Category Archives: Food-For-Thought

Abu Sayyaf

Introductory note: This post, on a terrorist group, follows my last one on the Tamil Tigers. I had several friends that visited Sri Lanka in the past few weeks, which made me curious about the country and the Tigers. While investigating them, I came across several other terrorist groups in the region, with similar claims and tactics which I found it interesting to share.

Like most Arab names, Abu Sayyaf carries a powerful meaning. It means “bearer of the sword”. The name symbolizes de group’s violent ways, inscribed into its name and its purpose and, as always, designed to instil fear.  Abu Sayyaf was borne   in 1991, of a split from the Moro National Liberation Front.

After decades of insurgency and unrest, as several separatist Muslim groups tried to create an independent Islamic State in the southernmost islands of the archipelago, with no results, Abu Sayyaf was the answer for many who thought Manila was not listening. The group brought more radical and violent means to the negotiating table and started its own campaign against the Philippine government and, if necessary, the world.

Abu Sayyaf’s first publicly known attack happened in 1991, when the group killed two American evangelists with a grenade, and by 1995 the organization was operating full scale all over the Philippines. The group kept its focus on the southern islands of Mindanao and Sulu. There are also a few cases of attacks outside this area and even abroad.  All in all they are a very prolific terrorist group and some areas in the Philippines where their presence is felt, are still not recommended for national and foreign tourists.

In their fight for an Iranian-style Islamic State, the group has been involved in bombings, assassinations, extortion and kidnappings for ransom. The last two serve the purpose of financing the groups war effort and they account for a great percentage of the money Abu Sayyaf raises every year. Unlike other more organized terrorists groups, the organization’s logistics platform is quite limited. They have kidnapped hundreds, including several foreign citizens, the latter guaranteeing their much wanted TV coverage (as seen below).

One of the more high profile cases was that of the kidnapping of 20 tourists from the Dos Palmas resort, on May 2001. Among the hostages were two American citizens, which drew international attention to the situation, the group and its objectives. In the following 12 months, 5 of the hostages died, two were killed – one of them, the American Guillermo Sobero, was beheaded by the group. Fighting between Abu Sayyaf and Philippine military was bloody and ended with the death of 22 Philippine soldiers and an unknown number of casualties on the terrorist side.

As for arms, Abu Sayyaf relies on home made bombs, mortars and automatic weapons, while at the same time using the Philippine jungles as cover. Their elusiveness has been one of the key difficulties by each of the governments that sat in Manila, for the past 23 years.

In the past few years, the group has been pushed back by the Philippine Marines (known for training with US military stationed in the region) and its numbers have shrunk. In 2002, at the height of its power, Abu Sayyaf had more than a 1,000 combatants, a number that has been reduced to something between 200 and 400  militants. The group has struggled to fight back and its military arm has lost some of its power. Abu Sayyaf now resorts mostly to kidnappings for ransom as it tries to survive. It currently holds 4 people, including two European birdwatchers hostage.

The Philippine government has been successful in targeting the organization’s leadership, by jailing or killing its most charismatic leaders and thus, splitting Abu Sayyaf into several factions. Despite its decline the group remains active and continues to fight for its goal, even if today the question is more about their survival than about their success.

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Game of Thrones and International Politics

I trust most of you have already heard about Game of Thrones, HBO’s hit TV show based on a series of epic fantasy novels, written by George R. R. Martin. The show is well established within popular culture, as are the books, and now everyone knows the author and his work, nearly 20 years after the release of the first book.

Among the several differentiating aspects of the show and the books, are the violence, nudity, and intricate social and political connections. It is the political side of a fictional story that has specialized publications such as Foreign Policy or Foreign Affairs (the links will lead you to several articles on the subject), trying to explain what kind of world is the one portrayed in Game of Thrones, after having already tried to explain the world we live in. It also has veteran political journalists interviewing some of the actors.

Even if we don’t dwell into political theory, it is hard not to make parallels between our world and our history and Game of Thrones’ middle age based fantasy world, which happens to contain dragons, demons, dire wolfs, sorcery and ice zombies (they look as scary as they sound).

