Monthly Archives: November 2009

No surprise, but glad to see more reporting on Russian government control of media.

Soviet-era media control persists

From Variety 11/29/09

It’s nice to see different U.S. media outlets talking about the growing problem of how the Russian government seems to be working harder and harder to get the news organizations under its thumb.

As the article points out, there was a brief period of freedom in the 90s. That was quickly smashed.

Journalists in Russia are not only facing growing censorship of their work, they are also facing the ultimate form of censorship: death. And the government has done little to arrest, try and jail the killers.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, odds are on the side of murders of journalists in Russia. Fifty-two journalists have been killed in Russia since 1992, 32 were murdered and 32 killed with impunity.

Killers are convicted in just one in 17 slayings since 2000. Victims include acclaimed reporter Anna Politkovskaya


The issue of unsolved killings hit the media outside Russia. The CPJ prepared a special report on the topic: Anatomy of Injustice: The Unsolved Killings of Journalists in Russia

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Georgia journalists to sign Charter of Ethics 12/4

Anyone going to Tblisi this week?

Georgian journalists are signing a charter of ethics Dec. 4. They received a lot of help from European journalists in drafting the document. (Does that mean taking all of August off is now an ethical issue?)

Financing for the work came from a number of sources including the US embassy in Tblisi and the National Endowment for Democracy.

Nice to see U.S. taxpayers’ money being wisely spent.

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Iraqi government tries to bypass media

The leadership in Iraq is not used to the idea of free media and media criticism. So rather than deal more openly with the media it is just going straight to YouTube — and not allow any comments.

Something tells me they still don’t get this democracy/free press thing.

Iraq to counter “lies”, show successes via YouTube

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Obama and China: Did the US media get it wrong?

Howard French, formerly of the New York Times, seems to think so.

The China Herald bog talks about French’s interview with the Columbia Journalism Review about the coverage of the U.S. president’s trip to China.

Here are the CJR reprots:

One of the complaints French had about the coverage was the lack of context:

It doesn’t give a realistic impression of what past behavior was like, diplomatically speaking, and what it achieved when we were really vocal and remonstrative; and it also doesn’t—in this critical, immediate insta-pundit analysis of what Obama achieved—it doesn’t allow for the fact that he, himself, said what he was going to do before he got on the airplane, so to what extent did his behavior actually fit the pattern of his own announced style and agenda? It’s like the press is on its own script without reference to either history or Obama’s announced intentions.

And this is surprising?

This is a constant complaint about international coverage — at least by many of us who think the rest of the world matters. Editors back home don’t seem to care. International process stories don’t sell papers or on-air ads. What is the local local local angle and stay with that.

And yet, the context of what is going on in China and in other countries is important to understand the news of today.

(First published at the blog of the SPJ International Journalism Committee)

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Dictatorship 101: Control all means of communication

After getting burned by all those Tweets following the national elections last summer, the Iranian government is taking steps to see that they don’t lose control again.

Iran Expanding Effort to Stifle the Opposition

The government uses the usual gun-thug technique to crack the heads of the opposition. It is also setting up 6,000 military centers in elementary schools to “promote the ideals of the Islamic revolution.” And it has turned over control of land line phone systems, the Internet and mobile phone companies.

A company affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards acquired a majority share in the nation’s telecommunications monopoly this year, giving the Guards de facto control of Iran’s land lines, Internet providers and two cellphone companies. And in the spring, the Revolutionary Guards plan to open a news agency with print, photo and television elements.

The power-hungry leaders complain that the root of the country’s domestic ills are because of Western subversion, especially in the form of cultural subversion. (Damn, those Barbie dolls.)

The arguments are the same with any dictator. In China the government wants to control the message and messenger to protect social stability and fight spiritual pollution. In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez wants to control the media to make sure the people are not influenced by Yankee imperialist thought and are properly schooled in Bolivarian revolutionary thought.

It really doesn’t matter what the background ideology is, the bottom line is that dictators of all stripes don’t like a free press. After all, once people start getting more than one side of a story, they might actually start thinking about changing leaders.

