Category Archives: International News Coverage

Proof censorship is bad for business

The ProPublica headline and story says it all:

Weibo IPO Reveals a Company Struggling With Censorship

Weibo, “China’s Twitter,” started offering shares on NASDAQ yesterday. Its regulatory disclosures reveal a company’s balancing act between censoring too much and too little.

As required under SEC regulations, the company must list for investors potential risks that might affect its share price. Weibo is up front about the risk the Chinese government’s regulation of content poses to its ability so succeed. “Failure to [censor] may subject us to liabilities and penalties and may even result in the temporary blockage or complete shutdown of our online operations.”

Under a section titled “Risks Relating to Doing Business in China,” the company cites as a material risk not being able to censor user content quickly enough for the Chinese government, and describes a three-day period in March 2012 when Weibo disabled commenting completely so censors could “clean up” all content regarding a topic. The company did not disclose the topic but the Wall Street Journal reported in March 2012 that China put temporary restrictions on Sina, Weibo’s parent company, as well as Tencent, a rival microblogging service, and that it was “detaining individuals that it accused of spreading rumors of a coup attempt in Beijing.” That week, according to the Journal story, Sina and Tencent placed identical notices on their web sites, warning users that the ability to comment on posts was being shut down for three days.

Rest of article.

And that does not even take into account the amount of money wasted dealing with rumors because no one trusts the state-run media to fairly report news.

Social media sites offer a chance for people to swap stories, but like the game of “Telephone,” what starts out at the beginning is not  necessarily what comes out at the end. If the Chinese government were really serious about preventing social unrest, it would drop its censorship and let reporters freely and accurately report what is going on. It would also stop blocking open discussions among the people in China.

But then again, that might destabilize the iron grip the Communist party has on everything. They would have to give up power. And that — to them — is too destabilizing and dangerous.

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

Lack of Free Media and Free Elections: Subtext to Missing Malaysia Jet

Loads of people are speculating as to what happened to MH370.  The speculation has so dominated the news that satirist Andy Borowitz noted CNN APOLOGIZES FOR BRIEFLY AIRING NON-FLIGHT 370 STORY.

All joking aside, while the media report every bit of information put out by the Malaysian government (and others), the shortcomings of that information are clear.

The leadership of the primary countries initially involved in the search — Malaysia, Vietnam and China — were hesitant to reveal information at first, partly because — as we all know — initial information often wrong needs to be corrected or fine-tuned.

In the end, for these governments to admit they made errors could undermine their authority. You see, none of these three governments rule by the consent of the people. Media are strictly regulated. Independent sources of information to challenge and question the authorities are virtually non-existent. And opposition leaders are tossed in jail.

The New York Times touched on this issue — at least as far as Malaysia goes — March 12: Amid Search for Plane, Malaysian Leaders Face Rare Scrutiny.

The article points to all the factors that made — make — the Malaysian government nervous about their current situation in the international spotlight:

  1. Authoritarian laws that keep the opposition in check
  2. Policies that favor the ethnic Malays
  3. A patronage system that excludes Indians and Chinese from policy positions. (Combined these groups constitute a majority)

What was missed in the article is the highly censored media.

The Malaysian government has never had to face hard questions from local reporters. And if they get questioned too fiercely by opposition parties, the leadership of those parties find themselves in jail such as Anwar Ibraham and Karpal Singh.

Malaysia is listed as having media that are Not Free by Freedom House. As are China and Vietnam.

Perhaps there is nothing that any country could do in the search for MH370. What is clear, however, is that the the initial three main players in the search were unable to deal with the situation, partially out of fear of being corrected later. Maybe they figured that questioning the veracity of one agency could lead to questions about other agencies and eventually the government itself.

It is odd how countries with no fair elections or free media fear any questions about the effectiveness of government agencies. (Look at the NYT article to see how the Malaysian government reacted.)

So that is the subtext to the search for MH370: The lack of free media and unfettered political opposition makes the governments look ineffective. In other words, it makes them less stable. And so, information is fragmented or withheld out of fear.

On another note:

As noted above, the Borowitz Report mentioned at the top pointed out how the US media have been all over the story. That piece was satire. But nothing, Borowitz could think of could have matched what CNN’s Don Lemon did. This was perhaps an all-time low for CNN when Lemon wondered if the disappearance was related to supernatural forces

UPDATE (3/19 18:32)

Okay, Fox News beat CNN for silliness.

Fox News host Bill Hemmer went on about how long it is taking to find the plane. He cited 100 years for the Titanic and 2,000 years for Noah’s Ark.

Yep. Hemmer cited a long-debunked claim that Noah’s Ark was found in Turkey. (Even Fox News knows the Ark story was a fake.)

The competition between CNN and Fox continues.

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Filed under Asia, Censorship, China, Connections, Freedom of access, International News Coverage, Press Freedom

Uganda’s anti-gay law has roots in USA

Sometimes finding a local-global connection is not hard.

Today Uganda President Yoweri Museveni signed a law into effect that threatens jail terms up to life for anyone having gay sex. The law also allows authorities to toss into jail anyone failing to report any knowledge of gay activity. (Uganda’s Museveni signs anti-gay bill, defying donors, Washington)

On the bright side, the new law does not threaten death, as the first iteration in 2009 did.

And where did this great idea come from?

