Jailed Egyptian photographer wins UNESCO press freedom prize

In this file photo taken on August 9, 2016 shows Egyptian photographer Mahmoud Abdel Shakour, known as Shawkan, gesturing from inside a soundproof glass dock, during his trial in the capital Cairo on Aug. 9, 2016, Shawkan, who has been detained by the Egyptian authorities since 2013, was announced as the winner of the UNESCO / Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, on April 23, 2018. (AFP/Khaled Desouki)
Updated 23 April 2018
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Jailed Egyptian photographer wins UNESCO press freedom prize

PARIS: The United Nations’ cultural agency has ignored warnings from Egypt and awarded the World Press Freedom prize to an imprisoned Egyptian photographer.
A jury on Monday awarded the honor to Mahmoud Abu Zeid, known as Shawkan, who has been in jail since he was arrested in Cairo in August 2013 for covering a demonstration at Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square.
Egypt’s Foreign Ministry strongly warned UNESCO against the move Sunday, saying that Shawkan faces terror-related charges.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions says Shawkan’s arrest is arbitrary and his continued detention infringes his human rights.
Jury President Maria Ressa said the award, which recognizes the promotion of press freedom especially in the face of danger, “pays tribute to his courage, resistance and commitment to freedom of expression.”


What We Are Reading Today: Debating War and Peace by Jonathan Mermin

Updated 15 October 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: Debating War and Peace by Jonathan Mermin

  • Mermin shows that if there is no debate over US policy in Washington, there is no debate in the news
  • The author constructs a new framework for thinking about press-government relations

The First Amendment ideal of an independent press allows American journalists to present critical perspectives on government policies and actions; but are the media independent of government in practice? Here Jonathan Mermin demonstrates that when it comes to military intervention, journalists over the past two decades have let the government itself set the terms and boundaries of foreign policy debate in the news.

Analyzing newspaper and television reporting of US intervention in Grenada and Panama, the bombing of Libya, the Gulf War, and US actions in Somalia and Haiti, he shows that if there is no debate over US policy in Washington, there is no debate in the news. 

Journalists often criticize the execution of US policy, but fail to offer critical analysis of the policy itself if actors inside the government have not challenged it. Mermin ultimately offers concrete evidence of outside-Washington perspectives that could have been reported in specific cases, and explains how the press could increase its independence of Washington in reporting foreign policy news. 

The author constructs a new framework for thinking about press-government relations, based on the observation that bipartisan support for US intervention is often best interpreted as a political phenomenon, not as evidence of the wisdom of US policy. Journalists should remember that domestic political factors often influence foreign policy debate. The media, Mermin argues, should not see a Washington consensus as justification for downplaying critical perspectives.