Afghan Journalists
In some of the world’s most vulnerable regions, journalists face prominent hurdles as they fight for their freedom of expression, an integral right preserved by the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Reporters Sans Frontières has been taking action in protecting the liberties of journalists, specifically female ones, and their freedom of speech so as to combat the threat of violence against journalists in Afghanistan.

In March 2017, the organization opened the “Center for the Protection of Afghan Women Journalists,” while in November, it held a training and advocacy visit to support safety within the field. Facing intimidation from the Taliban, as well as social pressures, women reporters encounter many obstacles in their pursuit of the truth, making such efforts essential.

Reporters Sans Frontières

In 1985, Reporters Sans Frontières, or RSF, was founded by four journalists in Montpellier, France with the intention of defending freedom of information and investigating violations across the globe. RSF has written to authorities and challenged governments that have put these rights in jeopardy, as well as supported journalists who have been imprisoned or exiled.

The non-governmental organization aims to construct pluralistic political systems and champion the right to seek factual material without hindrance; interestingly, the group also promotes the presence of watchdogs that have the ability to question corrupt authority.

RSF and the Media

Among other activities, RSF provides press releases about media freedoms in a variety of languages, generates awareness campaigns, and offers assistance and legal aid to endangered journalists. A report from Radio Free Europe stated that 2017 was one of the most violent years for journalists in Afghanistan.

According to the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee, 20 journalists and media workers were killed, with 169 threats made to reporters.

Mistreatment of Female Journalists

RSF attributes much of Afghani conflict to civil war, with many intimidations and deaths coming from the Taliban. As a result of such in-fighting, the country has seen the rise of many “black holes” in information.

For female journalists, the situation is particularly perilous, as many have been confronted with the threat of attack or silencing. In many cases, and often as a result of such treatment, social pressures discourage women from becoming journalists, as their families may impress upon them the dangers of the profession.

Women experience harassment in the workplace as well as patriarchal standards, and the number of female journalists in Afghanistan has decreased since 2015.

Center for the Protection of Afghan Women Journalists

In March 2017 on the eve of International Women’s Day, RSF opened the Center for the Protection of Afghan Women Journalists — Afghanistan’s first center for the protection of female journalists’ rights. Based in Kabul and headed by Afghan journalist Farida Nekzad, the center provides a forum for women, combats discrimination, calls for equal rights and wages, advocates for better work conditions and prevents abuses.

The Center has offered support to reporters working in war zones, as well as organized seminars on physical and digital safety. The center will lobby the government to call for workplace safety and talk with families about their perceptions of female journalists.

Uniting Journalists

In recent months, Reporters Sans Frontières has been making stronger efforts to protect the rights of female journalists in Afghanistan. From November 22, 2017, the organization held a training and advocacy visit that focused on women journalists.

It organized seminars in Mazar-i- Sharif, Herat and Charikar, and even held a special seminar in Kabul for women reporters in conflict zones. At the meetings, journalists spoke about their experiences being threatened by armed non-state groups and the necessity of self-censorship.

Through the visit, RSF was able to unite journalists and create a discussion on the safety of reporters, with 65 journalists from 60 Afghan media outlets attending.

A Culture of Tolerance

Journalists in Afghanistan are met with a treacherous socio-political climate, facing the threat of violence and risking the loss of the right to expression. With its endeavors in the country, Reporters Sans Frontières has sought to protect the integrity of these reporters, support their safety and promote a culture of tolerance and freedom of information.

Efforts such as the foundation of the Center for the Protection of Afghan Women Journalists and RSF’s seminars can enable greater independence of the media going forward.

– Shira Laucharoen

Photo: Flickr

Health Media Campaigns in Africa Save ChildrenApproximately 5.6 million children younger than five die each year, more than half from preventable causes. Development Media International (DMI) aims to lower this statistic through informative health media campaigns in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe. DMI has run educational media campaigns in over 30 countries and is currently focused on large-scale campaigns in Burkina Faso, Tanzania and Mozambique.

