An anonymous note accusing Google of embracing diversity while chilling intellectual freedom has unleashed a flood of divergent opinions and proves not everyone inside the tech giant toes the company line.
The 10-page memo, written by a male engineer and widely shared internally, was eventually leaked to Gizmodo. In it, the author slams the tech giant’s “left bias” for having created a “politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence.”
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The engineer, who has not been identified publicly, argues that gender disparities in Google’s workforce can be explained by biological differences between men and women. The memo asserts Google should replace its existing diversity efforts with policies to allow for more “ideological diversity.”
“From what I’ve seen it’s been a mix of women saying, ‘This is terrible and it’s been distracting me from my work and it shouldn’t be allowed;’ Men and women saying ‘this is horrible but we need to let him have a voice;’ and men saying ‘This is so brave, I agree,’” one current Google employee told Motherboard.
The company’s VP for Diversity, Integrity and Governance, Danielle Brown, swiftly rebuked the anonymous engineer’s memo:
“Many of you have read an internal document shared by someone in our engineering organization, expressing views on the natural abilities and characteristics of different genders, as well as whether one can speak freely of these things at Google. And like many of you, I found that it advanced incorrect assumptions about gender. I’m not going to link to it here as it’s not a viewpoint that I or this company endorses, promotes or encourages.”
According to Motherboard, some employees wrote messages of support for the memo’s author, including this one:
“The fella who posted that is extremely brave. We need more people standing up against the insanity. Otherwise ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ which is essentially a pipeline from Women’s and African Studies into Google, will ruin the company,” another comment in the thread said.
The company’s diversity chief also addressed Google’s perceived lack of ideological diversity:
“We are unequivocal in our belief that diversity and inclusion are critical to our success as a company,” Brown wrote. “Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws.”
The memo also led a range of current and former tech employees to tweet, pen their own essays and call out the engineer who wrote it.
Christopher Carbone is a reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @christocarbone.
Foreign VPNs have been removed from China’s Apple stores, WhatsApp messages are being filtered and a massive censorship campaign scrubbed social media of Liu Xiaobo. What is happening to the Chinese web?
Beijing’s censors are busy adding more bricks to the “Great Firewall of China” – a popular term for the widespread use of online censorship in the country run by the Communist Party.
Over the weekend, Apple confirmed that it had removed foreign Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) from Apple online stores in accordance with Chinese government regulations passed in January stipulating that all VPNs in China require a government license.
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Liu Xiaobo, China’s dissident ‘without enemies’
VPNs redirect a user’s online activity through another network and permit access to restricted web content. Without using a VPN, internet users in mainland China cannot access many foreign websites like Facebook. Critics have accused Apple of bending to pressure from the Chinese government.
“Our preliminary research indicates that all major VPN apps for iOS have been removed,” ExpressVPN, a major VPN provider in China, wrote in a statement released Saturday.
“We’re disappointed in this development, as it represents the most drastic measure the Chinese government has taken to block the use of VPNs to date, and we are troubled to see Apple aiding China’s censorship efforts,” it added.
“We received notice of Apple’s removal of VPN apps around 4:00 am GMT on July 29, 2017 through iTunes Connect, which is Apple’s tool for developers who have made apps available for download through the App Store,” an ExpressVPN spokesperson told DW in a written statement.
“ExpressVPN remains focused on ensuring users can continue to connect securely and reliably, no matter where they are located. Users in China can continue to stay connected to the open internet with ExpressVPN’s apps for Windows, Mac, Android, and other platforms,” the spokesperson stated.
“Those in China wishing to connect with iPhones or iPads can download the ExpressVPN iOS app from a different country’s App Store – they simply need to register an additional App Store account with a billing address in a country of their choice, with no corresponding payment method needed.”
Without the use of VPNs, most of the internet will be off-limits to China, home to the world’s largest number of internet users. Apple also recently announced it would be building a data center in China to comply with new cybersecurity laws.
The restriction on VPNs is the latest in a series of internet curtailments that have been rolled out by Beijing in only the past month. One of the most glaring cases followed the death of Chinese dissident and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo on July 13. It was widely reported that Chinese censors actively blocked any discussion of Liu on Chinese social media.
