Monthly Archives: January 2010

China fires back

I am not sure where to start. I have always known that the same words carry different definitions between the U.S. and China. (Words such as “democracy” and “free elections.”) So it is really no surprise that what Beijing considers “the facts” are not so.

Reuters reports from Beijing:

“The U.S. has criticized China’s policies to administer the Internet and insinuated that China restricts Internet freedom,” said spokesman Ma Zhaoxu. “This runs contrary to the facts and is harmful to China-U.S. relations.”

So China does NOT block social media sites and other sites on the Internet?

According to the Chinese foreign ministry’s reality, yep.

According to the real world, nope. (Again, Reuters)

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are blocked in China, which uses a filtering “firewall” to prevent Internet users from seeing overseas web sites with content anathema to the Communist Party.

And, according to Herict.org, even the official Google blog is being block by the Great Firewall of China. And oddly enough, even the earthquake page of the USGS is being blocked. (Oh yeah, the USGS site has information about the Sichuan earthquake of 2008.)

The reaction came after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a speech at the Newseum on the importance of Internet freedom. (View the speech here.)

Some Chinese media launched immediate attacks on Clinton’s speech but the tirades were quickly pulled off their web pages. The move seems to indicate that the political leadership of the country hasn’t decided what the official line should be yet.

China’s censorship of the Internet has come under more scrutiny after Google accused Chinese hackers of breaking into e-mail accounts and other companies’ computers. Google also said it would no longer cooperate with Chinese censorship rules that block anything the Chinese government considers subversive, such as discussions of the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations or press freedom.

China seems to want to deal with the issue as a commercial dispute between it and an errant company.

Additional reporting:

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English-Language Editor of Palestinian News Agency Deported from Israel

The end of a two-week long dispute between the Israeli government and the editor of the English section of Ma’An News Agency ended with the editor’s deportation Wednesday.

The International Press Institute reports that Jared Malsin was detained at the Ben Gurion International Airport January 12 after returning from a holiday in Europe.

The Israeli authorities have accused Malsin of entering Israel illegally, “refusal to cooperate,” “lying to border officials,” “exploiting his Jewishness to get into Israel,” and “entering Israel on the basis of lies,” according to Ma’an sources.

The Israeli authorities also noted that Malsin wrote articles from within the Palestinian territories, including reports criticizing Israel. Press freedom groups including IPI, as well as Malsin’s colleagues at the news agency, are concerned that this is the real reason behind his deportation. Ma’an Editor-in-Chief Nasser Allaham told IPI that the Israeli authorities “knew he was a journalist working in the Palestinian media, and they don’t want our English page to be strong.”

A number of journalism and human rights groups condemned the detention and deportation. IFEX provides a history of the case and a list of statements from support groups.

Ma’an was founded in 2005. According to the Ma’an site:

Ma’an News Agency is an integral part of Ma’an Network, a non-profit media organization founded in 2002 to strengthen professional independent media in Palestine, build links between local, regional and international media, and consolidate freedom of expression and media pluralism as keys to promoting democracy and human rights. Ma’an Network is a partnership between independent journalists throughout Palestine, including nine local television stations and nine local radio stations. In addition to MNA, its activities include television, video, and radio production, and training courses for Palestinian journalists and media personnel.

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Local-Global: 1985 Mexico City quake led to better SAR

Throughout the Haiti rescue efforts mentions are made of search and rescue teams from Fairfax Co., Los Angeles, Florida, etc. These are volunteers who receive special training and are self-contained SAR units.

And it all started when the ad-hoc SAR efforts in Mexico City in 1985 proved dangerous.

I know the 1985 process was dangerous and ad-hoc because I was there. I worked with dog search teams from around the USA, an underground camera team from the US Bureau of Mines and a seismic sensor team from USGS.

The Mexico earthquake was the first time any of these teams worked in an urban disaster environment. And with no training for any of us in an urban disaster situation, we went out to save lives.

Along the way, because so much help was coming in and Mexican coordination of efforts was weak at best, I was able to identify an Israeli medical team and a Venezuelan construction team. In the end we had a comprehensive unit of dogs, technology experts, 8excavation workers and a medical unit.

The video below from Fairfax County makes it clear it was the Mexico disaster that showed the need for comprehensive SAR teams ready to go at a moments notice.

