Alessio Perrone is a journalist and writer who joined New Internationalist in 2016. You can find him on Twitter at @alessioperrone and contact him through his website alessioperrone.com.

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Alessio Perrone is a journalist and writer who joined New Internationalist in 2016. You can find him on Twitter at @alessioperrone and contact him through his website alessioperrone.com.

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The people, the mine and the World Bank

The sum is $4.4 billion.

It’s enough money to feed one million people three meals a day for a year,1  or for Romania to hire some 100,000 teachers for 10 years.2

It’s also two per cent of Romania’s GDP, and it’s what Canadian mining company Gabriel Resources is suing the country for after it halted a long-stalled goldmine project in Rosia Montana, in the northwest.

Rosia Montana is a historic mountain village sitting on 2,000-year-old Roman mine galleries – and on Europe’s largest known gold deposit. Since 1997, Gabriel Resources has had plans to build Europe’s biggest open-pit goldmine using cyanide extraction – a project that would blast away four mountain peaks, the ancient mine galleries and four villages in the area.

The map shows the location of Rosia Montana within Romania
The map shows the location of Rosia Montana within Romania. Via OpenStreetMap

The project would also pose an environmental threat for years to come: cyanide is a highly toxic compound, and in the best case scenario the project would create a waste lake with a much longer lifespan than the mine itself – if no spills occurred.

After a troubled process, the Romanian government prepared a bill to authorize the project as well as the expropriation and relocation of the entire Rosia Montana community. Some welcomed the idea of having well-paid jobs for over a decade, while others refused to leave at any cost.

It took over a decade of intense grassroots organizing, and some of the biggest demonstrations in Romania’s post-communist history to kill the bill and prevent the mine from going ahead.

‘After 15 years of fighting, we thought the place was finally safe,’ Roxana Pencea tells New Internationalist in a Skype interview. Roxana is an activist with Mining Watch and has been active in the ‘Save Rosia Montana’ campaign.

An article appeared on Foreign Policy in November 2016 celebrated the victory. ‘That ordinary people could stop this massively lucrative mining project... counts as a monumental victory,’ it reads.

But the fight was still far from over. Almost as soon as one political battle, full of twists and turns, came to an end, a new, completely different battle began.

Explore the timeline below to find more about what happened in Rosia Montana. Loading might take a few seconds...

Another goldmine

In July 2015, Gabriel Resources filed a claim of damages against Romania to a World Bank commission – the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).

Essentially, this is an international commission where foreign corporations can sue a country if they feel it has violated a treaty or other obligations, or if they feel discriminated against.

The damages sought were confirmed on 30 June 2017: $4.4 billion – a figure Roxana calls ‘a fantasy tale with nothing in common with reality’.

‘The issue we’ve had in Romania is that the project has been over-politicized. Politics has got in the way of progress,’ Gabriel Resources Chief Executive, Jonathan Henry, told Reuters. The company was not able to comment for New Internationalist.

‘We are claiming that Romania has expropriated our project and we are left with no alternative but to seek compensations.’

It will be a long process. If there is no settlement, the arbitration will last at least three years. Now, parties are exchanging arguments, and the first hearing will not be until September 2019.

After that, the timetable becomes blurry and there is no chance to appeal.

A life under arbitration

The Gabriel Resources vs Romania case is a perfect example of what life is like for communities when corporations can sue countries.

There is very little room for Romanians to have their say, or even know what exactly is going on.

All is kept to a technical exchange of legal arguments about a 1996 and a 2011 investment treaty between company and government representatives. The risk of ‘politicizing’ the matter, as Gabriel Resources puts it, is kept to a minimum.

Romanians don’t even know for sure what their government’s stance is: proceedings are kept confidential, and take place in Washington DC, US.

‘Corporations are attempting to achieve by stealth – through secretly negotiated trade
agreements – what they could not attain in an open political process’ – Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz

Pia Eberhardt, a campaigner and Corporate Europe Observatory researcher, explains that both parties can decide to disclose information, but that they have been very reluctant to do so.

‘Especially in the first months, we couldn’t even find very basic documents on the ICSID website.

‘After pressure from civil society, and from Romania, some documents appeared suddenly – over a year after the start of the process.’

The lack of transparency worries campaigners, especially that coming from their government’s side. A rooted lack of trust in the Romanian government for its poor handling of the case contributes to a sense of uncertainty in citizens.

‘The secrecy is very dangerous,’ says Roxana. ‘It’s evident the government is not being fair to its citizens.’

But the secrecy is not the only concern: in the proceeding, there’s very little, if any, room for the community to have a say at all. In the beginning, local communities were not even meant to be part of the process.

After a group, Alburnus Maior, requested to submit an outline of their argument, they were given a slot to submit a non-binding amicus correus brief to the tribunal.

‘Basically, it only means Alburnus Maior said they are interested in the case and would like to outline their arguments, but the commission doesn’t even have to take them into account,’ says Pia. ‘And this comes very late in the proceedings – September 2018.’