(SPOILER ALERT)

In this story, the civilized world is composed of a giant country that comprises seven kingdoms, most of which, at one point fight for the right to sit on the Iron Throne, which is the seat of the King. The King rules over all of the seven, which do have some autonomy, similar to the way Washington rules over all the states in the USA, even though each state has its own constitution and government. The scramble for power can be compared to what happened in Europe from middle age until World War II, when several countries / nations fought to expand their domains in Europe and the newly discovered continents (mostly Africa and America).

Besides power politics, there is also the other side of international relations in Game of Thrones. The alliances, the sanctions, the backstabbing and deceit. It is politics on a big level and on a small one, and it is fascinating to compare our world to the one we get to see on TV. Once we set aside the obvious fantasy aspects of that world, and the natural technological differences, it is interesting to understand that not much differentiates us from that ruthless planet. Class struggles, corruption, bribes, poverty, war and famine are all present and that should stifle some reflection on our own path, and on the evolution we ought to have achieved by now.

It is hard for me to dwell more into the subject more without revealing too much about the show. So, for those that have not seen it yet, I encourage you to watch it and read the above mentioned articles. For those that already do watch Game of Thrones, try to look at its political intricacies because you will probably find it interesting. The main reason being that it is rare to see such a complex and accurate portrait of how ruthless the world of politics really is.

Sir Ken Robinson, Driving Creativity Forward

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original”.

Such is the motto of Sir Ken Robinson (1950-), an English author and speaker who has delivered some of the most interesting ideas about education we have heard lately. He challenges our current education systems and urges us to acknowledge the importance of creativity.

After working as a professor of education in the university of Warwick, Robinson worked for the UK government where he led the commission on creativity, education and the economy. Beyond influential, his report was qualified by The Times “as raising some of the most important issues that businesses faced in the 21st century”. Today, Robinson works with different European and Asian governments as well as with top Fortune 500 US companies where he advocates a rethink of our school systems.  .

 With his 2006 video for the TED Conference  – a global set of conferences which the slogan is “Ideas Worth Spreading”, Robinson’s presentation quickly became a record in TED’s history. With over 25 million views, it is estimated that his talk has been viewed by around 250 million people in over 150 countries.

Sir Ken Robinson challenges the division between academic and non-academic. In his own words, “intelligence is diverse, intelligence is dynamic and intelligence is distinct”. He argues that one of the problems of our societies is the hierarchy that puts mathematics and literature at the top and all creative subjects at the bottom. Creativity should be considered as important as mathematics or literacy. Yet, our education systems, usually focus on a very narrow view of academic ability.

Additionally, Robinson points out the risks carried in our education systems. Teaching that it is normal to make mistakes is probably one of the things our educational systems are worst at. From the panic of making errors at the school blackboard, to the anguish of not saying what the professor wants to hear at university. We are programmed, indoctrinated not to make mistakes. The result is that people are not educated to explore their creativity.

Intelligence today means academic success. Maybe that explains why so many young people are marginalized or denied a place in society.

For more information about Sir Ken Robinson check his interview for The Guardian and  his website

 

Mayam Mahmoud: Egypt’s first and fearless veiled rapper

Mayam Mahmoud started making headlines last October, as she took to the Arabs Got Talent stage dressed in a light pink outfit and a matching hijab. Performing in front of an audience for the first time, the 18-year-old from Cairo started rapping vigorously about the challenges women they face in the Arab world.

Although she insists “it was never about going on stage in a scarf,” it was her appearance that inevitably caught worldwide attention in the first place. You don’t come across a teenage girl in a hijab rapping every day in Egypt. Or ever.

Participating on Arabs got talent, Mayam told CNN, “was about going on stage and sharing a message.” Her feminist lyrics condemn sexual harassment of women in Egyptian society and stress the importance of girls’ education. In one of her denouncing raps, she goes: “I won’t be the shamed one. You flirt, you harass and you see nothing wrong with it. But even if it’s just words, these are not flirts, these are stones.”

