Monthly Archives: April 2013

China’s censoring ideas have long reach

Many thanks to Freedom House for its latest report on how China is bullying organizations — and governments — around the world into preventing dissidents from having a forum

The Long Arm of China’s Transnational Censorship

Read full story.

The most recent in a growing list of these transnational censorship efforts involves the University of Sydney, one of Australia’s most respected institutions of higher education. According to a Reuters report, the university’s Institute for Democracy and Human Rights had invited the Dalai Lama to speak at a campus forum during his planned visit to the country in June. Subsequently, university authorities demanded that the event be moved off campus, that the university logo not be displayed, that there be no press coverage, and that attendance by campaigners for a free Tibet be barred. Not surprisingly, organizers called off the event instead.

The university administration’s intervention came in a context of increasingly close economic ties between China and Australia. Trade between the two countries has mushroomed in recent years, reaching $120 billion in 2011. Earlier, Prime Minister Julia Gillard had refused to meet with the Dalai Lama, a move that triggered strong criticism. As for the University of Sydney, it has recently opened a Confucius Institute, part of an international network of facilities funded and overseen by the Chinese government that provide instruction on Chinese culture and language. It is unclear whether Chinese officials directly asked university leaders to disinvite the Dalai Lama or the administration took preemptive action. The initial result, in any event, was a serious blow to the once-sacred value of academic freedom.

 

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Filed under Censorship, China, Connections, International News Coverage

Just calling for press freedom is not enough. We need the WHY

In this month’s issue of the Quill — the official publication of the Society of Professional Journalists — is a brief piece on International Press Freedom day. (Take action for world press freedom)

While author Bruce C. Swaffield makes an important point that U.S. journalists should be more aware of threats to press freedom and do more to defend our colleagues under threat, he does not explain WHY.

Swaffield says journalists could write a story for your paper, broadcast station, website or blog, post a comment on Facebook or Twitter; hold a special discussion during lunch in the newsroom or in the  college newspaper office; send an email or letter to an ambassador in a country where the press is being suppressed or censored; place a small sign in the window of your car proclaiming, “Today is World Press Freedom Day.”

Those are all very good ideas. They cover the WHOWHAT and WHERE. But what is missing is the WHY! And as all good journalists know, the WHY is an important part of putting the story into context.

  • WHY should a local newspaper or television station care about press freedom issues in other countries? (Other than for  general humanitarian reasons.)
  • WHY should local readers/viewers/listeners in the United States care?

For some of us, it is second nature to see how events in other countries affect Americans. That is because some of us have had the opportunity and privilege to either live overseas or visit other countries for more than just guided tourism. But for most Americans — included educated and intellectually curious people — making the link between foreign affairs and domestic affairs does not come as rapidly.

Answering the question of WHY people should be aware of international events puts these events into a context that all can understand. So let’s discuss some WHY-related issues.

Business/Trade

Americans can buy inexpensive goods from around the world because of foreign trade. Think of the Toyota or Honda you drive or the Chilean Granny Smith apples available in the winter or the toys made in China.

How does doing business at the local Honda dealer or Wal-Mart tie into press freedom?

Before any business signs a contract with a supplier or distributor it needs to know that the contract will be honored. Likewise, the business needs to have an accurate understanding of the economics of the deal. They need information about inflation, currency fluctuations, work force levels and infrastructure are vital to any business. And woe be it to the businessman who does not find a way to get that information before signing a contract.

This information is especially necessary if a company wants to sell to another country.

In North America and most of Europe that data are readily available either directly from the government or via enterprising reporting by journalists.

In China, Argentina, Venezuela, Cuba, etc that information is not available so easily because the governments hide the data and interfere with any attempts by the media to get it.

So for local companies looking to expand their markets, they should be concerned about how free the media are in their targeted market.

Foreign Investment in the United States

Just as American companies open factories and facilities around the world, foreign companies return the favor in the United States.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, direct foreign investment in the United States was valued at $2.34 trillion in 2009.

A look at employment from these direct investments is also telling. The Census Bureau shows that in 2008 direct investment in the United States by foreign companies accounted for 5.6 million jobs, or about 4.7 percent of the workforce.

And the nice thing about a lot of these tables is that you can get a state-by-state breakdown of investments. For example, about 140,000 jobs in Indiana are directly related to foreign investment in that state.

One of the reasons companies from other countries invest in the United States is because of the ready access to information that makes for good business decisions. A key element of that access is free and independent journalism.

For local news organizations, it might behoove local readers/viewers/listeners to know more about the countries that invest in the US.

How much you want to bet that the financial well-being of Germany, Japan, Brazil and others will affect their investments in the United States? Therefore, it makes sense for local media outlets to pay attention to what is going on in the investor countries, even if it only by using wire services or relationships with media outlets in those countries.

