Category Archives: Censorship

White House Attack on VOA Misguided and Dangerous

The White House attack on the integrity of the reporters and editors at Voice of America is unwarranted and dangerous. Its claim in its April 10, 2020 1600 Daily posting that “Journalists should report the facts, but VOVOAA has instead amplified Beijing’s propaganda” is not only false, it puts VOA journalists around the world in danger.

But first some history.

The Voice of America is indeed owned and operated by the US government. It is not a propaganda machine for whatever administration is in power. The reporters and editors have independence to find and report stories, no matter where those stories lead.

The VOA Charter was drafted in 1960 and then signed into law in 1974. Here is the concise charter:

The long-range interests of the United States are served by communicating directly with the peoples of the world by radio. To be effective, the Voice of America must win the attention and respect of listeners. These principles will therefore govern Voice of America (VOA) broadcasts.

  1. VOA will serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news. VOA news will be accurate, objective, and comprehensive.
  2. VOA will represent America, not any single segment of American society, and will therefore present a balanced and comprehensive projection of significant American thought and institutions.
  3. VOA will present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively and will also present responsible discussions and opinion on these policies.

In addition, in 1994 when the US foreign policy agencies were re-arranged, a firewall under the 1994 U.S. International Broadcasting Act was built to protect VOA from direct control by any policy making agency.

The firewall prohibits interference by any U.S. government official in the objective, independent reporting of news, thereby safeguarding the ability of our journalists to develop content that reflects the highest professional standards of journalism, free of political interference.

The firewall ensures that VOA can make the final decisions on what stories to cover, and how they are covered.

The independence of VOA was re-affirmed in 2016 under the National Defense Authorization Act.

  • The Secretary of State and (Broadcast Board of Governors) Chief Executive Officer, in carrying out their functions, will respect the professional independence and integrity of the Board, its broadcasting services and the grantees.
  • The Inspector General of the State Department and Foreign Service shall respect the journalistic integrity of all the broadcasters covered by this chapter

For details go to the following”

On top of all the legal protection, there is the Code of Ethics that all VOA journalists must agree to as part of their employment. Here are some key points:

PREAMBLE

Accuracy, balance, comprehensiveness, and objectivity are the qualities audiences around the world expect of VOA. These standards are legally mandated in the VOA Charter.

SUMMARY

VOA staff avoid imbalance or bias in their news reports. VOA does not speak for the U.S. government. VOA staff do not accept treatment or assistance from U.S. government officials or agencies that is more favorable or less favorable than that of staff of private sector news organizations.

Accuracy and Balance

    • It is essential that accuracy takes priority over speed in our reporting, programming and online/social media presence.
    • VOA rejects efforts by foreign and domestic special interest groups to use its radio and TV broadcasts, websites and social media sites as platforms for their own views. Regardless of the medium, the views of a single party must be challenged if alternative opinions are unrepresented.

Fairness

    • VOA always presents a full and fair account of events
    • VOA journalists will not fabricate, distort, or dramatize an event

Context and Comprehensiveness

    • VOA staff avoid using political or other biases in their reporting, programming, websites and social media sites

Past Administrations’ attacks on VOA

In the 1980s, a political appointed ambassador complained that a VOA reporter used the term Contras when discussing the US-backed armed forces fighting the Nicaragua government in the 1980s. The ambassador said the reporter should have called them Freedom Fighters, a term more in line with the Reagan political philosophy.

In 2001, shortly after the Al Qaeda attack on the United States, VOA had the opportunity to interview the head of the Taliban leader Mullah Omar. At the time the Taliban ruled Afghanistan and were giving Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden sanctuary.

At the time every news organization in the world was trying to get an interview with Omar. The world wanted to know what he was thinking harboring Bin Laden and what he thought might happen in the aftermath of the Al Qaeda attack on the United States.

Omar chose VOA. For a reason.

At the time I knew the VOA Bureau Chief in Hong Kong, which was the bureau in charge of this story. I later met the reporter. They both said Omar agreed to the VOA interview because he knew most of the people of Afghanistan listened to and trusted VOA above all other news services. It was also made clear to him that his interview would not be carried in its entirety but rather would be part of a larger story.

Almost immediately the George W. Bush Administration tried to prevent the interview from getting on the air.

“We didn’t think that the American taxpayer, the Voice of America, should be broadcasting the voice of the Taliban,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

VOA pushed back.

“We were never going to give him an open mike,” Joe O’Connell, director of external affairs for VOA told CNN.

O’Connell said parts of the interview were to be used in a five-minute report on different language broadcasts.

The move by the Bush Administration caused a led to complaints of censorship and that the moves violated the VOA Charter. In the end, the interview got out, but the reporter and many of the editors involved were reassigned in ways that each of them thought they were being punished.

The Society of Professional Journalists was part of an international effort to support the VOA frontline reporters and editors. The SPJ convention in Seattle that year passed a resolution of supportof the VOA journalists.

