Category Archives: Harassment

Turkish media ordered to conform to “family values”

Many thanks to Roy Greenslade at The Guardian for point out the latest attack on free press by the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkish media output must conform to ‘traditional family values’

The Turkish government wants to ensure that the output of the country’s media conforms to “traditional family values.”

It is to take unspecified “measures” aimed at countering what it regards as the “negative effects” on family of material in newspapers, on television and even on social media.

A statement from the government said “measures will be taken to ensure that visual, aural and social media, news, tabloids, films and similar types of productions conform to our traditional family values.”

turkey_5years_capture_updated-445x480Ever since Erdogan took the reigns of power, press freedom in Turkey has been slowly but steadily eroded. in 2010 Freedom House ranked Turkey’s media as Partly Free. By 2013, however, the country was pushed into the Not Free category because of government policies hostile to independent media.

Constitutional guarantees of press freedom and freedom of expression are only partially upheld in practice. They are generally undermined by provisions in the penal code, the criminal procedure code, and the harsh, broadly worded antiterrorism law that effectively leave punishment of normal journalistic activity to the discretion of prosecutors and judges.

The constitutional protections are also subverted by hostile public rhetoric against critical journalists and outlets from Erdoğan and other government officials, which is often echoed in the progovernment press. Since the Gezi Park protests of 2013, Erdoğan has accused the foreign media and various outside interest groups of organizing and manipulating unrest in the country. He has also blamed foreign-based conspiracies for corruption allegations against his family and ministers. In August 2014, during a speech at a campaign rally just prior to the presidential election, Erdoğan denounced Economist correspondent Amberin Zaman as a “shameless militant” and told her to “know [her] place.” In the following months, Zaman was deluged with threats of violence on social media. In September, New York Times reporter Ceylan Yeğinsu suffered a similar verbal attack over a photograph caption that accompanied her piece on Islamic State recruiting in Turkey. Progovernment media depicted her as a traitor. The U.S. State Department criticized Turkey for such attempts to intimidate and threaten her.

 

 

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Dark days ahead for China’s media

French journalist Ursula Gauthier faced the wrath of Beijing censors when she wrote about China’s policy toward the Muslim Uighur minority in China.part-del-del8393516-1-1-0

First, Beijing accused her
of being sympathetic to the Uyghurs and promoting the violent actions taken by a few radicals. Then, to make sure she could not follow up on her stories, the foreign ministry refused to renew her visa to work in China. That meant she had to leave by December 31, 2015.

Denying visa renewals or sitting on the applications for a long time has become a standard move by the central government.

In 2014 the reporters from The New York Times and Bloomberg did not know until the last minute if they would be allowed to stay. Seems their articles about how family members of the ruling elite use their connections to get incredibly wealthy ticked off a few folks in Beijing.

The ruling Communist Party has always been hostile to Western media. Even though more reporters are being licensed to work in China, the harassment they face from national to local government officials is daunting.

The Foreign Correspondents Club of China regularly assembles stories and complaints about how the government is hindering journalists. The reports used to be posted on the FCCC website. Now, however, one has to specifically request the reports or sign in as a member.

The reason is pretty clear, the club is afraid if they are too public, the government will shut them down:

To ensure the continued operation of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China we are not currently making such material openly accessible on the website.

And it is not like anyone could blame them. At least the reports are available in one form or another.

And lest anyone think this is aimed at just the media, remember that the Canadian contestant for the Miss World competition was blocked from entering China because she spoke out about human rights violations in China.

What made it worse for Beijing, of course, was that the woman is Chinese-Canadian. It is one thing for a round-eyed foreign devil to be critical of China’s policies, but a whole other thing when the critic looks like any other Chinese person.

Beijing passed a new anti-terrorism law, in part to allow them to get Western nations on their side against the Uyghurs, but also to have a legal basis for their actions inside the country.

Under the new law, “terrorism” is now defined as any idea or activity that generates “social panic, undermines public security, infringes on personal and property rights, and menaces government organs and international organizations, with the aim to realize certain political and ideological purposes.”

And for Beijing, anything that challenges the supreme authority of the ruling Communist Party has the potential to generate social panic. And, it goes without saying, has “certain political and ideological purposes.”

Things are not likely to get better in China for reporters — foreign or domestic. The rhetoric against free press is clearly not letting up and the hostility aimed at foreign media representatives from doing their job of fairly and accurately reporting events in China is expected to continue unabated

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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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China’s campaign against bloggers

Just in case anyone ever thought good blogging (hell, even bad blogging) about events is not a form of journalism, they should look at China.

