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The Tickle File is ftm's daily column of media news, complimenting the feature articles on major media issues. Tickle File items point out media happenings, from the oh-so serious to the not-so serious, that should not escape a shorter, more informal format.

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Week of October 2, 2017

Getting serious about fake news and hate speech
first steps always difficult

The German law on online hate speech known as NetzDG (Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz - Social Network Enforcement Act) became law this week. It is by far the most blunt legal tool adopted to blunt the rise of specious use of online and social media platforms. YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and others with more than 2 million visitors are now required to place live humans - not robots - in Germany to answer complaints and order take-downs of ugly stuff - hate speech and fake news - within 24 hours.

Also included for scrutiny are Reddit, Tumblr, Flickr, Vimeo, Russian social network VKontakte and far-right Twitter clone Gab, reported Der Spiegel (October 1). Failure to follow through can result in fines as large as €50 million. NetzDG will transition to full enforcement on January 1st. (See more about social media here)

Free expression, press and speech advocates fear a “chilling effect.” The law "raises concerns about freedom of expression,” said United Nations special rapporteur on Freedom of Expression David Kaye, quoted by BBC (October 3). “The scope of the law remains overly broad and its effect could be excessively restrictive on freedom of expression,” said OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Désir in a statement (October 4). The law passed the German parliament at the end of June. (See more about fake news here)

As it would happen in our Brave New World, Bloomberg reported (October 3) that Google, entirely coincidental, has removed notorious Russian TV network RT, also known as Russia Today, from its Google Preferred ad sales platform. RT’s famous video rants had been bundled among other YouTube favorites. RT termed Google’s action “unprecedented political pressure.”

Free peeks, digital subscriptions and bones
Here dogie, dogie. Nice dogie.

Big publishers collectively lauded Google’s decision to end the hated “First Click Free” policy that provided web users a “leaky door” to get behind their paywalls. An algorithm punished publishers not willing to comply with lower search rankings. After years of digital trial and error publishers remain convinced subscription revenue is driven more by stick than carrot. They will now - or soon - be able to choose how many free peeks before smacking visitors with a demand for money.

“Publishers are in the best position to determine what level of free sampling works best for them,” wrote Google’s news products chief Richard Gingras in a blog post (October 2). “So as of this week, we are ending the First Click Free policy, which required publishers to provide a minimum of three free articles per day via Google Search and Google News before people were shown a paywall.” (See more about Google here) Google techies will also be providing artificial intelligence (AI) tools to simplify getting the money.

“The felicitous demise of First Click Free (Second Click Fatal) is an important first step in recognizing the value of legitimate journalism and provenance on the internet,” News Corporation chief executive Robert Thomson in a statement (October 2). “We will monitor this change closely to ensure that consumers can indeed find the work of our journalists online, and will report what we learn, for better or for worse.” He went on to conflate weak digital subscription uptake with the rise of fake news. (See more about paywalls here)

Google has thrown several bones to publishers, including subsidies from its Digital News Initiative and technical support for content delivered to smartphones. The obvious self-interest is keeping web searchable content alive along with the resulting ad revenues. Publishers, however, will never stop growling - and phoning their favorite politicians - until Google simply sends copious amounts of cash.

Dictators, press freedom and cognitive dissonance
"I cannot imagine"

The treaties underpinning international legal processes usually disadvantage dictators and autocrats. There are limits, obviously, for reining in bad behavior but the effort is generally welcomed. And it’s tested over and over.

Last week a Turkish prosecutor requested the Ministry of Justice to ask Interpol (International Police Organzation) to issue a “red notice” for former Cumhuriyet editor Can Dündar, currently in exile in Germany, reported State news agency Anadolu (September 29) and verified by German fake news chaser Correctiv. Turkish authorities want Mr. Dündar apprehended and returned to Turkey for “questioning” about support for what they deem “terrorist organizations.” The demand to Interpol came one day after Mr. Dündar and Cumhuriyet were short-listed for the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize, laureate to be announced this week. (See more about press/media freedom here)

“A Nobel Peace Prize to Can Dündar and Cumhuriyet would be a welcome boost for press freedom and civil society in a country where such liberties are becoming rarer and rarer,” said the statement of Peace Research Institute Oslo. “It would also underline the unacceptable dismantling of Turkey’s secular democracy by the Erdogan regime.” (See more about media in Turkey here)

An Interpol “red notice” apprehension is not compulsory on cooperating police agencies. In August Spanish police acted on an Interpol “red notice” to arrest Turkish-German writer and human rights activist Dogan Akhanli. He was released, rather quickly, after an intervention from the German Foreign Ministry.  

"Even with the best of will, I cannot imagine that such a warrant would ever be considered in Germany if it resulted in Mr. Dundar being arrested," said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Martin Schäfer, quoted by Deutsche Welle (September 29).

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