Monthly Archives: April 2011

Venezuela follows China’s path

Governments that want to control the media fall keep doing the same thing over and over.

Back in 2003 China censored any mention of the SARS virus that was rampaging through Southern China. Thanks to China’s unwillingness to admit the existence of the disease and its active campaign to suppress information about it, SARS spread wider and stronger than if steps had been taken right away.

Now Venezuela is doing the same thing eight years later.

School headmaster dismissed after informing press of H1N1 flu cases

Manuel Aldana, headmaster of the public school Rafael Antonio Godoy, was removed from his position after informing the press that there were some cases of the H1N1 flu in the school located in the city of Mérida, western Venezuela.

When will these control freaks understand that stopping information about a disease will not stop the spread of the disease?

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Filed under Censorship, China, South America

Use of slang or cliches in interviews

A listener of the BBC wondered if the non-native English-speaking interviewees really understand what is being asked of them.

The most recent incident I heard, which has prompted me to write, was on when one of your female interviewers asked an Italian news journalist about Berlusconi’s impending court appearance. She asked the Italian if he thought that Berlusconi would plead innocent and, if so, ‘would he be able to pull it off’.

The poor Italian hadn’t a clue about what she meant and I shudder to think what literal translation may have been flashing through his mind.

This got me wondering: How about all the immigrants in the United States who have English as a second language. How do they react to slang or clichés? Is there a better way for reporters to do their jobs in these types of situations?

Obviously one way around this for the reporter is to have a large vocabulary. If a person being interviewed does not appear to know what the reporter has said, it does no good to repeat the same words.

Another way is for the reporter to learn another language.

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Filed under Connections

Absurd editorials about China human rights situation

It is as regular as the spring rains. The U.S. State Department issues its annual human rights report and the Chinese government unleashes its propaganda forces to

  1. Criticize the West for interfering in internal affairs, and
  2. Explain why the Chinese can’t handle “western democracy.”

The latest in absurd statements comes from Global Times out of Beijing.

Recently GT had two editorials that show how closely it follows the official government line.

April 6 GT explained that artist and human rights advocate Ai WeiWei is a maverick who deserves to be put away because he broke the law by threatening the stability of Chinese society. (Law will not concede before maverick)

And April 9 GT tried to explain how the U.S. is ignoring all the great progress made in China by focusing on trivial things such as freedom of speech and assembly. (China’s human rights progress undeniable)

In the latter case, the editorial say the uprisings in Thailand — against a corrupt autocratic government — are a direct result of too much free speech. It also says the frequent “swaps of prime ministers” in Japan is a result of too much democracy.

But it makes it main point — and oddly it also is a main point against the Chinese government — with the following:

[I]t is necessary for the authorities to guide the spreading of words that might be harmful to the entire society. People who believe in democracy should not oppose such an effort by the authorities.

In other words: The people cannot deal with free speech and we, the government, must tell them what to think and say.

I have said it before and will continue to say: Controlling the media or the people’s right to free speech causes more instability. The population of media controlled countries know not to trust what their newspapers or broadcasters say. So they depend on rumors and whispers. Without a source of trustworthy reporting — independent from the government — the people act and react to those rumors, causing more instability in society.

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Filed under Asia, Censorship

The battle over journalists’ qualifications in Brazil heats up

The International Federation of Journalists supports the Brazilian National Federation of Journalists (FENAJ) in their efforts to restore a requirement of a journalism college degree for anyone wishing to be a journalist.

And what a misguided position that is.

The campaign started up in 2009 when the Brazilian supreme court ruled that the requirement, which was imposed by the dictatorship, restricted free speech and was therefore unconstitutional.

The FENAJ argues that only properly trained journalists — with the proper degrees — can ensure fair and objective reporting.

“Journalists have to be truthful, impartial and accountable for their reporting,” said Elisabeth Costa, IFJ General Secretary and former President of FENAJ. “The public look to professional journalists for credible and objective information. We would fail them if we deny training to journalists.”

No one can dispute the need for training for journalists nor for the need to ensure journalists remain impartial and accountable for their reporting. But allowing a government to determine who can be a journalists gives the government way too much power over the news media.

A couple of quick points:

  1. No degree from any establishment of higher education guarantees skills, honesty, integrity or objectivity. (We have a Brazilian cook with all the proper certificates from university but all she can only prepare one or two dishes and is seems incapable of thinking through a recipe. But she has passed all the courses and has a degree. Do you really think this is the exception?)
  2. If the government can determine who can be a journalist, then it can also silence voices in the media that raise questions about government policy.

