Monthly Archives: February 2010

Where is the coverage?

For the past month Brazil newspapers have had screaming headlines about the corruption charges and impeachment proceedings of the governor of the country’s capital state and then the subsequent resignations of the #2 and #3 in the state government. (In USA terms it’s like the president, vice president and speaker of the house all being caught in the same scandal and being forced to resign.)

Reuters has carried the stories. AP did one story about the arrest of the governor and NOTHING about the remaining people caught up in the scandal.

The charges come not from the “usual” accusations of corruption but from a series of video tapes documenting the governor and others stuffing money in their pockets and socks. (Characters of politicians with money showing out of the tops of over-stuffed socks were popular in this year’s carnival parades.)

Brazil was just host to the US attorney general. Will receive the secretary of state. And is expecting a few more cabinet officials in the near future. So where is the coverage of what is going on in Brazil’s capital?

Brazil is a major trading partner. Brazil is needed to help get sanctions against Iran. Brazil is important to a number of important international issues.

And what does the US media cover? The latest Paris Hilton beer ad in Brazil.

And the reason I am not doing the reporting is first, I do not speak Portuguese. Rather hard to do interviews with most of the players involved. Second, my wife is a US diplomat and it is difficult to cover an issue that is heavily covered by the US diplomats without a handful of people thinking that I also work for the embassy.

But there are reporters in place. And some are doing stories. Why aren’t we seeing them in the USA news?

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It ain’t only US media getting hit hard — BBC announces cutbacks

The Times Online reports today that the BBC will be closing two radio station and shut down half of its website. It will also cut back on importing popular American programs.

Unlike the U.S. media outlets, however, the BBC is cutting entertainment programs. Nothing in the Times story indicates that news gathering will be affected.

Yes, I know this is hardly a fair comparison. The BBC is after all a state-run entity. But then again so is VOA. And it always seems that it is the news gathering section of VOA that gets put under the knife in favor of more entertainment programs.

BBC signals an end to era of expansion

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ABC News: What about the 1-person foreign bureaus?

The big news from ABC is that 300-400 people are being let go in the news division. But so far I have not heard anything about the revolutionary mini-bureaus ABC set up about three years ago.

Back in 2007 ABC News struck a blow for increased foreign coverage. They became the only U.S. organization — other than NPR — that actually INCREASED its overseas presence.  The organization created 1-person bureaus around the world. The move was bold and took advantage of evolving technology to increase international reporting.

The second graf of the January 2008 AJR piece on the move told the whole story:

“We are fixers, shooters, reporters, producers and bureau chiefs,” says ABC correspondent Dana Hughes from her home office in Nairobi, Kenya. She and her colleagues in these one-reporter bureaus will record, edit and transmit their own audio and video reports from Nairobi; Jakarta, Indonesia; Mumbai and New Delhi, India; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Seoul, South Korea; and Dubai, United Arab Emirates, as well as from neighboring countries. Their new assignments come at a time of ever-dwindling resources for foreign news and mark the network’s largest overseas expansion in 20 years.

The whole idea, David Westin, ABC News president told The Hollywood Reporter, is that technology makes it possible to have a bureau without a large staff or office space.

A reporter with a high-def camera and digital recorder, a good laptop computer and good editing software can do a major story alone. No need for the large support staff and office space and equipment once needed from the film-reporting days.

Hughes Nairobi wanted to be a part of the experiment from the beginning, according to Reuters. For her the focus is the story.

“We’re not going to be in a studio, we’re not going to have people do our makeup,” Hughes said. “The challenge for us on-camera is making sure that we find a great story and report it — reporting it in a way that people are going to watch.” She thinks it’s a myth that Americans aren’t interested in foreign news.

So far, in all the talk about the cuts at ABC News, I have not seen one mention of the mini-bureaus. Interviews with Westin don’t get to this point.

The mini-bureaus seemed to have even been a prototype of what ABC News is now saying they need in the domestic bureaus:

Forced to belt-tighten by the weak advertising market, network executives have opted to restructure the labor-heavy newsroom from top to bottom in favor of a leaner, more nimble operation, according to multiple sources. Many of those remaining in the pared-down news division will be expected to both produce and shoot their own stories, acting as “one-man bands,” a model increasingly being adopted in television news. — L.A. Times


Westin told The Times that he “would never want to pretend that this is going to be easy for anyone.” But, he added, technology “makes it possible for us to gather and produce the news in a different way that either maintains the editorial quality or enhances it but requires fewer people.”

So I ask: What about the foreign mini-bureaus?

The creation of the mini-bureaus did not mean a massive increase in international reporting for the nightly ABC News broadcast. But they did provide more international news for the ABC News web site. With the mini-bureaus ABC was no longer dependent on outside sources for news beyond America’s borders or parachute journalism.

The move to create the bureaus seemed — at the time — to show ABC News was serious about covering the rest of the world.

And now in the coverage of this massive reduction if force at ABC News, I ask again: What about the mini-bureaus?

Maybe those interviewing ABC sources do not know these bureaus exist. Or maybe they don’t care.

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PLA officer wants tighter control of Internet in China

Maybe he was just upset that a “foreign devil” could track back the hacks to their origin in China. Or he just wants to make sure the PLA has a bigger role in strengthening the Great Firewall of China.

