Monthly Archives: June 2013

BuzzFeed seriously goes global

Nice to see that BuzzFeed has hired an international editor. (BuzzFeed hires Miriam Elder as foreign editor)

What will be needed to make sure that others beside us foreign policy geeks read the international items is: CONTEXT.

The nature of blogging and contributing to online news sites such as BuzzFeed and HuffPost, often means that the reporter knows a lot about the topic but — unfortunately — not how it relates to Main Street America (or Britain or Hong Kong, etc)

A lot of us will read news of other countries because we know it has relevance in one way or another to our lives. Therefore, the audience for international news postings are self-selected. Yet, at a time when economies and social movements are more globally linked than ever before, it is vital for local readers/viewers to understand why the news from Zimbabwe or Russia or Thailand is important to them.

It will be interesting to see how BuzzFeed handles this situation.

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Filed under International News Coverage

A look back: Banned terms in China

In China June 4, 1989 is a day remembered in Hong Kong (the only place under Beijing rule where such demonstrations are allowed) and on the Internet.

The Beijing censors can’t do anything about the Hong Kong demonstrations. (This year, according to demonstration organizers about 150,000 people showed up. Police say the number was closer to 54,000. Either way, the number in Tiananmen Square was easy to calculate: Zero!)

But Beijing keeps trying to do something about the Internet. Since late May the Internet service in China was sluggish or — in some cases — cut. More websites were definitely “unavailable.

Fortunately there is the China Digital Times and the China Media Project. Both groups pay close attention to what is going on in the traditional media as well as the Internet in China and spread the word.

I especially like the efforts by China Digital Times to ferret out specific orders to censor items. (The section is called “Reports from the Ministry of Truth.” Thanks to their work we know not only the specific terms the censors in Beijing are  worried about but also the issues that have raised the hackles of the government leadership.

This week — like the first week of June every year since 1989 — the censors go into overdrive. (Sensitive Words: 24th Anniversary of Tiananmen) At the same time, the Netizens in China also step up their creative juices.

Here are some of the more innovative terms the censors moved quickly to block:

  • 35: Shorthand for May 35th.
  • 63+1: 64, i.e. June 4.
  • 65-1: 64.
  • square of eight (64)
  • inappropriate for the public

And my favorite:

  • (big) yellow duck

The duck comes from an altered picture that showed the famous “Tank Man” (another banned term, by the way) standing up to four giant yellow ducks instead of four PLA tanks.

According to China Media Report, the picture was pulled down within 60 seconds of being posted on the Chinese Twitter-like service Weibo.

FYI: The duck also comes from a 5-story inflatable duck that has been sitting in Hong Kong harbor for a few weeks. It is a piece of art that  received a lot of favorable coverage in the Chinese official media.

Actually, I am amazed the term LEGOS was not blocked as a term as well. (The picture was blocked quickly.)

All this attention to June 4 and the bloody suppression of Chinese people calling for reforms within the Communist Party gets the Chinese rulers bent out of shape.

China’s foreign ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, rejected calls by the United States for a full accounting of the crackdown. He said the US should “stop interfering in China’s internal affairs.”

The only problem for China is that it has signed all sorts of international agreements — including the United Nations’ charter — that allows other governments to criticize other countries when human rights are being violated. Plus, this ain’t the 1950s or 1960s when the Chinese leadership can just order a massive campaign that will lead to the deaths of millions. (Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution — two other events that are not talked about in China.) China is part of the world today and it needs to start acting like a civilized member of that community.

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Filed under Censorship, China, Freedom of Information, International News Coverage

Venezuela releases U.S. filmmaker

Venezuela released and expelled U.S. filmmaker  Tim Tracy.

Tracy was arrested April 24 on charges of undermining the Venezuelan government and “acting like a spy.”

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

Oh yeah, recruit sources. Just like any journalist or documentary filmmaker would do

Tracy was in Venezuela to do a documentary about the political divide following the death of Hugo Chavez and the questionable election of Nicolas Maduro. Tracy filmed government supporters in a Caracas slum and student demonstrators opposed to the government. The government saw his session with the students as subversive rather than just some one investigating a story.

This all goes back to the issue that just because repressive governments that restrict press freedom — like Venezuela and China and Cuba — use reporters as spies, it does not mean the rest of the world follows suit.

Obviously even the rigged Venezuelan system could not make the charges stick.

According to the New York Times, government officials said on Tuesday there was insufficient evidence to charge Tracy.  (Venezuela Frees Jailed U.S. Filmmaker and Expels Him)

Immediately upon release, Tracy, was put on a flight to Miami.

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Filed under Censorship, Freedom of Information, Harassment, Press Freedom, South America

Jordan blocking more websites

Al Bawada reported yesterday that the Kingdom of Jordan is now blocking more 200 websites.

Access to Jordan News Websites Blocked: Press & Publications Crackdown Launched

Access to a number of news websites in Jordan has been blocked, after a warning letter was sent to the Telecommuincations Regulatory Commission (TRC) on Sunday.

