Monthly Archives: November 2010

Of computers, corruption and free press

In cleaning up some articles I saved for reference, I came across one from the Sept. 25 New York Times — U.S. Gift for Iraqis Offers a Primer on Corruption.

Simply put the article looked at the theft of 8,000 computers from the United States  destined for school children in Iraq, most likely by government officials in Iraq.

I held on to the article for a few reasons, not the least was the corruption angle and the lackluster response of the U.S. embassy to the situation.

But for purposes here, the events laid out in the article provide another example of the importance of free and independent news media.

Author of the article Steven Lee Myers points out in the third to last graf:

Today’s Iraq may be corrupt, saddled with a bureaucracy from Saddam Hussein’s era that has changed little, and hobbled by a political impasse that has blocked the formation of a new government nearly seven months after parliamentary elections. But Iraqis — the media, politicians, average citizens — are freer than ever to denounce the wrongdoing of bureaucrats and thieves, even if to little effect.

It is that last sentence that tells the whole story of how to fight corruption. Freedom of press, speech and assembly are vital to keeping a government honest.

For now the Iraqis may be feeling that their complaints have “little effect” when it comes to corruption. But if the Iraqi media stand up against corruption by relentlessly investigating it and reporting it, then they might see some changes.

It really is no surprise that the 10 most repressive governments in the world are also among the list of top 10 corrupt governments. A free press is the best hope for people looking for accountability in their governments. And that is why dictators from Beijing to Tehran to Havana fear a free press.

See New corruption list out. Still a link between corruption and media suppression for more info.

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

ICFJ Conference Reported on Twitter

First posted at DC SPJ.

The International Center For Journalists held a seminar today (Nov. 27) in Amman, Jordan.

Anyone with a Twitter account could follow the discussion as American Drew Sullivan talked. Or you could come in much later and read the Tweets and get a good overview of event.

To make life easier on our members, I used Storify to arrange the ICFJ Tweets from the discussion.

Drew Sullivan talks with journalists in Amman

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Filed under International News Coverage, Middle East

CPJ honors journalists/Issues annual report

Last week the Committee to Protect Journalists held its annual awards dinner in New York City.

Honored for their work in defending free press were Dawit Kebede of Ethiopia, Nadira Isayeva of Russia, Laureano Márquez of Venezuela and Mohammad Davari of Iran.

The organization also released its annual report.

While the CPJ looks at the whole world, its 201o report selected Somalia, Cuba, Iran, Venezuela, Pakistan, Mexico and Azerbaijan for special attention because of the threats to journalism and journalists in those countries.

 

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Filed under International News Coverage, Press Freedom

The killings continue: Young Iraqi journalist killed at home

One more journalist was added to the list of media workers killed in Iraq.

Mazin al-Baghdadi, a reporter and anchor for al-Mousiliyya TV in Mosul was killed when  gunmen in civilian clothing showed up at his home around 6 p.m. They identified themselves as intelligence officers.

When al-Baghdadi came out to to speak with the men, they shot him.

So far this year seven journalists and media workers have been killed, according to Reporters Without Borders. Iraq remains one of the most deadly countries for journalists.

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Beijing: Own worst enemy sometimes

The sound and fury from Beijing over the Nobel Prize committee awarding Liu XiaoBo the Peace Prize showed what to government in China really thinks.

Oddly enough, the problem Beijing is facing with the Nobel award is of their own doing.

Ying Chan at the China Media Project in Hong Kong has an excellent piece on the issue: How hardliners made Liu Xiaobo a Nobel front-runner.

Beijing leaders have blamed blame Liu’s winning the Nobel Prize on so-called hostile anti-China forces overseas. But the uncomfortable truth is that the Chinese government itself was the most formidable nominee for Liu.

On Christmas Day last year, a Beijing court sentenced Liu Xiaobo to 11 years in prison, turning the dissident into a martyr for the cause of human rights — and an instant favorite for the Nobel.

And now, their actions have made them soul mates with some pretty bad company.

Let’s look at what has happened.

Once Liu was awarded the Peace Prize, Beijing pulled out all the stops in denouncing the action.

  1. First, China denounces the action as an interference in its internal affairs. (A standard line used by all dictatorships.)
  2. Then, it makes sure Liu’s entire family and close circle of friends are either arrested or placed under house arrest.
  3. At the same time, it starts canceling meetings and negotiations with Norway. (Home of the Nobel Committee.)
  4. It also sends hostile diplomatic notes to all embassies in Oslo, warning them not to attend Nobel committee events or else they will face the wrath of Beijing.
  5. And finally, they made it clear there would be serious repercussions if the award ceremony goes ahead.