China PLA officer urges new Internet control agency

“Lawless elements and hostile forces at home and abroad have increasingly turned to the Internet to engage in crime, disruption, infiltration, reactionary propaganda and other sabotage activities,” Army Major General Huang Yongyin wrote.

Note the inclusion of “reactionary propaganda” with “crime” and “sabotage.”

To the Chinese government way of thinking, an Internet free of controls and censorship is reactionary, criminal and can sabotage the power structure.

The more I read this and other reports about Gen. Huang’s article the more I think he is really upset that the work of the Chinese hackers could be traced back so quickly with specificity. So, he says, China needs to strengthen its control of the Internet.

Notice the term is “control.” Not “build stronger firewalls to protect national secrets.” But control.

Showing again (from the “Well Duh!” Department) that the leadership in Beijing is afraid of their people getting uncensored information from many sources and will use any excuse to keep the Great Firewall up and running.

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What aid works — and doesn’t

The stories of the devastation in Haiti pulls at everyone’s heartstrings — well most people’s.

And many want to know what they can do to help. As Presidents Bush and Clinton said over and over: “Send money.”

Money makes the most sense 99.9 percent of the time when natural disasters strike. The money raised can be used to purchase LOCAL products that fit the LOCAL needs and provide income for LOCAL people. (Notice how I got the media bean counter mantra in there?)

Matthew Collin wrote an informative piece last week for Foreign Policy magazine on this very issue.

How Not to Help Haiti

Sending your old, useless stuff to a disaster zone is exactly that: useless — and a disaster.

I know there have been a number of stories on the national level about this exact issue. But too many local stories have been about church or civic groups gathering blankets, shoes, medicine, toys, etc as a way to help.

Perhaps, if the local media ran more stories about what the real needs are, there would be fewer episodes of wasted time and money on relief packages that are inappropriate and often useless.

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Congressional resolution shows pro-censorship attitude

This morning Fareed Zakaria at GPS on CNN raised an interesting issue previously talked about in this place and at Foreign Policy.

There is a resolution moving through Congress — already passed by the House — that would make the United States government arbiter of “fair” reporting.

The resolution — HR 2278 — states:

It shall be the policy of the United States to–

(1) designate as Specially Designated Global Terrorists satellite providers that knowingly and willingly contract with entities designated as Specially Designated Global Terrorists under Executive Order 13224, to broadcast their channels, or to consider implementing other punitive measures against satellite providers that transmit al-Aqsa TV, al-Manar TV, al-Rafidayn TV, or any other terrorist owned and operated station;

(2) consider state-sponsorship of anti-American incitement to violence when determining the level of assistance to, and frequency and nature of relations with, all states; and

(3) urge all governments and private investors who own shares in satellite companies or otherwise influence decisions about satellite transmissions to oppose transmissions of telecasts by al-Aqsa TV, al-Manar TV, al-Rafidayn TV, or any other Specially Designated Global Terrorist owned and operated stations that openly incite their audiences to commit acts of terrorism or violence against the United States and its citizens.

Zakaria notes on his web page and on-air commentary:

A bill that passed the House with only three dissenting votes might set the stage for a crackdown on anti-american media, deeming them “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” groups. Given a “crisis of governance,” Fareed questions whether this is the best use of Congress’s time and wonders at a world in which the US Congress is against free speech while Arab countries are for it.

Marc Lynch made a similar point a month ago:

A meeting of Arab Information Ministers at the Arab League in Cairo yesterday rejected a Congressional resolution calling for sanctions against Arab satellite television stations which allegedly incite terrorism or promote anti-Americanism. It would be pretty pathetic that the Arab League — the Arab League!! — is taking a stronger position in favor of media freedoms than the U.S. Congress. But don’t worry — leading Arab states still seem quite keen to find their own Arab ways to repress and control the media.

I join with Lynch in saying I have no doubt that the Arab countries are keen on keeping their media in line and therefore, I have no great love for those governments.

But for the U.S. Congress to advocate the U.S. government engage in censorship is outrageous.

In this commentary today, Zakaria noted that the issue is getting more international coverage than U.S. domestic. In fact, a quick Google search shows that ONLY the the Library of Congress, the international press and a few Arab-American organizations have anything to say about it.

The Washington Post has it on it calendar but no story.

Granted the resolution still has to pass through the Senate. Hopefully the Senate Foreign Affairs committee will kill the bill and make a stand against censorship. But when has an American politician ever earned points standing up against a motion that sounds anti-terrorist?

The move is bad. As Zakaria pointed out, CNN could end up on the list whenever it does its job of interviewing people in the Arab world.

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Filed under Censorship, International News Coverage, Middle East, Press Freedom

DR and Haiti stories: Where’s the context?

One of the most important things good journalists can provide to any story is context.

  • Helping readers/viewers/listeners understand WHY something happened.
  • Explaining the connections of different actions that lead to the results in the story.
  • Providing background and history to an event

There has been a lot of ink and electrons spent talking about the Baptist missionaries who were arrested in Haiti and the subsequent release of 10 of those held. is doing a two-part series on one of the released missionaries. (‘Next thing you know, they put us all in jail’: Allen tells of Haiti trip)

At first I was happy that a local paper picked up a local angle to a much larger story. But as I read the piece — more of just a Q&A instead of a real article — I was disappointed.)

Nothing in the introduction talks about the local and international laws involved in the case.

Nothing in the introduction talks about the hostility that exists between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. (Despite it being mentioned by the subject of the article.)

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