The letter was sent by Head of the Press and Publications Department Fayez Al Shawabkah. “Based on Article (49), Paragraph (G) of the Press and Publications Law number (8) for the year 1988 and its amendments, I decided to block the news websites included in the annexed list, effective on its date”, Al Shawabkah said in his letter, a copy of which was obtained by Al Bawaba.

More than 250 websites were listed in the letter.

Rest of article.

The International Press Institute criticized the blockage and urged Jordanian authorities to guarantee the public’s free access to information.

“The recent blockages to news websites in Jordan, as well as the tightening restrictions on social media commentary are an enormous blow to freedom of expression and threaten the public’s access to important information” IPI Deputy Director Anthony Mills said.

“We encourage authorities in Jordan and elsewhere to find alternatives to ensuring the quality of content that do not jeopardize international or domestic agreements, or restrict free access to information,” he added.

 

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Filed under Censorship, International News Coverage, Middle East

June 4 crackdown begins

As regular as a Swiss clock, the Chinese government moves to block most means of communication beginning the end of May.

The reason is simple: They don’t want people talking about the June 4 massacre of students and reformers that took place in and around Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

While we were in Shanghai (1992-94), the phone lines for many Westerners — especially diplomats and journalists — suddenly stopped working and security services stepped up surveillance. And Chinese dissidents were placed under house arrest.

From what I hear from folks in China, not much has changed. The big addition to the “shut down” mood of the central government is how to deal with mobile phones and the Internet.

Shutting down mobile phone service for everyone would cause a collapse of the Chinese economy and riots across the country. So that option is out.

Even the Great Firewall has been breached as more Chinese become more sophisticated in learning about virtual private networks and other work-arounds.

Beijing struck back this week. The censors shut down access to the encrypted Wikipedia.

Beijing has been successful in blocking the everyday Wikipedia. After all, don’t want people learning about what really happened June 4, 1989. Now, the cyber-nannies in Beijing have blocked the HTTPS version of Wikipedia.

Here is a report on the issue from The Next Web

China blocks encrypted version of Wikipedia ahead of June 4 Tiananmen anniversary

The Chinese government has effectively blocked the encrypted version of Wikipedia, cutting off easy access to the free online encyclopedia via its alternative HTTPS address which has been supported since October 2011.

China’s move comes ahead of the anniversary of the sensitive and highly controversial Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, also known as the June Fourth Incident in Chinese.

Rest of article

A discussion on what happened and why it is important comes from Greatwall.org, a website that monitors China’s online censorship.

Wikipedia drops the ball on China – not too late to make amends

In China, HTTPS is power. If the service is too important to block completely and all-encrypted, it offers the only way that Internet users in China can access information in an unrestricted way. That is, the authorities can’t track what they do on the website, and they can’t block content selectively. HTTPS takes the power away from the censors and puts it back in the hands of the ordinary users. There is nothing else like it. The censors hate it. Sites like Wikipedia should love HTTPS.

Full article here

And, not surprising, Google searches for “tankman” or the Chinese characters for “6-4” are also blocked.

By the way, the only place in China where people can mourn and remember those who were killed and jailed in 1989 is in Hong Kong.

Each year in Hong Kong — run by China but guaranteed civic rights until 2047 — thousands turn up for a march and rally to commemorate the June 4 incident.

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Filed under Censorship, China, Freedom of access, Freedom of Information, Harassment, International News Coverage, Press Freedom

Chilean president proposes legislation to ban bad-mouthing cops

The nice thing about Twitter and Tumblr is that you often find interesting things you never knew were out there. (By the way, thank you @adam_wola)

Today (June 3) a columnist in Chile discusses a new proposal by Chilean President Sebastián Piñera to make it a felony to insult a police officer in the performance of his/her job.

The police respect and freedom of expression

(Translation by Google Translate)

Before the announcement of President Sebastián Piñera sent a bill to establish serious offense to insult a police officer in performance of his duties, columnists warn-with practical arguments, legal and political-of the dangers to freedom of expression.

The last public account of the President of the Republic was an announcement that should turn all alarms in a democracy respectful of freedom of expression. In explicit terms, said the government will send a bill ” establishing a new crime as serious insult to a policeman or police in performance of their duties “. The criminalization of such conduct should be criticized arguments based on practical, legal and political.

Full commentary here.

This is something the U.S. should be watching.

The gains made in Chile in terms of human and civic rights since the fall of the dictatorship are important. Chile is a major trading partner with the United States and is becoming a major economic force in the Pacific.

For the business community freedom of speech/expression/press are important to understanding the social, political and economic situation before investing money in a country. Or, knowing when either put more money in or take money out.

Data from countries where the governments control the media (overtly or by proxy) often cannot be trusted. (And I am looking at you Venezuela and Argentina.)

From a basic humanitarian view, freedom of expression is vital for any society to truly thrive.

Chile has developed a strong sense of freedom. It would be a shame to see this piece of legislation go through.

One of the best lines in the article is used as a pull-quote:

One of the central and undisputed content of freedom of expression is political criticism of public authorities.

‘Nuff said.

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Filed under Connections, South America