would have us believe that only she, not the dozens of experts who systematically reviewed the evidence for these health authorities, has the smarts to accurately interpret this evidence.
One month later, a letter organised by Liebman was sent to the BMJ highlighting what it claimed were a number of factual errors with Teicholz’s article.
The letter, which was signed by over 180 credentialed professionals including a number of prominent faculty members at major universities, plus all 14 members of the 2015 DGAC, urged the BMJ to retract the article on the basis that it harmed the journal’s credibility.
However, the credibility of the letter was itself soon called into question.
As reported by the Guardian in April, none of the signatories interviewed for Ian Leslie’s acclaimed article, “The Sugar Conspiracy” – including Dr. Meir Stampfer, an influential Harvard epidemiologist – were able to name any of the “trivial” errors with Teicholz’s article, with one even admitting he had not read it.
But the most explosive revelation came in May, when Peter – with help from my sweetie Kelsi White and I – exposed efforts by another Harvard epidemiologist, DGAC member Dr. Frank Hu, to solicit European signatories to Liebman’s retraction demand which resulted in a chain e-mail exchanged by European medical professionals and university faculty.
You can read more about that, and other related items, via Peter’s blog here, here and here.
Accompanying December’s announcement, the BMJ has issued four corrections (plus three clarifications) of the 11 purported errors highlighted by the CSPI, but Editor in Chief Fiona Godlee said the journal is standing by Teicholz’s article:
We stand by Teicholz’s article with its important critique of the advisory committee’s processes for reviewing the evidence, and we echo her conclusion: ‘Given the ever increasing toll of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, and the failure of existing strategies to make inroads in fighting these diseases, there is an urgent need to provide nutritional advice based on sound science.’
Via the BMJ’s press release, Teicholz thanked the journal for its support:
I am very grateful to The BMJ editors for their profound commitment to verifying the facts of my article and for their professionalism and integrity throughout this process. I am also grateful that they are providing a space for rigorous scientific debate, especially on a subject so important to public health. I hope the original intention of that article can now be fulfilled—to help improve nutritional advice, so that it is based on rigorous science. This will help us to better combat nutrition-related diseases that have caused so much human suffering around the world.
The BMJ has stained its reputation by circling the wagons around Nina Teicholz’s discredited and opinionated attack on the science underpinning the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The BMJ corrected or “clarified” 7 of the 11 errors cited by the letter from more than 180 scientists requesting a retraction, and failed to respond to the remaining four. (The clarifications are thinly veiled corrections.) It’s startling that despite this long list of corrections and clarifications—including several that undergirded the article’s attack on the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report–the journal nevertheless stands by the article’s conclusions.
I’ll leave it to the experts to debate the scientific merits of Teicholz’s arguments. My opinion, from a free speech perspective, is that the CSPI’s retraction demand was not about merit, but about a powerful lobby group wielding its influence to try to suppress a voice of dissent.
As Ian Leslie remarked in his April 7 Guardian long-read: “Publishing a rejoinder to an article is one thing; requesting its erasure is another, conventionally reserved for cases involving fraudulent data.”
20 years ago, Teicholz might have gone the way of the beleaguered British scientist John Yudkin, and others who have dared question the conventional wisdom on nutrition. As it stands, Teicholz has survived the ordeal, in no small part thanks to the support of a committed, widespread and ever-growing group of LCHF enthusiasts.
A study senior author is Dr Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard Chan School and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. On Harvard’s website, Hu says the study shows “the importance of eliminating trans fat and replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fats, including both omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids”.
He says in practice, “replacing animal fats with a variety of liquid vegetable oils” achieves this.
Hu also says in a New York Times blog the study shows that low-fat, high-carb diet doesn’t benefit health and longevity”. He says fats from fish and avocados are better than animal fats.
…Seen from another angle, Hu’s involvement can look suspiciously like another salvo in what Irish investigative journalist Dean Sterling Jones calls“Silencing Science – The War on Nina Teicholz”. In the murky politics of nutrition science, that’s not hyperbole. Jones reveals the unedifying behaviour of those opposed to Teicholz’s research.
That war began in earnest after Teicholz published The Big Fat Surprise (Simon and Schuster, 2014). In a review on the BMJ titled Are some diets mass murder?, former BMJ editor Dr Richard Smith is fulsome in its praise. He says all scientists should read it.
The war intensified after Teicholz wrote a commissioned feature highlighting the shortcomings of the DGAC report which the BMJ published in 2015. Titled The scientific report guiding the US dietary guidelines: is it scientific?, Teicholz concludes that the DGAC report “fails to reflect much relevant scientific literature in its reviews of crucial topics and therefore risks giving a misleading picture”.
…The DGAC report’s authors published a response in the BMJ calling Teicholz’s claims “misleading and unsubstantiated”. They say all their procedures were “expansive, transparent, and thoughtful, with multiple opportunities for public input through open commentary, public meetings, and hearings”.
They see nothing wrong in having a chair from industry, not medicine, science or academia: Barbara Millen. Millen has a doctorate and an academic background in nutrition. However, she is currently founder and president of the US-based start-up Millennium Prevention. The company develops web-based platforms and mobile applications to encourage better lifestyle behaviours, and for corporate, academic, and community wellness initiatives.
