Tag Archives: Ethics

China Continues on Road of Information Supression

One thing you have to give to the government/Communist Party leadership in China is that they are ever vigilant about ways people can get information.

In the early days it was merely controlling the newspapers and radio stations. Now, with the Internet and SMS with mobile phones, the Party has been in the forefront of keeping the outside world from informing the Chinese people.

It is almost an annual event that new regulations about online news organizations are put forward.

To back up all the rules and regulations, the government has the Great Firewall of China in an effort to block outside influences. (New York Times, twitter, Facebook, etc.) And they have a cadre (some say millions) of people hired to actively counter any “non-positive” comments about China on the Internet. This group is known as the Fifty Cents Party because people are reportedly paid 50 cents for each comment they attack with a “positive” message.

Needless to say, Chinese netizens have had some fun with the 50 Cent Party

50 Cents

Maybe censorship is the government’s way of ensuring full employment, because reportedly millions are employed to monitor and report on unauthorized information on the Internet.

All this is in addition to the pronouncements of President Xi that the role of the media (and journalists) is to be a lap dog for the Party: [Journalists] must love the party, protect the party, and closely align themselves with the party leadership in thought, politics and action,”Love the Party” first. 

Needless to say, such a position is a violation of the ethics of any independent journalist or honest news organization not matter what country.

In addition to the Chinese government and ruling party doing all they can to stop information they don’t control from coming in, they are also trying to control what news outlets outside China can and should say:

  • Australia: Chinese language newspapers in Australia: Beijing controls messaging, propaganda in press – Sydney Morning Herald
  • Hong Kong: As Beijing tightens grip on Hong Kong media, mainland journalists suffer – Committee to Protect Journalists

The communist theory of media control is as old as Lenin setting up Pravda. The difference now is that there are so many different ways to get information thanks to mobile phones and the Internet that repressive government such as the one in China must waste more and more money on monitoring and jamming sites that might carry unauthorized material.

And to be sure, China is not alone. Nor are communist countries the only ones that go in for massive intrusion into Internet freedom. Just think of Turkey (pre- and post-coup), Saudi Arabia or Thailand.

Just think about how much more these countries could do if they focused their resources on growth and development instead of repression of free expression.


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

Why #GoHomeIndianMedia is trending, and some side notes

The hashtag #GoHomeIndianMedia started taking off over complaints of how the Indian media covered the Nepal earthquake relief efforts. With variations of #IndianMediaGoHome.)

Journalists were accused of creating news or misrepresenting what was happening.

Indian Journalists delivered fake news

One of the largest Indian news channels, NDTV, broadcasted pictures of roads and buildings destroyed by earthquake, saying it was in Nepal. Turns out, the pictures were from Mexico and Chile.

In another instance, NDTV broadcasted a pro-India news, and compared Narendra Modi, Indian prime minister to a god who saved Nepal. India was on the forefront of the rescue team, but this was beginning to cross the line.

A lot of the complaints have focused on how the Indian media appear to be shilling for the Indian government.

Angry Nepalese flocked to Twitter in their numbers, protesting what they have been calling the insensitive, triumphant and jingoistic coverage of the earthquake that devastated the country. End result? #GoHomeIndianMedia was the top trend on Twitter – ironically on press freedom day.

Along with complaints against the Indian media, a number of tweets included calls for the Indian army to pull out.

India Army Media

But, as expected in the area, there has to be a Pakistan angle.

The New Indian Express shows a clipping that explains the #GoHomeIndianMedia movement is all a ploy by the Pakistan nationalists.

One of the complaints using the hashtag is that while 34 countries sent aid, the Indian media focused on what the Indian relief teams did.

Really? Why is that surprising. When I saw the U.S. coverage, they kept interviewing the USAID team (VA Task Force 1). And I bet the French media covered the French teams and so on.

Here is a quick Storify based on the hashtag.

The BBC was also recruiting people to discuss this issue on its World Have Your Say program.

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Filed under Ethics, India

Another Honduran journalist slain

The Committee to Protect Journalists reports another journalist murder in Honduras: Television station owner gunned down in Honduras.

Carlos Lauria, CPJ senior program coordinator for the Americas has it right:

“Honduras has a disturbing pattern of letting journalists’ murders remain unsolved and unexplained, perpetuating the cycle of impunity. Honduran authorities must launch an immediate and thorough investigation into the murder of Reynaldo Paz Mayes, fully examine all possible motives, and bring those responsible to justice.”

Part of the problem fully investigating the deaths of journalists — and taxi drivers and lawyers and anyone else — is that the Honduran government does not have well-trained law enforcement officers.

