Tag Archives: Media harassment

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

Gotta Love Chinese Play On Words

One of the things I learned in China way too many years ago is how much they love word play and play on words. (With just a quick switch of like-sounding words you can go from wishing someone a prosperous new year to wishing someone white cabbage. Trust me, it had my Shanghai friends rolling on the floor.)

The Chinese language depends on tones and pronunciation. At the same time different characters have similar sounds. So it makes sense that some of the more creative people would come up with ways to use homonyms to poke fun at official pronouncements.

Besides making the joke, the change in words (and characters) makes it more difficult for the Chinese censors.

The latest in the lexicon is “monkey-snake“. I’ll let China Digital Times explain:

hóu shé 猴蛇

Creature of Chinese Internet mythology representing state media and propaganda; homophone of “mouthpiece” (hóushé 喉舌).

The role of the media, according the Chinese Communist Party, is to serve as the Party’s mouthpiece. China Media Project traces the origin of this duty to the founding of the CCP itself. A test for journalists to obtain press cards, released in 2013, explains, “Unlike Western countries, the most important function of news media in our country is to be the ears, eyes, throat and tongue for the party and the people.” The Mandarin word “mouthpiece” breaks down to the characters hóu喉 (throat) and shé 舌 (tongue).

Netizens evoke the “monkey-snake” to satirize state media and the propaganda apparatus.

You will note that just a few years ago China tightened its rules as to who can be a journalist. And thanks to The New York Times, you can find out if you qualify as a journalist under the rules of China. (I like the answer to question 10. Kinda sums up the whole difference.)

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Filed under Censorship, China, Press Freedom

Turkish media ordered to conform to “family values”

Many thanks to Roy Greenslade at The Guardian for point out the latest attack on free press by the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkish media output must conform to ‘traditional family values’

The Turkish government wants to ensure that the output of the country’s media conforms to “traditional family values.”

It is to take unspecified “measures” aimed at countering what it regards as the “negative effects” on family of material in newspapers, on television and even on social media.

A statement from the government said “measures will be taken to ensure that visual, aural and social media, news, tabloids, films and similar types of productions conform to our traditional family values.”

turkey_5years_capture_updated-445x480Ever since Erdogan took the reigns of power, press freedom in Turkey has been slowly but steadily eroded. in 2010 Freedom House ranked Turkey’s media as Partly Free. By 2013, however, the country was pushed into the Not Free category because of government policies hostile to independent media.

Constitutional guarantees of press freedom and freedom of expression are only partially upheld in practice. They are generally undermined by provisions in the penal code, the criminal procedure code, and the harsh, broadly worded antiterrorism law that effectively leave punishment of normal journalistic activity to the discretion of prosecutors and judges.

The constitutional protections are also subverted by hostile public rhetoric against critical journalists and outlets from Erdoğan and other government officials, which is often echoed in the progovernment press. Since the Gezi Park protests of 2013, Erdoğan has accused the foreign media and various outside interest groups of organizing and manipulating unrest in the country. He has also blamed foreign-based conspiracies for corruption allegations against his family and ministers. In August 2014, during a speech at a campaign rally just prior to the presidential election, Erdoğan denounced Economist correspondent Amberin Zaman as a “shameless militant” and told her to “know [her] place.” In the following months, Zaman was deluged with threats of violence on social media. In September, New York Times reporter Ceylan Yeğinsu suffered a similar verbal attack over a photograph caption that accompanied her piece on Islamic State recruiting in Turkey. Progovernment media depicted her as a traitor. The U.S. State Department criticized Turkey for such attempts to intimidate and threaten her.

 

 

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Filed under Censorship, Harassment, International News Coverage, Press Freedom, Turkey

Dark days ahead for China’s media

French journalist Ursula Gauthier faced the wrath of Beijing censors when she wrote about China’s policy toward the Muslim Uighur minority in China.part-del-del8393516-1-1-0

First, Beijing accused her
of being sympathetic to the Uyghurs and promoting the violent actions taken by a few radicals. Then, to make sure she could not follow up on her stories, the foreign ministry refused to renew her visa to work in China. That meant she had to leave by December 31, 2015.

Denying visa renewals or sitting on the applications for a long time has become a standard move by the central government.

In 2014 the reporters from The New York Times and Bloomberg did not know until the last minute if they would be allowed to stay. Seems their articles about how family members of the ruling elite use their connections to get incredibly wealthy ticked off a few folks in Beijing.

The ruling Communist Party has always been hostile to Western media. Even though more reporters are being licensed to work in China, the harassment they face from national to local government officials is daunting.

The Foreign Correspondents Club of China regularly assembles stories and complaints about how the government is hindering journalists. The reports used to be posted on the FCCC website. Now, however, one has to specifically request the reports or sign in as a member.

The reason is pretty clear, the club is afraid if they are too public, the government will shut them down:

To ensure the continued operation of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China we are not currently making such material openly accessible on the website.