The DGAC refers positively to the kind of products her company sells. Millen dismisses criticisms that this constitutes a conflict of interest.
None of the DGAC report authors appears to see anything wrong in the extraordinary lengths to which Hu and Millen have gone to muzzle Teicholz. Just how extraordinary shows up in an intricate cross-posting collaboration between Jones and US investigative journalist Peter Heimlich.
Heimlich writes The Side Bar, an annex to his MedFraud website. He accessed damning emails via public record requests under the US Freedom of Information Act. These document just how far both Hu and Millen went to get the BMJ to retract Teicholz’s feature. Hu lobbied colleagues and professionals, eventually getting around 180 academics at top universities, in the US and Europe to sign a letter to the BMJ requesting retraction of Teicholz’s feature. (Other reports put the number lower at just over 170. Millen signed.)
When I asked WordPress if it had taken action against the Turkish blog, I received the following response from Community Guardian Janet J:
From: Janet J WordPress.com <firstname.lastname@example.org> To: **** <****@aol.com> Subject: [#2927379]: [automattic] Geoblocking Date: Mon, 21 Nov 2016 11:11
Hi there Dean,
Yes, that is correct. We are forced to geo-block the specific sites mentioned in the Turkish court orders or face a whole WordPress.com site block in the country. Instead, we direct users to a message explaining why the site is unavailable, and point them to this site:
When I then asked about WordPress’ policy of refusing to take action against bloggers, per the above mentioned Automattic statement, this was her response:
From: Janet J WordPress.com <email@example.com> To: **** <****@aol.com> Subject: [#2927379]: [automattic] Geoblocking Date: Mon, 21 Nov 2016 15:40
Thanks for the follow up.
That blog post was correct at the time of writing, but our process has since changed, in order to find the best possible compromise to allow us to continue to ensure access to the bulk of WordPress.com for users in Turkey. Rather than have sites blocked by ISPs with no explanation, we have decided to implement blocks ourselves so that we can provide alternative messaging, and an explanation for visitors to the sites in question.
There is no good solution to the issue of political censorship, and we are constantly reviewing the processes to find ways to combat it, including taking legal action in Turkey where appropriate. Going forward, we’ll look into making the current process clearer in our next transparency report.
“[Freedom of expression] is a basic right of people, it is a basic freedom,” said Capdevila. “The debate of ideas is fundamental, and it enriches all. Censorship is the first step towards ignorance and fear.”
He went on to explain how satire “erodes the image of power.”
“To laugh means to lose fear, and fear is what keeps the totalitarians in power. It is therefore natural to react against cartoons, against journalists, and against the Internet, which is a means by which the population can inform and organise to recover lost democracy.”
Capdevila said he felt honoured to know his cartoon had succeeded in riling the Turkish despot, whom he described as “an authoritarian politician” seeking to maintain power through fear and repression.
“As a cartoonist it is an honour to know that an intolerant prohibits one of your drawings, of course! In recent years, the satirical cartoonist is a trade with more risk… we are not heroes and do not want to be, but things like this give some sense to our trade.”
He added: “One of the best things in our job is to know that there was someone in Turkey who thought that this drawing could be useful for his struggle for freedom and used it on his blog, or wherever. The ultimate meaning of satirical drawings is to reach the maximum of people and awaken in them something…”
Spanish cartoonist Jaume Capdevila aka KAP (source)
The censored blog also features work by renowned American cartoonist Daryl Cagle, and Patrick Chappatte, editorial cartoonist for The New York Times.
In Cagle’s cartoon, the Turkish leader brazenly denies that his pants are on fire (literally), labelling his accusers “drunkard, extremist Twitterheads.”
Obama’s former Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe weighs in on the above post about Erdoğan’s WordPress takedown demand – after which the story gets picked up by various cartoonists’ rights publications including the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
Shortly after, the story was picked up by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF), a New York-based advocacy non-profit that actively defends the First Amendment (ie. free speech) rights of comics creators and publishers, including paying their legal costs.
Satirical Cartoon Blog Post Blocked in Turkey December 9, 2016
By Maren Williams
A blog post featuring satirical cartoons of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is currently blocked by court order inside Turkey but freely available elsewhere, highlighting the delicate balance between intellectual freedom and local laws that online hosting platforms must maintain if they wish to operate internationally.
The post on a Turkish blog hosted by U.S.-based company (and CBLDF.org host) WordPress was originally made in November 2013, but only blocked this October after an Istanbul lawyer representing Erdoğan filed a court order alleging that the cartoons were libellous and untrue. According to independent U.K. journalist Dean Sterling Jones on his own blog, WordPress had announced earlier this year that it would ignore any potential takedown requests from the Turkish government. The reality of an actual court order may have forced it to reconsider, however: as a representative told Jones via email, the company was “forced to geo-block the specific sites mentioned in the Turkish court orders or face a whole WordPress.com site block in the country,” meaning that all blogs and other sites hosted on the platform would be unavailable there.
