Russian Embassy in UK perplexed by statements on ‘persecution of Christians’ in Russia – Society & Culture – TASS

LONDON, February 15. /TASS/. The Russian Embassy in the UK has expressed bewilderment about remarks by Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office Heather Wheeler who claimed that Christians’ rights were not respected in Russia.

Wheeler made such a statement in the British parliament on February 6, mentioning Russia as part of a debate on the persecution of Christians around the world. She provided neither details nor evidence to substantiate her claims.

“This statement raises eyebrows at the very least. Orthodox Christians make up the vast majority of Russian believers. Hundreds of new churches are being built, and the Russian Orthodox Church plays an active role in discussing socially significant issues. All conditions have been created for freely practicing the religion by followers of other Christian churches,” the embassy’s press officer said in a statement.

“Patriarch Kirill’s meetings with head of the Catholic Church Pope Francis and Queen Elizabeth II, the head of the Church of England, in 2016 were the evidence of the recognition of the revival of Christian spiritual values and the substantial beneficial role of the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia and throughout the world. We know nothing about the issue of discrimination against Christians in Russia being raised at these meetings. Reports by personal envoys of the current OSCE chairperson-in-office on combating racism, xenophobia and discrimination make no mention of that either,” the diplomat stressed, adding that “the same is true of the problem of religious and racial intolerance towards representatives of other religions.”

“At the same time, we have to state that the problems of religious intolerance, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, are well known in Britain itself,” he pointed out.

“While declaring their determination to protect the rights of Christians, our British partners are, in actual fact, politicizing the issue, as evidenced by the fact that they refer to China, North Korea and Iran as the main [rights] abusers. We urge London to start cooperation to solve real problems facing Christians, primarily in the Middle East. A lot of work lies ahead, and its results depend on coordinated efforts by many countries,” he said.

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In the ground and off the page: why we’re banning ads from fossil fuels extractors | Membership | The Guardian

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In a bid to reduce our carbon footprint, confront greenwashing and increase our focus on the climate crisis, the Guardian this week announced it will no longer run ads from fossil fuel extractors alongside any of its content in print or online. The move will come into immediate effect, and follows the announcement in October last year that we intend to reduce our net emissions to zero by 2030.

Once upon a time, a newspaper was a rather straightforward business. You generated enough material of interest to attract a significant number of readers. You then ‘sold’ those readers to advertisers happy to pay to get their ideas, products or brands in front of consumers with cash to spend.

Of course, digital disruption over the past 20 years has upended that model, but advertising remains an important part of the media business ecosystem. At the Guardian, it is still responsible for about two-fifths of our income.

But what happens when the readers don’t like the adverts? What do you do when the message that advertisers want to spread jars awkwardly with the work your journalists are doing?

What if your journalists are some of the best in the world at revealing and investigating the deepening climate catastrophe and the disaster that is fossil fuel growth, while some of your advertisers are the very people digging the stuff out of the ground?

This contradiction has bothered us – and some of you – for some time. We came up with a rather bold answer this week: turn away the money and double down on the journalism.

“It’s something we thought about for a long time,” says Anna Bateson, the interim chief executive officer of Guardian Media Group, the Guardian’s parent company. “We always felt it was in line with our editorial values but were cautious for commercial reasons.”

She said it was the logical next step after the Guardian committed last year to becoming carbon neutral by 2030 and was certified as a B Corp – a company that puts purpose before profit. But she added that the move had to be weighed carefully, given the fact that the Guardian only recently returned to breakeven after years in the red.

“You have to be careful you are not making cavalier decisions,” she said. “ We are still having to fight for our financial future. But because of the support we get from our readers, it is less of a risk.”

On the advertising side of our business, Adam Foley said there were no complaints at all that potential customers were suddenly off-limits, adding that staff felt that “being part of a company that shares their values” was the biggest motivation for his teams.

“A statement like this reaffirms to all of us that we’re contributing to a business that really lives those values – to the extent where it is prepared to sacrifice profit for purpose.”

The response from the wider world has been a pleasant surprise. Hundreds of you have written in, pledging your support, and in some cases, one-off contributions to start making up the shortfall. (EDS: See below – I’m going to append the best responses below. In print you can use as the panel)

The environmental movement was instantly appreciative, with activists quickly urging our peers to follow suit. “The Guardian will no longer accept advertising from oil and gas companies,” Greta Thunberg tweeted. “A good start, who will take this further?” Greenpeace called it “a huge moment in the battle against oil and gas for all of us.”

Some readers have been calling for the Guardian to go the whole hog and forsake advertising from any company with a substantial carbon footprint. Bateson said that was not realistic, adding that such a move would result in less money for journalism. She said the fossil fuel extractors were specifically targeted because of their efforts to skew the climate change debate through their lobbying effort.

“We are committed to advertising,” she said. “It will continue to be part of our future. We want advertisers who want to be appear alongside our high quality journalism.”

And how will we know if this has worked?
“We will listen to our readers, we will listen to our advertisers. The response so far has been gratifying. If we continue to hear positive noises from our readers and supporters, then it will have been a success.”




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Responses from our supporters

That is such a brilliant decision and it will be tough, but it is the correct one and I am very proud of The Guardian. Barbara Syer

Following the Guardian’s decision to ban ads from fossil fuel companies I’m making a monthly contribution to support its fearless journalism: reader support is essential for independent scrutiny of the powerful in business, finance and politics. Titus Alexander, Hertfordshire, England

I live at present in Canada, home to the Alberta Tar Sands: another name for ecological devastation resulting from fossil fuel extraction. I fully support The Guardian’s action in ceasing to be a vehicle for advertising by fossil fuel extractive companies, and I’m proud to be a supporter. My monthly donation is small, but when I can I will make it much greater. Rosemary Delnavine, Canada

Congratulations. At this time it may be a bold step, indeed, within this industry, but true leaders have to take bold steps for the betterment of the quality of life, and more importantly for the life of future generations. I applaud this decision, and will spread the word. Raphael Sulkovitz, Boston MA

What a bravery! This is what the life on earth needs, thank you. Karri Kuikka, Finland (EDS: please leave her wonderful Finglish intact!)

