Welcome to The Fix’s weekly news digest! Every week, we bring you important news stories from the world of media – and try to put them in a wider context.
A major investigation revealed the scope of authoritarian regimes surveilling activists, journalists, and politicians across dozens of countries with the use of hacking software Pegasus created by Israeli surveillance company NSO Group.
“The Pegasus project”, an investigation by seventeen news outlets published on Sunday, looks into a data leak that contains over 50,000 phone numbers that might have been targeted (though not necessarily successfully hacked; an analysis into a small sample has confirmed spyware traces in over a half of targets).
Pegasus is a malware that infects mobile phones, enabling Pegasus users to get access to photos, text messages and emails, as well as to activate microphones. The investigation has identified at least 10 governments using NSO services, Hungary among them. Over 1,000 numbers in the leak are from Europe.
Pegasus is designed to fight terrorism and criminal activities – but, as The Guardian puts it, “the broad array of numbers in the list belonging to people who seemingly have no connection to criminality suggests some NSO clients are breaching their contracts with the company, spying on pro-democracy activists and journalists investigating corruption, as well as political opponents and government critics.”
Particularly, the investigation suggests 180 journalists have been selected for surveillance, including Financial Times editor Roula Khalaf and journalists working for the world’s most prestigious media outlets, such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, France 24, Reuters, The Economist, Voice of America, and others. At least 48 journalists were targeted by Azerbaijan, as well as at least 38 reporters by India and Morocco each.
While the Indian government might have been using NSO services, it also uses more conventional ways of targeting the media. This week, tax authorities raided one of the country’s most popular newspapers, Dainik Bhaskar.
The newspaper and several international media rights groups link the raid to the newspaper’s coverage critical of Narendra Modi government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, though the government itself denies the claim.
As BBC notes, “since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, several media outlets have been investigated by the government for financial impropriety, raising fears about press freedom in the world’s largest democracy.”
Polish parliament has postponed a debate over a controversial new media law. The amendment to Poland’s Broadcasting Act would prevent non-EEA countries from taking over the country’s TV and radio stations.
The legislation has caused tensions between Poland and the United States. US company Discovery Inc owns one of Poland’s largest TV broadcasters TVN.
The proposed law has also caused concerns around media freedom amid the government’s attempts to tighten control over the media sector. As Reuters puts it, “the ruling nationalists have long argued that foreign groups own too much of the media in Poland, distorting public debate.”
However, the legislation doesn’t have full support of the ruling coalition in its current form, which is why the debate over the topic has been postponed for now.
In the United States, the advertising business is booming, as shown by Twitter’s financial results in the second quarter. According to CNBC, Twitter showed the fastest revenue growth in the last seven years, revealing stronger-than-predicted earnings, as 74% increase year-over-year.
As Financial Times puts it, Twitter’s results show that the company’s “revamp of its advertising offering bore fruit.” The platform cited “revenue product improvements”, such as new targeting capabilities for advertisers, as well as “strong sales execution and a broad increase in advertiser demand” as drivers of revenue growth.