Monthly Archives: August 2010

DomRep Paper Sold

The 121-year old Listin Diario was sold to a group of investors this week.

According to the BusinessWeek article, two of the owners are Juan Bautista Vicini Lluberes and media mogul Jose Luis “Pepin” Corripio. Vicini owns the sugar interests in the Dominican Republic.

The buyers are taking the paper off the hands of the Dominican government.

The government got the paper after banker Ramon Baez Figueroa, head of Banco Intercontinental, almost alone caused the economic collapse of the country’s economy in 2003.

Figueroa bought the paper in 2000. The government took over Figueroa’s holdings, including the paper.

Just how fair and balanced the paper will be is up for debate given the power and influence of its investors.

The Vicini family has been notorious for trying to stop any investigations of the treatment their Haitian workforce in the sugar fields. They have petitioned the Dominican government and the Vatican to have a “troublesome priest” removed.

The Vicinis also worked VERY hard to stop circulation of the movie, The Price of Sugar, around the world. The family claimed the movie, which accurately depicted the destitute situation of the Haitian workers in the sugar fields.

What the Vicinis don’t own in the Dominican Republic, the joke goes, the Corripios do.

With the exception of the now defunct Clave Digital most newspapers in the Dominican un-ashamedly pull their punches when it comes to economic issues affecting their owners. (And show me a U.S. newspaper that does any different at times.)

It will be interesting to see what Listin does now that it is owned by the most powerful economic forces in the country. (Why do I think there will be fewer reports on corporate corruption?)

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Filed under International News Coverage, Press Freedom

No Surprise: Singapore arrests blogger who posted anti-government notes on Facebook

Seems that the government of the very “fine” land of Singapore — fines for littering, fines for chewing gum, fines for walking on the grass, etc. — remains intolerant of anyone saying something bad about it or the ruling party.

Abdul Malik Ghazali was arrested after he posted comments on Facebook critical of how Singapore is running the inaugural Youth Olympic Games. Special attention was paid in those comments to the minister for community development, youth and sports.

AFP reports (Singaporean arrested for anti-gov’t remarks on Facebook) that Malik’s postings on his own Facebook page highlighted recent floods in Singapore, the escape of detained terror suspect Mas Selamat Kastari, the amount of money spent to host the games and reports of the poor standard of food served for games volunteers.

He said it was time to “burn” the sports minister and the ruling party.

“Rally together and vote them out!!!” he wrote.

Abdul Malik said in comments published Wednesday by The New Paper that “the comment is a metaphor”.

“I did not intend for it to be taken literally. I did not mean for someone to actually burn,” he said.

The Singapore government takes a dim view of any dissent it cannot control. Government leaders have successfully sued dissidents for libel. In some cases the lawsuits have bankrupted political organizations.

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Chavez moves to restrict media — again

Last week a Venezuelan court banned print media from publishing violent images. The court ordered all Venezuelan media to stop publishing “images, reports and publicity of any type that contain blood, guns, terrifying messages or physical attacks, images that incorporate warfare content and messages about killings and deaths that could upset the psychological well-being of children and adolescents.”  Officially the move is to protect children from harmful images. What really appears behind the move, however, is censoring items that are critical of the Chavez government.

The Committee to Protect Journalists released a statement last week condemning the action.(Venezuelan censorship over morgue photos is selective)

The New York Times used the court order to look at the larger picture in Venezuela. In a Sunday story it pointing out that it is safer living in Baghdad or Mexico than in Venezuela.

In Iraq, a country with about the same population as Venezuela, there were 4,644 civilian deaths from violence in 2009, according to Iraq Body Count; in Venezuela that year, the number of murders climbed above 16,000.

Even Mexico’s infamous drug war has claimed fewer lives.

Needless to say Chavez was not happy that a Venezuelan newspaper — actually two newspapers — ran a graphic picture that showed the failings of his government. The government saw the use of a picture of bodies piled up at a morgue as part of a campaign against his government. The newspaper saw it as part of their job to inform the public.

The director of El Nacional, Miguel Henrique Otero made no bones about the purpose of the picture. He told CNN, “The editorial aim of the photo was to shock people so that in some way they react to the situation, since the government does nothing.”

No doubt the picture was shocking. The SPJ Code of Ethics calls for journalists to “Do No Harm.” part of the Code states journalists should “Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.”

The picture — as described — was no doubt hurtful to the families of the deceased and it most likely pandered to lurid curiosity. But that is no excuse for a government to engage in censorship.