Keep it up. Here in Canada, we’re still trying to have it both ways — sell the product internationally but discourage buying domestically. As I recall, it was the same with tobacco. Eventually, it took a change in public opinion to solve the problem. As a news source, your efforts are part of this solution. Robert Shotton, Ottawa

I applaud your decision to”walk the talk.” I will therefore continue to contribute to The Guardian. Bob Wagenseil

Bravo yr decision to eschew $ from the FFI. Please do continue to hold to the fire(s) the feet of the deniers and the willfully ignorant. Sydney Alonso, Vermont, US

I am very happy to hear that good news. It’s quite courageous on your part, and I’m happy to support you! Have a great year ahead, you’ll have my continuous support! Julien Psomas

I completely support your plan to refuse ads from fossils, despite the
financial hit to the Guardian. I have made a donation to help out. David Thompson

A very commendable decision, very much in keeping with the Guardian’s position as leader of green issues to leave a better planet for following generations. Richard Vernon, Oxford

Yay! I’m so proud of the Guardian! We can no longer support or fund in any manner the fossil fuel industry if we have any chance of survival as a civilization on this planet. You’ve taken a courageous and moral step that will hopefully embolden others to join you. Good on you! Best, Carol Ross, Missouri, US

Good decision. I’ll support you as much as I can, which unfortunately is not much as I live on age pension only. Keep up the good work, we need it desperately! Ursula Brandt, South Australia

I am absolutely delighted by this decision. So many people pledge to do something about Climate Change, but few actually are willing to get uncomfortable and DO it. I am very proud of you as my favourite source of Information and this only makes a case for me to donate next time to you again. Christiane Gross

It was great reading what The Guardian is doing re the climate. As a Guardian on-line reader from The Netherlands I’m going to contribute monthly now instead of ‘now and again’. The amount will be relatively small as I do not have a great income. I really hope more of your supporters will do so, because it is really great what you are doing.
With kind regards, Aleida Oostendorp, Netherlands

I congratulate you and your team on taking this step regarding fossil fuel companies. The Guardian’s stance on the environment and its excellent coverage of related stories and events is the major reason for my support. Well done, and good luck in the future. Deirdre Moore

Love your new policy about accepting money from fossil fuels. Will contribute more to help make up for the shortfall. Todd Misk

I live on a fixed income with a strict budget so my continuing support of your excellent news organisation represents my commitment to the fight to address climate change. Every step counts. Barbara Hirsch, Texas, US

Only when we speak truth to power can change take place. thank yo for your courageous and expensive decision. Nancy Shepherd, Vermont, US

Love your journalism, especially your investigative work and the climate change topic. And with the bold statement about not receiving any more sponsorship from the fossil extracting companies? Well, the already great newspapers became even more impressive now. Keep up the good work. Miroslav Řezníček, Czech Republic

Thank you for taking the bold step of refusing advertising from fossil fuel extractive companies. I think it is the right thing to do & hope many more companies do the same. We must all work together if we want to save our planet. It is one of the most important issues of our times. Ginger Comstock, New York, US

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Fox’s MacCallum Gives Rand Paul Safe Space For Impeachment Trial Sabotage – NewsHounds

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After rejection by Chief Justice John Roberts and some of his own colleagues for trying to out the whistleblower in an impeachment trial question, Sen. Rand Paul ran to his safe space on Fox News. There, he freely sabotaged Trump’s impeachment with disinformation that was validated by “straight news” anchor Martha MacCallum.

Yesterday, Paul deliberately flouted Justice John Roberts’ impeachment trial rules by re-submitting a previously-denied question outing the Ukraine whistleblower. When it was refused again, Paul stalked out of the trial and publicly aired his question (and the alleged name of the whistleblower) to reporters and on Twitter.

MacCallum helped reveal the whistleblower’s name without actually doing so by suggesting viewers read Paul’s tweet: “Anybody who wants to hear the whole text of that question and the names that you included, it’s on your Twitter feed and you talked about it today and I would direct them there but I’d ask you not to say them here,” she said.

She continued by asking “why you feel it’s so important to focus on the origins of this investigation and to bring that point home.” Nice way to ignore the actual findings of the investigation, Martha!

MacCallum did not mention that Roberts had signaled he would not allow whistleblower outing before the question period began, nor did she mention that top Republicans were in accord.

Instead, MacCallum cocked her head with a look of intent listening, messaging that Paul’s comments were to be taken seriously – unlike the serious impeachment accusations against Donald Trump which she conveniently ignored.

Paul claimed his question did not name the whistleblower, thus contradicting Chief Justice Roberts. Politico explains that while Paul may not have technically outed the whistleblower, he “named a person referred to in conservative media as the purported whistleblower.” But MacCallum didn’t challenge Paul’s disingenuousness.

So, we got a stream of Democratic demonization, unquestioned. Paul claimed his question discussed “two Obama partisans who worked in the National Security Council” one of whom now supposedly works for Rep. Adam Schiff and “one of them is someone who is involved in the origins of the impeachment inquiry.”

MacCallum nodded in agreement.

Paul persisted with his claim that “there are stories and reports now that they, a few years ago, were heard saying, you know what? We’ve got to do everything we can to bring down the president, to take down the president.”

You may recall that Fox described MacCallum as the embodiment of “ultimate journalistic integrity and professionalism” when it pleaded with the DNC to hold a debate on the network. But “ultimate professional” MacCallum never bothered to ask Paul his source for that smear. Nor did she note that even if true, that does not disprove any of the evidence uncovered during the House impeachment investigation. No, Fox’s “ultimate professional” continued nodding as Paul promoted his unsubstantiated, pro-Trump propaganda deflection and whataboutism.

Paul went on with his conspiracy theory (and MacCallum continued nodding in agreement) about “six people who were Obama partisans who worked for the National Security Council who all are transmitting stuff back and forth and my question is, did they have discussions predating the official impeachment inquiry?” We also heard about House Manager Adam Schiff’s supposed dishonesty in the process but none about Trump’s dishonesty – and it’s Trump’s behavior that is on trial.

But MacCallum responded to Paul by saying that questions about the origin of the Ukraine investigation, just like those about the origin of the Russia investigation, “are certainly valid questions.” She called it “frustrating” that there’s no cross examination. But she wasn’t promoting the calling of any witnesses, oh no. She meant Paul had no opportunity to see Schiff “try to answer” Paul’s questions. She later “asked,” on behalf of “anybody at home who says, yeah, I’d like to know the answer to these questions, why doesn’t the Senate Judiciary Committee or the DOJ, someone, start to look into this, just as we saw happen with the origins of the Russia investigation? Is that gonna happen?”

