Category Archives: International News Coverage

Hypocrisy of the Brazilian Congress Not Made Clear in News Reports

dilma-rousseffNews stories out of Brazil are full of the impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Roussefff. The stories cover the charges against Dilma (in Brazil they use first names for a second reference) and the reaction of the very frustrated Brazilian populace. What I have not seen much of, however, are reports about the people pushing for impeachment.

Let’s start with the prime motivator and leaders of the lower house of congress in Brasilia. Eduardo Cunha is from the opposition Democratic Movement Party and is facing his own charges of corruption.

The Wall Street Journal did a full story on Eduardo’s woes, but most publications either don’t mention it or drop it in near the end of the story. The Brazilian press, by contrast, have regular stories about the charges and the latest actions of the prosecutor to build a case.

The Guardian had a good summary of many of the pro-impeachment people in their story about the final vote (boldface mine):

On a dark night, arguably the lowest point was when Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right deputy from Rio de Janeiro, dedicated his yes vote to Carlos Brilhante Ustra, the colonel who headed the Doi-Codi torture unit during the dictatorship era. Rousseff, a former guerrilla, was among those tortured. Bolsonaro’s move prompted left-wing deputy Jean Wyllys to spit towards him.

Eduardo Bolsonaro, his son and also a deputy, used his time at the microphone to honour the general responsible for the military coup in 1964.

Deputies were called one by one to the microphone by the instigator of the impeachment process, Cunha – an evangelical conservative who is himself accused of perjury and corruption – and one by one they condemned the president.

Yes, voted Paulo Maluf, who is on Interpol’s red list for conspiracy. Yes, voted Nilton Capixiba, who is accused of money laundering. “For the love of God, yes!” declared Silas Camara, who is under investigation for forging documents and misappropriating public funds.

And yes, voted the vast majority of the more than 150 deputies who are implicated in crimes but protected by their status as parliamentarians.

At times the session exposed the farcical side of Brazil’s democracy, such as the Women’s party that has only male deputies, or the Progressive Socialist party that is one of the most right-wing groups in congress.

These are hardly supporters of democratic and clean government. Somehow, phrases such as “the notoriously corrupt” members of Congress — a phrase used by US news outlets, if they mention the corruption at all — just does not have the same impact as what The Guardian laid out.

To be clear, I am no fan of the PT, Dilma’s party, but for this congress to vote to impeach her over corruption goes way beyond the pot commenting on the hue of the kettle.

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Filed under Corruption, International News Coverage, South America

Economic Stability Needs Free Press

Despite all the complaints about how poorly “the media” covered the Wall Street shenanigans that led to the 2008 Great Recession, people still turn to the unfettered and independent media outlets for news about stocks, bonds and the general state of the economy. In fact, the whole system of savings and investment would not work without a free press.wall_street_after_dark

The media — and this includes knowledgable bloggers — provide the public with loads of information about what is going on in the marketplace. They look at government regulations, company news and the overall status of the market.

One of the reasons there is global support for the U.S. stock markets is because there is such a strong tradition of free and unfettered media. (And perhaps, part of the trauma of the 2008 collapse was because how poorly the market was covered at the time.)

In fact, one of the most important part of any successful stock market is a free press that is allowed to dig into company records and government actions. Look at London, Paris, Tokyo and even Hong Kong.87502278_shanghai12

So is it any wonder there are uprisings and complaints about how things are going in the Chinese stock markets?

China Digital Times summarized a series of articles of how people across China are complaining about their losses in Chinese investment instruments.

According to the [Wall Street] Journal, some 1.6 million investors lost a total of at least $24.3 billion to collapsing wealth-management products over the past year. Many say they invested because of the perceived endorsement of government officials and state media, and are now demanding reimbursement from authorities.

Rather than move to make sure people got the best and most accurate information about where and how to invest their money, the Chinese government, instead, has decided to restrict even more information.

A series of leaked media directives published by CDT further illustrates efforts to manage discontent. Trying to steer a course between inciting panic and stoking further exuberance in June, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Film, Radio and Television told broadcasters not to “join the chorus of the bull or bear market. Rationally lead market expectations to prevent inappropriate reports from causing the market to spike or crash. […] Do not conduct in-depth analysis, and do not speculate on or assess the direction of the market. Do not exaggerate panic or sadness. Do not use emotionally charged words such as ‘slump,’ ‘spike,’ or ‘collapse.’”

Additional directives instruct editors to focus on “illustrative examples of steady growth,” while downplaying or holding back on anything negative about the property and stock markets.

Wall Street Journal reporter Laurie Burkitt retweeted one of the best reactions to the Chinese government actions:

And yet, the government continues to see it self as the main actor.

Why does this matter to journalists or even the people in the United States?
A great misunderstanding of how the Chinese markets work led to a global run on markets. And yet, only after the Western markets started falling because of what was happening in China, did people start figuring out the fall was an overreaction.

