How do editors choose which human rights news to cover: a case study of Mexican Newspapers

The mass media forms a key channel through which instances of human rights violations are made public. However, the media can only publish a small proportion of stories, as media practitioners are required to sift through wider information, deciding what to cover. A media ethnography conducted in Mexico in 2006, before and after the presidential elections, can illuminate what journalists are trying to do in their human rights coverage and how their outlooks and contexts condition the incidents that are covered.

Parts of the Mexican media played a significant role in the country’s democratic transition since the 1976 Tlateloco Massacre, resulting in a general shift among journalists away from a cozy and financially lucrative relationship with the government. This led to the growth of new ‘market-oriented’, as opposed to ‘state-oriented’, newspapers. Both usually have a human rights beat investigating citizens’ complaints about infractions committed by state institutions. This often involves collaboration with the independent human rights commissions established in the 1990s.

Within this context, this case of Mexico suggests the mixture of outlooks and contexts affecting processes of extracting human rights news from wider information can be put into four categories: newsworthiness, journalistic aims, economic aims and political aims. A human rights story is more likely to be published by a newspaper the more it corresponds to these criteria.

The first factor, newsworthiness of a story, appears to be tricky to define; many of the editors interviewed claim it was a ‘sentiment’ that was ‘uncertain’, ‘improvised’ or ‘arbitrary’. Still, their explanations suggest some common criteria for newsworthiness. Firstly, published stories generally concerned incidents where human rights were transgressed rather than respected. One editor of El Universal explained ‘human rights are there to be taken care of … Therefore it is news when they are violated.’ Other aspects of newsworthiness included novelty, exclusivity, impact, representativeness, and timeliness. In particular, the potential political impact of a violation was considered greater, and therefore more ‘newsworthy’, if it involved multiple victims or was particularly severe, as in the case of a 13-year-old girl who was denied a legal abortion after she was raped. Editors also sought to publish stories that were representative of wider problems, such as inequality. The idea, as an editor of El Universal put forward, was ‘that when we talk of inequality or poverty, people have a point of reference’.

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What can Rwanda’s dam building tell us about its politics?

Rwanda has just completed its first Large Dam since the genocide (traditionally defined as one over 15 metres high). The Nyabarongo Dam will become the country’s primary power station and increase Rwanda’s power generation by a third. It is arguably the first singularly big development project to be completed by president Kagame’s government, and is set to be the first of many with a further four Large Dams in the immediate pipeline and the Bugasera Airport under construction. They form part of a wider effort to build large ‘modern’ infrastructures across the country, from road improvements and increased energy production to skyscrapers in the capital Kigali.

So what does this drive towards big projects entail for Rwanda? Can it tell us something about the way in which the country is run and the values of its government? This article explores aspects of Rwanda’s flagship dam project that indicate the government’s wider approach to development politics.

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The future of fiscal squeeze: More of the same?

What can we learn about the future of fiscal squeeze in the UK (defined as substantial political effort to increase revenue or cut public spending or both) from looking at past cases? Is current or recent ‘austerity’ in a class of its own when we put it into historical perspective, or is it part of an evolving pattern?

The table below identifies a total of twenty UK ‘squeeze’ episodes over a century (which can be qualitatively grouped together into roughly thirteen) in which revenue increased or public spending fell by a significant amount relative to GDP. We define a ‘hard squeeze’ as one in which revenue rose or spending fell both in absolute constant-price terms and relative to GDP, and a ‘soft squeeze’ as one in which revenue rose or spending fell on one of those measures but not the other. The table also records the variety of governments involved in squeezing (right or left, coalition, majority-party, minority), the delegation or otherwise of economic policy functions or decision advice relating to interest rate setting, consideration of spending economies, and financial/economic forecasting.

Of course, deriving consistent data series from historical statistics over a hundred years is far from problem-free, so we should not try to read too much into small differences. And two of those thirteen episodes occurred during the special circumstances of the two twentieth-century world wars, involving very sharp revenue squeezes together with cuts in civilian spending to fund a huge blowout in military spending when party electoral competition was largely suspended. But even allowing for such issues, three changes over time stand out from this analysis.

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A ‘crowd sourced’ constitutional convention: initiative of the Institute of Welsh Affairs

Why wait for Westminster to grant you a Constitutional Convention?, Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins asked at the IWA’s conference a week before the Scottish referendum. “Hold your own one; decide what you want, and ask for it – you never know, at this time, you might just get it” the former Editor of The Times implored his audience.

So that’s what we’re doing. On January 26th we’ll be launching the first ‘Crowd Sourced’ Constitutional Convention on the future of Wales, and the UK.

Thanks to dozens of small donations from across Wales, and the support of the UK’s Changing Union project, we are able to launch an eight-week experiment in deliberative democracy to run in parallel with discussions at Westminster to devolve further power to Scotland, England and Wales.