The Chinese government has been on a two-year rip against bloggers. The campaign matches the massive efforts to tighten the screws on press freedom.

In the case of bloggers, the problem is much greater. With the news outlets, the government can fire or re-assign reporters and editors who do not bow to their wishes. Bloggers, however, are individuals. That means the government has to go after each person one at a time and figure out how to apply pressure to get that person to stop. Failing that, out comes the hammer of prosecution and jail time. (Yep, in China “violators” of the rules of what can and cannot be published are given a fair trial, just before they are sentenced to jail. Funny how one always follows the other.)

China Digital News has a great summary of a larger piece by the Australian Financial Review on how the Chinese government has cracked down on bloggers.

From China Digital Times: How China Stopped Its Bloggers

Original Australian Financial Review piece: How China stopped its bloggers

Just like anywhere else in the world, China’s popular bloggers ply their craft via social media and are an eclectic mix of lawyers, academics, celebrities, investors, public intellectuals, food critics and journalists.

Yet they occupy a unique position in China as the only alternate voice to the party, and they speak to the world’s biggest internet population of 650 million people. And while they have never been accepted by the party, these so called “opinion leaders” were once tolerated, in what many saw as a necessary loosening of control in the age of social media and mobile internet.

That was until mid-2013 when the party resumed its previous role as the sole arbiter of what information the public should be told.

One example China Digital News brings up is the prosecution of Wu Gan, a provocative online campaigner.

From the South China Morning Post:

Observers said the government wanted to incriminate Wu Gan, 43, an influential online campaigner famed for his loud and colourful protests, to warn other activists not to target and embarrass even low-level officials.

Yan Xin, Wu’s lawyer, said prosecution authorities in Xiamen told him on Friday that they had granted police permission to arrest his client on two criminal charges – “inciting the subversion of state power” and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”.

Remember that the Chinese government considers any discussion of a controversial issue or any questioning of government action to be “provoking trouble” and subverting state power.

The bottom line is that the administration of President Xi Jinping will not allow any dissent during his term. And he is going after not only the mainstream media but anyone who has an opinion not cleared by the central committee of the Communist Party.

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Turkey keeps sliding in press freedom actions

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been on a serious campaign to get Turkey’s press under control.

In the latest move, Erdogan is suing a news organization for espionage because it posted evidence that the state’s intelligence service haphazardly supported anti-Assad forces in Syria in 2013 and 2014. Some of the rebels receiving help later turned out to be key players in the Islamic State movement.

Turkish president Erdoğan wants editor jailed for espionage in video row

Erdogan’s administration has used not only government powers to limit and block all versions of free press and expression.

Last year the government blocked Twitter and the Internet exploded. The action came as more Turks began discussing a growing corruption scandal that reached to the presidency.

When the plug was pulled on Twitter Erdogan showed bravado that was later shut down.

“The international community can say this, can say that. I don’t care at all. Everyone will see how powerful the Republic of Turkey is,” he said.

What he saw was an uproar not only around the world but even within his own ruling party.

The Freedom House rankings for Turkey have dropped from Partly Free to Not Free.

In the past two years his government has passed new laws that expanded the government’s authority to close down websites critical of the government and increased the state’s surveillance powers.

The country holds national elections June 7. Erdogon’s ruling party, the AKP, is expected to remain in power.

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Nothing sheepish expected from Chinese censors

The Hong Kong chief executive wants Hong Kongers to emulate the zodiac animal for this year. No surprise given the pressure CY Leung is under from Beijing.

The same could be said for the way Beijing wants the people of China to act as well. And leave it to the government and party aparatus to serve as shepards.

The ruling elite in China has the attitude that they know what is best and everyone else should just shut up and follow orders. It is such an intregal part of the way they work, they cannot seem to think of any other way to operate.

So while the people are to be sheep, the govenrment will act as both shepard and wolf.

And now, from Foreign Policy a prediction for the Year of the Sheep: Five Predictions for Chinese Censorship in the Year of the Sheep

  1. Tightening of the Great Firewall
  2. WeChat Arrests
  3. Intensified censorship during Pres. Xi’s visit to USA in September
  4. More arrests and jail time for dissidents and free speech activists.
  5. Stepped up pressure on the free media in Hong Kong.

To be honest, these are the same predictions one could make about the state of freedom of press/expression in China every year.

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