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

1985 Mexican Earthquake and today’s disasters

Thanks to I was reminded that yesterday (9/19) was the anniversary of the devastating 1985 earthquake in Mexico.

Working a disaster of that magnitude is not easily forgotten. (Especially the smell of rotting human flesh.)

But what I think is significant is the connection between that disaster and the current state of disaster rescue. Those saved in Haiti and Chile owe a lot to what we did — FOR THE FIRST TIME — in Mexico 25 years ago.

Someone at the U.S. Agency for International Development was smart enough to realize that dogs that search for lost kids in national forests might be used to find survivors in an urban natural disaster.

When the earthquake struck a convention of dog handlers specializing in rescue efforts was meeting in Texas. AID called the conference organizers and asked for volunteers to go to Mexico.

The conference organizers were already in action before the call came. First the volunteers — with their dogs — stepped forward. Then the rest of the conference participants pooled their resources on hand — including money — to make sure each team member — human and canine — was fully outfitted with safety gear and what ever else would be needed.

They were ready do go within 10 hours of the first earthquake.

At the same time the U.S. Bureau of Mines mobilized another set of experts to assist the rescue effort with technology previously only used in finding and rescuing miners.

Unfortunately the Mexican government refused to accept any help from the rest of the world. (“We can handle this ourselves,” they said with false pride.)

The next day a second earthquake struck. (I think this one was 7.9 on the Richter scale.) At that point the Mexican government said, “If any one wants to send help we’ll take it.” That wording allowed the government “cover” to its nationalistic base by saying they never asked for help.

So on the third day after the first earthquake what seemed like dozens of  C-141s, C-5s and C-131s broke through the smog-filled skies of Mexico City and landed at the city’s international airport. Inside one were the dog teams and the Bureau of Mine experts. (It seemed at the time that U.S. cargo planes were landing every 5-10 minutes with rescue and relief equipment.)

By a quirk of fate my wife and I were at the airport to help check in and record the incoming experts and equipment. The plane with the search and rescue teams was supposed to include explosive experts. The ambassador wanted to meet them and get things moving so that the unsafe buildings in the city could be taken down as soon as possible. When it was clear the plane held the SAR folks, the ambassador turned to Lisa and told her to take care of them and then walked away.

First thing we did was find the leaders of each team, found out what they thought they could do in this situation and find out what they needed to get started.

Within 2 hours we were in a meeting room in the Sheraton next to the embassy going over a map of the city with Mexican government officials about where the searches should be concentrated.

The officials were focused on areas where government building were damaged even though the first quake occurred before the work day began and the second was after the end of the work day (assuming anyone went into the damaged buildings after the first quake.)

Residential areas were second on their priority list.

The dog teams surveyed the areas requested by the government and got no hits. (No live or dead responses.) Despite the government’s desire to stay there longer, the dog team leader directed his people to start searching residential areas damaged by the quake.

And it was fortunate they did. In the end, the dog teams were often the first experts to get to areas that had survivors. No one from the Mexican government or the groups taking Mexican government direction had come by even days after the first quake.

By then the seismic and camera teams had figured out the best way to use their technology to rescue people.

At first, no one was sure how to use the sensitive seismic equipment or underground camera. After a few trials, the three team leaders figured out how to make the maximum use of the strengths of each group.

At first the dogs would survey an area. Anywhere the dogs would give a “live” indication the dog handler would place a flag. Then the seismic team would get all work in the area stopped and place sensors around the area to “listen” for movement or some other form of life. If nothing came from the initial “listen,” the team leader would have someone from the Mexican police use a bullhorn to see if anyone in the rubble could respond. Generally the cop asked for people to respond by bang on stone or metal to indicate they heard the call.

Once the seismic team “heard” responses, the cop would then try to narrow down what floor the survivors were on when the earthquakes happened. (We could easily see how the buildings collapsed and so could also estimate where someone from the fifth floor, for example, would possibly be in the rubble.) The cop would say something like, “Tap twice if you were on the 1st floor.” Wait a bit. Then repeat the call for each floor of the building.

Once the floor(s) of the survivor were nailed down, the seismic team would tighten it perimeter and repeat the process. In the end, they could usually indicate where the survivors were within 10 feet.

Rescue workers would then start removing rubble in the direction set by the seismic team. After the first layer was taken off, however, the rescuers knew they needed to see the structure of the next set of levels.

That is where the camera crew came in.

The camera was about the size of a tennis ball at the end of a cable with lights around the lens. (Remember this is 1985. Cameras this size were cutting edge at the time.)

