Monthly Archives: December 2011

China’s intellectual gap with America

This has nothing to do with who is smarter but rather who is more willing to learn about the other.

Great little piece in Caixin called The Closing of Chinese Minds.

What makes it even more interesting is that Caixin is a mainland China news organization.

The publication has a history of being a thorn in the side of China’s political and business leadership. Besides the stories it publishes, Caixin puts online reporters’ notes and all the documents used to back up the story. And with more Chinese turning to the Internet to get news, Caixin fills an important gap in information.

Caixin editor Hu Shuli

The editor in chief of Caixin Hu Shu Li told an audience at the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’s Club this past summer that independent and ethical journalism is vital.

“What the public demand and deserve is the right to know,” she told the FCC audience. “More than ever the public needs the media to present the hard facts with all the complexities and nuances.”

FYI: Caixin recently published a story with back-up documents that showed high-speed rail designer  Zhang Shuguang owns a US$800,000 (7.12 million RMB) home near Los Angeles on a monthly salary of 2,200 RMB.

But, let’s get back to that intellectual gap.

Just before Christmas, Caixin published the The Closing of Chinese Minds column.

Journalists Nailene Chou Wiest noted how China has pulled back from trying to understand more about how American society and politics work.

“…the more the Chinese think they know about America, the greater their incapacity to change their prejudices. Conspiracy theories, such as the notion the CIA maintains an office in every CNN bureau, abound.”

Nailene Chou Wiest

She starts her story with how “in 1979 a group of Chinese editors was about to visit the United States. Asked what they would like to see, one solemnly replied: ‘We want to know how the party secretary of New York controls The New York Times.'”

To correct the situation exemplified by the editors in 1979, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences inaugurated the Institute of American Studies in 1981. China was eager to learn from the U.S. American foundations reciprocated by providing generous funding and resources. By the mid-1990s, however, the interest narrowed to Sino-American diplomatic relations.

I saw this lack of understanding first hand in 1992 when the US Information Agency library in Shanghai provided live satellite feeds of the U.S. presidential election returns. Chinese journalists on hand could not understand how ABC could have different numbers for the presidential vote than CBS or NBC. Adding to their confusion was the fact that none of the numbers were being cleared by an agency in Washington.

The misunderstandings continue.


In my field, many journalists and journalism professors have been invited to visit the U.S. They have enhanced American scholars’ understanding of the changing Chinese media landscape, but their own comprehension of the American media remains at the textbook level. While the legend of Walter Cronkite as the iconic TV anchor lives on, few have heard of Bill O’Reilly or have an inkling that the conservative made a highly successful industry out of talk radio and the Fox News Channel. Still bashing corporate greed for killing the American news media, they seem oblivious to the assault on media profits by technological changes that have made some quality media outfits more like millstones around the necks of their owners than cash cows. Relying on a few translated volumes of media studies, or, worse, polemics in the Chinese press, they are out of touch with the American reality.

She points out that the Chinese sent to the United States under the institute’s aegis now go so that Americans can learn about China, not so the Chinese can better understand the United States.

It is ironic. After all, to hear many of the political voices in the United States today the issue is similar. These xenophobic Americans care little about learning about other societies or cultures. Too many average Americans agree.

Personal note: I still recall with horror how in the summer of 2000 (or so) when we told a shop owner in Michigan that we lived in Hong Kong, he paused and then asked, “That’s in Ohio, right?”

In a democracy, the people set the tone for what the government does. An uninformed or ill-informed public can lead to disastrous results. Maybe not a full-scale ware but economic and social upheaval are possible. (And it doesn’t help when political leaders think foreign policy can be handled with an electrified fence and over-sized military.)

News organizations can help. And — here comes that old argument again — it can be done without having to go overseas.

The immigrant communities in the United States can provide valuable insights other cultures.

Investments in the United States by companies from other countries tell tales of linkages and connections that can be seen on a local level. (Think of all the Ohioans who have a job because Honda — of Japan — opened factories in that state.)

All it takes is a little imagination by editors and reporters to see the global-local link.

Or, we could just go down the road of China (modern and historic) and not think there is anything worth learning from outsiders.

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Filed under Connections, Freedom of Information, International News Coverage, Story Ideas

A look back at censorship in China

Many thanks to the Freedom House China Media Bulletin for working up this list of the worst and the weirdest of Chinese media control efforts.