More than 15,000 children in developing countries die each day due to conditions resulting from extreme poverty. Simple, and often free, actions like frequent handwashing, recognizing and treating illnesses sooner, breastfeeding and using bed nets would lower the child mortality rate in these developing countries.

Educational media campaigns have the potential to save one in five of these young children, or approximately 3,000 children per day. The London School of Hygiene estimates that by running campaigns in just 10 countries, DMI can save a million lives.

Development Media International produces educational media content, including radio and TV announcements, focusing on lowering the mortality rate of children under five. Informational broadcasts discuss topics like hygiene, family planning and ways to treat malaria and diarrhea. The content is chosen based on the country’s needs and is tailored to the host country’s religious and cultural norms.

Radio is still the main source of information for families in sub-Saharan Africa. Approximately 59 percent of households with a radio in sub-Saharan Africa listen to programming at least once a week. DMI broadcasts the health media campaigns in Africa several times a day in the local language and partners with the most popular regional radio stations to reach the widest possible audience.

Unlike other nonprofits that focus on supplementing the “supply-side” of relief by funneling aid to hospitals, schools and infrastructure, DMI targets the “demand side” of relief. This means that DMI aims to increase the demand for relief services provided through educational media campaigns. Targeted informational campaigns, like radio announcements that clearly explain the benefits of bed nets for malaria prevention and where to collect free bed nets, can breach the cognitive gap preventing families in developing countries from utilizing available resources.

For example, 600,000 children under five died from diarrhea, pneumonia or malaria in Central and West Africa in 2015. Two-thirds of West African children displaying symptoms of these diseases are not taken to a hospital. All three of these illnesses can be easily treated by a healthcare provider. DMI’s health media campaigns in Africa — specifically in Burkina Faso, Tanzania and Mozambique — address the signs and treatments of common diseases to increase child survival rates.

Limited data exist on the effectiveness of educational media campaigns. However, findings from a randomized controlled trial of DMI’s child survival messaging in Burkina Faso had promising results. The organization found there was a 35 percent increase in the number of children under five who were brought for treatment for diarrhea, pneumonia or malaria after its educational radio messages were broadcast. This is a promising result that shows the great potential for DMI’s programs to help millions of children.

 – Katherine Parks

Photo: Flickr

Tech AwardsThe Tech Awards is an annual competition that recognizes work done by startups around the world that help to improve the standard of living in impoverished areas. Through the work done by these startups, many people are able to gain access to tools to better their education, communication and rights.

From the 2016 Tech Awards, the panel of judges recognized six Tech Awards laureates who have continued to improve communities over the last 15 years. Each startup won an award related to the work they do. These are the six companies and their impact on the communities they help.

Source International
Source International was named a Tech Awards laureate in 2014. In 2016, they won the Intel Environment Award. Source International is an Italian company that works with communities to deal with environmental pollution and health issues that arise because of it.

Source International provides these services free of charge in communities where their services work. Furthermore, they train local leaders to develop and promote environmental monitoring systems to benefit those communities.

Equal Access International
Equal Access International was named a Tech Awards laureate in 2003. In 2016, they won the Microsoft Education Award. Equal Access International is a non-profit organization that creates informative and educational media programs to address women’s rights and education issues in different countries across the world.

Equal Access International currently works in nine countries across Africa, Asia and the Middle East. They use a multimedia approach as well as direct community involvement to raise awareness of these issues, educate people on how to overcome these issues and train people to actively change unfavorable laws and legislation.

Souktel
Souktel was named a Tech Awards laureate in 2010. In 2016, they won the PayPal Equality Award. Souktel is a company that connects employers with employees using development and tech expertise to expand technological communication.

Souktel is focused in areas where unemployment is high due to the lack of access to communication. They work directly with companies to establish platforms for companies to use mobile phones, hotlines and more, while Souktel provides servers to host the platform, as well as customer support.

Angaza
Angaza was named a Tech Awards laureate in 2012. In 2016, they won the Katherine M. Swanson Young Innovator Award. Angaza works to provide affordable solar energy to areas that rely on more toxic forms of lighting, such as kerosene.

Angaza developed a pay-as-you-go platform that allows people in low-income areas to make micro-payments in order to pay for solar products. This creates an affordable way to access cleaner and safer energy for those who need it most.

