Tag Archives: Corruption

China steps up war on press freedom

The Washington Post did a great piece on how inspectors for the Chinese government said the Chinese propaganda office is not being aggressive enough.

“The effect of guiding culture and art to serve socialism and art is not obvious enough,” Wang Haichen, the leader of the inspection team, was quoted as saying. “Its news propaganda is not targeted enough, or effective enough.

“It needs to strengthen further its leadership of ideological work. It does not do enough in applying the principle of the party controlling the media in weak points like new media, or in coordinating thought and political work at universities.”

The complaint comes after President Xi Jinping told media outlets they need to “take Party” as their surname and to “serve as the party’s throat and tongue.

The efforts to control the press have stepped up under Xi and have included efforts to shut down reporting on China’s violation of human rights by journalists not in China.

Part of the campaign is to not only make sure all Chinese media outlets kowtow to the whims of the party leadership, but also to make sure foreign media is made to be seen as the enemy by the Chinese people.

National Public Radio correspondent Frank Langfitt is about to leave China after five years of reporting from Shanghai. He did a great piece today (June 13) explaining how the Chinese government has stepped up its campaign against not only Western journalists but against the whole concept of free and independent media. (As of this posting — 6:30 a.m. June 13 — the whole piece is not yet available on the NPR website. It will be available later in the day.)

The growth of the Chinese middle class and the current economic slowdown clearly scares the country leaders in Beijing. For the past 30+ years, the Communist Party has told the Chinese people that only through the party will economic growth occur. Western notions of democracy, free press and market forces are not needed because “the Party will provide.”

The problem the party now has is that its claim to legitimacy is based on the one leg of economic growth. The current economic slowdown is threatening that sole pillar.

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Filed under Censorship, China, 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

Honduran Arrests Can Affect News Media Landscape

Originally posted at Journalism and the World, Society of Professional Journalists

The US government arrested Honduran Yanki Rosenthal when he landed in Miami October 6 on charges of money laundering. The next day indictments were handed down for other members of his family.

While many in the world media are focusing on Yanki’s ownership of a major Honduran soccer team and the family’s ownership of the bank Grupo Continental, the reach of the Rosenthal family is much more extensive.

For journalists, the indictments hit close to home.

The Rosenthals own one of the major newspapers — El Tiempo — and a national TV outlet — Canal 11.

How the Honduran press handled the arrest and indictments clearly showed the biases

El Tiempo lead with:

The Continental Group issued a statement rejecting the accusations made Wednesday the Treasury Department of the United States, where several companies linked to the group of the crime of money laundering. Facing accusations Continental Group denies allegations of money laundering involving companies in the Continental Group.

Competitor El Heraldo, however, went with:

The US attorney in Manhattan announced charges Wednesday against four Hondurans by “laundering of proceeds of drug trafficking and bribery crimes through accounts in the United States.

Rolando Jaime Rosenthal Oliva, Yani Benjamin Rosenthal Hidalgo, Yankel Rosenthal and Andrew Acosta Garcia Coello “were charged in connection with a conspiracy carried out over several years to launder profits from drug crimes,” said the office of the Southern District of New York.

The newspapers — and television news outlets — have never been shy about showing off the political leanings of the owners. It will now be interesting to see how the news media handle the trials of one of the five big families of Honduras.

What will be important for foreign journalists to pay attention to will not be the cat fight that is sure to be played out in the front pages, but rather if (when) the number of life-threatening threats against journalists covering this case increases.

Journalists in Honduras have faced numerous threats — not so much from the government as from the narcos. Threats will most likely come against anyone digging deeply into this story.

THIS IS BIG! In the past, the US and Honduran governments have acted against drug kingpins and their holdings. This is the first time there is a major move against such a prominent family and such large corporate holdings in the country. Among those indicted are a former president of the country and a presidential candidate for the Liberal Party, the mainstream opposition party to the ruling National Party.

