Tag Archives: Hong Kong

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

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

Wow! Leading Hong Kong Tycoon Slams HK and China Leadership

One of the great things that still exist in Hong Kong is freedom of speech and press. After all, it is part of the treaty that handed over Hong Kong to China.

In the middle of the whole freedom issue is the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club. The FCC regularly hosts speakers of all political stripe. (Try that in China.)

February 18 David tang, founder of the high-end clothing store Shanghai Tang took the podium at the FCC and basically bitch-slapped the Hong Kong and Chinese governments.

Right up front, Tang takes on CY Leung, the chief executive of Hong Kong, and his policy address, similar to the US president’s State of the Union address. (This is a position similar to a mayor/governor. The chief executive is elected by a select committee of pro-Beijing Hong Kong residents.)

Indeed, in the entire two hours spent in delivering his address, the chief executive did not give the slightest hint of an amoeba of political or social dissatisfaction, yet a great deal of dissatisfaction is prevalent. It was no surprise therefore, that even before the chief executive began his address, four members of LegCo were removed for protesting against his favourite past-time of sweeping what he regards as rotten political dust under the carpet.

The supreme paradox for me is the opening line of his address.

“Since taking office, the current term government has focused its efforts on promoting democracy,” so CY Leung smugly said.

This was his first sentence.

Whoever wrote that for the first sentence for the chief executive, if he himself did not write it, must be a comedian; or perhaps a monkey who accidentally typed up those words on a typewriter. What it all means to me is the disingenuousness of our chief executive and government, and the contempt with which they hold us, the citizens of Hong Kong.

Below is the video provided by the FCC. It is well worth the time to listen to not only the speech but also the Q&A session.

Coconuts Hong Kong provided a transcript of the speech.

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Filed under China, Hong Kong, International News Coverage

Human Rights Has A Price

The economic powerhouse Hong Kong Shanghai Bank — HSBC to the world — has decided to stay in London instead of moving back to Hong Kong.

Seems the recent crackdown on human rights, including freedom of press, in China plus the growing influence of China over Hong Kong affairs has spooked the bank to not only decide to stay in London but to abandon its practice of reviewing every three years where to place its headquarters.

Following the crackdown on the Tiananmen Square demonstrators in 1989, HSBC moved out of Hong Kong to London. At that time it started a process whereby it would review every three years where its headquarters would be located.

According to Quartz and other media reports, the move was clearly motivated by the political situation in Hong Kong and China. One study estimated HSBC could save US$14 billion by moving to Hong Kong. And yet it didn’t.

One always looks for links. The HSBC action does not need any hard digging to see that the path Hong Kong leaders are taking is not good for the economy of the territory.

Besides the economic impact the HSBC action has on the Hong Kong economy, it could also have an impact on the US. The bank has branches across the USA. The move by the HSBC board may not have a direct impact on how banking is done in the US, but it could influence the value of HSBC USA stock, and therefore all the Americans who are investors.

(Okay, so it is a weak link back to the US. But it is an important economic and psychological link for Hong Kong.)

When China took control of Hong Kong in 1997, by treaty it guaranteed the protection of Hong Kong’s civil rights including freedom of speech and press. Since the take over, economic pressure has been applied to the newspapers to go soft on China. Reporters and editors at RTHK, the Hong Kong-owned broadcast outlets, have repeatedly come under pressure to be a mouthpiece for the Hong Kong government and to avoid stories critical of China.

Recently five Hong Kong publishers of books critical of China have gone missing. One showed up in China, supposedly helping police with a case.

The general consensus is that all five were kidnapped by Chinese security forces. Such direct interference in Hong Kong’s legal system by Beijing is a direct violation of the treaty that allowed for the hand over in 1997. The move prompted the British government to make a public declaration denouncing the Chinese government’s action. For its part, Beijing said the UK was interfering in China’s internal affairs. (This is the basic response to any criticism of the Chinese government.)

So clearly Beijing thinks cracking down on dissidents, where ever they may be, is more important than providing for a stable and profitable economic Hong Kong.

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Filed under China, Freedom of Information, Hong Kong, International News Coverage, Trade

China needs to learn from Hong Kong

As usual journalist Frank Ching is spot on in his analysis.

When Hong Kong was handed over to China, people were saying Beijing could learn from Hong Kong how to enter the modern world of finance and politics. But there are lessons Beijing just does not seem to want to learn.

For example, when a major issue dominates the public’s concern, the Hong Kong government sets up commissions to investigate and report back to the people.

Such commissions are part of Hong Kong’s tradition. The British colonial government, between 1966 and the handover to China in 1997, set up commissions of inquiry 12 times to look into such issues as the cause of riots, a fire on a floating restaurant that claimed 34 lives, and the flight from Hong Kong of a police chief superintendent wanted on corruption charges. The strength of such inquiries is that they are conducted by individuals of standing in the community who, while appointed by the government, act independently. Often, such inquiries are headed by judges.

The latest issue is the discovery of lead in the Hong Kong drinking water. The pro-Beijing government in Hong Kong reacted in a way that does credit to the recent history of Hong Kong. They set up a commission.

[T]he commission is headed by Justice Andrew Chan, a high court judge. The commission’s terms of reference are to ascertain the causes of excess lead found in drinking water in public rental-housing developments; to review and evaluate the adequacy of the present regulatory and monitory system in respect of drinking-water supply in Hong Kong; and to make recommendations with regard to the safety of drinking water in Hong Kong.

Frank also points out that the people of Hong Kong know what the local standard is and how it compares to the World Health Organization standard. BTW, 10 micrograms per liter for both.