“Maybe eventually,” Paul replied. He quickly segued to promoting himself as “a big defender of whistleblowers.” He claimed that the whistleblower is only protected from being fired so he or she should come forward (and death threats are A-OK).

And Rand Paul wouldn’t be a Republican if he didn’t play the victim. “I never identified anybody as a whistleblower,” he disingenuously reiterated. “That’s why it’s unfair to exclude my question.”

Finally, in the last minute of the 7:15 interview, MacCallum asked if Paul saw “anything wrong” with Trump’s Ukraine phone call and whether he saw it as “a request for a political favor?”

Paul falsely claimed that there was a lot of corruption and that Trump “would actually be going against the law if he didn’t investigate the Bidens” (i.e. hold up aid to Ukraine) and that Trump’s actions were “completely within compliance with the law.”

FACT CHECK: The Pentagon sent a letter to four congressional committees last May certifying that Ukraine had taken sufficient anti-corruption measures to warrant the release of aid. The Department of Defense announced in mid-June that it would release $250 million but the White House blocked that assistance in July.

FACT CHECK: Furthermore, the Government Accountability Office found that Trump violated the law by withholding the aid.

But “ultimate professional” MacCallum never mentioned any of that to her viewers.

You can watch MacCallum enable Paul’s gaslighting propaganda below, from the January 30, 2020 The Story.

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Facebook keeps policy protecting political ads | ABS-CBN News

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Facebook logos are seen on a screen in this picture illustration taken Dec. 2, 2019. Johanna Geron, Reuters/file

SAN FRANCISCO — Defying pressure from Congress, Facebook said on Thursday that it would continue to allow political campaigns to use the site to target advertisements to particular slices of the electorate and that it would not police the truthfulness of the messages sent out.

The stance put Facebook, the most important digital platform for political ads, at odds with some of the other large tech companies, which have begun to put new limits on political ads.

Facebook’s decision, telegraphed in recent months by executives, is likely to harden criticism of the company heading into this year’s presidential election.

Political advertising cuts to the heart of Facebook’s outsize role in society, and the company has found itself squeezed between liberal critics, who want it to do a better job of policing its various social media platforms, and conservatives, who say their views are being unfairly muzzled.

The issue has raised important questions regarding how heavy a hand technology companies like Facebook — which also owns Instagram and the messaging app WhatsApp — and Google should exert when deciding what types of political content they will and will not permit.

By maintaining a status quo, Facebook executives are essentially saying they are doing the best they can without government guidance and see little benefit to the company or the public in changing.

In a blog post, a company official echoed Facebook’s earlier calls for lawmakers to set firm rules.

“In the absence of regulation, Facebook and other companies are left to design their own policies,” Rob Leathern, Facebook’s director of product management overseeing the advertising integrity division, said in the post. “We have based ours on the principle that people should be able to hear from those who wish to lead them, warts and all, and that what they say should be scrutinized and debated in public.”

Other social media companies have decided otherwise, and some had hoped Facebook would quietly follow their lead. In late October, Twitter’s chief executive, Jack Dorsey, banned all political advertising from his network, citing the challenges that novel digital systems present to civic discourse. Google quickly followed suit with limits on political ads across some of its properties, though narrower in scope.

Reaction to Facebook’s policy broke down largely along party lines.

The Trump campaign, which has been highly critical of any attempts by technology companies to regulate political advertising and has already spent more than $27 million on the platform, largely supported Facebook’s decision not to interfere in targeting ads or to set fact-checking standards.

“Our ads are always accurate so it’s good that Facebook won’t limit political messages because it encourages more Americans to be involved in the process,” said Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for the Trump campaign. “This is much better than the approaches from Twitter and Google, which will lead to voter suppression.”

Democratic presidential candidates and outside groups decried the decision.

“Facebook is paying for its own glowing fake news coverage, so it’s not surprising they’re standing their ground on letting political figures lie to you,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren said on Twitter.

Warren, who has been among the most critical of Facebook and regularly calls for major tech companies to be broken up, reiterated her stance that the social media company should face tougher policies.

The Biden campaign was similarly critical. The campaign has confronted Facebook over an ad run by President Donald Trump’s campaign that attacked Joe Biden’s record on Ukraine.

“Donald Trump’s campaign can (and will) still lie in political ads,” Bill Russo, the deputy communications director for Biden, said in a statement. “Facebook can (and will) still profit off it. Today’s announcement is more window dressing around their decision to allow paid misinformation.”

But many Democratic groups willing to criticize Facebook had to walk a fine line; they have pushed for more regulation when it comes to fact-checking political ads, but they have been adamantly opposed to any changes to the ad-targeting features.

On Thursday, some Democratic outside groups welcomed Facebook’s decision not to limit micro-targeting, but still thought the policy fell short.

“These changes read to us mostly as a cover for not making the change that is most vital: ensuring politicians are not allowed to use Facebook as a tool to lie to and manipulate voters,” said Madeline Kriger, who oversees digital ad buying at Priorities USA, a Democratic super PAC.

Other groups, however, said Facebook had been more thoughtful about political ads than its industry peers.

“Facebook opted against limiting ad targeting, because doing so would have unnecessarily restricted a valuable tool that campaigns of all sizes rely on for fundraising, registering voters, building crowds and organizing volunteers,” said Tara McGowan, chief executive of Acronym, a non-profit group that works on voter organization and progressive causes.

Facebook has played down the business opportunity in political ads, saying the vast majority of its revenue came from commercial, not political, ads. But lawmakers have noted that Facebook ads could be a focal point of Trump’s campaign as well as those of top Democrats.

Facebook’s hands-off ad policy has already allowed for misleading advertisements. In October, a Facebook ad from the Trump campaign made false accusations about Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. The ad quickly went viral and was viewed by millions. After the Biden campaign asked Facebook to take down the ad, the company refused.

“Our approach is grounded in Facebook’s fundamental belief in free expression, respect for the democratic process and the belief that, in mature democracies with a free press, political speech is already arguably the most scrutinized speech there is,” Facebook’s head of global elections policy, Katie Harbath, wrote in the letter to the Biden campaign.