Faced with no ideal options, WordPress chose to geo-block the specific site requested within Turkey but direct users to a multilingual site with directions for circumventing online censorship via services such as VPNs and Tor. It also reported the takedown to the Lumen database, and the WordPress rep identified as Janet J told Jones that the company is brainstorming ways to maximize intellectual freedom and transparency for its users:
“There is no good solution to the issue of political censorship, and we are constantly reviewing the processes to find ways to combat it, including taking legal action in Turkey where appropriate. Going forward, we’ll look into making the current process clearer in our next transparency report.”
Jones also spoke with Spanish cartoonist Jaume Capdevila, whose work was among the panels featured on the blocked page and also reproduced above. He expressed pride that a Turkish blogger found his cartoon “useful for his struggle for freedom,” and highlighted the importance of laughing at authoritarian leaders through satire:
“To laugh means to lose fear, and fear is what keeps the totalitarians in power. It is therefore natural to react against cartoons, against journalists, and against the Internet, which is a means by which the population can inform and organise to recover lost democracy.”
The takedown order also comes at a time when Turkish cartoonist Musa Kart has been imprisoned for over a month along with several journalist colleagues from Cumhuriyet newspaper. Erdoğan has used a failed coup attempt in July as an excuse to crack down on journalists, academics, judges, and government workers who do not toe the line. Kart and his colleagues are now facing charges of colluding with the Gulenist movement which Erdoğan blames for the coup, as well as with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The story was also reported by Catalan-based cartoonist J.R. Mora on his website, available to read by clicking here; by Jerusalem-based civil rights activist Steve Amsel on his website, available here; by Pittsburgh, PA-based website Comics Workbook, available here; and by the Cartoonists Rights Network International, available here.
One of the most bizarre stories to feature on this blog last year involved a fake lawyer who falsely claimed to represent a US police department in a failed attempt to have mugshots scrubbed from Google’s search engine – here’s what happened
In November, I blogged about a DMCA complaint by so-called ‘legal agent’ Mike Ferrell who claimed to represent the Burlington, Massachusetts Police Department, demanding that Google remove news stories because it violated the copyright the police department held on certain mugshots.
Mike Ferrell’s incomprehensible November 8, 2016 DMCA complaint to Google (source)
When I passed the story on to TechDirt, I was awaiting a response from the Burlington PD to my request for comment. The following week, TechDirt founder Mike Masnick, who coined the term “The Streisand Effect,” reported that the department had contacted him putting the record straight.
Mike Kent, the Chief of Police in Burlington reached out to us over the weekend to let us know that whoever sent the notices, it was not his department. He says they have no one working for them by the name of Mike Ferrell, and that the Burlington PD “has no issues whatsoever with these mugshots being used.”
So… that leaves open the question of just who is impersonating the Burlington Police Department, and filing completely bogus DMCA notices in an attempt to censor news stories. It would seem that the most obvious options are those who were featured in those stories about arrests in Burlington. The very first notice that Ferrell sent, focused on stories about a particular prostitution sting, and named the nine men who were arrested, along with mugshots. It would seem that perhaps one (or more!) of those nine men would have pretty strong incentives to seek to have those stories deleted from Google.
Either way, we’ve been pointing out for years that copyright is an easy tool for censorship — and here’s yet another example. If you want something censored, just try to work out a copyright connection of some sort. In this case, it appears to have failed, but mostly because whoever filed it wasn’t very good at pretending to work for the police.
As I later discovered via a public records request to the Burlington PD, Kent had drafted a clarifying e-mail which he had intended to send me prior to TechDirt publishing the story. For whatever reason, he did not send that e-mail.
To reiterate: the Burlington PD did not use Google’s DMCA takedown system to attempt to censor journalists reporting about arrests made by the department. Luckily for me, Kent is a right-on dude and didn’t hold it against me for incorrectly reporting about his department.
Carter-Ruck Lawyers passes the baton to Schillings solicitors in Elton John three-way tabloid scandal, but where does that leave Internet users threatened with legal action?
The juiciest celebrity news story of 2016 went unreported by the British press thanks to strong-arm legal tactics by David Furnish, husband of pop singer Elton John.
As you didn’t read in the newspapers, Furnish was allegedly given permission from his famous hubby to participate in a three-way sexscapade with British businessman Daniel Laurence and his husband Pieter Van den Bergh in a paddling pool of olive oil.
The story as reported by the National Enquirer in April (source)
When Laurence and Van den Bergh decided to go public with the story, Furnish took out an injunction – dubbed the “cheater’s charter” – preventing papers in England and Wales from revealing the names of those involved.
But efforts to squash the story didn’t end there.
Earlier this year, non-UK Twitter users began tweeting e-mails they received from Twitter’s legal department demanding that they delete tweets outing John and Furnish as the celebrity couple first identified in court documents as “YMA” and “PJS.”
As an experiment, I set up a pseudonymous Twitter profile and tweeted about the story.
Sure enough, within a few days I received the following e-mail.
Twitter didn’t respond to multiple requests for information about the complainant and the nature of their complaint, so I took my enquiry to Carter-Ruck Lawyers, a British law firm known for using aggressive legal tactics to squash negative news stories about its celebrity clientele.