In that resolution the SPJ stated (in part):

WHEREAS the Society of Professional Journalists believes truth is best revealed in the light of contesting opinions.
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Society commend VOA for its editorial integrity in this matter, and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Society salute the courage of VOA’s news executives who risked the displeasure of their own government in the service of their mission to inform, and that it find VOA’s practice in this case an exemplar of the most fundamental principles of democracy, and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Society condemn the efforts that were made to prevent VOA from carrying out its mission of responsible, objective and comprehensive reporting,

The SPJ – and journalism groups around the world – stood up for the VOA to protect it from government interference in its reporting. As a result, the VOA has withstood the winds of political control over the years. It remains a news organization widely respected around the world for its independence and fair and accurate reporting.

And now, the VOA is once again being attacked by an administration that wants a propaganda arm rather than a real news organization.

The Trump Administration attack on the VOA in its 1600 Daily commentary on the White House website is uncalled for and dangerous.

The claim that the VOA speaks for America’s adversaries is just plain wrong. The VOA reported on not only how the government addressed the issue but also how dissidents were being harassed by the Chinese government for revealing information about COVID-19 that the government did not want released.

Some examples:

The attack is dangerous because it opens VOA and its journalists to unwarranted attacks.

If the administration tries to make VOA nothing put a public relations arm of the US government – as it implies it wants under this attack – then that would make the journalists agents of the US government and subject to espionage laws and other “agents of foreign power” acts in other countries. It would also make the journalists targets of mobs with “nationalistic” feelings who want to attack any soft target directly related to the US government.

One of the strong points of VOA has been its proven independence from US government political control. When ever it does a news story, listeners around the world know that the story is fair, accurate and not dictated by a political master.

To be clear, there are times when VOA does broadcast something that is the official position of the US government. At those times the statement is clearly identified as the position of the US government. Think of it as an editorial. Divorced from the news gathering arm of the organization.

In addition, the White House statement is playing to a US domestic audience that does not know much (if anything) about the importance VOA plays in providing accurate news to countries with controlled media. Also, they are unaware of how, by being fair and balanced in its coverage, the VOA represents the best of American ideals. Think of it…Here is a US-government news organization airing stories that are often critical of the US government. (Try doing that in China, Russia, Nicaragua, etc.)

The White House statement shows brazen politics and unbelievable ignorance in its statement about the VOA.

Fortunately, the VOA is finding all sorts of support.

And, hopefully, soon the Society of Professional Journalists.

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WSJ Journalist Bounced from China and Why It Matters

The Washington Post reported today China denied the visa renewal for Chun Han Wong, a Wall Street Journal reporter. The action came after Wong helped write a report on allegations the cousin of Chinese president Xi Jinping was involved in gambling and potential money laundering in Australia.

As the Post pointed out in the past the Chinese government has retaliated against foreign journalists through the visa process for stories that discussed the private lives and wealth of the families of the country’s ruling elite.

A 2012 Bloomberg News investigative report disclosing the Xi family’s investments resulted in a visa ban for the news agency that was only lifted after extensive discussions between Bloomberg executives and Chinese officials.

At least half a dozen correspondents for the New York Times faced lengthy delays receiving new visas or were expelled outright after the Times published a similar expose that year about former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s family wealth.

Why is this important?

Basically without independent reporting from China the global public would have little information about what is going on in that country. We would not know the economic and social pressures that are at play in the world’s second largest economy and up and coming military power.

And that is what dictators like the Communist Party leadership in China want. They don’t want information about the cracks and flaws in their society. They are especially afraid of the Chinese people learning about  see the lavish lifestyle they lead.

Traditionally the big fear is an outraged farmer class. In the past the governments of China have tolerated a lot of push back from farmers because of their large numbers.The party’s biggest fear is that these farmers would see how well the leadership is living and compare it to the bone-crushing poverty the rural class faced.

Now, however, there is a growing middle class and these folks want to see continued growth. They are also more educated. So they know corruption impedes economic growth. So it is this danger the party leadership faces. They do not want the rising middle class to know just how much wealth the leaders have. Or how they give unfair advantage to their family members.

So for the party leadership their very survival depends on controlling the press and keeping their dirty laundry hidden. And that is why journalists who do what journalists do — finding and reporting on facts — are such a danger to the Chinese government.

The rest of the world needs to know this information because we have to live in a world where China is a major player. Whether it is economics or military, China has a role. And we need to know if they are playing fair or if they are cheating. (And then take appropriate steps.)

Knowing about a government leader’s family connections to wealth and possible criminal activity is a vital part of knowing how to deal with that leader.

And that is what a free press is all about.

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London-Based Chinese Journalist Defends Chinese Repression

No big surprise. A reporter for the official Chinese media defends the repressive actions of the Chinese government against a BBC reporter and an independent candidate for office in China.

The World According to a CCTV Journalist Based in London

The BBC event that sparked this reporter’s tirade is BBC stopped from visiting China independent candidate (Screen capture below.)

bbc

 

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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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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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