Reporters Without Borders called the order “too broad and imprecise.”

Reuters reported on the ban — Venezuela bans papers from printing violent photos — on the 18th.

Venezuelan publishers denounced the court order as part of a concentrated attack on independent media outlets in the country.

In an editorial, El Nacional said:

<Google Translation>”The measure of censure issued by the regime of President Chávez against the independent press in Venezuela has ratified its totalitarian vocation and its decision to prevent criticism of the country’s social reality in all its dimensions and gravity, goes beyond the knowledge of the people.”

<Original Spanish text>”La medida de censura dictada por el régimen del presidente Chávez contra la prensa independiente de Venezuela ha ratificado su vocación totalitaria y su decisión de impedir que la crítica realidad social del país, en toda su dimensión y gravedad, trascienda al conocimiento del pueblo.”

Chavez has never been friendly to independent media. He has followed a totalitarian line on media policy that mirrors the policies of Fidel Castro and Adolf Hitler.

And he moves on many fronts.

Besides getting his rubber-stamp courts to hand down edicts, he is also using government funds to buy control of media outlets critical of his government.

According to a report from Reporters Without Borders over the weekend, the Venezuelan government is buying 48.5 percent of the ownership of Globovision and is heading for majority ownership of its stock.

President Hugo Chávez announced on 20 July that his government is about to acquire a majority stake in Globovisión, a privately-owned TV station that is very critical of his administration. By acquiring the shares of some of the station’s directors, the government says it will be able to control 48.5 per cent of its capital.

Federal Bank chairman Nelson Mezerhane stepped in last month at the government’s request and bought 20 per cent of Globovisión’s shares, plus another 5.8 per cent acquired through another company, Chávez revealed during a televised ceremony on 20 July. He also announced that the 20 per cent of shares owned by Luis Teófilo Núñez, one of the station’s founders, who died in 2007, would “pass to the state.” Chávez then did the sum: “25.8 per cent plus 20 per cent makes 48.5 per cent, amigo.” This was not an expropriation, he insisted. The government just wanted to “participate in this business.”

And I love that last line. The government just wants to “participate in this business.”

I would say that the years-long efforts by the Chavez government to close, intimidate and otherwise control media outlets in the country should mean that they have already been “participating” in the news business.

Just to be clear: Venezuela is the ONLY country in South America that is listed as NOT FREE by the Freedom House Press Freedom Report. And its only partner in the entire Western Hemisphere with this “honor” is Cuba, which has jailed more journalists than any other country in the world.

And if anyone was wondering what the impact of censorship has, Venezuela is only marginally less corrupt than Haiti, which means Venezuela is the second most corrupt country in the Western Hemisphere. In general, free media are a good way to keep track of corrupt officials. (Why do you think so many governments want to control the media?)

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Filed under Corruption, Harassment, Press Freedom, South America

AP helps reporters get the NYC mosque terms right

First posted at the web site of the Washington, DC Society of Professional Journalists.

This may not be an issue that directly affects international coverage but the impact of this so-called debate reaches beyond the borders of the US of A. It is worthwhile looking at the logic behind the reasoning for the AP decision.

Associated Press editor Tom Kent sent out a memo late last week with new guidance on how — under AP Style — reporters should refer to the mosque proposed for lower Manhattan.

(You can read the memo here and Kent’s discussion of the memo on Facebook.)

Bottom line: It is NOT the “ground zero mosque” and the site under question has been used for prayers for some time already.

The site of the proposed Islamic center and mosque is not at ground zero, but two blocks away in a busy commercial area. We should continue to say it’s “near” ground zero, or two blocks away.

Kent added:

It may be useful in some stories to note that Muslim prayer services have been held since 2009 in the building that the new project will replace. The proposal is to create a new, larger Islamic community center that would include a mosque, a swimming pool, gym, auditorium and other facilities.

In his Facebook discussion, Kent said:

Incidentally, our note today represented no change in the way we’ve been writing about this case. The vast majority of our stories in recent weeks have referred to a mosque “near” ground zero, or “two blocks away.” But a few of our headlines have said “ground zero mosque,” and we felt that term wasn’t as specific as it could be.

So, can we move on and start using the correct term for the mosque, make sure we have the location correct and make sure the whole thing is put into context.

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Filed under Connections, International News Coverage, Story Ideas

Will impunity rule in Suriname?