“WS [Web Sheriff] contacted our hosting company and bullied it into taking our site down and only putting it back up if we pulled the article,” said Winnifrith. “That hoster cravenly did this even though WS had no power to threaten.”
He continued: “I asked WS on whose authority it was demanding we pull content since that authority was actually vested with the UK Courts not a US law firm. I asked if it was acting for Mr. John. It refused to reply.”
When I asked Web Sheriff similar questions, I received no reply.
Self-proclaimed “Web Sheriff” John Giacobbi (source)
It isn’t the only time an article about the scandal was pulled following legal threats.
In May, an article by Irish political activist and blogger Paddy J. Manning was pulled from MercatorNet, an Australian opinion-based news website.
According to Manning, MercatorNet was forced to take down the article after the website’s web hosting provider was threatened with legal action.
Irish electoral candidate Paddy J. Manning (source)
“MercatorNet warned me that the website was run on ‘the smell of an oily rag’ so that if they were sued in Australian courts they would capitulate,” said Manning. “They received several warnings but no effective legal correspondence outside of threatening e-mails.”
He continued: “It was their hosting company who were threatened successfully with a court action against their mirror/backup in Florida. No legal action was taken against the host; the threat was enough.
“This was a perfect lesson in the brittleness of the web, how weak some constituent parts are and how quickly they snap.”
– Redressing an unfurnished press
Thanks to the Internet, unflattering details about celebrities’ personal lives are accessible to anyone who wants to know. Ironically, there appears to be little public interest in Furnish’s affair, as demonstrated by the scanty coverage it initially received in the US.
It’s perhaps an indication of the futility of Furnish’s efforts that, since April, Google has removed just two of the 447 offending URLs flagged by Web Sheriff. Nevertheless, the residual chill from the injunction can be felt as far as the US and Canada.
Via a US proxy, the National Post’s April 11, 2016 article (source)
However, when I asked Hopper about Web Sheriff, he said the Post geo-blocked his article after being contacted by Fasken Martineau, an internationally renowned Canadian business law and mitigation firm with offices in London and Toronto.
“Web Sheriff did not contact us, but we did hear from a lawyer hired by Mr. Furnish,” said Hopper, referring to the Canadian firm.
He added: “It might be Furnish or Elton John’s regular Canadian lawyer. At a certain level of fame, I imagine you’ve got a lawyer on speed dial for every major country, whether it be for copyright issues or signing contracts or the like.”
About the Post’s decision to geo-block his article in the UK, Hopper said: “[The] legality is murky, but I do believe it was done on the belief that we become subject to UK law once we enter UK web space.”
Unfortunately, Fasken Martineau did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
“[We] would have done well to follow the THINK advice ourselves” – Police Scotland apologises for “Orwellian” tweet
On April 1 – also known as April Fool’s Day – the Greater Glasgow Police force issued the following, rather cryptic warning via Twitter urging Internet users to “think before you post or you mayreceive a visit from us this weekend.”
Unsure whether or not the above tribute to George Orwell was intended as an April Fool’s joke, I e-mailed Police Scotland asking what precautions social media users should take to avoid receiving a visit from Glasgow coppers.
Shortly after, I received this thoughtful, informative and – dare I say it, yes – good-humoured response from Inspector Kenny Quigley of Police Scotland’s Safer Communities Department, Greater Glasgow Division:
Dear Mr Jones
Thank you for taking the trouble to contact us regarding the recent ‘tweet’ from our Greater Glasgow Police Twitter account. Firstly, may I apologise for the concerns this has caused you personally as it undoubtedly has for others judging from the reaction on social media, both positive and negative, over the past few days.
This message and acronym ‘THINK’ came from a third party account and was originally ‘re-tweeted’ by a community police team in Lanarkshire and then subsequently re-tweeted by other police teams. Likewise, our Safer Communities team in Glasgow saw these re-tweets (we all follow each other’s accounts for key messages to promote) and thought it was a simple enough message to encourage people to avoid hateful comment on social media which is often reported to the police as bullying, trolling etc.. This message seemed to us particularly pertinent following the dreadful events in Shawlands which had led to some people ‘trolling’ messages of support for the Shah family and wider community. Occasionally, such trolling crosses the boundaries from being merely distasteful into criminality under various hate crime legislation or indeed domestic abuse or threats.
To answer specifically your question, there is no test applied by my officers as to what passes the THINK criteria. Clearly, that is not the Police Service’s role and we are concerned with investigating reports of behaviour on social media that is suspected to be illegal. We are certainly not the ‘good taste’ police nor are we in any way seeking to stifle free speech – indeed, we regularly police public events where opposing groups do not agree with alternate political standpoints but we ensure that Articles 9, 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights are protected.