Some of that is changing, thanks to the US, Colombia, the EU and other countries. Together these countries are training special squads of police and prosecutors to seriously investigate crimes and to go where the evidence takes them.

Unfortunately, there are still too few of these trained (and vetted) investigators. But the number is growing.

Another problem is the rhetoric once a journalist is killed.

In the case of Paz, he had no background as a journalist. He was a political activist who set up his television station a couple of years ago to air stories and commentaries against the current government of Honduras. (Unlike, US stations, Honduran TV and radio stations are highly partisan.)

Paz received threats for his comments. So when he was killed, the immediate reaction from others also opposed to the Hernandez government was that Paz was killed for his political beliefs.

Juan Ramón Flores, owner of the television station CTV Canal 48 and president of the city chapter of  [the opposition party] LIBRE, told CPJ that Paz had received threats for years in connection with his political beliefs and, most recently, in relation to his on-air criticism of President Juan Orlando Hernández, who he accused of having undue influence over all branches of government. Flores said the most recent threats had been made in anonymous phone calls the week before the shooting. Paz had talked about the threats on his program, Flores said.

Other journalists in Comayagua, where Paz had his station, say they are not convinced he was killed because of his political views.

Without a doubt there are ethical and courageous journalists who have been killed because of their adherence to the idea of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. They thrived on exposing the pandemic corruption in Honduras. They saw their mission as one to let the disinfecting light of truth help clean up Honduran politics and society.

And many of these journalists were killed because of their dedication to their craft.

However, too often many of the journalists killed in the past few years in Honduras may not have been slain because they were journalists but because of other factors in their lives.

The pay really sucks for Honduran journalists, so some have side businesses. Maybe a stall in a weekend market, or maybe a small store. Unfortunately for Honduras, extortion of vendors and merchants is wide-spread. Gangs demand a “war tax” from companies and many market vendors.

Refusal to pay the “war tax” is often enough of an excuse for gangs to kill someone.

In at least one case, the murder may have been a case of mistake identity.

There are also situations that can best be described as “wrong place, wrong time.” A journalist is in a bar or restaurant just as any normal person would be. And maybe, a gang leader is also in the same bar or restaurant, completely unrelated to the journalist being there. Rival gangs have been known to just spray a place with gunfire to get the one gang leader they were looking for. (Thankfully, these types of killings were few and far between. And now seem to have abated completely.)

When threats seem to come to journalist for their political comments, it is often because the journalist is looking into a local political leader who is in the hip pocket of a local narco. So the threat is not based on liberal v. conservative views but rather on the potential damage to a lucrative financial arrangement between a crooked politician and a drug dealer. And then, the murder is handled by the narco, not the politician. (Think of the Mexico situation, where — according to reports — a corrupt mayor handed over 43 students to the local narco.)

Politics has little to do with the threat. It is all about the money and the power.

Complaints by a local media outlet of the overreaching power of the national government are an annoyance, but not one that would lead to the killing of a journalist.

Will we ever know why Paz and most of the other murdered journalists were killed? I doubt it.

Again, because of the poor quality of criminal investigation in the country, we may never be able to get to the whole story about these murders. And if the funding and support for the special investigative units is cut — as many in the US opposed to the current Honduran government argue — we may never know.

The threats to the funding of training and vetting of honest police and prosecutors comes from the very people who scream the loudest about the poor system of justice in Honduras. If the U.S., Colombia and the EU withdraw their funding and training, there is little hope for full and fair investigations and prosecutions of murders.

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Filed under Central America, Corruption, Honduras, Killings

Britain to change libel laws

Free expression fans are happy that the British libel laws are getting an overhaul.

One of the big items is so-called “libel tourism.” This has been a growing concern. Foreigners have been using British courts and libel laws to attack critics  when the complaints have little connection to Britain.

The practice has had a chilling effect on authors, journalists and bloggers who try to publish sensitive material about companies, wealthy individuals or anyone with enough money to launch a lawsuit. (And people think the US is litigious.)

It seems that truth will actually play a role in the libel law reforms.

Under U.S. libel law, as I understand it, truth is an absolute defense against libel or slander. In other words, if I can prove that John Smith is a lying, tax-cheating bigamist, he cannot sue me for libel.

Under existing British law, however, (and this extends to many of the Commonwealth countries and Hong Kong), if a person can prove that words as printed have the potential to be harmful, he can sue for libel.

So, if that same John Smith mentioned above can show that even one person will think less of him because of what I print, and even if I can prove he is a lying, tax-cheating bigamist, he can sue me.

