Monthly Archives: March 2010

Blame the media! A global cry.

So now the Vatican is complaining about media reports — they call the reports “attacks.”

Vatican attacks media on ‘Pope role’ in sex abuse cases

I guess whenever a news organization reveals what a person or organization does not want revealed, reporting becomes attacking. The comments from the pro-Vatican media are similar to those heard from Beijing. At least no one has yet said reporting on the revelations of misconduct with in the Catholic Church “hurt the feelings” of all Catholics. (FYI, the “hurt feelings” bit is a standard line out of Beijing anytime any one criticizes the PRC.)

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Filed under International News Coverage

The slippery slope exposed

A Brazilian judge did not believe Google does not have the technical means to block pages in its Orkut social network system.

Brazil fines Google for not censoring dirty jokes

It seems that a couple of teenagers were offended by some of the postings in Orkut and sued Google. A judge in the northern Brazilian state of Rondonia fined Google US$2,700 for each day the offending pages remain on the web site. He further ordered Google to block similar material.

When Google said it could not do what the court asked for technical reasons, the judge noted that Google had already implemented such curbs in China.

I will not get into the issue over whether the large-scale censorship Google employed in China until recently was the same as what the judge in Brazil is asking for. Rather I would just point out that once an Internet company shows it can censor somethings, there will always be elements — even in democratic societies such as Brazil — that want that power exercised to fit their ideas of decency and morality.

Come on kids. If you don’t like what is posted, fight back or don’t go there. Censorship is a big FAIL.

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Filed under Censorship, South America

China and Google: The issue that won’t go away

Yesterday Google said it was shifting any searches done to Google.cn — the censored China site — to Google.com.hk, its Hong Kong site. (Just a reminder: Hong Kong enjoys civil liberties and freedoms even though it is part of China.)

Now China lashed out in response — Google risks China’s ire with slap to censorship and Google to stop censoring search results in China — and are sounding as strange as ever.

An official from the State Council Information Office — the body that sets and oversees Internet rules — said the government “opposes politicizing commercial issues and express our dissatisfaction and anger at Google Inc’s unreasonable accusations and practices.”

As if forcing a company to enforce restrictive government rules and heavily censor common Internet searches is not politicizing a commercial relationship.

And to be clear, the rules of censorship are not the same as laws other countries have that require tech transfer or training when a company enters those countries.

China is obviously concerned about this.

At a foreign ministry press conference, spokesman Qin Gang said “The Google incident is the individual act of a commercial company. I don’t see that it would have any impact on China-U.S. relations, unless some people want to politicize it.”

Basically he is saying to the reporters at the press briefing and those of us who care about press/Internet freedom issues: “Don’t write about this unless you want to be responsible for a major split between China and the United States.”

Don’t think this is as far as China will go. I am betting the operators of the Great Firewall of China will be working to make sure Google searches from China will not be passed on to the Hong Kong site.

Besides making a stand against censorship, Google is also putting China’s immature fear of free access to information right up front for all to see. And that has to be embarrassing to the Chinese government that says it wants a mature relationships with the rest of the world.

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Filed under Asia, China, Freedom of Information

China holds firm, Google moves search engine

It looks as if Google and China were not able to come to an agreement.

The Chinese government maintains that unless Google exercises self-censorship — or as Beijing says, “adhere to the laws of China” — it would not be allowed to continue to operate in China.

Google said it would only operate in China if it could operate freely.

So now Google is sending all searches on google.cn to its Hong Kong site. (And please remember that Hong Kong, while part of China, has civil right and liberties, including freedom of speech and press.)

Google moves China search service to Hong Kong

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Filed under Censorship, China

It’s a new New China and the rulers don’t like it

Xinhua is the official “news” arm of the Chinese government. And it translate to “New China.”

The term “new China” refers to a shift from the feudal system that ruled China for several thousands of years to one of “the people’s party.” Of course, anytime you see the term “People’s Republic” you know it is not a republic and the people have very little to do with it.

The Chinese government’s view about how the news media should behave is simple: Write what we say and promote the party and party rule. Anything else is punishable by being transferred to some backwater area, fired, fired and forbidden from ever working as a journalist again or jailed.

