More Proof Censorship Fails

We all know the Internet is Cuba is virtually non-existent. (Unless you go to one of the places set up by the US Interest Section or an international hotel.) Well, it does exist but it is so slow you will die of old age before you can download one episode of Game of Thrones.

Face it, governments such as those in Cuba do not like the free and unfettered nature of the Internet. The leaders of Cuba, China, Iran, etc are all afraid of what will happen to their nice cushy jobs if the people found out what is really going on in the world.

No matter how hard governments try to restrict their people from getting information, there are gaps in the security nets. The Chinese have learned how to use their mobile phones and virtual networks to get past the Great Firewall of China. Iranians used Twitter and SMS to communicate during the uprisings that called for free and fair elections.

And now a new twist has shown up in Cuba – thumb drives.

The Only Internet Most Cubans Know Fits in a Pocket and Moves by Bus

It’s called El Packete, and it arrives weekly in the form of thumb drives loaded with enormous digital files. Those drives make their way across the island from hand to hand, by bus, and by 1957 Chevy, their contents copied and the drive handed on.

People want entertainment and they want uncensored news. And they will get it any way possible.

Even by 1957 Chevy.

And yes, there are a few people who know how to get messages out: Yaoni Sanchez (@yoanisanchez) is probably the most famous of the Cuban bloggers — at least to the rest of the world.

Here is the movie OFFLINE mentioned in the article. It is Cubans talking about the Internet (or lack of it). The movie was smuggled out in a thumb drive.

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Filed under Censorship, Cuba, Internet Freedom

World Bank Supports Effort To Help Philippine Journalists Tame Big Data

Just because a government sign on to the Open Government Initiative does not mean that the information is properly being read, understood and publicized.

Knowing how to access the growing amount of information — dubbed Big Data — and understand it all takes some training.

Fortunately, many of the international development and finance organizations understand that helping journalists learn how to access and analyze big data means more transparency in government and a better informed citizenry.

The World Bank is helping finance a training program in the Philippines by the Open Knowledge Foundation and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism to train journalists and citizen media how to produce high-quality, data-driven stories.

In the past 10-15 years, The World Bank, the IMF and national development agencies (such as USAID) have begun to understand the close connection between development and free media.

The linkage is really pretty obvious once you look at the big picture.

  • Development programs are supposed to end poverty
  • Poverty comes from unequal distribution of opportunities
  • Free media exposes that injustice
  • Poverty is exacerbated by corruption
  • Free media exposes corruption
  • Free media can only exist in democratic states
  • Therefore, to promote economic development, political development leading to democracy and freedom of speech and press must be part of any development activity.
  • Well-trained and ethical journalists provide vital information to the public that helps build and maintain democracy

There it is: Helping develop free press helps build democracy.

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Transparency and Free Press

Each year the U.S. State Department is required by law to provide a report on the fiscal transparency of other countries. In general it is a good idea to keep track of how open governments are with their budget process.

Many of the countries that did not meet the minimum level of transparency also do not meet the minimum level of freedom of press, speech and assembly.

To be clear, some of the countries that met the State Department’s minimum level of transparency also have some real problems with press and speech freedoms. For example, Ecuador passes the transparency test put fails the press freedom test. According to Freedom House: “President Rafael Correa and his administration openly disparaged and attacked private outlets and journalists.”

Still, where the freedoms of speech, press and assembly are honored — this is also a problem in Honduras, which also passed the transparency test — generally there are fewer instances of failing the transparency test.

A quick review of the countries failing the transparency test also shows countries with limited or no press freedom. Here are a couple of examples:

China failed the transparency test:

The budget proposal is not made publicly available before the budget is enacted. Budget documents do not identify financial allocations to state-owned enterprises.

And it fails in press freedom (Freedom House):

For the first time in several years, professional journalists from established news outlets were subjected to long-term detention, sentencing, and imprisonment alongside freelancers, online activists, and ethnic minority reporters.

One of the best ways to cure lack of transparency — and to attack corruption — is a strong and independent media.

Oh, by the way, the test for transparency is not that difficult to pass (not if Honduras passed it):

The FY 2015 fiscal transparency review process evaluated whether the identified governments publicly discloses budget documents including expenditures broken down by ministry and revenues broken down by source and type. The review process also evaluated whether the government has an independent supreme audit institution or similar institution that audits the government’s annual financial statements and whether such audits are made publicly available. The review further assessed whether the process for awarding licenses and contracts for natural resource extraction is outlined in law or regulation and followed in practice, and whether basic information on such awards is publicly available. The Department applied the following criteria in assessing whether governments met the minimum requirements of fiscal transparency.

So the points are:

  1. Did the government publish a public budget?
  2. Did the government describe how much each agency gets?
  3. Is there an auditing procedure?
  4. Are their rules for the exploitation of natural resources?
  5. And is all this information public?

To be honest that is a pretty low bar to pass. But, if a government doesn’t want free press, it surely does not want its people to be seeing how the money is spent.

