Monthly Archives: May 2012

Who would have thought: US Consulate in Hong Kong “acts cute.”

Never would have thought that the U.S. diplomats in Hong Kong could act cute. (Serious, concerned, even pompous. But cute?)

Seems, however, when the consulate team tweeted — in a humorous manner — about China’s reaction to the U.S. State Department Human Rights Report, it struck a nerve in China. (Thanks to China Digital Times for the report.)

On May 25, the official Weibo account of the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong published its “Thoughts on Reading the U.S. Human Rights Report in the Style of the People’s Daily.” The humorous and sarcastic tone of the comments caused large scale re-posting and commenting. One sentence that particularly garnered attention– “Why do you always delete me?”–earned the consulate the nickname “American Imperialist Acting Cute.”

The tweet that started it all:

@usainhkmacau: Thoughts on Reading the U.S. Human Rights Report in the Style of the People’s Daily #2: “We should actively participate in and promote democracy and human rights through political dialogue. Because of each individual country’s different social structure, level of development and traditions, we understand the concepts of democracy and human rights differently. This is totally normal. The key is to seek common ground in spite of the differences.” (Then why do you always delete me?)

Some of the comments that flooded the Internet in China:

  • piggyogre_Jr: I strongly condemn the American imperialist attempt to interfere in my country’s domestic affairs by acting cute.
  • Ambiguous_Yu: To be deleted you means you are in their hearts.
  • DuduCola: Don’t you know how to punctuate? Political dialogue means you can’t speak unless your politics are correct [“dialogue” (duìhuà 对话) becomes “correct, speak” (duì, huà 对, 话)]. If your politics are not right to begin with, of course your comments will be deleted.
  • LiKedian: Quick, everyone come look! @usainhkmacau is facing off against @PeoplesDaily! @BeijingDaily @HuXijin @SimaNan hurry and join the fight!

And then the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai joined in from its Weibo account:

@USConsulateShanghai: Yeah, One World, One Dream! //@usainhkmacau: Thoughts on Reading the U.S. Human Rights Report in the Style of the People’s Daily #1: “Developing democracy and guaranteeing human rights have always been the goals and values of Chinese Communist Party members.” (Huh! All this bickering and our goals are democracy and human rights. There’s no conflict!)

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Filed under Censorship, China, Connections

10 arrested in Villatoro murder

First the good news: The Honduran police and prosecutors are moving against 10 suspects in the murder case of journalist Alfredo Villatoro.

Now the bad news: The Honduran police are not known for their investigative skills. I have to be concerned that poor procedures could get the cases tossed. A number of others in the country share this concern.

Here is hoping that this case — unlike just about all the other cases involving the killing of journalists, lawyers and reformers — will go all the way to trial, prosecution and successful conviction and incarceration.


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Filed under Honduras, Killings

People’s Daily Admits: “Chinese media must sing the main theme”

No more hiding behind democracy with Chinese characteristics or “our own of version of press freedom.” The mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China said it straight out: There cannot be free press in China as long as the Communist Party rules.

Thanks to the China Media Project for Who is Beijing Daily speaking for?

CMP reports that an editorial in the paper criticized “commercial newspapers and magazines” in China of being infected with Western notions of journalism. (That would be things like asking questions instead of taking dictation and seeking out views other than the official version of a situation.)

The  editorial says Western concepts of the media’s role do not suit China’s unique “circumstances”.

 “Chinese media must sing the main theme,” the editorial said, a reference to the media’s role as propaganda vehicles for the CCP. “This is determined by China’s political system, and accords with the realities of China as a nation of 1.3 billion people. The fact is that for China to develop it must maintain social stability, and it must create a public opinion environment conducive to stability.”

So it is the same old meme that party/government must control the media to ensure stability.

They seem to keep missing the point that NO ONE in China trusts the state-controlled media. More people depend on word of mouth, text messages and Internet chatrooms/micro-blogs for news.

And we all know how reliable all those outlets are. (Ever play the game of “telephone” with 10 people? Try it with several hundreds of millions.)

Here is the bottom line for the folks at Zhongnanhai: Controlling the media leads to rumors. Rumors lead to inaccurate reports. Inaccurate reports lead to distrust in the government. Distrust of the government leads to instability.

The “Western” alternative: A free press dispels rumors with facts. With facts people see potential solutions to problems and tend not to panic. When people don’t panic stability is achieved.

Maybe these concepts are too simple for the party leadership to grasp.

Oh, and this goes for all dictatorships. You listening Syria, Cuba, Iran and Saudi Arabia? (Freedom House Press Freedom Index)

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Filed under Censorship, China

From the censors: Troubling terms in China

The Chinese leadership steps in quickly when things happen it doesn’t want the people don’t hear about. Search terms on the Internet quickly get blocked.

Thanks to China Digital Times, we get to hear about the new terms being blocked.

Sensitive Words: Foreigners and Cannibals (Correction and Update)

Most of the items blocked are related to specific things such as the US ambassador speaking out or speculation around a  missing person case.

But then there are things the Party leadership just think should not be considered on general principles:

Generally blocked: These terms are not related to particular events.

unjust case (冤案)

obscene (猥亵)

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Filed under Censorship, China

FARC to release French journalist

The Colombian gang FARC announced it would release French journalist Romeo Langlois tomorrow.

