Casey Anthony, Media Frenzy, and the Death Penalty

Casey Anthony with her attorneys before the jury presented a verdict in her murder trial. (Photo by Red Huber-Pool/Getty Images)

After years of being prosecuted by Nancy Grace, and weeks of being prosecuted in a real courtroom, Casey Anthony has been acquitted by a jury of murder charges that could have left her facing execution.  Her acquittal of murder comes after a three-year media frenzy during which her guilt was more or less presumed.  Some followers of the trial, saturated by this media coverage, were shocked by the verdict.  Defense attorneys blasted the media circus (and the lawyers who participated in it).

Attorney Cheney Mason said:

“I’m disgusted by some of the lawyers that have done this. I can tell you that my colleagues from coast to coast and border to border have condemned this whole process of lawyers getting on television and talking about cases they don’t know a damn thing about.”


If Six Unarmed Protesters Are Killed, Does India Care?

I’ve worked on human rights in South Asia for a number of years and have been immersed in how the media operates, especially in India. It’s often the same story: an incident happens in Delhi and its suburbs or a couple of other “important” cities like Mumbai and Bangalore and the media covers it breathlessly on the many 24-hour news networks and newspapers.

The government is almost always to blame for this or that, calls for resignations are issued in a very serious tone. And, after a couple of days, all is forgotten.

If it’s a small town in rural Bihar where there is a human rights violation, you won’t hear much at all. If there is any coverage, it’s generated from the bottom-up and mostly stays out of the mainstream media outlets headquartered in Delhi or Mumbai.


Egypt Continues Media Crackdown

Protests in Egypt continued into a seventh day today as thousands of Egyptians demonstrated against widespread corruption, police brutality and poverty in their country.  The Egyptian government has tried hard to censor its citizens — cutting off internet and phone access — and now journalists find themselves a target in the crackdown on freedom of expression.

Demonstrators have used phone cameras to expose police abuses © Demotix / Nour El Refai

Al Jazeera English said that six journalists were detained today at an army checkpoint outside Cairo’s Hilton hotel. The journalists were held only briefly but their cameras and other equipment was confiscated.

Yesterday, the Cairo bureau of the Al Jazeera network was officially shut down by order of Egypt’s Information Ministry, the network said.

Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa, said:

“This government action against Al Jazeera is just its latest attempt to close down reporting of the protests on the streets and the free flow of information.

“The authorities are clearly trying to intimidate the media and to prevent the truth coming out about abuses by its security forces, as they struggle to maintain their grip on power in the face of unprecedented protests and demands for fundamental change.”

Local and international journalists were assaulted, arrested and their equipment confiscated by security forces throughout recent mass protests against poverty, police abuse and corruption.

The government must not be allowed to put the whole country under an information blackout, and that message needs to be sent to them very clearly by their friends and allies abroad.  You can help send that message by emailing US authorities now and urging them to use their influence to stop these abuses.


Burma VJ: Human Rights Activism at Its Finest

UPDATE: Check out Amnesty’s brand new action page on Myanmar: Stand with the People of Myanmar. Demand they be given the three freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association. Also, show your support on twitter by start using #3freedoms

This is the first post of our human rights film series.

August 8, 2010, marks 22 years since Myanmar’s massive crackdown against student protesters, resulting in the deaths of 3,000 and the detention of countless opponents of the military junta.  Although 8/8/88 remains a disheartening defeat, it also continues to symbolize the hope for change.

Similarly, in 2007, citizens took to the streets again to wage anti-government protests.  However, this time, the demonstrations were led by thousands of monks, heralding the movement as the “Saffron Revolution” due to the color their robes.  Within weeks, the military brutally squashed the peaceful protests, evoking international condemnation and outcry.

That outcry was only made possible  by the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), a non-profit media organization based in Norway, which  filmed the events with hand cameras and smuggled the footage out of the country for international broadcasting. They communicated to the world the tense atmosphere, desire for basic human rights and desperate hope that Myanmar experienced in August and September 2007. The reporters of DVB took great personal risk to give the international community unprecedented access to the political and social atmosphere in Myanmar.