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Filed under Corruption, Freedom of Information, Press Freedom, Transparency

If Xi is serious about fighting corruption, release the media’s shackles

China Digital News summarizes a series of articles about the impact of the anti-corruption campaign of President Xi Jinping.

Seems there has been a regular drop in the number of college graduates looking to enter China’s public sector. At the same time, civil servants are fleeing government work in favor of more lucrative jobs in finance and industry.

A Chinese job-search website, Zhaopin.com, reported that in the three weeks after the lunar new-year holiday in February more than 10,000 government workers quit their jobs to seek greener pastures, mainly in the finance, property and technology industries—an increase of nearly one-third over the same period in 2014. The company attributed this to a new emphasis on frugality in government work. Lavish meals are now banned (much to the chagrin of restaurants, which have suffered falls in profits). Governments are no longer allowed to build fancy offices for themselves.

This reminds me of some lectures I gave journalism students at Shanghai universities in 1992-1994.

Before I started talking about the role of journalism — granted a Western view, so one at complete odds with what the Chinese government wants — I asked the students why they wanted to be journalists.

They were nervous about offering any views, so I offered some suggestions:

  1. You are curious about what is going on and want to tell the stories about those events – One or two hands went up
  2. Being a reporter is a steady job that does not require much physical activity. – A few more hands went up.
  3. You want to know more about stuff that is not generally known to the public so you can earn extra money on that information. – Just about all the hands went up.

The problem President Xi faces is that he wants to eliminate corruption, he is not giving the Chinese people the best weapon against it: A free and independent press.

It is no surprise that the countries with the highest corruption ratings are also those with the lowest ranking of press freedom.

David Bandurski has a great piece in the China Media Project that describes how China views press freedom issues and how some more brave mainland China media groups are fighting back: Breeding tigers, and China’s caged press

By

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Filed under China, Corruption, Press Freedom

Turkey Elections Rebuff Erdogan Power Grabs

The ruling AKP did not get enough votes to control the Turkish parliament. That means unless a coalition government can be formed, new elections will be needed in 45 days.

Some of the reports coming out indicate Turkish voters are upset with the way President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been running things.

The presidency in Turkey is largely ceremonial, but during his term, Erdoğan has been slowly accumulating more power for the office. At the same time he has been promoting legislation and executive actions that have severely limited freedom of the press and assembly.

In the 24 hours since the election results were called, the discussion has been about whether the AKP can form a coalition to continue its governance. The other thing that has come out over and over in commentary, is the vote is a clear repudiation of Erdoğan’s efforts in limiting individual freedoms.

The question now: Will the other parties turn back Erdoğan’s efforts of will they use the restrictions of freedom of speech/press to their own advantage?

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Turkey keeps sliding in press freedom actions

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been on a serious campaign to get Turkey’s press under control.

In the latest move, Erdogan is suing a news organization for espionage because it posted evidence that the state’s intelligence service haphazardly supported anti-Assad forces in Syria in 2013 and 2014. Some of the rebels receiving help later turned out to be key players in the Islamic State movement.

Turkish president Erdoğan wants editor jailed for espionage in video row

Erdogan’s administration has used not only government powers to limit and block all versions of free press and expression.

Last year the government blocked Twitter and the Internet exploded. The action came as more Turks began discussing a growing corruption scandal that reached to the presidency.

When the plug was pulled on Twitter Erdogan showed bravado that was later shut down.

“The international community can say this, can say that. I don’t care at all. Everyone will see how powerful the Republic of Turkey is,” he said.

What he saw was an uproar not only around the world but even within his own ruling party.

The Freedom House rankings for Turkey have dropped from Partly Free to Not Free.

In the past two years his government has passed new laws that expanded the government’s authority to close down websites critical of the government and increased the state’s surveillance powers.

The country holds national elections June 7. Erdogon’s ruling party, the AKP, is expected to remain in power.

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Filed under Censorship, Harassment, Turkey

Using simple words does not mean talking down

Over and over I tell my journalism and public relations students that using simple and clear words carry a lot more power than large,  multi-syllable words.

I often point to Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. William Zinsser in On Writing Well noted of the 701 words in the address, 505 are one syllable and 122 are two-syllable words. That does not leave many words with three or more syllables. And despite these simple words, Lincoln’s speech of 1865 continue to inspire today. Proving simple words can be powerful.

And now, Randall Munroe, the author of XKCD (a great comic strip) explains things using the 1,000 most common English words.

From the pitch posted by Munroe:

The diagrams in Thing Explainer cover all kinds of neat stuff—including computer buildings (datacenters), the flat rocks we live on (tectonic plates), the stuff you use to steer a plane (airliner cockpit controls), and the little bags of water you’re made of (cells).

And all this came from a cartoon Munroe did for his XKCD strip called Up Goer Five, which explained the Saturn V rocket using only common words.

If the book is as good as Up Goer Five, I may have to order this book as required reading for my students.

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