Undercover, Hacked and Killed in the Line of Duty

Max Kolbe reviews recent events in news

The BBC  courted controversy after one of its reporters apparently posed as a PhD student, hooked-up with a group of students from the London School of Economics (LSE) en-route to North Korea and went there in order to make an undercover documentary.

Undercover journalism is shunned in most countries where it is considered dishonest although Britain through its tabloid newspapers has taken this type of investigative work to new heights primarily by targeting extremely difficult subjects.

The News of the World by going undercover and disclosing cheating by Pakistani cricketers on a grand scale won praise, and perhaps the hermit kingdom of North Korea also merits such treatment.

But it remains a dodgy part of the profession and by involving genuine students who unwittingly provided cover for journalist John Sweeney, set a dangerous precedent and the LSE was well within its rights to be angered at being hoodwinked by the world’s largest broadcaster.

It knew a journalist would be accompanying the students on the trip but insists it was unaware of the deception which – given the current climate in North Korea — will likely end further such trips into the world’s most isolated country and cast doubts over journalists who work for state-funded media.

The LSE wanted the program, made for Panorama, pulled while the Panorama website extols Sweeney’s eight-day trip into “a landscape bleak beyond words, a people brainwashed for three generations and a regime happy to give the impression of marching towards Armageddon”.

Meanwhile a US federal grand jury has indicted a Thomson Reuters employee of aiding the hacker group, Anonymous, to break into the website of a former employer, the Tribune Company.

For the uninitiated Anonymous are a collective of hackers and dubbed the “internet hate machine” with targets ranging from North Korean web sites to Middle East courts. Their members favor the Guy Fawkes mask to hide their identity.

Matthew Keys, deputy social media editor at Reuters.com, was charged with three criminal counts that included a conspiracy to transmit information to damage a protected computer.

The indictment says Keys gave members of Anonymous a login and password to the company server. Other hacking targets were the Fox 40 television station in Sacramento and the Los Angeles Times, both owned by the Tribune.

Keys, who is often described as’ clean cut’, denies the charge and says he is not a hacker.

Elsewhere in a rapidly shrinking media world Ecuadoran journalist Fausto Valdiviezo was fatally shot in the port of Guayaquil. He was 52. Valdiviezo, who was a radio and TV reporter, was killed by a gunman after leaving his mother’s house where he had dinner.

Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa pledged those responsible would be brought to justice. He was the 10th journalist killed in Latin America this year, three in Brazil, two in Guatemala, and one each in Haiti, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Ecuador.

Also dead is the Russian journalist Mikhail Beketov Technically he died from heart failure while choking on his lunch. Bound to a wheelchair and unable to speak, Beketov was beaten senselessly five years ago after exposing local corruption. Fingers and a leg were amputated as a result.

His death came as the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) learned Somali journalist, Mohamed Hassan Habeeb, who was a media advisor to the courts and had worked several media houses including the state run Radio Mogadishu, had been killed during an attack on a court.

His death brought the number of journalists killed in Somalia this year to three.

Another country winning unwanted attention is Malaysia. The Malaysians would think it grossly unfair to compare the former British colony with the likes of Russia or Somalia, still Russia is apparently one part of the world the authorities in Kuala Lumpur like to engage.

No sooner had the recent election campaign started than allegations of dirty tricks emerged ahead of the May 5 poll with a batch of websites hacked and broadcasts by radio stations apparently jammed.

Websites belonging to Radio Free Malaysia, Radio Free Sarawak and the news portal Sarawak Report, among others, were subjected to DDOS attacks which editors blamed on the Malaysian government.

Typically DDOS – or distributed denial of service – involves saturating a website with information and requests that slow its response to the point of being inoperable and the attacks have been traced to Russia and Eastern Europe. One site apparently received 64 million hits.

“This is not a proper expenditure of taxpayers’ money and it only goes to prove how vulnerable this 50 year old regime feels to the truth,” said Clare Rewcastle Brown, Editor of Sarawak Report and Founder of Radio Free Sarawak and Radio Free Malaysia.

Similar allegations of hacking were also made during the recent Sabah crisis, when at least 200 militia men from the Southern Philippines crossed the maritime border and launched a bloody insurgency in the name of a self-anointed sultan, which cost more than 70 lives.


About Webmaster 867 Articles
Luke Hunt is a foreign correspondent, author and occasional photographer who has covered much of Asia fr the last 30 years.

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