Monthly Archives: January 2014

Knowing the rest of the world is not the same as giving up on your own country

Helen Gao has a great little piece in the New York Times about how her American experiences changed how she talks with her family and friends about China.

Back in China, Watching My Words

Interestingly, Ms. Gao faced something many of also face.

“Often, I find conversations about China with Chinese relatives and friends trickier to navigate than those with American acquaintances. In America, my firsthand perspective of China gave me credibility and strengthened my stories and arguments. But here in China, my time spent in America seems only to have alienated me from others. If I say something critical, it is often taken not as social commentary but as a sign of shifted loyalty, of contempt for my homeland, of uncritical worship of all things American.

I have lived in six countries on three continents — traveled extensively in a fourth continent and seven additional countries. And nothing has made me more appreciative of the liberties we have in the United States than all those years abroad. Yet, to so many in the US the reaction to what is good about the rest of the world comes out similar to what Ms. Gao faces in China.

Because there are some good things in other countries, does not mean one’s home country is bad. It just means there are differences and maybe some ideas that can improve you homeland.

Unfortunately, too many Americans — including too many elected officials who set policies — have little or no understanding about the rest of the world. They are woefully and deliberately ignorant of the rest of the world.

Some argue for an isolationist political policy (“We are not the world’s policeman.”) or a trade policy that would destroy the American economy (“Slap massive tariffs on all imports until US factories re-open.”). Or they have a simplistic view of foreign relations (“Send in the Marines” or “Cut off aid to country X until they always do what we tell them to do.”)  They just don’t see the connections with the rest of the world is a fact of life that cannot be changed.

The issue, as so many have argued, is not that the United States is weakening, it is that other countries are gaining in economic and political strength. There are more players in the global market and the US has to adapt to that reality.

Besides the isolationist view of too many opinion leaders, I also blame the lack of reporting that puts how Main Street and the rest of world fit together for America’s lack of understanding of how the world and America fit together.

The stories can be fun and informative:

These are not difficult stories to do and they show LOCAL people how they are connected to the world.

Maybe with a bit more reporting along these lines we will have fewer ignorant comments about political and economic isolationism.

Oh, and getting back to Ms. Gao’s issue, maybe if China had a free press instead of a top-down party directed media, the Chinese people would be less ignorant about how things are not only in China but also in the rest of the world.

 

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Dancing with shackles: Increased censorship in China

We can always count on China Digital Times to point out articles on the media in China that we might otherwise miss.

This past week was kind of crazy for me — on vacation but stuck in rain and cold instead of sunshine and warmth. So I missed the original article from the Washington Post, but caught up thanks to the CDT.

The CDT piece is built on Journalists Face Harsher Censors, Marxist Retraining, an excellent piece published 1/10 by Simon Denyer on the new problems facing Chinese journalists.

Denyer points out the besides censoring more and more material, journalists “across China were forced to attend ideological training meant to impart the ‘Marxist view’ of journalism and to pass a multiple-choice examination on their knowledge of the Communist Party’s myriad slogans.”

And 

“We must adhere to the Marxist view of journalism,” [President Xi] said in a major speech on ideology in August. “We must communicate positive energy. We have to make sure the front of the Internet is firmly controlled by people who are loyal to Marxism, loyal to the party and loyal to the people.”

Journalism schools were also placed under control of the propaganda ministry with professors and students being closely vetted to make sure they adhere to the Party line.

To people who have only seen the “golden days” when censorship was eased back — the late 1990s until 2002 — all this seems bizarre. In fact, this is just going back to what the ruling party in China is all about. They never repealed the old laws and regulations that restricted press freedom, some leaders just thought they could “buy” the loyalty of journalists to “do the right be thing” with better pay and the possibility of overseas assignments.

I recall in the mid-1990s and into the 2000’s getting copies of the Code of Ethics for Chinese journalists as put forth by the Chinese All Journalist Association. I found the difference between that document and the codes of ethics of Western journalists’ organizations to striking.

The bottom line is that the Chinese journalist code of ethics — from the beginning to now — is very clear: A journalist’s first loyalty is to the Party and Marxist thought, then to the government and then to the readers and viewers of the news.

Compare that to the following points from the Code of Ethics of the (US) Society of Professional Journalists:

  • The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility.
  • Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.
  • Journalists should: Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility
  • Journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other.

Nothing there about following a party line or adhering to any government policy.

And that is the difference. Chinese journalists have always lived under laws and rules that prevent them from doing work that benefited the Chinese people. They were legally unable to expose corruption and malfeasance. The fact that some journalists were able to do so, is more a credit to their bravery than to any changes in the views of the Chinese government.