In the past few years there has been a loosening of the stranglehold the government has on the news media. More newspapers are allowed to report on corruption — although, it can only be about low to mid level corruption in another province — reporters are more confident about actually asking questions of government officials and expecting answers — to a point.

For Chinese journalists the whole situation is one gigantic minefield.

And for old-line party and government leaders the newness of allowing the media some leeway is too new for New China.

Great story in yesterday’s New York Times about this clash.

Chinese Official’s Threat Sets Off a Media Furor

By SHARON LaFRANIERE and JONATHAN ANSFIELD

BEIJING — In another era, the brusque response of Li Hongzhong, the governor of Hubei Province, to a reporter’s question about a scandal on his home turf might have been the end of it.

Infuriated that the reporter would even ask about the case — in which a waitress at a karaoke bar killed a government official in self-defense — he threatened to go to her boss, seized her audio recorder and marched off, according to reports of the encounter.

But instead of fizzling out, the March 7 episode has blossomed into a cause célèbre for free-press advocates in China. In a rare display of unity, journalists, lawyers, academics and activists posted a letter of protest on the Internet demanding the governor’s resignation.

Two Communist Party elders publicly condemned his behavior. And a storm of discussion erupted online before the authorities could contain it.

Rest of story.

The reaction of the government was predictable once public criticism of the governor — and thus the ruling Communist Party — became known outside the room where the incident happened.

They censored all Internet comments about the situation.

This is the great thing about the Internet and the new generation in China. And in a way, it is showing that increased trade does have a positive impact on the civil liberties and civil rights (and expectations of what those liberties and rights should be).

The problem is that change in China is often one step forward and two backward followed by two forward and a half step back. The party leadership is scared of anything they cannot control. This has been true of all dictatorships, communist or otherwise. And, as with all change, some deal with it better than others.

In this case, the party leader did not deal with the changes well and remembered only his party training and what media are supposed to be all about. To the Communist Party, the media are to guide public opinion the way the party wants. It is not supposed to inform the people to make up their own minds. And that attitude came out in Li’s reaction to the reporter’s question.

By all accounts, Mr. Li did not take the question well. He asked the reporter, identified as Liu Jie, which publication she represented. When she said she wrote for People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s paper of record, he exploded.

“So you’re from a party paper!” he scolded. “Is this how a party paper guides public opinion? I’m going to the chief of your paper!”

The official code of ethics of the official Chinese journalist association is not better. It tells journalists their first responsibility is to the party and government.

Now compare that attitude with the preamble to the SPJ Code of Ethics:

Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues.

A seriously different view of the role of journalists.

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Filed under Asia, Censorship, China

Ethiopia jams VOA

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawai is taking his country along the same path as China, Cuba, Iran and the old Soviet Union by setting up jamming broadcasts against the Voice of America.

Zenawi falls back on the old chestnut of “engaging in destabilizing propaganda.” (Which usually means VOA is providing uncensored news about the country doing the jamming.)

What too few people understand is that VOA, while funded by the U.S. government, is does not slant the news to fit government policy. (The Bush administration did all it could to get VOA to NOT interview Taliban leaders shortly after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. They also tried to get reporters and editors transferred or fired because of their stories. The administration failed in all attempts.)

The charter of the VOA is clear: VOA will serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news. VOA news will be accurate, objective, and comprehensive.

The VOA has editorials that explain U.S. government policy but these are clearly identified and set aside from the usual news programs.

In the past few years VOA journalists have been honored for their work by journalism organizations in the United States.

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Amanpour goal: “Try to make foreign news less foreign.”

Never thought I would get excited over who hosts the Sunday morning gab-fests.

But if Christiane Amanpour is allowed to do what she wants, the American people may finally get a program that explains WHY international events are important and HOW they relate to the domestic agenda.

Granted, the show most likely won’t change things all by itself, but maybe — just maybe — a few editors and a few policy makers might get the message that there are important international issues that affect the everyday lives of people. They might understand that international news is not just wars, coups or natural disasters.

Amanpour has shown on CNN that she can make the local-global connection. Now finally that word is being spread to one of the big three networks.

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Filed under Connections, International News Coverage