Monthly Archives: May 2011

Chinese “minders” filmed by news crew

Australian broadcaster confronts his Chinese shadows. (In Shanghai 10 years ago the shadows were more polite.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Censorship, China

Russia, corruption and press freedom

It is all well and good that Russia signed on with the OECD anti-bribery accord.

But, as has been shown over and over, a government’s commitment to anti-corruption is almost directly related to the independence and freedom the news media enjoys in that country. (Press freedom and corruption: A look at some data)

With that in mind, remember that Russia ranks

So while Russia may have signed on to an important accord, a vital domestic resource that would normally hold the government accountable has been silenced.
Oh, by the way…

Why was there so little reporting in the USA about the OECD meeting that took place? It was the 50th anniversary of the organization. that alone should have earned a little more coverage.

1 Comment

Filed under Censorship, Corruption

Fighting corruption needs free media

As I have pointed out before, there is a very real connection between media suppression and corruption. (New corruption list out. Still a link between corruption and media suppression)

The combined forces of democratic institutions and free media are an unbeatable team to address the issue of corruption. And before anyone gets all high and mighty, democracy and free press do not guarantee and end to corruption. But at least this combination helps reduce it and bring the violators to justice.

Generally when most people talk about “free media” they mean  free and unfettered traditional media such as newspapers and television. If the Arab Spring has taught us anything, it is that online social media have to be included in the mix.

Besides calling for  secular and democratic governments, the protesters in Tunisia and Egypt called for an end to corruption.

And while traditional media were able to deal with large-scale investigations into corrupt practices in the past, staffing cutbacks have reduced the ability for a continuation of this type of important public service. Public-interest groups are working to fill in the gap, but one has to wonder about a hidden political agenda driving the investigation.

So that takes us to the role of social media fighting corruption.

At first glance, social media is a curse and a blessing in the fight.

The curse because of the lack of a filter on determining what is rumor and what is fact. What became clear in the Arab Spring uprisings, however, shows that — too a large degree — the social media postings were self-correcting.

The London School on Economics issued a new report this month that all should read: Harnessing Social Media Tools to Fight Corruption.

Note the opening of the report’s introduction:

Print media—often referred to as the fourth estate—has served as a corruption watchdog for over two hundred years. Investigative journalism serves as a check on governments and engages the public in an assessment of its efficiency. At the end of the Cold War, it was assumed that a free press would fortify democratic ideals across the world, and development agencies began funding countless projects aimed at training investigative journalists.1 However, these watchdog reporters were met by constraints, particularly government censorship and the demand for more marketable stories.2

As print media wanes in the face of globalisation, investigative journalism and international coverage are the two budgets most likely to be cut by media corporations.3 In his remarks before U.S. Congress about the death of investigative journalism, author David Simon concluded, ―it is going to be one of the great times to be a corrupt politician.‖4

But as one door closes, another opens. A 2010 report by Technology for Transparency suggests that the so-called fifth estate, or ―networked citizen media platforms that rely on the volunteer contributions of citizens‖ can not only fill the role of watchdog, but also enhance the rate and scope of investigation once provided by professional journalists. These platforms, enabled by online networks, technologies and social media are engaging Internet and mobile phone users to demand transparency and making corrupt behaviour risky for public and private sector actors alike.

Leave a comment

Filed under Censorship, Corruption, International News Coverage

Great Firewall designer pelted with shoes and eggs

Don’t let anyone tell you that the  growing opposition to the Great Firewall of China is just a Western myth.

At a recent speech at Wuhan University Fang Binxing, the father of the great firewall of China, was pelted with shoes. And cheers were “heard” around the Internet in China.

The Guardian reported (China’s ‘great firewall’ creator pelted with shoes):

Associated Press said police were sent to the university to investigate a shoe-throwing incident targeting Fang on Thursday, citing an officer at the Luojiashan public security bureau.

A Hong Kong activist had posted a message noting that Fang, the president of Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, was giving a speech at Wuhan and urging students to “prepare”.

The Twitter user who claimed to have pelted him, who posts under the pseudonym @hanunyi, wrote: “The egg missed the target. The first shoe hit the target. The second shoe was blocked by a man and a woman.

The firewall prevents Internet users to access such simple sites as Facebook and the Internet Movie Database.

Okay, I can understand why the xenophobic leaders in Beijing want to block Facebook. (After all, the view is that it is not good to hear any opinions other than the ruling party.)

But to block iMDb?

Guess the leadership doesn’t want anyone to know about the great filmography of Steve Guttenberg.