Cameras vs. Guns

Yesterday, I finally got a chance to watch Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country, an Academy Award nominated documentary created from the footage captured by the Democratic Voice of Burma during the “Saffron Revolution.”  The documentary is incredibly powerful and inspiring; Burma VJ highlights more than the overwhelming human rights abuses present in Myanmar by emphasizing the everyday devotion to freedom as well as the great personal risks that ordinary citizens assume to record political events. While emotionally poignant and insightful, Burma VJ also chronicles the challenging footsteps of video journalists in Myanmar in their quest to capture the truth. The desperate expectation for change is evident in the documentary and reminiscent of the political and social environment of August 8, 1988. 

To catch a glimpse of daily life in Myanmar and view human rights activism and advocacy at its finest, watch Burma VJ. The documentary, produced by Anders Østergaard, was just released on DVD in the United States, so update your Netflix queue, sit back and get ready for some serious human rights activism!


US Media: American Waterboarding Good, Foreign Waterboarding Bad

According to a new study from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, since the beginning of the “war on terror,” and especially since the Abu Ghraib torture scandal, the nation’s four widest circulated newspapers, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today, have had a “significant and sudden shift in how [they have] characterized waterboarding.”

The study shows very interesting findings regarding the characterization of waterboarding in a number of articles over the last 70 years. From the 1930s and until 2002-2004, the Media that covered waterboarding considered it torture, or at least implied that it was torture. However, after it was clear that the U.S. was using this interrogation technique, those newspapers stopped referring, in most of the cases, to it as a form of torture.

Instead, they started giving it a “softer and less negative” connotation using words like “harsh,” “coercive” and “controversial.” For example, while the New York Times, between 1931 and 1999, considered waterboarding as torture in 81.5% of the articles that mentioned the practice, between 2002 and 2008, waterboarding was only considered as torture in 1.4% of the cases. The percentages of articles in the LA Times reflect almost the same pattern.

But ironically, when waterboarding was used in a country other than the United States, the newspapers under the study indeed referred to it as torture.

The study concludes that the change in waterboarding’s characterization is not due to the Media’s efforts “to remain neutral in the debate going on in the U.S.,” as some suggest. Rather, since waterboarding has always been considered as torture under American and international law, “the newspaper’s equivocation on waterboarding can hardly be termed neutral.”

Join our call for a full investigation into the US government’s use of torture.

Troy Davis Media Coverage

Here is a sampling of media coverage of the Troy Davis hearing in Savannah and events surrounding it.  Also, some great photos of scenes outside the Savannah Courthouse yesterday.

On Monday, June 21, former Georgia Supreme Court justice Norman Fletcher wrote in the Atlanta Journal Constitution about the importance of the decision of the US Supreme Court, led by retiring Justice Stevens, to grant the hearing.  That op-ed is entitled Stevens leaving legacy of judicial care.

The next day, June 22, NAACP President Benjamin Jealous wrote a special opinion piece for CNN called Death row inmate’s rare chance to prove his innocence.

Yesterday, the AJC published a preview of the hearing (Court to hear Troy Davis’ innocence claims in cop’s 1989 killing), as well as an analysis of the first day’s proceedings (Witnesses back off testimony against Troy Davis).

They also published Then and now: Witnesses change their stories – a comparison of the trial testimony that was used to convict Davis with the testimony heard on Tuesday. Local media and TV also covered the hearing throughout the day, and we expect more of the same today.

"Deadly Delivery" in the News

iStock_000003008516SmallLast Friday, Amnesty International launched Deadly Delivery, the new report highlighting the shocking rates of preventable maternal deaths in the United States. The media has been paying attention.

On Wednesday, viewers of Good Morning America saw our researcher Nan Strauss talk about Caesarian sections in the United States. Jennifer Block wrote an article about the report at, and Colum Lynch at the Washington Post cited our report and quoted Amnesty Executive Director Larry Cox in an article on maternal mortality worldwide. CNN picked up the story as well, with an article that detailed Amnesty’s call to action, and included comments from supportive health care professionals around the country. The Guardian, one of the UK’s leading dailies, ran an article on Friday highlighting Amnesty’s role in calling out the violations of women’s human rights in the United States. State media outlets are running the story too, particularly in states that are hard-hit by the maternal health care crisis (like Louisiana) . Here at Human Rights Now, we kicked off coverage with a post from Alicia Yamin, a world expert on maternal mortality and human rights and a special adviser to our Demand Dignity Campaign.

If you haven’t already, make sure to take action and call on Secretary Sebelius to create an Office of Maternal Health to safeguard women’s right to safe childbirth in the United States!

Mona Luxion contributed to this post.