And now, it looks as if the ceremony will not happen because, according to Nobel Committee rules, either the recipient or a family member has to accept the award. With Liu still in jail and all his relatives under house arrest, there is no one to accept the award.

And by the way, AP is reporting that a handful of governments have said they would not be attending the ceremony, if it happens. Among the announced “absentees” is Russia. (But Moscow says it has nothing to do with Chinese pressure.)

Granted, in the past Beijing never really minded being lumped in with anti-freedom of expression and anti-democratic regimes such as Sudan, Cuba, Venezuela and Iran. They just let the complaints roll off their backs like so much sauce on a Peking Duck.

But their recent hissy fit equated China  with two other governments who did all they could to prevent dissidents from receiving the Peace Price: The Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.

The AP did a great story a couple of days ago that got picked up around the world. (China’s Nobel fury unmatched since Soviet days)

China’s clampdown on Liu’s relatives means the Nobel medal and diploma likely won’t be handed out for the first time since 1936, when Adolf Hitler prevented German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky from accepting the prize.

Now that is some company worth keeping.

And — I love to keep bringing this up — just a week before the award was made, Premier Wen Jibao told CNN that China needed more freedom of expression if it was to develop further.

And I’ll be damned if I can remember the Mandarin phrase for “We didn’t really think anyone would take us at our word.”

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Big story, Little coverage

Seems the American public is not the only ones being screwed by the banks.

Earlier this month Bank of America closed the accounts of the embassy and consulates of Angola in the United States. The accounts were closed Nov. 9 after the bank warned the Angolans of the decision with an unsigned letter. The bank gave no explanation for its action.

The most likely reason: Banks are calculating that the effort spent making sure government accounts are not being abused for money laundering purposes is too complicated and costly to justify keeping the accounts.

And it looks as if Angola is not the only one being hit. As many as 37 embassies in Washington could soon face similar action. Seventeen of those embassies are from African countries.

So why is this an important story? Why is it important to journalists and journalism organizations?

One simple word: Retaliation!

Already the Angolan government is showing its displeasure with the bank action by refusing to accept the credentials of the U.S. ambassador-designate to Angola. (The Angolan government says the U.S. government needs to do more to force the banks to accept their accounts.)

On the horizon, the governments could cancel permission of U.S. banks to operate in their countries. They could also freeze or cancel the local banking accounts of companies such as Exxon Mobil and Chevron. This latter option is already being discussed in Angola.

The few U.S. news outlets that have international correspondents and bureaus, could find their overseas accounts frozen. This would lead to an inability to pay stringers, local staff, interpreters and — in general — local expenses.

In a larger view, a tidal wave of account closings could make it impossible to conduct simple business across borders. It could bring further economic woes to a global economy just now coming out of the 2008 crash.

Looking at who has carried the story, it seems that after the Wall Street Journal reported it,  picked up the Reuters‘ feed, all the local Fox TV stations carried it — at least on their websites. Then Reuters picked it up. But as of early morning on Sunday, I was hard pressed to find many major news organizations in the States carrying the story.

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1 Tweet = 1 Year of Jail Time in China

Radio Free Asia reports that a Chinese bride-to-be who wrote an anti-Japanese message on Twitter has ended up with a sentence of one year in a labor camp. And this all happened on her wedding day.

Seems Cheng Jianping, was sent to undergo “re-education through labor” for “disturbing social order” when she re-Tweeted a Twitter comment urging nationalist protesters to smash Japan’s pavilion at the Shanghai Expo and added the words “Charge, angry youth.”

Amnesty International told the Washington Post that “Cheng may be the first Chinese citizen to become a prisoner of conscience on the basis of a single tweet.”

Cheng’s fiance and family did not know she was arrested for about 18 days. And even then, it took another couple of weeks to get an official explanation for what happened.

The story first appeared in a report from Radio Free Asia and was then picked up by the BBC. From there, other news outlets grabbed hold of the story.  Following the links in Boing Boing, you end up at the Washington Post blog page rather than a news page. But at least the story is getting around.

I guess China is still working on that freedom of expression and rule of law thing that Premier Wen told Fareed Zakaria was so important to the future of his country.

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Filed under Censorship, China, Harassment, International News Coverage