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Anti-Semitism and censorship make headlines in Europe, Pakistan, Tanzania

By Christina Okello

British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was forced to defend his stance on anti-Semitism, a question that also attracted headlines in France and Germany this week. While in Pakistan and Tanzania, there were concerns about censorship and Internet freedom.

A Facebook comment posted a few years ago by Corbyn in which he backed an artist that graffitied a wall with Jewish bankers counting their money, is what has reignited the debate on anti-Semitism within the British Labour party.

The Labour leader who had initially supported the mural in the name of free speech, conceded he was wrong to support an "offensive" work.

Labour MP Luciana Berger said last month she was unsatisfied with his response and told lawmakers that under Corbyn anti-Semitism had become "more common place (...) and more corrosive.”

The media was fast to react. Too fast perhaps according to Eline Jeanne, who works with the Media Diversity Institute in the UK.

“I think an issue like this can be sensationalized quite easily, which I think was definitely for some publications what they did," she told RFI.

"One of the things that was kind of forgotten was the broader issue of anti-Semitism in the UK, which I think was kind of a letdown,” she added.

Anti-Semitism as a political weapon

Some of Corbyn's critics, who consider him too left-wing, also accuse him of complacency towards anti-Semitism, in some cases linking the charge to his support for the Palestinian cause. A charge he strongly denies.

His supporters however argue that anti-Semitism is being used as a weapon to discredit him ahead of next month's local elections.

The fact that few outlets mentioned the political context was another oversight, comments Jeanne.

“Definitely the comment Corbyn made should have been brought to light," she says, but questions why the issue is being raised now, when the Facebook comment was posted in 2012. For her, more investigative pieces were needed to identify "the intentions of the person [Luciana Berger] besides wanting to highlight the potential anti-Semitism in the Labour party.”

Wrong language on anti-Semitism

Elsewhere, an anti-Semitic incident grabbed headlines in Germany.

An Israeli wearing a kippa was recently attacked by a Syrian refugee in a trendy neighbourhood of Berlin, with the attacker yelling ‘Jew’ in Arabic. The video went viral.

The attack prompted a strong show of solidarity, but did little to dampen fears among Germany’s Jewish community, who connect hatred of Jews today to that of Europe's past.

Yet covering anti-Semitism isn’t always easy, particularly when it comes to language, explains Eline Jeanne from the Media Diversity Institute.

“Often we see people using anti-Semitic language either in their headlines or in the way they explain things without even realizing it," she said, in reference to a recent article on Hungarian businessman George Soros.

"The headline used, alluded to him as being a puppeteer, which definitely has anti-Semitic backgrounds, but I think the journalist didn’t intentionally do that," she said.

To report the issue well, Jeanne says journalists need "more time" and education about what anti-Semitism is and isn't. "We also need to give Jewish community members a voice as well," she added.

Narrowing the debate

"We never hear from those who are concerned," Jean-Yves Camus, Director of the Observatory of Radical Politics in Paris, said.

"I mean the average Jew living in a small town or in a suburb of Paris, the media don’t go there,” he told RFI.

The French capital, which has seen a string of killings of Jews, was recently hit by another anti-Semitic attack, this time against an elderly Jewish woman, prompting thousands to march in her memory, together with a manifesto signed by 300 intellectuals denouncing what they call a new anti-Semtism, inspired by radicalized Islamic minorities.

“I’m very scared that the situation is only in the hands of a few intellectuals who sign manifestos and go on TV shows to tell their appreciation of what’s going on," reckons Camus, who warns against a media bias.

The other danger is narrowing the conversation to reflect just one opinion, in this case that new anti-Semitism is the fault of Muslims. Camus says, that’s not the full story.

“It’s very difficult to find dissident voices. Those who are in the minority--I belong to them--have a very hard time finding ways to have the mainstream media listen to what they have to say.”

Dubious deal in Pakistan

In Pakistan, news outlets like Geo TV have also been finding it hard to have their say. The station, which is critical of the military, was recently shut down in most parts of the country. The government denied any responsibility.

However, in a surprise move, Geo TV was put back on, on Thursday 19th April after concluding a deal with the military.

“It’s a very worrying precedent," Daniel Bastard, head of the Asia Pacific desk at Reporters Without Borders told RFI.

"Because if Geo TV wants to be broadcasted, it has to self-censor itself, that’s the message the military wants to send."

Civil society groups in Pakistan say the freedom of the press is increasingly under attack, with the military accused of disappearing activists and journalists.

Last December for instance, 40-year-old Raza Khan, a Pakistani political activist, disappeared from his home. Four months on he’s still missing. The consequence is that entire regions are going silent, as news fails to get reported.

Tanzanian bloggers under scrutiny

But should everyone be allowed to report?

In Tanzania, bloggers could soon have to pay a license of up to 1,000 dollars just to be able to post content online.

The government says it wants to protect the East African nation from “lies” being spread online.

“I can see where the government is coming from," Linet Kwamboka, a Mozilla Tech policy fellow in Nairobi told RFI.

"We had the same case in Kenya where the journalists were calling for more responsibility among the bloggers, because the journalist said well, they have to go through school, they’re taught all their ethics, whereas bloggers tend to be more free thinkers, with no regulation or accountability for the stories they put out.”

Critics though are concerned that the government is using the excuse of regulation as a veil for repression.

Last week authorities arrested the country’s top musician – Diamond Platnumz after he posted a video clip of himself playfully kissing a woman on Instagram, which authorities said was indecent.

Internet freedom under threat

Freedom of speech was one of the requirements for a healthy internet, as revealed in a report earlier this month by Mozilla Fox.

"For me, for a healthy Internet, there needs to be decentralization to be able to understand who owns the speech and who’s responsible for what," said Mozilla Tech policy fellow Kwamboka.

"Then the most important thing there needs to be is a lot of privacy and security," she said. "You need to know that you’re in a safe place and not in a battleground every time you go online to express yourself or to be creative."

Tanzania's online regulations follow the arrests of several people charged with "abusing" the president John Magufuli, a euphemism for criticizing him on Facebook and on WhatsApp.

It’s part of a growing trend of African governments trying to control what’s said online. Kwamboka says they’re fighting a losing battle.

“I feel like there needs to be a better approach to this, because this is a battle that neither the government nor the bloggers are going to win,” she said.

Most people agree there needs to be more responsibility on the internet. The question is who should regulate it and how.

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