The link between free press and economic well-being and growth is not hard to make. It just takes some imagination and reporters and editors who can see the connections.

Immigration

One of the hot hot hot topics in the U.S. right now is immigration. It dominates the U.S. news as senators and congressmen try to come up with a plan that will accommodate the millions of aliens now in the United States without the proper paperwork.

No one seems to be looking at WHY there are so many immigrants working in the US without the proper documents. And, for Swaffield’s purposes, WHY there might be a connection between immigration and global press freedom.

To start with, the reason most immigrants come to the United States is for the same reason my family came: To have a better life.

But first, let’s admit there are people who are xenophobic and do not want more immigrants. They don’t want people who don’t “look or think like them” entering the United States. Oddly enough, many of these people are also those who argue for budget cuts that encourage more illegal immigration to the United States.

One way to reduce immigration to the US is to promote better economic opportunities in the source countries. That means supporting US development programs. And that means more money and support for USAID.

I have met a number of farmers here in Honduras who were ready to leave their families and risk the dangerous trip to the United States so they could send money back home. All they wanted to do is make sure their families did not starve and make sure their children got educated.

The reason the farmers did not leave was because of programs sponsored by USAID that taught the farmers how to shift from subsistence farming of just corn and beans to growing cash crops such as carrots and broccoli.

Once the USAID Feed the Future Program showed these farmers how to properly grow new cash crops, the USAID teams then helped the farm families learn how to properly handle their new-found wealth.

Thanks to the Feed the Future Program, more families are living in healthier situations, fewer children are malnourished and more children are getting an education.

For less than a penny on the dollar, USAID is building a growing group of people who will soon have enough income to buy more goods and services, including items from the United States. At the same time, it encourages people to make their fortunes in their own countries.

Now multiply this result around the world.

But all of this works only if accurate information about crops and markets are available. And this can only occur in countries that have free media. Free media keep governments honest and prevent unscrupulous business interests from manipulating the markets to the detriment of the farmers.

If there were more stories that point out how development programs prevent illegal immigration and promote more U.S. trade, soon readers/listeners/viewers in the United States will see why it is important to know more about what is going on in the world and why we should be concerned about press freedom issues elsewhere.

Immigrants also change the local markets.

McCormick Spice company tracks the growth of spice sales and finds that the changes in sales figures matched changes in the ethnic changes in the sales area.

How hard would it be to do stories about shifts in food sales – grocery stores and restaurants – that are linked to changes in the local immigrant population?

From there, a reporter could easily look at why the immigrants left their home countries and why they settled where they did in the US.

As with so much of reporting, getting to the WHY leads to so many more connections.

And so I repeat:

  • WHY should a local newspaper or television station care about press freedom issues in other countries? (Other than for  general humanitarian reasons.)
  • WHY should local readers/viewers/listeners in the United States care?

The answer is simple: Because what happens around the world DIRECTLY affects every American. It is up to journalists in America to explain to the American people WHY knowledge of global events is important.

Press freedom is an important issue. But it has to be explained. And explaining demands a WHY.

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March for justice in Mexico

Journalists is the Mexican state of Veracruz marched over the weekend to demand protection for journalists and for the government find and prosecute those responsible for killing investigative journalist Regina Martinez.

Government officials say they have the killer of Martinez, who was found beaten and suffocated in her house. But her co-workers don’t believe them.

The man convicted of the murder is Jorge Antonio Hernandez Silva. According to the government versions, Martinez was killed because she interrupted a robbery by  Hernandez Silva.

Unfortunately for the government, Hernandez Silva says he was forced to confess after being tortured for several days. The editors at Martinez’s publication, Proceso, don’t accept the government story, pointing out that none of the fingerprints in the Martinez apartment match Hernandez Silva.

The local authorities did not do themselves any favors when, according to Proceso, some current and former state officials issued orders to capture a reporter who questioned the verdict and “to do him harm if he resists.”

After the national government stepped in and expressed its skepticism of the local version of events, Veracruz Gov. Javier Duarte  met with editors of Proceso and promised a full investigation.

See original story: Mexican journalists march against attacks on press

Mexico has become one of the most dangerous countries for journalists. The threat comes from drug cartels and corrupted government officials. Since 1992, 28 journalists and media workers have been killed in Mexico. Of those 28 cases, 22 have not been solved.

The national government has stepped up its efforts to protect journalists and to deal with the lack of action by local governments.

Late last week the national legislature passed a bill giving the federal government jurisdiction over crimes against journalists. It only awaits the president’s signature.

Read more about the bill and the problem of impunity in Mexico: In Mexico, a movement and a bill against impunity

 

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Hey Maduro: Asking questions and building sources does not make a person a spy!

