Monthly Archives: September 2010

Why the Economist is censored or banned

Nice little piece in the Economist on the 21st about how and why its issues get censored or banned around the world.

As the article points out, at first it looks as if India is the #1 baddie when it comes to censorship. But it appears that the main concern is how the Economist depicts Kashmir.

Now our friends in China are a real piece of work.

China is more proscriptive. Distributors destroy copies or remove articles that contain contentious political content, and maps of Taiwan are usually blacked out.

I remember when Chinese would come up to me in Beijing and Shanghai and ask me to buy them a copy of TIME or the ECONOMIST in the Western hotels. Seems those were the only places such “subversive” publications were available.

Now more items are available but not always.

And is anyone surprised that four Arab Gulf countries are on this list?

Or that Sri Lanka and Libya are near the top?

What is surprising to me is that Venezuela is not on the list. Or Cuba.

Once I looked over the comments on the article I got depressed.  While there were a few enlightened comments such as one from Russell_B who wrote:

Freedomhouse reported in its ‘worst of the worst-2010’ that there is a U-turn in the global human rights conditions after 30 years.

But others showed their “national pride” by criticizing the Economist for their report. Shetz wrote:

Is it not ironical that none of the rich nations figure in this list. All the countries listed are Asian. Is Economist all about Asia bashing?

I am happy that India respects it’s territorial rights.

The bottom line is that ANY form of censorship is wrong. Whether it is a stamp saying the government doesn’t agree with the maps drawn by the publication (India and China), the removal of articles that are “too sensitive” (China) or the outright confiscation of issues before they get to the newsstands. (Way too many.)

As Russell_B pointed out, the annual Freedom House reports on political freedom and press freedom show a depressing trend downward.

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Filed under Censorship, International News Coverage, Press Freedom

Getting news in Cuba

Generation Y blogger Yoani Sanchez has a great piece on why she can’t use her new radio. (Interference)

It all has to do with the steps taken by the Cuban government to block “subversive” broadcasts. (That is, anything NOT by the Cuban government.)

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Local-Global: Macy’s helps Haitian Artists

Thanks to a friend from the DR (who is now elsewhere) for pointing this out.

Seems Macy’s is once again showing that companies can help people affected by disaster and make a profit.

And it provides an opportunity for LOCAL reporters to do a story with a GLOBAL hook.

The Globe and Mail of Toronto had a story yesterday about how Macy’s will be selling the work of Haitian artists. (Haitian artisans strike deal to sell work at Macy’s)

Being able to sell stuff at Macy’s has made it possible for those participating to afford clothes and education for their children and given some hope to the people of Haiti.

“Even in a short time, we’ve heard that parents who were incredibly stressed now have their children’s school fees. Now they can buy shoes. They have money in their pocket. Maybe they’re still living in a tent. But they know they can have some bit of security to craft a life. They know we’re not going away,” said Willa Shalit, the head of Fairwinds Trading, a New York-based company that specializes in connecting gifted artisans in “post-trauma” communities with American corporations to build sustainable economic relationships.

This is not the first time Macy’s offered the work of a group of people affected by disaster.

When the United Nations and NGOs started efforts to rebuild Rwanda after the genocidal wars of the late 1990s, organizers saw the women weaving beautiful baskets.

In 2002 Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women reached out to American businesswoman Willa Shalit to help find a market for the baskets. Within three years she founded the Rwanda Path to Peace project in partnership with Macy’s.

Macy’s featured the baskets in their stores across the country. The basket sales provided sustainable income to women who had never before earned money.

See the full story here: Rwanda Baskets

How hard would it be for a LOCAL reporter to go to the LOCAL Macy’s and ask the store manager how well the Haitian art is selling?

How hard would it be to maybe track down a buyer or two of the art to ask about why they bought it?

The story would, of course, have to include what has happened in Haiti since the earthquake eight months ago. It would have to include not only the Macy’s artist project but a brief summary of other efforts to help rebuild Haiti. And ideally it should include what LOCAL groups did and are still doing to help the Haitian people. (Think local NGOs, churches, civic groups, etc.)

Really, how hard would this be?

And it gets an important international story out with a very local angle.

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Filed under Connections, International News Coverage, Story Ideas

Another loss for Mexico: El Diario de Juarez self censors

The war against journalists in Mexico is one of the worst kept secrets in the world. Even the mainstream media in the States has begun to report on what is happening to their colleagues south of the border. (A little late but they are finally getting there.)

Besides the deaths — 30 since 2006 — the death toll includes news organizations and journalism ethics.

The latest death of journalism came in Juarez when the local newspaper it would restrict reporting on the drug wars. The announcement came after the paper buried its second reporter in as many years.