A screenshot from WeChat in Canada and China showing Liu removed from the Chinese device
The Citizen Lab, an interdisciplinary laboratory based at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto,analyzed the censorship of commemorating Liu, both on the popular Chinese messaging app WeChat, and the Weibo search engine.
Masashi Crete-Nishihata, Research Manager at the Citizen Lab, told DW that social media companies operating in China must follow strict content regulations.
“It’s important to understand how censorship of social media works in China. Companies are held responsible for content on their platforms and are expected to dedicate resources to ensure compliance or face penalties,” he said.
“The government effectively offloads the responsibility for content control to the private sector, creating a system of ‘self-discipline.'”
Crete-Nishihata added that research has shown that social media companies have flexibility in deciding how to implement official controls.
“This situation leaves companies in a balancing act between growing their business and attracting users, all the while staying within the lines set by the government,” he said. “Social media platforms in China generally block content through a combination of automated filters and review teams that manually inspect content.”
China goes all out censoring online reaction to Xiaobo death
Danger of dissidence
In the case of commemorating Liu Xiaobo, Citizen Lab was able to determine that censors were working in real time to filter out all mention of Liu’s name and legacy from WeChat, the most popular messaging platform in China with an estimated 889 million monthly users.
“The death of Liu marks a particularly critical moment for the Communist Party of China,” said Crete-Nishihata, pointing out that the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protests grew out of a public mourning of Hu Yaobang, a former Communist Party general secretary who had been purged after falling out of favor with powerful party officials.
“Like Hu, Liu was a popular symbol of political reform and freedom, and his death could potentially rally the public to mourn or cause embarrassment to the authorities,” added the expert.
“While it is not known what specific directives may have been sent down from the government, given the high sensitivity of Liu’s death, it is likely companies received instructions on how to handle it or may have proactively sought out official guidance.”
Shortly after commemoration of Liu’s passingwas scrubbed from the Chinese web, WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned messaging service, experienced disruptions in service for the first time. Facebook has been blocked in China since 2009, but WhatsApp has been able to function in the country. But on July 18, it was reported that WhatsApp users in China could no longer receive photos and videos. Text messages were still getting through.
Experts told the Associated Press that it appeared China was blanket blocking all video and photo content because they could not selectively block content as they did on Chinese-based WeChat.
Crete-Nishihata from Citizen Lab said that there was no evidence of WhatsApp cooperating with the Chinese government for content filtering. “WhatsApp is end-to-end encrypted, meaning that messages are only readable to the users in a conversation,” said the expert. “WhatsApp services being disrupted in China appears to have been done by WhatsApp servers being blocked by China’s national web filtering system.”
For example, before and during the last party congress in 2012, there was an increase in online censorship, including a blockade on Google and Western media websites.
“The upcoming party congress is another example of an event that is sensitive to the Communist Party of China,” said Crete-Nishihata. “It is likely that in the lead up to the party congress we will see tightened restrictions and blocking of content related to party leaders, especially Xi Jinping and anything that may be perceived as harming his reputation.”
LIU XIAOBO – A LIFE IN PICTURES
A lifetime of fighting
Liu Xiaobo spent decades demanding more democracy in China. He was born in the city of Changchun in the northeast of the country in 1955, and eventually moved to study in Beijing, where he started lecturing in 1984.
For the last five years, Apple held on to the title of the world’s most valuable brand. Then this year, the iPhone maker lost the top spot to Google, according to consultancy Brand Finance’s Global 500 rankings.
As Apple’s brand value tumbled 27% to $107.1 billion in 2016, Google’s increased to $109.5 billion. Amazon, with 53% brand value growth, was close behind at $106.4 billion.
Eight of the top 10 brands on Brand Finance’s 2017 list are American, reflecting the global dominance of US brands.
So where does this leave the rest of the world?
Visualizing brands as countries
Using Brand Finance’s ranking, cost information website HowMuch.net has taken the most valuable brands in selected countries and turned them into a map. Each country is sized to reflect the global value of its biggest brand.