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered American film maker Timothy Tracer arrested for espionage and promoting unrest in the country. (Venezuela’s president orders arrest of American filmmaker)

Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez said they had evidence Tracy was promoting dissent and unrest in Venezuela. According to Rodriguez proof was in “the way he acted.” Rodriguez said it was clear Tracey was a spy because “he knows how to infiltrate, how to recruit sources.”

Well, gee, isn’t that what all journalists and documentary filmmakers are supposed to do?

Seeing how the official media from China, Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Venezuela are indeed agents of the security (spy) agencies one can understand how dictators could have a hard time understanding this “independent journalism” thing.

When I lived in China I saw how the government acted as if Western media outlets were part of the Western intelligence services.

In the 1990’s Western media were anxious to have bureaus in Shanghai.  Beijing allocated permission for foreign correspondents to be based in Shanghai based on the media outlet’s country of origin. So that meant if the Associated Press got permission to have a bureau in Shanghai, the New York Times would have to wait until requests from news organizations from other countries were filled one by one.

A Shanghai government official explained that it was the only fair way to make sure that each country was represented by its official media. (Again, missing the point that there is no “official” media in the United States or most of Europe.)

Then, in Iran western journalists are required to be accompanied by “handlers” while also being followed by the secret police.

Do I really need to say anything about North Korea. ‘Nuff said!

And now Maduro confirms that Venezuela has joined this happy band of dictators by equating anyone who asks questions or build sources of information with spies. And they will stretch anything to make their point.

The minister then showed a video, “so the people in the country can see what we are confronting.”

But in the video, purportedly shot by Tracy, young people joke and mug for the camera in a drab room. It is unclear how the video points to a destabilization plan. Nor does it explain Tracy’s role.

I guess mugging for the camera is something that only Maduro and his Chavistas can do.

One thing about the story in the Post…

While it points out the arrest and the accusations of Maduro that the opposition parties are in league with the United States, it does little to discuss the overarching issue that the arrest of Tracy exemplifies: The repression of free media.

Too many apologists for Chavez/Maduro have pointed to private-sector media being used to undermine the government. What these apologists fail to understand — or refuse to accept — is that government control of the media only means that unrest and instability are more likely.

Without independent and competing news organizations — i.e. government-controlled media — the people have no way of getting accurate information. The people pick up on how the media are being used for propaganda purposes pretty quickly and begin to ignore or disbelieve anything in the media.

There is nothing to check corrupt and/or inept leaders. So corruption runs rampant and inept officials get a free pass to keep causing problems because there is no method to peacefully correct the situation.

The only means of transferring information, then becomes word of mouth. (I think I hear someone saying: “Let’s play telephone!”)

When word of mouth — aka – rumors — become the norm for information transfer, societies become more unstable. Unrest grows and dissatisfaction with the ruling elite grows.

You see it in China by the increasing number of people who rely on text messages to get accurate info and in the number of reporters and editors who are constantly pushing against the censors.

We see it in the unrest in Argentina where the government arrests people for publishing the actual numbers related to inflation and national debt.

And we see it in Venezuela where the leadership is so nervous about their precarious position that they arrest an independent film maker for doing what independent film makers do, develop sources, ask questions and present the situation.

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New China media policy cuts into Internet and press freedoms

Last week the Chinese State Administration of Press Publication, Radio, Film and Television issued a new directive forbidding media organizations from using foreign media or websites “without authorization” and from “using Internet platforms to participate in activities such as seeking illegal benefits.”

The agency also required Weibo (China’s Twitter-like site) to keep full records of all accounts.

The notice included “Three Furthers”:

  • further standardize the behavior of news reporters and editors
  • further strengthen the management of media news site
  • further strengthen the management of blogs and microblogging.

Seems the Party leaders always have numbers with their policies.

The bottom line of the “Three Furthers” is that the screws are being tightened on not only the traditional media — newspaper, radio and television — but also the Internet.

As expected, the role of journalists is not defined to dig out information and reporting. Rather, it required “news gathering personnel to adhere to unity, stability, positive publicity…to guide public opinion [and] consciously resist the penetration of harmful information and communication.”

At least there was some reaction among China’s netizens.

  • Even Myanmar is more open than you.
  • I think you should just leave People’s Daily and kill every other newspaper. That way, it will be easy to manage, instead of being so annoying.
  • We’re just one about-face away from North Korea.

Further Reading

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Just how does China censor the Internet?

Many thanks to the Economist for explaining the extra-ordinary methods the Chinese government takes to make sure the people of China are denied the right to access information from around the world.

How does China censor the internet?