In an attempt to provoke Facebook, Warren’s presidential campaign ran an ad falsely claiming that the company’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, was backing the reelection of Trump. Facebook did not take the ad down.

Criticism seemed to stiffen Zuckerberg’s resolve. Company officials said he and Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s president, had ultimately made the decision to stand firm.

In a strongly worded speech at Georgetown University in October, Zuckerberg said he believed in the power of unfettered speech, including in paid advertising, and did not want to be in the position to police what politicians could and could not say to constituents. Facebook’s users, he said, should be allowed to make those decisions for themselves.

“People having the power to express themselves at scale is a new kind of force in the world — a Fifth Estate alongside the other power structures of society,” he said.

Facebook officials have repeatedly said significant changes to its rules for political or issue ads could harm the ability of smaller, less well-funded organizations to raise money and organize across the network.

Instead of overhauling its policies, Facebook has made small tweaks. Leathern said Facebook would add greater transparency features to its library of political advertising in the coming months, a resource for journalists and outside researchers to scrutinize the types of ads run by the campaigns.

Facebook also will add a feature that allows users to see fewer campaign and political issue ads in their news feeds, something the company has said many users have requested.

There was considerable debate inside Facebook about whether it should change. Late last year, hundreds of employees supported an internal memo that called on Zuckerberg to limit the abilities of Facebook’s political advertising products.

On Dec. 30, Andrew Bosworth, the head of Facebook’s virtual and augmented reality division, wrote on his internal Facebook page that, as a liberal, he found himself wanting to use the social network’s powerful platform against Trump.

But Bosworth said that even though keeping the current policies in place “very well may lead to” Trump’s reelection, it was the right decision. Dozens of Facebook employees pushed back on Bosworth’s conclusions, arguing in the comments section below his post that politicians should be held to the same standard that applies to other Facebook users.

For now, Facebook appears willing to risk disinformation in support of unfettered speech.

“Ultimately, we don’t think decisions about political ads should be made by private companies,” Leathern said. “Frankly, we believe the sooner Facebook and other companies are subject to democratically accountable rules on this, the better.”

2020 The New York Times Company

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Sir Nigel Farage? Prospect of knighthood for Brexit Party leader provokes joy & horror on Twitter

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The prospect of Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage receiving a knighthood in the UK’s New Year Honours list has been met with a mixture of delight and dismay in equal measure on social media.

According to the UK government’s website, the annual list “recognises the achievements and service of extraordinary people” across the country. One lucky recipient of such an honor could be Farage, who is rumored to be in line for a knighthood, primarily for his long-running campaign to see Britain leave the European Union.

Also on rt.com

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage campaigns in Hartlepool, December 11, 2019.
Victory for Brexit, but not Brexit Party: Farage says he’s ‘comfortable’ with winning no seats in UK election

The thought of such a prestigious accolade for the 55-year-old politician has, perhaps quite predictably, caused ructions on social media. An avalanche of comical memes and gifs have been tweeted by his allies and detractors.

Many of Farage’s supporters have come out to praise his contribution to the Brexit debate with some suggesting that the UK would “still be waiting for a [EU] referendum” without him.

Yes Yes Yes, Marvelous.
Arise Sir Nigel.😉🇬🇧🇬🇧🇬🇧👍 pic.twitter.com/ADp3K1BUam

— dave (@NorthBankDave1) December 23, 2019

Stand Up Sir Nigel Farage #NigelFarage . He has selflessly fought for British Democracy for over 25 years. #SirNigelFarage pic.twitter.com/pqeLuIwOLh

— Ken Shakesby (@ken_shakesby) December 23, 2019

A number of his critics appeared dumbfounded that such a title for the arch Brexiteer could even be contemplated. One person tweeted that if he is knighted then she’ll be having her “own Brexit and leaving the UK!!!”

pic.twitter.com/bHbqHhJpFp

— Tracy O’Shea (@TracymOshea) December 23, 2019

How is that even a question? He has achieved nothing! pic.twitter.com/cSVm54LDj9

— Lauren Rose 🌹 (@RedLeftie) December 23, 2019

The New Year Honours list consists of knights and dames, appointments to the Order of the British Empire, and gallantry awards to servicemen and women, and civilians. Individuals are nominated by UK government departments and members of the public with the Queen informally approving the list.

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Against the Death Cult: We Must Not Let Ruthless Ideologues Destroy the Climate and Kill Us All

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Agriculture

The Niger delta is burning. The oil companies plumbing the river basin of its black gold have found an ingenious way of dealing with the natural gas they consider a waste by-product of the extraction process. Capturing the gas would be costly, inefficient – so instead, they flare it off. Across the delta, towers of flame burn day and night, some of them stretching ten storeys into the sky.

Gas flaring was officially banned in Nigeria in 1984 – but still, two million people live within four kilometres of a flare site, at risk of the cancers, neurological, reproductive and respiratory problems linked to the pollutants released into the air. The soil is hotter, and crop yields have dwindled; “You plant, and before you know it, everything is dead”. When the rains come, they are black. Oil spills spew from the pipelines of Shell and ENI, the biggest operators in the area. Shell has reported 17.5 million litres lost since 2011; Amnesty International say that’s likely a hefty underestimate. The spills have poisoned drinking water, and destroyed the livelihoods of the fishermen who once combed the delta. 

We are over the brink. People have already lost their lives to hurricanes and bush fires and flooding, to toxins and crop failures – all disasters rooted in fossil-fuel dependent extractive capitalism, bankrolled by a deregulated financial sector. People continue to lose their lives. Global temperatures soar, and a monstrous future slouches towards us from the ecocidal imaginations of the handful of humans directly invested in a doctrine of global annihilation. Now, the death drive built into the heart of our economy reveals itself in ever more undeniable terms; the skull is showing through the skin. 

Scientists at ExxonMobil confirmed the truth of climate change in the 1980s, at the very latest. Since then, Exxon and its fellow fossil fuel companies have spent decades sponsoring climate change denial and blocking efforts to legislate against apocalypse. Under their auspices, newspapers and broadcasters and politicians revelled in a vicious subterfuge disguised as pious gnosticism; asking how we can know for sure that climate change is caused by human activity. In recent years, this strategy has buckled under the weight of public outrage and scientific proof.