Now take the explosion at Tianjin — as Frank did — as an example of how not to investigate a major incident that have people concerned for their health and safety.

Premier Li Keqiang promised to “release information to society in an open and transparent manner.” But the Communist Party’s propaganda apparatus has moved in as usual and demanded: “Use only copy from Xinhua and authoritative departments and media…. Do not make live broadcasts.”

Cyanide has been detected in the soil near the blast sites, but a Chinese official, Tian Weiyong, director of the environmental emergency centre of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, was quoted as saying that the level does not exceed the national standard. However, we are not told what the Chinese standard is and how it compares with WHO guidelines.

And just as a side note, Frank points out that even if China revealed the “Chinese standard,” it would probably not be of much comfort to the people. In the case of the Hong Kong lead-in-the-water situation, it would never come up as an issue in China. While the readings in Hong Kong exceeded WHO standards by four times, they would have been within Chinese standards of 50 micrograms of lead per liter of water, or five times that of the WHO.

Frank’s bottom line is something a lot of us have argued for years. When the Chinese people know the information they are getting has been carefully sifted and purified, they reject the official statements and turn to rumors for information. Rumors cause panic. And yet, the Chinese leadership says controlling information is necessary to preserve social stability. They really don’t seem to see how their actions are actually adding to instability. (Or at least they are acting as if they don’t see the connection between media control and social instability.)

Independent commissions to investigate disasters and access to the commission reports have provided stability to Hong Kong society. People may not like the results of the studies, but at least the process is public and the public knows how and why the conclusions were reached.

Frank points out

China can learn from the outside world is the creation of an independent body, such as a commission of inquiry, to show its determination to uncover the truth, regardless of where it leads. Such commissions are used around the world, including by the United Nations.

Setting up such a commission lifts a huge burden from the government’s shoulders. The trouble is that, in China, the Communist Party won’t let anyone else investigate.

He adds another problem finding individuals trusted by the people to serve on the commission. “After all, there is no independent judiciary,” he wrote, “no Independent Commission Against Corruption and no Office of the Ombudsman where people of integrity may flourish.”

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Thai authorities arrest Hong Kong journalist for having body armor

The BBC reports Hong Kong photojournalist Anthony Kwan Hok-chun was arrested for carrying body armor and a helmet as he was ready to board a flight back to Hong Kong.

Seems Kwan brought the equipment with him to cover the recent bombing of the Erawan Shrine a couple of weeks ago. And it seems having military type equipment is against the law.

The Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand issued a statement calling for Kwan’s release. The FCCT made the following points to the Thai government:

  • Hong Kongers were among the dead in the bombing
  • Protective gear is standard issue for reporters covering violent events.
  • The vest and helmet are not weapons
  • Journalists openly worn body armor during recent political turmoil without any action being taken government
  • Te deaths of two foreign journalists in Bangkok from gunfire during the political unrest in 2010 underscores the need for this kind of protection.

As the FCCT pointed out, it is not unusual for journalists to wear protective gear when reporting from dangerous areas. The Committee to Protect Journalists gives a rundown of the types of equipment to wear in different troubled areas:

  • Choose a vest rated to stop high-velocity bullets fired by military rifles.
  • Helmets are also recommended for journalists covering war zones.
  • Wear body armor whenever you are embedded with military forces

The CPJ also offers  tips about using protective gear in civil disturbance situations:

  • Protective gear  that is lightweight and relatively thin can provide protection against knife attacks, rubber bullets, and other hazards.
  • Baseball-style caps with metal plates are also available.
  • Armor may not be recommended for covering criminal matters because it may cause a journalist to be mistaken for a law enforcement agent.
  • Gas masks may also be worn, although in doing so journalists incur the risk that they could be mistaken for either riot police or demonstrators.

Kwan’s employer, Initium Media, hired a lawyer to contest the charges.

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Filed under Asia, Harassment

Latest failure by Beijing to shut up critic

The ruling elite in Beijing really seem to think they can just snap their fingers and the rest of the world will kow-tow.

The latest episode came when the Chinese ambassador to Canada sent a letter to the House of Commons and Foreign Ministry telling the House to withdraw an invitation to Martin Lee and to butt out of Chinese internal affairs.

Lee, one of the major pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong, was invited to give testimony before the foreign affairs committee about the status of democracy in Hong Kong. (Hong Kong’s Martin Lee testifies in Parliament despite warning)

Every time a critic of Beijing with a Chinese face shows up anywhere in the world, Beijing flips out. The ruling elite keep forgetting that the status of democracy in Hong Kong is based on an international treaty. Plus, by signing on to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations’ charter, China opened itself up for people to look closely at how well they live up to those documents.

At least with Lee’s visit, they did not claim that his visit to Canada “hurts the feelings of all Chinese in the world.” I think that complaint is saved for criticisms of non-Chinese.

Beijing keeps trying to force its view of control around the world because at times it works.

Late last year Mark Kitto wrote an Op-Ed piece for the New York Times that discussed how China exercises its influence on free speech. (Caving to China’s Power.)

We are used to seeing this in Hong Kong where self-censorship by journalists and straight out orders from publishers have kept the pro-Beijing drums beating. Beijing just wants to extend that authority around the world.

Even everyday folks outside China are being manipulated by China. (People Around the World Are Voluntarily Submitting to China’s Great Firewall. Why?)

It all comes down to controlling the message. If Beijing can’t do it one way — intimidate dissidents or journalists — then do it another way by threatening the economic well-being of companies and countries around the world.

In the schoolyard, that kind of behavior is attributed to bullies. Not people you really want to hang out with.

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