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Weekly Digest: The Struggle Goes On

Welcome to the last edition of The Fix’s weekly news digest in 2020!

Every week, we bring you important news stories from the world of media, putting them in a wider context.

Pro-democracy protests in Belarus started in early August and have continued since then. Still, the country’s dictator Alyaksandr Lukashenka has managed to keep his grip on power and continues his crackdown on free media.

This week, this crackdown took a turn for the worse as several Press Club Belarus members were detained and had their apartments searched. The organization’s leader Yulia Slutskaya was detained at Minsk airport on Dec. 22 following her return to the country.

As of Thursday December 24th, five of these media activists remained under arrest, formally accused of tax evasion. 

More from The Fix: Press Club Belarus leadership arrested / Belarus’s attack on media developers calls for a joint response 

In the meanwhile, in neighboring Russia the government continues its years-long crackdown on freedom of speech. This week, Russian parliament’s lower house backed measures allowing Russian authorities to block social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube.

According to Reuters, the legislation “is part of a push to increase Russia’s internet “sovereignty” and has fuelled fears of creeping China-style controls.” The bills are yet to be formally approved by the upper house and President Putin.

Remember Facebook ad boycott? This summer, hundreds of larger and smaller companies pulled out their advertising from the social network because of Facebook’s policies towards hate speech. According to Gizmodo, it can be considered officially over as the last big company announced it would resume advertising on the platform.

In July, we wrote that the boycott was not likely to affect the network’s bottom line, though it might prompt the company to reconsider some of its controversial policies — which proved to be the case. Facebook does not seem to have suffered financially from the boycott, though it did change some policies due to public pressure (such as banning Holocaust denial on the platform).

The biggest problem Facebook is facing at the moment stems from its alleged monopoly power, which the US government is trying to weaken, not from its dubious record on handling hate speech.

More from The Fix: Weekly Digest: Big Tech and its Rivals / Weekly Digest: All Eyes on the Platforms

Finally, the end of the year reveals positive news for some big media outlets.

Last week, The Guardian announced it reached 1 million subscribers and regular contributors, “after support from online readers grew by 43% in a year” and digital subscribers grew by 60%. More than 1.5 million people supported the newspaper financially if one-time contributors are included.

Big stories, such as the pandemic and racial justice protests, played a key role. The US election certainly helped, with November 4th having been The Guardian’s best day in history for digital traffic (190m page views and 52.9m unique visitors).

This week, The Washington Post also announced promising news, namely plans for international expansion. The outlet will open new hubs and offices in Europe, Asia, Australia and South America, including a hub in London. The newspaper’s newsroom will thus become the biggest in history, surpassing 1010 people.

We’ll be taking a week off next week and will be back with a new edition of the weekly digest on January 8th.

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