The choice of death or self-censorship is one an ever-growing number of Mexican media outlets face.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has a report on the situation: Silence or Death

The Inter American Press Association continues to run the Impunity Project in the hopes that eventually enough pressure will be brought on governments to actually prosecute the killers of working journalists.

The big failure I have seen in much of the reporting about the violence in Mexico’s norther border towns is that the reporters focus on the violence. Too many reports come out sounding as if the only way anyone can go out and do anything is to dodge bullets each day.

We know this is not true.

I would like to know where’s the coverage of media intimidation. Clearly there are problems getting local and national government entities to address the issue. The free and independent media have become the only way people can get information and register their distaste for the situation.

Kill the free press and the political rights of the Mexicans are also killed.

The stakes are much higher than many in the U.S. are reporting. How about we get off the stick and start doing something serious about it?

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Filed under Censorship, Corruption, Mexico

Bloggers filling gaps and freeing media. How about some support?

Late last week Thomas L. Friedman has a great piece on China, nationalism and the state of Chinese media.

Power to the (Blogging) People

Friedman’s point — after dealing with the nationalism issue that is a growing problem in China is that the Internet continues to be a major problem for the Chinese government because it is difficult to control and it gives individuals access to information and a forum to speak out.

“China for the first time has a public sphere to discuss everything affecting Chinese citizens,” explained Hu Yong, a blogosphere expert at Peking University. “Under traditional media, only elite people had a voice, but the Internet changed that.”

The power of the Internet is, perhaps, more strongly felt in countries whose governments spend outrageous amounts of money and manpower trying to censor the information their people get.

For sure the Internet is powerful in the United States. How else could the “9/11 Was and Inside Job” conspiracy freaks,  Birthers and Intelligent Designers get so much publicity? But for intelligent people, the claims of these whack jobs are seen as the frauds they are. Because there is a strong tradition of free and independent media that allows for the exposure of all ideas. No matter how wacky.

But in China, Iran and Saudi Arabia as well as in many (too many) other countries, the only access to non-government approved information is on the Internet. The problem is that in such societies EVERYTHING seen on the Internet is seen as being factual.

The lack of competing data on issues often leaves those first exposed to this idea bewildered.

I recall during the 1992 U.S. presidential election, Chinese journalists were invited to the U.S. Cultural Affairs office in Shanghai to watch the election returns. The office was snagging satellite feeds from the major U.S. networks so we could watch the results coming in.

At one point one network awarded a state to candidate Clinton but none of the other outlets had yet done so. The Chinese journalists were besides themselves trying to understand how different news outlets could have different information about the same event. They wondered how the government could allow one news outlet to jump the gun on what was clearly information that should come from a government official.

I was on hand — at the invitation of the Cultural Affairs officer — to help explain how free media work and how the government does not have a role in U.S. news gathering.

The fun part about using me to do the explanation was that I did not have to pull any punches about the evils of state-censorship and the benefits of free and independent media. (The State Department folks could say the same thing but in a much more polite manner.)

Since 1992 the number of working journalists push the envelope on what they try to report on is growing. Sometimes they win and cracks in the censorship rules appear. Other times — more often than not — the journalists are either fired and forbidden from working as journalists ever again in China or they are transferred to some far and distant province as “punishment” for the heresy of decent reporting.

Now the people of China are learning more and more about the power that they have in their hands — actually at their keyboards.

I find it encouraging that the U.S. ambassador in China is meeting with bloggers in China.

To me, the action of Ambassador Huntsman to reach out to bloggers shows that some of the people in the State Department (appointees and professional) “get” the new media.

It could also lead to a more serious effort by the Chinese government to crack down on “unofficial” sources of news transmission. The bloggers who dare identify themselves and who accept the possible threats to them and their family for openly meeting with the U.S. ambassador are to be congratulated and praised.

I would be interested in knowing more about these bloggers and why they were chosen to meet with the ambassador. And what they have written as a result of those meetings.

I would also like to see more U.S. ambassadors — and their senior embassy staff — meet with more bloggers.

Is it being done? Hard to tell by looking at the State Department website.

It also raises a question: Should ambassadors in countries with free media — United Kingdom, Brazil, Hong Kong, etc. — go out of their way to woo bloggers? Or at least spend time talking with them?

The answer is an unequivocal, “Yes!”

If it taken as a given that the role of the U.S. embassy is to represent the people of the United States to not only the host government but also to the people of the host country, then reaching out to the most popular bloggers is an important part of fulfilling that role.

I would be interested to learn from others if the U.S. diplomatic leadership around the world is doing what Huntsman is doing.

And if not, why not?

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Filed under Censorship, China, International News Coverage, Press Freedom