Anonymous sources, repression of journalists, and the efforts to fight misinformation ahead of the US elections

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Edited by Marco Nurra


Here’s why you should be willing to believe anonymous sources. The biggest news story of the past few days was based on anonymous sources. The Atlantic editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg wrote how President Donald Trump has little regard for veterans and military members, calling them “losers” and “suckers” for getting killed in battle and/or volunteering for something bigger than their personal well-being. Other news outlets, including the Associated Press and Fox News, have done their own reporting to confirm The Atlantic’s story, while Trump and his team have vehemently denied it. Critics of The Atlantic story are lashing out at its use of anonymous sources. “We all have to use anonymous sources, especially in a climate where the president of the United States tries to actively intimidate,” Goldberg told CNN’s Brian Stelter on this weekend’s “Reliable Sources.” “These are not people who are anonymous to me.”

Khashoggi killers get 20 years in prison. Saudi Arabia has sentenced five people to 20 years in prison over the murder of dissident reporter Jamal Khashoggi, reducing initial death sentences. Three other people were also ordered to serve shorter prison terms. Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings who investigated Khashoggi’s death, described on Twitter the rulings as another act “in this parody of justice.” Callamard also criticized the court for convicting “five hit men” while the “high-level officials who organized and embraced” the killing have escaped punishment. This means the verdicts have “no legal or moral legitimacy,” she said. The UN official added it was unfair that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “has remained well protected against any kind of meaningful scrutiny in his country.”

Mexican journalist who wrote about crime found beheaded. In 2019, about half of all murders of journalists around the world occurred in Mexico, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Infection and repression. CJR has spoken with dozens of reporters and editors around the world to track how journalists are facing repression while reporting on Covid.

China detained Australian TV anchor Cheng Lei over ‘national security’. China’s Foreign Ministry has accused Cheng Lei of carrying out “criminal activities,” in the first official comments on the case since the reporter’s arrest. It is the first time the Chinese government has commented on Cheng’s detention, which has strained relations with Australia.

China refuses to renew press cards for US journalists as media row deepens. Journalists from the Wall Street Journal, CNN, Bloomberg and Getty Images who recently attempted to renew their press cards were told they could not because of US measures against Chinese journalists in the US, according to statements and people familiar with the matter. Instead the journalists were issued letters that gave them temporary permission to work using their expired press credentials, which are usually valid for one year. Officials indicated that the future of their press cards would depend on whether the White House allows Chinese journalists to continue working in the US.

Belarusian authorities continue to arrest and obstruct journalists covering protests. Protests began in Belarus in early August, when Lukashenko, the country’s president since 1994, declared himself winner of a disputed election, according to reports. “Authorities in Belarus must immediately stop detaining and fining journalists who are covering peaceful protests across the country, and must release all journalists in custody,” said the Committee to Protect Journalists Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna. “It is essential that the press is able to cover these historic events in Belarus without fear of retribution.”

Priya Ramani’s lawyer makes final arguments in MJ Akbar defamation suit. Priya Ramani’s lawyer, Rebecca John, presented her final arguments at a virtual hearing on the defamation suit brought against the journalist by Bharatiya Janata Party leader MJ Akbar. Akbar had filed the case in October 2018, after Ramani accused him of sexual harassment. “It’s being suggested that Priya Ramani is an unethical journalist” her lawyer Rebecca John says. “You become an unethical journalist when you defy Press Council and workplace ethics by sexually harassing women, not by tweeting a wrong piece of news.”

Mugabe is gone. But journalists are still being targeted. In 2017, Robert Mugabe, the autocrat who held power in Zimbabwe since he helped it gain independence in 1980, was toppled in a coup orchestrated by his vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa. Millions of Zimbabweans hoped for a more prosperous and free future. But that’s not what happened.

Google and Twitter vow to block voting misinformation ahead of the US elections. One of the concerns is that the widespread use of mail ballots in the US election due to the coronavirus pandemic could cause significant delays in tallying results. Experts fear this could allow misinformation to gain traction. On Thursday, Google said that incorrect information about election results would not show up in searches. Twitter’s changes could also affect tweets claiming victory before election results have been certified, along with misleading posts about ballot tampering.

How The Atlantic gained 300,000 new subscribers in the past 12 months. When The Atlantic finally relaunched its much-anticipated — and once delayed — paywall last September, Atlantic Media president Michael Finnegan said the magazine brand didn’t have a firm expectation of how many subscribers they might acquire in its first year. But over the past 12 months, The Atlantic has amassed over 300,000 new subscribers, 45% of whom are paying $59.99 per year for both the print edition and digital access. (A digital subscription costs $49.99 per month) That dwarfs the 110,000 new subscribers The Atlantic originally hoped to accumulate over two years, and puts them comfortably on track to reach its current goal of turning consumer revenue into a $50 million business for the Atlantic by 2022.

El País now has more than 64,000 digital subscribers, accounting for nearly a quarter of total digital news subscriptions in Spain. Since El País, the newspaper of record in Spain and one of the largest in the Spanish speaking world, launched its subscription program on May 1 2020, 64,200 readers have purchased a digital-only subscription, making it the Spanish publication with the most paid subscribers so far. El País announced on Monday that it has nearly 110,000 subscribers. Of those, 64,200 are digital-only, 37,923 are print and digital, and 7,842 are to Kiosko y Más, the digital version of the print newspaper. About 20% of those subscribers are from outside of Spain.

(Photo: Belarus police detain journalist Roman Protasevich in Minsk, in 2017, via Protesevich)