WSJ Journalist Bounced from China and Why It Matters

The Washington Post reported today China denied the visa renewal for Chun Han Wong, a Wall Street Journal reporter. The action came after Wong helped write a report on allegations the cousin of Chinese president Xi Jinping was involved in gambling and potential money laundering in Australia.

As the Post pointed out in the past the Chinese government has retaliated against foreign journalists through the visa process for stories that discussed the private lives and wealth of the families of the country’s ruling elite.

A 2012 Bloomberg News investigative report disclosing the Xi family’s investments resulted in a visa ban for the news agency that was only lifted after extensive discussions between Bloomberg executives and Chinese officials.

At least half a dozen correspondents for the New York Times faced lengthy delays receiving new visas or were expelled outright after the Times published a similar expose that year about former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s family wealth.

Why is this important?

Basically without independent reporting from China the global public would have little information about what is going on in that country. We would not know the economic and social pressures that are at play in the world’s second largest economy and up and coming military power.

And that is what dictators like the Communist Party leadership in China want. They don’t want information about the cracks and flaws in their society. They are especially afraid of the Chinese people learning about  see the lavish lifestyle they lead.

Traditionally the big fear is an outraged farmer class. In the past the governments of China have tolerated a lot of push back from farmers because of their large numbers.The party’s biggest fear is that these farmers would see how well the leadership is living and compare it to the bone-crushing poverty the rural class faced.

Now, however, there is a growing middle class and these folks want to see continued growth. They are also more educated. So they know corruption impedes economic growth. So it is this danger the party leadership faces. They do not want the rising middle class to know just how much wealth the leaders have. Or how they give unfair advantage to their family members.

So for the party leadership their very survival depends on controlling the press and keeping their dirty laundry hidden. And that is why journalists who do what journalists do — finding and reporting on facts — are such a danger to the Chinese government.

The rest of the world needs to know this information because we have to live in a world where China is a major player. Whether it is economics or military, China has a role. And we need to know if they are playing fair or if they are cheating. (And then take appropriate steps.)

Knowing about a government leader’s family connections to wealth and possible criminal activity is a vital part of knowing how to deal with that leader.

And that is what a free press is all about.

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

How tariff wars affect Main St. America

Here is just a quick look at how imposing tariffs on one place comes back to bite American businesses in the ass.

U.S. whiskey exporters struggle after year of EU tariffs

Some key points:

  • The Distilled Spirits Council said that 63% of U.S. whiskey exports have faced retaliatory tariffs from the European Union, China, Turkey, Canada and Mexico. The EU currently levies 25% tariffs on U.S. whiskey.
  • …at least 11,200 to 78,600 jobs could be lost in the beverage, alcohol and hospitality sectors, which currently employ 2.4 million Americans, if the EU-U.S.-conflict worsened.
  • Foreign governments subject to U.S. President Donald Trump’s trade tariffs have targeted American distilleries and their bourbon and rye whiskeys for retaliation. The industry fears new tariffs under consideration by the U.S. government could result in even higher tariffs on their products in Europe.
  • U.S. whiskey exporters are struggling to recoup lost sales after shipments to Europe plummeted 21% between June 2018 and 2019, according to data from the Distilled Spirits Council, a U.S. industry group.

The math in this issue is simple and easy to report. Reuters did a great job of looking at the impact on local employment. This is just one way to make a connection between an international action — tariffs — and local consequences.

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Why foreign assistance is important to US economy

Too many Americans are just plain wrong when it comes to foreign aid.

In January 2016 a Kaiser Foundation survey showed that 15 percent of the American people believe the foreign aid budget represents more than half of the U.S. federal budget.  The average answer from the survey was that the US spend 31 percent of its budget on foreign aid. Only 3 percent had the right answer: 1-1.5 percent.

 

And now the Trump Administration wants to cut the aid program (and the rest of civilian foreign policy operations) by a third.

Contrary to the attitude that seems to come from the administration and its supporters, the purpose of foreign aid is not to just give away money to make us feel better. In fact, foreign aid is an important factor in improving the U.S. economy.

When poor people in another country start earning more money, they most often use the money to improve the lives of their children by investing in education and health. And once those basic cares are covered, these people then start buying things.

If the country has a free-trade agreement with the United States, that means U.S. products can enter the country with low or no import fees. And that means the U.S. products can be purchased by the emerging middle class.

Helping build a strong middle class in the developing world is part of what development aid is all about. One of the most visible programs in the US Agency for International Development universe is Feed the Future.

I have seen the program in action in Honduras.

Farmers who barely able to grow enough to feed their families were able improve their agricultural output under the Feed the Future program. I saw farmers install healthy stoves — designed to expel the smoke outside the house. The extra income was also used to improve the diets of the families, thereby making the children healthier and better able to learn. And the extra money was also used to educate the children so they can find better paying work when they graduate.

