Wednesday, 24 April 2019

UK ranks below Jamaica, Latvia and Ghana for press freedom, global study finds

‘Too often steps taken in the name of national security trample press freedom,’ says advocacy group on British media landscape

The UK remains one of the worst counties in western Europe for freedom of the press, according to the latest report by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Ranked 33rd in the list of 180 countries, Britain was placed behind Jamaica, Surinam, Ghana, Namibia, South Africa, Latvia and Lichtenstein in the advocacy group’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.

Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt appointed Amal Clooney as special envoy on media freedom earlier this month as part of a global campaign on reporting restrictions. Yet the UK is ranked lower than any of its western European neighbours except Italy.

“We should hold ourselves to a higher standard, and seek to be one of the best, not worst-performing countries in western Europe,” said RSF’s UK director Rebecca Vincent. “Too often steps taken in the name of national security trample press freedom.”

Barrister Amal Clooney with foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt at media freedom event on 5 April ( EPA )

The US slipped three places to 48th in the world as a result of its increasingly hostile climate towards journalists. The report said that never before have US reporters been subjected to so many death threats or turned so often to private security for protection.

The latest annual report offered a bleak assessment of reporting freedoms around the world, with experts finding a decline in the number of countries regarded as safe for journalists.

Only 24 per cent of the 180 countries were classified as “good” or “fairly good” for the press – a two per cent decline – while over three-quarters of the world is now considered “problematic”, “difficult” or “very serious” for media freedoms.

RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said: “Democracy is in great danger. Halting this cycle of fear and intimidation is a matter of the utmost urgency of all people.”

He added: “If the political debate slides surreptitiously or openly towards a civil war-style atmosphere, in which journalists are treated as scapegoats, then democracy is in great danger.”

Norway is ranked first for press freedoms for the third consecutive year and Turkmenistan replaced North Korea in last place.

The study’s authors said the level of violence used in some parts of the world to persecute journalists who aggravate authorities “no longer seems to know any limits”. They said the Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October sent a “chilling message”.

The Americas saw the greatest deterioration of any part of the world during the last year. Nicaragua fell 24 places from the previous year’s list due to attacks on journalists covering protests against President Daniel Ortega.

El Salvador saw the region’s second steepest fall – 15 places – because journalists suffered armed attacks, harassment and intimidation by politicians, according to the report.

There were also poor performances in Venezuela, Brazil and Mexico. The latter is one of the world’s deadliest countries for the media, with at least 10 journalists killed in 2018.

The EU and Balkans registered the second biggest deterioration in press freedoms, but it remains the region where press freedom is respected most and which is the safest for journalists.
According to a separate report recently published by RSF, 80 journalists were killed around the world in 2018, up from 65 in 2017.

The group’s annual index assesses six separate benchmarks and assigns each country a score calculated from answers to a questionnaire in 20 languages that is completed by international experts.

Earlier this year a report by the Freedom House think tank found an “alarming” decline in democracy across the world, as a growing number of countries move towards authoritarian rule.

Its report found 2018 was the 13th consecutive year of deteriorating political freedoms around the globe.

(Source: Independent

IVF clinics exploiting older women by trading on hope, says fertility watchdog

‘They are catering to a bunch of vulnerable women’

In vitro fertilisation (IVF) clinics have been warned against “trading on hope” after the fertility watchdog said older women were being exploited.

Sally Cheshire, chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), told The Daily Telegraph some private clinics were using selective figures to promote IVF to middle-aged women with low chances of success.

Ms Cheshire urged clinics to be “honest and transparent” with prospective patients about their chances of successful IVF treatment. IVF is typically not recommended by the NHS for women over the age of 42 due to low success rates.

But recent figures show the number of women in their forties undergoing fertility treatment in the UK has doubled since 2004, with more than 10,800 cases in 2017 alone.

Ms Cheshire said “vulnerable” women were being targeted by enticing sales tactics, and revealed she had been offered IVF treatments herself at a fertility show in Manchester by individuals who were unaware of her role at HFEA.

The 50-year-old added: “We now see things like, ‘Guaranteed baby or your money back’.”

Ms Cheshire said some private IVF clinics charge four times as much as they should for treatment, with prices going up to £20,000 per cycle.

“I would like our clinics to be honest about the success rates,” she said. “They are catering to a bunch of vulnerable women. What the clinics shouldn’t be doing is trading on that hope. That hope and vulnerability. They should be honest and transparent about a woman or a couple’s chances.”

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) fertility guidelines recommend IVF be offered to women under the age of 43 who have been trying to get pregnant through unprotected sex for two years.

However, younger women are more likely to be successful with IVF. Between 2014 and 2016, the percentage of IVF treatments that resulted in successful pregnancy and birth were 29 per cent for women under 35, 23 per cent for those aged 35 to 37 and 15 per cent for women between the ages of 38 and 39. The figures dropped to nine per cent for women aged 40 to 42 and two per cent for those aged over 44.