There is not enough foreign investment in the Chinese market for it to be a major problem. The London consultancy Capital Economics has said foreigners own just 2% of shares. — BBC  1/7/16

The smoke and mirrors situation in China built up by the ruling elite created a situation where otherwise strong Western investment instruments collapsed in just a matter of days. To be true, the collapse of the Chinese stock markets did indicate the Chinese economy was slowing. But again, had there been better reporting in China — that is had the government NOT restricted what reporters can cover — then the news about the slowing Chinese economy would not have come as such a shock.

The anti-free press fixation of the Chinese government is not just morally wrong, but it clearly also has a direct impact on U.S. investors, including a lot of retirement funds.4aa104a2bd6e75a39c9db8dad7319dbb

By the way, this has all happened before.

Back in the early 1990’s — when I lived in Shanghai — the government opened stock markets in Shanghai and Shenzhen. The party and government leaders encouraged people to invest. The people, figuring that the government has always taken care of them in the past will guarantee they will be taken care of in the future.

When the market collapsed in early 1992, millions of people lost their life savings. Men and women in their 60s discovered they had to now work many more years and save a lot more of their earnings to prevent starvation in their old age.

At that time the government did not step in to make good the losses. Deng Xiaoping was effectively in charge and forbade any bailouts. (Except for key companies, of course.) He made it clear the people will have to learn about the ups and downs of a marketplace economy with Chinese characteristics. He even allowed for and encourages small private companies to be set up.

The new leadership, however, has seem hell-bent to restore the all-pervasive nature of the Communist Party in Chinese society. They have apparently become nervous about the growing middle class. Seems once people get a taste of economic freedom, they tend to want political and social freedom as well. And that is not allowed.il_570xn-628619991_jc8m

So the government stepped up it campaign to crush freedom of speech and expression — including reminding the media their job is to represent the party — and stepped up its campaign of the government being mother and father.

The Chinese leadership claims they are concerned with preserving stability and avoiding social unrest. Yet the keep taking steps that lead to more social unrest.

By restricting the media to being only mouthpieces of the government, people will turn to rumors and whispering campaigns for information. And, as anyone who has played the “telephone game” will know, what goes in at the start is not necessarily what comes out the other end.

 

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

Workers Rising Up in China

Despite all the rhetoric from the Communist Party that it has the the best interest of “the workers” at heart, it is clear workers have a different idea.

The most public image of workers rising up against the despotic rule of a communist party is the Solidarity movement in Poland in the 1980s.

With the fall of the communist parties in Europe (more or less), the few remaining communist-run countries have kept a close eye on workers’ organizations.

One of the things that scares dictators about workers working in unison is the whole idea of self-determination. If workers can unify into a collective to get better pay and working conditions, why not form alliances to get better government? Likewise, if workers are allowed to elect their own leaders in the workplace, why not work for the right to elect local, regional and national political leaders.

Yep, unions are a real subversive factor. Especially against dictators and oligarchs.

Many thanks to CNN for assembling this great multi-media presentation of workers in China standing up for their rights and iron-heel steps being taken by the Beijing leadership to keep the workers under control.

China on strike

From the intro:

China’s workers have driven the explosive growth of its economy in recent decades. Now, with record numbers of strikes across the country, the government views them as an existential threat, and it may just be right.

The economic slowdown and subsequent forced layoffs have changed Beijing’s biggest fear of 900 million angry farmers to 500 million angry (or laid off) workers. The danger as Beijing sees it is that even workers whose jobs remain, will see other workers tossed out. The employed workers could start thinking they might be next.

The government in China holds onto only one real claim to power. Long ago it promised the people of China economic well being through economic reform. All that Beijing demanded is that no one talks about political reform.

Now the economic protection is falling apart. And, the leaders in Beijing may be getting a bit nervous about the stability of the ground beneath their feet.

Look at the numbers:

  • 2,726 Strikes or work related demonstrations in 2015
  • 74 Strikes or work related demonstrations per day
  • 1.6 million jobs cut from state-owned industries

These are not happy numbers for the Beijing leadership. It is no wonder there is a massive clamp down against news outlets and the Internet.

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Filed under Censorship, China, Human Rights, International News Coverage

China censorship campaign claims another victim

When things start going bad the first thing dictators do is limit information about just how bad things are. And China is acting according to the same script.

As the global economic slowdown started to hit China, President Xi Jinping stepped up pressure on the media. Then more cases of corruption started popping up all over the country, including in the upper echelons of the party. To stop people seeing party leaders living well while many are losing their jobs, Xi figured the only thing to do was to prevent the people from seeing or hearing about such things.

The crackdown has been building. In 2013 Xi started clamping down on traditional media as well as online services. In January 2014 he put himself in charge of a new committee to keep an eye on the Internet.