And I am sure the survivors in Haiti are thankful that the lessons learned in Mexico are being applied now.

I have to think that many of the people who are critical of the SAR and relief efforts in Haiti really don’t understand what happens to a place that has always had poor infrastructure and communications gets hit with a major

For journalists in the DC area, the members of the Fairfax SAR team are prime candidates for profile stories.

For journalists elsewhere, look around. I will bet there is a similar outfit in your area.

First posted at Mason J-Roundup, a blog for journalism education.

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Medill students, the Census and immigrant communities

Now these guys get it! These kids delivered — for me — the journalism equivalent of a Reese’s Cup: two great tastes in one wonderful package.

I don’t know how long I have argued that the immigrant communities are important elements of any community reporting.

And how long have I argued that the Census Bureau is a wonderful treasure-trove of story ideas? A long long time!

Six Stories About the Census: How Medill students and local ethnic papers came together to find a common immigrant experience

These students looked at different ethnic communities and how they view and react to the decennial census.

From the six papers:
Jessica Abels, Raphaelle Neyton, and Shasha Zou in al Moustaqbil (“The Future”): “When Arab Americans fill out their census forms in just a few months, they won’t find an Arab category listed next to Asian, Black or African American, or White. ‘Arab is not considered a race, so there’s no racial category,’ explains Louise Cainkar, a board member of the Arab American Action Network. ‘They have to check the white box, and a lot of people feel that their experience is not the white experience, so that’s unfair.'”

Kate Endeley and Clara Lingle in the Korea Central Daily News: “Han and Kim cite many reasons why Koreans who are not U.S. citizens opt out of participating: they are undocumented and therefore fear the legal repercussions; they struggle with English (the 2000 census forms did not come in a Korean version); they find the participation process too tedious or they are unaware of the census itself.”

Zoe Jennings in Pinoy: “Many Filipinos may not understand the importance of the count because in the Philippines, there is no census equivalent and they had never been counted. In providing the government with their name and family information, Clarito says, many Filipinos fear that the government is keeping tabs on them, or at the very least, will demand they perform jury duty or another civic duty.”

Jessica Allen in the India Tribune: “Kamaria said many people don’t know why the census matters, and that in general it needs to be better explained. Even she expressed uncertainty about how the census would affect illegal immigrants who choose to fill out the forms and whether illegal immigrants or students are even supposed to fill it out.”

Matthew Bellassai and Alex Hollander in Extra: “Although the Census is separate from the rest of the government, people tend to associate the two. ‘It’s all “the government” as far as anyone’s concerned,’ Espinoza said. ‘”The government wants to charge me more taxes, the government wants to get me arrested for immigration purposes.” There’s no distinction there,’ he said. Many people in the community tend to agree.”

Arianna Hermosillo and Nadine Shabeeb in the Polish Daily News: “Another barrier to filling out the census form is that people may not even recognize it when it arrives in the mail, according to Zajaczowska. ‘We will have to teach them that the Census 2010 means “Spis Powszechny,”‘ Zajaczowska said. This literally translates to ‘common list’ which is what the census is called in Poland.”

While the theme of this exercise did not look at what can be done with Census Bureau data, the very fact that these students looked at the Census and the ethnic communities tells me they have a lot more on the ball than many of their more jaded and less imaginative journalism cronies.

First posted at a blog site for journalism education at George Mason University.

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Haitian radio keeps running despite earthquake

In Haiti, Signal FM staff keeps station running

Signal FM is the only Haitian radio station to continuously broadcast during and after the powerful 7.0-magnitude earthquake that ravaged the capital, Port-au-Prince, and surrounding areas on January 12. Signal’s online news service kept operating as well. The station’s equipment, located in Petionville (east of Port-au-Prince) remained in service, withstanding, remarkably, tremors to the building and broadcasting aerials. But the true credit goes to the station’s staff members, who made extraordinary efforts and great sacrifices to inform the public during a period of chaos, the station’s managing director, Mario Viau, told CPJ.

Rest of story at CPJ.

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More than half a billion Internet users are being filtered worldwide

A new posting from the OpenNet Initiative on Internet access.