IDE-India
IDE-India (IDEI) was named a Tech Awards laureate in 2004 and 2010. In 2016, they won the Sobrato Organization Economic Development Award. IDEI is an Indian organization that focuses on providing water access to poor and smallholder farmers. 57 percent of the Indian population relies on agriculture to provide for their families.

According to the Tech Awards website, “IDEI created a low-cost drip irrigation system and foot-powered water pump, which currently reaches 1.38 million households.” Through the improved accessibility of water for small farmers, they are able to generate more income and thrive as businesses.

D-Rev
D-Rev was named a Tech Awards laureate in 2013. In 2016, they won the Sutter Health Award. D-Rev is a company that creates medical technologies at affordable prices for low-income areas. This helps to close the quality healthcare gap for underserved areas.

One example of their medical technology is a phototherapy lamp used to treat jaundiced newborns. Most phototherapy lamps cost thousands of dollars; however, D-REV’s Brilliance phototherapy lamp starts at only $400. It also saves hospitals up to $240 per year on bulb replacements.

These six startups have worked to create innovative solutions to help those in need. From medical and agricultural technologies to communication accessibility, many underserved areas of the world are gaining access to important technologies to help their communities thrive. Not only are these startups improving the lives of those in impoverished areas, but the Tech Awards focus on important companies and organizations such as these increase their ability to help others.

Rebekah Covey

Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in Zambia
The U.S. government has reported serious issues of human rights in Zambia. In order to increase accountability, the U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson released a 2016 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. These reports are to now be made annually and made public.

By compiling Human Rights Reports, the U.S. embassies work to help improve not only their own human rights issues but also those of nations globally. The intention of these reports is to reflect the U.S.’s commitment to improving human rights around the world. Such commitment provides an example for other nations to follow.

In these reports, the U.S. government observed serious human rights issues in Zambia and looks to improve on these records. One area that is to have major emphasis is with media freedom. With officials limiting, censoring, or taking action—sometimes violent action—against media services such as radio stations or journalists that were deemed critical of the ruling party, the U.S. seeks the opportunity to step in.

Other serious issues noted are abuse by police, including unnecessary killings and beatings, gender-based violence, government corruption and child abuse. The U.S. is poised to support initiatives that promote stability of law and freedoms

Recent efforts made by the U.S. in support of human rights in Zambia include donations of $403 million against HIV/AIDS, over $4 million to civil society monitoring groups and to the Electoral Commission of Zambia to allow for better elections and plans to strengthen Zambia’s U.N. Universal Periodic Review processes as well as better implementation of the Public Order Act.

With U.S.’s help, action is now being taken by the government to monitor these issues at the local level.

After police used live ammunition to disperse protesters in Chawama Township in the capital of Lusaka, killing Mapenzi Chibulo, a young supporter of the United Party for National Development (UPND), UPND leaders Hakainde Hichilema and Geoffrey Mwamba were arrested and charged with unlawful assembly and seditious practices, following a brief meeting with party supporters at a village in Mpongwe District.

Recently, the printing presses of The Post newspaper were seized by the tax authorities and its operations were shut down. When police beat and arrested editor-in-chief Fred M’membe, his wife Mutinta Mazoka-M’membe and deputy mmanaging editor Joseph Mwenda, those involved with the beatings were charged with abuse.

Small strides are being made toward human rights in Zambia, despite ongoing issues. The continued support of such strides is important and provides an example for human rights around the world.

Tucker Hallowell

Photo: Flickr

Building Toilets in IndiaKnown as the home of the magnificent Taj Mahal and the world’s largest democracy, the subcontinent of India lies in South Asia and borders both Pakistan and China.

Although India has significantly improved its infrastructure and is now one of the world’s fastest growing economies, much of the population continues to lack access to basic sanitation facilities such as toilets and clean running water. An astounding 500 million people in India resort to open defecation, accounting for 60 percent of the world’s population who do so. Unexpectedly, an Indian romantic comedy aptly named “Toilet, a Love Story” has been instrumental in pushing the need for building toilets in India into the spotlight.