The South China Morning Post reported:

News that Chinese President Xi Jinping will take charge of a new panel overseeing internet security and information technology development has sent a shiver down the spines of Chinese media practitioners and net users.

Many have expressed fears that the launch of such a high-level task force would deal another blow to press freedom which had already been suffering after Xi’s administration tightened controls on the internet in recent months.

Along the way Xi also said it is the responsibility of journalists to follow the Communist Party line and to promote government policies. He also launched a campaign against any dissent by not only going after dissidents in China but also those who have been driven into exile because of their views. The government has also started rounding up family members of Chinese living abroad who have expressed critical views of the government. The event that seemed to cause an increase in the repression was a letter that circulated just as the rubber-stamp People’s Congress started its sessions calling for Xi’s resignation. (China Digital Times has a good summary.)

The latest victim is an editor from Southern Metropolis Daily.88979198_5375e79ajw1f2cqbuhc0tj20zk0n47az

Yu Shaolei posted a resignation note online, saying he could no longer follow the Communist Party line. His message wished those responsible for censoring his social media account well.

Yu posted a photo of his resignation form on his Sina Weibo microblog account Monday evening. It was quickly taken down, but a few resourceful people saved a screen capture of the note.

From the BBC:

Under the “reason for resignation” section, he wrote: “Unable to bear your surname”.

This was a reference to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s tour of state media outlets in February, when he said journalists must give absolute loyalty to the Communist Party, and “bear the surname of the Party”.

Instructions to the media and Internet censors have included not only hyping good news about the Chinese economy and leadership, but also what stories not to allow out.

Again, China Digital Times does a great job of keeping track of the censorship directives under their “Ministry of Truth” section. Here are a few examples:

All in all, despite China’s efforts to become a major global player, the leadership is still acting like a group of 19th century petty dictators who think they can control all aspects of the lives of the people inside their borders.

 

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Filed under Censorship, China, International News Coverage

What coverage of a Michigan town can teach us about international coverage

Hamtramck, Mich., was one of three major centers of Polish Americans, Chicago and Buffalo, NY., being the other two.

The small city is completely surrounded by Detroit. And like Detroit fell on hard times when the auto industry started moving out of the area in search of cheap Southern US labor and then shrinking after a series of bad economic decisions by the auto executives.

The town was famous for its Polish food places with delis and bakeries getting customers from all over the region.

I know all this because Hamtramck is a part of my family’s history. Even now, whenever I visit Michigan I often stop by a bakery or two to pick up some items for my mother, who can no longer make her regular trips to the place.

A few folks I know expressed shock that Hamtramck has changed. Seems over the past few years more Muslims have moved in the area. I saw it several years ago when on one side of a street were all Polish shops and on the other were halal shops and offices with names common to the Islamic world. (I did not know where the immigrants came from, but I knew it wasn’t Poland. I later learned Bangladesh and Somalia were the main sources for the newest immigrants.)

As a population changes so does its political center. Last year the city council changed to having a Muslim majority. And, as expected, loads of people started freaking out that Sharia law was coming to Michigan.

Well, of course, no such thing has happened or will happen.

To begin with, Hamtramck is under state control. Yep, the state took over the operations of the city under the emergency control law Gov. Snyder used to run Flint and Detroit.

So even if the Muslim majority council wanted to impose Sharia law — which they don’t — it would never pass by the emergency manager.

Needless to say the change in the political powers in Hamtramck from Polish Catholic to Muslim got the press interested. The Washington Post, CNN and Voice of America all did pieces on the shift.

A recent piece by Michael Jackman for the Detroit Metro Times started out criticizing “national media” coverage of the change. (How international news media tried to find conflict in Hamtramck’s new city council — and missed it entirely)

Jackman opening paragraphs describe how “national news media” reps were peppering the Muslim members about Sharia law.

The Muslim councilman is telling the interviewer emphatically that “Sharia Law” won’t be a factor in politics. The interviewer changes his tack: how about in their own lives? Doesn’t Sharia Law enter into the day-to-day life of the community? The interviewer almost pleads, “In daily matters, outside of politics, do you ever say, ‘This doesn’t conform to Sharia Law?'” The interviewee is too clever for this trap.

For my money, it would have been nice if we knew what national media outlet was asking these questions. To be honest they sound more like the type of thing and the way Bill O’Reilly correspondents would ask, rather than any serious journalistic operation.

The rest of the article is a very good look at how things operate in Hamtramck. And with the exception of the origin of the names, it really sounds as if it is business as usual in the small enclave.

