Tag Archives: Mexico

Poor Chinese government! Country’s pollution is interfering with its ability to spy on its own people

In their haste to grow and develop, China has become the most polluted country in the world.

The skies around its cities are gray/brown. The people choke on toxic poisons in the air. And children fall ill.

And with all that, the Chinese government has done little to resolve the problem. In fact, they complained of “interference in internal affairs” when the U.S. embassy began posting the results of its own air-quality monitors on the embassy roof. (Seems the US numbers were significantly higher than the official Chinese numbers.)

 

The land is contaminated with heavy metals as factories pour off their waste directly into farm land and water supplies.

But maybe now the central government may do something about the pollution.

Seems all those contaminants in the air are limiting the ability of the security forces to monitor the people.

China discovers that pollution makes it really hard to spy on people

[I]nfrared imaging, which can usually help cameras penetrate fog or even smoke, can’t see through the thicket of particulate matter in Chinese air.

This is a big worry for the Chinese government, which as of January 2013, had installed some 20 million cameras on streets, public parks and even in elevators throughout China.

Of course most of the pollution is caused by factories violating Chinese law on emissions . And how do the factories get away with it? Obviously through that tried and true method of little red envelopes being passed under the table to the government inspectors. (Reminds me of my years in Mexico City in the mid-1980s. Every factory was “in compliance” but it was still difficult to see any details of building just across the street thanks to the high pollution levels.)

It would be interesting to see if this story makes it into the Chinese media.

Oh, and in case anyone is wondering why a US news outlet would be interested, the pollution that is affecting the Chinese people is also making its way to the States.

Chinese Pollution Reaches U.S. (CBS News) (And this is from 2007!)

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Filed under Censorship, China, Corruption, Story Ideas

Addressing impunity is a global issue not limited to just the media

Being a journalist has never been a safe job in many countries and the arrest rate and death toll makes that clear.

  • 984 journalists and media workers were killed since 1992
  • 19 journalists and media workers have been killed so far this year
  • 594 of the murders have not been investigated or prosecuted
  • 232 journalists are in jail for doing their job

The raw numbers of murders and jailings are frightening. What is especially frightening is the impunity that so many murders can be left unaddressed.

The Committee to Protect Journalists released a new report on Pakistan and the lack of follow-up in the murders of 20 journalists. (Roots of Impunity: Pakistan’s Endangered Press And the Perilous Web of Militancy, Security, and Politics)

According to the report, Pakistan ranks among the world’s deadliest nations for the press today.

But just in case you think the problem is limited to the volatile area of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq, think again.

Honduras, which has the highest murder rate in the world, is also dangerous for journalists. (The numbers from the rest of Central America are not so great either. )

Murder Chart

The InterAmerican Press Association (SIPA in Spanish) sent a special team to Honduras to look into the situation. (Misión de la SIP llega a evaluar libertad de expresión) The IAPA/SIPA team is looking at more than just the murders of journalists. It is looking to see how the Honduran government is living up to its pledges of a year ago to protect journalists and to prosecute those who attack journalists.

(FYI: The IAPA/SIPA has a whole project on impunity. Going to its reports page you can see that Honduras is mentioned a lot but so is Brazil, Mexico and Colombia. No one country in the Western Hemisphere has a monopoly on impunity when it comes to the harassment and murder of journalists.)

One thing to remember is that impunity comes from a government’s lack of political will to deal with the situation. The inaction is not because of a government policy to target the journalists and other defenders of human rights. (Unlike places such as China, Venezuela and Cuba where the weight and anger of the rulers and their supporters are indeed targeted against independent media outlets.)

The CPJ report on Pakistan is clear about this:

The violence comes in the context of a government’s struggle to deliver basic human rights to all citizens. The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan laid it out succinctly when it said in its annual report in March 2012 that “militancy, growing lawlessness, and ethnic, sectarian and political violence exposed the government’s inability to ensure security and law and order for people in large parts of the country.”

