Category Archives: International News Coverage

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

Media lessons from ‘The Wright Brothers’: What historic stories are we missing today?

Steve Buttry once again nails it. Media lessons from ‘The Wright Brothers’: What historic stories are we missing today?

The lesson here is to be open minded and look for the unusual.

Today this can also be applied to looking for connections between international and local events.

Maybe local reporters may not be missing out on history, but they could be missing out on excellent stories by not digging deeper into local immigrant communities or economic connections with the rest of the world. (And again, I am not talking about Chinese-made products in the local Wal-Mart or the local Hyundi dealership sales.)

Many American companies are owned by foreign companies. Here is an excellent list: Ten Classic American Brands That Are Foreign-Owned

What they did not mention was how IBM sold off their computer operations to the Chinese company Lenovo. Or how Ben & Jerry’s is really owned by Unilever out of the UK or how a Chinese company now owns the AMC movie theater chain.

Yep, there are a lot of local-global connections, all that is needed is some imagination and willingness to look beyond the surface.

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Filed under Connections, International News Coverage

Poorly written news release blows opportunity to educate on local-global issue

I got excited when I read the headline of a news release from the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide: Summer Fellows from Honduras and Germany

I went to the news release to learn more about how ELAW brought a couple of people from Honduras and Germany to maybe pick up a few pointers on how the USA does environmental law/cleanup and what things the Americans could learn from them.

Unfortunately, if any of my students in public relations writing turned in this news release, it would have been sent back with all sorts of comments that centered on how the writer missed the point.

Paragraph 1

ELAW Fellows from Honduras and Germany are busy this summer learning about waste management in Lane County and environmental tribunals around the world.

Good start. Here are the people and this is what they are going to do. Got the Who, What, When and Where all in the first sentence.

At this point I expect to then learn their names and a little bit more about why they want to know more about waste management.

Paragraphs 2

Paul Zepeda Castro is an attorney with the Instituto de Derecho Ambiental de Honduras (IDAMHO), based in Tegucigalpa where thousands of people have taken to the streets to protest the alleged embezzlement of social security funds. “We are a warm and peaceful people,” says Paul who is part of a group of young Hondurans calling themselves “Los Indignados” (the outraged). The group is urging the U.S. to suspend funding to Honduras until the government purges corruption.

Our introduction to the guy from Honduras. Okay, he is a lawyer for the Institute for Environmental Rights in Honduras. And we know that there are demonstrations against corruption and that the U.S. should stop funding Honduras until the corruption ends.

So, why is the guy in the U.S. studying waste management? We don’t know.

We do know a bit about the politics of the the guy. And who can complain about demonstrating against corruption? But he is in the States to study waste management practices. How about telling us what Honduran waste management practices are? How about telling us what the guy hopes to learn from his time in the States?

So, we go on to the German.

Paragraph 3

Paul was recently joined by ELAW Fellow Sebastian Bechtel, a legal intern at UfU (Independent Institute for Environmental Concerns). UfU co-hosted the 2014 ELAW Annual International Meeting.

While in Eugene, Sebastian is exploring the feasibility of opening a Europe-based ELAW service center and also conducting research on environmental courts and tribunals.

Okay, we know a little bit more, but what the last paragraph says about what the German is doing in the States does not match up with what the opening paragraph said. Is he here to explore “the feasibility of opening a Europe-based ELAW service center and also conducting research on environmental courts and tribunals.”? Or is he here to study waste management practices?

And then we get the boilerplate about the group.

Wearing both my editor and professor caps at the same time, the writer of this news release threw away a wonderful opportunity to engage news organizations not only on the issue of the environment but also on how dealing with the issue of waste and pollution is something that requires global cooperation.

I would have had both participants discuss the wast management situation in their countries and describe what they hope to get from their visit to the States.

I would have kept the anti-corruption demonstrations out of the release (unless there is a compelling reason to do so). The politics in Honduras is not the focus of the release. The focus is the two guys coming to the States to study waste management.

All the background for the German is not needed until after he explains what is going on in Germany and how he hopes to learn about the American options to waste management.

Bottom line, this was an excellent opportunity to show the international nature of the work ELAW is doing. It would also help educate editors and reporters about the local-global nature of their work and of the issue. And this news release did not do that.