For less than a penny on the dollar, tens of thousands of people in Honduras were brought out of severe poverty — about $1 a day. The lives of these people was improved and their children were given opportunities to improve their future.

And this affects the U.S. how?

By giving young people a viable future, U.S. aid programs keeps them away from gangs — in particular the major syndicates that help move drugs into the United States. Also, by improving the local country’s economy, there are fewer reasons for young people to leave their country for the United States.

And to be clear, Feed the Future is not only for farmers. It works with people who have an idea for a company but who aren’t sure how to proceed.

Norma Linares owns Loma Alta, a thriving food processing enterprise that she and her husband founded in 2014 in their village of Azacualpa, Honduras. The husband and wife team turned about 300 plantains per month into chips, which they sold to local retail outlets. Home-based and family-run, the business started small, generating a net income of around $75 a month.

Soon after Loma Alta’s founding, Linares and her husband started working with a Feed the Future project, where they were introduced to a wide range of training and technical assistance to improve processing efficiency, quality control, and packaging in their business. Feed the Future also helped Loma Alta establish ties with market contacts, giving it year-round access to reliable buyers and a more steady income throughout the year.

Opportunities Sprout from Growing Plantain Business

Eventually the company expanded into other packaged foods and changed from a solely family business to one that hires people to package and sell their goods.

In just a few years this family moved firmly into the middle class in Honduras. And that means they will be able to buy U.S. products. It also means they will be staying in Honduras rather than making the dangerous journey to the U.S. to look for economic opportunities.

For about one cent on the dollar USAID (and the State Department) provide programs and assistance that helps build the economies of other countries, which in turn means more markets for U.S. goods AND reduced immigration.

So what is the more wasteful program: Building a wall and militarizing a border or providing assistance to people to work their way out of poverty?

Common sense says it is clearly the latter.

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Filed under Central America, Connections, Development, Story Ideas

New Provision Threatens VOA Editorial Independence

This item first appeared in the blog site of the SPJ International Committee

Politico reported this week a provision included in the just-passed National Defense Authorization Act would get rid of the bipartisan board running Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and other news outlets with a single CEO nominated by the president.

The Voice of America has had a long and strong reputation for presenting the news in a fair and balanced nature in spite of the political winds blowing in Washington. Efforts by administrations to slant the news or to not report events with the full vigor expected of journalists have all failed.

The independence of the VOA was first drafted in 1960 and then signed into law by Pres. Gerald R. Ford.

The Code of Ethics for VOA journalists is also very clear what their role is:

“VOA reporters and broadcasters must strive for accuracy and objectivity in all their work. They do not speak for the U.S. government. They accept no treatment or assistance from U.S. government officials or agencies that is more favorable or less favorable than that granted to staff of private-sector news agencies. Furthermore, VOA professionals, careful to preserve the integrity of their organization, strive for excellence and avoid imbalance or bias in their broadcasts.”

All this was possible because of the multi-party nature of the board of governors that controlled the VOA and other broadcast outlets. Now, according to the Political piece: “Essentially, Trump is finally getting his Trump TV — financed by taxpayers to the tune of $800 million per year.”

The SPJ stood up for the reporters and editors of VOA when the George W. Bush Administration tried to prevent VOA from interviewing and airing its exclusive interviews with the leadership of the Taliban just as the Afghanistan war was starting.

Numerous VOA reporters received the highest awards the SPJ offered for reporting over the years.

All this could change because of a provision slipped into the authorization bill by House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce. He argued the CEO structure would make VOA more efficient.

What it also does is make the VOA susceptible to pressure from the White House to become a propaganda organ rather than an honest news organization.

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Filed under International News Coverage, Press Freedom, SPJ

London-Based Chinese Journalist Defends Chinese Repression

No big surprise. A reporter for the official Chinese media defends the repressive actions of the Chinese government against a BBC reporter and an independent candidate for office in China.

The World According to a CCTV Journalist Based in London

The BBC event that sparked this reporter’s tirade is BBC stopped from visiting China independent candidate (Screen capture below.)

bbc

 

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Filed under Censorship, China, Freedom of access, Human Rights, International News Coverage, Press Freedom

Chinese Pollution Issues Stress Need For Free & Independent Media

The Chinese government leadership have a real problem. Technology is giving people and local groups more power to look into issues and to get the results of their investigations to a lot of people in a hurry.

The latest is a report that students at the Changzhou Foreign Language School in Changzhou in Jiangsu province were falling ill at an abnormal rate.