With a renewed focus on providing more access to toilets, Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister, has promised to build 100 million new toilets across the country. Additionally, he started a new cleanliness initiative called Clean India mission in 2014 that will attempt to make India open defecation-free by 2019. According to the Indian government, 47 million toilets have already been built in rural villages and public areas, but many have criticized the program for its many failures. New toilets are being built around the country so rapidly that many of them are not even connected to running water, rendering them dirty to the point that few use them. The Indian government must focus on adding additional sewage systems throughout the country in order to properly handle the increase in toilets.

Even if toilets are built, there needs to be an entire shift in mindset before open defection will stop. For many Indians, having a toilet inside a house is considered an unclean practice, so there needs to be tangible steps taken to confirm that the newly built toilets are actually being used. Educating communities, particularly rural ones, about the undeniable health benefits of utilizing toilets, is a worthwhile pursuit. With many families using toilets as a store house for fodder, India’s government must dedicate time and resources to bringing the serious harms of open defecation to the forefront of public health issues.

The lack of basic sanitation often leads to epidemics of dangerous diseases, including potentially fatal ones such as cholera, which are spread through fecal matter. Furthermore, water sources and crops are commonly contaminated by open defecation, but many lack the awareness or the resources to properly clean their food and water before consuming it, leading to thousands of deaths every year. In addition to the need for a larger effort into raising awareness of the benefits of building toilets in India, resources need to be invested into infrastructure for waste management.

Also, the lack of sanitation facilities has proven to be an issue for women’s rights and human dignity. Without access to toilets, women in rural villages are often forced to travel in groups and are only able to relieve themselves before the sun rises in order to ensure their safety. Unfortunately, these groups of women are often met with verbal and sometimes physical abuse. Sexual assault remains a frighteningly common occurrence for Indian women who are forced to relieve themselves in open fields.

Several studies have shown that lack of access to private toilets frequently make women significantly more susceptible to sexual violence. According to a senior police officer in the state of Bihar, about 400 women were raped while they relieved themselves outside simply because they did not have access to a private toilet. Rapidly and effectively ending open defecation must be of the utmost urgency, as millions of Indian women continue to endure vicious sexual violence on a daily basis.

With toilets being a taboo subject in India, there are undoubtedly serious obstacles to be overcome if India wishes to end open defecation, which is linked to sexual violence and the spread of disease. “Toilet, a Love Story” has gone a long way in helping Indians openly discuss and raise awareness of the dangers of continuing to avoid building toilets in India. If there is to be lasting success, the Indian government must prioritize shifting the public’s mindset away from believing that toilets are unclean as well as build an accompanying sewage system alongside the new toilets.

Akhil Reddy

Photo: Google

Virtual Reality Is Fighting Global PovertyVirtual reality technology is such a recent phenomenon that we have only just tapped into its potential. This technology has been used to expand the capabilities of film and video games, to train soldiers and surgeons, to assist space missions and to aid patients in physical and mental therapy. Non-governmental organizations have found another use for it; now virtual reality is fighting global poverty.

One of the first major forays into using virtual reality to fight global poverty when the U.N. showed a film called “Clouds Over Sidra” which puts the viewer in a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. The viewer is given a tour by a twelve-year-old girl named Sidra, who explains what her life is like at the camp.

The U.N. has shown this film and others through virtual reality headsets to potential donors at humanitarian fundraising events. These films have seemingly become a hit. At a March humanitarian pledging conference where donors viewed “Clouds Over Sidra,” $3.8 billion was donated to aiding Syrian refugees, well beyond the conference’s goal of $2.3 billion. In New Zealand, one out of six people who saw the film chose to donate, which was twice the normal donation rate.

A major reason why virtual reality is fighting global poverty so effectively is its ability to elicit empathy from viewers. In a 2013 experiment from Stanford University and the University of Georgia, two groups did a color-matching exercise in virtual reality, where one group pretended to be colorblind and the other group was forced into colorblindness through a filter. The study found that the second group spent twice as much time helping colorblind people than the first group. Similar experiments found that people who saw 65-year-old virtual avatars of themselves were more likely to save for retirement, and people who cut down a tree in a simulator used fewer napkins than people who read a description of what happens when a tree is cut down.

