Category Archives: International News Coverage

Overdose of Politics in China New Year Programming

China Digital Times has a great wrap up of the heavy handed propaganda New Year Gala on CCTV. As a result, the censors had a whole new list of words to block behind the Great Firewall of China.

New Year Sensitive Words: Did CCTV Party Too Hard?

To dampen criticism, a number of related search terms have been blocked on Sina Weibo, including CCTV Gala + politics (春晚+政治), CCTV Gala + brainwash (春晚+洗脑), and CCTV Gala + suck up (春晚+献媚). As Wong noted, some complained that the gala felt like an episode of network’s propaganda-heavy nightly newscast: CCTV Gala + News Simulcast (春晚+新闻联播) is also blocked. Another censored search term is CCTV Gala + steamed bun (春晚+包子), referring to [President] Xi’s appearance at a Beijing steamed bun shop in 2013 which became a symbol of his personal image-crafting.

Maybe the government stepped up the propaganda because of the predictions based on the Chinese zodiac for the 2016 Fire Monkey.

The Monkey is very intelligent, hyperactive and strong-minded. He represents the unfettered mind freed from inhibitions and guilt. Relieving himself from the heavy burdens of a touchy conscience, the Monkey type will not hesitate to test his theories, experiment and think the unthinkable. In his domain, everything is possible. What is difficult, he could do right away; what is impossible may take a little longer.

All the animals have a shadow side, and the Monkey is no exception. The problem solving tendencies can turn the Monkey to being a tricky tactician, opportunistic and not all that trustworthy. The youthfulness hides an unscrupulous adolescent, and the independence can turn to unfaithfulness.

While the leadership in Beijing denounce belief in powers of the zodiac, they have to know that most Chinese still hold a bit of the old ways in the back of their minds. And nothing can be worse for a dictatorship than a whole year dedicated to people with unfettered minds who think anything is possible and who can be tricky tacticians and not trustworthy.

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Filed under Censorship, China, International News Coverage

Mexican Journalist Kidnapped; War Against Journalists Continues

The latest victim in attacks against journalists in Mexico is Anabel Flores Salazar, a reporter in Veracruz.

Mexican authorities say they are searching for her after reports she was dragged from her home by armed men and hasn’t been seen since.

Salazar was taken Monday morning from her home near the city of Orizaba, where she worked for several newspapers.

Unfortunately, kidnapping and killing journalists is not uncommon in Mexico. Since 2010 15 journalists have been killed in Veracruz alone.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 24 journalists have been killed in Mexico because of their jobs since 2010. A vast majority — 77 percent — of the reporters killed covered the crime beat, just like Salazar.

Threats against journalists come not only from the gangs but also corrupt public officials. The BBC reports there are strained relations between the Veracruz governor and the media. The governor has gone as far as warning journalists to “behave” or bad things might happen to them.

Understandably journalists in the area saw the comment as a veiled threat.

Veracruz prosecutors say they will investigate everything about Salazar to see why she was kidnapped.

The office said a few years ago she was seen with a leader of the local branch of the Zetas drug cartel.

And here in lies the problem.

For reporters to do their job, they have to develop sources across the board. If a cartel leader doesn’t like a story, threats are made and carried out against journalists. Likewise, if a local political figure is identified as being in the hip pocket of a cartel, the journalist receives threats from or is intimidated by the local government.

And then, there are a few bad apples in the journalism profession. Some have used their position as reporter or commentator to extort money from people in exchange for their silence on the air or in print. And because of the few unethical journalists, it becomes easier for governments and gangs to frame honest journalists, because the public is already to accept corruption within the media exists, just as it exists in the rest of society.

And to be clear, the situation described above is not unique to Mexico. Journalists throughout the Western Hemisphere face similar threats from gangs and rogue government officials.

This item was originally posted at Journalism and the World, the site of the International Journalism Community of the Society of Professional Journalists.

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Filed under Corruption, International News Coverage, Killings, Mexico

How a US Civil War Battle Helped Build the OED

February 1 marked the anniversary of the publishing of the Oxford English Dictionary in 1884. And the dictionary owes a lot of its early success to a U.S. Army surgeon.

Thanks to the work of Simon Winchester we know that William Chester Minor went mad after his experience in The Battle of the Wilderness (Virginia).

His illness took landed him in insane asylums in the United States. After his release he headed to England, where his delusions took hold again landed him in an asylum.

It was while he was in Broadmoor that he became fascinated with the call from the OED creators for contributions.

In the end, Minor became possibly the most prolific contributor to the OED.

Winchester’s book — The Professor and the Madman — is a terrific read.

It is also an example of how there are global connections if only a person looks.

It would have been nice, for example, if the newspaper that services The Wilderness area, the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star,  had run a small story about the connection between its area and the OED. But no one thought of it.

How many other connections are out there that are missed? And, thus, how many opportunities are lost to raise the level of knowledge about local and international events?

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Filed under International News Coverage

Latest corruption case in China has global impact

When the Shanghai stock market fell at the beginning of the year, markets in London and New York shook.

When China showed official numbers that its economic growth rate might falter, economists around the globe talked of dire financial consequences around the world.

And yet, anyone who has spent any time dealing with the China and its government would know — or should know — that the numbers released by the Chinese government are always suspect and the Chinese stock markets are about as transparent as a block of onyx.

Rule one in dealing with the Chinese government is that all things must be bent to serve the official line. If the official position is that China will have a 7 percent growth in GDP, then the appropriate government agencies must ensure the numbers they put out show at least that level. (A 6.9 percent growth is not acceptable, because it is not at least seven.)

And now Wang Bao’an, director of the National Bureau of Statistics is under investigation for  “serious violations of party discipline.” That phrase is veiled code for corruption.