Well it seems that the religious right from the United States have moved their fight against “the gay agenda” from the States — where they are losing their bigoted/homophobic battle — to Africa, where already conservative societies are ready to show how tough they are.

Back in 2010, Jeffrey Gettleman reported for the New York Times on the influence of the U.S. religious right in creating  the atmosphere for the original legislation — that provided the death penalty for gays — to the version just signed into law. (Americans’ Role Seen in Uganda Anti-Gay Push)

There is even a documentary of how the religious right pushed their agenda in Uganda: God Loves Uganda.

The BBC has a great piece from December 2013 about the law along with a map showing the dismal state of gay rights in Africa. (Ugandan MPs pass life in jail anti-homosexual law)

Besides activities of individual churches in Uganda, one of the main driving forces in setting the atmosphere for the legislation is a group known simply as The Family. One less kind term is The Christian Mafia(C Street politics: The Family sponsors death for homosexuals in UgandaThe Family is based out of a C Street house in Washington, DC and includes many of the power brokers in the city. 

And there is Jeff Sharlet’s account in his book The Family and in articles. (HarpersStraight Man’s Burden: The American roots of Uganda’s anti-gay persecutions)

Once the scope of the legislation was fully realized — and most likely the political fallout at home — The Family and many of its members came out against “Kill Gays” legislation. But did nothing to stop the legislation that is now law.

A major player in the religious right in the United States used its contacts and influence to promote an agenda that is the antithesis of peace and understanding — items I was taught are the foundations of Christian belief. I have seen hundreds of Christian organizations work in Honduras, Brazil and the Dominican Republic. It is true in some cases the individuals seemed to care more for passing out bibles than providing for the physical well-being of the people served. But by and large these are good people providing housing, medical care and education to people denied the basics by their own societies.

And The Family will say they also provide help to the poor. And they do. But they — and their followers/supporters — also bring hate and fear.

The link between what is happening in Uganda and the United States is direct. And it is a shame that an organization based in the United States with many members of Congress listed as members/associates has helped create an atmosphere of persecution that has now led to a law that could jail hundreds — if not thousands — for just being human.

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Filed under Africa, Connections, International News Coverage

NHK credibility on the line

Government-owned news organizations usually cause some people to pause and think about the impartiality of the editorial policy. And yet some of the most respectable news organizations in the world depend on government largesse.

No one will question the quality and independent nature of the BBC.

Likewise, the Voice of America has an international reputation of fairness and impartiality. (A handful of misinformed Americans and anti-US propagandists outside America think otherwise, but the facts are against them.) And has a charter protecting journalists from interference from political control.

In Asia RTHK in Hong Kong fights daily to keep mainland China and the Hong Kong government out of its editorial policy. So far, it has been successful.

Also in Asia the NHK is seen as a global example of a government-financed news organization that digs deep, tells its stories without bias and stays with the facts.

Now, the reputation of the NHK is on the line.

In recent months, some members of the board of governors at NHK have expressed extreme positions, such as the Rape of Nanjing never happened and defended the practice of “sex slaves” during World War II.

Board member Naoki Hyakuta said Japan was lured into the war by America because of the economic embargo imposed after Japan invaded China. He also said Japan was liberating Asia from white colonialism.

According to the Independent in London, NHK’s new chairman, Katsuto Momii, stunned journalists by saying it was “only natural” that NHK should follow the government line on Japan’s territorial disputes with its neighbors. “When the government says ‘left’ we can’t say ‘right’,” he said.

It is that very statement that has people – including other news organizations in Japan – nervous.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe named Momii and Hyakuta to the 12-member board. He also named two other members who have also expressed hardline nationalist views.

Abe has a history of interfering with the NHK prodcuts.

According to The Diplomat:

[Abe] was the central player in the notorious muzzling of a NHK documentary about the comfort women that took place a few years ago. The documentary in question concerned efforts by women’s rights groups in Japan to highlight the government’s failure adequately to compensate surviving comfort women. Abe, already a very senior government official, paid a personal visit to NHK shortly before airtime to insist that the documentary be “fair and neutral.” NHK management immediately called the producers to demand drastic editorial changes to the already completed program. Last-minute revisions included the removal of all criticism of LDP policy and Emperor Hirohito. Also cut were dramatic confessions by two Japanese veterans admitting rape. Criticisms of the women’s movement were hurriedly inserted, including an interview with a discredited revisionist historian. Even the program title was whitewashed, from “Japanese Military’s Wartime Sexual Violence” to “Questioning Wartime Sexual Violence.” Far from being “fair and neutral” the final program was a lop-sided swipe at the redress movement and a complete exoneration of the LDP.

The Japanese High Court cleared Abe of charges of interference and berated the documentary producers for over reacting to Abe’s visit.

If the views of the board find their way into the NHK reporting, Japan and the world will lose what has been an excellent news organization.

A bit more reading on this issue:

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Filed under Asia, Harassment, International News Coverage

Journalism is not terrorism

Roy Greenslade at the Guardian has a great piece on the arrest and prosecution of journalists in Egypt.

Al-Jazeera reporter – journalism is not terrorism and I’m not a terrorist

A lot of commentary on this piece is not needed.

One sub-head in the column says it all when it comes to the need for free and independent media: Cairo is a rumour mill – who knows what to believe?

Just go to the column and read it. Well worth your time.

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Filed under Censorship, Harassment, International News Coverage, Middle East, Press Freedom