The same community that caused the goldmine project to go down is made to sit and wait.

The rise of arbitration

Cases like Gabriel Resources vs Romania are not new. They are called Investor-State Dispute Settlements (ISDS), and they are booming.

Think Chevron vs Ecuador.

Think NAFTA (which made Canada the most sued country in the ‘developed’ world).

Think of the protests that spread through Europe for the TTIP deal with the US, or the CETA deal negotiated between the EU and Canada.

Campaigners believe Rosia Montana could show how things might work in Europe if such treaties are approved with the respective ISDS clauses.

If Romania is made to pay damages, it could turn public opinion against Rosia Montana, and against public demonstrations in general

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, there were three known ISDS cases in 1995 – and a whopping average of 49 cases per year in the past decade. 2015 set the record high with 74 new cases, and as of 1 January 2017 the UN counted 767 open disputes.

Claudiu Craciun, a lecturer in European Politics at Bucharest’s National School of Political Science and Administration, who was also involved in the protests against the mine in 2013, explains that most ISDS’s are a legacy of bilateral investment treaties, and sometimes of trade agreements.

‘The mechanism was born as a way to force countries from the periphery or semi-periphery of the world to comply [with corporations’ and ‘developed’ countries’ plans],’ says Dr Craciun.

He thinks that the claim against Romania has legal grounds: ‘It’s a blast from the past, but it has a legal basis, although a questionable one – we do have signed those treaties.’

Dr Craciun he believes the treaties are obsolete and abusive.

‘The relations between the community, the state authorities and the corporations have been very asymmetric,’ he says. ‘The resources distribution between parties and the way the community has been treated could seem like a way of bullying.

‘I have nothing against international trade, but it should not hit the bottom of society.’

Trying to establish Romania’s chances of success is difficult at the time of writing. In an article of ‘tips for foreign investors’, Dentons law firm told Lexology: ‘ Investors should bear in mind that 30-40 per cent of investment disputes typically settle before a final award is issued. Commencing a claim can create leverage to help the investor reach a satisfactory result.’

Rosia Montana in limbo

For now, the arbitration means that Rosia Montana remains safe.

The government’s commitment to protecting the site looks shaky at times, but as long as the arbitration runs, it’s unlikely that the project will advance.

For that reason, when campaigners and Rosia Montana residents found out about the arbitration, they celebrated.

‘We opened a bottle of champagne together with the people in Rosia Montana,’ Roxana remembers. ‘We were relieved: after all our fights, we had made the project impossible to proceed with.’

But the relief quickly gave way to anger: a defeat in the arbitration would be a massive setback for the whole environmentalist movement in Romania.

Dr Craciun explains that if Romania is made to pay damages, it could turn public opinion against Rosia Montana, against public demonstrations in general, and against the politically-responsible thinking that built up in Romania after the fall of communism.

Roxana agrees: ‘There is no way we would agree to any kind of compensation to Gabriel Resources.

‘Rosia Montana was the most important struggle in many years in Romania – in preserving the state of law and respecting the ideals of a democracy. We won as a society against a greedy corporation.

‘If a tribunal in Washington now decides in their favour, it will be a slap in our faces.’

Rosia Montana remains in limbo. As long as the arbitration runs, it is safe. But until a win is on the horizon, the next round of champagne bottles might need to be kept on ice.

What you can do to help:

  • Sign the petition to urge the Romanian government to refuse to pay damages to Gabriel Resources;
  • If you are on Facebook, join the group ‘Save Rosia Montana’;
  • Share this article or any other related material to inform public opinion together.

Alessio Perrone is a journalist who joined New Internationalist in 2016. You can follow him on Twitter.

The top image shows a protest in Bucharest’s Piața Universității on 15 Setember 2013. Photo by Bogdan Giușcă

At $17 per day
At 1,300 lei per month ($350) the average salary of a Romanian teacher

Western democracies set low standards as global media freedom declines

rsf map.jpg

The situation is considered to be 'very bad' in a total of 21 countries. © Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

First world democracies are setting lower standards for freedom of the press relative to the rest of the world, a newly published study by Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontieres, RSF) has found.

Presented on Wednesday in London, RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index found media freedom to be deteriorating in nearly two thirds (62.2 per cent) of the 180 countries analysed, including countries traditionally considered model democracies like Canada, New Zealand and European democracies.

Media freedom has never been so threatened, and RSF’s ‘global indicator’ has never been so high, which means that media freedom is under threat now more than ever. The situation is considered to be 'very bad' in a total of 21 countries.

However, violations of the freedom to inform are ‘less and less the prerogative of authoritarian regimes,’ RSF said in a statement.

In Europe, violation of press freedom has risen faster than anywhere else in the world: 17.5 per cent in the past five years, compared to 0.9 per cent in the Asia-Pacific region and to 4.2 per cent in North Africa and the Middle East.

In the US, Donald Trump has repeatedly singled out The New York Times, and called journalists ‘very bad people’.