In Honduras, the CPJ notes:

CPJ research shows that the authorities have been slow and negligent in investigating numerous journalist murders and other anti-press crimes since the 2009 coup

And

Journalists who report on sensitive issues such as drug trafficking, government corruption, and land conflicts face frequent threats and attacks in a nation so gripped by violence and lawlessness that it has become one of the most murderous places in the world.

Unfortunately because Honduras is the murder capital of the world, journalists doing their jobs could be caught in the crossfire, be targeted for reasons other than journalism or maybe not even be targeted but just be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

None of that dismisses the pain and suffering the families and a free society feels because of the killings. It just may be that the journalists are not targeted because they are journalists. But without vigorous and successful investigations and prosecutions we will never know.

And that brings up to the real point.

The main problem in Pakistan is the same as the problem in Honduras: Weak government agencies unwilling to do anything or who frightened into doing nothing.

Addressing the issue of impunity, therefore becomes more than complaining about how the media (or lawyers or reform politicians or students) are treated.  It is a problem of strengthening government agencies to allow them to step up and address the growing chaos in their societies. And it is a problem that requires the rest of society also to step up and demand better of their governments.

The prosecutors and judges in the countries are often afraid to order investigations and prosecute the killers of journalists because then their lives (and the lives of their families) are put at risk. Likewise, individual citizens could quickly become targets if they start demanding justice for those human rights defenders that are killed.

Yet, the only way to seriously address the problem of impunity is to strengthen civic society organizations while providing protection to the most outspoken of the society.

Unfortunately, the knee-jerk reaction to the impunity situation from some influential circles is to cut funding that is designed to help strengthen and improve the very institutions needed to conduct the investigations. The logic seems to be: “You don’t have the resources to do proper investigations so we will pull the funding we were giving you to improve your resources to conduct proper investigations.”

Bottom line is that fighting impunity means addressing a wide range of issues at once.

  • It means addressing poverty — to prevent the narcos/religious fanatics from getting new recruits.
  • It means strengthening and supporting civic organizations so they can both stand up against fanatical and criminal elements AND demand more from their governments.
  • It means providing training and funding to the law enforcement agencies so they can weed out and keep out corruption, conduct proper investigations and then conduct proper prosecutions.

That is a tall order. And it costs money. Unfortunately too many government leaders in the developed world are penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to supporting the types of programs that are needed.

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Filed under Harassment, Honduras, International News Coverage, Killings, Press Freedom

March for justice in Mexico

Journalists is the Mexican state of Veracruz marched over the weekend to demand protection for journalists and for the government find and prosecute those responsible for killing investigative journalist Regina Martinez.

Government officials say they have the killer of Martinez, who was found beaten and suffocated in her house. But her co-workers don’t believe them.

The man convicted of the murder is Jorge Antonio Hernandez Silva. According to the government versions, Martinez was killed because she interrupted a robbery by  Hernandez Silva.

Unfortunately for the government, Hernandez Silva says he was forced to confess after being tortured for several days. The editors at Martinez’s publication, Proceso, don’t accept the government story, pointing out that none of the fingerprints in the Martinez apartment match Hernandez Silva.

The local authorities did not do themselves any favors when, according to Proceso, some current and former state officials issued orders to capture a reporter who questioned the verdict and “to do him harm if he resists.”

After the national government stepped in and expressed its skepticism of the local version of events, Veracruz Gov. Javier Duarte  met with editors of Proceso and promised a full investigation.

See original story: Mexican journalists march against attacks on press

Mexico has become one of the most dangerous countries for journalists. The threat comes from drug cartels and corrupted government officials. Since 1992, 28 journalists and media workers have been killed in Mexico. Of those 28 cases, 22 have not been solved.

The national government has stepped up its efforts to protect journalists and to deal with the lack of action by local governments.

Late last week the national legislature passed a bill giving the federal government jurisdiction over crimes against journalists. It only awaits the president’s signature.

