Monthly Archives: April 2015

Freedom House Press Freedom Report Released

The annual Freedom of the Press report from Freedom House is out. And things don’t look good.

Conditions for the media deteriorated sharply in 2014 to reach their lowest point in more than 10 years, as journalists around the world encountered more restrictions from governments, militants, criminals, and media owners, according to Freedom of the Press 2015, released today by Freedom House.

“Journalists faced intensified pressure from all sides in 2014,” said Jennifer Dunham, project manager of the report. “Governments used security or antiterrorism laws as a pretext to silence critical voices, militant groups and criminal gangs used increasingly brazen tactics to intimidate journalists, and media owners attempted to manipulate news content to serve their political or business interests.”

The worst thing is that the decline is not just because of one or two things. The attack on free and independent media is coming from all sides.

Governments are making it more difficult for reporters to interview government officials, restrictions on free movement limit reporters’ access to conflict areas, violence is threatened from government agents, pro-government agents and just plain thugs, and the list goes on.

The summary of the report is depressing enough.

Percentage of population with access to free media:

  • Americas: 38 (with Latin America at 2 percent)
  • Asia-Pacific: 5
  • Middle East-North Africa: 2
  • EurAsia: 0 (18 percent Partly Free, 82 percent Not Free)
  • Sub-Saharan Africa: 3
  • Europe: 66 (but in a downward slope for past 10 years)

Read the report. It is not the most cheerful document you will read, but it is important.

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Nepal Turns Down Help From Taiwan. Beijing Factor?

Really? More than 3,000 people are dead with the number rising, and Nepal turns down help from Taiwan?

Nepal turns down Taiwan’s offer of quake assistance

Too often when a country turns down anything from Taiwan it is because that country is afraid of pissing off Beijing. The article mentioned above does explain why Nepal turned down the offer. but the implied reason is clear to anyone who has spent time paying attention to the China-Taiwan history.

It would be nice to know if the rejection is because of Nepal’s fear of China or for some other reason.

Just as the mere mention of Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton now gets Tea Partiers frothing at the mouth, for many years any mention of Taiwan doing anything would send Beijing into apocalyptic fits. The leadership in Zhongnanhai would start threatening governments who played nice with Taiwan and claimed any acceptance of Taiwanese help “hurt the feelings of Chinese everywhere.”

In recent years, the relationship has gotten more civilized, but Beijing is ever wary of Taiwan making too many friends.

A bit of background:

Ever since the Kuomingdan government was tossed off the mainland and onto the island of Taiwan in 1949, the Communist leaders in China have seen Taiwan, under the name Republic of China, as wayward province that needs to be reintegrated into the China fold. And the 1949 government of Taiwan saw itself as the real leaders of all of China.

That is were it all sat until the 1970s — with the US siding with Taiwan — when Nixon went to Beijing and Taiwan was booted out of the United Nations as the Chinese delegation and replaced with Beijing.

Now Taiwan is recognized by about a dozen countries, mostly because of the large amount of development aid (and other funds) the Taipei government has been able to spend on those countries.

By the early 1990s Taiwan moved toward democracy. (Although in 1992, the government still referred to China as “the Mainland” rather than China.)

By 2000 Taiwan had free and open elections, bringing about the first peaceful change in government leadership in China’s 5,000 year history.

At the same time China and Taiwan came to a tacit agreement to stop the public sniping at each other. That is unless Taiwan wanted into international organizations.

During the 2003 SARS scare in south China, Taiwan had a lot to offer the World Health Organization but was refused entrance by China. After a few more years of leaning on the door and engaging in lots of diplomacy, Taiwan was finally invited to observer status in the WHO in 2009.

What has been clear over the years that even though the level of the rhetoric has eased in the past few years, other countries are still fearful of facing Beijing’s wrath if they do anything with Taiwan. That fear may be why Nepal turned down expert help.

And turning down help in a natural disaster is not something any good government should do. (Just as the PRI in Mexico how that worked out for them following the 1985 earthquake. — They lost their monopoly status as the ruling party in Mexico shortly after the earthquake.)

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Filed under China, Connections

Local-Global: Fairfax County Rescue Alerted for Nepal Earthquake Help

The Fairfax County (VA) Fire and Rescue team has a global reputation for its work. And now, once again, it is being called up to help people half a world away.


VA-TF1/USA-1 has been alerted for the Nepal earthquake. All media inquires should report to 14725-H Flint Lee Rd. Chantilly, VA 20151

This is one of the best examples of how something in another country has an impact on something local.

Specifically Virginia Task Force 1 has worked to provide rescue and relief in just about every major disaster around the world. (See their work around the world here.)

There is no better connection to the rest of the world than one that helps save lives.

And now they have been alerted to provide assistance to the victims of the Nepal earthquake.


 Following the Haiti earthquake I noted how the Fairfax team was involved.

