Pakistan blocking WordPress

TechCrunch reports the Pakistan government is blocking WordPress sites.

According to multiple local outlets, WordPress blogs are currently not accessible in Pakistan and pointing the blockage at the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA). TechCrunch has not been able to confirm that yet. As it stands right now, and blogs hosted by WordPress cannot be reached. Self-hosted WordPress blogs still work.

it is not surprising that Pakistan would block these sites. The government has a track record of blocking Twitter, Facebook and other Internest social sites.

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Filed under Censorship, Internet Freedom

Now Reuters is being blocked in China

Reuters now joins the ranks of The New York Times, BBC, Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal. Its websites are being blocked by the Great Firewall of China. (Reuters websites become inaccessible in China)

Reuters says they do not know why their website is being blocked. Inquiries to the Cyberspace Administration of China have gone unanswered.

Perhaps one reason for being blocked is included in Reuters’ comment about the action:

“Reuters is committed to practicing fair and accurate journalism worldwide. We recognise the great importance of news about China to all our customers, and we hope that our sites will be restored in China soon,” a Reuters spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.

That whole “fair and accurate journalism” is a real problem for the Chinese leadership.

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FOI: It’s not just a US thing

When Lyndon Johnson signed the Freedom of Information Act in 1966, he told his press secretary, Bill Moyers, that he had just signed into law the most dangerous piece of legislation ever.

And for politicians and regulators who never like having people looking over their shoulders, freedom of information laws are indeed very dangerous.

As more countries threw off the weight of dictatorships — left and right — the citizens wanted better oversight of their government.  In 1990 there were only a handful of countries with FOI laws. By 2004 there were nearly 100. (The National Democratic Institute did a survey of FOI laws in 2004.)

A whole industry with a lot of good guys and gals has sprung up to help journalists and civic society groups understand their FOI laws and how to use them. The latest comes from the International Center For Journalists: Key Tips for Understanding Freedom of Information Laws in Your Country

There is even an International Right To Know Day designed to promote FOI legislation.

American journalists have a long history with fighting bureaucrats to get the information we need. We have worked hard during the past nearly 50 years to improve and expand FOI laws from federal to state to local levels. There is a lot we can do to help other countries just starting out on this same road. And there is a lot we can learn from the experiences of our fellow scribes around the world. Maybe it is time to step up our game and start reaching out more.

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Filed under Connections, Freedom of access, Freedom of Information

Latest failure by Beijing to shut up critic

The ruling elite in Beijing really seem to think they can just snap their fingers and the rest of the world will kow-tow.

The latest episode came when the Chinese ambassador to Canada sent a letter to the House of Commons and Foreign Ministry telling the House to withdraw an invitation to Martin Lee and to butt out of Chinese internal affairs.

Lee, one of the major pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong, was invited to give testimony before the foreign affairs committee about the status of democracy in Hong Kong. (Hong Kong’s Martin Lee testifies in Parliament despite warning)

Every time a critic of Beijing with a Chinese face shows up anywhere in the world, Beijing flips out. The ruling elite keep forgetting that the status of democracy in Hong Kong is based on an international treaty. Plus, by signing on to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations’ charter, China opened itself up for people to look closely at how well they live up to those documents.

At least with Lee’s visit, they did not claim that his visit to Canada “hurts the feelings of all Chinese in the world.” I think that complaint is saved for criticisms of non-Chinese.

Beijing keeps trying to force its view of control around the world because at times it works.

Late last year Mark Kitto wrote an Op-Ed piece for the New York Times that discussed how China exercises its influence on free speech. (Caving to China’s Power.)

We are used to seeing this in Hong Kong where self-censorship by journalists and straight out orders from publishers have kept the pro-Beijing drums beating. Beijing just wants to extend that authority around the world.

Even everyday folks outside China are being manipulated by China. (People Around the World Are Voluntarily Submitting to China’s Great Firewall. Why?)

It all comes down to controlling the message. If Beijing can’t do it one way — intimidate dissidents or journalists — then do it another way by threatening the economic well-being of companies and countries around the world.

In the schoolyard, that kind of behavior is attributed to bullies. Not people you really want to hang out with.

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Banning news items is not something democracies do – India’s wrong move

Democracies allow a great deal of freedom. It is the freedom to report on society — warts and all — that makes democratic societies better and stronger. Unfortunately, there are too many who think democratic countries cannot survive exposure of some of the worst warts.