As such, the colloquial phrase, “receive a visit from the police” which appears in this controversial tweet is misspoken and misleading. Such police action may only be applied when a crime or offence is reported to us by another member of the public – we do not routinely monitor social media as frankly, we are far too busy answering calls from the public for assistance, investigating reported and detected crimes and undertaking a myriad of other duties than to find time to police the internet as some pressure groups would rather have us doing. Of course we do investigate cybercrime but that is a new and rapidly developing area of law enforcement not concerned with name-calling or offensive remarks on social media. I am sorry this phrase “receive a visit” was used in the tweet and rest assured, the officer who tweeted this message is sorry too – it was certainly not their intention to cause a furore or any confusion in this regard.
Thank you again for taking the time to write to Police Scotland. It is through practical criticism and challenge that we learn how better to police our communities with the public’s consent and support. Social media is undoubtedly a great opportunity for the Police to quickly and effectively communicate with the public but it also carries the risk of getting our messages wrong on occasion. I hope I have reassured you that we do not apply a THINK test when assessing complaints about social media and that on this occasion, we would have done well to follow the THINK advice ourselves before tweeting that message.
Inspector Kenny Quigley G2436
Greater Glasgow Division
Safer Communities Department
Glasgow City Centre Police Office
With reservations as to whether Police Scotland should have any jurisdiction over social media, Inspector Quigley’s answer helps settle the dystopian impulse to invoke 1984.
After Scottish police arrested North Lanarkshire man for extremely silly Nazi dog video I asked authorities to advise dog owners on how to behave their pooches online
In May, Scottish police reportedly arrested a 28-year-old man from North Lanarkshire on hate crime charges because he posted a video online of his dog gesturing a Nazi salute.
The video/apology, via SWNS TV (trigger warning – fascist pug):
In an e-mail, I asked Police Scotland to further advise on what precautions dog owners can take to avoid causing offence online, stating my concern that police interference could have a ‘chilling effect’ among people who wish to upload videos of their dog to the Internet, “but who are worried that the canine’s natural proclivity to raise its paw on command might be misinterpreted as offensive.”
Newsbeat was roundly criticized for using “clickbait rhetorical questions as headlines” and “legitimizing an indefensible POV,” as award-winning English author Joanne Harris (MBE) charged in a series of tweets.
Busted: Purported Guardian article hoax by prankster Godfrey Elfwick was itself a hoax – but the true author remains anonymous
In November, the Guardian newspaper ran an anonymous article about how its author was almost turned into a racist after being exposed to right-wing views online.
Shortly after the article was published, social media prankster Godfrey Elfwick – who had already duped the BBC World Service into allowing him to disparage Star Wars as “racist and homophobic” during a live radio broadcast – claimed authorship of the article.
In support of his claim, Elfwick shared an image of a Microsoft Word document on his computer with a similar title but with an earlier date than the Guardian article.
Perhaps owing to his success at hoodwinking the BBC, many on Twitter – including award-winning US writer and leading New Atheist Sam Harris, whose views on Islam are cited in the article as having helped lead the author to almost becoming a racist – seemed to accept Elfwick’s claim of authorship at face value.
This led to a high-profile Twitter spat between Harris and eminent US journalist Glenn Greenwald, who accused Harris of engaging in “hatermongering against Muslims.”
When I asked the Guardian to comment on whether Elfwick authored the article, I received the following response from Readers’ Editor Paul Chadwick:
From: Readers’ editor (Guardian) <firstname.lastname@example.org> To: **** <****@aol.com> Subject: Re: Question about Anonymous Guardian article re: possible hoax Date: Tue, 13 Dec 2016 15:45
Dear Dean Jones,
Thank you for your email.
The Guardian has stated in response to specific media enquiries that it is confident about the authorship of the article.
I have separately looked into the matter and can assure you that the claim of authorship made on Twitter is not supported by the evidence offered on Twitter by the person claiming authorship.
In its original format the material submitted to the Guardian for the article is markedly different in several ways from what was claimed on Twitter to be a print out of the article as submitted by its author.
I can understand why the Guardian has taken the approach that it has taken to this matter. You would agree, I’m sure, that there is no point encouraging trolls by paying them attention.
Thanks again for making contact.
Paul Chadwick Readers’ editor
Guardian Readers’ editor’s office
Guardian News & Media
In a follow-up e-mail, I asked Chadwick about his paper’s vetting processes for anonymous contributors, stating my concern that “without being able to provide demonstrable evidence that an article is genuine, you open the doors to false claims of authorship.”
Here is his January 3, 2017 response:
From: Readers’ editor (Guardian) <email@example.com> To: **** <****@aol.com> Subject: Re: Question about Anonymous Guardian article re: possible hoax Date: Tue, 3 Jan 2017 19:20
Dear Dean Jones,
Yes, there are processes for vetting contributors, but I am sure you will understand that if they are to maintain their effectiveness it is counterproductive to detail them.
Guardian Readers’ editor’s office
Guardian News & Media
While Elfwick didn’t quite manage to pull the wool over our eyes, this episode raises an interesting question: without being able to verify the identity of the author, how can we know the article isn’t a hoax?
After the Crown Prosecution Service fudged the rape conviction rate I asked The Daily Telegraph and the Independent to correct their articles – here’s what happened
In September, I reported that the UK Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) had seemingly exaggerated the 2015-16 rape conviction rate.