After Google, the next most valuable national brand is South Korea’s Samsung, which is in sixth place on the Global 500 list at $66.2 billion. Then it’s Chinese bank ICBC, ranked 10th, with a brand value of $47.8 billion.
Car-makers Toyota (Japan) and BMW (Germany) are next, with brand values of $46.3 billion and $37.1 billion, respectively. Shell, the multinational oil and gas company based in the Netherlands, also features prominently, at $36.8 billion.
The top brands of most countries, however, are worth less than $25 billion. Across Latin America, the most valuable brand is Mexican energy company Pemex, at $8.5 billion. In Asia, it’s India’s Tata conglomerate, at $12.9 billion. No African brands appear on the map.
Lego may have a relatively modest $7.6 billion brand value, but when it comes to sheer power Denmark’s biggest brand punches well above its weight.
Brand Finance’s Brand Strength Index (BSI) awards brands a mark out of 100. Lego gets high scores across a range of metrics such as familiarity, loyalty, promotion, marketing investment, staff satisfaction and corporate reputation.
The colour-coding on the map indicates brand strength, with Lego and Google (the most powerful brands) in dark blue. Many well-known brands including Samsung, BMW, Shell, Ikea and Nestle are on the next rung down, in light blue.
With marks ranging between 70 and 80, market-leading brands including Santander, Tata and Vodafone, are in pink. Only two top national brands, Taiwan Semiconductor and Thailand’s PTT, coloured red, have scores of less than 70.
Top German leaders, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, will meet after British Prime Minister Theresa May confirms that she will seek a “hard” Brexit. The focus will be on strategy for tough upcoming negotiations.
Theresa May comes out in favor of “hard Brexit”
Germany’s political elite will come to together on Wednesday to discuss the future now that it has been confirmed that Britain will seek a near complete divorce from the European Union. In a major speechon the so-called Brexit on Tuesday, British Prime Minister Theresa May said that her country would leave the European common market, control immigration from the bloc, withdraw from EU legal jurisdiction and no longer pay “vast sums of money” to Brussels.
In a statement immediately after May’s address, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier of the Social Democrats welcomed the fact that the Prime Minister had “finally brought a bit more clarity on Britain’s plans.” He also characterized May’s statement that Britain wanted a “positive and constructive partnership with a strong EU” as “good.”
But he also stressed solidarity among the EU’s other 27 members and said no Brexit negotiations would commence just yet.
“Our position remains that negotiation will first begin when Britain officially declares its wish to leave,” Steinmeier said. “We will be discussing Germany’s position toward the upcoming negotiations in the cabinet’s Brexit committee tomorrow. It’s in Germany and Europe’s interest to strengthen the solidarity of the 27-state European Union and preserve the unity of the European single market.”
It will be the first-ever meeting of the committee, which includes Angela Merkel, Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel and several government ministers.
A clean break, no cherry-picking
In her speech in London, May held out the prospect of seeking the “greatest possible access to the single market” and “a bold and ambitious” free trade agreement with the European Union. But she also said it was a priority to trade with other parts of the globe.
“We want to get out into the wider world,” said May. She invoked US president-elect Donald Trump’s statement that Britain was “not at the back of the queue, but the front of the line” in terms of bilateral trade agreements with America. And she warned the EU against seeking a “punitive” deal allowing Britain to leave the the bloc.
The chairman of Germany’s parliamentary committee, conservative Norbert Röttgen, seemed to endorse that idea, although not without a swipe in London’s direction.
“We shouldn’t play the role of the rebuffed partner and make demands that the people of Britain can’t fulfill,” Röttgen said in a newspaper interview. “We should be more rational than they are.”
But German parliamentarians also emphasize that Britain won’t be allowed to pick and choose which parts of the EU it which wants and doesn’t want.
“If someone wants a clear break, she should get it,” Social Democratic parliamentary leader Thomas Oppermann said in Berlin. “We’re prepared to go along with that. But it can’t be that anyone picks out individual cherries.”
German businesses relaxed
According to a survey carried out by the Cologne Institute of Economic Research published last week, nine-tenths of German companies don’t expect serious negative effects from Brexit. Around one-third said the declining value of the pound could have some negative effect on their business.