Read more about the bill and the problem of impunity in Mexico: In Mexico, a movement and a bill against impunity

 

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Filed under Corruption, Harassment, Killings, Mexico

Social media picking up slack in Mexico war zones

A study conducted by Microsoft investigates the emergence of “war correspondents” in Mexico. The study looked at how citizens are using Twitter to disseminate information about gang attacks and potentially dangerous situations to large numbers of people.

InSight Crime reported on the Microsoft study:

The study, titled “The New War Correspondents: The Rise of Civic Media Curation in Urban Warfare” (pdf), analyzed Tweets relating to the Mexican cities of Reynosa, Monterrey, Saltillo, and Veracruz over a 16-month period. The study identified a group of people, dubbed “curators,” who published a high volume of Tweets related to drug violence, sharing information and warning other users. The report argues that in some ways, these individuals are taking on the role of a new generation of “war correspondents.”

For the authors of the report, the importance of these citizen curators points to a deficiency in more traditional sources of information, namely the government and established media outlets. Local governments and newspapers often face intense intimidation from organized criminal groups, with many forced to cooperate with them, or to refrain from printing stories on criminal violence.

The independent media have been attacked by the narcos for reporting on any deaths related to the gang warfare taking place in Mexico’s northern regions. Likewise, government officials have also been threatened (some bribed) to prevent them from taking any action.

The intimidation of media and government sources leaves a vacuum of information. And that is where the citizen journalists step in. But there are problems with this as well.

No matter where citizen journalists operate — Mexico, Syria, New Orleans, etc — the bottom line is the credibility of the reporter. With no way to check the veracity of the information, receivers of the news have to make their own judgments about credibility.

As InSight Crime points out:

There are risks in leaving the gathering and dissemination of crime news in the hands of these non-professional curators. One question is how to assess the reliability of the information. Using Twitter allows these contributors to avoid the dangers faced by traditional media outlets, as they can remain anonymous, but this very anonymity makes it difficult to know if their information can be trusted.

And, as the Microsoft authors point out, some of the curators of information gain credibility and trust.

Social media curators seek to spread information to new audiences by selectively identifying and sharing content coming from the broader stream. These curators develop reputations with their audiences based on the perceived value of the information that they spread. Some curators simply pass on information posted by others, while other curators add commentary or insert their own interpretations or updates.

For journalists, tapping into this Twitter exchange could help develop stories and gain a better understanding of what is happening in the drug wars in Mexico. (And maybe even learn how there are cross border issues involved.)

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Filed under Connections, Mexico

FOI law in Mexico gets improving amendments

The freedom of information movement is getting stronger south of the border.

Mexico was one of the first Latin American countries to pass a freedom of information law — also know as right to know law. At the time, journalists and civil libertarians in Mexico criticized it for being too weak and having too many loopholes.

Shortly after Mexico passed its law, the Dominican Republic did the same thing and the criticisms were the same. Some even said that it was useless passing such a law because of all the gaps in the law. Former (US) Society of Professional Journalists president David Carlson (@gigabit1) visited the DR to talk about FOI laws and online journalism during the height of that debate.

Carlson’s message was simple: “First get the law on the books and then improve it.”

He noted that when the U.S. FOI law was first enacted, it too had lots of gaps. In the intervening years, however, he said amendments to the law made it a better and stronger tool for the American people to force information out of the government. (He added that a vast majority of the FOI requests were not from journalists but rather from individuals and civic groups.)

And so now Mexico is plugging a few gaps and improving its FOI law. (Just like Carlson said should be done.)

Thanks to freedominfo.org for reporting this.

Mexican Senate Advances Amendments to FOI Law

21 DECEMBER 2012

The Mexican Senate on Dec. 20 unanimously approved amendments to the freedom of information law, increasing the powers of the FOI oversight body.

Under the legislation, supported by new president Enrique Peña Nieto, the Federal Institute of Access to Information (IFAI) would gain new autonomy, with its decisions made binding. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.) This reform would prevent the government from appealing IFAI decisions to the Supreme Court, a right now reserved only to citizens.