Chinese children ‘fall sick at new school’ (BBC – April 18, 2016)

The Chinese authorities are investigating reports that hundreds of children have become sick after their new school opened next to a former industrial site.

Nearly 500 Chinese children are reported to have developed dermatitis, blood abnormalities, leukaemia and lymphoma thought to be a result of air, soil and water toxins at their new school.

Now, government officials report there is nothing to the reports that reports the soil near the school tests chemical levels at 95,000 times the national limit.

Yep, nothing to see here.

The initial report — by state-run media — caused an uproar among Internet users. And a series of articles outside China.

Lack of concern about where or how construction takes place is a common issue in China. And with no method to keep an eye on the government — freedom of information laws or an independent media or opposition parties — there appears little people can do except pass information by the Internet or mobile phone texts.

 

Those Chinese residents able to breach the Great Firewall would have been able to read the two stories mentioned above from Hong Kong and the US. They also would have been able to read another SCMP piece on how more than 80 percent of the country’s groundwater is contaminated and unfit for human consumption.

While the government leadership officially says it wants to dig out corruption and that media outlets have a role in that campaign, it is also the official policy that the media must first serve the (Communist) Party, the government, then the people. So if the Party or government leadership decide that potentially contaminated soil might be the cause of abnormal illnesses among school children AND if that situation makes the Party or government leaders look bad, then the contamination must not really exist.

So now the official media are reporting that three months of testing has shown contamination levels are within normal limits.

And that, of course, begs the question: What are normal limits?

Looking at how China deals with air pollution we can see that their limits leave something to be desired.

The World Health Organization puts on upper limit of Particulate Matter 2.5 (particulates less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) at 35 micrograms per cubic meter. The U.S. Environmental Administration put the upper limit of “good” at 50 micrograms per cubic meter. China puts it upper limit of “good” at 75 micrograms per cubic meter.

These higher levels allowed the Chinese government to officially say Beijing, Shanghai and other major cities had a lot of “good” days. However, even Chinese researchers found something was wrong. The catalyst for real change came after the U.S. embassy in Beijing started taking its own pollution data and posting it online.

At first the URL — http://beijing.usembassy-china.org.cn/aqirecent3.html — was blocked by the Great Firewall of China. And the Chinese government complained the U.S. was interfering in China’s internal affairs. Eventually — and with the Olympics coming up — the government relented and once again allowed access to the site.

Chinese researchers have begun to look at the government data and the US embassy data to see just how bad pollution is and if it is improving. (The good news/bad news is that some changes for the good are taking place.)

The problem is that China still uses levels of “acceptance” that are way higher than the WHO and other industrial nations. This practice puts people’s lives in danger. And with the government tightening its grip on the news media, the people will have little chance of learning about how much danger.

And yes, Americans need to know about these situations because it can directly impact the quality of goods sold to the United States. And because more and more Americans are moving to China to work, study and vacation. We just have this weird idea that we should know the health risks of a place we are about to visit.

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Filed under Censorship, China, International News Coverage

Criminal Defamation Laws Hit Press Freedom

The growing use of criminal defamation laws around the world add to the general decline in press freedom.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has a great program called Critics are not Criminals. This is a worthy effort that deserves the support of not only all journalists but all civil libertarians.

The latest case is in Honduras. A reporter looked into an alleged corrupt local police chief. Television reporter Ariel Armando D’Vicente now faces three years in prison with an additional three-year ban on working as a journalist.

Unfortunately for too many journalists, they get hammered by the use of criminal defamation laws. A recent study by CPJ and Thomson Reuters Foundation showed the use of these laws has grown in the Americas.

When governments and individuals use the defamation/libel laws to exact criminal penalties, freedom of the press is hurt.

A basic rule in the United States is that truth is an absolute defense against libel or defamation. Yet in much of the rest of the world, even if everything said in an article is true, if the subject of the article can prove anyone thinks less of that person, he/she can sue AND get the reporter tossed in jail. (See: Different libel laws cause grief around the world.)

For reporters working around the world, knowledge of these laws is vital, especially freelancers. While reporters for major news organizations may be able to get legal help from the parent organization, a freelance caught up in these bad laws could be left hanging.

And, it is important to remember, this law does not only apply to journalists. A person having a bad experience in a country and saying so on Yelp or Facebook could lead to charges being filed. And satire is definitely a problem. Just ask the producers and writers of The Simpsons:

The government of Brazil sued the producers of the The Simpsons often. In a 2002 episode the Simpsons were in Brazil.  The family was robbed, eaten by snake, kidnapped and abused by monkeys. The Brazilian government sued. And the response of the Simpson team: More jokes about Brazil. And more lawsuits. None were successful — at least in the USA.

For some fun:

 

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Filed under Harassment, Human Rights, International News Coverage, Press Freedom