(Source: Independent)

Christians are tentatively moving back home after Isis – but many are staying away

Thousands have returned to Iraq and are celebrating in the streets, but the picture is mixed in the north

A little over two years ago, the northern Iraqi town of Qaraqosh lay in ruins. Its churches, shops, houses and farms were mostly destroyed by Isis during its occupation.

Some 50,000 Christian inhabitants of the ancient town fled the terror group’s onslaught when it captured swathes of northern Iraq in 2014. Many feared they would never see their homes again.

Today, around half of that number have returned. Thousands took to the streets last weekend to commemorate Palm Sunday, and more will come out again for Easter.

But the picture for Christians across northern Iraq is less hopeful, with high unemployment, fears over security and a lack of infrastructure stopping many returning.

“Qaraqosh has been one of the most successful in bringing its residents back,” said Faraj Benoit Camurat, president of Fraternity in Iraq, a French organisation that supports Iraq’s religious minorities.

“But overall, it’s a situation of big contrasts. You have towns which seem almost normal like Qaraqosh, and you have some where things are not so good,” he added.

Archbishop Yohanna Petros Mouche of Mosul inspects the damage at the Saint Barbara Church in the town of Qaraqosh (Getty )
Qaraqosh is the largest Christian town in Iraq and can trace its Christian identity back to the fourth century, when Assyrians adopted the new religion and began building monasteries and churches. It was relatively affluent before Isis came along, drawing its wealth from farmlands and trade with the metropolis of Mosul, just 20 miles away.

When Isis captured Mosul in 2014, it sent a chilling warning to Christians in nearby towns and villages, announcing that they must convert, pay a special tax or “face the sword”. The group waged a campaign of violence and murder against other minorities – Yazidis and Shia Muslims suffered greatly too.

More than 100,000 Christians fled their homes in fear of the Isis advance and many of them are still living in displacement camps in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Around 37,000 Christians returned to their homes in the Nineveh plains between 2017 and 2018, according to the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee. But tens of thousands more are still displaced in camps, mostly in Iraqi Kurdistan.

In a recent survey of displaced minorities in Iraq by the United Nations International Organisation for Migration (IOM), Christians were most likely to say they do not plan to return home, with only 22 per cent saying they would go back.

They were also the most likely to say they planned to settle abroad, at 42 per cent. Compared to those numbers, the 25,000 who have returned to Qaraqosh makes it something of a success story.

“Because of its size, it reached a critical number of people coming back, which meant services and infrastructure was relaunched,” said Mr Camurat.

“It was also key that the educational system of Qaraqosh continued to work when they were displaced. Schools are back to normal work very quickly, because all the structures were still alive.”
The Palm Sunday celebrations last weekend were the largest since the town’s liberation, and they had an added poignancy for many who have returned.

“Seeing the huge number of people of my town all walking and singing hymns together in a procession is a solid evidence that we are still here, that Christianity in Iraq is not dead, and never will be,” said 24-year-old Fadi Banno.

“For me, it’s a great joy to see this happening again after what happened to us because of Isis,” he told The Independent.

But other towns in the Nineveh plains, which have been home to a Christian community for two millennia, have not been so quick to recover.

In Bartella, around 10 miles down the road from Qaraqosh, fewer than a third of 3,800 Christian families have returned home, according to the Associated Press. Many of them now complain of harassment from Shia militias which now control security in the town.

“There are no jobs here,” one resident, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Independent. “A lot of the homes are still destroyed.”
Iraq’s Christian community has faced instability before. There has been a rapid decline in the Christian population in the country over the last two decades, beginning with the onset of the US invasion in 2003. At that time, there were an estimated 1.4 million Christians in the country. Today, fewer than 300,000 are thought to remain.

The invasion and occupation of Iraq sparked a wave of Islamist militancy in nearby Mosul that led to many Christians fleeing. Many left the country for the US and Europe – as they still doing today.

Open Doors, an organisation that tracks persecution of Christians, said: “The territorial defeat of Isis reduced the level of persecution across the country. However, threats from extremist groups make it difficult for returning Christians to feel safe and secure from acts of Christian persecution.”

The problems affecting Christians are by no means exclusive to the minority. According to the IOM, more than 1.8 million people remain displaced across Iraq five years after the Isis onslaught began.

“Many live in a state of limbo – often working in the informal labour sector, still crowding extended families into small living spaces and relying on funds from family members or government pensions,” the IOM said in February. The same report said a lack of economic opportunities and public services were the main factors in keeping them displaced.

(Source: Independent

Microsoft workers decry grueling '996' working standard at Chinese tech firms

A letter on Github demanded companies comply with labor laws, limiting workers to 40 hours a week versus a 12-hour day standard

Microsoft employees have published a letter on the software development platform Github in solidarity with tech workers in China.