Ahead of May’s speech, the pound declined to a near-record low of under 1.14 against the euro; it was trading at around 1.30 prior to the referendum, and higher still in 2015. The pound’s plunge against dollar has been even more precipitous, although the British currency did regain about two percent of its value during May’s speech.
Surprisingly, one quarter of the 2,900 firms surveyed thought that their business might actually improve if Britain left the EU.
“There seems to be an expectation that if trade restrictions are put in place, then companies that have previously purchased in Britain will look elsewhere,” Jürgen Matthes, the economist responsible for the study told Deutsche Welle.
But Matthes also said that a “hard” and “soft” Brexit were not absolute concepts and that the UK could potentially negotiate limited agreements with the EU.
“If they were to conclude a free-trade agreement with significant exemptions from customs duties, that would be relatively free trade, at least with industrial goods.” Matthes said. That seems to be what Mrs. May means.”
What happens next
Brexit supports are calling on parliament to invoke Article 50 soon
The British parliament must now vote to formally invoke Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon before Britain can leave the bloc. This would set off a negotiating period slated to last two years.
On the European side, any eventual agreement on Britain’s exit from the EU has to be approved by a 55 percent majority of member states representing at least 65 percent of the bloc’s population. The European Parliament also has to approve any deal.
The remaining 27 member states are set to meet on February 3, 2017 in Malta to discuss the modalities of the Brexit and what the post-Britain EU will look like.
May said that any final deal between the EU and Britain would be put to a vote in both houses of the British parliament for approval.
If the two sides are unable to reach an agreement and the deadline is not extended, all EU treaties with Britain would be automatically nullified – the hardest sort of Brexit.
British prime minister: UK will not seek ‘half in, half out’ Brexit
In a speech set for Tuesday, British Prime Minister Theresa May is poised to signal a clean break from the EU – including its single market. Fears of that outcome have pushed down the value of the British pound. (17.01.2017)
Britain heads for ‘hard’ Brexit
Six months after the UK’s EU referendum and amid growing discontent, Prime Minister Theresa May has now outlined her plans for Britain’s future. Samira Shackle reports from London on the reactions. (17.01.2017)
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Speaking at a press conference with the prime minister of New Zealand, the German chancellor dismissed Trump’s criticism of her refugee policy. Germany’s top diplomat accused Trump of contradicting his own cabinet. (16.01.2017)
In the quarter-century since the end of the Cold War, profound grievances, misperceptions and disappointments have often defined the relationship between the United States and Russia. I lived through this turbulence during my years as a diplomat in Moscow, navigating the curious mix of hope and humiliation that I remember so vividly in the Russia of Boris N. Yeltsin, and the pugnacity and raw ambition of Vladimir V. Putin’s Kremlin. And I lived through it in Washington, serving both Republican and Democratic administrations.
There have been more than enough illusions on both sides. The United States has oscillated between visions of an enduring partnership with Moscow and dismissing it as a sulking regional power in terminal decline. Russia has moved between notions of a strategic partnership with the United States and a later, deeper desire to upend the current international order, where a dominant United States consigns Russia to a subordinate role.
The reality is that our relationship with Russia will remain competitive, and often adversarial, for the foreseeable future. At its core is a fundamental disconnect in outlook and about each other’s role in the world.
It is tempting to think that personal rapport can bridge this disconnect and that the art of the deal can unlock a grand bargain. That is a foolish starting point for sensible policy. It would be especially foolish to think that Russia’s deeply troubling interference in our election can or should be played down, however inconvenient.
President Putin’s aggressive election meddling, like his broader foreign policy, has at least two motivating factors. The first is his conviction that the surest path to restoring Russia as a great power comes at the expense of an American-led order. He wants Russia unconstrained by Western values and institutions, free to pursue a sphere of influence.