The science is clear: only an ambitious, rapid overhaul of the fundaments of our economy gives us hope of survival. And that hope is tantalisingly within our grasp. We have the technology, and we have the financial capacity; all that’s missing is the political will to give those solutions heft, muscle and cold hard cash.

Now, culprit companies are suddenly flouting their green credentials to shore up their position as custodians of the future. Shell Oil has made a big song and dance about its investments in green technology. Goldman Sachs has funded research into how to make cities “resilient to climate change”. These are little more than attempts to seduce and cajole worried publics and skittish investors. Still these companies hoard over-valued assets, continue ploughing resources into carbon-heavy industries, show no signs of leaving enough fossil fuels in the ground to avoid the breakdown of the climate, the potential collapse of civilisation and the extinction of life on earth. Negotiators were banned from mentioning climate change in recent UK-US trade talks. the UK government has subsidised the fossil fuel industry to the tune of 10bn in a decade, and its legislators continue to take its lobby money in return. They defend their right to starve out and flood and burn chunks of human existence – and make money doing it. 

We are being held hostage by a cabal of ruthless ideologues whose only loyalty is to a doctrine of global death. Their success thrives on silence, isolation, manipulation, denial. They are united in their opposition to reality, in their determination to hunt down or hound out real alternatives that threaten their mortal stranglehold on power. All other doctrines are heresy, and their preachers envoys of a sinister delusion. They are unique guardians of a dark and dazzling reality.

If this took place among a handful of hippies beckoning oblivion from the heat haze of a california desert we would call it is: a death cult. Instead, it is orchestrated from sumptuous glass towers, from the velvet inner chambers of parliament – so we call it business as usual. 

To these science-backed suggestions that economic alternatives are possible – even urgent, necessary, beautiful – they react with vitriol and incredulity. Saving the world may sound appealing, but it clashes intolerably with the cultish diktat: ‘There Is No Alternative”. Partisans of the Green New Deal like Alexandra Ocasio Cortez are dismissed at best as well-meaning dreamers or childish hysterics, and, at worst, nightmarish envoys of backdoor totalitarianism. Indeed, grassroots activists have been murdered for organising against big polluters. The political allegiances are clear: Defending life is foolish. Annihilation is inevitable. We have only to accept it graciously, to walk into its arms.

Rightwing politicians barter casually about the difference between a decarbonisation target of 2030, 2045, 2050, 2060 as a matter of messaging and electoral success. As though that difference were not cashed out in millions of deaths. Such differences slide off the sunny, addled mind of the cultist, for whom life and death are indistinguishable. 

A chosen few will be spared; the golden ones who walk in the light. As the asset-stripping and plundering continues apace, so the market for luxury disaster insurance packages has grown, with companies offering high-tech flood defences, private firefighters, private security to guard against mobs of looters. Theirs is a gilded world where disaster can never truly happen to them – because it never truly has. That no insurance policy in the world will provide them with breathable air or sustainable agriculture is a matter for the others, the ghosts, the un-living, those whose existence never really registered. Us.   

Broadcasters tried to haul Boris Johnson before the court of the living on Thursday night for the climate change debate, to account for Conservative policy proposals which present a 50% risk of tipping the world into irreversible, runaway climate breakdown, to account for his fossil fuel backers. He responded by threatening them with censure and legal action. Cult leaders can tolerate no scrutiny of their fragile world picture, no challenge to their power. 

We can break the stranglehold, and commit the death cultists to the bleak annals of history where they belong. It is time to choose only those who have chosen life.   

Eleanor Penny is a writer and a regular contributor to Novara Media. 

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Why the fight against disinformation, sham accounts and trolls won’t be any easier in 2020

2020 Election

The big tech companies have announced aggressive steps to keep trolls, bots and online fakery from marring another presidential election — from Facebook’s removal of billions of fake accounts to Twitter’s spurning of all political ads.

But it’s a never-ending game of whack-a-mole that’s only getting harder as we barrel toward the 2020 election. Disinformation peddlers are deploying new, more subversive techniques and American operatives have adopted some of the deceptive tactics Russians tapped in 2016. Now, tech companies face thorny and sometimes subjective choices about how to combat them — at times drawing flak from both Democrats and Republicans as a result.

This is our roundup of some of the evolving challenges Silicon Valley faces as it tries to counter online lies and bad actors heading into the 2020 election cycle:

1) American trolls may be a greater threat than Russians

Russia-backed trolls notoriously flooded social media with disinformation around the presidential election in 2016, in what Robert Mueller’s investigators described as a multimillion-dollar plot involving years of planning, hundreds of people and a wave of fake accounts posting news and ads on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google-owned YouTube.

This time around — as experts have warned — a growing share of the threat is likely to originate in America.

“It’s likely that there will be a high volume of misinformation and disinformation pegged to the 2020 election, with the majority of it being generated right here in the United States, as opposed to coming from overseas,” said Paul Barrett, deputy director of New York University’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.

Barrett, the author of a recent report on 2020 disinformation, noted that lies and misleading claims about 2020 candidates originating in the U.S. have already spread across social media. Those include manufactured sex scandals involving South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and a smear campaign calling Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) “not an American black” because of her multiracial heritage. (The latter claim got a boost on Twitter from Donald Trump Jr.)

Before last year’s midterm elections, Americans similarly amplified fake messages such as a “#nomenmidterms” hashtag that urged liberal men to stay home from the polls to make “a Woman’s Vote Worth more.” Twitter suspended at least one person — actor James Woods — for retweeting that message.

“A lot of the disinformation that we can identify tends to be domestic,” said Nahema Marchal, a researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute’s Computational Propaganda Project. “Just regular private citizens leveraging the Russian playbook, if you will, to create … a divisive narrative, or just mixing factual reality with made-up facts.”

Tech companies say they’ve broadened their fight against disinformation as a result. Facebook, for instance, announced in October that it had expanded its policies against “coordinated inauthentic behavior” to reflect a rise in disinformation campaigns run by non-state actors, domestic groups and companies. But people tracking the spread of fakery say it remains a problem, especially inside closed groups like those popular on Facebook.

