Author Archives: Barb Miller

Press freedom at risk in democracies and dictatorships, Knight Center director warns

By Eric Freedman

Professor Eric Freedman

These early days of 2022 are an opportune time to look back and assess last year’s press freedom environment in the United States and abroad.

It’s a troubling picture for journalists and news organizations pursuing their obligation to provide fair, balanced and accurate coverage of public affairs, to hold institutions of government and power accountable. to give voice to the voiceless and to act ethically amid a sea of misinformation and disinformation.

As the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) recently reported: “The number of journalists jailed around the world set another record in 2021. Invoking new tech and security laws, repressive regimes from Asia to Europe to Africa cracked down harshly on the independent press.”

The numbers tell a grim story: a record 293 journalists jailed because of their work – including a Michigan journalist jailed in Southeast Asia – up from 280 in 2020. At least 24 journalists killed because of their work. Another 18 dead “in circumstances too murky to determine whether they were specific targets,” according to CPJ, a U.S.-based press rights defender organization.

It’s no surprise that ultra-authoritarian regimes like those in China, Myanmar, Egypt, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Belarus appear in the top ranks – or the dark depths – of the bad guys’ roster of free speech violators. In Kazakhstan, another dictatorship, authorities detained at least eight journalists and blocked at least two news sites covering the first few days of anti-government and price hike protests in early January. Continue reading

Tremaine Phillips: Michigan Public Service Commissioner talks alternative energy, vulnerable communities 

By Rachel Duckett

Tremaine Phillips

In 2019, Michigan State University alum Tremaine Phillips was appointed to the three-member Public Service Commission, making him one of the country’s public service commissioners at 33 years old.

The PSC’s mission is to “serve the public by ensuring safe, reliable and accessible energy and telecommunications services at reasonable rates.”

That includes regulation of landlines, cable television and energy infrastructure. While it’s not an environmental agency, the commission oversees clean energy operations and sometimes assesses the environmental impact of existing infrastructure in its decision-making.

I spoke with him about alternative energy, protecting communities and more. Here’s our conversation, lightly edited:

What have you learned since being appointed to the commission in 2019?

I thought I knew a lot coming into this job, but it’s just made me learn and appreciate the complexity and the amount of devotion and commitment it takes to sustain all this good stuff we have going. So I never take for granted the light switch when I turn it on. Reliable energy is not a guarantee for many people across the world.

I think of the complexity and how many thousands and tens of thousands of people are waking up every day to make sure the system is safe and reliable. Continue reading

Knight Center director reports on trafficking in wildlife skulls

Knight Center director Eric Freedman explores the dark world of illegal trafficking of wildlife skulls in “The Bone Collectors,” the cover story in the winter issue of Earth Island Journal.

It’s a story of greed, intrigue, science, conspiracies, mysticism, collectors, corruption and investigators.

It’s a story of a wide range of animals, many of them endangered or threatened, including helmeted hornbills, Bornean orangutans, tigers, walruses, African antelopes and rhinos.

And it’s a story that stretches from the MSU Museum and the Smithsonian to Southeast Asia to Alaska to the U.S.-Canadian border.

As for long-term implications, Freedman writes, “Experts warn that the illegal trade in skulls and other wildlife parts creates a major obstacle to the preservation of biodiversity.”

Knight Center director in podcast on climate change in Central Asia

A fishing ship abandoned as the Aral Sea shrank near Nukus, Uzbekistan. It’s part of what has been nicknamed a “ghost fleet.” Credit: Eric Freedman

Knight Chair Eric Freedman was a panelist on a podcast about climate change and environmental challenges in the former Soviet republics on Central Asia.

The Majlis podcast from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty examined the signs of climate change in the region and how the governments there are responding. Those signs include melting glaciers, extreme weather and habitat destruction.

The other panelists were Bakytgul Chynybaeva of RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz bureau, who was reporting on the COP 26 UN Climate Change Conference from Glasgow; independent journalist and environmental researcher Ryskeldi Satke; and Bruce Pannier, the author of the Qishloq Ovozi blog. RFE/RL media-relations manager Muhammad Tahir moderated the discussion.

 

Vivid evidence of desertification of most of the Aral Sea that spans the Uzbekistan-Kazakhstan border. Once a vital fishing resource, the Aral largely disappeared when the rivers that fed it were diverted for irrigation to grow cotton and other crops. Credit: Eric Freedman

Freedman is a former Fulbright Scholar in Uzbekistan who has been a guest speaker and researcher in three other Central Asian countries: Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. His books include Environmental Crises in Central Asia: From Steppes To Seas, From Deserts To Glaciers (Routledge).

The MSU School of Journalism is now collaborating on a capacity-building project with the Journalism & Mass Communication University in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. The project includes assistance in developing curricula on environmental, health and risk reporting and training for Uzbek faculty members and professional journalists.

A Kazakh villager carries a bucket of water from a well in a desert that once formed the bed of the Aral Sea. Credit: RFE/RL