I saw this happen regularly in Hong Kong. A newspaper of questionable ethical standards would sue anyone and everyone who criticized the paper for its poor journalism. The paper just as regularly lost its cases — the judges would often dismiss the complaints as nuisance cases — but it would cost the critic loads of money in legal fees. So eventually people were afraid to complain about the paper.

Nice step forward U.K.

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Filed under Connections, International News Coverage

English media: For better or verse

Great piece pointed out by Roy Greenslade at The Guardian. Well worth the few minutes to watch.

The Sun’s witchcraft – by Charlie Brooker

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Filed under Ethics

Gallup: People say it’s important. So why aren’t they getting it?

A recent survey by Gallup shows just what Americans think about the U.S. position in the world and what is vital to America.

When asked “how important do you think what happens in each of the following countries is to the United States today,” the percentage of people who answered “Vitally Important” or “Important but not vital” showed a marked interest in these countries.

  • Afghanistan: 81%
  • Canada: 77%
  • China: 92%
  • Cuba: 72%
  • India: 77%
  • Mexico: 84%
  • North Korea: 83%
  • Pakistan: 79%
  • Venezuela: 67%

Please note that Cuba and Venezuela showed the lowest amount of importance, despite the shrill sounds coming from certain politicians.

In December 2010  people were asked Do you think the United States does or does not have a special responsibility to be the leading nation in world affairs?

  • Yes, has special responsibility: 66%
  • No, does not: 31%
  • No opinion: 3%

In February 2008, Gallup asked about building democracy in other countries.

  • Very important: 24%
  • Somewhat important: 43%
  • Not too important: 22%
  • Not important at all: 10%
  • No opinion: 2%
Two-thirds of the American people think the United States has a special responsibility to be a leading nation in world affairs. Another two-thirds think it is important to help build democracies in other countries.
Please explain, if you can, why almost that same percentage — 65% — in February 2009 say the United States spends too much on foreign aid.
  • Too little: 6%
  • About the right amount: 21%
  • Too much: 65%
  • No opinion: 8%

Maybe because the American people really have no idea how much is really spent of foreign aid. Most Americans think 25% of the federal budget is spent on foreign aid.

FYI: All of the non-military foreign affairs budget — that is the State Department, foreign development assistance, commercial affairs, agriculture, international law enforcement/training, etc. accounts for about 1% of the total US budget. And that number has been pretty consistent for several years.

I am not surprised at the split personality results of the people wanting to have the US play a major role in the world but not being willing to pay for it. We see that same issue in domestic policy. But at least in domestic issues there are thousands of words written to discuss the issues, the costs and the conflicts.

Unfortunately in foreign affairs the word count is much lower and what does appear usually does not make it to most medium or small media markets.

The American people in all parts of the country want information about what is happening around the world. They want to know how those global events affect them in their towns and states. In my journalism classes, I told my students that telling people why a story was important to them is called context.

Unfortunately we are missing not only the stories but more importantly the context of those stories that do get published/aired.

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Filed under Connections, Story Ideas

Pay for play journalism trial in India starts

It is hardly unique to India. But there is some movement in the issue of news organizations accepting payment from politicians or businesses to ensure “proper” coverage.

Seems an enterprising  freelancer in India approached a newspaper in Goa as a local politician asking for favorable coverage. According to the reporter’s blog, the “politician” offered a total of US$2,700 for articles and cable TV interviews.

The editor of the news organization is suing the reporter for defamation.

Indian paid-journalism sting prompts defamation trial

As I said, this allegation is not unique to India.

In China it was (maybe still is) common practice for Chinese companies and government agencies to provide cash to reporters at press conferences.

This practice came to the attention of the West light several years ago when a Chinese company gave the Western journalists the “hong bao” (red envelope) with cash inside. When the Western reporters asked about the cash, the Chinese PR person said it was standard practice to provide money to make sure the story was published the “right way.”

The reporting on that practice in the Western press got the Beijing authorities all upset. They officially launched a campaign to clean up journalism in China. Officially they banned the use of the hong bao but I am told there are still ways for companies to “express their hopes of a good story.”

While the practice of offering the hong bao may still be around, the practice of accepting the money is reportedly fading. At least among the growing number of Chinese journalists who are pushing the envelope on good journalism in China.

And don’t think the US or the UK are exempt from this problem. In the US it is called “”checkbook journalism.” In the UK a common phrase is “cash-for-trash” as practiced by Rupert Murdoch and his empire.

The bottom line is that pay for play journalism is bad not only for the profession but also for democratic institutions. (So no problem in China.) An August 2010 report from the Press Council of India called the practice of “paid news” in the country “pervasive, structured and highly organised” and that it was “undermining democracy in India.”

And given the latest campaign against corruption in India, it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

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Filed under Corruption, Ethics