Britain dropped two spots in the Index’s country ranking and finds itself at the 40th place after a ‘high-profile media bashing’ in the Brexit campaign, and after parliament passed the Investigatory Powers Act in November 2016, under which police can hack into civilians’ phones and computers for security purposes. It is often referred to as the most extreme surveillance legislation ever adopted in Britain. Meanwhile, a new Espionage Bill is on its way to Parliament, and Prime Minister Theresa May is refusing to appear in public debates.

Turkey was one of the countries to fall most in the ranking. After the failed coup attempt, President Recep Erdoğan clamped down on media freedom, and the country became the world’s biggest jailer of journalists. France, Poland and Hungary were other fallers, while Scandinavian countries continue to perform well.

Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea remain the three worst performing countries, but commentators have expressed concerns that attacks on the media in countries traditionally considered defenders of free speech might be lowering the standards worldwide, and justifying leaders in developing countries to do the same, including the regimes in Syria and Turkey.

Speaking at the launch event, The Guardian’s media commentator and City University London’s Professor of Journalism Roy Greenslade gave the example of Britain’s Investigatory Powers Act being emulated by autocratic states around the world.

‘It has been quoted by the Chinese government when defending its own anti-terror legislation,’ Mr Greenslade said.

‘It has been seen and used around the world to clamp down on press freedom.’

On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, President Trump’s attacks on the press have also encouraged others to do the same, according to a number of commentators.

Presenting the annual report Attacks on the Press on Tuesday Night, Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists Joel Simon said, ‘The language Trump has adopted is very reminiscent of the language used in autocratic states. I have no doubt hearing that from the President of the United States empowers autocratic states.’

RSF sais in a statement, ‘The hate speech used by Trump and his accusations of lying helped to disinhibit attacks on the media almost everywhere in the world.’

RSF said the passing of laws giving sweeping surveillance powers to authorities in anti-terrorism bills have contributed to the continuing decline of many countries previously regarded as virtuous.

Mr Greenslade said that even in Britain, media freedom has become ‘a fragile flower that requires constant protection’.

‘This country needs as much vigilance to ensure we have press freedom and to show a good example, not justify Assad and Erdoğan.’

RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire said, ‘The democracies that have traditionally regarded media freedom as one of the foundations of which they are built must continue to be a model for the rest of the world, and not the opposite.

‘The rate at which democracies are approaching the tipping point is alarming for all those who understand that, if media freedom is not secure, then none of the other freedoms can be guaranteed,’ Deloire said. ‘Where will this downward spiral take us?’

Published annually by RSF since 2002, the World Press Freedom Index measures the level of media freedom in 180 countries, including the level of pluralism, media independence, and respect for the safety and freedom of journalists. The 2017 Index takes account of violations that took place between 1 January and 31 December of 2016.

Western democracies set low standards as global media freedom declines

rsf map.jpg

The situation is considered to be 'very bad' in a total of 21 countries. © Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

First world democracies are setting lower standards for freedom of the press relative to the rest of the world, a newly published study by Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontieres, RSF) has found.

Presented on Wednesday in London, RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index found media freedom to be deteriorating in nearly two thirds (62.2 per cent) of the 180 countries analysed, including countries traditionally considered model democracies like Canada, New Zealand and European democracies.

Media freedom has never been so threatened, and RSF’s ‘global indicator’ has never been so high, which means that media freedom is under threat now more than ever. The situation is considered to be 'very bad' in a total of 21 countries.

However, RSF says, that violations of the freedom to inform are ‘less and less the prerogative of authoritarian regimes’.

In Europe, violation of press freedom has risen faster than anywhere else in the world: 17.5 per cent in the past five years, compared to 0.9 per cent in the Asia-Pacific region and to 4.2 per cent in North Africa and the Middle East.

In the US, Donald Trump has repeatedly singled out The New York Times, and called journalists ‘very bad people’.

Britain dropped two spots in the Index’s country ranking and finds itself at the 40th place after a ‘high-profile media bashing’ in the Brexit campaign, and after parliament passed the Investigatory Powers Act in November 2016, under which police can hack into civilians’ phones and computers for security purposes. It is often referred to as the most extreme surveillance legislation ever adopted in Britain. Meanwhile, a new Espionage Bill is on its way to Parliament, and Prime Minister Theresa May is refusing to appear in public debates.

Turkey was one of the countries to fall most in the ranking. After the failed coup attempt, President Recep Erdoğan clamped down on media freedom, and the country became the world’s biggest jailer of journalists. France, Poland and Hungary were other fallers, while Scandinavian countries continue to perform well.

Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea remain the three worst performing countries, but commentators have expressed concerns that attacks on the media in countries traditionally considered defenders of free speech might be lowering the standards worldwide, and justifying leaders in developing countries to do the same, including the regimes in Syria and Turkey.