In addition, IFAI’s jurisdiction would be extended to cover legislative and judicial branches, as well as states and municipalities.

Rest of story.

Just in case you were wondering, the connection to the United States is that it will now be easier for journalists to get information from the government about lots of things that affect U.S.-Mexican relations. And for those of you who forgot: Mexico is a neighbor of the United States and one of its top trading partners, in other words, it is an important country to know about.

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For some a game; For too many reality

International End the Impunity Day is November 23.

The International Freedom of Expression Exchange site has a digital game designed to draw attention to impunity and motivate more people to engage in the issue called Break The Silence.

IFEX launches online game for Day to End Impunity campaign

In one scenario in this game, you are a Twitter user in the Americas. Drug cartels and organised crime have infiltrated the political, judicial and law enforcement systems in your country.

In another, you are a musician in Africa. Your government is handing down orders to silence artistic expression. Those who challenge the status quo are being censored, and those who persevere are being threatened and intimidated.

In a third, you are a protester in the Middle East, in a country with an established authoritarian regime in power. Voices of dissent are violently suppressed by the police and military.

In each scenario, you must navigate through a labyrinth where others are doing everything they can to silence your voice.

In the TWITTER scenario, the opening screen is:

Drug cartels and organised crime have infiltrated the political, judicial and law enforcement systems in your country.

Those who speak out about the corruption are often faced with threats, attacks and even murder. These crimes are rarely punished.

What will you risk to be heard?

Followed by

You witness an exchange of cash between a known drug lord and the chief of police. You decide to tweet about it on your Twitter account.

So far, this all sounds familiar to anyone living in Honduras or Mexico.

From this point you make choices about whether to keep pushing ahead or back off. Depending on how you decide the danger to you and your family increases or decreases.

The game accurately describes what can (and does ) happen to people who stand up to narcos and dictators.

Before people start complaining about all the money “wasted” on programs overseas to break up the narcos and support democratic forces, they should play this game and see what it really costs to not stand up to these thugs.

 

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Filed under Censorship, Corruption, Press Freedom

Local-Global – More bad news from US media

Between a great vacation on the high seas with nothing but blues music all day (and night) and the U.S. election party in Honduras, it took me a while to catch this little gem from the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.

Local means international, says Houston Chron’s correspondent after closing of Mexico bureau

Dudley Althaus, the Houston Chronicle’s former Mexico correspondent, understands that his reporting on Mexico has local impact in Houston.

KC: There is a strong connection between Mexico and Texas. Were stories about Mexico not driving newspaper sales?

DA: I don’t know, I think it’s a good question. I think there’s a misperception about what the demands are. I think the importance of Mexico to Texas readers is obvious but in general it fits into this trend of going local, very local. Papers across the industry are doing it. They’re making the bet that most readers only care about their own city and they can pick up the wires. I think there’s wider interest in the world.

The problem with these papers is that they’re trying to cover these huge metropolises and their staffs are reduced and they have to find a way to be relevant to most readers, to be relevant to the newsstand, to be relevant to people facing higher subscription rates. It’s really a problem. They don’t have the staff to cover their metropolitan area and the bureau stands out as a major expense. I don’t envy their choices.

Note his comment — “They’re making the bet that most readers only care about their own city and they can pick up the wires.”

The bean counters at news organizations keep reading the numbers wrong.

Usually the reports  say readers/viewers  want better coverage of local events. What the bean counters see is readers/viewers want only local coverage. After all, it is easier to cut budgets for a foreign bureau (or overseas stringer) than it is to cut the local sports section.

And before people think that reporting from Mexico is just for Mexicans living in Houston, Althaus dispels that notion right away:

I think that it’s a mistake to think that the only people interested in Mexico in Houston or Texas are immigrants or second or third generation Mexican-American families. I don’t think that’s true at all. There’s a lot of business interest in what’s happening here. A lot of people vacation in Mexico. There’s a tremendous amount of business ties to Mexico. People are concerned about what’s going on in Mexico, as far as the violence and the drug war, but also a number of different issues. I think I had a broad spectrum in mind while I was writing it.

