Monthly Archives: March 2016

No Surprise: China Seeks More Internet Control

Paul Mozur at the New York Times has it right in a tweet:

And Beijing is most likely looking at doing both.

Social stability is a major concern of the government leadership. The economic slowdown is now causing massive layoffs with more to come. Industrial workers and the growing middle class in China are now under threat of loosing the economic stability promised by the government.

For so long the Chinese government has basically told the people of China that if they — the people — don’t push for political reform, the government will implement economic reform that will make everyone’s lives better. Now that businesses in China have to start cutting back on employees, that protection is gone and the leadership is afraid the people may demand changes that will challenge the iron heel rule of the Communist Party.

Rather than deal with the issue of economic AND political reform, Beijing is just going all out to make sure information about how bad the economic situation is does not get wide distribution.

Controlling Internet content has always been a part of that plan. So now, the new rules on domain names looks to be another step by the party leadership to control information.

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Filed under Censorship, China, Freedom of Information, Internet Freedom

China censorship campaign claims another victim

When things start going bad the first thing dictators do is limit information about just how bad things are. And China is acting according to the same script.

As the global economic slowdown started to hit China, President Xi Jinping stepped up pressure on the media. Then more cases of corruption started popping up all over the country, including in the upper echelons of the party. To stop people seeing party leaders living well while many are losing their jobs, Xi figured the only thing to do was to prevent the people from seeing or hearing about such things.

The crackdown has been building. In 2013 Xi started clamping down on traditional media as well as online services. In January 2014 he put himself in charge of a new committee to keep an eye on the Internet.

The South China Morning Post reported:

News that Chinese President Xi Jinping will take charge of a new panel overseeing internet security and information technology development has sent a shiver down the spines of Chinese media practitioners and net users.

Many have expressed fears that the launch of such a high-level task force would deal another blow to press freedom which had already been suffering after Xi’s administration tightened controls on the internet in recent months.

Along the way Xi also said it is the responsibility of journalists to follow the Communist Party line and to promote government policies. He also launched a campaign against any dissent by not only going after dissidents in China but also those who have been driven into exile because of their views. The government has also started rounding up family members of Chinese living abroad who have expressed critical views of the government. The event that seemed to cause an increase in the repression was a letter that circulated just as the rubber-stamp People’s Congress started its sessions calling for Xi’s resignation. (China Digital Times has a good summary.)

The latest victim is an editor from Southern Metropolis Daily.88979198_5375e79ajw1f2cqbuhc0tj20zk0n47az

Yu Shaolei posted a resignation note online, saying he could no longer follow the Communist Party line. His message wished those responsible for censoring his social media account well.

Yu posted a photo of his resignation form on his Sina Weibo microblog account Monday evening. It was quickly taken down, but a few resourceful people saved a screen capture of the note.

From the BBC:

Under the “reason for resignation” section, he wrote: “Unable to bear your surname”.

This was a reference to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s tour of state media outlets in February, when he said journalists must give absolute loyalty to the Communist Party, and “bear the surname of the Party”.

Instructions to the media and Internet censors have included not only hyping good news about the Chinese economy and leadership, but also what stories not to allow out.

Again, China Digital Times does a great job of keeping track of the censorship directives under their “Ministry of Truth” section. Here are a few examples:

All in all, despite China’s efforts to become a major global player, the leadership is still acting like a group of 19th century petty dictators who think they can control all aspects of the lives of the people inside their borders.

 

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Filed under Censorship, China, International News Coverage

Freedom House Looks at Threats in Mexico

Freedom House, one of the top human rights organizations in the world, has a program helping journalists in Mexico. Below is an introduction and link to a story about that program.

Mexico’s Embattled Journalists: An Interview with Mariclaire Acosta

mctwitterOne of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists is Mexico, where 11 reporters have been murdered since 2014. Mariclaire Acosta directs Freedom House’s program in Mexico City to improve journalists’ professionalism and safety. Acosta, Mexico’s former Deputy Secretary for Human Rights and Democracy, talks here about the interconnected crises of security, press freedom, and accountability.

