Monthly Archives: October 2010

Corruption and slavery: Getting more attention in Hispaniola

The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald ran an excellent article yesterday on the increase of child smuggling from Haiti to the Dominican Republic.

Guards cash in on smuggling Haitian children

Obviously key to this story is the corruption of the border guards and of those in the Dominican Republic who “buy” the Haitian children.

Such corruption is hardly a surprise to anyone who has lived on Hispaniola or worked in the area.

Haiti has had a long history of being the one of the most corrupt countries in the Western Hemisphere. And no wonder. The years of brutal dictatorships and then years of basically no government left the people with no other way to get things done. Add to that the reluctance of all previous Haitian governments to allow for serious foreign investment — until recently — the crushing poverty and lack of democratic institutions mean wide open opportunities for corruption at all levels.

And next door is the Dominican Republic, which is just as famous for its corruption.

The latest Transparency International report places Haiti at #146 out of 178 countries with a score of 2.2 out of 10. (The higher the number, the less corruption.) The Dominican Republic came in at #101 with a score of 3.

At least this time Haiti is no longer the most corrupt country in the hemisphere. That title goes to Venezuela (#164. Score 2).

And the Dominican Republic remains just about in the middle. And the problem is one that is recognized (mostly) as a serious one in the DR. Diario Libre pointed out last week that the World Economic Forum placed the Dominican Republic in 131st place of 133 countries ranked according to levels of corruption in government.

It is great that El Nuevo and the Miami Herald tied the issue of corrupt guards along the Haiti-DR border to the larger issue of child slavery. But more work needs to be done.

For a number of years the child-sex trade in Boca Chica has been well-known. That small town just an hour out of the nation’s capital was turning into the Western Hemisphere’s equivalent of Thailand for sex trade. Despite the best efforts of U.S. law enforcement agencies working in the area to get something done, the Dominican government did little.

More Dominican media outlets are trying to cover the issue but they are facing the same problem journalists in northern Mexico face. The crime lords and corrupt political leaders and law enforcement agents threaten reporters and media outlets if they get too close to revealing the details of the corruption.

For most Americans the issue of corruption — especially related to child-slavery gangs — is often one of shock. But then they do not see the connection to U.S. domestic issues.

Bottom line: If a person cannot get ahead without having to bribe his way around corrupt police and government officials, that person will often leave for a place where rule of law is strong. And in this hemisphere that means the United States or Canada.

So if people are serious about stopping illegal immigration to the United States, then it is time for those same people to step up and insist the U.S. government and U.S. businesses provide assistance to the countries where the immigrants are coming from to fight corruption and to improve the business situation there.

And if you think it won’t work, take a look at the number of Brazilians in the United States. The actual number is declining because many are heading BACK to Brazil where the economic outlook is better.

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Filed under Connections, Corruption, International News Coverage

New corruption list out. Still a link between corruption and media suppression

Transparency International released its latest list of corruption in the world.

And the list confirms that the relationship between countries with high levels of corruption and lack of  a free press.

RSF Ranking Country Freedom House Transparency Intl. 2009 Transparency Intl. 2010
Worst=178 RSF Bottom 10 Worst=196 Worst=180 Worst=178
169 Rwanda 178 89 66
170 Yemen 173 154 146
171 China 181 79 78
172 Sudan 165 176 172
173 Syria 178 126 127
174 Burma 194 178 176
175 Iran 187 168 146
176 Turkmenistan 194 168 172
177 North Korea 196 No Data No Data
178 Eritrea 192 126 123

The countries with numbers in red indicate “membership” in the bottom 10 of their respective indexes. A number of countries can be “tied” in their position in the list, such as Turkmenistan and Burma in the 2010 Transparency list.

For the United States, the rankings aren’t so hot. Seems the USA dropped out of the top 20 for honesty.

According to Reuters:

Nancy Boswell, president of TI in the United States, said lending practices in the subprime crisis, the disclosure of Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme and rows over political funding had all rattled public faith about prevailing ethics in America. “We’re not talking about corruption in the sense of breaking the law,” she said.

“We’re talking about a sense that the system is corrupted by these practices. There’s an integrity deficit.”

At least in the States that “integrity deficit” can be openly discussed. In China or Iran or Venezuela discussing such a deficit gets you tossed in jail.

FYI: The three countries that tied for least corrupt are Denmark, New Zealand and Singapore. And the bottom three were  Somalia (178) Myanmar (176) and Afghanistan (176).

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Filed under Connections, Corruption, International News Coverage

Coorrespondents in Beijing see the importance of Brazil

Good for the Foreign Correspondents Club of China.

They are holding a session with the Brazilian ambassador to China later this week.

If there was ever an economic relationship to watch closely, it is the China-Brazil one.

They are not friends but not exactly rivals. More like aggressive competitors.