The FARC, which started as a leftist insurgency but has now basically settled into narcotics trafficking and kidnapping, captured Langlois after a firefight with Colombian armed forces. Langlois was traveling with the Colombians to report on their activities.

Colombia’s Farc rebels release video of French reporter (BBC)

The announcement came a day before the FARC released a video of Langlois. Not surprisingly the video was sent to Telesur in Venezuela.


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Filed under International News Coverage, South America

Honduran journalists call for end to violence

Honduran journalists around the country called for an end to escalating violence in the country that also threatens free media May 25.

Twenty-two journalists have been killed in Honduras in the past two years. Many of the journalists received threats to back off on their reporting of narco influence in the country. Unfortunately, because of the weak judicial system and ill-trained police (and corrupt police), none of the cases have been investigated to determine the reason for the murders or even who did the crimes.

Without investigations it is difficult to claim that the killings were directly related to the journalists’ jobs. It is a pretty fair assumption that many were killed because they were looking into issues that the criminal elements in the country did not want exposed. But some could have also been killed because of mistaken identity or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. (The Committee to Protect Journalists can confirm only three of the 22 journalists killed in teh past two years were murdered because of their work.)

The demonstrations in Honduras yesterday were well attended and made the point that killing journalists will not kill the truth. It was the one time the political, social and economic communities united on that one message.

Unfortunately, such demonstrations do not achieve that vital “tipping point” in society to get everyone on board to end the violence.

I am firmly convinced that the Lobo government wants to end the violence that has placed Honduras as the most dangerous country in the world. I also believe that there are hundreds — if not thousands — of everyday people who want to end the violence.

Unfortunately, the general sense of the society seems to be to NOT step up and demand the government and its institutions do something about ending the violence and corruption.

Few seem to be making the connection that their freedoms are at risk by those who are killing the journalists. And the demonstration May 25 was a good start to helping educate the public, but I don’t hold out hope that the process can be sustained.

Here are links to some of the coverage of the demonstrations: (Use Google Translate to work through the Spanish.)

La Prensa:

El Heraldo

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Filed under Corruption, Honduras, Killings

Efforts afoot to make State Dept. blogs, Tweets and websites legal

You know the old joke: If “pro” is the opposite of “con,” what is the opposite of “progress?”

According to The Cable, Congress is finally looking at amending the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 that forbade the non-military foreign policy agencies from communicating directly to the American people. (Much ado about State Department propaganda) That means Congress is finally understanding that more people get their information from sources other than the afternoon newspaper and three radio networks.

The original idea was fine: The law banned the US government from using its outreach programs, such as The Voice of America, to influence US audiences. Some smarter members of Congress and the Truman Administration did not want to have the US equivalent of Pravda or The People’s Daily.

But then came the Internet. And I  remember how VOA worried that they had a real problem.

If, they argued, the VOA started posting news on this new thing called the Internet, how could they make sure that none of their output was seen or heard by a domestic US audience? There was actually talk back in the day to set up the VOA site so no American ISP could access it.

In the end, cooler and smarter heads prevailed. Now anyone can see and hear what VOA is sending around the world.

And this brings us to the State Department’s use of the Internet.

Just about every US embassy has a website. (Yes, the design sucks, but it was built as a one-size fits all out of Washington. I understand that is changing soon.) To get around the restrictions of the website design and to reach a wider audience, many embassies also have Facebook sites. (Click here for the US embassy in Honduras site.)

Many ambassadors also Tweet (As in my wife: @USAmbHondruas) and blog. These two items have developed into an excellent way for ambassadors to reach out to audiences not only in their host countries but also to people around the world concerned with the issues raised by the ambassadors. And it gets a discussion going.

According to Josh Rogin, maybe all this Internet outreach has been on the edge of illegal. Let’s all hope the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 passes.

Why is it important that  the State Department and other non-military foreign affairs agencies be allowed to communicate with the American people?

Basically it is to help educate the American people about what is being done in their name. And to educate them on how inexpensive all that work really is.

A large majority of Americans think the non-military foreign affairs budget accounts for about 25% of the US budget. A smaller majority thinks 5% is about the right amount to spend on diplomats and development aid programs. The actual number is less than 1% of the federal budget.

And there are those who want to cut that even more.

If the American people can more easily see that visits of music and sports stars to other countries help build trust or that a small development program convinces a small farmer to stay in his country instead of illegally coming to the United States, then maybe that is not so bad. Maybe if the American people see that there are thousands of US diplomats working each day to make sure treaties are enforced and that American citizens are treated fairly and that US businesses have a fair chance at exporting goods, then maybe it’s not so bad that the Smith-Mundt law has not been harshly enforced.

It would just be nice if the diplomats and VOA could keep doing what they are doing legally.

The update for Smith-Mundt was intended to recognize that U.S. public diplomacy needs to compete on the Internet and through satellite channels and therefore the law preventing this information from being available to U.S. citizens was simply obsolete.

Oh, and in case anyone is worried that if the changes occur, VOA will run the US media out of business (yes, there are some people who are so concerned), here is the answer:

Section 1437 of the existing legislation requires the State Department to defer to private media whenever possible and Section 1462 requires State to withdraw from a government information activity whenever a private media source is found as an adequate replacement.

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Filed under Connections, Freedom of access, Freedom of Information, Story Ideas