Category Archives: Asia

Countries use of visas hurt journalists

Visas are basically applications to enter a country.

The most common visa is for tourism. Brazilians coming to Florida to visit Disney World. Americans going to Xian to see the Terra Cotta Soldiers. And so on…

And then there are specialty visas.

If a person is coming to the States for just a few days for business — to attend a conference, attend company meetings, participate in corporate training — the visa is straight forward and is included in the same category as a tourism visa.

Different visas are needed if a person is going to live and work in the US. And within that group there are different categories.

Most countries have a special category for journalists.

The United States has the I visa for journalists visiting the US for a short period. (Living and working in the US as a journalists — as in other countries — is a whole other issue and category.)

While deportations of journalists arriving on a tourism visa and then doing journalism in the States are rare (and often involve issues other than journalism), other less open countries use the journalism visa to limit access to the world’s media or to punish news organizations for what they perceive as unfriendly coverage.

China has long been known as a real stickler for enforcing its various journalism visas.

The Chinese government has withheld visas from New York Times staffers assigned to its Beijing bureau to punish the paper for printing stories about corruption and favoritism in the government and ruling party. (New York Times journalist forced to leave China after visa row)

And for journalists wanting to go to China, the process is long, tedious and often ends in frustration.

For example, I applied for a journalism visa to cover a conference in Beijing. I was living in Brasilia at the time. The embassy held onto my passport for more than a month. Calls to the embassy about the status of my visa went unanswered, other than “It is in process.”

In the end, I got the visa, but on the day the conference started. Given that it takes more than 30 hours to get from Brasilia to Beijing, that meant I would not be going to cover the conference. (This was something I realized a few weeks earlier. I had to inform my publisher I most likely would not be going to Beijing.)

When I lived in Hong Kong, I often got e-mails from friends in the business asking if they should lie about their profession to avoid any drama with the Chinese government. I always advised people to tell the full truth. Beijing is notorious for using any discrepancy in a visa application to either deny a person a visa or to deport the person for “activity not in compliance with visa status” if the discrepancy is discovered later.

Unfortunately for journalists the “activity not in compliance” excuse is what is most often used to expel alleged spies. (Then again, the thinking in Beijing is that journalists are nothing but spies anyway.)

No one really expects anything less from the control freaks in Beijing.

And then there are governments such as the one in Indonesia that are officially open and democratic but that also freak out if journalists start asking too many questions.

The latest example is of a British journalist being held in Indonesia for filming while doing a documentary on piracy. Usually journalists are just expelled from the country for visa violations, this time, however, the journalists face five months in prison and a $3,700 fine. (Jail British journalists for five months, says Indonesian prosecutor)

There are examples of people who get away with coming in on a tourist visa, doing some journalism and getting out. However, once discovered, these same journalists can kiss goodbye the chance to get another visa. (India: Let us in!)

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Filed under Asia, Freedom of access, Harassment, International News Coverage, Press Freedom

Thai authorities arrest Hong Kong journalist for having body armor

The BBC reports Hong Kong photojournalist Anthony Kwan Hok-chun was arrested for carrying body armor and a helmet as he was ready to board a flight back to Hong Kong.

Seems Kwan brought the equipment with him to cover the recent bombing of the Erawan Shrine a couple of weeks ago. And it seems having military type equipment is against the law.

The Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand issued a statement calling for Kwan’s release. The FCCT made the following points to the Thai government:

  • Hong Kongers were among the dead in the bombing
  • Protective gear is standard issue for reporters covering violent events.
  • The vest and helmet are not weapons
  • Journalists openly worn body armor during recent political turmoil without any action being taken government
  • Te deaths of two foreign journalists in Bangkok from gunfire during the political unrest in 2010 underscores the need for this kind of protection.

As the FCCT pointed out, it is not unusual for journalists to wear protective gear when reporting from dangerous areas. The Committee to Protect Journalists gives a rundown of the types of equipment to wear in different troubled areas:

  • Choose a vest rated to stop high-velocity bullets fired by military rifles.
  • Helmets are also recommended for journalists covering war zones.
  • Wear body armor whenever you are embedded with military forces

The CPJ also offers  tips about using protective gear in civil disturbance situations:

  • Protective gear  that is lightweight and relatively thin can provide protection against knife attacks, rubber bullets, and other hazards.
  • Baseball-style caps with metal plates are also available.
  • Armor may not be recommended for covering criminal matters because it may cause a journalist to be mistaken for a law enforcement agent.
  • Gas masks may also be worn, although in doing so journalists incur the risk that they could be mistaken for either riot police or demonstrators.

Kwan’s employer, Initium Media, hired a lawyer to contest the charges.

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Filed under Asia, Harassment

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”.

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Filed under Asia, Censorship

Lack of Free Media and Free Elections: Subtext to Missing Malaysia Jet

Loads of people are speculating as to what happened to MH370.  The speculation has so dominated the news that satirist Andy Borowitz noted CNN APOLOGIZES FOR BRIEFLY AIRING NON-FLIGHT 370 STORY.

All joking aside, while the media report every bit of information put out by the Malaysian government (and others), the shortcomings of that information are clear.

The leadership of the primary countries initially involved in the search — Malaysia, Vietnam and China — were hesitant to reveal information at first, partly because — as we all know — initial information often wrong needs to be corrected or fine-tuned.

In the end, for these governments to admit they made errors could undermine their authority. You see, none of these three governments rule by the consent of the people. Media are strictly regulated. Independent sources of information to challenge and question the authorities are virtually non-existent. And opposition leaders are tossed in jail.

The New York Times touched on this issue — at least as far as Malaysia goes — March 12: Amid Search for Plane, Malaysian Leaders Face Rare Scrutiny.