As Charles Riley at CNN noted, this calls into question the data presented by Wang:

The…announcement, which is bound to raise new questions about the accuracy of Beijing’s economic statistics, came just hours after Wang briefed reporters on the state of China’s economy.

China Digital Times notes economist Xu Dianqing, of Beijing Normal University and the University of West Ontario, has raised doubts about China’s official growth rate for some time. According to Xu’s calculations, the real rate is between 4.3 percent 5.2 percent, not the official growth rate of 6.9 percent for 2015.

Granted, the investigation against Wang may not be related to his current job but may involve other activities during his 24 years in the finance ministry.

Yes, the Chinese government and ruling party (one in the same) are moving on corrupt officials. It would be nice to say that they are doing this because it is the right thing and that corruption is bad. Instead, the move seems more motivated to prevent a popular uprising against the ruling party.

China ranks 83 out of 168 on the perceived corruption index of Transparency International. (The higher the number, the more corrupt.) And we all know that China ranks near the bottom for political, social and media freedom.

The Communist Party holds onto its power largely because it promises the people of China a better life. If that better life is stalled or blocked by corrupt officials, the people see fewer reasons to support the party. If people are hurt or damaged by shoddy workmanship in infrastructure projects or public buildings because of corruption, there is less support for the government.

By moving against corrupt officials, the government wants to show that it is “doing the people’s will” by rooting out the (few) bad influences in power. The problem is that an anti-democratic, free-press bashing government by its very nature is a breading ground for corruption. There are no independent checks on abusive government officials. The Chinese government only tends to move against corrupt officials after the corruption is so blatant as to cause social unrest.

So China is corrupt. What does that mean for the average American.

For starters, look at the first two paragraphs of this entry. The world’s economy went into a tailspin because of activities in a country that regularly cooks the books and that has no resources to independently check the factual nature of its economic numbers.

Jobs in the United States are put at risk when China falters.

Yes, the U.S. buys more from China than it sells, but in the past few years the exports to China have been growing. Until the Chinese economy started to hesitate.

Exports to China were on a steady growth pattern for the past decade. January-November exports to China rose from $37 billion in 2005 to $109 billion in 2014. Then, last year, that number slipped to $106 billion. In fact, 2015 showed a marked decline month-on-month in exports to China.

Unlike what we import from China, what we sell is high-end aircraft parts, machinery and electronic equipment. These are products made with high-wage labor. A reduction in sales of these types of products overseas could mean more people forced to take lower-paid jobs and, therefore, contributing less to the American economy.

So, a handful of experts were keeping an eye on the situation in China. And occasionally there would be a story about the status of the Chinese economy. There would also be stories about how the changes in the Chinese economy affect trade with the United States. But where were the stories that showed how the Chinese economic changes impacted individual Americans?

How difficult would it be for a local reporter in Seattle or South Carolina to ask the local Boeing factory how sales to China were going? Along with the expected follow-up of, “What does it mean to local production and employment?”Washington2China

Or maybe for a local reporter in Galveston, Tex., to ask about how chemical sales are doing with China. (Yes, they are also down.)

Or even a reporter from Louisiana to call the New Orleans Port Authority to make inquiries about how shipments to and from China are doing.

Or how about a reporter along the Mississippi River asking how grain sales are doing to the rest of the world — and China in particular?

Had any of these inquiries been made and followed through, perhaps there would have been less shock about the slow down in China. People would not have been happy about the slow down, but at least they would have understood what was happening and why.

And the last time I looked, explaining what happened and why is part of the job description of being a jorunalist.

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Filed under China, Corruption, Freedom of Information, International News Coverage, Story Ideas, Trade

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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Filed under Censorship, Harassment, International News Coverage, Press Freedom, Turkey

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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Filed under Censorship, China, Harassment, International News Coverage, Press Freedom

Mexican media still threatened by gangs

Washington Post reporter Dana Priest has an excellent piece on the threats Mexican journalists face everyday: Censor or die: The death of Mexican news in the age of drug cartels

For anyone who has paid attention to what is going on in Mexico, this is not news, but confirmation that the war against the cartels is not going so well in Mexico.

The Mexican media was just getting out from under the thumb of the oddly named Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI)  that ran Mexico for most of its 100+ years. A breakdown in the control PRI had meant journalists could start actually being journalists instead of stenographers for the government.

Then the cartels started gaining strength — with the help of corrupt national and local officials.

Suddenly the threats to free and independent journalism was no longer the loss of a job, but death.

As Priest notes:

Submitting to cartel demands is the only way to survive, said Hildebrando “Brando” Deandar Ayala, 39, editor in chief of El Mañana, one of the oldest and largest newspapers in the region with a print circulation of 30,000. “You do it or you die, and nobody wants to die,” he said. “Auto censura — self-censorship — that’s our shield.”

Just some items from the past 10 years:

In Mexico, as in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, the issue is not government censorship but death threats from criminal cartels. The inability of the governments to address the issue speaks volumes about the corruption and weak legal systems in these countries.

To be clear though, it does not mean the governments have a policy of media repression. Too many observers of Latin America see any attacks on journalists — or civic society activists — as being ordered by the local or national government. Unfortunately the threats are essentially from the “private sector” — the cartels. The law enforcement systems in these countries are so weak that the threats against journalists — and civic society activists — either are not investigated or such a weak case is built against the murderers that they go free.

This impunity cartels enjoy can only be stopped if the governments are provided enough support and help to fight back. That is why cutting support to programs that seek to build stronger legal systems is not the way to go. (But tell that to a handful of Congress critters and US-based activists.)

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Filed under Censorship, International News Coverage, Killings, Mexico