Monthly Archives: July 2011

Bad year for LatAm journalists, not that the US media care

The InterAmerican Press Association joined with just about every other journalism group looking at global press freedom issues to declare that things are getting worse in Latin America. (IAPA calls this ‘tragic year for journalism,’ urges President Correa to respect press freedom)

AFP carried the story as did El Universal. Too bad no U.S. news outlet saw the deterioration of press freedom in the Western Hemisphere as a worthy story to carry.

Let’s go through this again:

  1. Free and independent media mean an outside reputable force to check the abuse of governments and oligarchs.
  2. Checks on the abuse of power mean less corruption and stronger democratic institutions.
  3. Less corruption and stronger democratic institutions means more opportunities for the societies to grow and prosper economically.
  4. Stronger and growing economies in Latin America mean fewer opportunities for drug cartels to get a foothold and fewer people migrating to the United States in search of work.
So tell me again, how press freedom issues in Latin America have nothing to do with domestic U.S. issues? Or why it is not  important to report on these events?

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Filed under Central America, Press Freedom, South America

China’s Ministry of Truth banned terms — not all bad.

At first glance the latest pronouncements from China’s “Ministry of Truth” (Directives from the Ministry of Truth: Xinhua News Banned Terms) seem reasonable.

Terms prohibited for people with disabilities include “lame,” “cyclops,” “a blind,” “a deaf,” “idiot,” “fool,” “retarded,” and other derogatory titles. Instead use “disabled person,” “blind person,” “deaf person,” “intellectually challenged person,” and other such terms.


For parties involved in criminal cases, before the court has read a guilty verdict, do not use “criminal.” Instead use “criminal suspect.”

In civil and administrative cases, the plaintiff’s and defendant’s legal standings are the same. The plaintiff can sue the defendant and the defendant can counter-sue the plaintiff. Do not use colorful sentences such as “So-and-so has been placed in the dock.”

These are normal and ethical rules for fair and honest journalism. (See the SPJ Code of Ethics.)

Ah! But then comes the rules for reporting with “Chinese characteristics.”

When it is impossible to avoid referring to Taiwan’s political system and other organizations, quotations should be used. For example, Taiwan’s “Legislative Yuan,” “Executive Yuan,” “Control Yuan,” “Elections Committee,” “Executive Yuan’s Comptroller,” and so on.

As if the only democratically elected legislature and executive branch in a Chinese-speaking territory is not real. (Which, of course, to Beijing it is not.)

Politics and geography also get the “truth” treatment:

References to Xinjiang as “Eastern Turkestan” are strictly prohibited.


Do not use North Korea to refer to the Democratic People’s Republic of Choson. It can be abbreviated as “Choson.” English references should be “the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” or the DPRK.

After all that, doesn’t the SPJ Code of Ethics look a whole lot easier to follow?

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Filed under Censorship, China

Cuban flipping and flopping

I love it when a state-run news agency gets new marching orders.

Official Cuban Newspaper Complains About Transparency

Seems Raul Castro told a recent Party congress that ‘all information should be put on the table along with the reasons for each decision’ and that “the excess of secrecy should be suppressed.” (Except, of course “national security” items. And we all know what a long list of things fit into “national security” in Cuba.)

But here is the fun part.

Granma is complaining about the bureaucratic hoops one has to jump through just to get an interview with a student.

Up until the R. Castro speech, Granma was not silent on the issue of transparency but rather a full-throated defender of government efforts to limit restricted access to interview subjects or information.

I just love when history repeats itself.

For your history homework today: Look up the Pravda reports before and after the Stalin-Hitler pact of 1939. Discuss how the state-run media switched sides with the government overnight. For added points, explain how this is so much better than independent media free of government control.

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Filed under Censorship, Cuba, Press Freedom

Chinese censorship distorts reality

Thank you Freedom House.

The human rights organization posted a study by China Media Bulletin that showed how pervasive the censorship in China really is. (And along the way, showed how much Yahoo bends to the will of the state censors.)

The study, Cyberdisappearance in Action, used a very simple method to see what got censored.

To investigate this phenomenon in greater detail, the editors selected a sample of eight prominent activists, lawyers, and journalists, many of whom have used the internet as part of their activism. Freedom House staff then conducted searches for their names on (a Hong Kong–based site that is largely free of Chinese Communist Party censorship) and compared the results to those produced by, the dominant Chinese search engine;, the China-based version of the U.S. internet portal; and the search function of China’s popular Sina Weibo microblogging service—all three of which are subject to Communist Party restrictions. Although represents less than 1 percent of China’s search-engine market, it was included because its performance demonstrates the censorship requirements imposed on foreign internet companies seeking to operate in China.

The aim of the test was to simulate the experience of an average Chinese user who has heard the activists’ names and wants to learn more about them.

The results were not surprising. The Hong Kong sites provided plenty of information about the dissidents. The mainland China sites blocked access.

