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Weekly Digest: The Government is Listening In

Welcome to The Fix’s weekly news digest! For a year now, we bring you important news stories from the world of media every week – and try to put them in a wider context.

In the Italian region of Sicily, prosecutors are accused of having wiretapped at least 15 journalists covering migration and human trafficking. Local investigators have allegedly listened in to hundreds of conversations between journalists and charity NGOs, spotting confidential information.

The scandal has received nationwide attention after an Italian newspaper broke the story last week, and as a result, this week, the government has opened an investigation into local prosecutors’ conduct.

According to The Guardian’s summary, “lawyers and watchdog organisations described the move as one of the most serious attacks on the press in Italian history.”

Russia isn’t known as a welcoming place for free press, but this week brought several negative developments in the government’s uneasy relationship with the media. 

On Tuesday, the authorities arrested prominent CNN journalist Matthew Chance; he was covering a protest outside of the penal colony holding opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Chance was later released and left Russia. The fate of Navalny himself – who has in effect become the country’s most prominent investigative journalist, while remaining a politician – is more difficult. He remains in prison, with growing worries for the state of his health.

More from The Fix: Media vs. authoritarianism: audiences are the best and only hope

In the UK, this week saw the launch of the Digital Markets Unit, a new public body that will be tasked with regulating companies in the digital sector – including, as Al Jazeera puts it, “curb[ing] Big Tech’s hold over news media”.
According to TechCrunch, “concerns about the market power of adtech giants Facebook and Google are key drivers for the regulatory development.” The creation of this organisation, which was announced late last year, is part of the broader trend for trying to rein in the power of Big Tech in the media in the Western world.

More from The Fix: Weekly Digest: Big Tech and its Rivals 

Finally, some good news related to press freedom from the United States – the Department of State reaffirmed the American government’s commitment to the editorial freedom of the outlets that are part of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), most notably Voice of America.

This story is important because of the scandals that have shaken the USAGM during the Trump presidency, with Trump-appointed USAGM leader Michael Pack trying to interfere in the outlets’ editorial decision. With Biden assuming the president’s office and Pack stepping down, the future is much brighter for US-funded international media.

As we pointed out earlier, Voice of America and its sister networks reach hundreds of millions of people worldwide, playing an important role in countries with limited press freedom, including in Central & Eastern Europe.

More from The Fix: Weekly Digest: New Opportunities and New Deals 

Photo by Chris Hardy on Unsplash

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