Again, note how he looks at business and leisure as reasons for continued reporting from Mexico.

Here are just some numbers to ponder:

  • Mexico was the United States’ 2nd largest goods export market in 2011.
  • U.S. goods exports to Mexico in 2011 were $197.5 billion, up 20.8% ($34.1 billion) from 2010, and up 76.8% from 2000.
  • The top export categories in 2011 were: Electrical Machinery, Machinery, Mineral Fuel and Oil, Vehicles, and Plastic.
  • U.S. exports of agricultural products to Mexico totaled $18.4 billion in 2011, the 3rd largest U.S. Ag export market.

Looking at it another way, individual states benefit greatly from exports to Mexico (2011 figures):

  • Texas – $198 billion
  • California – $87 billion
  • Michigan – $26 billion
  • Arizona – $6 billion
  • Louisiana – $6 billion

Please note that Michigan is not a border state with Mexico but it is #3 in exports to Mexico.

Those are some serious numbers to consider as to why LOCAL business concerns are interested in what is going on in Mexico. These are serious numbers for anyone concerned about the U.S. economy and jobs growth. And that means more reporting than just the narco-wars, beach reviews or parachute journalism.

Speaking of parachute journalism, Althaus discusses this as well.

KC: Do you think “parachute reporting” can fill in the gaps left by the disappearing foreign bureaus?

DA: If you come down and you speak the language you can still do parachute reporting, especially if you keep pretty focused on the story you’re trying to cover. But if you’re just dropping into a country and you don’t know the language, don’t have the background, it easily goes into stereotypes and generalizations. I think it’s very easy to criticize parachute reporting but that’s what the model is going to have to be. There’s no infrastructure on the ground for many U.S. news media around the world now.

Somebody sent down a young reporter to do a story about an orphanage in Matamoros that was being supported by somebody back [in Dallas]. He had a line high up in the piece that said the finances were so bad at the orphanage, that they were so poor, that they were eating cactus. Now, in Mexico, nopales (cactus) is a favorite dish, everybody eats it. So it was a small thing and a good reporter trying to do his job but he sees something that’s so foreign to him.

You can do it but you have to be humble and be like a sponge and realize that you don’t know what you’re looking at a lot of the time.

Yes, “you can do it” but I would add that the reporting will not be as good nor will the context for readers/viewers be as good as if the piece was done by a reporter working the beat day in and day out.

And the issue is not just making sure the local-international business connection is made clear. The American people need to know what is going on in the world because — face it — we are the 500-pound gorilla. What the U.S. does and thinks matters to the rest of the world. And we need to make sure that policy makers — elected and appointed — know that we know what they are doing.

DA: I think if [the United States is] the world’s only super power, the citizenry needs to know this stuff; they need to know what’s at stake. That kind of power is impressive and awesome but the citizenry in a democracy needs to be very well-informed about world affairs. I think the more you silence diverse voices in foreign news, whether it’s provincial papers like in Texas or the main East Coast papers, I think that’s got to be detrimental to the U.S. public.

We have to find a way to continue doing this the best we can with the current models and hope that something else will come out of the crisis in mainstream media to replace what was really a very small window in foreign correspondence in U.S. media. We all say we lived the golden age of foreign correspondence. Hopefully, something new will come out of it. Some phoenix will rise.

Democracy cannot long survive without free and independent media. Likewise, the United States cannot continue to be a major player on the world stage if its people do not understand why and how the U.S. is involved in international affairs.

The first line of education about events past our doorsteps are the media. If the press refuses to cover the rest of the world and put world events into context for Americans, then the American people should get ready for more international “surprises” and disappointments.

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Filed under Connections, International News Coverage, Story Ideas