The more the government gets involved in reporting the news the more it can control the agenda and silence its critics. There is nothing to stop a local, state or national government official to have a journalist’s credentials revoked. Other journalists who want to keep their jobs learn the lesson quickly and stop pursuing stories that could cost them their jobs.

Brazilians should have learned from the days of the dictatorship that government control of the news is a bad thing for democracy. Most of the journalists understand that. And that is why I am surprised that their organization supports a means for government control of journalism.

If the concern is that a reporter is being biased and plays loose with the facts, then that reporter needs to be taken to task and fired. Pretty soon no one will hire that person into a media organization again. (When was the last time you saw a Jason Blair or Janet Cooke byline?)

As far as independent bloggers go, they are journalists just as much as the top reporter at the New York Times is. They share  the same constitutional protections. There is not one constitution for paid journalists at a major metropolitan newspaper and another for a blogger.

And before you say that the previous comments are U.S.-centric, remember that the Brazilian supreme court ruled the restriction on who can be a journalist can be seen as a violation of freedom of expression. The highest Brazilian legal authorities said the law imposed on the people by the dictators was in violation of a basic right of the Brazilian people.

Unlike the IFJ and FENAJ I don’t see how limiting expression and giving the government the power to control who can be a journalist helps protect and preserve democracy.

Look, maybe it all comes down to the FENAJ wants to limit the number of journalists available in the market. If that is so, then they are not really in the business of protecting journalists’ rights and democracy. They are then just proposing a restrictive labor law.

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Filed under Press Freedom, South America

Local-Global: Business deals and charity

Just about any community paper can do a story about a church or civic group going to Honduras or the Dominican Republic to run a dental clinic or build houses for the poor. (About half of the stories in the US media about the DR are just these type. The other half are about baseball players.)

But what really makes a connection between local news and global events is good old business. Bottom line: Does the global connection mean jobs in a U.S. town?

Mlive.com has a great little story about how a medium-sized company in a medium-sized Michigan city has a business deal with other countries. The deals are worked out through a local charity (another angle for the story) but most important to the global-local connection, the deal means jobs in Michigan.

Add to this the fact that the company, HydrAid, exports all of its products overseas.

Without saying so directly, the Mlive.com story points out the link between Grand Rapids, Mich., and a dozen or so countries AND the importance of international trade to a small-medium sized company.

Now there are links that work and won’t get lost in “compassion fatigue.”

West Michigan company lands major deal to provide water filters to Honduras

I would bet that similar examples of small-town business connections to the rest of the world can be found just as easily. If people would just open their eyes.

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Filed under Connections, Story Ideas

FOI global database up and running

Many thanks to the World Bank for building and posting a database of the freedom of information laws for many (not all) countries.

The database is part of the World Banks’ Public Accountability Mechanisms to keep government operations honest and transparent.

Freedominfo.org points out:

The Bank does not rate or rank the countries, but the database is expected to be a trove of information for comparative research. The Bank now is moving into research on FOI implementation issues.

The database collects information about FOI laws in seven broad categories with 30 subcategories.

Furthermore, the Bank does not score countries on their openness laws. But at least there is a list to work from.

After going to the Public Accountability page, click on the country you are interested in. Then scroll down to the FOI link.

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Filed under Freedom of access

Why editors and global knowledge are needed

The article below was posted on boosharticles.com today. Too bad there is no such country as the Dominican Republic of Congo

Ordinarily such a glaring error by the writer would be caught by the editor. But I am willing to bet all the money in my pocket against all the money in your pocket that there was no editor.

If there was an editor, then the writer and editor both deserve to be fired.

Just to be clear: There is a Democratic Republic of Congo and the Dominican Republic. Two different countries in two widely different parts of the world.

United Nations Plane Crashes in Dominican Republic of Congo

Posted by Josh on April 5, 2011 · Leave a Comment

A United Nations has plane has crashed in the Dominican Republic of Congo killing all of the 33 people on board aside from just one person. It is said that the accident occurred as the plane was coming in to land in the main airport of the country that is located in the capital city of Kinshasa.

It has now been confirmed that out of the 33 people on board the plane, there was only one survivor. Condolences have been offered to the families of those killed in the crash by the Security Council. It is thought that the plane missed the runway as it was coming in to land although the exact reasons for this happening are not yet confirmed. It is thought however that the wind conditions could have played a big part in the crash.

It is said that of the 33 passengers, four of them were the crew and the other 29 were UN personnel. It is said that the crew of the plane was Georgian. The plane in question was a Bombardier CRJ-200 jet which was part of Airzana Georgian Airways.

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Filed under Africa, International News Coverage