2) And policing domestic content is tricky

U.S. law forbids foreigners from taking part in American political campaigns — a fact that made it easy for members of Congress to criticize Facebook for accepting rubles as payment for political ads in 2016.

But Americans are allowed, even encouraged, to partake in their own democracy — which makes things a lot more complicated when they use social media tools to try to skew the electoral process. For one thing, the companies face a technical challenge: Domestic meddling doesn’t leave obvious markers such as ads written in broken English and traced back to Russian internet addresses.

More fundamentally, there’s often no clear line between bad-faith meddling and dirty politics. It’s not illegal to run a mud-slinging campaign or engage in unscrupulous electioneering. And the tech companies are wary of being seen as infringing on American’s right to engage in political speech — all the more so as conservatives such as President Donald Trump accuse them of silencing their voices.

Plus, the line between foreign and domestic can be blurry. Even in 2016, the Kremlin-backed troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency relied on Americans to boost their disinformation. Now, claims with hazy origins are being picked up without need for a coordinated 2016-style foreign campaign. Simon Rosenberg, a longtime Democratic strategist who has spent recent years focused on online disinformation, points to Trump’s promotion of the theory that Ukraine significantly meddled in the 2016 U.S. election, a charge that some experts trace back to Russian security forces.

“It’s hard to know if something is foreign or domestic,” said Rosenberg, once it “gets swept up in this vast ‘Wizard of Oz’-like noise machine.”

3) Bad actors are learning

Experts agree on one thing: The election interference tactics that social media platforms encounter in 2020 will look different from those they’ve trying to fend off since 2016.

“What we’re going to see is the continued evolution and development of new approaches, new experimentation trying to see what will work and what won’t,” said Lee Foster, who leads the information operations intelligence analysis team at the cybersecurity firm FireEye.

Foster said the “underlying motivations” of undermining democratic institutions and casting doubt on election results will remain constant, but the trolls have already evolved their tactics.

For instance, they’ve gotten better at obscuring their online activity to avoid automatic detection, even as social media platforms ramp up their use of artificial intelligence software to dismantle bot networks and eradicate inauthentic accounts.

“One of the challenges for the platforms is that, on the one hand, the public understandably demands more transparency from them about how they take down or identify state-sponsored attacks or how they take down these big networks of authentic accounts, but at the same time they can’t reveal too much at the risk of playing into bad actors’ hands,” said Oxford’s Marchal.

Researchers have already observed extensive efforts to distribute disinformation through user-generated posts — known as “organic” content — rather than the ads or paid messages that were prominent in the 2016 disinformation campaigns.

Foster, for example, cited trolls impersonating journalists or other more reliable figures to give disinformation greater legitimacy. And Marchal noted a rise in the use of memes and doctored videos, whose origins can be difficult to track down. Jesse Littlewood, vice president at advocacy group Common Cause, said social media posts aimed at voter suppression frequently appear no different from ordinary people sharing election updates in good faith — messages such as “you can text your vote” or “the election’s a different day” that can be “quite harmful.”

Tech companies insist they are learning, too. Since the 2016 election, Google, Facebook and Twitter have devoted security experts and engineers to tackling disinformation in national elections across the globe, including the 2018 midterms in the United States. The companies say they have gotten better at detecting and removing fake accounts, particularly those engaged in coordinated campaigns.

But other tactics may have escaped detection so far. NYU’s Barrett noted that disinformation-for-hire operations sometimes employed by corporations may be ripe for use in U.S. politics, if they’re not already.

He pointed to a recent experiment conducted by the cyber threat intelligence firm Recorded Future, which said it paid two shadowy Russian “threat actors” a total of just $6,050 to generate media campaigns promoting and trashing a fictitious company. Barrett said the project was intended “to lure out of the shadows firms that are willing to do this kind of work,” and demonstrated how easy it is to generate and sow disinformation.

Real-life examples include a hyper-partisan skewed news operation started by a former Fox News executive and Facebook’s accusations that an Israeli social media company profited from creating hundreds of fake accounts. That “shows that there are firms out there that are willing and eager to engage in this kind of underhanded activity,” Barrett said.

4) Not all lies are created equal

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are largely united in trying to take down certain kinds of false information, such as targeted attempts to drive down voter turnout. But their enforcement has been more varied when it comes to material that is arguably misleading.

In some cases, the companies label the material factually dubious or use their algorithms to limit its spread. But in the lead-up to 2020, the companies’ rules are being tested by political candidates and government leaders who sometimes play fast and loose with the truth.

“A lot of the mainstream campaigns and politicians themselves tend to rely on a mix of fact and fiction,” Marchal said. “It’s often a lot of … things that contain a kernel of truth but have been distorted.”

One example is the flap over a Trump campaign ad — which appeared on Facebook, YouTube and some television networks — suggesting that former Vice President Joe Biden had pressured Ukraine into firing a prosecutor to squelch an investigation into an energy company whose board included Biden’s son Hunter. In fact, the Obama administration and multiple U.S. allies had pushed for removing the prosecutor for slow-walking corruption investigations. The ad “relies on speculation and unsupported accusations to mislead viewers,” the nonpartisan site FactCheck.org concluded.

The debate has put tech companies at the center of a tug of war in Washington. Republicans have argued for more permissive rules to safeguard constitutionally protected political speech, while Democrats have called for greater limits on politicians’ lies.

Democrats have especially lambasted Facebook for refusing to fact-check political ads, and have criticized Twitter for letting politicians lie in their tweets and Google for limiting candidates’ ability to finely tune the reach of their advertising — all examples, the Democrats say, of Silicon Valley ducking the fight against deception.

Jesse Blumenthal, who leads the tech policy arm of the Koch-backed Stand Together coalition, said expecting Silicon Valley to play truth cop places an undue burden on tech companies to litigate messy disputes over what’s factual.

“Most of the time the calls are going to be subjective, so what they end up doing is putting the platforms at the center of this rather than politicians being at the center of this,” he said.

Further complicating matters, social media sites have generally granted politicians considerably more leeway to spread lies and half-truths through their individual accounts and in certain instances through political ads. “We don’t do this to help politicians, but because we think people should be able to see for themselves what politicians are saying,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in an October speech at Georgetown University in which he defended his company’s policy.

But Democrats say tech companies shouldn’t profit off false political messaging.