So the BBC put together a documentary on the brutal 2012 gang rape of 23-year-old physiotherapy student Jyoti Singh. And the resulting screams from India showed that the Indian government was more concerned with perceived attacks on the image of India than in doing anything to protect women.

The rape shocked the world. It even got through to many in India who had been willing to turn a blind eye. Thousands turned out to call for new laws to protect women and to change the way society looks at rape. (India gang rape: six men charged with murder)

Not that anything really happened in the ensuing years.

The BBC documentary — India’s Daughter — included interviews with the one member of the gang who raped Singh. His comments further outraged the world:

  • A decent girl won’t roam around at nine o’clock at night.
  • A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy.
  • When being raped, she shouldn’t fight back. She should just be silent and allow the rape

Rather than embrace the documentary and step up work to make life safer for women, the government decided that the film makes India look bad and banned it from the country. And then, to make sure no one outside India can see it, the government went to the British courts to get the ban extended to the entire BBC system.

In that latter effort, the government failed. The BBC aired the documentary earlier than announced. And that set the Indian government into a fit of complaints and actually launched an investigation into how the film maker was given access to the rapist in jail.

Fortunately for the future of India, some are upset with the banning action:

“[T]he reality is what the man spoke reflects the view of many men in India and why are we shying away from that? In glorifying India and (saying) we are perfect we are not confronting the issues that need to be confronted,” said businesswoman Anu Aga, a member of the chamber.

In the meantime, the film maker left India out of fear for her well being.

Documentary-maker Leslee Udwin, meanwhile, was reported by India’s NDTV channel to have decided to fly out of India due to fears she could be arrested.

The television channel also broadcast what it said was Udwin’s last interview before she left India. “I’m very frightened what’s going to happen next — I predict the whole world will point fingers at India now,” Udwin said. “It’s a tragedy — you’re shooting yourself in the foot.”

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Filed under Freedom of Information, India, International News Coverage

Honduras and Ayn Rand – One Author’s Look

Interesting piece in Salon today: My libertarian vacation nightmare: How Ayn Rand, Ron Paul & their groupies were all debunked

The greatest examples of libertarianism in action are the hundreds of men, women and children standing alongside the roads all over Honduras.  The government won’t fix the roads, so these desperate entrepreneurs fill in potholes with shovels of dirt or debris.  They then stand next to the filled-in pothole soliciting tips from grateful motorists.  That is the wet dream of libertarian private sector innovation.

The author —  — makes many good points. I particularly like how few Americans ever see the results of their idealistic vision.

Only 30 percent of Americans have passports, and if Americans do go places, it’s not often to Honduras.

And a few years ago, William Chalmers made an argument that only about 5 percent of the American people actually use those passports to travel to other countries.

The lack of international perspective is a real problem, especially for people promoting an ideology or political perspective. It is also a problem for reporters and editors who have to deal with immigrant communities in their local areas. (But more on that old chestnut another time.)

Lyngar makes a strong case that for all those promoting the libertarian views of Any Rand (and there are many in the GOP leadership), they should look carefully at what is happening around the world. In this case, Lyngar is looking at Honduras, but I bet examples can be found in many other countries around the world with weak governments and legal systems.

A disservice Lyngar does to Honduras, however, is take after them as if he were a fallen Catholic taking off on the Pope.

[Q]uestions about how best to provide a good society are not being asked in Honduras…

Actually they are being asked. The problem is asking such questions are new to Hondurans. Not because of political repression but rather because of a system that did not encourage it. Elites ran things and provided help to the poor to keep them in line. The breakdown in that system, along with a growing NGO community and rising expectations of more democratic participation, are now leading more Hondurans to question what is best for their country.

A good example of how a sector of society that was persecuted — not by the government but by the society as a whole — began to stand up for its rights is the LGBT community.

The LGBT community became natural allies with former president Manuel Zelaya and his LIBRE coalition. The rhetoric of LIBRE is all about helping the disenfranchised, with a strong dose of anti-USA and pro-Venezuela tossed in.

As the U.S. embassy began standing up in defense of LGBT organizers and inviting them to attend more embassy related events, the LGBT leadership saw that they did not have to put all their eggs in the LIBRE basket. The LIBRE leadership at times was so upset with the LGBT leaders at times that the LGBT leadership was told they might be bounced from the party if they keep attending US-sponsored events.

The LGBT leaders balanced the threats with the very public support from the US embassy and called the LIBRE leadership’s bluff.