Via a press release, the CPS claimed it was “convicting more cases of rape…than ever before,” with “a rise in the rape conviction rate [from 56.9] to 57.9 per cent.”
These figures were widely reported in the British press, including the Independent…
Snapshot of the Independent’s Sept. 6 article, via the Wayback Machine (source)
…and the Daily Telegraph.
Snapshot of The Daily Telegraph’s Sept. 6 article (source)
However, a close look at the CPS’ 2015-16 Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) crime report reveals that the rape conviction rate “includes cases initially flagged as rape [but] where a conviction was obtained for an alternative or lesser offence” and “where a rape charge is subsequently amended.”
Shortly after, I received notification from the Independent’s readers’ liaison assistant Jane Campbell that the article has been updated.
Dear Mr Jones,
Thank you for contacting us via our online complaints form. We are always glad to hear from our readers, whether or not feedback is positive, and I am grateful to you for taking the time to get in touch about ‘Revenge porn prosecutions number ‘more than 200′ just 18 months after law change’ (6 September).
Your point is well taken and the article has now been changed to reflect that rape conviction figures also include cases where a conviction was obtained for an alternative or lesser offence.
I hope that, in spite of your concerns on this occasion, you will continue to read and enjoy The Independent. And please do not hesitate to contact me again in the future should cause arise.
With best regards
Readers’ liaison assistant
The statistics cited in the article come from the CPS report you identify and were relayed to our journalist via a CPS press release; as an official authoritative source, it was one on which she was entitled to rely, and the information was published in good faith.
Regarding the disparity between CPS and MoJ figures that you highlight, the VAWG report makes clear that whereas the CPS rape figures are compiled over the financial year, the MoJ collects its figures for the calendar year. Moreover the latter represent cases charged and convicted for rape only; as you say, CPS figures include not only cases resulting in conviction for rape, but also those “initially flagged as rape where a conviction was obtained for an alternative or lesser offence.”
This is clarified by the VAWG report on p49:
“From CPS data 2015-16, 4,518 (98.6%) of cases initially flagged as rape were finally prosecuted for the principal offence categories of ‘sexual offences, including rape’ or more serious principal offences of ‘homicides’ or ‘offences against the person’. Of these, 3,972 were for sexual offences including rape; three for homicide and 543 for offences against the person’. Only 1.4% were for offences less than ‘sexual offences, including rape’ ”.
Where most rape cases under the CPS definition were indeed finally prosecuted as ‘sexual offences, including rape’, it does not appear that the CPS conviction statistics cited in our article are likely to be significantly misleading. Neither are they clearly irreconcilable with MoJ figures, as you suggest. Following your complaint, we asked the CPS how many convictions in the category ‘sexual offences, including rape’ were ‘pure’ rape convictions. They told us that this information is not available.
We are content to clarify this, and we will publish the following in our Corrections and Clarifications spot in a forthcoming issue of the Daily Telegraph. A version appropriate for context has already been added to the foot of the online article:
Rape conviction rate
An article on Sep 6 reported on CPS figures showing that the conviction rate for rape rose in the year 2015-16 to 57.9 per cent of prosecutions brought. We wish to clarify that though these cases were initially flagged as rape, CPS data show that the majority were eventually prosecuted in the principal offence category of ‘sexual offences including rape’. A breakdown of outcomes in this category is not available.
I trust that this is satisfactory.
Jess McAree | Head of Editorial Compliance
telegraphmediagroup | 111 Buckingham Palace Road, London SW1W 0DT
The following month, a clarification was also published in “Corrections and Clarifications,” Page 2 of the print edition of the Telegraph.
Bernard Hogan-Howe’s February 10, 2016 article (source)
Shortly after, I received a copy of “Special Notice 11/02” from the Met’s Information Rights Unit. As far as I’m aware, this marked the first time the document has been made available to a member of the public, thus answering questions raised by legal expert Susanne Cameron-Blackie aka blogger Anna Raccoon (you can read her post on the subject by clicking here).
Special Notice from 2002 (11/02) has never been made public. I have had to work from excerpts which appeared in a 2013 hearing regarding compensation for victims of John Warboys, and an old Observer article; it might appear to be the Holy Grail for those like myself seeking the origins of the dramatic change in policy that #Ibelieveher represented – but I confess, I am no nearer to discovering who wrote that Special Notice nor why – if you can throw any light on this I would be grateful.
First, Special Notice 11/02 does indeed appear to reverse the presumption of innocence for suspected sex offenders (however, the wording is slightly different to that used by Hogan-Howe in the Guardian). Here’s what it says:
Second, the document appears to have been authored – or at least approved – by the Assistant Commissioner of Territorial Policing.
Citing work by Whitehall’s Extremism Analysis Unit (EAU), Downing Street claimed that in 2014 there were “70 events involving speakers who are known to have promoted rhetoric that aimed to undermine core British values of democracy.”
Honouring the former PM David Cameron’s pledge to “name and shame” institutions that host “hate speakers,” four universities were singled out: King’s College London, Kingston University, Queen Mary, and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).
