Monthly Archives: November 2009

Georgian journalists to sign charter of ethics

Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, journalists in many of the former republics of the USSR have been workign to free themselves of government control. Some have been more successful than others.

The journalists in Georgia (the country, not the state) have been one of the lucky ones. During the past few years they have worked with a number of Western organizations — including the U.S. State Department Public Diplomacy bureau — to run programs stressing independent and ethical journalism.

Now comes a formal ceremony of enacting a code of ethics. While creating a board to review how well journalists adhere to the code is not something we, in the United States, would ever accept, it is a good sign that the journalists in Georgia are concerned not only with independence from government control but also ethical behavior.

Georgian Journalists Charter of Ethics to be Signed on December 9


(From Media.ge. And please note who the sponsors are.)

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Threatened in Iran, coverage continues from Toronto

Thanks to Jim Romenesko at the Poynter Institute for a great story about the professional and personal anguish reporters trying to cover Iran have had to go through.

Canada is becoming a safe haven for the world’s exiled journalists

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ONI updates and clarifies a few points from the IGF fracas

A couple of days ago I posted a note about the United Nations trying to silence a group that has a book coming out on Internet censorship. (Now the U.N. gets into the censorship act) That group, the OpenNet Initiative, was told by United Nations’ officials at the Internet Governance Forum in Egypt that it would have to remove a poster advertising the book Access Controlled: The Shaping of Power Rights and Rule in Cyberspace. Seems the Chinese delegation objected to a prominent mention on the book cover of how China blocks Internet access within its borders.

ONI just published its version of events that clarifies what happened.

FAQ: What Happened at the Internet Governance Forum?

On November 15, at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Sharm El Sheikh (Egypt), OpenNet Initiative (ONI) partners were set to hold a reception for the as-yet-unreleased volume Access Controlled, in a room which ONI had been given permission to use for the event. As the reception was about to start, UN security officials requested that ONI remove their poster. These are questions we have compiled from ONI partners (including staff, principal investigators, and ONI Asia researchers) who were in attendance.

1. What was the purpose of the event?

The OpenNet Initiative will release a new book entitled Access Controlled: The Shaping of Power Rights and Rule in Cyberspace in early 2010. The book follows our previous volume, Access Denied: The Practice and Policy of Global Internet Filtering, and focuses on Internet filtering and surveillance policies around the globe.

2. Why did officials ask ONI to remove the poster?

ONI representatives were told that the banner had to be removed because of the reference to China. This was repeated on several occasions, in front of about two dozen witnesses and officials, including the UN Special Rapporteur For Human Rights, who asked that we send in a formal letter of
complaint.

Rest of report.

Looks as if some of the reporting of UN security guards tossing the ONI poster to the ground were wrong. What remains, however, is the fact that at the request of the Chinese government, the United Nations tried to ban a group critical of the way Beijing restricts Internet use in its country.

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New corruption index out

The 2009 Corruption Perception Index from Transparency International is out.

There are few surprises but, as always, loads of opportunities for stories.

By the new chart, New Zealand is the least corrupt place in the world, followed by Denmark, Singapore, Sweden and Switzerland. The United States ended up at #19 after the United Kingdom and Japan (tied for #17) and just ahead of Barbados at #20.

The bottom five rankings on the list:

  • Uzbekistan – 174
  • Chad – 175
  • Iraq and Sudan – 176
  • Myanmar – 178
  • Afghanistan – 179
  • Somalia – 180

Just a few of my personal favorites:

  • Dominican Republic – 99 (Tied with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Jamaica, Madagascar, Senegal, Tonga, and Zambia. Worse than Liberia and Sri Lanka at #97 and better than Argentina, Benin, Gabon, Gambia and Niger at #106.)
  • China – 79 (Tied with Bukino Faso. WOrse than Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Suriname at #75 but better than Swaziland and Trinidad and Tobago at #79)
  • Venezuela – 162 (Tied with Angola, Congo Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Kyrgyzstan. Worse than Cambodia, CEntral African Empire, Laos and Tajikistan at #158. Better than Burundi, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea, Haiti, Iran and Turkmenistan at #168.)

So why is all this important?

As TI points out the table is a comparison of corruption.

The rank shows how one country compares to others included in the index. The CPI score indicates the perceived level of public-sector corruption in a country/territory.

Using data from TI — including their Global Corruption Barometer — reporters can ask more probing questions about development and assistance programs. Another source could be the Millennium Challenge Corporation. (This is a U.S. funded agency that provides grants if — and only if — governments show real progress in improving governance, which included getting corruption under control.) Looking at the MCC grantees, you will notice that these countries fall in the mid-range of the TI charts.

The TI data from this year can also be compared with previous years. Now it becomes easier to see if a country has seriously addressed its corruption problems. Or has a country become more corrupt?

FYI, here are the differences between the 2009 report and the first report in 2001 for my favorites plus the United States:

  • United States: 2009 – #19; 2001 – #16
  • China: 2009 – #79; 2001 – #57
  • Dominican Republic: 2009 – 99; 2001 – #63
  • Venezuela: 2009 – #162; 2001 – #69

Maybe local reporters could interview immigrants in the United States about their perceptions of the fairness of the ranking of their home country. (Attention bean counters and “Local Local Local” advocates: This is local and it doesn’t cost any more than what you are already paying.)

The numbers tell us just so much. We have to go out and put faces and hearts to the numbers. And context.

(First published at Journalism and the World, the blog site for the SPJ International Journalism Committee.)