The intense, empathetic reactions to VR films have not been lost on VR film producers such as Robert Holzer, CEO of Matter Unlimited. “I’ve never experienced such a visceral reaction to any form of media,” says Holzer. “People are left with something closer to what a memory is, versus what they are left with when it is something that they just watched, and that to me is the wild difference of VR.”

The apparent success of virtual reality has caused other global development nonprofits, such as Amnesty International and Trickle Up, to invest in virtual reality films. It seems that virtual reality isn’t just for video games; it also has the potential to be a significant driver of development funding.

Carson Hughes

Photo: Flickr

Freedom of the Press in Cambodia

Over the past few weeks, the freedom of the press in Cambodia has suffered significantly. The country normally displays an impressive ability to support unbiased news sources, but the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen has recently directed a crackdown on opposing press organizations.

In anticipation of a threatening 2018 election, the government has shut down 19 radio stations and charged exorbitant taxes to other publications that do not support Hun Sen’s government. The U.S., European Union and the U.N. have all criticized the Cambodian government for its recent actions.

However, Hun Sen is empowered by President Trump’s attacks on free press and the current domestically-focused agenda, which has led to weak engagement with Southeast Asia. In recent years, social media has become a main source of news for Cambodians, and parties challenging the government have been able to use platforms such as Facebook to their advantage.

Social media use in Cambodia has surged dramatically since 2010, with the 2015 growth rate of Facebook users being 30 percent each year. Eight out of 10 of Cambodia’s most popular Facebook pages are political information sources, including news publications and political figures. Cambodians want personal connections with political figures, and thus value the opportunity to engage with candidates on Facebook. Another contributor to high political activity is the heated political climate which makes every issue into a political issue, according to deputy opposition leader Mu Sochua. Sochua believes that Facebook will be a crucial platform to communicate with Cambodians about her party’s values.

Hun Sen’s rival political candidate, Sam Rainsy, has accused Hun Sen of buying Facebook “likes.” The post landed him in prison for defamation, which is yet another example of the government suppressing the freedom of the press in Cambodia. Leaks revealing unflattering information about opposing parties is a common occurrence on political Facebook pages.

During the Arab Spring, social media proved to be a tool that allowed discontented citizens to organize and make their voices heard. In the week before Egyptian President Hosni Mubaraks resigned, tweets about politics increased from 2,300 to 230,000 per day. Videos featuring political protest or commentary went viral, building confidence in the peoples’ ability to organize to force the change they want to see.

Demands for political freedom on social media has inspired other nearby countries, sparking political discussion in the entire region. Government efforts to restrict discussion on social media has only fueled the change makers, since social media is much harder to control than traditional press organizations.

The desire for reform regarding freedom of the press must originate from the Cambodian people, and Facebook can be a tool used to amplify their voices. The Cambodians’ extensive involvement in politics on social media is a promising sign for their ability to come together to protect their political freedoms, even when the freedom of the press is being threatened.

Kristen Nixon

Photo: Flickr

Social Media and Poverty ReductionThe U.N. first asked “how can the international community best harness the power of media…to educate and transform?” in a 2017 conference. Although this requires a complicated answer, social media and poverty reduction can be connected by harnessing the power of information to foster development in a technologically advancing world.

The link is clear: the U.N. recognizes that there are many “opportunities for the media to play a strategic role for eradicating poverty.” This rests on the media’s ability to inform the public about poverty, in many cases by disseminating information through the voices of who have truly experienced it. This provides “an inclusive platform and an open forum to share the views and concerns of people living in vulnerable situations.”

 

Media and Poverty Reduction: Syrian Civil War

 

But what does this look like firsthand? When a video of a young Syrian boy named Omran Daqneesh covered in rubble surfaced in 2016, millions of people disseminated the video through their social media channels hours after its publication. The New York Times called the video “an image of civil war,” as for many it humanized the violent events taking place far from home.