China is getting very aggressive in its purchase of Brazilian raw materials. (Something the Brazilians are watching closely.)

At the same time both are getting more involved in international affairs beyond their former regional sphere.

Now if only the U.S.-based journalists (and some Latin American watchers) would start looking more closely at the international reach of Brazil, I would feel much happier.

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Filed under China, Connections, International News Coverage, South America

Stipend program to look at religion AND the world

The USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism is now accepting applications for the Knight Luce Fellowship for Reporting on Global Religion.

The stipend is $5,000 – $25,000 to allow American journalists to report and write stories illuminating how religion crosses geographic, temporal and ideological borders.

From the USC Annenberg site:

Applicants should consider what these dynamics reveal about personal identity, political power, the search for meaning, the nature of conflict and the construction of community. Their stories can explore how religion, religious institutions and religious people (1) effect change in on-the-ground social, political, and economic conditions; (2) circulate ideas and ideologies among home and diaspora communities; and (3) promote or inhibit religious and political coexistence and cooperation. Stories must be reported outside the U.S., although they may include an American context for contrast or comparison.

Successful applicants are required to do at least three stories for multiple delivery platforms: print, radio, TV, online. All work is to be completed within six months of getting the award and must be finished by December 31, 2011.

Several fellows will be invited to spend three days in residence at the University of Southern California once all the projects are done. Those invited to USC will conduct master classes for journalism students, present their work in seminars, and deliver public lectures for the USC community.

The Anneberg office stresses that this is a program for working journalists, not journalism students or journalism educators.

Fortunately for many of us, freelancers or self-employed journalists individuals who regularly publish, post and/or broadcast online, in print or over the airwaves are eligible. Applications must include either a letter of recommendation from an editor/manager of an organization that regularly posts, publishes or broadcasts the applicants work or by an experienced journalist who can speak to the applicants work in convincing detail.

No advanced degree or specialized training in religion is required.

Click HERE to contact the USC Annenberg office for more information.

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Filed under Connections, International News Coverage, Jobs, Story Ideas

China government honesty

From the China Internet Network Information Center, the organization that controls Chinese domain names:

China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), the state network information center of China, was founded as a non-profit organization on Jun. 3rd 1997. CNNIC takes orders from the Ministry of Information Industry (MII).

Just to make sure everyone knows who calls the shots. (As if  the Great Firewall of China and all the censorship didn’t already tell us.)

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Filed under Censorship, China, Freedom of access

Brazil: Elections and censorship

First, thanks to my son, Adam, for pointing out the case of a Brazilian news program anchor who resigned because of pressure by a state government to censor the new.

And second, why should anyone care about what happens in Brazilian media?

I want to address the second part first.

Journalists, policy makers and citizens around the world should care about what happens to Brazilian press freedom because Brazil is a major player in the world’s economy.

One of the things the rulers in China figured out real fast is that to be a credible player in the world marketplace, people had to trust your economic numbers and reports. So it should have been no surprise to anyone that the first cracks in the censorship and control of media in China came in the reporting of business and economic affairs.

(Unfortunately for the rulers, once journalists and the public got a taste of a bit of freedom, they wanted more. The openings granted by the censors led to numerous reports of official and business corruption that forced Beijing to clamp down again. But what is that old phrase about toothpaste? Once it’s out of the tube…)

Same is true with Brazil.

This is a major economic powerhouse. And — unlike China — it is a democracy.

One good way to know what is going on is to read news reports from a free and unfettered media. Any attempts to censor or limit that coverage gives a false image of the country and makes dealing with that country — and its citizens and businesses — dicey.

What happens in Brazil affects the U.S. economy and, in some cases, domestic affairs.

For Joe Sixpack, what is the country of origin of the owner of Budweiser? Yep, Brazil.

And for the government planners in Florida, specifically Orlando, what country currently sends to most visitors to your area? Yep, Brazil. (BTW, I was told the other day that out for every 80 or so visas issued to Brazilians to visit the Untied States, one job is created in the U.S. economy. And the U.S. mission in Brazil issues A LOT of visas each week.)

So, Americans need to pay attention to what is going on in Brazil.

And, obviously, not just Brazil. Events in Europe, India, Japan and China can all have a direct impact on American finances, social programs and policies.

So, now to the media situation in Brazil now that you know why it is important to pay attention to such things.

The country is in the middle of a presidential election. And tempers are running high.

Brazilian journalists have been very proud of their freedom and independence.It has only been 25 years since the fall of the dictatorship and its oppressive censorship. Slowly but surely Brazilian media have been moving to a more open a vibrant journalism.

But there still seem to be some political leaders who haven’t gotten the message that censorship is out and freedom is in.

It wasn’t until last year that legislation limiting who could be a journalist was overturned by the nation’s supreme court.