Mayam’s mother introduced her to poetry at the age of 12 and encouraged her to start writing her own poems. Her dad persuaded her to always “talk about something with value”. While they were a bit reluctant when their teenage daughter turned to hip hop to voice her concerns, fearing it wasn’t feminine enough, Mayam says they eventually gave in and never stopped supporting her. When she recorded her first track in the city of Alexandria, they waited in a cafe round the corner. 

The economics undergraduate from Cairo decided to speak out because “Egyptian women undergo harassment and bullying on a daily basis”. Last November, a poll of gender experts concluded that sexual harassment, soaring rates of female genital mutilation and a spike in violence made Egypt the worst Arab country to be a woman. And according to a 2008 survey conducted by the Egyptian Center for Women’s rights, 83 percent of Egyptian women and 98 percent of foreign women have been sexually harassed. Mayam refuses to accept this reality. She wants to get people talking and inspire others to advocate for civil rights, too. 

With this in mind and as her audience grew, Mayam recently set up “Carnival of Freedom”, a Facebook event page where she challenges people to express themselves freely and post activities that are still considered off limits, such as “women playing football or going to a cafe.” What kind of reaction have her daring activities sparked? According to the Guardian, her fans tend to post up to 50 supportive messages a day on Facebook, but there are also unwelcome messages accusing her of “creating a bad name for Islam,” she said. “Or even that I’m an infidel.”

Last week, Mayam Mahmoud was honoured at the Index Freedom of Expression awards, winning this year’s Arts category. She received her award in a colourful floor-length dress adorned with women’s graffitis, explaining with a smile that each drawing stood for women’s rights – female street artists are a growing (and fascinating) breed in Egypt

“One of the strongest messages I’d like to send is, ‘Freedom is an obligation on others before it becomes my right,” she said. Seeing someone stand up for human rights is always commendable. Seeing a veiled teenager from an oppressed country embarking on such a brave mission is pretty inspiring. Let’s just hope no one silences her. 

For more Arab female rappers, check out Paradise, an Afghan singer who also advocates for women’s rights.

Prostitution: Legalization or Criminalization?

Prostitution is probably, as many people like to say, the world’s “oldest profession”. It is a universal phenomenon, that exists in every country, in a more or less disguised way.

Mostly, more or less wherever you are, prostitution remains a taboo subject, due to religious beliefs and social stigma. Indeed, selling your body is something that is ill-regarded in any culture and in most civilizations, women are seen as the underlings (the subject of male prostitution being even more of a taboo).

In most countries in the world, prostitution is illegal and often criminalized (in most United States’ states, in Russia, in China etc.), with prostitutes facing severe penalties.

In Western countries, with growing concerns for human rights, came growing concerns regarding this profession, and the public authorities are more and more divided between criminalizing or legalizing.

Countries like Germany and the Netherlands have moved towards a more progressive stance: prostitution is not illegal, but it is a regulated business, with specific strict rules surrounding it. New Zealand, is quite revolutionary in this matter, since prostitution is completely decriminalized and not regulated at all, due to the view that criminalization is negative for sex workers.

In Canada, Portugal or the United Kingdom, prostitution is legal, in the sense that prostitutes can not be punished in the criminal system, but everything that surrounds this business is highly prosecuted: pimping, having a brothel, or public solicitation, are prohibited.

On the other hand, the North of Europe, like Iceland, Norway and Sweden, has yet evolved into something else, position that several other European countries (like France has already) might follow in the future. Going from the idea that it is wrong to exploit a woman’s body, prostitutes are not penalized, but their clients are. Therefore, not only pimping, brothels etc. are criminalized, but the fact of being a client also is. Several groups of sex workers are against this option because it drives prostitution even more into a “back-alley” in our societies.

