Monthly Archives: June 2011

Chinese migrant workers and information transfer

Great report by Reuters about the situation of migrant workers in China and the generational divide among that group. (And a special shout out to old fellow traveler Jeffrey Ballinger for pointing this story out.)

Special Report:China migrant unrest exposes generation fault line

Jeff asked if the younger migrant workers Tweeted, especially after workers in southern China rioted over the manhandling of a 20-year-old pregnant migrant hawking wares on the street. (Think Tunisia.)

The issue of migrant labor, the treatment of that labor affects the future of China.

The migrants are moving to places where the jobs are — something unheard of in the China of the far and near past. They are demanding fair treatment and services from the central and local governments.

“They look down on the outsiders, so we let them know we won’t be bullied anymore,” said a lanky 19-year-old migrant worker in Dadun, one of the many factory towns and villages that as made the Pearl River Delta, “the workshop of the world” in Guangdong province next to Hong Kong.

“People have been waiting a long time for a chance to get them back, they (security guards) discriminate against us,” he said as he watched his friends hammer away on a street fighter video game called Killer in a games parlor.

Interviews with dozens of migrants in Dadun and other nearby factory neighborhoods revealed raw resentment of harassment and shakedowns from public security teams and local security guards.

The central authorities in Beijing along with their minions in local governments are nervous about the migrant workers. The workers are no longer the docile masses that were easily manipulated 50 years ago. They are making demands.  (Such “outrageous” demands as education for their children.) The concern of the authorities is that these migrants might soon start taking their complaints to the Twitter-verse and other online fora.

As we have seen in Northern Africa, a routine (for corrupt dictatorships) action of harassing a street vendor can erupt into a national upheaval.

Rumors spread fast. And, in a country without independent media, tend to be believed more than the truth. Social media and mobile phone text messaging help move the rumors faster and farther than ever before.

This is the case in China. The situation for migrant workers is bad. As is the situation of farmers.

It must be the greatest fear in Beijing that exaggerated complaints of migrant workers and the farmers spread and then gain traction among the urban population.

The complaints are bad enough but without independent media to provide fact checking to rumors, it is the rumors that will be believed and acted on.

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Filed under Censorship, China

Lies do catch up — even with floating government officials

The latest meme out of China is the “Levitating Government officials.”

Seems after a new road was built in Huili, the actual pictures of the government officials inspecting the road did not look pretty enough, so a worker for the local government used PhotoShop (likely a bootleg version) to “fix” the problem.

The problem got worse as the government officials appeared to be floating on the road and people noticed.

I looked at the photo and I almost coughed out half a liter of blood! Even a rank amateur like myself can tell that this was a PhotoShop job…

And the obvious nature of the poor job led other Chinese to place the government officials into other situations.

Bottom line: There is nothing like truth and accuracy because eventually the lies will be found out and will bite you in the ass.

Many thanks to Boing Boing for pointing this out.

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Filed under Asia, Censorship

Highest bar and journalism ethics

A friend in Hong Kong just did a review of the highest bar in the world, the OZONE on the 118th floor of the Ritz in Hong Kong. (At Hong Kong Hotel, the World’s Highest Bar)

A couple of things…

  1. She noted that the three highest bars are in Shanghai and Hong Kong, two cities getting more infamous for the high levels of air pollution. (For a reaction to the pollution issue see: Tweets about Bad Air.)
  2. At the end of her extended comments about the bar Joyce noted: “I’ve heard some people here grumbling about the service. We were actually well served and treated. And, no — it wasn’t a press thingie. We went as normal diners and paid our own bill.”
Let’s talk about last item.
For American journalists there never would be any need to mention that a reviewer bad his/her own way. (Or at least had the news organization pay.) That is not the case around the world. And that is something American journalists have to understand.
During a panel discussion on ethics in journalism I chaired many years ago in Hong Kong for the Foreign Correspondents Club the differences between the American and European and Hong Kong journalists about what was ethical behavior was interesting. One Hong Kong journalist noted that if reporters did not get free tickets to movies or free meals at restaurants, there would be very few reviews in the Hong Kong media. American panelists expressed dismay at this position but recognized that — let’s face it there is no other way to say it — Hong Kong publishers are cheap.
The American panelists replied that if the only options were to accept a free ticket/meal or do no review, there would not be a review. For the Americans there was a clear bright line about what was allowed and what wasn’t. For the Hong Kongers the line was more muddled.
So to a U.S. eye, there are serious ethical problems with Hong Kong journalism. Yet, at the same time, Hong Kong journalists are the ONLY journalists in land controlled by Beijing that are not reined in by the government. The journalists in the Special Administrative Region are fiercely independent and (for the most part) willing to take on anyone and any government.
Joyce’s comment about who paid for the dinner is a good place to start for globally minded journalists to look for ways to discuss differences and similarities in how we do our jobs around the world.
(BTW, every journalist I knew in Hong Kong while I was there adhered strictly to the U.S. rule of accept no freebies. And at sometimes it was a shock to our European and Asian colleagues.)