Maybe the Iranians will learn what the Chinese and Venezuelans are already experiencing. The harder they try to control the lines of communication, the more ridiculous they look to the world and their own people. The truth always leaks out. And in.

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Update: 12 journalists part of Philippine massacre

Philippines political violence leaves 21 dead

Twenty-one politicians and journalists who were abducted in the southern Philippines have been found dead.

Full story from the BBC

Jesus Dureza, adviser to President Gloria Arroyo in the volatile Mindanao region, said it was “a gruesome massacre of civilians unequalled in recent history”.

He recommended that a state of emergency be imposed in the area.

In a statement, Mrs Arroyo condemned the violence and said no effort would be spared to find those responsible.

“Civilised society has no place for this kind of violence,” she said.

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China’s suppression of media documented in latest report to Congress

Each year the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission reports to Congress on what is going on in China as it affects business, economic and security policy.

Happily enough this commission sees free media as a vital part of all three.

Chapter 4 of the report (CHINA’S MEDIA AND INFORMATION CONTROLS—THE IMPACT IN CHINA AND THE UNITED STATES) documents loads of ways the Chinese government restricts access to information and harasses media workers.

Lots of good examples of how Beijing gives one thing with words and takes away a lot with deeds.

Quick examples:

  • Despite a policy that allows foreign journalists access to more areas outside the major cities, journalists have been blocked from entering areas, been arrested or harassed by national and local officials to prevent the journalists from doing their jobs.
  • Harassment can take the form of constant surveillance to silly — but effective — actions such has having plainclothes police walk in front of news cameras with open umbrellas.
  • A new “code of ethics” for Chinese news assistants and interpreters requires only transmission of  “positive information,” forbids independent reporting and reminds the Chinese staffers that nothing can be broadcast or published until it is first released by the official government news agencies.
  • E-mails were sent to news assistants that included trojan horse software that would allow an outsider to gain control of the assistant’s computer in the news bureau.
  • And there is always the traditional method of security forces just breaking into the rooms of journalists and beating them.

The report goes on, documenting these and other ways the Chinese government harasses and seeks to control all media activities in the country.

And there is also the Great Firewall of China.

The efforts by the ruling clique in China to control all aspects of information and communication has led it to run the largest censoring operation in the world. Hundreds if not thousands of government security bureaucrats monitor the Internet for signs of “spiritual pollution” or subversion. And the Chinese government definition for both of those “crimes” is anything that might smell of independent thought or criticism of the government.

The commission summary of the media section is a damning indictment of the way China conducts business:

  • The January 2007 media reforms instituted in response to international pressure leading up to the Summer Olympics Games in Beijing and extended indefinitely in October 2008 have resulted in modest improvements in the working conditions for foreign journalists in China, but their effect has been limited because of the Chinese government’s selective implementation and adoption of new strategies for restricting the flow of information.
  • The January 2007 reforms have not improved working conditions for Chinese journalists, who remain subject to intimidation, harassment, violence, and imprisonment, often on vaguely defined ‘‘state secrets’’ charges.
  • The Chinese government is employing a diverse array of strategies for silencing or guiding discussion about issues it considers
    politically sensitive.
  • The Internet has emerged as a contested space in China. It provides a venue for discussion that is more open than traditional media but is also subject to the world’s most sophisticated Web filtering system. The Chinese government’s insecurity about Internet-enabled protests and the increased scrutiny of government officials on the Web has prompted the government to add additional elements to its already advanced Internet control system.
  • The case of Green Dam demonstrates that even if the Chinese government had the technological capability to assert complete control over the Internet, it would not necessarily have the political clout to achieve this end. Furthermore, the case of Green Dam demonstrates that the Chinese government is not immune to pressure on information control issues from the international community.

And as expected, the Chinese government blasted the report as interfering in the internal affairs of China. The only thing that was missing from the usual screed is the standard, “and this insults all Chinese people in the world.”

One of these days the ruling cadres in Beijing will understand that they can no longer completely control the message and be engaged with the rest of the world. Thanks to the Internet and mobile phones, the ability to control every piece of information is gone. But that little bit of reality doesn’t mean they won’t keep trying.

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