Grupo Continental is one of the largest banks in Honduras. Its holding extend deeply into Honduran society, including — as noted — the news media.

Under Honduran law, the property and goods of indicted individuals is put under the control of the Administrative Office of Seized Goods (OABI). When a major narco was arrested, OABI took over control of his private zoo, which was occasionally opened to the public. OABI brought in animal experts to evaluate and run the zoo and kept it open to the public. (The narco zoo was much larger than the Tegucigalpa Zoo, but the animals were in much worse shape.)

Seized gym equipment was donated to outreach centers to help keep young people active in safe (non-gang related) activities. Likewise, OABI arranged for a boat, including fuel and maintenance for the boat, so a school in Cayos Cochinos could make sure the kids got an education. (The islands are inhabited by some of the poorest people in Honduras.)

The director of OABI fought corrupt bosses and politicians before he rose to the top job. Once he took command of the organization, he made sure everything was handled by the book. (In other words, no more seized cars for a political leader, just because he wants one.)

The director understands and operates OABI under a transparent and open system. He also understands that fighting back against intimidation is important part of beating corruption. His heart and mind are in the right place to allow El Tiempo and Channel 11 operate as fair and independent news outlets, if they are seized under the law.

He might even appoint a director of the newspaper and TV channel who will encourage the journalists in those groups to step out from the partisan restrictions of the current owners. And maybe even help arrange for some additional training.

And if anyone is looking for a success story about the fight against corruption, a profile of OABI and its director is a good place to start.

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Filed under Central America, Corruption

Transparency and Free Press

Each year the U.S. State Department is required by law to provide a report on the fiscal transparency of other countries. In general it is a good idea to keep track of how open governments are with their budget process.

Many of the countries that did not meet the minimum level of transparency also do not meet the minimum level of freedom of press, speech and assembly.

To be clear, some of the countries that met the State Department’s minimum level of transparency also have some real problems with press and speech freedoms. For example, Ecuador passes the transparency test put fails the press freedom test. According to Freedom House: “President Rafael Correa and his administration openly disparaged and attacked private outlets and journalists.”

Still, where the freedoms of speech, press and assembly are honored — this is also a problem in Honduras, which also passed the transparency test — generally there are fewer instances of failing the transparency test.

A quick review of the countries failing the transparency test also shows countries with limited or no press freedom. Here are a couple of examples:

China failed the transparency test:

The budget proposal is not made publicly available before the budget is enacted. Budget documents do not identify financial allocations to state-owned enterprises.

And it fails in press freedom (Freedom House):

For the first time in several years, professional journalists from established news outlets were subjected to long-term detention, sentencing, and imprisonment alongside freelancers, online activists, and ethnic minority reporters.

One of the best ways to cure lack of transparency — and to attack corruption — is a strong and independent media.

Oh, by the way, the test for transparency is not that difficult to pass (not if Honduras passed it):

The FY 2015 fiscal transparency review process evaluated whether the identified governments publicly discloses budget documents including expenditures broken down by ministry and revenues broken down by source and type. The review process also evaluated whether the government has an independent supreme audit institution or similar institution that audits the government’s annual financial statements and whether such audits are made publicly available. The review further assessed whether the process for awarding licenses and contracts for natural resource extraction is outlined in law or regulation and followed in practice, and whether basic information on such awards is publicly available. The Department applied the following criteria in assessing whether governments met the minimum requirements of fiscal transparency.

So the points are:

  1. Did the government publish a public budget?
  2. Did the government describe how much each agency gets?
  3. Is there an auditing procedure?
  4. Are their rules for the exploitation of natural resources?
  5. And is all this information public?

To be honest that is a pretty low bar to pass. But, if a government doesn’t want free press, it surely does not want its people to be seeing how the money is spent.

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Filed under Corruption, Freedom of Information, Press Freedom, Transparency

If Xi is serious about fighting corruption, release the media’s shackles

China Digital News summarizes a series of articles about the impact of the anti-corruption campaign of President Xi Jinping.