The findings reveal not just clear evidence of significant restrictions, but also the nuance with which the Chinese censorship apparatus imposes those restrictions. Ultimately, they provide a window into the distorted version of reality available to most Chinese internet users, as well as the Communist Party’s extensive efforts to isolate activists who cross an ever-shifting red line and limit their access to large audiences.

And speaking of just how distorted the view can be in a censored society, take a look at this first-hand account published in the Fairfax City PatchAnne’s Story: I Grew to Realize Falun Gong, Tiananmen Massacres Were Real (Many thanks to Patch editor Whitney Rhodes for bringing this story to my attention.)

Think about how unprepared a person will be for the “real world” if he/she ONLY hears news and commentary from one side.

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Filed under Censorship, China, Press Freedom

Bureaucrats don’t make the point well. Journalists fail to find the connection

The Cable over at has a nice little piece about the new Deputy Secretary of State for Management making the point that foreign aid is a vital part of  U.S. national security. (Nides: Foreign aid funding is a matter of national security)

To be sure anyone working the management beat for the State Department should be expected to find as many reasons as possible to prevent the State Department and the rest of the non-military international operation from being gutted.

To the cynic, it sounds as if Tom Niles is grasping at straws or trying to link the unpopular foreign affairs budget (unpopular because it really doesn’t have a constituency like the Defense or Commerce Departments have) with defense of the nation.

But if anyone would spend just a few minutes to think — and thinking seems to be in serious short supply when discussing the foreign affairs budget — it would be clear to that person that funding more civilian foreign affairs activities could mean sending fewer American young people into harms way as soldiers, sailors or Marines.

Programs paid for by The Agency for International Development are designed to build sustainable growth in poor countries. Once the people in those countries are able to earn some discretionary money — money not automatically taken up covering food and shelter — those people will start buying U.S. goods and services. (Oh, and the goods and services that helped bring those people out of poverty through AID programs were all from the United States.)

Development aid helps end poverty. Attacking poverty reduces the breeding grounds for terrorists and other criminal elements. 

So please tell me members of Congress and other short-sighted cutters of the foreign affairs budget: “How is a strong and sustainable civilian foreign service (and its programs) NOT a vital component of national security?”

Just a reminder:

The ENTIRE non-military portion of foreign affairs — all the embassies, all the salaries for the diplomats and support staff, all the foreign aid programs, all the exchange programs, all the export assistance programs — accounts for less than 1% of the entire U.S. budget!

Now, why is this message not getting out?

First, the State Department is notoriously weak when it come to explaining what it does and how its activities benefit people from the farm to Main Street to the factory floor. (Yes, it is getting better but those folks sure do love their acronyms and jargon. And AID is worse!)

Second, damn few reporters take the time to look at how foreign aid affects their local areas. And even fewer look at the context of foreign affairs in the larger economic/budget picture.

It is not the job of a journalist to tell the story of why the State Department and AID are such good guys and gals working to protect democracy. But it is a journalist’s job to but the budget discussions that are taking place into perspective.

Surveys show the American people think foreign affairs consumes about 25% of the budget. These same people thing that a fair amount to spend on foreign affairs is about 10%.  (With that information, the State Department should think about making a deal with Congress to “split the difference” between the actual budget and what people think “is about right” and settle at 5% of the federal budget. Just think of the good work that could be done to prevent wars and improve the American export market.)

So, how about when doing a story about the budget, look seriously at what the programs cost and what the American people get in return? You know, context!

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Filed under Connections

Guess some countries just don’t like that whole “openness thingy”

India Withdraws From Open Government Partnership

Yep, one of the original founding members of the Open Government Partnership decided it really didn’t want to be all that open.

India’s withdrawal came after having participated for months as one of nine countries on the steering committee created last fall after Obama’s speech.

India was concerned about the Independent Review Mechanism that would accompany government self-assessment, preferring not to have outsiders pass judgment on Indian affairs, according to those familiar with the situation.


In addition, the Indian government may be reluctant politically at this point to engage in a public consultation on transparency, observers said.

The OGP plan stresses that governments should engage the public to devise the action plans that those who join will commit to in September at the next OGP meeting, to be held in September on the fringe of the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York.

So maybe now isn’t the time to engage the citizens of India in a discussion of government openness and transparency.

From the OGP website:

The Open Government Partnership is a new multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. In the spirit of multi-stakeholder collaboration, OGP is overseen by a steering committee of eight governments and nine civil society organizations.

I can see why some countries would have a hard time with this.

  • Promote Transparency.
  • Empower citizens.
  • Fight Corruption.

Outrageous ideas.

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Filed under Connections, Corruption, Freedom of Information, International News Coverage

Very cool world map of social networks

World Map of Social Networks

Go to Vincos blog to see how this has changed over the years.


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Filed under Connections