Like in many other delicate subjects, such as drugs, the question of knowing if it is best to legalize or criminalize prostitution is not an easy one, and one could easily argue for both sides. Nevertheless, it is an interesting debate in societies that are growing more and more concerned with individual rights. For that same reason, it is a question that must be handled in a way that will not be detrimental for the main people who are concerned by it: the sex workers themselves. Maybe they should be the first ones to have an opinion on the place prostitution should hold in each country.

The strange world of war tourism

Fancy a trip to Iraq? How about the Democratic Republic of Congo? Of course not, it’s too dangerous, right? Well that’s exactly what makes the world of war tourism go around. The thrill of going into active war zones and past areas of conflict where there is “a higher than average level of risk”.

Take Toshifumi Fujimoto, a Japanese truck driver who gets his kicks from going into war-torn Middle Eastern countries. He was most recently spotted in Syria, where he told the AFP that being on the frontline is “very exciting, and the adrenaline rush is like no other.” Syria, which became embroiled in a civil war over three years ago, is also the world’s most dangerous country for journalists. While he claims that it’s more dangerous in Syria to be a journalist than a tourist, Fujimoto himself has been taking photos of the conflict that he shares with friends on his Facebook page. He explained that he’s not afraid of getting killed since he’s “a combination of samurai and kamikaze.”  

 We’ve heard this thrill-seeking discourse before from war journalists, for example. American political satirist and journalist P.J. O’Rourke famously claimed he was a “Trouble Tourist” rather than a “foreign correspondent”, for the latter was “too dignified a title”. In the introduction of his collection of stories, Holidays of Hell, O’Rourke explains that this kind of tourism requires “going to see insurrections, stupidities, political crises, civil disturbances and other human folly because… because it’s fun.”

This obviously doesn’t mean that all journalists desire to see war, but if you find yourself in the media industry, it’s not that unusual to hear adrenaline junkies saying that “war is fun”. Yet this observer’s main point is not to get into the endless debate of real bias. And most war reporters boast they’re documenting armed conflict purely for the sake of alerting the world to human suffering anyway.

But what if you don’t want to venture into a conflict zone on your own? I don’t blame you for not wanting to dodge bullets solo, but in that case you have to be willing to splash up to $40,000 on travel agencies such as Hinterland Travel and Warzone Tours, which specialise in the ultimate extreme travel. Whether it’s Kabul, Baghdad or Mogadishu, these experienced providers – who usually have a military or security background – strive to deliver tour packages that fulfil your excitement requirements.

Just bear in mind that the more ambitious you are, the higher the price tag. Security, logistics and planning in the world’s worst places come at a price. I wonder what the tour guides’ criteria is for accepting war tourists. How do they know that the visitors will be able to keep it cool when their guide drives along dangerous roads, bomb sites or disputed territories? Or that they will not freak out if somehow they end up with an AK-47 pointed to their heads?

Ethical criticism of war tourism is mainly targeted at the exploitative aspect of this niche form of travel, with the number one argument being that this vacation concept is twisted and somewhat heartless. It’s arguably not acceptable to have a fun, adventurous holiday, at the expense of someone else’s worst nightmare. Someone’s bombed home or local business, which will most likely end up on your Instagram account, shouldn’t become your holiday playground.

And, as Laura Moth points out, war tourists may even end up funding an oppressive regime: “think of flying the national carrier, paying for a visa or spending money that inevitably gets funneled upwards to the same old structures of power.” 

The fact that travel agencies are profiting from this is also an ethical concern. But they insist their guides provide the necessary context and encourage visitors to engage with locals. One could also argue that war tourists offer a helping hand to local businesses (the obvious benefit of tourism). And, if visitors happen to sympathise with the victims’ situation, they might try to help in some way.

War tourism is not to be confused with dark tourism – the latter doesn’t deal with active conflict zones – though there are some similarities. As dark tourists, most of us are drawn to “sites of death, disaster or the seemingly macabre”, such as the Tower of London, Auschwitz, Alcatraz Island, Cambodia’s Tuol Sleng Killing Fields or the World Trade Center. This idea that we’re naturally fascinated by death is certainly not new. 