The Chinese central government has two main ways of controlling what its citizens see on the web: the Great Firewall, as it is called by foreigners, which is a system of limiting access to foreign websites which started in the late 1990s, and the Golden Shield, a system for domestic surveillance set up in 1998 by the Ministry of Public Security. Separate government departments, along with local and provincial administrations, also have their own monitoring systems. China began by blocking a list of foreign websites, including Voice of America, human-rights organisations and some foreign newspapers. But its filters have since become more sophisticated and can now selectively block specific pages within foreign websites, rather than making the entire site inaccessible. They can also block particular terms when they are used in search queries or instant messages. Google is not blocked entirely; instead, users who search for banned keywords are blocked from Google for 90 seconds, though other websites remain available. China’s many internet companies are regularly issued with lists of restricted keywords, and often censor blog posts and other content pre-emptively to avoid trouble with the authorities. In all there are thought to be around 100,000 people, employed both by the state and by private companies, policing China’s internet around the clock. Since 2005 the state has also paid people, known as the “50 Cent Party”, to post pro-government messages and steer online conversations away from sensitive topics.

And did I say “right to access information from around the world”? Yep. I did and there is a reason it is a right — even in China (at least on paper).

To start with, China signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Article 19 of the UDHR clearly states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

And there is always the Chinese constitution (1982):

Article 35. Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.

and

Article 40. The freedom and privacy of correspondence of citizens of the People’s Republic of China are protected by law. No organization or individual may, on any ground, infringe upon the freedom and privacy of citizens’ correspondence except in cases where, to meet the needs of state security or of investigation into criminal offences, public security or procuratorial organs are permitted to censor correspondence in accordance with procedures prescribed by law.

Article 41. Citizens of the People’s Republic of China have the right to criticize and make suggestions to any state organ or functionary. Citizens have the right to make to relevant state organs complaints and charges against, or exposures of, violation of the law or dereliction of duty by any state organ or functionary; but fabrication or distortion of facts with the intention of libel or frame-up is prohibited. In case of complaints, charges or exposures made by citizens, the state organ concerned must deal with them in a responsible manner after ascertaining the facts. No one may suppress such complaints, charges and exposures, or retaliate against the citizens making them. Citizens who have suffered losses through infringement of their civil rights by any state organ or functionary have the right to compensation in accordance with the law.

But later in the document is:

Article 51. The exercise by citizens of the People’s Republic of China of their freedoms and rights may not infringe upon the interests of the state…

And who defines what are “the interests of the state”? Why none other than the very people who do not want to hear any criticism and who want to make sure that the people of China also hear no criticism of the single-party rule in China.

And let us not forget that the censorship policies also affect trade.

The U.S. government submitted a “request for consultations” with the World Trade Organization about China’s Internet censorship. It seems the US — and the EU — are taking the position that blocking certain websites have a detrimental impact on trade.

Additional Reading

Freedom House Internet Freedom Ranking of China

China Net

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Internet Freedom in Latin America: Key Threats and Opportunities

Sounds like a great conference later this week.

Date: Thursday, April 25, 2013 – 6:00pm to 8:00pm

LOCATION: Casa Lamm, Alvaro Obregón 99 Roma Norte, Cuauhtémoc. 06700 México City, México

Freedom House along with co-sponsors Hack Hackers Mexico, the International Center for Journalists, and the Graduate Program for Journalism and Public Affairs at the Center for Research and Teaching Economics (CIDE) invites you to a regional conversation about internet freedom. Over the past year, a number of developments, both positive and negative, have altered the landscape of Internet freedom in Latin America. The discussion, as moderated by Alba Mora Roca, a distinguished journalist from Spain, will bring together media freedom specialists from Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, and Mexico to offer insight into the positive advancements and potentially restrictive legislation impacting internet freedom across Latin America.

Introductory remarks byMariclaire Acosta, @FHespanol, Freedom House, Mexico

Moderated by: Alba Mora Roca, @albamoraroca Hacks Hackers, Mexico

Concluding comments by: Ricardo Raphael de la Madrid, @ricardomraphael, CIDE, Mexico

Featuring speakers:

  • Eleonora Rabinovich, Director of Asociación por Los Derechos Civiles, Argentina
  • Cristiana Gonzalez, Senior Researcher and Ph.D. candidate University of Sao Paulo, Brazil
  • Ernesto Hernández Busto, Blogger and Essayist, Cuba/Spain
  • Carlos Correa Loyola, Senior Counsel to the Rector Technical Particular University at Loja, Ecuador
  • Alejandra Ezeta, Social Media Consultant at EEB Consultoria/Ciudadanos en Medios, A.C, , Mexico
  • Jorge Luis Sierra, ICFJ Knight International Journalism Fellow, Mexico

To register, click here.

Follow the event at @FHespanol on Twitter and by using hashtag #netfreedom

 

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