Speaking at the launch event, The Guardian’s media commentator and City University London’s Professor of Journalism Roy Greenslade gave the example of Britain’s Investigatory Powers Act being emulated by autocratic states around the world.

‘It has been quoted by the Chinese government when defending its own anti-terror legislation,’ Mr Greenslade said.

‘It has been seen and used around the world to clamp down on press freedom.’

On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, President Trump’s attacks on the press have also encouraged others to do the same, according to a number of commentators.

Presenting the annual report Attacks on the Press on Tuesday Night, Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists Joel Simon said, ‘The language Trump has adopted is very reminiscent of the language used in autocratic states. I have no doubt hearing that from the President of the United States empowers autocratic states.’

RSF said, ‘The hate speech used by Trump and his accusations of lying helped to disinhibit attacks on the media almost everywhere in the world.’

RSF says the passing of laws giving sweeping surveillance powers to authorities in anti-terrorism bills have contributed to the continuing decline of many countries previously regarded as virtuous.

Mr Greenslade said that even in Britain, media freedom has become ‘a fragile flower that requires constant protection’.

‘This country needs as much vigilance to ensure we have press freedom and to show a good example, not justify Assad and Erdoğan.’

RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire said, ‘The democracies that have traditionally regarded media freedom as one of the foundations of which they are built must continue to be a model for the rest of the world, and not the opposite.

‘The rate at which democracies are approaching the tipping point is alarming for all those who understand that, if media freedom is not secure, then none of the other freedoms can be guaranteed,’ Deloire said. ‘Where will this downward spiral take us?’

Published annually by RSF since 2002, the World Press Freedom Index measures the level of media freedom in 180 countries, including the level of pluralism, media independence, and respect for the safety and freedom of journalists. The 2017 Index takes account of violations that took place between 1 January and 31 December of 2016.

ʻIf you are losing hope, you're not doing enoughʼ

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The audience at the launch event on 6 March. © Dean Ryan

Alessio Perrone reports from New Internationalist's official launch event for the #FactsandHeart Community Share Offer.

Very powerful vested interests are trying to change the axis of what we consider to be true and fair and threatening the future of independent media.

This was the core message delivered by Peter Adamson, one of the original co-founders of New Internationalist magazine in 1973, on Monday, 6 March.

At the Modern Art Oxford, he was one of the speakers at the official launch event of New Internationalist's Community Share Offer (CSO).

After 44 years of independent journalism, New Internationalist has decided to open up its ownership, calling readers and supporters all over the world to ʻBuy into a Better Storyʼ and become co-owners in a £500,000 crowdfunding campaign.

Just before the event started, the campaign had already reached 440 investors and passed the 25-per-cent mark – just five days after going live on Crowdfunder.

The event attracted young and not-so-young readers, supporters and friends who had travelled from as far afield as Dundee to Oxford. Peter Adamson started off warning against the lack of plurality in the media landscape.

ʻWe often have the impression that the individual can do little [to change the media landscape], but this CSO is a great opportunity to take a stand and make a difference.ʼ

He also told stories about the early years of New Internationalist, and how the first issue was put together around a kitchen table by a group of people in their mid-twenties.

ʻThe magazine today is a far better product in every way,ʼ he said. He added that although the challenges the magazine faced in its early days were formidable, they were not as formidable as those New Internationalist faces today.

ʻWe live in the time of a “climate-change” type of threat to our information infrastructure. Our hopes that the internet would lead to a decentralized structure are looking shaky.ʼ

His remark was followed by co-editor Vanessa Baird, who said, ʻThere is no point in denying these are times of danger and turmoil for independent media.

ʻBut they are also the most exciting times. This is time for a media revolution!ʼ

She said that in times in which the trend in the media is for concentration of ownership – with just three companies owning 70 per cent of the media in Britain – initiatives like New Internationalist's CSO were a great way of re-establishing trust and democracy in the media.

The most moving speech came from Benny Wenda, a West Papuan activist who is fighting to liberate the Pacific nation from Indonesian rule and was nominated to the Nobel Peace Prize twice.

He told the story of how, when he was young, he bumped into the Indonesian military while walking outdoors with his mother and two aunts. The group was attacked. The soldiers beat his mother in front of his eyes, and raped his aunts.

As he grew up, Benny decided to fight for the liberation of West Papua, a fight that started before he was even born, and that has now been going on for half a century.

ʻNobody knows about our cry for freedom, about our fight,ʼ he said. He added that New Internationalist was one of the only Western media outlets that reported in depth on the oppression of West Papua – and he announced that West Papua will also be the cover story in the May 2017 issue of the magazine.

Benny survived three assassination attempts before managing to escape and settling in Britain.

The New Internationalist staff at the launch event.

ʻOnce, when the police picked me up, they found a copy of New Internationalist about West Papua,ʼ he says in New Internationalist's campaign video, referring to the magazine's 2002 issue on the struggles of his nation.

The police were worried about the possibility of such international media attention and released him.