Sharing these shocking images can spur quick action. A different image, that of Alan Kurdi, a Syrian boy who drowned while leaving Syria for Greece, gained similar attention. Sharing it via social media had real outcomes: MercyCorps garnered $2.3 million for Syrian refugees in one month, compared to the $4.5 million raised in four years before.

The information-sharing that took place with these images spurred discussions about poverty and war on social media. In many cases, the power in information-sharing means that “the media can play a major role in developing public understanding of economic, social, and environmental issues: the three pillars of sustainable development,” according to the U.N.

 

Governments Utilize Connection Between Media and Poverty Reduction

 

Many organizations and governments are harnessing the power in social media and poverty reduction. Rwandan health minister Agnes Binagwaho provides an example with #Ministermondays. Every other Monday, Binagwaho opens a discussion via Twitter for people to voice their concerns about health in the country. Listening to real voices, she is able to craft policies using the experiences she absorbs through social media.

Others are doing similar work. An online social media platform called Digital Green provides farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia a network to discuss best practices for farming. Similarly, the World Bank Finances app ensures that sustainable development initiatives put funding into the correct hands, preventing fraud via social media.

Unlike other media sources, social media gives a voice to those who have lived in poverty by creating public platforms to spread experience. In this way, the media “affords individuals and communities the possibility to become active in the development process” by using social media platforms as safe spaces for discussion, according to the University of Namibia. Over time, this is generating “long-term suitability and sustainability” for poverty reduction.

Social media and poverty reduction works for other forms of development. Success for the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals largely rests on the power of the media, according to the U.N., based on its ability to instigate change with credible information sharing. And media hides other tools for poverty eradication; the University of Namibia explains that it also “creates a platform for non-violent discussion and issue resolution” to prevent conflict.

Social media and poverty reduction can be linked through holding guilty parties accountable for their actions. An established social media source known as I Paid a Bribe is doing just this; it creates a space to safely expose corruption in developing countries by text or email. Stories are shared without fear of retaliation, exposing illegal actions and fighting corruption.

 

Media and Poverty Reduction: Shortcomings

 

Even so, media does not always work in favor of poverty reduction; many argue that poverty is often given little coverage time via traditional media sources. For example, a study of three prominent U.S. nightly news sources found that in 14 months, an average of only 2.7 seconds in every 22-minute program mentioned poverty. And not all people are able to access social media channels; ending the digital divide that leaves four billion people without internet can harness the power of social media to share stories for reducing poverty.

In some cases, “the knowledge and experiences of people living in poverty are often undervalued” in the media, and “solutions to their own problems are ignored.” This can improperly portray real world experiences. Giving little recognition to those who have lived in poverty, according to the U.N., ultimately plays a role in distorting public perception and negatively influencing policies about poverty reduction.

Despite barriers, the U.N. explains that “the time has come for all policy actors to recognize and support the vital contribution of the media” in reducing poverty. Developing the tools that social media provides to reduce poverty, when done effectively, is gaining traction for development today.

And although Omran Daqneesh’s video alone can not end a civil war, his impact is igniting progress for sustainable development. In a world like today, change stems from diverse voices, making way for progress that was impossible only decades ago.

Cleo Krejci

Photo: Flickr

Optimism Improves PerspectiveEvery news report seems to be about a new political scandal, a terrorist attack or some natural disaster. The world feels like it is getting worse, and the uplifting stories on the news appear insignificant compared to the weight of the other issues.

These positive, hopeful stories may seem trivial, even inconsequential compared to the tragedies, death tolls and what seems to be an ever increasing attitude of fear and hatred. However, the good news about bad news is that statistically, there is less of it than ever before, and the good news continues to silently grow. Remembering the good news and maintaining optimism improves perspective when faced with bad situations.

While 2016 has been deemed a “dumpster fire of a year,” the state of the world as a whole is positive. Even with all the political drama and depressing headlines, recent years are also marked by a significant decrease in death from diseases, wars and poverty. In 1999, about 1.7 billion people lived in poverty, which was 28 percent of the population. In 2013, the number was reduced to 767 million, and that number has continued to fall so that less than 10 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty today. In just more than 15 years, the number of people in poverty has declined by almost two-thirds.