“I am supportive of these social media companies taking a much harder line on what content they allow in terms of political ads and calling out lies that are in political ads, recognizing that that’s not always the easiest thing to draw those distinctions,” Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state told POLITICO.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

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Hate Speech Bill: UN, UK Oppose Inclusion Of Death Penalty

As the ongoing debate on the Hate Bill speech before the Nigeria Senate continues, the United Nations and the United Kingdom have added their voice in opposition against the inclusion of the death penalty in the proposed legislation.

The Prohibition of Hate Speech Bill, according to its sponsor, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, the Senate Deputy Chief Whip, proposes that any person who violates the law shall be liable to life imprisonment and where the act causes any loss of life, the person shall be punished with death by hanging.

But the UN and the UK insisted that the bill may act as a conduit to prevent Nigerians to exercise their right to free expression as guaranteed in the 1999 constitution (as amended).

Olusola Macaulay, spokesman of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in Nigeria, said the introduction of the bill is not the most exigent matter for the National Assembly currently. He stated that public enlightenment on the dangers of hate speech is what should be communicated to Nigerians.

“I’m not sure what the government needs now is a bill or an idea to shut down people or prevent people from being able to express themselves or express their freedom of thought or information. What I think the government should do more is to enlighten the people,” he said in an interview with the Punch on Thursday.

“Every human being has the right to life and you cannot cut off people’s lives just because someone has expressed his opinion. Nobody is saying hate speech is good.

“Hate speech and fake news have been there from time immemorial and it is barbaric to say now that we want to hang people because they expressed their feelings or what they had in mind. So, censoring people or limiting people from participating in politics might not be the correct thing. As I said, the best thing to do is to educate the people.”

Macaulay disclosed that a UNESCO advocacy group, Media and Information Literacy Coalition, would soon meet with the National Assembly over the proposed legislation.

He also hinted that the UN would lobby the Federal Government on the legislation.

“We are trying to pay an advocacy visit to the government and do some lobbying. There is a coalition working already, it was formed with the support of UNESCO.

“They are working to meet with the National Assembly to express their mind and possibly advise the government to have a different narrative to the issue of hate speech and fake news,” he said.

On its part, the British government said while it unequivocally condemns hate speech, the inclusion of the death penalty in the proposed bill would stifle Nigerians from freely expressing themselves.

In a statement signed by Chris Ogunmodede, Senior Press and Public Affairs Officer, British High Commission, Abuja, the UK government said it supports the right of individuals to express their opinions peacefully in a an open society.

The statement read: “The UK government is following discussions around the proposed Prohibition of Hate Speech bill closely.

“We take a strong stand against hate speech, which can incite violence and damage community relationships within society.  We also strongly support the right of individuals to express opinions and peacefully challenge authority as an essential part of a free and open society.

“The UK strongly opposes the inclusion of the death penalty in any piece of legislation, as a matter of principle.”

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The Emperor’s new clothes: the politics of birth research — Sheena Byrom

In Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of the Emperor’s new clothes no one dares to say they don’t see a suit of clothes on him for fear they will be seen as stupid and incompetent. It takes the cry from a small child, “but he isn’t wearing anything at all”, to identifying the farce being carried out.

Sometimes research papers are put out with misleading media releases and political agendas that go unquestioned by a media hungry for controversy and the next sensational headline. In this blog we will identify the naked Emperor in the form of the recent New Zealand paper (NZ) published by (2016), titled A Comparison of Midwife-Led and Medical-Led Models of Care and Their Relationship to Adverse Fetal and Neonatal Outcomes: A Retrospective Cohort Study in New Zealand.  The Wernham paper caused consternation around the globe with doctors waving it in triumph pretending the Emperor had a magnificent outfit on while midwives scrambled to understand what was happening, crying amidst the crowd, “but he isn’t wearing anything at all.”  

How did something that was fairly low level scientific evidence get more attention, and lead to such public questioning of the safety of midwifery care, than 15 randomised controlled trials and a (CSR) on this issue?

Just a reminder about the Level 1 evidence of continuity of midwifery from over 17,000 women randomised in 15 separate RCTs:

“This review suggests that women who received midwife-led continuity models of care were less likely to experience intervention and more likely to be satisfied with their care with at least comparable adverse outcomes for women or their infants than women who received other models of care. Further research is needed to explore findings of fewer preterm births and fewer fetal deaths less than 24 weeks, and all fetal loss/neonatal death associated with midwife-led continuity models of care.”

 How did we ever think the Emperor had new clothes?

The first alert in this recent saga is the media release that came out from the first author’s university, strictly embargoed beforehand to excite the ‘crowd’ awaiting the emperors arrival. The media release revealed the first bias in the authors’ agenda and was the ultimate hook for the media:

“Mothers using autonomously practising midwives throughout their pregnancy and childbirth are more likely to have adverse outcomes for their newborns than those who use obstetricians, according to a retrospective study of nearly a quarter million babies born in New Zealand published in PLOS Medicine by Ellie Wernham of University of Otago, New Zealand, and colleagues.”

Firstly, this study was never about midwifery care during childbirth, or pregnancy for that matter. Midwives also look after women cared for by private obstetricians so this care is never just about medical care just as it is never just about midwifery care. Secondly, there was no statistical difference in perinatal mortality. You would have hardly known this from the media reports. Thirdly, the authors were clearly data dredging when they combined Intrauterine hypoxia, birth related asphyxia and neonatal encephalopathy in order to get a highly significant outcome. Rare adverse events and small numbers were sensationalised in the media release (“55 percent lower odds of birth related asphyxia, 39 percent lower odds of neonatal encephalopathy, and 48 percent lower odds of a low Apgar score at five minute after delivery”). Neonatal encephalopathy occurs 1-2 in 1000 births and is a rare event. Presented this way makes it sound so dramatic and it takes only one or two cases to change the outcome.

Why the Emperor is actually naked

The authors were unable to look at actual care during childbirth because they don’t appear to have this data, so they took model of care at booking and then misled the media and public that this was an indication of care at birth, when it was not. The problem with this is while all women who book with private obstetricians will remain under the care of private obstetricians from booking to birth, between 30-35% of women under midwifery care will be referred during pregnancy to a doctor. Despite this fact all outcomes (only adverse perinatal ones) in the paper are reported as due to midwifery care, when they are clearly not.