The article points to all the factors that made — make — the Malaysian government nervous about their current situation in the international spotlight:

  1. Authoritarian laws that keep the opposition in check
  2. Policies that favor the ethnic Malays
  3. A patronage system that excludes Indians and Chinese from policy positions. (Combined these groups constitute a majority)

What was missed in the article is the highly censored media.

The Malaysian government has never had to face hard questions from local reporters. And if they get questioned too fiercely by opposition parties, the leadership of those parties find themselves in jail such as Anwar Ibraham and Karpal Singh.

Malaysia is listed as having media that are Not Free by Freedom House. As are China and Vietnam.

Perhaps there is nothing that any country could do in the search for MH370. What is clear, however, is that the the initial three main players in the search were unable to deal with the situation, partially out of fear of being corrected later. Maybe they figured that questioning the veracity of one agency could lead to questions about other agencies and eventually the government itself.

It is odd how countries with no fair elections or free media fear any questions about the effectiveness of government agencies. (Look at the NYT article to see how the Malaysian government reacted.)

So that is the subtext to the search for MH370: The lack of free media and unfettered political opposition makes the governments look ineffective. In other words, it makes them less stable. And so, information is fragmented or withheld out of fear.

On another note:

As noted above, the Borowitz Report mentioned at the top pointed out how the US media have been all over the story. That piece was satire. But nothing, Borowitz could think of could have matched what CNN’s Don Lemon did. This was perhaps an all-time low for CNN when Lemon wondered if the disappearance was related to supernatural forces

UPDATE (3/19 18:32)

Okay, Fox News beat CNN for silliness.

Fox News host Bill Hemmer went on about how long it is taking to find the plane. He cited 100 years for the Titanic and 2,000 years for Noah’s Ark.

Yep. Hemmer cited a long-debunked claim that Noah’s Ark was found in Turkey. (Even Fox News knows the Ark story was a fake.)

The competition between CNN and Fox continues.

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Filed under Asia, Censorship, China, Connections, Freedom of access, International News Coverage, Press Freedom

Somebody’s feeling are going to be hurt: Maps of stereotype

Tea Leaf Nation has a great map of the stereotypes of China by Chinese based on social media auto-complete searches.

A Map of China, By Stereotype

This is similar to the one done about the United States: ‘Why Is Louisiana So Racist?’ Google Autocomplete Map Shows State Stereotypes

Personally I like the query from China: Why are many from the southern metropolis of Shanghai “unfit to lead”?

But honestly, I can’t wait for the Party leadership in Beijing to complain about how auto-complete (in China) has hurt the feelings of all Chinese by using these stereotypes.

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Filed under Asia, China, Connections, Story Ideas

Vietnam jails blogger, keeping up policy of free press suppression

Truong Duy Nhat, 50, was found to have “abused his freedoms to infringe upon the state’s interest” in posts on his blog, the last of which was in May last year, when he criticized the procedure for Vietnam first-ever parliamentary censure motion.

Vietnam jails ex-journalist over anti-government blog


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Filed under Asia, Harassment, Press Freedom

NHK credibility on the line

Government-owned news organizations usually cause some people to pause and think about the impartiality of the editorial policy. And yet some of the most respectable news organizations in the world depend on government largesse.

No one will question the quality and independent nature of the BBC.

Likewise, the Voice of America has an international reputation of fairness and impartiality. (A handful of misinformed Americans and anti-US propagandists outside America think otherwise, but the facts are against them.) And has a charter protecting journalists from interference from political control.

In Asia RTHK in Hong Kong fights daily to keep mainland China and the Hong Kong government out of its editorial policy. So far, it has been successful.

Also in Asia the NHK is seen as a global example of a government-financed news organization that digs deep, tells its stories without bias and stays with the facts.

Now, the reputation of the NHK is on the line.

In recent months, some members of the board of governors at NHK have expressed extreme positions, such as the Rape of Nanjing never happened and defended the practice of “sex slaves” during World War II.

Board member Naoki Hyakuta said Japan was lured into the war by America because of the economic embargo imposed after Japan invaded China. He also said Japan was liberating Asia from white colonialism.

According to the Independent in London, NHK’s new chairman, Katsuto Momii, stunned journalists by saying it was “only natural” that NHK should follow the government line on Japan’s territorial disputes with its neighbors. “When the government says ‘left’ we can’t say ‘right’,” he said.

It is that very statement that has people – including other news organizations in Japan – nervous.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe named Momii and Hyakuta to the 12-member board. He also named two other members who have also expressed hardline nationalist views.

Abe has a history of interfering with the NHK prodcuts.

According to The Diplomat:

[Abe] was the central player in the notorious muzzling of a NHK documentary about the comfort women that took place a few years ago. The documentary in question concerned efforts by women’s rights groups in Japan to highlight the government’s failure adequately to compensate surviving comfort women. Abe, already a very senior government official, paid a personal visit to NHK shortly before airtime to insist that the documentary be “fair and neutral.” NHK management immediately called the producers to demand drastic editorial changes to the already completed program. Last-minute revisions included the removal of all criticism of LDP policy and Emperor Hirohito. Also cut were dramatic confessions by two Japanese veterans admitting rape. Criticisms of the women’s movement were hurriedly inserted, including an interview with a discredited revisionist historian. Even the program title was whitewashed, from “Japanese Military’s Wartime Sexual Violence” to “Questioning Wartime Sexual Violence.” Far from being “fair and neutral” the final program was a lop-sided swipe at the redress movement and a complete exoneration of the LDP.

The Japanese High Court cleared Abe of charges of interference and berated the documentary producers for over reacting to Abe’s visit.

If the views of the board find their way into the NHK reporting, Japan and the world will lose what has been an excellent news organization.

A bit more reading on this issue:

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Filed under Asia, Harassment, International News Coverage