Getting local news organizations to do stories that show local-global connections is hard enough. Organizations, such as ELAW and so many others, need to smarten up their writing so that editors and reporters are drawn into the story and want to expand on it and publish it.

Local-global reporting is vital in an ever connected world. And yet most of local newspapers and broadcasters have little, if anything, about how international events affect their local readers/viewers/listeners. At the same time, these same news organizations are often ignorant of events and organizations in their own communities with international connections that have (or can have) an impact locally or globally.

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Filed under Connections, International News Coverage

How Chinese censorship hurts US businesses

I have long argued that when a government engages in censorship, it makes it difficult to do business in that country.

Sure, companies can cut deals to build factories and export goods. But part of doing business is working with reliable numbers. And governments that engage in censorship do not stop with just making sure the media report the latest bit of propaganda. They reach into every bit of information, including economic data necessary to make solid business decisions.

Freedom House has a report that explains the impact Chinese censorship has on US businesses.

How Beijing’s Censorship Impairs U.S.-China Relations

And is not just about cooking the books to make an economic plan look good. In China, it is all about controlling everything and limiting outside information that might challenge the official line.

  • Between May and September 2014, photo-sharing applications Flickr and Instagram.
  • Virtually all Google services were blocked.
  • In December, Gmail access from third-party applications like Outlook or Apple mail was also disrupted
  • Last summer, Dropbox and Microsoft’s OneDrive were rendered inaccessible.
  • In November, segments of Verizon’s Edgecast were blocked, affecting commercial platforms like Sony Mobile

In short, Chinese government policies make it difficult to work online and to get independent data necessary for business planning.

This impact on US (and other Western) companies has a direct relationship to our economic well-being.

So I would think, for our own understanding of the economy and economic development, we would need to have more and better reporting on the censorship policies of our trading partners.

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

Local-Global: Fairfax County Rescue Alerted for Nepal Earthquake Help

The Fairfax County (VA) Fire and Rescue team has a global reputation for its work. And now, once again, it is being called up to help people half a world away.


VA-TF1/USA-1 has been alerted for the Nepal earthquake. All media inquires should report to 14725-H Flint Lee Rd. Chantilly, VA 20151

This is one of the best examples of how something in another country has an impact on something local.

Specifically Virginia Task Force 1 has worked to provide rescue and relief in just about every major disaster around the world. (See their work around the world here.)

There is no better connection to the rest of the world than one that helps save lives.

And now they have been alerted to provide assistance to the victims of the Nepal earthquake.


 Following the Haiti earthquake I noted how the Fairfax team was involved.

At the time I said the Fairfax teams deserved more coverage — as did all the SAR teams. And I stand by that still.

Maybe some local news organizations might want to step up and do something about it.

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Filed under Connections, International News Coverage, Story Ideas

Banning news items is not something democracies do – India’s wrong move

Democracies allow a great deal of freedom. It is the freedom to report on society — warts and all — that makes democratic societies better and stronger. Unfortunately, there are too many who think democratic countries cannot survive exposure of some of the worst warts.

So the BBC put together a documentary on the brutal 2012 gang rape of 23-year-old physiotherapy student Jyoti Singh. And the resulting screams from India showed that the Indian government was more concerned with perceived attacks on the image of India than in doing anything to protect women.

The rape shocked the world. It even got through to many in India who had been willing to turn a blind eye. Thousands turned out to call for new laws to protect women and to change the way society looks at rape. (India gang rape: six men charged with murder)

Not that anything really happened in the ensuing years.

The BBC documentary — India’s Daughter — included interviews with the one member of the gang who raped Singh. His comments further outraged the world:

  • A decent girl won’t roam around at nine o’clock at night.
  • A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy.
  • When being raped, she shouldn’t fight back. She should just be silent and allow the rape

Rather than embrace the documentary and step up work to make life safer for women, the government decided that the film makes India look bad and banned it from the country. And then, to make sure no one outside India can see it, the government went to the British courts to get the ban extended to the entire BBC system.

In that latter effort, the government failed. The BBC aired the documentary earlier than announced. And that set the Indian government into a fit of complaints and actually launched an investigation into how the film maker was given access to the rapist in jail.

Fortunately for the future of India, some are upset with the banning action:

“[T]he reality is what the man spoke reflects the view of many men in India and why are we shying away from that? In glorifying India and (saying) we are perfect we are not confronting the issues that need to be confronted,” said businesswoman Anu Aga, a member of the chamber.

