No surprise: China builds fake sites to promote its policies. It’s just this time they got caught.

One of the nice things about freedom of press and expression is that it is easier to track down lies and the lying liars who tell those lies. (Sorry, Al Franken. Couldn’t resist using a bit of the title of your book.)

The latest comes from that bastion of efforts to control everything: China.

Seems, no one was believing the official Beijing line that the residents of Tibet are overjoyed to be under Chinese rule and have no desire for any other kind of leadership. So some one (the government in Beijing quickly came to mind for many) created dozens of fake Twitter and YouTube accounts to promote the Chinese line about Tibet.

According to a story in International Business News, the fake accounts were all identified with Western names and faces. In once case, a fake Twitter used the picture of Brazilian model Felipe Berto without his permission.

The story — YouTube Suspends Fake Tibet Propaganda Accounts After Investigation — highlights the fake accounts and how they were found out.

And, as the headline notes, the social media companies suspended the fake accounts. In addition, YouTube took down the videos that showed happy and content Tibetans posted by the fake Twitter accounts.

Alistair Currie, the press and media manager for Free Tibet, summed up the situation nicely:

“China’s emphasis on manipulation of western public opinion is a sign of how important that public opinion is.”

In the past, China and the ex-Soviet Union used “friendship” assocations to do their propaganda dirty work. The problem was that it soon became clear these groups were really nothing but fronts for those governments. With the rise of the Internet the source of comments and material is much harder to track down.

And just like the dog in the classic New Yorker cartoon, no one knows who is a party dupe.

Fortunately, organizations and media without government control are free to look into who is saying what and why.

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Filed under Censorship, China, Press Freedom

Getting Americans To Understand Foreign Aid

Most Americans don’t really understand what foreign aid is all about nor how much it costs.

Real quick:

  1. Foreign aid is designed to promote US interests from humanitarian to economic to political to security.
    1. That means, we — as Americans — don’t like to see people starving and suffering (humanitarian).
    2. We want other countries to prosper so they can buy our products and send visitors to our country. (economic)
    3. We need allies in the world for hundreds of complicated issues. Recipients of foreign aid might more receptive to American overtures if we are seen as a friend. (political)
    4. Prosperous, stable and economically viable countries are not breeding grounds for illegal immigrants, gang members or terrorists. (security)
  2. Foreign aid is not expensive
    1. Recent Pew survey showed 33 percent of American people thought foreign aid was the most expensive part of the US budget. (26 percent said interest on the debt, 20 percent said Social Security and 4 percent sais transportation.)
    2. Real numbers are that Social Security accounts for 17 TIMES the amount spent on foreign aid.
    3. Foreign aid accounts for less than 1 percent of the US budget

Part of the problem is the fact that the State Department and the US Agency for International Development do a lousy job of explaining things.

Fortunately, as Daniel Altman points out in Foreign Policy, there is a way to address that problem. But only if the State Department gets smart about the terms it uses and its public outreach activities.

Altman says the latest Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review being written at State could go a long way to improving how foreign aid is seen and perceived.

While Altman uses a rather crass cost-benefit analysis, his point is valid.

The cost of saving a child in Guatemala from a deadly case of malaria might be about $16, but that child might buy close to $100 a year in American goods and services over the course of his or her working life. By paying for malaria treatments in Guatemala, the U.S. government would become a machine for transforming $16 worth of American output today into $100 a year of American output 15 or 20 years down the road. At a discount rate of, say, 5 percent a year, the total return would be roughly 6,000 percent.

The low-cost nature of US development aid does have a long-term and wide-reaching impact on the U.S. domestic market as well as its international security. (If that same Guatemalan kid gets a decent job, there will be less incentive to go to the United States illegally. Likewise, that same kid will not be tempted to join a gang in order to make ends meet.)

A lot of the lack of understanding about how foreign aid works and how much it costs can be laid at the feet of the US agencies. But a whole lot of blame can also be laid at the feet of the US media.

If reporters spent a little more time on stories — granted, a luxury most of us don’t have — they could put the programs into context for readers/viewers/listeners. Additional stories could be generated that show the connection between US aid and US domestic benefits.

Maybe — and here I might jest be a cock-eyed optimist — once there is enough general information about how much US development aid costs and its benefits, then maybe, just maybe, some reporters might have the guts to call to task the Congress-critters who think the way to balance the budget is to cut foreign aid.

On the issue of cutting foreign aid to balance the budget, I like Neil De Grasse Tyson’s response to proposed cuts to NASA and space exploration: [Paraphrasing here] Cutting the NASA budget to balance the budget is like deleting a couple of WORD documents instead of many of the JPEG files in an effort to free up space on your hard drive.

[FYI, the NASA budget is also just around 1 percent of the federal budget.]

The NASA and foreign aid money brings in much larger benefits than the outlay. The facts are there, people are just not getting them.

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Filed under Connections

Pakistan: An Inside Look at Censorship

An interesting look at how censorship operates in Pakistan

Not Fit To Print

[T]he owners of Pakistani media powerhouses — namely ARY News, the Express Media Group, and Dunya News — received instructions from the military establishment to support the “dissenting” leaders and their sit-ins. The military was using the media to add muscle and might to the anti-government movement in an attempt to cut Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif down to size.