Leave a comment

Filed under Censorship, China, Press Freedom

China “eases” controls on food reporting

Associated Press is reporting that Chinese censors are giving the press more latitude in reporting problem of tainted food and other food safety issues.

China gives press more freedom — for food safety

But why do I think this will be just like the numerous times Beijing encouraged reporting on censorship and other problems? As soon as it becomes clear the problem is system wide and that top-ranking party and government officials at numerous ministries allowed the problem to grow and fester, my bet is the shackles will be placed on the media again.

And an important Chinese media leader agrees:

Chang Ping, a former columnist fired from the gutsy Southern Metropolis Weekly for his critiques, said reporters have long had a freer hand on food troubles as long as they portray them as isolated rather, than systemic problems.

“The reports may look very free, but in fact they don’t push anyone to really consider the root causes of what’s going on,” Chang said.

How long do you think the local and national government leaders will allow reporting that affects not just the food supply but — to them — the more important industrial sector.

For example, thousands of hectares are flooded with industrial waste. The toxins and heavy metals in that waste find their way into the food chain.

While there may be a report about tainted food, little is done to stop the source of the poisons and news outlets that point the finger at the industrial polluters are harassed and (often) shut down.

So, let us celebrate a small victory that the masters in Beijing see the importance of media coverage as a way to point out and correct society’s ills. But let us not forget that the Chinese leadership still sees the media’s job to comfort the comfortable and afflict the critics.

Oh, and to the “LOCAL! LOCAL! LOCAL!” advocates: Remember that a lot of tainted items make their way into the local markets. So this is also a VERY local story.

Leave a comment

Filed under Censorship, China, Corruption, Press Freedom, Story Ideas

New Efforts Announced To Fight Internet Censorship

The U.S. government is about to put US$30 million into efforts to break Internet censorship.

Or at least make it much more difficult for governments to keep their people from getting news and information unfiltered by government censors.

The Guardian reports today that the U.S. government will fund new technology aimed at breaking internet censorship in repressive regimes such as China and Iran.

Michael Posner, assistant Secretary of State for human rights, said projects will include “slingshot” technology that will identify censored material and throw it back on to the web for users to find.

“We’re responding with new tools. This is a cat-and-mouse game. We’re trying to stay one step ahead of the cat,” Posner said. Censored information would be redirected to email, blogs and other online sources, he said. He would not identify the recipients of funding for “reasons of security”.

The comments came after the U.S. and China held their regular Human Right Dialog.

Only in the past couple of years has the State Department begun to understand how technology can help in the promotion of American policy and human rights. The dynamic use of social media in the Arab Spring is the best and most recent example of why promotion of Internet (and by extension all media) freedom is important to all democracies. The U.S. State Department, for once, is trying to get ahead of the game by being very aggressive in its use of social media.

The big push for more social media use is coming from the top, specifically top advisor to Sect. Clinton’s Alec Ross (@AlecJRoss on Twitter). With more than 340,000 Twitter followers — that makes him #3 in U.S. government Tweeters — Ross is able to move ideas and issues around the globe quickly. Reportedly it was Ross who persuaded former U.S. ambassador to China Jon Huntsman to specifically seek out bloggers throughout China for discussions and interviews, and thereby bypassing the official Chinese media.

It will be interesting to see how the money is spent and how successful the project is.

1 Comment

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

Status of world press freedom

Freedom House released its annual Press Freedom survey this week as part of World Press Freedom Day.

And the news is not good. By the Freedom House figures, about 85 percent of the people in the world live in countries where the media are either “Partly Free” or “Not Free” from government interference.

Freedom of the Press 2011 Survey Release

Freedom of the Press 2011 identifies the greatest threats to independent media in 196 countries and territories. Released on May 2 as part of the UNESCO World Press Freedom Day celebration in Washington, D.C., the report shows that global media freedom has reached a new low point, contributing to an environment in which only one in every six people live in countries with a Free press.

Rest of report.

Obviously I have an interest in how Honduras is doing. Unfortunately for that Central American country, the situation has deteriorated such that it moved from “Free” to “Partly Free.” It was joined by Egypt, Hungary, Mexico, South Korea, Thailand, and Ukraine.

The rate of decline in press freedom seems to be stepping up. The Freedom House team put together a couple of 5-year trend charts to show what has been happening. (To repeat: Things don’t look good.)

The Freedom House report noted: “Not since 2006 have so many countries in the [Americas] been designated Not Free.” And, as noted above, the Americas are not unique in this depressing situation.

Besides all the charts and tables, there is the famous Press Freedom Map. This is a “must have” for any newsroom, freelancer’s home office and j-school. (Yes, you can get a copy.)

1 Comment

Filed under Connections, Press Freedom