The second motivating factor is closely connected to the first. The legitimacy of Mr. Putin’s system of repressive domestic control depends on the existence of external threats. Surfing on high oil prices, he used to be able to bolster his social contract with the Russian people through rising standards of living. That was clear in the boomtown Moscow I knew as the American ambassador a decade ago, full of the promise of a rising middle class and the consumption of an elite convinced that anything worth doing was worth overdoing. But Mr. Putin has lost that card in a world of lower energy prices and Western sanctions, and with a one-dimensional economy in which real reform is trumped by the imperative of political control and the corruption that lubricates it.
The ultimate realist, Mr. Putin understands Russia’s relative weakness, but regularly demonstrates that declining powers can be at least as disruptive as rising powers. He sees a target-rich environment all around him.
If he can’t easily build Russia up, he can take the United States down a few pegs, with his characteristic tactical agility and willingness to play rough and take risks. If he can’t have a deferential government in Kiev, he can grab Crimea and try to engineer the next best thing, a dysfunctional Ukraine. If he can’t abide the risk of regime upheaval in Syria, he can flex Russia’s military muscle, emasculate the West, and preserve Bashar al-Assad atop the rubble of Aleppo. If he can’t directly intimidate the European Union, he can accelerate its unraveling by supporting anti-Union nationalists and exploiting the wave of migration spawned in part by his own brutality. Wherever he can, he exposes the seeming hypocrisy and fecklessness of Western democracies, blurring the line between fact and fiction.
So what to do? Russia is still too big, proud and influential to ignore and still the only nuclear power comparable to the United States. It remains a major player on problems from the Arctic to Iran and North Korea. We need to focus on the critical before we test the desirable. The first step is to sustain, and if necessary amplify, the actions taken by the Obama administration in response to Russian hacking. Russia challenged the integrity of our democratic system, and Europe’s 2017 electoral landscape is the next battlefield.
A second step is to reassure our European allies of our absolute commitment to NATO. American politicians tell one another to “remember your base,” and that’s what should guide policy toward Russia. Our network of allies is not a millstone around America’s neck, but a powerful asset that sets us apart.
A third step is to stay sharply focused on Ukraine, a country whose fate will be critical to the future of Europe, and Russia, over the next generation. This is not about NATO or European Union membership, both distant aspirations. It is about helping Ukrainian leaders build the successful political system that Russia seeks to subvert.
Finally, we should be wary of superficially appealing notions like a common war on Islamic extremism or a common effort to “contain” China. Russia’s bloody role in Syria makes the terrorist threat far worse and despite long-term concerns about a rising China, Mr. Putin has little inclination to sacrifice a relationship with Beijing.
I’ve learned a few lessons during my diplomatic career, often the hard way. I learned to respect Russians and their history and vitality. I learned that it rarely pays to neglect or underestimate Russia, or display gratuitous disrespect. But I also learned that firmness and vigilance, and a healthy grasp of the limits of the possible, are the best way to deal with the combustible combination of grievance and insecurity that Vladimir Putin embodies. I’ve learned that we have a much better hand to play with Mr. Putin than he does with us. If we play it methodically, confident in our enduring strengths, and unapologetic about our values, we can eventually build a more stable relationship, without illusions.
Following the New Year’s attack at an Istanbul nightclub, Turkey has extended its state of emergency for three more months. The news came as Turkish authorities continued their search for the main suspect in the attack.
Turkey extends emergency rule after Istanbul attack
The Turkish parliament on Tuesday voted in favor of extending its state of emergency, which was set to expire January 19, for an additional three months. Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said the extension was necessary due to recent terrorist attacks in the country, including the attack on an Istanbul nightclub during a New Year’s celebration that killed 39 people.
The state of emergency has worried the European Union, which believes emergency rule has been used to crack down against political opponents of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and not just those believed to be behind the failed coup attempt in July. The state of emergency gives Ankara powers to fire state employees and shut down other associations, including media outlets.
Police hunt for IS-linked New Year’s shooter
Turkish police are continuing their search for the perpetrator of a mass shooting at an Istanbul nightclub in the early hours of New Year’s Day, killing 39, and wounding almost 70. Tom Stevenson reports from Istanbul. (03.01.2017)
Terror attack in increasingly toxic atmosphere
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TAK claims responsibility for Istanbul bombings
More than 40,000 arrested
At least 100,000 people, including soldiers, police officers, teachers, judges and journalists have been removed from their positions over suspected ties to Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the Turkish government has blamed for inspiring the attempted coup on July 15.