The media obliged.

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Filed under Censorship

Few killers get caught

The Committee to Protect Journalists has a new report that is depressing.

Breaking the Cycle of Impunity in the Killing of Journalists looks at the how too many governments do little to seriously track down the murderers of journalists.

Of course, this failure also makes it nearly impossible to determine if the killing of a journalist was directly related to his/her profession or if there were other issues involved.

The demand for proof that a journalist was killed in the line of duty is one of the things I really like about how CPJ prepares its list of murdered journalists. Some organizations just list the names of journalists killed. They leave the assumption that they were killed because of their profession. But there is no way this can ever be verified.

The weak political and legal systems in the countries where this issues is the greatest are what need to be addressed along with the name and shame campaign of impunity. Perhaps a major step forward in finding the murderers of journalists (and human rights lawyers and taxi drivers and reform politicians) is finding ways to help those governments who want to improve and strengthen their legal systems, instead of cutting off aid and support.

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Filed under Harassment, Killings

China blocks BBC

No surprise here. Once again the Chinese authorities show their utter disregard for press freedom and an absolute fear of information they don’t control getting out to the public.

China blocks BBC website as Hong Kong tensions rise

The best part in this story is when the a Chinese official first accuses the West of interfering in the internal affairs of China by supporting the student demonstrations for more democracy in Hong Kong. And then, after making unsubstantiated charges, demands that the international media report events “objectively”.

Generally, what that means to Beijing, is don’t report anything they object to.

Besides the BBC, the New York Times and Bloomberg are blocked by Chinese censors.

The ability of Chinese to get information from the Internet is driving Beijing crazy.

The rubber-stamp courts have been ruling lately that “netizens” in China are severely limited in what they can say and read on the Internet.

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Filed under Censorship, China, International News Coverage, Press Freedom

Pro-Beijing Forces Block Pro-Democracy Paper in Hong Kong

I am no big fan of Apple Daily in Hong Kong, other than for its strident support of democracy and press freedom.

The best description I have seen for Apple Daily comes from the HuffPost report by Matt Sheehan: “Apple Daily is known for its defiant pro-democracy positions, shrill and sensational reporting style, and occasionally lax standards for fact-checking.”

Saying “occassional” is bieng kind, but its pro-democracy stance cannot be questioned. It is real and it is strong.

Now, because of its support for the student demonstrators in Hong Kong, Apple Daily is facing blockades by pro-Beijing crowds.

The latest tactic is for the pro-Beijing demonstrators to sit down in front of the Apple Daily delivery trucks, causing the paper to be late on the streets.

People in the anti-Apple Daily say they are only doing what the pro-democracy demonstrators are doing. And then they toss in how the pro-democracy crowd is really an American plot to undermine China and all the students are traitors.

The funniest response came when an Apple Daily reporter came out to interview the demonstrators. She asked if the demonstrator was being paid to be there. He responded that of course he was but so what? Wasn’t the Apple Daily paying the reporter to be there as well?

Kinda misses the point, doesn’t he?

Here is the HuffPost report on the confrontation at Apple Daily: Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Newspaper Under Siege

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Filed under China

Case against licensing journalists

In the United States the First Amendment protects journalists from being “banned” by government edict — or by any type of edict for that matter.

Journalists in other countries, however, are not so lucky. The latest example of why this is a bad idea comes out of Honduras.

Seems commentator Julio Ernesto Alvarado of Globo TV has been hit with a 16-month ban on “doing journalism” by the Penal Appeals Court in Tegucigalpa.

Now, I know the Globo people. They are serious anti-government types — unless the government is the leftist Libre party. The commentators are passionate in their denunciations of the ruling party. And even sometimes go over the edge of good taste.

But that all pales in the outrage that a government agency can tell a person he/she cannot be a journalist.

Whenever governments get involved, all sorts of bad things have the potential to happen. And Mr. Alvarado is seeing the results.

The issue stems from episodes of Alvarado’s show that discussed corruption in the national university. A dean was accused of corruption by teachers in the school on the show. The dean filed charges of defamation of character against Alvarado and the teachers and lost.

Under appeal the dean won , even though the court operated under the assumption that the dean had indeed engaged in corrupt practices.

With the dean’s victory came the ban on Alvarado from doing journalism.

So we have a cowonurt deciding who can be a journalist. Not a good idea.

And we have a system where truth is not an absolute defense for libel and defamation. (As it is in the States.)

In addition to the court ruling Alvarado has been receiving threats that — according to Globo — have not been taken seriously by the government. (On this point, I have serious questions. Some of the leadership brought in under the new government take protection of journalists VERY seriously.)

What is clear, however, that free and independent journalism is threatened by any law or system that allows a government agency of any type to determine who can be a journalist. Likewise, it is a danger when a court or other government entity can ban someone from “doing journalism.” And it is a danger when any private group — such as a journalism association — has the power to determine who can “do journalism.”

The bottom line is that the way to fight bad journalism is with more (and better) journalism, not by denying anyone who wants to from entering the fray.

Read more about the Alvarado case at PEN: Honduras: PEN member barred from journalism after covering corruption in state university

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Filed under Honduras, Press Freedom