Full report, click here.

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Filed under Harassment, Killings, Mexico

What coverage of a Michigan town can teach us about international coverage

Hamtramck, Mich., was one of three major centers of Polish Americans, Chicago and Buffalo, NY., being the other two.

The small city is completely surrounded by Detroit. And like Detroit fell on hard times when the auto industry started moving out of the area in search of cheap Southern US labor and then shrinking after a series of bad economic decisions by the auto executives.

The town was famous for its Polish food places with delis and bakeries getting customers from all over the region.

I know all this because Hamtramck is a part of my family’s history. Even now, whenever I visit Michigan I often stop by a bakery or two to pick up some items for my mother, who can no longer make her regular trips to the place.

A few folks I know expressed shock that Hamtramck has changed. Seems over the past few years more Muslims have moved in the area. I saw it several years ago when on one side of a street were all Polish shops and on the other were halal shops and offices with names common to the Islamic world. (I did not know where the immigrants came from, but I knew it wasn’t Poland. I later learned Bangladesh and Somalia were the main sources for the newest immigrants.)

As a population changes so does its political center. Last year the city council changed to having a Muslim majority. And, as expected, loads of people started freaking out that Sharia law was coming to Michigan.

Well, of course, no such thing has happened or will happen.

To begin with, Hamtramck is under state control. Yep, the state took over the operations of the city under the emergency control law Gov. Snyder used to run Flint and Detroit.

So even if the Muslim majority council wanted to impose Sharia law — which they don’t — it would never pass by the emergency manager.

Needless to say the change in the political powers in Hamtramck from Polish Catholic to Muslim got the press interested. The Washington Post, CNN and Voice of America all did pieces on the shift.

A recent piece by Michael Jackman for the Detroit Metro Times started out criticizing “national media” coverage of the change. (How international news media tried to find conflict in Hamtramck’s new city council — and missed it entirely)

Jackman opening paragraphs describe how “national news media” reps were peppering the Muslim members about Sharia law.

The Muslim councilman is telling the interviewer emphatically that “Sharia Law” won’t be a factor in politics. The interviewer changes his tack: how about in their own lives? Doesn’t Sharia Law enter into the day-to-day life of the community? The interviewer almost pleads, “In daily matters, outside of politics, do you ever say, ‘This doesn’t conform to Sharia Law?'” The interviewee is too clever for this trap.

For my money, it would have been nice if we knew what national media outlet was asking these questions. To be honest they sound more like the type of thing and the way Bill O’Reilly correspondents would ask, rather than any serious journalistic operation.

The rest of the article is a very good look at how things operate in Hamtramck. And with the exception of the origin of the names, it really sounds as if it is business as usual in the small enclave.

“It’s pretty amazing that they all see a story here,” [Mayor Karen] Majewski says. “It seems all kind of unremarkable on the ground. But to think that they are sending people on planes to come here to scout around. And they’re not finding what they’re expecting to find. They’re looking for the mosque with the big minarets. They’re looking for ‘the Muslim neighborhood,’ you know. They’re kind of, surprised that everything is so low-key, and nothing exciting is happening. And it’s just kind of normal life.”

When it comes to national media scrutinizing Hamtramck as a Muslim hot spot, this isn’t the city’s first go-round. In 2004, the city allowed the call to prayer to be broadcast by mosques. Back then, The New York Times was the outlet to put “tension” in a headline, and NBC News showed up too. “But this seems more of a frenzy,” Majewski says.

After November’s election results, international Western media haven’t been shy about as they’ve nosed around town, in search of tension and conflict.

Residents may be able to cite a handful of instances of bigotry, but it doesn’t sum up who we are. It’s the exception, not the rule.

Jackman writes the story in the first person. He makes it clear he has a stake in the city and its growth. It is also clear he has little tolerance for Islamaphopia AND for grandstanding politicians.

Linking coverage Hamtramck to global reporting

The complaints Jackman has about how national and international media outlets report what is happening in Hamtramck can be replicated around the world.