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Hello! Anyone awake? Anyone looking south?

One of the large immigrant populations in the United States comes from the Dominican Republic.

The U.S. is so important to the Dominican way of thinking that when someone says, “I’m going to the embassy,” everyone knows he means the U.S. embassy. (FYI: The “other” embassy is Spain. All other embassies have to be named.)

And do I really have to mention what the DomRep means to America? (Just look at any baseball team.)

And it is a major trading partner.

Here is the only Spanish-speaking democracy in the Caribbean. It is about to change its constitution in ways that have got a whole lot of Dominicans upset. And I mean seriously upset.

But have you seen any news from the island in the U.S. media about the process? About the issues? About the repercussions?

Well I haven’t. There is a lot of blog talk and news agencies with political agendas. Hell, Taiwan has given the process more coverage than the Americans.

Take a look at this simple Google search for news about the Dominican constitution.

I happen to know, because I keep in touch with such things, that many of the people who are opposed to the new constitution are talking about leaving the country. And where will they go? The US and Spain are the top two places.

I would think that given how physically close the DR and the US are at least one reporter might have picked up the phone and looked into this divisive issue.

But I was wrong.

As things stand, the new constitution — all 153 pages and 277 articles of it — has been approved by the legislature and is heading for its final reading by the president tomorrow.

What are some of the issues that make the constitution so controversial?

The big one is banning all abortions. No matter the reason for the pregnancy — rape, incest, health of mother, etc — no abortions will be allowed. Now this is a big victory for the Catholic Church and many fundamentalist churches. (And by the way, the influence of the fundamentalist churches in the DR has been growing dramatically in the past few years. But, once again, no one has bothered to write about it.)

In another move that will make the conservative religious happy, the constitution defines marriage as “the union between a man and a woman.” So much for gay rights. And yes, slowly the DR gay community has been coming out. Now I guess they will just get stuffed back into the closet.

It also strips the children of undocumented Haitian immigrants of their Dominican citizenship. This has always been a difficult issue. But the only time we saw any reporting about the Haitian-DR situation was when Haitians try to cross the border or someone raises a stink about the way the Haitian sugarcane workers are treated.

And for people who only think of the DR as a great place to go for the beaches, under the section “respecting the rights of private property” the new constitution declares that all beaches, rivers and water sources are part of the national heritage and belong to the people. Already there is talk of hitting the tourists with a R$35/day “beach tax.” (That may be dropped to a one-time payment instead of daily.)

The constitution weakens the already weak freedom of information law. It says the federal government will only release information which it deems to be true. This is similar to the Chinese law that makes it illegal for a reporter to speculate on why something happened within the government.

And the right Dominicans once had to sue their government for failing to live up to the constitution and laws of the land has been removed. The two major political parties agreed to the change.

President Fernandez is a buddy of Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro. A lot of us had much better hopes for him. But now it looks as if he is taking the DR down the path of a (and this really is weird) a religious state with left-wing ideology.

Seriously folks, how difficult is it to make a few calls just to check in and see how things are going?

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Why Americans don’t know much about the world.

Let’s face it, coverage of the rest of the world by US media outlets sucks.

There is a great web site — Media Cloud — that lets you see how often a news organization mentions a country. You can even set up comparisons. The darker the color, the more stories mentioning that country.

To make life easy for folks I ran a few comparisons.

The Washington Post v. The New York Times v. BBC

We expect the United States to be a major part of the Post and Times coverage. It is the non-USA coverage that is interesting.

New York Times

Washington Post

BBC

And now let’s look at broadcasters:

ABC News v. CBS News v. BBC

NBC was not on the list. Notice how Latin American, except for Venezuela hardly exists for CBS. And maybe ABC is better because of their mini-bureaus. And Africa hardly exists for either of the U.S. broadcasters.

ABC News

CBS News

BBC

And lastly, let’s take a look at the big cable operations

CNN v. Fox v. BBC

CNN is the clear winner in the U.S. cable company race but both Fox and CNN pale compared to the BBC.

CNN

Fox News

BBC

And just for fun, I wanted to see how Voice of America and the BBC compared to each other. I know that VOA cannot, by law, direct its broadcasts to a U.S. audience, but like the BBC they are a government backed organization with a charter guaranteeing their editorial independence.

VOA

BBC

Bottom line is that the BBC outshines the U.S. news organizations. With limited coverage — and much of it superficial, focusing on wars, coups  and natural disasters instead of politics, economics and society — is it any wonder that most Americans have little or no information about what is really going on in the world? I wonder when the media organizations will catch up to the rest of the world and see that with globalization and instant communication, knowing the political, social and economic situation of other countries is vital to an informed American public.

And when will the media bean counters understand coverage of the rest of the world does not mean sending someone overseas.

The growing immigrant population in the United States offers so many opportunities to expand foreign coverage. Tie in AP or other wire copy with a local ethnic community and you have a foreign affairs story with a local angle.

Or pay attention to just who owns the local factories. For example, don’t you think it would be worthwhile for the Marysville, Ohio, newspaper to run a few stories — from the wires — about what is happening in Japan? After all, Marysville is ground zero for Honda in the United States. And examples galore are all over the country.

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To Tweet or not to Tweet

Just posted an item in the SPJ International Journalism blog.

Seems a few people were wondering what will happen to the press corps that is following Pres. Obama to China when they run up against the Great Firewall of China and China’s regular attempts to keep Twitter and Facebook away from the masses.

Looks as if they got through.

Tweets allowed during Obama visit

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