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‘Charlie Hebdo’ and the end of the French exception

Today many are asking why Parisians have been attacked in their own city, and by their own people. But for many years the question for those following the issues of foreign policy and religion was why France had suffered so little terrorism in comparison to other European states. After the bombs on the Paris Metro and a TGV line in 1995, there were no significant Islamist attacks until the fire-bombing of the Charlie Hebdo office in November 2011, and the killings of three French soldiers (all of North African origin) and three Jewish children (and one teacher) by Mohamed Merah in Toulouse four months later. These attacks turn out to have been a warning of things to come.

But why was France free of such attacks for over fifteen years, when Madrid and London suffered endless plots and some major atrocities? Given the restrictions placed by successive governments on the foulard (headscarf) and the burka, together with the large French Muslim population (around 10% of the 64 million total), the country would seem to have been fertile ground for fundamentalist anger and terrorist outrages.

One view is that the French authorities were tougher and more effective than, say, the British who allowed Algerian extremists fleeing France after 1995 to find shelter in the Finsbury Park Mosque — to the fury of French officials. Another line is that the French secular model of integration, with no recognition of minorities or enthusiasm for multiculturalism, did actually work. Thus when riots took place in 2005 the alienated youth of the banlieues demanded jobs, fairness, and decent housing — not respect for Islam or Palestinian rights.

A third possible explanation of the long lull before this week’s storm is that French foreign policy had not provoked the kind of anger felt in Spain and Britain by their countries’ roles in the Iraq war, which France, Germany, and some other European states had clearly opposed. Although France had an important role in the allied operations in Afghanistan, its profile was not especially high. Given the slow-changing nature of international reputations the image of France as a friend of Arab states and of the Palestinians endured, while Britain drew hostile attention as the leading ally of the United States in the ‘war against terror’. France, again unlike Britain and the United States, has tended to be pragmatic in negotiations with those who have taken its citizens hostage abroad, facilitating the payment of ransoms and getting them home safely. Its policy was that payments, and the risk of encouraging further captures, were preferable to providing the Islamists with global publicity.

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How Many Judicial Review Cases Are Received by UK Government Departments?

During the debate in parliament on Monday 1 Dec 2014, Chris Grayling (Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice) was asked how many Judicial Review cases are brought against government ministers.

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman says “all the time”. Will he give us a notion of how often that is—once a day, once a week, once a month? How many times have such cases happened since April, for instance? He is giving the impression that they happen all the time, but what does that mean?

Chris Grayling: A Minister is confronted by the practical threat of the arrival of a judicial review case virtually every week of the year. It is happening all the time. There are pre-action protocols all the time, and cases are brought regularly. Looking across the majority of a Department’s activities, Ministers face judicial review very regularly indeed. It happens weeks apart rather than months apart.

The minister gave no actual numbers in his answer. So, in this post I’ve looked at how many judicial review (JR) cases were received by central government departments (‘ministers’) over the past few years. This analysis relates to my work with Christopher Hood in the Politics Department at Oxford.

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Populism vs. Technocracy? How political parties adapt to new dominant narratives.

Over the last decades, populism and technocracy have attracted a great deal of public attention and generated a lively scholarly debate. As it has recently been argued, they have emerged as the two dominant discourses on the European political scene. As the 2014 European elections clearly showed, even traditional, mainstream political parties increasingly rely on either or both these narratives. One insightful example is the discursive practices of Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party during the Italian electoral campaign.

After his rise as party leader and then Italy’s youngest ever Prime Minister, Renzi has become a favourite of the international press. As early as 2010, when he was still mayor of Florence, the Tuscan politician proved himself an extremely skilled communicator. His idea of ‘rottamare’ (‘scrapping’) the entire political class had an extremely wide impact on public opinion and soon became a slogan for all those who wanted to contest the status quo in Italian politics. The growing support he received from the public convinced him to run for his party’s leadership primaries in 2012 and then, successfully, in 2013. Nowadays, Renzi’s PD embodies an arguably renewed organisation. The internal opposition has been gradually marginalised and the re-compacted majority has developed a political discourse based on pragmatism, hope for the future and the need for change. In particular, one can observe how the PD has gradually assimilated populist and technocratic discursive strategies by examining the ways in which it deals with a key issue such as the European Union.

The populist mode. According to a growing body of literature, typical examples of populist discursive practices include the reliance upon Manichean oppositions, romanticised and essentialist visions of the people, appeals to the multitude whilst excluding others and extreme simplification and moralisation (Wodak 2003).

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Should a codified UK constitution include reform or attempt to describe current arrangements

In approaching questions of constitutional change I have learned to be circumspect. It is now clear to me – as it was not even a few years ago – that it is entirely possible to find proponents for almost any constitutional position but virtually impossible to locate any argument that has thus far succeeded in triggering principled reform.

To say this is not to deny the existence of constitutional change or even reform. The history of New Labour from 1997 continuing through the Brown administration and on into the present Coalition is testament to the shifting of several – some might say rather too many – constitutional tectonic plates. But the shifting of constitutional tectonic plates either randomly or, more recently, as a knee-jerk political response to events is not to be equated with principled reform.

Let me pursue, for a moment, what I see as the disconnect between, on the one hand, constitutional ideas and arguments and on the other, actions that affect the constitution before seeking to articulate what I believe might best be done with proposals for a codified constitution.

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