In the end, LGBT activists learned it is possible to build coalitions with other organizations on one or two issues but still disagree on other. This revelation was a major step forward.

Along the way other NGOs also learned, through discussions and programs, that they do not have to agree with other NGOs all the time, just enough to get things done to improve society.

That is called progress and it is called thinking about what is best for the country, not just a small set of individuals.

All that said, I can understand Lyngar’s complaints. And his main point really does need to be stressed.

The view of government so many libertarians have does resemble what is happening in Central America.

If the no-tax, less-government people have their way, basic infrastructure will not be done. It will not be long before people start writing about American entrepreneurs filling in potholes with shovels of dirt or debris and then standing next to the filled-in pothole soliciting tips from grateful motorists.”


Here is John Oliver talking about infrastructure

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Filed under Central America, Connections

Climate v. weather and false balances

Once again science denier Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla) and chair of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, doesn’t understand the difference between a data point and a trend.

And once again, the media look at the senator’s absolute ignorance about the difference between climate and weather as a circus event. the two samples linked above help represent what has been wrong with American reporting on issues involving science and science deniers.

Philip Bump at the Post did note the following:

Now, global warming skepticism skeptics might argue that Inhofe, the author of a book about global warming called “The Greatest Hoax,” is using one bit of weather-related data to try to disprove a well-established, very long-term trend. They might note that temperatures in February are supposed to be cold in the Northern Hemisphere since it is a season called “winter.” They might point out that at the same time D.C. was very cold, the West Coast was very warm, which is less expected during “winter.” And they might note that the government did indeed declare 2014 to be the warmest year on record, a detail that is not disproven by a snowball in the year 2015. (The sad irony of that, though: Much of the eastern U.S. recorded colder than normal temperatures — and that is where Inhofe goes to work.)

Bump’s piece is in The Fix, a commentary section of the online post, not a straight reporting article. The writers in The Fix appear to be encouraged to be snarky and witty in their analysis of issues of the day. (And let’s face it, Inhofe and his team of deniers have always been prime targets for snark.)

The Time magazine piece is not commentary but a straight report. It is also an example of how the reporter did not put the story into context and show how off base the senator is. The piece just mentions Inhofe’s comments, included the Vine feed of him tossing a snowball and leaves it at that. (Granted, everyone is running that Vine feed. Even me.)

Anyone who understands the difference between weather and climate — or a data point and a trend — could just laugh at the simple-minded nature of the senator from the Sooner State. But what is needed is a challenge to the simplistic and erroneous position being put forth by Inhofe.

Context is key to good journalism. Make sure the reader/viewer knows what the situation is around the story. Show the facts and the credentials of the key players. That means giving weight to experts in a given field and using anecdotes to personalize the issue at hand.

Too many journalists seem to think that if they just treat the deniers and the fact holders as equals, they have done their job of explaining the debate. Doing straight “he said/she said” journalism does not provide the context readers/viewers need to understand the issue. (Bump did this, but again, his is a commentary, not a news article.)

Journalists need to call out the deniers with simple words that show how their beliefs (matters of faith, not fact) are not sustained by the facts. Journalists need to continue to point out — in simple, easy to understand words — how science works.

And scientists need to wake up and understand how to communicate with use mere mortals who do not a dozen or so academic initials after our names.

And to be sure, this issue is more than just climate change. By giving an uncritical voice to the anti-vaccination crowd — a group usually associated with wealthy, liberal elites (but now being picked up by the right) — U.S. media outlets have done a disservice to their readers/viewers and society as a whole.

More scientists are rising to the occasion. Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye are two of the current crop. But more need to understand how to communicate with the rest of the world. (Especially journalists.)

Just to show how simple it is to explain the difference between climate and weather, here is a clip from COSMOS:

It can be done.

Oh, and the connection to the rest of the world?

News organizations in other democracies understand the need to stop treating deniers and scientists equally.

BBC staff told to stop inviting cranks on to science programmes

“…emphasise the importance of attempting to establish where the weight of scientific agreement may be found and make that clear to audiences…”

Anti-vaccination activists should not be given a say in the media

The Australian media, to their credit, have moved away from false balance in vaccine stories over the last few years.

Maybe U.S. news organizations need to catch up with the science reporting standards from across the pond. It needs to realize there is no scientific debate over vaccinations, climate change or evolution. There are only deniers who have gut feelings and anecdotes to support their positions, not science. Treating beliefs and facts as equals does not serve the public the way good journalism should.

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Filed under Connections, International News Coverage, Science