We have an interesting situation in northern South America.

Desi Bouterse, the former dictator of Suriname, was elected president in fair and free elections and was sworn into office August 12. IFEX calls the election a “breathtaking case of impunity.”

Reporters Without Borders joined in:

We respect the will of the Surinamese people but we cannot forget that Bouterse continues to be charged with the murders of five journalists in 1982, while he was dictator. Even if legal proceedings are suspended for the duration of his presidency, it would be unacceptable it these murders were to go unpunished indefinitely.

Bouterse first came to power in a coup in 1980. He stayed in power until 1987 and again 1990-1991. During his iron-heel rule, Bouterse was accused of violating just about every tenant of human rights.

The journalists — Andre Kamperveen, owner and manager of Radio ABC, Frank Wijngaarde, a Radio ABC reporter, and three print media journalists, Leslie Rahman, Bram Behr and Jozef Slagveer — were among 15 pro-democracy advocates who were slain December 8, 1982 under the presumed authority of Bouterse at the Fort Zeelandia military barracks.

After the execution, soldiers torched the offices of broadcasters Radio ABC, Radio Radika and the daily newspaper De Vrije Stem. Under Bouterse only the state radio SRS and the daily De Ware Tijd newspaper were allowed to operate. Press freedom was dead under the Bouterse rule.

Following the murders, the United States and the Netherlands suspended economic and military cooperation with the Bouterse government.

In addition to his violations of human rights, a Dutch court sentenced Bourterse – in absentia — to 11 years in prison in 1999 on a charge of drug trafficking. He is still facing a 20-year prison term in Suriname if convicted of the 1982 massacre.

While Bouterse claims to have apologized to the families of the Fort Zeelandia victims and to have recognized his political responsibility for the massacre, he has never admitted to being directly involved in their deaths.

Elections were held in 1991 following a series of military run governments. Bourterse’s National Democratic Party, formed a coalition in the parliament in 1992 but was ousted when the coalition fell apart in 1996.

Legal proceedings against Bouterse and others accused of the 1982 executions started in Suriname in 2007. The trial began in July 2008 and continues.

So we now have to ask: Will the trial of Bouterse and those others charged with the execution of journalists continue under the Bouterse government?

Don’t hold your breath. While opposition party leader, Bouterse tried several times to get parliament to enact an amnesty law to cover the actions taken by the government and military during his dictatorship. And now he controls the parliament.

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Proposed South Africa legislation step backward in media freedom

Many thanks to Freedom House for raising this alarm.
New Press Legislation in South Africa Raises Alarm about Media Freedom

“This law, if passed, is certain to have a chilling effect on press freedom as well as violating the right of its citizens to access information,” said Paula Schriefer, director of advocacy at Freedom House. “It is concerning when a democratic government moves for less transparency, not more, and it would be regrettable if the South African parliament allows this to happen.”

The legislation, according to Freedom House is a revised version of a proposed law submitted two years ago. At that time it was rejected because of concerns it could lead to excessive official secrecy.

The new legislation continues to have an “overly broad definition of ‘national interest'” according to FH.

Freedom House downgraded South Africa from Free to Partly Free in its 2010 Freedom of the Press report. The move came largely because of increased rhetoric against the media from government officials and new laws that limited the independence of broadcasters.

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New term: Narco-Censorship

A number of us have been following the situation in northern Mexico for year.

The threats against Mexican journalists for doing their jobs has made the area around the border one of the most dangerous places in the world, exceeded only by Afghanistan, and the most dangerous place in the Americas.

Journalists have been killed and intimidated by the narco-gangs and some have even asked for asylum in the United States. The result of these threats has been a reduction in reporting about anything related to the drug wars.

The intimidation has now gotten so bad that a new term is out: Narco-Censorship.

The L.A. Times has a very good article looking at this situation: Under threat from Mexican drug cartels, reporters go silent.

As the drug war scales new heights of savagery, one of the devastating byproducts of the carnage is the drug traffickers’ chilling ability to co-opt underpaid and under-protected journalists — who are haunted by the knowledge that they are failing in their journalistic mission of informing society.

“You love journalism, you love the pursuit of truth, you love to perform a civic service and inform your community. But you love your life more,” said an editor here in Reynosa, in Tamaulipas state, who, like most journalists interviewed, did not want to be named for fear of antagonizing the cartels.

“We don’t like the silence. But it’s survival.”

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Filed under Corruption, Killings, Mexico