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Freedom of the press-gang

“Arguing that you don’t care about privacy because you have nothing to hide is like saying you don’t care about freedom of speech because you have nothing to say”, whistleblower Edward Snowden told a conference last month. In 1963, when Dr Martin Luther King  made his influential and moving speech, he was arrested. The FBI assessed him as a threat to national security because he campaigned for change. The difference between activism and terrorism often seems to be lost on the authorities. The examples above came not from the 'mainstream' press, but from a blog, Insurge-Intelligence by Nafeez Ahmed, because this respected reporter was sacked by The Guardian for writing about Israel's control of gas reserves in Gaza. If the left-of-centre Guardian offers only an illusion of freedom, what hope is there? 80% of local newspapers are owned by five mega-corporations and 71% of national ones are owned by just three. These figures may even be out of date, as The Independent stopped its print edition last month and looks set to sell its tabloid edition. The buyer is Johnson Press, a gigantic publisher of a list of titles including most of our South Yorkshire papers. Big media isn't accountable to the people on the ground. It's obvious. Shareholders rule the world, and genuine grassroots media like Now Then are becoming very rare. The problem is even worse if the media acts as a mouthpiece for government, with opposition voices and protests left out. “The very same press that provides wall-to-wall coverage of pro-democracy occupations and police repression halfway around the world [...] acts as if analogous events at home are of no interest”, wrote David Graeber regarding Occupy Democracy. Events like the forthcoming March For Health, Homes, Jobs and Education are massive demonstrations of dissent. It's on Saturday 16 April in London and involves South Yorkshire People's Assembly. Did you know about it? Will it be reported in the media? Probably not, unless there's violence. Even the BBC seems to be losing its critical vocal chords entirely. It's just axed Radio 4's What The Papers Say. Maybe you disagreed with what they said about what the papers say, but at least they were talking. What's left is a chilling silence, and into this void steps the new Investigatory Powers Bill. National security now means monitoring journalists with no effective oversight and gagging telecoms providers from revealing government spying. GCHQ was condemned for illegally monitoring human rights groups like Amnesty International, journalists and NGOs, but now the Government plans to permit this. Calling this the 'Snooper's Charter' trivialises a serious descent into censorship. In our city fortunately we have Now Then, and Sheffield Live radio and TV, as honourable alternatives to the 'mainstream'. The annual Festival of Debate also allows people to speak out, and this month we welcome Sheffield Anarchist Bookfair, with its raft of meetings and small publishers. These are vital avenues for sharing information and views which the press downplays, criticises or simply ignores. What the papers say is not the whole story. Listen to what's happening. Even if you don't agree with what's being said, the right to speak is fundamental. Stay alert to new opinions and to ordinary people who put fingers to keyboards, or voice to microphone. If we don't do this, our freedom of expression may be hacked away until we hear only the voice of those in control, the official line. ASSIST Volunteering Thu 14 April | 4-6pm | ASSIST, Victoria Hall, S1 2JB ASSIST is a charity supporting asylum seekers rejected by the UK courts and left destitute. They rely on volunteers. ASSIST's drop-in sessions are an opportunity to meet their volunteers, hear about what they do and decide if you can help. assistsheffield.org.uk Sheffield Anarchist Bookfair Sat 23 April | 10am-6pm | Showroom Workstation The 7th annual fair of radical booksellers, workshops, film screenings and 'time to talk' politics, followed by an after party. Entrance free and refreshments available. Anarchist bookfairs are part of a long tradition of sharing ideas for a more equal world built on grassroots democracy and co-operation. sheffieldbookfair.org.uk )

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