ʻIn a way, this global community protected me. It may even have saved my life.ʼ

Co-editor Hazel Healy gave the final address, in which she gave a short introduction to New Internationalist's business plan (which you can find on factsandheart.org) and on the reasons why it opted for a CSO in the first place.

ʻWe were at a crossroads,ʼ she said. ʻEither we started cutting down on quality, or we could decide to do something big and ambitious.ʼ

In a time of great distrust of the media, of filter bubbles, fake news and monopolies, New Internationalist has opened up its ownership, calling readers and supporters to ʻBuy into a Better Storyʼ and become co-owners.

As speakers wrapped up, New Internationalist's Engagement Manager Helen Wallis reinforced the point that the CSO is a radical idea, but, at a time in which it is becoming harder and harder for independent media to survive, there has never been more need for it.

She quoted the actor and activist Mark Ruffalo, who said, ʻIf you're losing hope, you're not doing enough.ʼ

Before you go...

It’s a critical time to build media that brings people together – not drives them apart. That means journalism that creates an inclusive global community, and emphasizes that the struggles of people are often in opposition to the same elite-driven globalization and share the same aspiration to a global, common good.

At New Internationalist, we have never had a rich benefactor or a media tycoon bankrolling what we do. So it makes sense for us to turn to our readers to help shape the kind of journalism that makes the case for something better.

On 1 March, we launched an ambitious Community Share Offer, opening up ownership of New Internationalist to ordinary people all over the world. If you are interested in joining us, visit factsandheart.org.

‘We’ve never had a benefactor... It made sense to turn to our readers’

01-03-2017-turn-to-our-readers-590.jpg

New Internationalist co-editor Hazel Healy and Web Editorial Assistant Alessio Perrone.

What prompted New Internationalist to go down this road?

It felt like we had to do something big. Our paid subscriptions have dropped in recent years, in line with print’s decline worldwide. And that’s been a big knock for a small, independent company like ours.

At the same time, things are starting to look up. Magazine circulation has grown this year, digital sales are increasing – and we are reaching many more millions, through our website, than we could have dreamed of when this magazine was born 44 years ago.

So, we are at a point where we have a plan for how to turn things around, and where we need this uplift to get back up on to higher ground. We’ve never had a benefactor – obviously an oligarch is out of the question. It made sense to turn to our readers and others who share their values through this Community Share Offer.

Is now a good time for this?

Absolutely. With President Trump wreaking havoc in the US and the spread of fake news and zero-sum nationalism, there has never been a greater need for journalism like ours. It’s a frightening time: progressive voices urgently need to be heard; we need to be breaking out of the leftwing echo-chamber and reaching a bigger audience. The share offer will help us to do that.

There are many challenges ahead – climate change and yawning inequality to name but two. To handle what’s coming we need knowledge – not clickbait.

We need journalism that brings people together; that makes the point that we rise or fall together. This is what internationalism – and our journalism – is all about.

The public is more on board with the idea of bolstering good media. Journalism projects on the funding site Kickstarter raised over $6 million last year and over 20 per cent of those funded were established media organizations like ours.

And our subscribers are quite special – ‘idealistic, energetic and concerned about the lives of people thousands of miles away’, in the words of former co-editor Dexter Tiranti.

They stepped in for us once before, in 1975, when the oil crisis doubled the price of postage in one year. Cheques rolled in from educationalists, NGOs, individuals from across the world. Today, we have tens of thousands pledged already. It definitely feels like the right time for us to do this.

Can you explain what a community share offer is?

Say there is a community asset – like a windfarm or local shop or football club – that you want to set up or save. Well, you can do it through a community share offer.

It’s been catching on in recent years, enabling people to club together to create or support businesses with a social benefit.

If things go to plan, you may even get interest on your investment. But it is more that you buy a share to invest in the kind of world you’d like to live in.

'We write about others coming together to change things; now it’s our turn'

A world – for example – with a flourishing New Internationalist in it, producing quality journalism that makes the case for a more equal world and gets progressive political ideas out to new audiences.

In our share issue, anyone over 16 can buy shares. And a small shareholder will have just as much power as a large one.

Won’t that be a major shift in power dynamics?

It is a big, bold offer to give away power, yes. When our supporters invest, they become the joint custodians of our mission, charged with keeping us on track and ensuring that New Internationalist can never deviate from its founding principles as laid down in our Editorial Charter.

We have converted into a co-operative society, which allows for multiple stakeholders and gives us new mechanisms such as a Common Council, as a more active forum for engaging with content and direction in the company.

It will be a big cultural shift for us – as a workers’ co-operative – but there’s a certain logical progression there, too. We were founded by Peter and Lesley Adamson, then owned by the workers and now by our readers and supporters.

It’s a way to truly democratize the media and do something big ourselves – we write about others coming together to change things; now it’s our turn.

So, what makes New Internationalist special – what do you do that others don’t do?

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this over the past six months. I’ve drawn on readers’ letters and testimonials in the process – to understand what it is people value about us.