“It’s pretty amazing that they all see a story here,” [Mayor Karen] Majewski says. “It seems all kind of unremarkable on the ground. But to think that they are sending people on planes to come here to scout around. And they’re not finding what they’re expecting to find. They’re looking for the mosque with the big minarets. They’re looking for ‘the Muslim neighborhood,’ you know. They’re kind of, surprised that everything is so low-key, and nothing exciting is happening. And it’s just kind of normal life.”

When it comes to national media scrutinizing Hamtramck as a Muslim hot spot, this isn’t the city’s first go-round. In 2004, the city allowed the call to prayer to be broadcast by mosques. Back then, The New York Times was the outlet to put “tension” in a headline, and NBC News showed up too. “But this seems more of a frenzy,” Majewski says.

After November’s election results, international Western media haven’t been shy about as they’ve nosed around town, in search of tension and conflict.

Residents may be able to cite a handful of instances of bigotry, but it doesn’t sum up who we are. It’s the exception, not the rule.

Jackman writes the story in the first person. He makes it clear he has a stake in the city and its growth. It is also clear he has little tolerance for Islamaphopia AND for grandstanding politicians.

Linking coverage Hamtramck to global reporting

The complaints Jackman has about how national and international media outlets report what is happening in Hamtramck can be replicated around the world.

Too often American news consumers have to depend on parachute journalism for reports from around the world. Too many foreign bureaus have been closed by major news organizations. Or, where those bureaus still exist, the area is so large, the reporters assigned to the area have a hard time developing a deeper understanding about the situation being covered.

Sidenote: I was always disappointed that the transition to democracy in Taiwan got such limited coverage. I was told by an editor once when I pitched a story about the transition back in 1992 that if it was important enough the Beijing bureau would pick it up.

Dammit. Beijing and Taipei are two completely different places with loads of cultural and political differences. Not to mention all the political baggage that both carry regarding each other.

Too many of my colleagues have too many things to cover and not enough resources to do the job as it should be done. Editors sit hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away and decide what the story should be despite what an in-depth look at the situation might indicate. (I still recall the editor who asked me to do a piece about living as a journalist under Chinese communist rule. The only problem is that I was in Hong Kong and enjoyed all the freedoms and civic rights of any democracy. The editor fell for a misunderstanding of how Hong Kong operated since the Chinese take over in 1997.)

One way for news organizations to learn more about a place, without making the massive investment in a bureau, is to look for solid freelancers. We usually have a pretty good idea what is going on in the country where we live. Too often we are relegated to writing about tourism, trade or business relations. So a nice juicy piece on politics would be nice.

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Filed under Connections, Ethics, International News Coverage, Story Ideas

Call for more safety measures for journalists

The following item was initially posted at the SPJ International Community site, Journalism and the World.

Roy Greenslade at The guardian published an open letter from the director general of Swedish Radio, Cilla Benkö, calling for the safety of journalists to be taken more seriously by the international community.

He put the whole letter in his latest March 11 column. A portion of that letter is posted below. To see the whole letter and Greenslade’s column, click here.

Cilla Benkö

Enough is enough. Every policy initiative that can be taken to secure the safety of journalists, both here in Sweden and internationally, through bodies such as the UN and the EU, must now be implemented. This is an urgent matter if we want to protect the freedom of the press and the freedom of expression.On Wednesday (9 March), our correspondent, Maria Persson Löfgren, was attacked while on assignment in the Russian state of Ingushetia. On 11 March 2014, our Asia correspondent, Nils Horner, was murdered in Kabul. Two completely unacceptable events.

Both Maria and Nils were engaged in normal assignments for a foreign correspondent. The job is demanding, tough and sometimes associated with danger.

We should be thankful that there are people who want to engage in this kind of journalism, because it’s through them that the rest of us learn about a reality that is often more complicated than those governing in a country would suggest.

The issue of the safety of journalists must be taken more seriously at an international level. Ceasing to cover troubled areas is not an option. In an increasingly digitised world, it is very easy for extremist groups and others to spread their propaganda.

For rest of letter click here.

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Filed under Harassment, International News Coverage, Killings, Press Freedom

Connection: Jobs and Visas

Some time back the Orlando Chamber of Commerce did a study that showed for every 82 visas issued by the U.S. embassy and consulates in Brazil, one job is created in Orlando,Fla.

And look what we have now from Gallup: Orlando Tops Largest U.S. Metro Areas in Job Creation.

Orlando has recently experienced strong hiring growth in the hospitality and leisure sector — the greatest source of jobs in the area, which is known for its theme parks.

The growth in jobs in Orlando comes because foreign visitors want to enjoy all the theme parks in the area. (Think Universal Studios and Disney World.)

And as noted before, the people who issue those visas are U.S. Foreign Service officers. The problem is that no one seems to pay attention to the State Department budget or its staffing needs.

Orlando is a great example of a direct connection between the State Department budget and a local economy. Would be nice if more people (and news organizations) made the connection.

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Filed under International News Coverage, Jobs, Trade