Press Freedom Is Important

At a demonstration in Cairo, Egyptian policemen shot two journalists with rubber bullets. In China, journalist Wang Jing was sentenced to nearly five years in jail; her articles caused “unrest”. She wrote about demonstrations that were brutally crushed by the Chinese police. In Mexico, investigative journalists are targeted by drug cartels and in Bangladesh bloggers have been attacked and killed by extremists. Everywhere in the world press freedom is under increasing pressure. Police and Justice Departments, along with some governments, are not doing enough to address this.

Besides direct threats against freedom of speech there is also other pressure in the form of government control, censorship or propaganda. A new law in Poland for the media increases government control in order to keep critical journalists in line. In Turkey, journalists are accused of insults or lies by the President himself. In China, foreign companies have to get the government’s permission before they can publish anything online. The Russian government has a key role in various media that spread conspiracy theories or strongly coloured posts in Europe. Where one actively uses the media for political gain, the other restrains it for his political career.

Without a free press, people do not have access to and lack appropriate information on human rights violations or revelations of whistle-blowers. Without a free press public debate is silenced, there is no control of government and democracy, as we in the “West” understand it, can’t exist. Freedom of the press is an essential component of European identity and values. We need to invest in it. It should be an essential part of foreign policy. Unfortunately, more and more often we see the opposite happening.

Europe as a whole, never mind the European Union, hardly responds when candidate member states violate the freedom of the press on a daily basis. In the Balkans and Turkey incidents are increasing. Journalists are threatened, persecuted or imprisoned and different types of media have been taken over by the state without strong criticism. The result? A Dutch journalist was arrested in Turkey because of a critical tweet and a German comedian is being forced to account for insulting Erdogan. How did we get into a situation where Turkey exports authoritarian tendencies to the EU instead of the EU strengthening freedom of expression in Turkey?

This is a question to think about on International Press Freedom Day. The European Union can and must do more to guarantee freedom of the press and to face down censorship and propaganda. Many of the countries where press freedom is respected are located in Europe, globally only 13 % of the population lives in a country where press freedom is respected.

The European Union mustn’t adopt laws allowing the privatised censorship of online content by companies such as Twitter or YouTube. Sometimes people ask to ban or block publications and websites with propaganda, but a European approach must have the principle of free speech as a starting point along with pluralistic independent media.

The EU must continue to train activists and journalists in the use of anonymising tools and encryption techniques to work online securely. New technologies that protect human rights can be developed especially in Europe. That should be promoted more actively.

Further, the export of European espionage technologies, which allow authoritarian governments to keep an eye on journalists, bloggers or dissidents, must be brought to an end. By putting a stop to the export of digital weapons Europe can be a more credible advocate of press freedom.

And lastly, European politicians and diplomats should stand up for press freedom always and everywhere. In conversations with countries where press freedom is not respected, this is perhaps more difficult, but that is also where it is needed most urgently. Europe must show that this is one of our core values, which must not be squandered for economic or strategic interests. This means we strengthen trade ties with countries only in exchange for an improvement in human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Global press freedom has declined in 2015 to its lowest level in twelve years. Europe should be playing a leading role to put an end to the free fall. Democracy cannot function without free press.

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A Quarter of European Countries Have Now Quit Coal

Europe‘s coal industry continues its downward spiral as a quarter of European Union countries have now closed their doors to the dirty energy source. Belgium has become the latest country to shut down its last remaining coal-fired power station, Langerlo. Announced on 30 March, Belgium follows Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta and the Baltic countries in quitting the… Continue reading “A Quarter of European Countries Have Now Quit Coal”

$2.5 Trillion Worth of Global Financial Assets at Risk From Climate Change Impacts by End of Century, Study Warns

An average $2.5 trillion (£1.76trn) of the world’s financial assets would be at risk from climate change impacts if global temperatures are left to increase by 2.5°C by 2100, warns a new study by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics. The study, published today in the… Continue reading “$2.5 Trillion Worth of Global Financial Assets at Risk From Climate Change Impacts by End of Century, Study Warns”

Just how sustainable is any wood product you buy?

Many people like me would probably prefer to buy a wood based product, furniture, if it had an Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) label attached to it. This label is used to promote use of timber from socially and environmental beneficial forestry operations. However, that label may not be worth it.

The verification of forests is voluntary, it is done in primary forests not commercially grown ones, local communities and the environment can be ignored. How? The FSC uses 3rd party firms to certify forests. These 3rd party firms are paid by the forestry/logging companies directly. The certification is, therefore, not independent after all. It is not about protecting forests or the people who live in them. It is, and has been for some time, misleading.

If you want to know more I suggest you go to FSC-Watch ( and REDD-monitor (


More Money Invested in Renewable Energy in 2015 Than New Fossil Fuel Projects

A record US$367 billion was invested in renewable energy in 2015, according to a new report out today by the Clean Energy Canada initiative of the Centre for Dialogue at Simon Fraser University. Renewables investment increased by seven percent since 2014, with China, the US, and Japan representing more than half of the total investment last… Continue reading “More Money Invested in Renewable Energy in 2015 Than New Fossil Fuel Projects”

Another question for your Holyrood Candidate

The future of our economy must be based on zero or low carbon which means our infrastructure needs changed and future decisions on infrastructure developments need to take this into account.

Currently, the Government does not fully account for all the emissions that will be created during the life of an asset. For example, when building a new road, they account for the emissions during construction bot not those of the vehicles that will use it during its lifespan. This must change. Zero or low carbon spending can be used to drive innovation and behaviour change.

The question to ask any candidate then is: How will your party ensure that future big infrastructure projects support Scotland’ s journey to a zero or low – carbon society ?