The legislation required journalists to have a bachelor’s degree in journalism and pass a government exam. Both components were carried over from the dictatorship into the democracy. Case after case came forward that claimed the government intervention as to who could be a journalists was the same as promoting state-control of the media.

Eventually the exam was knocked out and then education requirement.

But that still doesn’t mean there aren’t problems.

In this election year, in dozens of cases Brazilian media have been barred from providing coverage or reports related to the first round elections Oct. 3.

And things haven’t changed much as we approach the final round Oct. 31.

On live TV, Brazilian anchor says his station was censored by state government

The Knight Center for Latin American Journalism has a wonderful Google Map that describes the violations and where they occurred. The center also has a link to a similar map created by Brazilian journalist Maira Magro for the 2008 election.

Even without the heat of a contested election, sometimes the leadership of a state or the nation decides that he/she needs more control over what is printed/aired.

Last year President Lula went on a tear against the media.

He said the media commits “excesses,” publishes “lies,” fabricates news and gets involved in campaigns that disseminate “slander and abuse.”

To counter these “violations” of responsible reporting, Lula suggested the creation of “social council” to audit press content. He referred to the process as “social control” of the media to ensure the media serve the public good.

To promote the council, the government sponsored a National Conference on Communications late last year. At that time Lula said the “social council” was needed to balance the power of the press.

The conference participants included a large number of Lula’s political base. A few media groups that also attended. And many of those that did ended up walking out rather than add their names to what was seen as a power play to limit freedom of the press.

The influential Sao Paulo newspaper Estado wrote and editorial that summed up the media’s view of the council:

“Social control of the media is an euphemism to subordinate the free flow of information to the undercover interference from government.”

News organizations said for the council to do what Lula wanted, the constitution would have to be amended to limit freedom of the press or at least make that freedom contingent on council approval.

One of the media groups that refused to participate was the National Magazine Editors, Aner.

Aner president Roberto Muylaert said his organization did not participate because the council seemed to be a way of establishing a way for the government to interfere in the practice of free press.

“The proposal to create a ‘social council’ to audit press content implies modifications to the Constitution which guarantees free initiative and freedom of expression,” said Muylaert. He added “social control sends shivers anywhere in the world because it is incompatible with freedom of expression and a free press.”

Because there was no media support for the conference’s 600+ recommendations it looked, at first, as if the proposals would fade away.

Unfortunately, Lula issued an executive decree in July of this year to establish a commission that would implement the recommendations for broadcasters. (Because broadcasters are already a regulated industry, the government says it can move on the proposals in this field of the news media.)

The “social council” and the issue of “social control” of the media became part of the current presidential campaign.

Main opposition party candidate José Serra raised the “social control” issue before a convention of journalists. He called “social control” of the media promoted by the Lula administration was the same as restricting freedom of the press and a form of “censorship”.

Serra also questioned the creation of TV Brazil, which he described as a government channel designed to be “an instrument to make propaganda in favor of the administration and employ journalists close to the government.”

Even in the heat of the presidential election, the “social council” commission appointed by Lula is moving ahead with its work.

If, as expected, Lula’s hand-picked candidate wins, she will have to decide the fate of the commission recommendations. News organizations are concerned that she will rubber-stamp the report.

Additional Reading


Filed under International News Coverage, Press Freedom, South America

Business links and perceptions around the world

If you believe the political rhetoric during this campaign season you would think that the government is out to destroy all businesses with paperwork and taxes.

Yet, a recent Gallup poll show showed that 52 percent of Americans and Canadians say that their governments will allow their businesses to make a lot of money.

Now compare that to Latin America and Europe and you can see that the confidence level is much lower.

While it does not make a person any happier knowing that some one else is less happy — comparing the problems businesses have in Latin America, for example, to those in the United States. But it can help put a situation in perspective.

And putting things in perspective — or offering context — is one of the things that good journalists are supposed to do. The problem for most journalists is knowing where to get the information to get the context.

Because polls are lots and lots of numbers, many journalists shy away from them.

For others it is just a lack of awareness that there are local and global links to these issues.

And let’s talk about government attitude toward businesses in Latin America.

Across the board, the perception is that governments in Latin America hinder business development.

Of course, that does not mean the governments — local, state and national — in the United States are off the hook. But it can help explain why foreign companies like coming to the United States to set up shop.

It is just plain less difficult to do business here than elsewhere.

And, there is a firm belief — by business owners — that the U.S. government is more willing to let owners make lots and lots of money.

Sometimes stories just need a little perspective. And a sure-fire way to offer a different perspective is to look at what is happening in other parts of the world.

A good reporter might even look around at local businesses and identify companies owned or partly owned by foreign investors. Finding out why the foreign investors spend money in the United States could help explain what otherwise might be a boring economic story.


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Filed under Central America, International News Coverage, Story Ideas, Trade