Seems there has been a regular drop in the number of college graduates looking to enter China’s public sector. At the same time, civil servants are fleeing government work in favor of more lucrative jobs in finance and industry.

A Chinese job-search website, Zhaopin.com, reported that in the three weeks after the lunar new-year holiday in February more than 10,000 government workers quit their jobs to seek greener pastures, mainly in the finance, property and technology industries—an increase of nearly one-third over the same period in 2014. The company attributed this to a new emphasis on frugality in government work. Lavish meals are now banned (much to the chagrin of restaurants, which have suffered falls in profits). Governments are no longer allowed to build fancy offices for themselves.

This reminds me of some lectures I gave journalism students at Shanghai universities in 1992-1994.

Before I started talking about the role of journalism — granted a Western view, so one at complete odds with what the Chinese government wants — I asked the students why they wanted to be journalists.

They were nervous about offering any views, so I offered some suggestions:

  1. You are curious about what is going on and want to tell the stories about those events – One or two hands went up
  2. Being a reporter is a steady job that does not require much physical activity. – A few more hands went up.
  3. You want to know more about stuff that is not generally known to the public so you can earn extra money on that information. – Just about all the hands went up.

The problem President Xi faces is that he wants to eliminate corruption, he is not giving the Chinese people the best weapon against it: A free and independent press.

It is no surprise that the countries with the highest corruption ratings are also those with the lowest ranking of press freedom.

David Bandurski has a great piece in the China Media Project that describes how China views press freedom issues and how some more brave mainland China media groups are fighting back: Breeding tigers, and China’s caged press

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Filed under China, Corruption, Press Freedom

New map on impunity for Mexico and Brazil

Once again proof that all it takes is some encouragement and a few — VERY FEW — bucks to put together a major effort to expose violations of human rights, including freedom of speech and press.

Advocacy groups in Mexico and Brazil map attacks on journalists to counteract threats

The crowd-sourced maps will help journalists know more about the risks they might face as the enter an area before they start “doing journalism.”

The Mexican map — Perriodistas en Riesgo — was created in 2012 and focuses on where journalists are under threat.

According to the Knight Center:

Attacks are divided into four categories: physical, psychological, digital and legal. Each category can then be modified by multiple subcategories. For example, a physical attack could be a kidnapping, beating, disappearance, murder, etc, and one attack, such as a reporter being mugged and having his cellphone and laptop stolen, could be categorized as a physical and a digital attack.

The Brazilian map — Violacoes a Liberdade de Expressao — casts a much wider net. It only started in November 2014 but does look at all forms of violations of freedom of expressions, including attacks on journalists and legal proceedings designed to silence human rights advocates.

The items on the Brazilian site are confirmed by Article 19 before being posted to the site.

 

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Filed under Harassment, Killings, Mexico, South America

Honduras-Hong Kong connection

It’s not often such a clear connection occurs, but when it does I am so glad.

Seems the Hong Kong authorities arrested a couple of Hong Kongers for illegally importing Honduran rosewood.

Reports of the arrest made the newspapers in Honduras (Incautan en China madera hondureña) and Hong Kong. (Hong Kong customs seizes 92 tonnes of endangered rosewood)

The arrest is just one of many involving the endangered tree. According to the South China Morning Post:

China has long been considered the epicentre of the illegal timber trade, with Hong Kong often a convenient gateway due to the city’s status as a free port. As much as 30 per cent of the city’s timber imports were from illegal sources, a 2010 report by WWF Hong Kong found.

Rosewood is valued for its finish and resistance to rot. The tree is primarily found in Honduras and Madagasgar. It is protected under Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

This case shows — once again — that there are so many connections between different countries, if only reporters would look for them.

Granted, if would be nicer if the connections did not include destruction of vital natural resources or criminal activities.

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Filed under Connections, Honduras, Hong Kong