There is a great deal of other good news as well. Child mortality is falling rapidly. The number of humans who have died in wars has decreased dramatically since 1945. The so-called Islamic State is weakening and struggling with recruitment. There are significantly fewer bankruptcies. The global economy is growing, leading to the decrease in poverty mentioned above. Literacy rates are going up, and the gender gap is shrinking. The list of good news goes on and on.

There are still many things to be done to improve the world and people’s lives, but the statistics are encouraging. With this good news in mind, why do people tend to focus on the negative headlines? One possible reason is that bad news happens all at once, making it easier to focus on. It is sudden, dramatic and gripping, whereas good news usually happens slowly, working quietly while disasters occupy the public consciousness.

There is also a tendency for people to weigh bad news more heavily than good news. In other words, negative emotions and events feel as though they have more of an effect than positive or neutral emotions and events. Good news seems feeble and meaningless compared to the negative feelings that come with bad news of all sorts. Psychologists call this a negativity bias. Just as optimism improves perspective, this negative, pessimistic attitude can cause a great deal of stress, anxiety and other health issues.

This focus on the negative may have been an evolutionary advantage in the past. As human ancestors fought for survival, bad news in the form of dangers and threats were the focus. Good news was welcome, but it was hardly a priority compared to threatening animals or diseases. These remnants of humanity’s past remain today, and negative events take priority.

Bad news could act as a sort of warning against worse news in the future. It could be an indication that people or societies need to change to avoid further negative events. It is important to draw attention to what is broken in the world so that people can begin to fix it.

Though bad news can be good in the long run, the obsession with bad news is still something to address. Optimism improves perspective, and it has many positive effects. For example, a more optimistic attitude is linked to a longer, more fulfilled life. A positive outlook also decreases stress and helps people cope with difficult situations and bad news.

Optimism has physical, psychological and social benefits, yet an optimistic attitude is easier said than done. Often times a pessimistic attitude can result from existing stress and anxiety, so it is not as simple a matter as suddenly deciding to become an optimist. Studies do support that, while it may not be easy, it is possible for pessimists to become more optimistic. It is likely that children and adults can both become more optimistic and benefit from a more positive attitude.

Bad news seems to be all around us, but it is important to remember the good news as well. Celebrating the victories is just as important as realizing the difficulties that still lay ahead. Everything will not always work out for the better, but optimism improves perspective, especially in depressing and dark situations. Even in difficult times, it is important to remember the good news so that people can continue pushing forward and fight the bad news.

– Rachael Lind

Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in MontenegroMontenegro, which declared its independence from the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro on June 3, 2006, is classified as an upper middle-income economy by the World Bank. Overall, the state of human rights in Montenegro seems to be better than that of other countries in the developing world. This being said, there is also still work to be done.

One of the areas in which human rights in Montenegro are relatively well protected is political freedom. Montenegro is a mixed parliamentary and presidential republic with a multiparty political system, in which the voters elect both the president and the unicameral parliament through popular elections. According to a preliminary report published by the observation mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR), the elections held on October 16, 2016 were conducted in a competitive environment, and the fundamental freedoms of voters were generally respected. The Montenegro Human Rights Report, published by the U.S. State Department in 2016, also stated that there were no reports of the government’s involvement in arbitrary or illicit killings, and no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

However, some problems still remain unresolved, especially those involving restrictions on the freedom of press. For example, On October 22, 2015, a freelance journalist named Jovo Martinovic was arrested on suspicion of involvement in a drug-trafficking scheme. Many have voiced concerns that the evidence against Martinovic offered by the deputy special prosecutor is weak at best. Moreover, the journalist has contended from the beginning of his detention that the only reason he spent time with the criminal group was to fulfill his duties as an investigative journalist. This incident has clearly illustrated the Montenegro authorities’ lack of respect for media freedom.

Other reported problems in human rights in Montenegro include corruption and lack of transparency in government, impunity for war crime, and violations of the right to peaceful assembly. Whether the country will be able to achieve noticeable improvement in these areas still remains to be seen.

Minh Joo Yi

Photo: Flickr