Downing Street’s September 17, 2015 press release (source)
For instance, the Student Rights report “lists the four London universities mentioned by Downing Street in its own table of most-visited universities. It also includes a list of former students later convicted of terrorism-related offences – of whom eight are also mentioned in the press release.”
Top: The Student Rights report (source) / Bottom: Downing Street’s press release (source)
The appropriated data was used to put a favourable spin on the government’s controversial counter-terrorism measures in a supporting statement by David Cameron, who prefaced his comments about “making sure that radical views and ideas are not given the oxygen they need to flourish” with a caveat about not “oppressing free speech.”
But efforts to assuage concerns about the possible chilling effect on free speech failed to convince, and the PM’s arguments in favour of limiting speech faltered under scrutiny.
Via the Independent, two of the four universities “named and shamed” by Downing Street denied hosting any of the so-called “hate speakers” listed in the press release, calling into question the premise that British universities are “hotbeds” of terrorist activity.
There were also questions about the list of convicted former students, two of whom were supposedly radicalised during their studies.
“Both reports cite the example of the so-called underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who attempted to set off a bomb on a Detroit-bound plane in 2009, even though an inquiry by University College London found no evidence to suggest that he was radicalised while a student there.”
Top: The Student Rights report / Bottom: Downing Street’s press release
“Roshonara Choudhry, who was jailed for life for stabbing Labour MP Stephen Timms in 2010 shortly after dropping out of King’s College London, also appears in both documents. She admitted to having been radicalised by watching over a hundred hours of speeches on YouTube, and said she dropped out of King’s because she felt it to be ‘anti-Islamic.’”
– So how did Downing Street get it so wrong?
As this “URGENT” September 16, 2015 e-mail shows, Downing Street’s press office was still in the process of collecting data the morning prior to publication.
Per this quick response to the above request to fact-check an early draft of the press release, the office was then urged to “amend the figures for numbers of events in 2014.”
It was suggested using the dubious Student Rights report in response to the office’s request for “case studies on extremists speaking on campuses.”
Downing Street has yet to substantiate its claim that in 2014 “at least 70 events featuring hate speakers were held on campuses” – the only figure in the press release to have come from the EAU – with the Home Office refusing to provide a more detailed breakdown.
Assuming this figure is accurate, why did one of Downing Street’s internal fact-checkers request a correction? It seems that Downing Street was determined to find facts to fit its agenda, even ignoring calls to amend figures later used to smear British universities.
In doing so, it betrayed the supposedly “British values” of open debate, free speech and political dissent it originally claimed to protect.
– To ban or not to ban?
Also contained in the e-mails is a “trial script” of the press release, plus an early draft of a scolding letter from Minister for Universities and Science Jo Johnson to former president of the National Union of Students (NUS) Megan Dunn.
As stated in the published version of the press release, the updated Prevent guidance requires universities to “ensure those espousing extremist views do not go unchallenged.”
This means that when a university suspects an external speaker of holding “extremist” views, they must not be allowed to speak unless the “risk” of allowing them to do so is“mitigated by challenging the speaker…with someone holding opposing opinions.”
However, as this “trial script” of the press release shows, Downing Street was still toying with the idea of a ban on “extremist” speakers right up until September 16, 2015, just five days before the updated guidance came into force.
In the published version of the Jo Johnson letter, the Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) minister urged the NUS to end its “overt opposition” to Prevent, citing the “legal duty that will be placed on universities and colleges.”
However, per this early draft of the letter, Johnson chastised the NUS for its supposedly “inaccurate, outdated” and “misguided opinions,” which he claimed left no space for “balanced debate.”
Responding to the revised letter, Megan Dunn said that she was confused about why the government was so focused on the NUS, as “students’ unions are not public bodies and therefore not subject to the act.”
She added: “The NUS is a campaigning organisation, so our opposition to this agenda, based on both principled and practical concerns…is both valid and appropriate.”
– Preventing Prevent
Since the updated strategy was brought into force, the Guardian has reported that the British government’s “loose definition of extremism” is being used by other countries to crackdown on “non-violent” dissent.
In September, prisoner advocacy group CAGE published a startling report on the “junk science” underpinning the Prevent strategy’s assessment criteria for identifying “at-risk” individuals at the so-called “pre-criminal” stage of radicalisation.
The report prompted more than 140 academics and experts, including the renowned linguist and activist Noam Chomsky, to sign an open letter voicing concern over the lack of “proper scientific scrutiny or public critique.”
The report highlights “multiple, mutually reinforcing structural flaws, the foreseeable consequence of which is a serious risk of human rights violations” including “the right against discrimination, as well the right to freedom of expression, among other rights.”
The Trump administration wants to revamp and rename a U.S. government program designed to counter all violent ideologies so that it focuses solely on Islamist extremism, five people briefed on the matter told Reuters.
The program, “Countering Violent Extremism,” or CVE, would be changed to “Countering Islamic Extremism” or “Countering Radical Islamic Extremism,” the sources said, and would no longer target groups such as white supremacists who have also carried out bombings and shootings in the United States.