At the time I said the Fairfax teams deserved more coverage — as did all the SAR teams. And I stand by that still.

Maybe some local news organizations might want to step up and do something about it.

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Filed under Connections, International News Coverage, Story Ideas

China’s Censorship: It’s not just on the Internet

We all know about the Great Firewall of China and how it tries to block anything the leadership in Beijing doesn’t like. As in anything they don’t declare is “safe” for the Chinese people. That means Twitter and Facebook with their free-flowing way of communicating is blocked. (See for yourself at Great Firewall of China, where you can test any website to see — in real-time — if it is being blocked by Chinese censors.)

Just because China has gotten all high-tech, does not mean they have forgotten about good old traditional media, such as books and academic papers.

The New York Times reports on how the daughter of retired party leader Li Rui is fighting to get the government to own up to its censorship practices. (Lawsuit Over Banned Memoir Asks China to Explain Censorship)

The book being held hostage by Chinese authorities is a memoir by her father. Basically it is a no holds barred look at the inner workings of the Chinese Communist Party and government.

It seems Chinese censors have stepped up their efforts to prevent so-called subversive material coming into China from Hong Kong. They even have a code name for the operation — Southern Hill Project.

Chinese academics and dissidents have been able to get papers and memoirs published in Hong Kong because the former British colony and now Special Administrative Region of China still enjoys civic and human rights the rest of China does not. According to the Times’ article, border crossing agents subject incoming luggage to X-ray scans to look for hidden books and documents, in addition to random searches of bags being brought into the country.

And this is the problem with censorship. If a country really wants to impose its views on its people by blocking any outside ideas, the effort keeps getting harder and harder. Also, it weakens whatever trust the people might have had in their government and lessens its legitimacy.

So if the rulers in Beijing really want to bring about an unstable society, they are doing all the right things to undermine any support they may have had with the people of China.

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Real mature India! Al Jazeera shutdown over map.

The Indian government pulled the plug on Al Jazeera this week over a map: India takes al-Jazeera off-air in Kashmir map row

Yes, I know it is all about protecting national pride and all that. But really? 

India is the world’s largest democracy. It should act like one. Pulling the plug on a news organization that shows a map not to the government’s liking is hardly the sign of maturity or democratic principles.

Rather than issue a statement expressing their concern that maybe Al Jazeera had wrongly portrayed who controls what part of Kashmir, the Modi government gets all huffy and kicks over the table.

But to be fair, it is not just this government.

Past governments have gone just as crazy in calling any deviation from the official Indian map “cartographic aggression”.

In 2011, the previous government in India forced Economist to cover up a map used to illustrate a cover story about the border between India and Pakistan because it did not show full Indian sovereignty over Kashmir.

At the time, the magazine said the government was engaging in censorship.

And they were right then. And would be right again today.

Time to grow up India.

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Filed under Censorship, India

Sedition laws are always bad news, Singapore latest example

The owners of The Real Singapore were hit with seven charges of sedition for publishing material that promotes “ill-will and hostility between groups of people in Singapore.”

Four of the seven alleged hostile items were from letters from the public and not from the editorial staff of TRS.

Singapore has never been known as a bastion of free press or freedom of expression.

Freedom House ranks Singapore as Partly Free for its politics.

The opening paragraph of the civil liberties section in the most recent Freedom House report sums it all up:

The government maintains that racial sensitivities and the threat of Islamist terrorism justify draconian restrictions on freedoms of speech, but such rules have been used to silence criticism of the authorities. Singapore’s media remain tightly constrained. All domestic newspapers, radio stations, and television channels are owned by companies linked to the government.

Singapore media are ranks as NOT FREE by Freedom House. Again, a summary paragraph speaks volumes:

Freedoms of speech and expression are guaranteed by Article 14 of the constitution, but there are restrictions on these rights. The Newspapers and Printing Presses Act, the Defamation Act, the Internal Security Act (ISA), and articles in the penal code allow the authorities to block the circulation of news deemed to incite violence, arouse racial or religious tensions, interfere in domestic politics, or threaten public order, the national interest, or national security. The Sedition Act, in effect since the colonial period, outlaws seditious speech, the distribution of seditious materials, and acts with “seditious tendency.”

The battle for press and civic freedoms in Singapore are not new. The structure of Singapore’s economy is such that people are used to making choices for themselves in the economic sphere. Almost immediately, people began wondering why they are able to make their own choices for work and consumer purchases but not make their own choices for political leadership. And with that wondering came the natural inclination to criticize the government and other aspects of society.

Freedom House notes there has been movement on the political front.

There were several signs in 2013 that the ruling party’s monopoly on power was weakening. The opposition Workers’ Party increased its presence in Parliament by winning a January by-election, and citizens mounted a number of demonstrations—some of them unusually large—on issues including government plans on immigration, new internet regulations, and gay rights.