In the meantime, the film maker left India out of fear for her well being.

Documentary-maker Leslee Udwin, meanwhile, was reported by India’s NDTV channel to have decided to fly out of India due to fears she could be arrested.

The television channel also broadcast what it said was Udwin’s last interview before she left India. “I’m very frightened what’s going to happen next — I predict the whole world will point fingers at India now,” Udwin said. “It’s a tragedy — you’re shooting yourself in the foot.”

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Filed under Freedom of Information, India, International News Coverage

Climate v. weather and false balances

Once again science denier Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla) and chair of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, doesn’t understand the difference between a data point and a trend.

And once again, the media look at the senator’s absolute ignorance about the difference between climate and weather as a circus event. the two samples linked above help represent what has been wrong with American reporting on issues involving science and science deniers.

Philip Bump at the Post did note the following:

Now, global warming skepticism skeptics might argue that Inhofe, the author of a book about global warming called “The Greatest Hoax,” is using one bit of weather-related data to try to disprove a well-established, very long-term trend. They might note that temperatures in February are supposed to be cold in the Northern Hemisphere since it is a season called “winter.” They might point out that at the same time D.C. was very cold, the West Coast was very warm, which is less expected during “winter.” And they might note that the government did indeed declare 2014 to be the warmest year on record, a detail that is not disproven by a snowball in the year 2015. (The sad irony of that, though: Much of the eastern U.S. recorded colder than normal temperatures — and that is where Inhofe goes to work.)

Bump’s piece is in The Fix, a commentary section of the online post, not a straight reporting article. The writers in The Fix appear to be encouraged to be snarky and witty in their analysis of issues of the day. (And let’s face it, Inhofe and his team of deniers have always been prime targets for snark.)

The Time magazine piece is not commentary but a straight report. It is also an example of how the reporter did not put the story into context and show how off base the senator is. The piece just mentions Inhofe’s comments, included the Vine feed of him tossing a snowball and leaves it at that. (Granted, everyone is running that Vine feed. Even me.)

Anyone who understands the difference between weather and climate — or a data point and a trend — could just laugh at the simple-minded nature of the senator from the Sooner State. But what is needed is a challenge to the simplistic and erroneous position being put forth by Inhofe.

Context is key to good journalism. Make sure the reader/viewer knows what the situation is around the story. Show the facts and the credentials of the key players. That means giving weight to experts in a given field and using anecdotes to personalize the issue at hand.

Too many journalists seem to think that if they just treat the deniers and the fact holders as equals, they have done their job of explaining the debate. Doing straight “he said/she said” journalism does not provide the context readers/viewers need to understand the issue. (Bump did this, but again, his is a commentary, not a news article.)

Journalists need to call out the deniers with simple words that show how their beliefs (matters of faith, not fact) are not sustained by the facts. Journalists need to continue to point out — in simple, easy to understand words — how science works.

And scientists need to wake up and understand how to communicate with use mere mortals who do not a dozen or so academic initials after our names.

And to be sure, this issue is more than just climate change. By giving an uncritical voice to the anti-vaccination crowd — a group usually associated with wealthy, liberal elites (but now being picked up by the right) — U.S. media outlets have done a disservice to their readers/viewers and society as a whole.

More scientists are rising to the occasion. Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye are two of the current crop. But more need to understand how to communicate with the rest of the world. (Especially journalists.)

Just to show how simple it is to explain the difference between climate and weather, here is a clip from COSMOS:

It can be done.

Oh, and the connection to the rest of the world?

News organizations in other democracies understand the need to stop treating deniers and scientists equally.

BBC staff told to stop inviting cranks on to science programmes

“…emphasise the importance of attempting to establish where the weight of scientific agreement may be found and make that clear to audiences…”

Anti-vaccination activists should not be given a say in the media

The Australian media, to their credit, have moved away from false balance in vaccine stories over the last few years.

Maybe U.S. news organizations need to catch up with the science reporting standards from across the pond. It needs to realize there is no scientific debate over vaccinations, climate change or evolution. There are only deniers who have gut feelings and anecdotes to support their positions, not science. Treating beliefs and facts as equals does not serve the public the way good journalism should.

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Filed under Connections, International News Coverage, Science