Workers at tech companies in the country have used the Microsoft-owned platform to complain about grueling working conditions and the “996” standard in the industry, a philosophy endorsed by the tech billionaire Jack Ma. The name is based on the idea of working from 9am to 9pm, six days a week.

Microsoft workers called on Chinese tech companies to comply with local labor laws, which limit their workers to 40 hours a week, with a maximum of 36 hours per month of overtime.

“These same issues permeate across full time and contingent jobs at Microsoft and the industry as a whole,” the workers said.
A philosophy endorsed by Jack Ma, tech billionaire, says that young people should work from 9am to 9pm, six days a week. Photograph: Andy Wong/AP

The repository hosting the material is called, a reference to a comment from one poster that said such a schedule could land workers in the intensive care unit. Users created a list of more than 150 companies they said have inhumane working conditions, including Huawei, Bytedance (makers of the app TikTok), and Ant Financial (associated with Alibaba). It quickly became one of the fastest-growing GitHub repositories in the service’s history, being starred more than 200,000 times.

As the repository has gained traction, Tencent and Alibaba, both mentioned in the list, have restricted access to the material on their browsers. In their letter, Microsoft workers called on Microsoft and Github to keep the forum “uncensored and available to everyone”.

“History tells us that multinational companies will pit workers against each other in a race to the bottom as they outsource jobs and take advantage of weak labor standards in the pursuit of profit,” the letter said. “We have to come together across national boundaries to ensure just working conditions for everyone around the globe.”

The letter initially had 30 signatures, and workers behind it called on fellow employees to contact them to add names. The move is the latest internal tech protest. In February, Microsoft workers released a petition opposing a $480m contract to provide the US army with augmented reality headsets in a letter signed by more than 50 employees.

In November 2018, Google employees walked off the job over reports that a former executive who had been ousted for sexual harassment had received a $90m severance package. Workers involved in organizing that protest have reported internal backlash and demotions for their actions.

(Source: The Guardian)

Staying at home with kids is harder than going to work

We love our kids. No doubt about that. They are bundles of joy given to us by the universe to set our lives on a path of unbridled love, affection, and happiness. At least, that’s what many of us think.

However, this doesn’t change the fact that they drive us nuts sometimes. Staying at home to look after your kids can be more difficult than going to a hectic job [1]. Kids can drain our energy, especially newborns. Feeding, soothing, singing to sleep, bathing, changing, powdering, playing, cooing, gagging – the unconditional love we have for them doesn’t always relieve the stress. Stay-at-home parents can relate better to this, especially those with many kids.

They don’t usually like to complain about their ordeals. Most people would wonder, “What’s so hard about staying at home all day with your little one(s)?” People judge them without thinking about what they go through every day. It’s true that constantly complaining can do more harm than good, but everyone deserves to once in a while and they need to be taken seriously.

When most working parents spend a day at home with their kids, even on paid leave, many can’t wait to get back to work.

AVEENO Baby U.K. survey
A nationwide survey conducted in the U.K. has shown that many parents get more stressed while staying at home with their kids that going to work [2]. The survey, conducted by AVEENO® Baby, had a sample size of the of 1,500 mothers and fathers from around the country. These parents either worked various types of jobs or were stay-at-home parents.

The results of the survey were as follows:

  • 31% agreed that staying at home with kids is more stressful than going to work.
  • 40% agreed that after having their own first child, they stopped judging new parents for complaining too much.
  • 55% believed that having a baby is hard work even with a strong support system.
  • 25% voted that having a baby is easy.
  • Despite NCT (National Childbirth Trust) classes and self-help books, 45 percent of the women said they wouldn’t have coped without their own mother’s advice.
  • 39% of the parents said they are constantly exhausted.
  • 71% of the moms and dads believed that social media made parenting more competitive, with everyone trying to level up to someone else.
  • 27% felt they are under pressure to be perfect parents.
  • 22% are worried about their newborns’ eating habits.
  • 9%  are worried about their kids’ sleep patterns.

Despite all these, 42% agreed that they experienced true, unconditional love for the first time when they had their first baby.

“Becoming a parent is an amazing experience, but we understand that entering this new chapter of life can also bring with it a great deal of stress and worry, so we wanted to discover more about what new parents experience in the first few years, what they wish they had known and how best we can support them,” Aveeno Baby Skin expert, Rebecca Bennett, told The Sun.

The verdict is, taking care of kids is not an easy feat. Nevertheless, their heart-warming smiles, tiny feet, soft bums, and cloud-like hair will do a lot to override any exhaustion we feel. One moment, we want to grab our bags and run for the door. The next, you are on your back balancing your toddler on your belly.

It’s an on and off thing.


(Source: The Hearty Soul)