Too often American news consumers have to depend on parachute journalism for reports from around the world. Too many foreign bureaus have been closed by major news organizations. Or, where those bureaus still exist, the area is so large, the reporters assigned to the area have a hard time developing a deeper understanding about the situation being covered.

Sidenote: I was always disappointed that the transition to democracy in Taiwan got such limited coverage. I was told by an editor once when I pitched a story about the transition back in 1992 that if it was important enough the Beijing bureau would pick it up.

Dammit. Beijing and Taipei are two completely different places with loads of cultural and political differences. Not to mention all the political baggage that both carry regarding each other.

Too many of my colleagues have too many things to cover and not enough resources to do the job as it should be done. Editors sit hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away and decide what the story should be despite what an in-depth look at the situation might indicate. (I still recall the editor who asked me to do a piece about living as a journalist under Chinese communist rule. The only problem is that I was in Hong Kong and enjoyed all the freedoms and civic rights of any democracy. The editor fell for a misunderstanding of how Hong Kong operated since the Chinese take over in 1997.)

One way for news organizations to learn more about a place, without making the massive investment in a bureau, is to look for solid freelancers. We usually have a pretty good idea what is going on in the country where we live. Too often we are relegated to writing about tourism, trade or business relations. So a nice juicy piece on politics would be nice.

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Filed under Connections, Ethics, International News Coverage, Story Ideas

Call for more safety measures for journalists

The following item was initially posted at the SPJ International Community site, Journalism and the World.

Roy Greenslade at The guardian published an open letter from the director general of Swedish Radio, Cilla Benkö, calling for the safety of journalists to be taken more seriously by the international community.

He put the whole letter in his latest March 11 column. A portion of that letter is posted below. To see the whole letter and Greenslade’s column, click here.

Cilla Benkö

Enough is enough. Every policy initiative that can be taken to secure the safety of journalists, both here in Sweden and internationally, through bodies such as the UN and the EU, must now be implemented. This is an urgent matter if we want to protect the freedom of the press and the freedom of expression.On Wednesday (9 March), our correspondent, Maria Persson Löfgren, was attacked while on assignment in the Russian state of Ingushetia. On 11 March 2014, our Asia correspondent, Nils Horner, was murdered in Kabul. Two completely unacceptable events.

Both Maria and Nils were engaged in normal assignments for a foreign correspondent. The job is demanding, tough and sometimes associated with danger.

We should be thankful that there are people who want to engage in this kind of journalism, because it’s through them that the rest of us learn about a reality that is often more complicated than those governing in a country would suggest.

The issue of the safety of journalists must be taken more seriously at an international level. Ceasing to cover troubled areas is not an option. In an increasingly digitised world, it is very easy for extremist groups and others to spread their propaganda.

For rest of letter click here.

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Filed under Harassment, International News Coverage, Killings, Press Freedom

Connection: Jobs and Visas

Some time back the Orlando Chamber of Commerce did a study that showed for every 82 visas issued by the U.S. embassy and consulates in Brazil, one job is created in Orlando,Fla.

And look what we have now from Gallup: Orlando Tops Largest U.S. Metro Areas in Job Creation.

Orlando has recently experienced strong hiring growth in the hospitality and leisure sector — the greatest source of jobs in the area, which is known for its theme parks.

The growth in jobs in Orlando comes because foreign visitors want to enjoy all the theme parks in the area. (Think Universal Studios and Disney World.)

And as noted before, the people who issue those visas are U.S. Foreign Service officers. The problem is that no one seems to pay attention to the State Department budget or its staffing needs.

Orlando is a great example of a direct connection between the State Department budget and a local economy. Would be nice if more people (and news organizations) made the connection.

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Filed under International News Coverage, Jobs, Trade

How censorship in China works

The Committee to Protect Journalists has a great graphic on how Chinese censorship works.

The following graphic is part of an article, Read and delete: How Weibo’s censors tackle dissent and free speech.

weibo-infographic

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Filed under Censorship, China, Freedom of Information, Press Freedom