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Filed under Asia, Connections

Tweets about bad air

To hear the Chinese government tell it the air quality in major Chinese cities is improving. And they publish the numbers to prove it.

Problem is, people don’t believe the numbers. The people living in Beijing and Guangzhou just don’t see much improvement in the air pollution situation.

A while back the U.S. Embassy in Beijing installed its own air quality tester and is Tweeting the results at BeijingAir.

The U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou has now done the same at Guangzhou_Air.

Thanks to my bud in Hong Kong Tom Crampton for writing about this.

And I second his motion:

It would be great if the US government set up a similar Twitter feed in Hong Kong and then created a “Compare the Air” app which allowed people to see which city suffered the worst air pollution on a given day.

And by the way, this is a great cheap service (and tweak of the Chinese censor’s nose) being provided by the U.S. government through the State Department. The same State Department that too many people want to cut back to near nothing.

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Filed under Censorship, China, International News Coverage

Vargas case prompts discussion in U.K.

The U.S. world of journalism has been hot with discussion about the case of Jose Antonio Vargas, the Filipino who outed himself as an illegal immigrant.

Now Roy Greenslade at the Guardian has stepped in. (That’s The Guardian as in The Guardian in LONDON, ENGLAND.)

What’s so wrong with being a journalist and an activist?

If nothing else, Greenslade’s piece points out two things:

  1. The U.S. view of journalism is not the universal view, even among democracies
  2. What happens in one country has an impact on another. (Even if sometimes the impact is forcing people to look more closely at their beliefs and practices. And is that really so bad?)

 

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Filed under Connections, International News Coverage

Cheap way to get info and beat censors

In some cases getting an Internet connection is a problem of getting past the censors and in other cases it is just the inability to find a decent connection.

Thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation the people of Jalalabad in Afghanistan put together a cheap Internet connection from on-hand junk.

Afghans Build Open-Source Internet From Trash

The system was built with material using open sourced guidance from Fabfi.

FabFi is an open-source, FabLab-grown system using common building materials and off-the-shelf electronics to transmit wireless ethernet signals across distances of up to several miles. With Fabfi, communities can build their own wireless networks to gain high-speed internet connectivity—thus enabling them to access online educational, medical, and other resources.

This is a great example of what the State Department is up to with its grant to help people get uncensored Internet connection: US helping people get around Internet censors

Maybe the bean counters who see nothing positive about small overseas’s grants might change their minds once they see that this program works and is a big benefit to promoting democracy and democratic ideals.

 

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Filed under Censorship, Freedom of access, Press Freedom

May 35th and Freedom of Expression

Wonderful piece in the New York Times about how the Chinese people use their language to express their views without bringing down the wrath of the censors and state security forces.

You might think May 35th is an imaginary date, but in China it’s a real one. Here, where references to June 4 — the date of the Tiananmen incident of 1989 — are banned from the Internet, people use “May 35th” to circumvent censorship and commemorate the events of that day.

It never ceases to amaze me how innovative people can be when they are faced with repressive regimes.

I was reminded that during the Cold War how Russians, Poles, Czechs, et al  all used humor to make a point about censorship or the lack of goods and services.

As I read the part about the difference between politicians in China and Taiwan, I was reminded an old joke about an argument between and American and a Soviet commissar.

American: In the United States we have the freedom of speech.

Russian:In Mother Russia we also have freedom of speech.

American: In the United States, I can take a soapbox, put it front of the White House, stand on it and say, “The president of the United States is a son of a bitch.”

Russian: Big deal. In Russia I too can take a soapbox, place it in Red Square in front of the Kremlin and say, “The president of the United States is a son of a bitch.”

Just change “Russian” with “Beijinger” and “Red Square”/”Kremlin” with “Tiananmen Square.”

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Filed under Censorship, Press Freedom