Chinese Censorship in 2011: The Worst and the Weirdest

The Worst:

In 2011 Chinese leaders appeared to emphasize propaganda value over commercial viability and audience demand. For example, all commercial TV ads were replaced with propaganda messages in Chongqing.
In addition to censorship and criminal charges, a growing number of journalists, bloggers, and online activists were subjected to physical violence and arbitrary detention under harsh conditions, with sometimes fatal results
In response to challenges from the micro-bloggers Chinese officials made repeated visits and statements designed to emphasize the need for domestic microblog providers to ramp up controls and eradicate “rumors.” Beijing also announced new rules that require real-name registration and avoidance of a laundry list of vaguely defined topics. If this trend continues, the “microblogosphere” of 2012 may be a shadow of its former self.
Editors and internet-portal staff reportedly receive as many as three notices per day—by text message, phone call, or e-mail—that contain updates, adjustments, and minutiae pertaining to official censorship directives.
Foreign firms attempting to gain access to the vast Chinese market have faced countless obstacles, and the internet sector is no exception. Applications that fail to comply with the government’s censorship and surveillance demands are generally banned in China, allowing their domestic competitors to flourish.
Barely a week goes by without some new evidence of the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to sway foreign audiences, partner with other regimes’ state media, or suppress overseas criticism of its policies. During 2011 content-sharing agreements were reached with state media in Syria and Zambia, assistance to Ethiopia’s government in jamming dissident broadcasts, the launch of Arabic and Thai-language versions of China’s Baidu search engine, and the jailing of Falun Gong radio broadcasters in Indonesia and Vietnam.
Throughout 2011, there were numerous reports of cyberattacks, cyberespionage, and hacking that originated in China, and evidence steadily accumulated that these acts were carried out with government approval. Targets included Britain’s Foreign Office; at least five multinational energy companies; the French Finance Ministry; and the accounts of hundreds of Gmail users, including human rights activists, journalists, military personnel, and senior government officials in the United States and South Korea

The Weirdest:

Chinese officials frequently call for a crackdown on “fake news,” but the targets often involve factual accounts of corruption, police brutality, and other abuses. Yet state media were repeatedly fabricating their own reports. Alert netizens noticed when state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) used footage of fighter jets from the 1986 Hollywood blockbuster Top Gun as part of a news segment on a Chinese air force drill.
Sometimes the extent of the censors’ paranoia still manages to surprise. China’s media regulator urged television broadcasters to refrain from airing popular fantasy dramas that involve characters traveling back in time, as they could encourage harmful phenomena like “feudalism, superstition, fatalism, and reincarnation.
In June 2011, a state-sponsored movie celebrating the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party was widely panned and proved unable to draw crowds on its own. This caused Chinese authorities to censor online reviews to prevent critical comments, require state-owned enterprises to arrange theater trips for employees and delay the release of Hollywood blockbusters such as the new Transformers and Harry Potter films.
Organizers of the World Cup golf tournament held in Hainan succeeded where the International Olympic Committee failed in 2008—they convinced the Chinese government to grant uncensored internet access for the international sporting event. The open access was made through a server based in Hong Kong to more than 120,000 attendees and participants. This allowed journalists and fans from China to temporarily enjoy a privilege that is routinely denied to their 1.3 billion fellow citizens.
The use of Chinese flags and military symbols in the MGM remake of the cold-war action film Red Dawn drew the ire of the Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece Global Times. As a result, MGM digitally changed the flags and symbols to North Korean.

The Chinese government published a tit-for-tat response to the U.S. State Department’s annual human rights reports. The Chinese critique of U.S. human rights practices included “fairly strict restriction” of the internet. And yet roughly 80 percent of the sources cited in the Chinese report were U.S. media outlets, websites, government entities, and civil society groups, indirectly undermining the report’s claim that the United States had “turned a blind eye to its own terrible human rights situation and seldom mentioned it.”

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

Visas=International Visitors=U.S. Jobs. Why so little coverage?

As December wound down, there was talk about closing the U.S. government again. And obviously that included all the U.S. embassies.

The embassies — and the consulates attached to them — issue visas for people from other countries to visit the United States.

And guess what? Those visitors create jobs.

Simple math: No visas=no visitors=fewer jobs for Americans. (That is so simple that even a math-phobic journalist can understand it.)

One of the best example of how visas=jobs comes from Brazil.

A Florida business group estimated that for every 82 visas issued to Brazilians, one job is created in Florida.

The State Department announced this past week that it is sending more foreign service officers to Brazil to handle the growing demand for visas. Last year the embassy and its three constituent consulates issued 820,000 visas. Also during 2010 the State Department said 1.2 million Brazilians visited the United States, contributing $6 billion to the U.S. economy. (Obviously there are a lot of Brazilians with multiple entry visas from previous years.)

If all the people who got visas in 2010 visited Florida, which they most likely did not because Las Vegas is also a popular spot for Brazilians, that means 100,000 jobs were created in Florida. But for the sake of argument, let’s say only half went to Florida. That is still 50,000 jobs. The other 50,000 jobs would be spread out over the rest of the country.

That is only Brazil.

Given the weak dollar, visitors from around the world find the U.S. a good value vacation spot. Each and every visitor from another country helps with the trade balance figures and creates jobs in the United States.

So why are we not seeing more reporting on the connection between government operations, international visitors, job creation and the impact on the economy in general? (It was up to AFP — a French news service — to carry the story about the visas in Brazil.)