Our readers often talk about our attention to facts, the opportunity to go in-depth into a subject (which of course we love as journalists and editors). Then there is also the way we tell our stories – giving people a dignified platform. Never talking down to our readers.

And, the way we bring to life the realities of people thousands of miles away connects us to one another in way that a mainstream-media piece about, say, ‘100 girls undergo female genital mutilation in a day’ will never do.

The final factor that sets us apart is, of course, our concern with justice – knowing that the way things are is neither natural nor inevitable. We lay out alternatives and introduce the people working to change things for the better.

We have distilled all that into the campaign slogan ‘Buy into a Better Story’ with the tagline ‘facts and heart’ – which was actually based on a comment from a Canadian subscriber about the Ebola magazine in June last year.

You are going for £500,000 ($635,000) and this is an all-or-nothing campaign on Crowdfunder. If you don’t raise the money you will have to return what you raise. Why the radical step?

We got to this target after a lot of number-crunching. And we think this is the minimum we need to turn our business round, scale up and flourish into the future.

You have to remember that a share offer is substantively different to a funding drive – which says ‘fund us to continue doing what we do’. In this case, we are saying ‘invest in us, to help transform our organization’.

With that sum, we will relaunch the magazine, hugely increase our digital output and grow our book publishing and Ethical Shop social enterprise. Anything less will only be a sticking plaster. See factsandheart.org for the full business plan…

OK. I’m in – I want to buy into a better story! How do I invest?

Excellent question! Go to factsandheart.org or call us on +44(0) 1865 413304 (UK) or (613) 826 1319 (Canada/US)

Before you go...

It’s a critical time to build media that brings people together – not drives them apart. That means journalism that creates an inclusive global community, and emphasizes that the struggles of people are often in opposition to the same elite-driven globalization and share the same aspiration to a global, common good.

At New Internationalist, we have never had a rich benefactor or a media tycoon bankrolling what we do. So it makes sense for us to turn to our readers to help shape the kind of journalism that makes the case for something better.

On 1 March, we launched an ambitious Community Share Offer, opening up ownership of New Internationalist to ordinary people all over the world. If you are interested in joining us, visit factsandheart.org.

Ecuador votes to bar politicians from having assets in tax havens

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Carondelet Palace, official residence and principal workplace of the President of Ecuador Taty2007 under a Creative Commons Licence

The 'yes’ vote wins in the first, historic referendum of its kind, writes Alessio Perrone.

Ecuadoreans have voted to bar politicians and civil servants from having assets, companies or capital in tax havens.

With 93 per cent of the votes counted so far, some 55 percent of the people voted ‘Yes’ and 45 percent said ‘No’ on Sunday 19 February, according to preliminary results provided by the National Electoral Council of Ecuador. It is the first referendum of this kind.

‘It's a very ambitious, radical, and exemplary referendum,’ said Ecuador’s Foreign Affairs Minister Guillaume Long said in an exclusive interview with New Internationalist. He explained that now ‘civil servants will have one year to bring all their assets back to Ecuador, and if they don't comply with this within one year they will have to step down – including President and Vice-President. This will be enshrined in electoral law.’

He said the aims of the referendum were to increase transparency and increase tax revenue for development, while also cracking down on corruption and bringing down inequality.

‘It doesn't solve the whole tax haven issue; it affects public workers, civil servants – but it seeks to position the debate on the national agenda,’ Mr Long added.

The left-wing government pushed for action on the issue of tax havens after the scandal of the Panama Papers. According to the country’s tax agency, from January 2014 to October 2016, $4.52 billion left Ecuador destined for tax havens.

Ecuador is also spearheading an initiative to create a UN body regulating tax havens and other predatory fiscal policies.

The referendum asked: ‘Do you agree that, in order to fulfill a dignity of popular election or to be a public servant, it is established as a prohibition to have assets or capital, of any nature, in tax havens?’

In the election, ruling left-wing party Alianza Pais’s candidate Lenin Moreno secured 39 per cent of the votes, with right-wing Creo Suma’s candidate Guillermo Lasso trailing with 28 per cent. In accordance with the country’s electoral system, the two candidates will now go on to a run-off ballot later this year.

Watch our in-depth interview with Mr Long on YouTube.

Exclusive: Ecuador to hold historic referendum on tax havens

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Skyscrapers in Panama City, Panama. under a Creative Commons Licence

Will Ecuadoreans deliver an anti-corruption ultimatum to their politicians and civil servants this Sunday? The country's Foreign Minister Guillaume Long discusses this question with Alessio Perrone.

The outline is simple: politicians and civil servants cannot have assets in tax havens. If they do, they would have one year to bring them back to the country, or face removal from office.

This the radical proposal that the Ecuadorean government is putting in front of its people, in the form of a referendum.

On Sunday 19 February, alongside general elections, Ecuadorean citizens will have a yes/no vote on a complete ban for politicians and civil servants to have assets or companies in tax havens. It is the world's first referendum of its kind.