Currently, more that 40 countries are filtering the Internet to varying degrees, while a number of others, including Australia, Iraq, and Spain, are considering enacting filtering policies. So, just how many people are censored online around the world? We have estimated a number based on the number of Internet users that reside in countries which practice substantial filtering–in terms of the number of sites and/or type of content blocked. The number we have come up with is 563,018,414

If you want to see a real-time listing of how and where Internet sites are being blocked, go to HerdictWeb.

You can even participate in the ongoing efforts to identify who is blocking what.

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Filed under Censorship, Freedom of access, Press Freedom

Local-Global: The science and humanity of earthquakes and SAR

We have all been watching events in Haiti and have been overwhelmed by the death and destruction we have seen in the news casts.

Along with reporting what is going on the world media have played an important role in publicizing legitimate organizations that are trying to save the people of Haiti.

But one thing struck me last night as I was watching CNN, I have not seen any stories about the search and rescue teams or about the techniques and equipment used to save lives. (Granted, I am in Brazil and don’t get all the same news channels Americans get, but I try to keep up.)

And when I say stories about the teams, I mean more than the “A team from Fairfax County, Virginia pulled out three survivors today,” kind of story.

  • Who are these people?
  • Where do they come from?
  • Why did they volunteer to do this?

As I watched CNN last night, the reporter mentioned the dog search teams and the seismic sensor team used to find survivors. (More on this in a bit.) The reporter focused on how there might be a survivor in the wreckage of a particular building. That would have been a great opportunity to explain to the viewers the range of human, animal and scientific efforts being used to save lives.

That seismic equipment is pretty cool. I first saw it in use in Mexico City in 1985. The gear was developed to find trapped miners. The Mexico quake was the first time it was ever used in an urban natural disaster setting.

Reporters in Haiti have also mentioned fiber optic cameras that have been used to probe into the recesses of the collapsed buildings.

Once again, this technology was developed by the US Bureau of Mines for — you guessed it — saving miners. And — once again you guessed it — it was first used in an urban disaster in Mexico City. Today the camera and lights are hair thin. Back then “small” was the size of a tennis ball.

Mexico was also the first time dog search teams were used in this kind of situation.

And I know this because I worked with each of these teams while we tried to rescue people from the rubble in that earthquake. And none of these teams came from major metropolitan areas. The seismic and camera teams came from West Virginia and rural Pennsylvania. (Where the mines are.)

At the time, no one was sure if any of this stuff would work in such a disaster zone. The technicians and dog handlers had to try different things to and ways until they got it right. And the benefits were many more lives saved.

Maybe because of the novelty of the use of this equipment, there were stories as the rescue efforts were winding down in Mexico. By day 6 each of the main US networks had done a story about either the dog teams or the seismic and camera teams.

The technology has progressed a lot in 25 years. But one thing remains constant: each member of the rescue teams, technicians and dog handlers has a normal life.

Another thing is clear: the people who developed and fine tune the seismic sensors and cameras are in the States working away with little recognition of their efforts. They know what they did saved lives. But how many other people know?

How about some stories from the States about the people who train the dogs? Who designed and built the sensors or underground cameras? And of course, about those who use the equipment?

To the journalists in the home towns of the rescue teams:

  • Where is the curiosity about WHO these people are?
  • Where is the curiosity about WHAT goes into training these people?
  • Where is the curiosity about WHERE they got their training and WHERE they have gone before?
  • Where is the curiosity about WHEN they and the local, state or national government got interested in setting up an SAR team and how to properly equip it?
  • Where is the curiosity about HOW the rescuers are doing their jobs?
  • Where is the curiosity about WHY they have volunteered for such dangerous work? And WHY a local government set up a special SAR team?

And then there is the science of an earthquake.

I was struck to see that Michigan Tech — about as far away from any fault line and Haiti as one can get — released a simple article

The piece provided simple and concise explanations about the science of an earthquake.

Journalists don’t have to travel to Haiti to report on what happened or how people are being saved. A few phone calls and a Google search can get info on the equipment used. (In less than 2 seconds I found three or four companies that provide the seismic sensors to FEMA, Bureau of Mines and other SAR teams.)

A few phone calls to a local university or even community college can get an expert to talk about what happens in an earthquake and why the ones that occurred last week were so deadly. (Besides the epicenter being at a major population center the first two quakes were shallow. Look it up yourself as to why that is important information.)

First posted at the SPJ International Journalism blog.

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