But as far as the specific fascination with death-related sites goes, the Institute for Dark Tourism Research from the University of Central Lincolnshire, launched a couple of years ago, admits that “our understanding of both production and consumption of dark tourism remains limited”. However, they suggest that attendance at events such as Roman gladiatorial games or even medieval executions could be considered dark tourism. I guess that says something about our morbid nature.

Capitalism and Socialism: a reflection

I can see the warning signs as I prepare myself to write about this. It is, in every way, a complicated topic. However, I would like for you to indulge me, it is nothing more but a short reflection. I will start by saying I have no political ambitions, I am a journalist and my purpose is to be a watchdog for those that do. I would also add that I tend to vote more on the right than on the left but I would say I am right there in the middle. Allow me to explain. I believe in market solutions, in private initiative and in a small State apparatus. However, by small I don’t mean non-existent. I believe the State must protect the weakest and most vulnerable and provide for good education, health and social security. All in all, I believe in balance. Having said that, I believe no such system exists.

We all know about the dangers of socialism and its extremes as we have seen with some communist countries, mainly USSR. It seems obvious that it is impossible for everyone to aspire to the same thing, to be awarded the same wage, regardless of merit. Competition is in itself an incentive for excellence and if there is no visible difference in rewards between a dedicated worker and a lazy one, competition is impossible. Also, in a non competitive environment even the most brilliant minds tend to wane. Successful people would feel the disincentive and the results would be ever decreasing productivity. Adding to that, you can be sure to have some environments that are more equal than the others. Despite its negative side, Socialism did have a social consideration embedded in it, an ideal worth preserving.

Capitalism sits on the other side of the fence. It allows one to take the initiative, a fight for new ideas that can have a real impact in our world. It inspires competitiveness, creativity and, hence, excellence. Economic relations are formed and expanded and a stability is welcomed by the system. It is however an unbalanced system and the disparities are huge. As the international organization Oxfam mentions in a new report, the 85 richest people in the world have the same amount of wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest. I cannot begin to comprehend how this is possible, let alone just, or right. As I mentioned above, I believe in a system that rewards merit, where I would include hard work, inventiveness and entrepreneurship. However, it is impossible to believe that 85 people work harder, are more creative, inventive or entrepreneurial than 3.5 billion people. Even if we exclude the 200 million unemployed worldwide, it still seems ridiculously unfair. This level of inequality is visible at a smaller scale as well, when you witness a growth in the wealthiest fortunes, even if their countries are struggling, a practice that has become common not only in developing countries but in western society as well.

Oxfam’s report states that the wealthiest bend the laws in their favor, guaranteeing that wealth continues to be funnelled to the upper echelons of society. We see them investing in political campaigns, huge lobbying firms, lawyers that help them find loopholes in the law and there is always the good old bribe. There are many examples on Forbes top 10, let alone in the top 85, of billionaires with strong political connections that help them maintain their wealth. They use money to buy support, to make sure their interests are in good hands, to make sure they make more money. It is an endless circle, almost of a feudal nature, with and increasing disparity between the richest and the poorest.

Thus, the current system perverts the very essence of democracy, and the consequences are more than just the concentration of wealth on the upper 1%, as the Occupy movement labelled them. As we’ve been witnessing in the last few decades, the oil lobby has managed to keep alternative power sources that can be as or more efficient from being fully adopted (hydrogen, for example), even if some countries seem to be making real progress. Oil companies and their shareholders need to keep their incomes so they prefer if life altering research is kept hidden or just is not investigated any further. They do so through lobbying groups, campaign donations and all the other mechanisms mentioned above. The point is, it is not just about money any more.

The point I am trying to make is that, even though communism was an ineffective economical system, capitalism seems to be showing some of its flaws as well. Just as we realized socialism was not the best way to move forward, I believe we will soon realize capitalism is not the solution either. At least as it is right now, with disregard for communal interests, a lack of a social conscience and lawless markets. A mix between the two ideals may be the answer, I honestly do not know. However, I do know that, as we are today, we are at risk of falling prey to populist rhetoric, anarchy and we endanger our future.