But progress is slow and the laws in place still allow for actions that could place a pair of twenty-somethings in jail for more than 21 years, for just reporting what is going on and letting people have a say in a public forum.

And, just for fun, let us not forget this is the country that sentenced a teenager to caning for deliberately scratching cars, that banned chewing gum because people were not disposing of their gum the proper way and the place that put signs in the reflecting pool around a major government building that said “Do not walk on the water”.


Filed under Asia, Censorship

Anniversary of Marshall Plan and lessons for the 21st Century

Today (4/2) is the 67th anniversary of Pres. Truman signing into law what became known as The Marshall Plan.

The idea was pretty simple: Rebuild Europe so it can be economically and politically stable.

The plan was the complete opposite of what happened after World War I and from what a lot of Americans wanted to happen after World War II.

After World War I the Allies destroyed the industrial base of Germany, imposed massive reparations penalties and basically humiliated the Germans. After World War II there was a strong movement to do exactly the same thing one more time. In fact, Stalin did do that in the Soviet controlled areas. Whole factories from East Germany were dismantled and sent to the Soviet Union.

George C. Marshall, Pres. Truman’s Secretary of State, outlined a program to keep the peace by building strong trading partners with the United States. The idea was simple: by providing support to rebuild the industries of Europe, the United States would help stabilize the political and social situation in the region as well. Along the way democracy would strengthen in the region. Allies would rebuild their industrial base and re-establish their democratic institutions. Germany would rebuild under democratic principles, while its industries were rebuilt with safeguards to protect workers and the new democratic institutions. In the end, the whole plane would turn a former enemy into a political and economic partner and strengthen the hands of our Allies.

Needless to say, the Soviet Union did not like the idea. Stalin wanted a weak, divided and chaotic Europe. So much the easier to extend his influence through the local communist parties. (So yes, the Marshall Plan did have the overt purpose of countering communist influences in the area.)

Stalin forced the countries under Soviet control to reject the Marshall Plan help. The communist-controlled unions in Western Europe were ordered to strike at the ports and rail depots to prevent the unloading of Marshall Plan goods. Fortunately for the democracies, pro-democratic unions in those same countries stepped forward — often in pitched battles with the communist unions — to unload and help distribute the goods.

Fast forward to the 21st century and the battle is still the same. This time, instead of providing help and assistance to prevent communist domination of Europe, the battle is to prevent chaos and anarchy in the developing world.

Foreign assistance programs for the developing world have the intent of supporting democratic institutions and of bringing the poor in the world into the middle class. Again, the same idea as in 1948: Promote/Support democratic elements and democracy and help develop new and stronger trading partners.

There is one vital difference between what the Marshall Plan was all about and current development programs.

The Marshall Plan was rebuilding industrial societies. The European countries already had begun the shift from an agrarian society to an industrial one.

Today’s development programs are geared to helping the developing world move from inefficient, small-plot farming to a more efficient and wealthier society.

The Europeans in 1948 already had a high rate of education and educated leaders ready to step up to rebuild their countries.

The developing world today is faced with poorly educated people because of failures by their governments to provide decent education. These countries do not have generations of traditions of democratic institutions. In short, the development programs today have to start by dealing very basic problems of poverty, lack of education and lack of a history of self-rule.

When people call for a Marshall Plan for the developing world, they exhibit their basic lack of understanding what the Marshall Plan was. It is easier to rebuild societies and industries if the traditions of plurality and industrial labor relations are already built into the people. When those factors are missing, the path to development and growth is different and longer.

Just because the battle for development is harder now than it was in 1948 does not mean it should be abandoned or that it should be cut. Growth of the industrial economies depends on finding new markets. Unless the developed world helps the developing world grow, existing industries will have a hard time growing.

So one way to look at support for development programs is straight forward greed. If the U.S. and Europe help other countries out of poverty, that means more potential customers for goods and services.

Another way to look at why support for development programs is important is security. Growing pluralistic economies mean more people have a greater stake in the stability of that economy and society. Increased wealth is one of the surest ways to fight terrorism and violent crime,  as long as everyone has a fair shot at the wealth.

It has always struck me that supporting democratic institutions, economic growth and equitable wealth distribution are the surest paths to global security and economic prosperity.

Lastly, the budget for the US Agency for International Development — long a target of deficit hawks in the GOP — is less than 0.5 percent of the federal budget. With less than a half-penny on the dollar, this agency provides programs and training that helps bring hope to people that they too may soon enjoy the benefits of a growing economy. Cutting this budget will hurt efforts to provide stability and growth to the poorest countries in the world and do little to affect the actual U.S. budget. (I think it was Neil deGrasse Tyson who said of the NASA budget — also just less than 1 percent of the budget — that cutting the NASA budget was like trying to empty space on your computer hard drive by eliminating Wordpad documents instead of all the duplicate videos and JPG files.)

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