The camera operator would poke the lens through a hole in the rubble. The rescue team leader would sit in the control van and survey the cavity looking for the best way to remove material without causing the whole structure to collapse on the survivors. With practice the remove, poke, look, remove process moved more quickly.

In one dramatic rescue, just as the camera poked through a survivor grabbed the cable and camera (he only thought it was a set of lights) and moved it to see the condition of his wife. The resulting picture was an extreme closeup of the woman’s eye with one tear coming down as she and her husband realized that after 4 days they were going to be rescued.

The camera team withdrew the cable, attached a baggie with some water-soaked cotton and passed it back through. This was the first water the couple had since the quakes.

Within a couple of hours the couple were taken to one of the few remaining hospitals. The husband lost an arm in the process. Fortunately for him the steel beam that took his arm did it in a way that was clean and sealed the wound almost immediately. Otherwise he could have easily bled out and died within hours of the accident.

Ironically the husband worked for the Mexican Bureau of Mines. He told the U.S. team leaders later from his hospital bed that when he heard the cops calling out for people to identify their floors, he knew exactly what was happening because he ran similar exercises for Mexican miners.

Along the way we were able to find teams of experts who came to Mexico on their own to help. I located an Israeli medical team with ambulance looking for a place to go to help. I attached them to the camera team. A bit later I met a Venezuelan construction company owner who flew his “A-team” to Mexico to help with the rescue efforts. They too were looking for a place where they could be helpful. I hooked them up with the seismic and camera team.

The dog team leader started finding dog teams from other countries. We got the team leaders together each morning and evening to ensure there was no doubling of efforts.

All our ad-hoc activities were required because so much of the Mexican leadership was confused. Most of the government buildings were damaged. And the political system in Mexico at the time did not allow for decentralized responses to anything. Everything was directed from a central command. Unfortunately the central command was wiped out.

(I have a theory that it was the earthquake that provided the main push to toss out the ruling PRI and allow Mexico to start developing into a serious multi-party democracy. It also prompted more self-help groups in the country.)

Now think about what is happening in Haiti and Chile.

After the earthquakes in those two countries, dog search teams were among the first rescuers. The seismic and camera teams were hardly needed in Haiti because of the type of construction in the country but I understand the technology was used in Chile.

And what was it that got us good news about the Chilean mine accident? It was an underground camera. The 2010 version of the unit that saved lives in Mexico.

After my experiences in Mexico I have to tip my hat to the SAR teams that put themselves in harm’s way to save lives. And I shudder to think how many lives would have been lost in Mexico and in subsequent disasters if someone did not have the intellectual leap to include never-before-done SAR techniques in the rescue scenarios.

And what new technology is out there today that could be used to save lives but no one has yet made the connection?

It would be nice if these pioneers could be recognized for their work and foresight. (Okay, the Mexican government gave each of the SAR teams I worked with special recognition awards. But nada from the US government.)


Filed under Connections, International News Coverage

Getting a handle on how mainstream Arab media are handling the NYC mosque issue

Once again Marc Lynch — aka Abu Aardvark — has a great piece. In his latest contribution — How Arabs view the anti-mosque movement — Lynch talks about getting away from the “clash of civilizations” meme. He also points out that many of the people on both sides of the issue have been cherry picking Arab columnists and news reports to bolster their arguments.

Most Arab columnists agree with the argument that the anti-mosque movement will badly harm Arab and Muslim views of the United State…but there isn’t as much active discussion of it in the forums as you’d expect. That isn’t a reason to relax, though. The impact is likely to be felt not so much on extremists, whose views about America are rather fixed, but on the vast middle ground, the Arab and Muslim mainstream which both the Bush and Obama administrations have recognized as crucial both for defeating al-Qaeda and for achieving broad American national interests

Many of the columnists and commentators see the anti-mosque movement as “just politics.”

A number of columnists argue that it is just Republicans cynically using the Islam issue to hurt Obama and help their re-election campaign. But even those columnists generally go on to worry that such forces, once unleashed, are hard to control. Fortunately, the courageous remarks of figures such as Michael Bloomberg have also received prominent coverage — something which gives moderate figures something to grasp onto when arguing against the extremists.

Lynch said even the extremist sites that he monitors rarely mentioned the anti-mosque movement as a primary force to recruit members. The planned Burn A Quran Day organized by that whack-job preacher from Florida got more mention on these sites, Lynch added.

So where is the U.S. mainstream media on this type of coverage?

It would be nice to see some stories about what the mainstream Arab press is saying. It would also be nice to see talks show hosts questions more deeply the comments made by their guests. (But I guess that would only interrupt the all ready agreed to narrative.)

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Filed under International News Coverage, Middle East