What will happen in Ukraine?

All eyes are on the Kremlin. Events in Crimea have escalated in the last few hours and have challenged the notion that Europe had become a war free continent. Russia has sent unidentified troops into a sovereign nation’s territory and is now preparing to “defend its interests” in the region – which, according to the media, is to protect all the Russian speaking people in Crimea.  Ukraine, as expected, has condemned the move and is prepared to defend itself. As for the rest of the world, the reactions have been of shock and a call for the de-escalation of the situation.

War is a likely scenario but not the most likely. However, if war was to break out, Russian troops would easily overpower the Ukrainian military.  Russia has a military force of about 845,000 troops, more than 200,000 of which are stationed in regions near the Ukrainian border. On the other side, Ukraine has still significant but much smaller force of  about 130,000 strong.  These numbers mean that if Russia were to invade, it would probably win the invasion stage of the war, but they do not tell the whole story.

Once Ukraine, is occupied, Russia would have to deal with insurgency. In Crimea, if the troops currently stationed there are not recalled by Moscow, they would have to face a radicalising Tartar minority and some ethnic Russians that might speak the language but prefer to live in an independent Ukraine. Turns out that the latter group is quite big so, it is a mistake to assume that ethnic Russians are Russians.

As Iraq and Afghanistan have showed, insurgency can be problematic, even for the biggest military in the world. Chechnya is another example that Russians might relate to more easily.  And like in the separatist region, there are a lot of mountains in Crimea. So, war would be costly for Russia, in the long run, but also, on a short term perspective.

The international community has been quick to blame Russia for this action and the consequences for the Kremlin could be dire. As American journalist, Fareed Zakaria, mentions, border “countries like Poland that had eased up relations with Moscow will now view it with great suspicion. All European countries will put their relations with Russia under review”, and that will have its economic impact. Even if the EU is faced with this crisis during a moment of weakness – financially and politically – that takes waging war out of the equation, it is still is an economic and diplomatic power to be reckoned. The same goes for the US, that would not want to enter its third war, since the beginning of the century, but can still penalize Russia through other means. Last but not least, we must also consider China, which has partnered up with Russia on several key international policy issues, but has always been a fierce defender of national sovereignty – mostly because it wants to other country to meddle into its internal affairs – and might reconsider its relationship with Moscow following this move.

War seems unlikely because of what it will cost Russia which is no longer a soviet state but a full fledged capitalist economy, with much to loose from all the severed ties. So what does Russia want with Crimea? The answer could be leverage for some sort of economic deal and the possibility of maintaining some political influence over a border country that has been flirting with Brussels and distancing itself from Moscow.

Old People Do Not Matter Anymore

We’ve surely witnessed the inevitability of ageing in our family circles. We hear our parents’ first complaints about the physical consequences of ageing, and we actually see those consequences in the bodies of our grandparents. Nevertheless, we rarely stop to think about the situation of old people (excluding of course, when we discuss pensions or hear about the increase of health expenditures due to the ageing of the populations).

The world population is ageing, and while there is absolutely no novelty in that, most people do not really realise what the “ageing of the population” really means. Over the last 50 years, life expectancy at birth in the European Union has rose by about 10 years for both women and men, reaching 82.4 and 76.4 years for women and men, respectively. In 2012 there were almost half a million people aged 90 + living in England and Wales, and in the United States the number is around 1.9 million. Although there are no statistics telling how many people over 95 there are in the world (odd thing by the way), the number will certainly keep on increasing. The chances we will reach 100 years old, if we have a healthy normal diet, practice sports and do not consume alcohol in excess, are huge.

But what comes with that?

Recently, The New Yorker  published a series of photographies showing the daily rituals of people over 90 years old. Inspired by Roger Angell’s article telling how his life was at ninety-three, the stories we learned about aroused in us feelings of guilt, feelings of hope and some anguish as well.

The number of people living in residential care homes is increasing and with that comes more loneliness, many times depression, and mostly, a huge amount of people with immense knowledges that are suddenly pushed to believe they are worth little.