One could argue that the randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of continuity of midwifery care reported in the use a similar method – that is model of care on booking and intention to treat analysis. However, the difference is randomisation reduces selection bias and the study groups should be as similar as possible at the outset so the researchers can isolate and quantify the effect of the intervention they are studying (in this case midwife or medical care). In a RCT you can see what care women got and you would also know the mode of birth and maternal outcomes, which are not reported in this study. RCT’s can be used to change practice but lower level evidence should not; yet that has not stopped groups such as the calling for this in Australia.

The NZ study had several concerning limitations that were not adequately considered in the unfolding debate:

1.     One of the most significant findings of the CSR of continuity of midwifery care was the 24% reduction in preterm birth under midwifery care. There was also a significant reduction in perinatal mortality. Only women over 37 weeks were included in the recent NZ study, so there was no chance to see whether this important effect was seen in this study.

2.     Not only are of long term outcomes but there were a large number of missing Apgar scores and this was greater for women who booked with obstetricians.

3.     The inclusion of women more than 42 weeks, which were seen in larger numbers in the midwife booked group and are more likely to have stillbirths associated with prolonged pregnancies, is concerning. If the authors took 37 weeks gestation as a cut-off to exclude preterm birth (higher risk), why not take 41+6 to exclude the higher risk post-term pregnancies. It would have been very interesting to know how many adverse events were seen in the post-term group. Women choosing midwifery care are more likely to not want to be induced and to go over 42 weeks, as is seen in this study.

4.     The inability to separate antepartum stillbirth from intrapartum stillbirth is critical in trying to assess the impact of birth provider on outcomes and this could not be done, despite the study protocol suggesting it would be.

5.     In the study protocol published with the paper neonatal nursery admissions were examined but not reported. When we look at the author’s Master’s thesis where this information is available, more neonatal admissions are reported for babies born to women who booked with private obstetricians. This was not reported in this paper. One has to ask, why?

6.     In the first author’s Master’s thesis (where this study originally came from), substantially lower rates of caesarean section (22% vs 32.9%) and instrumental birth rates (9% vs 12.3%) are reported for women who booked with midwives, leading to significantly less maternal morbidity. Again this was not reported, giving a very one-sided view considering the authors are virtually questioning the entire NZ maternity system.

7.     There appears to be quite a bit of missing data in this study and it is unclear how this was dealt with in the analysis.

8.     Many socio demographic variables are not accounted for (e.g. alcohol and drug use), and others such as smoking are notoriously underreported. Midwives tend to look after women with greater socio demographic disadvantage and mental health issues. None of this is adjusted for.

9.     Other medical complications that arise following booking, such as gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, etc are not accounted for and may be increased in women who book with midwives due to ethnicity factors, life style etc.

10.  Rurality and birth place were not taken into consideration, limiting the usefulness of this study to help make targeted changes rather than slamming the entire N Z maternity system.

11.  There is no difference in PMR between Australia and NZ despite the fact that 30% of care in Australia is by private obstetricians whilst in NZ around 90% of women have a midwife as a lead care provider.

12.  A previous NZ paper that also hit the media headlines in recent times, purporting to show the risk of perinatal death was higher when midwives were in their first year following graduation, has recently been questioned by the who have been unable to replicate the study. This is worrying.

13.  of low risk women in NSW who had a birth in a private hospital under private obstetric care with low risk women who had a birth in a public hospital with midwife/medical care we found greater morbidity for women giving birth in a private obstetric model of care.

The one highlight in this whole saga has been the united support of the midwives in NZ by the , The , , and bodies around the world.

The political fallout from this paper has been extraordinary, for it actually tells us very little. No practice changes could ever be made based on this study. The Emperor may have no clothes, but the delusion has been maintained by a misleading media release, politically motivated reporting of findings by the authors, a hungry unquestioning media sensing blood in the water and wanting sensational headlines, and obstetricians determined to drag the advances made by the profession of midwifery back to the ‘good old days’ when they were compliant handmaidens. 

#ENOUGH

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Silly Bubu and His Senate Push Forward “Accuse Critics and Hang Them to Death for ‘Hate Speech'” Bill – NewsRescue.com

person

The Senate has reintroduced a bill that seeks to penalise persons found guilty of hate speech.

The National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speech Bill, sponsored by the deputy chief whip, Aliyu Abdullahi, was one of the 12 bills introduced on the floor of the Senate on Tuesday.

The lawmakers are expected to debate the details of the bill on another legislative day.

Previous bill

Mr Abdullahi had in March 2018 introduced the bill for consideration and passage.

The bill prescribed death by hanging for any person found guilty of any form of hate speech that results in the death of another person.

It seeks the establishment of an Independent National Commission for Hate Speeches. The proposed commission is expected to enforce hate speech laws in the country and ensure the “elimination” of hate speech.

For offences such as harassment on grounds of ethnicity or race, the offender shall be sentenced to “not less than a five-year jail term or a fine of not less than N10 million or both.”

The bill also proposed that, “A person who uses, publishes, presents, produces, plays, provides, distributes and/or directs the performance of any material, written and/or visual, which is threatening, abusive or insulting or involves the use of threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, commits an offence, if such person intends thereby to stir up ethnic hatred, or having regard to all the circumstances, ethnic hatred is likely to be stirred up against any person or person from such an ethnic group in Nigeria.

“A person subjects another to harassment on the basis of ethnicity for the purposes of this section where, on ethnic grounds, he unjustifiably engages in a conduct which has the purpose or effect of (a) violating that other person’s dignity or (b) creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the person subjected to the harassment.”

The charge would be justified if such a person intends to stir up “ethnic hatred”, it said.

The bill, however, did not make it through to third reading.

The reintroduction of this bill comes one week after the Senate reintroduced a bill that will regulate the use of social media.

It also comes about a month after President Muhammadu Buhari threatened to take a “firm and decisive action” against promoters of hate speech and other divisive materials on the Internet.

Mr Abdullahi had said cases of religious and ethnic violence experienced in the past years in Nigeria informed his decision to sponsor the bill.

The bill proposes various ‘mechanisms’ to prevent cases of death which emanate from hate speeches, he said.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of NewsRescue

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