'Tax havens are one of the biggest obstacles to the development of our country and to the reduction of dire inequalities and poverty,' says Foreign Affairs Minister Guillaume Long in an exclusive interview with New Internationalist.

Mr Long explains that, according to his government, about 30 per cent of the country's GDP – about $30 billion – is currently hidden in tax havens, depriving the country of tax revenues that could help development, a problem that the Panama Papers scandal has highlighted, making the need for action more urgent.

A number of Ecuadorean politicians have been linked to the Panama Papers, including opposition candidate Guillermo Lasso of the right-wing Creo Suma party. Lasso is the leading candidate to challenge Guillaume Long's and President Rafael Correa's left-wing Alianza Pais party, which has been in power for 10 years.

'There's a striking contradiction there between the patriotic discourse of wanting to run for office and bringing foreign investment to the country [...] on the one hand, and having a self-avowed practice of having capital, investments, and accounts in tax havens, on the other hand,' says Guillaume Long.

New Internationalist's attempts to contact Creo Suma for comment have been unsuccessful at the time of writing.

Mr Long said there's 'an even greater contradiction' with the Ecuadorean migrants: over two million Ecuadoreans left the country since the 1990s, and regularly send small remittances back to Ecuador to their families, while elites send millions away.

'It's a very ambitious and very symbolic referendum,' says Mr Long. 'It doesn't solve the whole tax haven issue – it only affects public workers, civil servants – but it seeks to position the debate on the national agenda.'

Meanwhile, Ecuador is also drafting a proposal to create a UN body to regulate tax havens and tax justice globally. The idea is not new, but in the past it has always fail for the opposition of first world countries, including Britain.

Related: 'On the other side': Ecuador's foreign minister blasts Britain on tax justice

The proposal comes soon after Oxfam published a report revealing that the eight richest people in the world own as much wealth as the poorest 50 per cent.

On Sunday 19 February, Ecuadoreans will also choose their president and vice president. After victories of right-wing parties in countries like Argentina and Brazil, there has been talk of a shift in tides in Latin America, where the left wing has been in power, but Mr Long rejects that claim.

'We shouldn't think that this number of defeats that we've had in the region mean an end of cycle or a return to the neoliberal hayday of the 1990s,' he says.

'Even in the cases where the left loses in Latin America, it's the second biggest force, sometimes it has a parliamentary majority, and is poised for a comeback.

'I think it's important that Ecuador wins, that the progressive forces in Ecuador win on Sunday because I think it would send a very strong signal in the region that the few electoral defeats of the last few months and years have come to an end, sending a strong signal that progressive forces are still very much alive and well, and that this is going to be the progressive century for Latin America.'

Watch our in-depth interview on YouTube.

'On the other side': Ecuador's foreign minister blasts Britain on tax justice

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Ecuador's Foreign Affairs Minister Guillaume Long during the interview. © New Internationalist

The country often blocks regulation of tax havens and other predatory fiscal policies argues Ecuador's Foreign Minister Guillaume Long, in an exclusive interview with Alessio Perrone.

Britain is a country that often sits 'on the other side of the fence' in the Global South's struggle for more global tax justice, Ecuador's Foreign Minister Guillaume Long tells New Internationalist.

In an exclusive interview, Mr Long says that a crackdown on tax havens and predatory fiscal policies has been on many developing nations' agendas for years, but that Britain and other Western countries have often boycotted the agenda.

'Historically, Britain has not been on the side of the Global South in its fight against tax havens,' says Mr Long.

'It has not been a country that has pushed a regulatory agenda for tax justice.'

The interview comes shortly after Bermuda Islands' deputy premier also slammed Britain on tax justice, saying Britain is also a tax haven. (The Bermuda Islands are often referred to as a tax haven.)

Ecuador currently holds the presidency of the G77 group of developing nations, and intends to use the position to lead the charge against tax havens and global tax justice by drafting a proposal to create a new United Nations body regulating tax policies worldwide.


The G77 group of countries. Originally formed by 77 countries, it now includes 134. By Kyat02

According to the IMF, tax dodging costs developing countries more than $200bn (£152bn) a year – much more than the total global aid budget.

The proposal for a dedicated UN body is not new – it was put forward by developed nations in 2015 at the Financing for Development conference in Addis Ababa – but opposition from Britain, France and other developed countries made it flounder.

Mr Long says the most pressing concerns are tax havens, but also double standards and other fiscal policies, such as what he calls 'tax dumping', a race to the bottom between countries, lowering taxes in order to attract capital.

'[It's] a kind of race to the bottom that of favours capital and goes against the human rights of human beings, who need the state to accompany them and give them social services,' Mr Long says. 'But because of a lack of tax revenue those states are often in a very precarious situation with regards to the guaranteeing of basic human rights.'

After the Brexit referendum, former chancellor George Osborne announced plans to lower corporate tax to less than 15 per cent to try and encourage transnational companies not to leave the country. Corporate tax in the world's most developed countries is an average of 25 per cent, according to Reuters.