Maybe if LOCAL reporters were to look at the impact international trade — including international visitors — has on the LOCAL economy, then maybe LOCAL news outlets would be providing important information to their LOCAL readers/viewers about the importance of a global economy and government operations. (Like how I made the bean counters happy? Got four “Local’s” in one sentence.)




Filed under Connections, International News Coverage, Jobs, Story Ideas

Why following the global economy is important

I keep making this point: The impact of  global economy needs to be better reported. And here is an example of how to find a hook most Americans can relate to.

BTW, Budweiser is owned by AmBev, a Brazilian company.

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Filed under Connections

Journalists killed in 2011: CPJ list looks at reasons for killings

The Committee to Protect Journalists issued its list of journalists killed in 2011. And what is important about this list is that CPJ divides the list between those journalists killed because of their work and those killed for undetermined reasons.

According to CPJ 43 journalists were killed this year because of their work. The most deadly place for journalists was Pakistan with seven journalists killed directly related to their jobs.

Deadliest Countries in 2011

  1. Pakistan: 7
  2. Iraq: 5
  3. Libya: 5
  4. Mexico: 3
  5. Bahrain: 2

Remember, these are killings directly attributable to the job of journalism. The CPJ seems to be the only group working to investigate why some journalists are killed around the world.
According to the CPJ, an additional 35 journalists were killed but the reasons for those killings cannot — or have not yet been — tied to the journalist’s work.
And it is this category that all of the Honduran killings fall.
Adding in this list, Pakistan becomes worse with an additional five killings this year. Mexico would add another four, etc.
Another country in the headlines for journalists being killed is Honduras. So far this year, four Honduran journalists were killed — more than the confirmed Mexican killings. But it also looks as if many of the killings could be the result of “wrong place/wrong time.”
One of the important thing about good journalism is its commitment to getting the story right. It does little good to hype all killings of journalists as attacks on the media. And yet over and over journalism organizations look at the total number of journalists killed — with the exception of CPJ — as evidence of attacks on the media.
Could some of the unconfirmed attacks be related to the journalists’ job? Sure. But without facts to back up the accusations, the distinction is important to make.

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Filed under Harassment

Brazilians debating journalism requirements — again

Back in 2009 the Brazilian supreme court ruled that a requirement of a journalism degree was necessary to be a journalist was unconstitutional. The court argued that such a rule — one implemented by the former dictatorship that ended in 1985 — violated the constitutional protections of free speech and freedom of the press.

All in all an intelligent decision.

Seems, however, many in Brazil do not agree.

The Brazilian senate approved Nov. 30 — in a 65-7 vote — a proposed change to the constitution that would require journalists to have an advanced degree.

The proposal still needs a second vote in the Senate. If it passes then — as expected — it will go to the House for its approval.

One senator called the move the first step in controlling the media.

Another said, “What was done here was to circumvent the Supreme Court’s. There is here no public interest in the approval of [the change].” He added that the work of a journalist “is an instrument linked to freedom of expression.”

The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas held a series of online discussions debating the requirement.

So far, unheard since the vote is the voice of the president, Dilma Rousseff, who has been a vocal supporter of free and independent media.

To be sure, she has spoken out against censorship and control of the media by the government — often putting her at odds with her party and her mentor, former president Lula da Silva. One of her favorite phrases is “Better the noise of freedom than the silence of dictatorship.”

Just prior to leaving office, Lula convened a meeting of “social” organizations to create a committee to “guide” the media. All of the news organizations in the country opposed the action. Once Lula left office and Dilma took over the presidency the idea of a guiding committee run by the executive office faded.

The move to impose academic requirements on journalists is seen — by some in the media — as another way to control or “guide” the news organizations.

In particular, many in the ruling coalition are upset with the aggressive nature of the Brazilian media in digging up corrupt practices by various government ministers.

Since taking office in January of this year, Dilma has discharged or accepted the resignations of four ministers and other top government leaders due to accusations of corruption. In each case the alleged illegal acts were revealed by the media.

Dilma has sided with the media’s right to investigate and report on these cases, much to the chagrin of her party and Lula. Now she needs to get control of her party in the Congress to prevent legislation that will return Brazil’s media laws to the days of the dictatorship.


Filed under Corruption, Press Freedom

A look at how Twitter affects mainstream media

Great column by The Guardian‘s Roy Greenslade on the relationship between Twitter and the mainstream media.

The analysis, by the business information company Precise, shows that there is a complex interaction between social and mainstream media.

It is certainly not a straightforward case of cause and effect. Nor is it always a simple matter of the sheer volume of social media comments driving the mainstream news agenda.

Precise’s research report, 2011 – The year of the perfect Twitter storm, also illustrates that the speed and unpredictability of Twitter is a challenge to mainstream media.

Read the whole column: When is a Twitter storm a real Twitter storm?

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Filed under Connections, International News Coverage