Category Archives: Press Freedom

New Provision Threatens VOA Editorial Independence

This item first appeared in the blog site of the SPJ International Committee

Politico reported this week a provision included in the just-passed National Defense Authorization Act would get rid of the bipartisan board running Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and other news outlets with a single CEO nominated by the president.

The Voice of America has had a long and strong reputation for presenting the news in a fair and balanced nature in spite of the political winds blowing in Washington. Efforts by administrations to slant the news or to not report events with the full vigor expected of journalists have all failed.

The independence of the VOA was first drafted in 1960 and then signed into law by Pres. Gerald R. Ford.

The Code of Ethics for VOA journalists is also very clear what their role is:

“VOA reporters and broadcasters must strive for accuracy and objectivity in all their work. They do not speak for the U.S. government. They accept no treatment or assistance from U.S. government officials or agencies that is more favorable or less favorable than that granted to staff of private-sector news agencies. Furthermore, VOA professionals, careful to preserve the integrity of their organization, strive for excellence and avoid imbalance or bias in their broadcasts.”

All this was possible because of the multi-party nature of the board of governors that controlled the VOA and other broadcast outlets. Now, according to the Political piece: “Essentially, Trump is finally getting his Trump TV — financed by taxpayers to the tune of $800 million per year.”

The SPJ stood up for the reporters and editors of VOA when the George W. Bush Administration tried to prevent VOA from interviewing and airing its exclusive interviews with the leadership of the Taliban just as the Afghanistan war was starting.

Numerous VOA reporters received the highest awards the SPJ offered for reporting over the years.

All this could change because of a provision slipped into the authorization bill by House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce. He argued the CEO structure would make VOA more efficient.

What it also does is make the VOA susceptible to pressure from the White House to become a propaganda organ rather than an honest news organization.

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Filed under International News Coverage, Press Freedom, SPJ

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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Filed under Censorship, China, Freedom of access, Human Rights, International News Coverage, Press Freedom

Criminal Defamation Laws Hit Press Freedom

The growing use of criminal defamation laws around the world add to the general decline in press freedom.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has a great program called Critics are not Criminals. This is a worthy effort that deserves the support of not only all journalists but all civil libertarians.

The latest case is in Honduras. A reporter looked into an alleged corrupt local police chief. Television reporter Ariel Armando D’Vicente now faces three years in prison with an additional three-year ban on working as a journalist.

Unfortunately for too many journalists, they get hammered by the use of criminal defamation laws. A recent study by CPJ and Thomson Reuters Foundation showed the use of these laws has grown in the Americas.

When governments and individuals use the defamation/libel laws to exact criminal penalties, freedom of the press is hurt.

A basic rule in the United States is that truth is an absolute defense against libel or defamation. Yet in much of the rest of the world, even if everything said in an article is true, if the subject of the article can prove anyone thinks less of that person, he/she can sue AND get the reporter tossed in jail. (See: Different libel laws cause grief around the world.)

For reporters working around the world, knowledge of these laws is vital, especially freelancers. While reporters for major news organizations may be able to get legal help from the parent organization, a freelance caught up in these bad laws could be left hanging.

And, it is important to remember, this law does not only apply to journalists. A person having a bad experience in a country and saying so on Yelp or Facebook could lead to charges being filed. And satire is definitely a problem. Just ask the producers and writers of The Simpsons:

The government of Brazil sued the producers of the The Simpsons often. In a 2002 episode the Simpsons were in Brazil.  The family was robbed, eaten by snake, kidnapped and abused by monkeys. The Brazilian government sued. And the response of the Simpson team: More jokes about Brazil. And more lawsuits. None were successful — at least in the USA.

For some fun:

 

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Filed under Harassment, Human Rights, International News Coverage, Press Freedom

Prejudice: A Natural Outcome of Censorship

China Digital Times pulled a great item from an interview with Chinese publisher Bao Pu and writers Guo Xiaolu and Hao Qun (who goes by the pen name Murong Xuecun) from the June 3 issue of Foreign Policy.

The blockage of the Internet by the Chinese government means, said the authors and publisher, that people are not getting enough information to make rational decisions.

[R]elatively few people actually bypass censored information on the Internet. But why? Censorship in the long run breeds prejudice. Once you have this prejudice, you think you know everything, but you don’t. That’s why they’re not actively seeking — because they think there’s nothing out there. It’s a vicious cycle.

I have long argued that censorship means the people of a country will begin to rely more on rumors and prejudices than on cold hard facts. China’s rulers, however, say too much unregulated (censored) information leads to social instability.

What they really mean is that once people start thinking critically, the iron-heel rule of the Communist Party in China will be weakened.

And what goes for China goes for other dictatorships. Think Iran, Saudi Arabia or Zimbabwe. Even the leaders in proto-dictatorships such as Singapore and Malaysia want to control all forms of media to protect their hold on power.

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Filed under Africa, Asia, Censorship, China, Freedom of Information, Middle East, Press Freedom

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

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

How censorship in China works

The Committee to Protect Journalists has a great graphic on how Chinese censorship works.

The following graphic is part of an article, Read and delete: How Weibo’s censors tackle dissent and free speech.

weibo-infographic

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Filed under Censorship, China, Freedom of Information, Press Freedom