Question for a Holyrood Candidate

Most of the energy we use today is to heat our homes. This accounts for over 50% of Scotland’s climate emissions with only a wee small 3% coming from renewable energy sources. So the SNP’s 100% renewable energy plans won’t meet our home heating needs.

So, the Government we elect in May 2016 will need to take positive steps to address this issue. It will be required to develop a framework – independent of the UK Government especially with new finance powers if practical – that will encourage low or zero carbon heating.

This new Government could also encourage the development of district or community heating schemes that use renewable powered heat and energy to create jobs, warm homes and cut emissions.

The question to ask any candidate on the doorstep, or elsewhere is, How will your party increase the amount of renewable heat generated in Scotland ?

GWPF Report Predicts No Global Warming By Ignoring Main Cause of Global Warming

What’s the easiest way to show the world isn’t warming? Simple: ignore the rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels. This is what the latest non-peer reviewed report released by Lord Lawson’s climate science denying charity, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), has done. The GWPF paid Terence Mills, professor of… Continue reading “GWPF Report Predicts No Global Warming By Ignoring Main Cause of Global Warming”

The EU Referendum

Now that David Cameron has got his “deal” on changing things for the United Kingdom he has called his referendum. However, that won’t be based on the contents of “his deal”. Instead the entire campaign will be about whether the UK should remain in the European Union or leave. Unfortunately, this campaign runs the risk of dominating the airwaves, TV, radio and print media to the exclusion of the elections that are taking place in early May. This is a travesty and a tragedy. Can we please stop talking about the referendum until after these elections? There will be 6 weeks after 5th May for that campaign to take place!

The EU referendum campaign is finally underway – here’s how to win it

The Conversation

The EU referendum campaign is finally underway – here’s how to win it

Sofia Vasilopoulou, University of York

Following long-winded negotiations with the 27 other heads of government in Europe, David Cameron has secured a deal that he hopes will win him the June referendum.

Cameron’s argument now is that he is the only prime minister ever to have renegotiated the UK’s position in the EU and to secure a special status for the country. His opponents say that his deal is at best modest.

But will the negotiation outcome matter in swaying voters either way?

Results from 57 polls taken between September 2015 and mid-February 2016 show that public opinion on the EU has been fluctuating. The proportion of undecided voters remains large – at times it has been as high as 21%.

Should the UK remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?
NatCen Social Research

Since the beginning of the year the race has been very close. A YouGov poll on February 4 found that the Leave campaign was in front with 45% of respondents reporting they would vote to leave the EU, 36% saying they want to remain and 19% saying they don’t know either way. But another poll taken just a few days later by Ipsos Mori reported a nine-percentage-point gap in favour of the remain camp with 10% who do not know.

Swaying the undecided

There are broadly three types of voter in this referendum. First, the “decided inners” who have definitely sided with the remain camp. These tend to be highly educated, younger and predominantly Liberal Democrat and Green party supporters.

Then there are the “decided outers” who have already decided that exit is Britain’s best option. These citizens tend to be older, with lower levels of education. They are also more likely to be UKIP supporters.

The third type of voter is the undecided citizen who could swing either way. This is a middle class voter – not necessarily very rich or very poor, not very old or very young. In terms of party affiliation, this voter may be either a Tory or Labour supporter.

And there are a great deal of undecided voters among the British public. Yet another recent poll found that only 57% of the voters have definitively decided what they will go. This leaves 42% of the population that may still change their minds, even if they do not describe themselves as “undecided” voters.

This suggests that nothing is won yet by either side. So the question becomes: what will sway the undecided? These people are, after all, much more open to attempts at persuasion and may be more responsive to campaign influence.

This means the campaign environment should be taken extremely seriously. It is very likely to influence vote choice and ultimately the result of the referendum. Campaigns provide information and thus reduce the level of uncertainty regarding political choice.

Iain Duncan Smith and Theresa Villiers hit the phones for Vote Leave.
PA/Stefan Rousseau

The two big campaigns need to carefully balance their work. They need to look at the big picture, trying to win the hearts and minds of people regarding the general idea of Britain being part of the EU, but they also need to provide information to voters on specific issues that relate to the Brexit debate. That will include providing facts and figures about the costs and benefits of the EU and meaningful ideas about alternatives.

Facts and figures

An information-intensive campaign is likely to not only increase the levels of knowledge about the EU, it is also likely to help people get a better grasp of of the specifics of the deal that Cameron got from the EU. They would then be able to make up their own minds about how modest Cameron’s deal is or is not; and the extent to which it means that the UK will have a special status in the EU.

Issue framing in campaigns also matters. That means focusing on the criteria that are most likely to influence the way people vote.

Based on opinion polls, 53% of people rate control over EU migration in the top three most important issues. The second most popular choice is control of British laws, with 43% of people rating this as a top issue. Another 38% rated the economy as among the most important matters.

To win the referendum, the in campaign should focus on explaining how Cameron’s EU negotiation addresses EU migration, while at the same time clarifying and demonstrating its positive impact on the UK economy. This is important as the out campaign is already focusing on this issue.

Immigration has already been targeted by the Leave.EU campaign, which argues that EU migration deprives low-skilled Britons from work and puts pressure on public services. But it also appears in the more moderate Vote Leave campaign. This group is generally trying to focus on economic costs and benefits but is still arguing that EU membership represents an “an open door to the EU while blocking people who could contribute to the UK coming from non-EU countries”. It’s up to the remain camp to counteract these claims with solid facts.

Sofia Vasilopoulou, Lecturer, Department of Politics, University of York

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.