Monthly Archives: August 2016

Chinese Pollution Issues Stress Need For Free & Independent Media

The Chinese government leadership have a real problem. Technology is giving people and local groups more power to look into issues and to get the results of their investigations to a lot of people in a hurry.

The latest is a report that students at the Changzhou Foreign Language School in Changzhou in Jiangsu province were falling ill at an abnormal rate.

Chinese children ‘fall sick at new school’ (BBC – April 18, 2016)

The Chinese authorities are investigating reports that hundreds of children have become sick after their new school opened next to a former industrial site.

Nearly 500 Chinese children are reported to have developed dermatitis, blood abnormalities, leukaemia and lymphoma thought to be a result of air, soil and water toxins at their new school.

Now, government officials report there is nothing to the reports that reports the soil near the school tests chemical levels at 95,000 times the national limit.

Yep, nothing to see here.

The initial report — by state-run media — caused an uproar among Internet users. And a series of articles outside China.

Lack of concern about where or how construction takes place is a common issue in China. And with no method to keep an eye on the government — freedom of information laws or an independent media or opposition parties — there appears little people can do except pass information by the Internet or mobile phone texts.

 

Those Chinese residents able to breach the Great Firewall would have been able to read the two stories mentioned above from Hong Kong and the US. They also would have been able to read another SCMP piece on how more than 80 percent of the country’s groundwater is contaminated and unfit for human consumption.

While the government leadership officially says it wants to dig out corruption and that media outlets have a role in that campaign, it is also the official policy that the media must first serve the (Communist) Party, the government, then the people. So if the Party or government leadership decide that potentially contaminated soil might be the cause of abnormal illnesses among school children AND if that situation makes the Party or government leaders look bad, then the contamination must not really exist.

So now the official media are reporting that three months of testing has shown contamination levels are within normal limits.

And that, of course, begs the question: What are normal limits?

Looking at how China deals with air pollution we can see that their limits leave something to be desired.

The World Health Organization puts on upper limit of Particulate Matter 2.5 (particulates less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) at 35 micrograms per cubic meter. The U.S. Environmental Administration put the upper limit of “good” at 50 micrograms per cubic meter. China puts it upper limit of “good” at 75 micrograms per cubic meter.

These higher levels allowed the Chinese government to officially say Beijing, Shanghai and other major cities had a lot of “good” days. However, even Chinese researchers found something was wrong. The catalyst for real change came after the U.S. embassy in Beijing started taking its own pollution data and posting it online.

At first the URL — http://beijing.usembassy-china.org.cn/aqirecent3.html — was blocked by the Great Firewall of China. And the Chinese government complained the U.S. was interfering in China’s internal affairs. Eventually — and with the Olympics coming up — the government relented and once again allowed access to the site.

Chinese researchers have begun to look at the government data and the US embassy data to see just how bad pollution is and if it is improving. (The good news/bad news is that some changes for the good are taking place.)

The problem is that China still uses levels of “acceptance” that are way higher than the WHO and other industrial nations. This practice puts people’s lives in danger. And with the government tightening its grip on the news media, the people will have little chance of learning about how much danger.

And yes, Americans need to know about these situations because it can directly impact the quality of goods sold to the United States. And because more and more Americans are moving to China to work, study and vacation. We just have this weird idea that we should know the health risks of a place we are about to visit.

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Criminal Defamation Laws Hit Press Freedom

The growing use of criminal defamation laws around the world add to the general decline in press freedom.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has a great program called Critics are not Criminals. This is a worthy effort that deserves the support of not only all journalists but all civil libertarians.

The latest case is in Honduras. A reporter looked into an alleged corrupt local police chief. Television reporter Ariel Armando D’Vicente now faces three years in prison with an additional three-year ban on working as a journalist.

Unfortunately for too many journalists, they get hammered by the use of criminal defamation laws. A recent study by CPJ and Thomson Reuters Foundation showed the use of these laws has grown in the Americas.

When governments and individuals use the defamation/libel laws to exact criminal penalties, freedom of the press is hurt.

A basic rule in the United States is that truth is an absolute defense against libel or defamation. Yet in much of the rest of the world, even if everything said in an article is true, if the subject of the article can prove anyone thinks less of that person, he/she can sue AND get the reporter tossed in jail. (See: Different libel laws cause grief around the world.)

For reporters working around the world, knowledge of these laws is vital, especially freelancers. While reporters for major news organizations may be able to get legal help from the parent organization, a freelance caught up in these bad laws could be left hanging.

And, it is important to remember, this law does not only apply to journalists. A person having a bad experience in a country and saying so on Yelp or Facebook could lead to charges being filed. And satire is definitely a problem. Just ask the producers and writers of The Simpsons:

The government of Brazil sued the producers of the The Simpsons often. In a 2002 episode the Simpsons were in Brazil.  The family was robbed, eaten by snake, kidnapped and abused by monkeys. The Brazilian government sued. And the response of the Simpson team: More jokes about Brazil. And more lawsuits. None were successful — at least in the USA.

For some fun:

 

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Filed under Harassment, Human Rights, International News Coverage, Press Freedom

China Continues on Road of Information Supression

One thing you have to give to the government/Communist Party leadership in China is that they are ever vigilant about ways people can get information.

In the early days it was merely controlling the newspapers and radio stations. Now, with the Internet and SMS with mobile phones, the Party has been in the forefront of keeping the outside world from informing the Chinese people.

It is almost an annual event that new regulations about online news organizations are put forward.

To back up all the rules and regulations, the government has the Great Firewall of China in an effort to block outside influences. (New York Times, twitter, Facebook, etc.) And they have a cadre (some say millions) of people hired to actively counter any “non-positive” comments about China on the Internet. This group is known as the Fifty Cents Party because people are reportedly paid 50 cents for each comment they attack with a “positive” message.

Needless to say, Chinese netizens have had some fun with the 50 Cent Party

50 Cents

Maybe censorship is the government’s way of ensuring full employment, because reportedly millions are employed to monitor and report on unauthorized information on the Internet.

All this is in addition to the pronouncements of President Xi that the role of the media (and journalists) is to be a lap dog for the Party: [Journalists] must love the party, protect the party, and closely align themselves with the party leadership in thought, politics and action,”Love the Party” first. 

Needless to say, such a position is a violation of the ethics of any independent journalist or honest news organization not matter what country.

In addition to the Chinese government and ruling party doing all they can to stop information they don’t control from coming in, they are also trying to control what news outlets outside China can and should say:

  • Australia: Chinese language newspapers in Australia: Beijing controls messaging, propaganda in press – Sydney Morning Herald
  • Hong Kong: As Beijing tightens grip on Hong Kong media, mainland journalists suffer – Committee to Protect Journalists

The communist theory of media control is as old as Lenin setting up Pravda. The difference now is that there are so many different ways to get information thanks to mobile phones and the Internet that repressive government such as the one in China must waste more and more money on monitoring and jamming sites that might carry unauthorized material.

And to be sure, China is not alone. Nor are communist countries the only ones that go in for massive intrusion into Internet freedom. Just think of Turkey (pre- and post-coup), Saudi Arabia or Thailand.

Just think about how much more these countries could do if they focused their resources on growth and development instead of repression of free expression.

 

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