As covered on this blog, the unintended consequences from the British government’s own counter-extremism programme – the much-maligned Prevent strategy – have proven to be deeply troublesome, and the strategy is frequently criticised by students’ groups and free speech organisations as a threat to academic and religious freedoms.
Of particular concern is the government’s loose definition of “extremism,” which essentially provides legal remit for authorities and British institutions such as schools and universities to shut down political dissent (one Yorkshire council even used Prevent to target anti-fracking environmental protesters).
According to Prevent duty guidance, the government defines “extremism” as “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British Values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.”
In an interview with the Guardian in 2015, Metropolitan Police commander Mak Chishty expanded on the government’s definition to include subtle changes in behaviour, such as the shunning of certain shops, claiming there was a need for authorities to “move into the private space” of Muslims.
Asked to define “private space,” Chishty said: “It’s anything from walking down the road, looking at a mobile, to someone in a bedroom surfing the net, to someone in a shisha cafe talking about things.”
The clincher is that much of the data used to support Downing Street’s premise that British institutions are “hotbeds” of “extremist” activity, was taken – without attribution – from a misleading report by “right-wing think tank” the Henry Jackson Society.
July 2015 report by Student Rights director Rupert Sutton(source)
Via my December 2015 public records request, Downing Street was still in the process of collecting case studies about extremism just five days before the updated strategy came into force, and appears to have ignored a request from an internal fact-checker to amend figures about the number of events featuring “hate speakers” held on university campuses in 2014.
Prominent co-signer of failed CSPI retraction demand Dr. David L. Katz rails against “censorship of science” – but author/journalist Nina Teicholz says “specious retraction efforts are also a form of censorship”
Today, Dr. Katz expanded on that issue, in addition to broader issues of censorship and the scientific method, via his bi-weekly column for The Huffington Post:
Good science is an enemy to no one, since it advances understanding and knowledge…and thus choice. Good science empowers us with options. Censorship, of course, keeps us uninformed – or worse, misinformed. Ignorance is the ultimate form of repression.
Scientists are the first to acknowledge that the sounds of science are not always, immediately, perfectly in tune. It can take any number of revisions to get the lyrics and melody of truth just right. But this very process leads us robustly and reliably toward truth and understanding.
…When science is subordinated to silence, and the press to propaganda – only tyrants control the flow of information.
As readers of this blog will know, Dr. Katz’s recent concerns about “censorship of science” are quite the turnaround.
In 2015, Dr. Katz was one of 180+ co-signers to a flagrantly censorious retraction demand organised by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) – a powerful Washington, DC nutrition lobby group.
Via the Huffington Post, Dr. Katz trashed the BMJ for its “calamitous” decision, as well as the two independent researchers, and finally Teicholz herself – referring to her in passing as “a journalist with no known relevant expertise and a book to sell into the bargain.”
It’s not the only time Dr. Katz has attacked Teicholz in the media.
As reported on The Sidebar – my Atlanta, GA blogging buddy Peter M. Heimlich’s crack investigative journalism blog – Dr. Katz has been “clawing” at Teicholz for years.
Shortly before the release of Teicholz’s best-selling book on the history of nutrition science, The Big Fat Surprise (2014),he attacked her motives and speculated about her “rolling her eyes at this column on the way to cash her royalty checks.”
When her critique of the dietary guidelines came out in 2015, he argued that the BMJ should not have published her article because “she is not a nutrition expert, and not a scientist.”
He was later quoted in journalist Ian Leslie’s acclaimed April 2016 Guardian article about the nutrition wars, “The Sugar Conspiracy,” describing Teicholz as “shockingly unprofessional” and “an animal unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.”
Celebrity nutrition expert Dr. David Katz (source)
Yesterday, I e-mailed Teicholz for comment about Dr. Katz’s sudden change of heart re: his “censorship of science” tweet.
In her response, Teicholz said that “specious retraction efforts are also a form of censorship, as are intimidating columns trying to discredit the work of people whose views are different from your own.”
Dr. Katz’s dramatic December 6, 2016 article (source)
Later that month, he wrote an article via LinkedIn, in which he connected the retractions – the result of an unrelated enquiry by Peter M. Heimlich – to Teicholz’s BMJ article. But as Petertold the Yale Daily News, he was unaware of the dietary guidelines dispute when he broke the story on his blog.
Dr. Katz’s review has since become infamous on the Internet for its lavish prose and self-reverential comparisons to legendary writers like Milton, Yeats, Dickens and Plato.
On that note, here’s an especially moving paragraph from that review:
I found the writing — prose that nonetheless managed to hint at epic poetry — as enthralling as the story was riveting. In reVision, Colleen McCullough meets John Milton. Yeats meets Yourcenar. In the blend of rollicking adventure with utopian aspiration, J.K. Rowling meets Gene Roddenberry. Where characters are vividly rendered and complex ideas distilled to stunningly simple clarities, Dickens meets Dawkins. As a clash of other worlds illuminates the better ways our world might be, Plato’s Republic meets Lord of the Rings. Where lyrically beautiful writing and deep currents of humanism traverse expanses of law and folklore, science and faith, passion and politics — the Bible, Bill of Rights and Bhagavad Gita commingle.