More than 40,000 people have been arrested for their suspected ties to Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in the United States.
The state of emergency also extends the time suspects can be held in jail without being charged. Gulen has denied involvement with the coup.
CPJ also states that at least 81 journalists were imprisoned in Turkish prisons as of December 1.
Members of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) have also been arrested during the imposed state of emergency, accused of supporting the outlawed and militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Turkish authorities continued their manhunt for the assailant on Tuesday. Police have arrested 20 people so far with a potential link to the New Year’s attack, including two foreign nationals detained Tuesday afternoon at Istanbul’s airport.
Police are still hunting for the man they believe was responsible for the attack, who was able to escape the scene of the shooting and is still at large. They are focusing on men with Central Asian and North Caucasus nationalities.
The attack, which took place at the Reina nightclub in Istanbul’s Ortakoy district shortly after midnight on Sunday, was the first on Turkish soil to have been formally claimed by the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) group.
Late Tuesday, US President Barack Obama called Erdogan to offer his condolences for the attack. The two leaders agreed they must “stand united” to defeat terrorism, said the White House in a statement.
All the forces of change in the media industry are very likely to accelerate in 2017.
Be it the consolidation of companies, technological advances and even the future of the BBC, there will be lots happening.
Here are the 10 themes to look out for.
Pipes meet ideas
The big theme in the media business is the coming consolidation, usually between distributors and owners of content. In other words, those who own the pipes and those who tell the stories and ideas.
Why is this happening? It’s simple. When there is such ferocious competition for eyeballs, the best way to ensure you reach big audiences is to own the delivery mechanism for reaching them.
The proposed (but far from certain) merger between AT&T and Time Warner fits into this theme, as does the (also far from certain) proposed deal between 21st Century Fox and Sky. Look out for Disney bidding for Netflix or Vice, and BT or Liberty bidding for ITV.
Consolidation also happens when you get sub-sectors that are highly populated while demand for their product is falling.
British newspapers fit this category very well. Fewer people are reading newspapers, yet there is (compared for instance to the US) a huge array of newspapers.
Expect, therefore, a few of them to be bought – perhaps the Daily Telegraph or Daily Express – and expect to hear more soon about the idea of the industry coming together to form a single advertising sales team.
Advertising in the age of Facebook and Google
Facebook and Google account for an ever-growing slice of digital advertising around the globe. Companies wholly dependent on digital advertising may therefore struggle to survive unless their cost bases are low.
The advertising industry is estimated at over $540bn (£440bn) annually. But the threats to it are growing, from “cord-cutting”, whereby consumers ditch satellite and cable services for ad-free subscription services, to ad-blocking and widespread fraud, with concerns that many digital ads aren’t seen by humans.
This was compounded by Facebook’s admission that it had given advertisers false information about the videos seen on the social network.
All together, these pressures have damaged trust and confidence in this vast global industry. This year is going to be a tough one for many chief marketing officers.
The war on truth
I often wonder what philosopher AJ Ayer, who wrote the seminal Language, Truth and Logic in 1936, would have made of the phrase “post-truth politics”.
I suspect he would have said plus ca change. And then he would have reminded us that whereas falsity comes by degrees, truth is absolute.
The idea that there are concrete facts we can agree on as a basis for civilised public conversation has taken a pounding of late. The rise of social media’s echo chambers; growth in fake news; state propaganda broadcast in the West (whether Russian, Iranian, or Chinese); and the frenzied campaigns for Brexit and the White House were all threats to the truth.
In 2017 it will be incumbent on all those who believe in truths to prove both that such things exist, and that they are worth knowing.
Paying for quality
World-class media only has a future if it is financially viable, and throughout the history of commerce, asking customers to pay for products they demand has been the surest guarantee of such viability.
Specialist publications from the Spectator to the Economist and the Financial Times have grown their subscriber bases by charging for digital access. So too have general publications like the Times and the New York Times.