All that has really changed is that the leaders in Beijing are now facing the Internet and hundreds of million Twitter-like users who bypass the official censors and who find ways to dance around the censors running the Great Firewall of China.

So far, the Netizens have the edge but the government is still trying to stifle any form of free discussion.

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Getting terms right: Acceptance v. Belief

Normally, this space is used to talk about how local and global events are linked and how local reporters can do stories that show their readers/viewers how Main Street is linked to the rest of the world. This time, however, the issue is a plain issue of making sure general assignment reporters need to understand how certain words should be used in specific areas.

I don’t know how many times I have screamed at CNN reporters/anchors and a handful of newspaper/magazine writers over the simple fact that they do not seem to know the difference between “acceptance/rejection” and “belief.”

The confusion  usually comes up whenever there is a discussion of evolution. Too often the question is posed: “Do you believe in evolution?” Or “‘X’ percent of people do not believe in evolution.”

  • Evolution is science. Therefore a person accepts or rejects the findings of the scientific theory.
  • Belief is all about things that cannot be tested and (usually) relate to a theistic view.
  • So, a person who accepts the literal word of the bible,  does not accept evolution but believes in creationism.

Evolution can be — and has been — tested over and over again to the satisfaction of the scientific community. In fact, every bit of science related to biology is based on the simple theory of evolution as put forth by Charles Darwin 150+ years ago. People “accept” or “reject” the findings of those studies and experiments.

Creationism is an event that depends on supernatural intervention. Therefore it is faith. Belief.  People either believe or they don’t. There is no way to test one’s beliefs.

Ars Technica got it right this week when it reported on the latest survey from the Pew Research Religion & Public Life Project. The headline was succinct and clear: US acceptance of evolution holds steady overall, drops among Republicans

Note the word “acceptance.” That is the proper use at the proper time.

The first two paragraphs of the Pew report — Public’s Views on Human Evolution — show that the writer understands the difference (emphasis mine):

According to a new Pew Research Center analysis, six-in-ten Americans (60%) say that “humans and other living things have evolved over time,” while a third (33%) reject the idea of evolution, saying that “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.” The share of the general public that says that humans have evolved over time is about the same as it was in 2009, when Pew Research last asked the question.

About half of those who express a belief in human evolution take the view that evolution is “due to natural processes such as natural selection” (32% of the American public overall). But many Americans believe that God or a supreme being played a role in the process of evolution. Indeed, roughly a quarter of adults (24%) say that “a supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today.”

When a reporter uses “belief” when discussing evolution, he/she equates faith and science. And while the two may live side by side — most mainstream religions understand the difference — they are not the same.

Mainstream media reporters need to know enough about their subject to make sure they are not making errors of fact or context. Not understanding that “belief” should NEVER be used in any reference to science is an error of fact and context. (And for those who argue that people being quoted say “believe” in reference to evolution, I say, paraphrase them and use the right term.)

Update

By the way, this also goes for climate change and anything else related to science. Just because someone not accepting science is not the same as someone having a different opinion about something. (As shown in The Big Bang Theory.)

UDPATE AGAIN

I was so happy seeing that the actual article from Pew had the right use of “acceptance” and “belief.” And then I was shattered when I finally go my e-mail notice of the article:

Six-in-Ten Americans Believe in Evolution

While 60% of Americans believe in human evolution, a third reject the idea. Beliefs about evolution differ strongly by religious group and also vary by party affiliation, gender, age and education. READ MORE >

AARGH!

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Journalism scenes from movies on other topics

Always a joy to see how other journalists look at our profession as represented in the movies. And I never would have thought of Liberty Valance. To me it is just a Western, But it is all “based” on a newspaper interview.

The Buttry Diary

Occasionally, when journalists at a party or on social media ask one another our favorite newspaper (or journalism) movies, I will answer, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”

Of course, no one thinks of “Liberty Valance” as a journalism movie. It’s a Western. But the whole movie is told through an interview between Ransom Stoddard and Charlie Hasbrouck, a reporter for the Shinbone Star. One of the key characters, Dutton Peabody, is editor and publisher of the Shinbone Star.

I thought about “Liberty” as I was writing an accompanying post about journalism scenes in three recently released movies. What I want to do here is share some favorite journalism scenes from non-journalism movies and ask you about some of your favorites.

Journalists all have our favorite journalism movies (or specifically newspaper movies). Off the top of my head, my favorite non-fiction journalism movie is “

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