Our society needs a brainwash. Everything in it leads us to behave in a way that excludes old people and to think that innovation is synonymous of youth. Old people are commonly discriminated at workplaces, and their chances of being laid off are certainly higher than their peers. We listen to the advice given of old people, and we are programmed to frame it almost always with paternalistic eyes.

While during the majority of History, old people were treated with respect, with admiration and almost glorification, our times contrast with ancient patterns, and the detachment towards the elder has never been greater.

Again, our society needs a brainwash.

But that is your problem, we will not meddle. After all, it’s you who will wash your mind, not us (in Gabriel O Pensador’s word, “mas isso é problema seu, eu não vou me meter, quem vai lavar a sua mente não sou eu, é você”).

Journalism, the future and its future

The XXI century has, thus far, been the age of the internet and mobile devices, which has a huge impact on journalism. Technology has pushed so much in so little time that newspapers, the most ancient of the traditional sources of information, are becoming endangered faster than we all expected.

The fact is that it is in the Western democracies, where journalism thrived with freedom of expression (and of the press), that newspapers are facing their biggest decline. Hard news and reports with added value are being substituted by short headlines, more suitable for a fast paced environment.

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What the graph does not show is the reason behind this decline and I believe it can be credited, not only to the technological developments of this century, but also to a decline in the trust people have in journalists (which, unlike television, radio and the web, require you to get up, walk to a news stand and spend some money).

We have all heard someone or have ourselves referred to journalists in a negative way (even I have, and I am a journalist). Most of the times we have no facts to back up our accusations but the fact is that public trust in journalists has plummeted. In the United States only one in four (25%) Americans trust their newspapers. In the United Kingdom, the numbers are a little higher (for upmarket publications such as the Times or the Guardian), slightly over 40%. However, if you look at mid-market or tabloids, these numbers fall to 21% and 10%, respectively.

One of the reasons behind the trust problem has to do with the pressures media outlets have to guarantee profit. Despite its noble purpose, journalism is still a business, and it needs revenues. The current business model is supported by circulation that translates into add revenues. However, to compete with the fast paced world of the internet, traditional media has been forced to write more stories, trading quantity for quality. That explains why 60% of newspaper articles are mainly copied from press releases (in some cases wholly). The 75% of times these stories are not fact checked, which helps explain the distrust in newspapers and journalism in general.

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There are several cases of journalism, and journalists getting it wrong. People tend to remember these bad moments more than the times journalist’s actually get it right. And, I would argue, that is because journalists are supposed to get it right. The recent case of Narciso Contrera, who got his contract terminated after he altered a photograph, is one of those cases and it sparked a big argument surrounding the ethics of journalism. Among the ones that criticised the alteration, is The Guardian’s head of photography, Roger Tooth:

In a news environment it’s all about a chain of trust: from the photographers through to the agencies, newspapers and websites, and then to the readers. If that chain is broken, any picture could be suspect, and that can’t be allowed to happen.” he wrote.

These episodes, which have happened not only in print, but also on radio and television, can certainly explain the existing disappointment towards the media, that is somewhat similar to the feeling people nurture towards politics. We tend to look at it as a rigged system, that occasionally manages to break an interesting and impacting story, but, for the rest of the time, it looks like an echo chamber that has lost its former virtue (it still has that capacity but it is no longer the norm). This also explains the decline in profits, in all the traditional media branched and the downsize of newsrooms, in an endless cycle that breeds lesser quality and bigger distrust.

I believe journalism faces a moment of change. Digital has made everything faster, lighter, cheaper. And quality has costs. If journalists are to maintain their role as watchdogs (instead of lapdogs), as the fourth estate, quality must be their mantra, their standard, what sets them apart from every other person whose voice has been amplified by modern media.

Amplification is not necessarily bad. It only becomes bad if you have no one who you trust to verify the gigabytes of data that are fed to us daily. Quality, breeds trust, and “in a news environment it’s all about a chain of trust”. From there, sustainability seems a little more feasible.