If consumers recognise that quality costs and are willing to pay – which the growth of Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime suggests is the case in television – 2017 could provide fresh cheer.
We should know in the coming weeks whether the second phase of the Leveson Inquiry will go ahead, and also whether Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act – which requires papers to bear the costs of legal action brought against them, even if they win – will become law.
Whatever happens, Britain’s newspaper industry won’t accede to what it sees as state regulation of the press without one hell of a fight.
Reporting from danger zones
It should never be forgotten that in many parts of the world, being a journalist is still a subversive act.
I reported recently that, according to Reporters sans Frontiers, 74 journalists died doing their jobs in 2016.
This year, whether that number goes up or down, journalists are certain to be murdered, taken hostage, and used as blackmail.
The sheer danger of reporting from some parts of the world will make those areas information vacuums.
Social media abhors an information vacuum, so our knowledge of places such as Raqqa will continue, unfortunately, to depend on the use of social media by militant groups.
Pressure on the First Amendment
One of the most remarkable stories of 2016 was Peter Thiel’s war on Gawker. The Silicon Valley entrepreneur was outed as gay by the gossip and news website.
In response, he funded a legal action brought by former wrestling champion Hulk Hogan (real name Terrence Bollea), who was furious about the site publishing a sex-tape in which he starred.
The action was successful, in so far as Thiel and Bollea won, rendering Gawker bankrupt. Gawker Media, the parent company, was bought by Univision but gawker.com, the flagship site, was shut down.
In a piece for the New York Times, Thiel said he would do it again. Which raises the question: will other rich individuals who can finance such legal actions be encouraged to take on media organisations?
Perhaps encouraged by Donald Trump’s disdain for the “mainstream media” (Thiel was a Trump supporter), and the rise of the “alt-right”, it’s just possible that free speech will come under attack in America as never before.
Already threatening to overtake Twitter in many key measures, from its user base to market value, the video messaging app’s much anticipated Initial Public Offering (IPO), scheduled for the spring, could value it between $20bn and $25bn.
There are thought to be well more than 10 million users in the UK already, and while Snapchat’s growth among the under-30s gives it a unique appeal to advertisers, the really fascinating thing is how new forms of social media are changing our behaviour.
Teenagers across the country are sending each other videos – or “snaps” – several times a day. What is this doing to our sense of privacy, attention spans, and friendship circles? In 2017, we may begin to find out.
The BBC’s next chapter
A new BBC chairman (or chairwoman) will be announced in the coming days. Whoever gets the role will need to lead a new governance structure, with the BBC Trust having been scrapped and regulatory oversight being passed to Ofcom.
With a new 11-year charter having come into force from 1 January, the BBC needs to find substantial savings, focus on “distinctive content” and compete with the new predators stalking the media jungle such as Netflix and Amazon Prime.
Aside from those challenges, managing the “Compete and Compare” strategy announced by director general Tony Hall in 2014, whereby many more programmes will be put out to tender rather than made in house, amounts to a radical rethink of the BBC’s place within the industry and our culture more broadly.
Who owns Channel 4?
The future of Channel 4 remains unclear. There has been talk of privatisation, moving to Birmingham or further north, and selling the Channel 4 offices on Horseferry Road in London. A private equity fund could soon offer to buy the broadcaster. But there have been few decisions, as yet.
The anxiety this has induced in staff at Channel 4 is considerable. Chief executive David Abraham and chief creative officer Jay Hunt showed, with their purchase of Great British Bake Off, that they have immense editorial ambition.
With over £1bn in revenues for the sixth year in a row, the channel’s unique model, as a public broadcaster that is commercially funded, has worked well.
In 2017, the broadcaster should – finally – discover what, and where, it’s future will be.
More to come
Aside from all of the above, there are countless other media trends, themes and stories that will flare up in 2017.
Will Adam Crozier move on from ITV, having achieved a turnaround? How many more Chinese people will spend most of their waking hours on WeChat, the remarkable app that has few equivalents in the West? And will digital technology help create a flourishing media sector across Africa, South America and Asia?
So 2017 will be very exciting across media. Watch this space.