Click on the map to find out about the world's winners and losers of tax dodging.

At the same time, Ecuador is also about to become the world's first country to hold a referendum to bar politicians and civil servants from office if they are found to have assets or companies in tax havens.

Related: Exclusive: Ecuador's foreign minister on the country's plans to ban tax havens

The referendum will take place on Sunday 19 February, together with general elections, in which long-standing President Rafael Correa is not running.

Should the proposal win popular backing, all civil servants and elected politicians would have one year to return those assets to Ecuador or face removal from office.

Ecuador's push on the issue of global tax justice and transparency comes after the Panama Papers scandal, which disclosed tax avoidance practices of politicians, corporations and rich people from different parts of the world, and that Mr Long believes to be one of the reasons why the proposals could be successful.

'Since the scandal of the Panama Papers, tax justice and tax havens are back on the agenda,' he says. 'We sense there is a much more favorable global climate.

'Even within the European Union [...] the growing European consensus is against tax havens. A number of European countries want to work with the G77 to push for more transparency, and push against this race to the bottom.

'However, now that Britain is not going to be within the European Union, we'll have to see what it does.'

Watch our full interview with Guillaume Long on YouTube.

Wolfgang Streeck: how will capitalism end?

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Wolfgang Streeck talks at the London School of Economics on 7 November 2016. ©

Capitalism's end might be in sight, but it might not be good news, German sociologist Wolfgang Streeck warned in a conference. Alessio Perrone reports.

We are living in a period of deep change, in which unusually grotesque things are more possible – like President Trump.

If there was any take-away from Professor Wolfgang Streeck's talk at the London School of Economics, it was this: disorder and uncertainty will belong to the world for quite some time.

Presenting his new book How will capitalism end? on Monday 7 November, Streeck said that the world's phasing-out from capitalism might have already begun, bringing about chaos and fundamental transformations.

'An old order is dying but a new one can't be born yet. And it is a time in which the most bizarre things can happen,' he said. 'If you look at the US elections campaign, I think that is pretty close to bizarre.


'Their world is collapsing. Ours is being built,' says a tweet by Florian Philippot, Vice-President of French populist right-wing party Front National after Donald Trump won the US Presidential Elections.

'But if it [capitalism] had a beginning, then it must have an end, unlike the economists want us to believe,' Streeck said.

A Professor of Sociology at the University of Cologne, Emeritus Director of the Max Planck Institute for Social Research in Cologne, and author of Buying Time: The Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism, Streeck has been studying medium-term trends in society for 40 years, focusing on austerity, public debt and capitalism – which he thinks is in a critical condition.

In his speech, Streeck went over why he thinks capitalism will die: its constant conflict with democracy might have gone a bit too far.

His argument goes as follows: capitalism needs to expand constantly – initially it was land-grabs and colonialism, then it started expanding into homes, increasing the amount of internal activities families sell 'on the market': cleaning, ironing, taking care of babies and elderly.

But to expand, capitalism needs a stable centre and a degree legitimacy: it needs people with money to buy things, and talented people working to make somebody else rich. To do that, it needs a degree of democratic control and redistribution, so that the inequalities it produces are kept to a level many would tolerate.

But neo-liberalism is undermining democracy and eroding states' power, threatening the balance on which capitalism lived. Its own excesses, not kept at bay in the last few decades, would undermine the system as a whole.

'We need to make sure that the discontent of the people, of the counter capitalist movement is equally heard and visible' - Wolfgang Streeck

'The market works like the biblical quote goes, "For everyone who has will be given more, ... But the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him" [Matthew 25:29].

'Redistribution isn’t working anymore, also in terms of the legitimacy of the system,' he said.

To answer the question of his book, How will capitalism end?, Streeck said that we should think of it as an end without a new beginning, but that the end should not necessarily be good news.

'It will be a slow, long-term decay,' he said. 'The society of the Roman empire slowly faded away in regression. It took 400 years for someone to turn around and say "We have a feudal society".'

He said our society might end in a slow regression too, maybe ending up with structures similar to feudalism, with corporations becoming independent structures in the style of feudal lords.

Technology and machines have accelerated the process: 'The Silicon Valley has already begun to ask: "Who will buy if no one has money?"

'They are demanding a universal basic income and redistribution because they see they will have a problem if states do not redistribute wealth,' he said. 'They need people to participate in the Facebook game of buying – or no one will pay Facebook for advertising.'

Ironically, the same people move fortunes in order not to pay for the universal income.

Streeck reiterated that he studied medium-term trends and would not predict the future – what a new economic structure will look like is difficult to say now. Meanwhile, people should make their voices heard.

'The way our politics work is that politicians hear the discontent of capital very much, and they act to fix it,' Streeck said after the talk was over. 'We need to make sure that the discontent of the people, of the counter capitalist movement is equally heard and visible.

'And by visible I mean where people can be seen. In the streets.'

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