And it is not like anyone could blame them. At least the reports are available in one form or another.

And lest anyone think this is aimed at just the media, remember that the Canadian contestant for the Miss World competition was blocked from entering China because she spoke out about human rights violations in China.

What made it worse for Beijing, of course, was that the woman is Chinese-Canadian. It is one thing for a round-eyed foreign devil to be critical of China’s policies, but a whole other thing when the critic looks like any other Chinese person.

Beijing passed a new anti-terrorism law, in part to allow them to get Western nations on their side against the Uyghurs, but also to have a legal basis for their actions inside the country.

Under the new law, “terrorism” is now defined as any idea or activity that generates “social panic, undermines public security, infringes on personal and property rights, and menaces government organs and international organizations, with the aim to realize certain political and ideological purposes.”

And for Beijing, anything that challenges the supreme authority of the ruling Communist Party has the potential to generate social panic. And, it goes without saying, has “certain political and ideological purposes.”

Things are not likely to get better in China for reporters — foreign or domestic. The rhetoric against free press is clearly not letting up and the hostility aimed at foreign media representatives from doing their job of fairly and accurately reporting events in China is expected to continue unabated

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Filed under Censorship, China, Harassment, International News Coverage, Press Freedom

Mexican media still threatened by gangs

Washington Post reporter Dana Priest has an excellent piece on the threats Mexican journalists face everyday: Censor or die: The death of Mexican news in the age of drug cartels

For anyone who has paid attention to what is going on in Mexico, this is not news, but confirmation that the war against the cartels is not going so well in Mexico.

The Mexican media was just getting out from under the thumb of the oddly named Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI)  that ran Mexico for most of its 100+ years. A breakdown in the control PRI had meant journalists could start actually being journalists instead of stenographers for the government.

Then the cartels started gaining strength — with the help of corrupt national and local officials.

Suddenly the threats to free and independent journalism was no longer the loss of a job, but death.

As Priest notes:

Submitting to cartel demands is the only way to survive, said Hildebrando “Brando” Deandar Ayala, 39, editor in chief of El Mañana, one of the oldest and largest newspapers in the region with a print circulation of 30,000. “You do it or you die, and nobody wants to die,” he said. “Auto censura — self-censorship — that’s our shield.”

Just some items from the past 10 years:

In Mexico, as in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, the issue is not government censorship but death threats from criminal cartels. The inability of the governments to address the issue speaks volumes about the corruption and weak legal systems in these countries.

To be clear though, it does not mean the governments have a policy of media repression. Too many observers of Latin America see any attacks on journalists — or civic society activists — as being ordered by the local or national government. Unfortunately the threats are essentially from the “private sector” — the cartels. The law enforcement systems in these countries are so weak that the threats against journalists — and civic society activists — either are not investigated or such a weak case is built against the murderers that they go free.

This impunity cartels enjoy can only be stopped if the governments are provided enough support and help to fight back. That is why cutting support to programs that seek to build stronger legal systems is not the way to go. (But tell that to a handful of Congress critters and US-based activists.)

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Filed under Censorship, International News Coverage, Killings, Mexico

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

China’s campaign against bloggers

Just in case anyone ever thought good blogging (hell, even bad blogging) about events is not a form of journalism, they should look at China.

The Chinese government has been on a two-year rip against bloggers. The campaign matches the massive efforts to tighten the screws on press freedom.

In the case of bloggers, the problem is much greater. With the news outlets, the government can fire or re-assign reporters and editors who do not bow to their wishes. Bloggers, however, are individuals. That means the government has to go after each person one at a time and figure out how to apply pressure to get that person to stop. Failing that, out comes the hammer of prosecution and jail time. (Yep, in China “violators” of the rules of what can and cannot be published are given a fair trial, just before they are sentenced to jail. Funny how one always follows the other.)

China Digital News has a great summary of a larger piece by the Australian Financial Review on how the Chinese government has cracked down on bloggers.

From China Digital Times: How China Stopped Its Bloggers

Original Australian Financial Review piece: How China stopped its bloggers

Just like anywhere else in the world, China’s popular bloggers ply their craft via social media and are an eclectic mix of lawyers, academics, celebrities, investors, public intellectuals, food critics and journalists.

Yet they occupy a unique position in China as the only alternate voice to the party, and they speak to the world’s biggest internet population of 650 million people. And while they have never been accepted by the party, these so called “opinion leaders” were once tolerated, in what many saw as a necessary loosening of control in the age of social media and mobile internet.

That was until mid-2013 when the party resumed its previous role as the sole arbiter of what information the public should be told.

One example China Digital News brings up is the prosecution of Wu Gan, a provocative online campaigner.

From the South China Morning Post:

Observers said the government wanted to incriminate Wu Gan, 43, an influential online campaigner famed for his loud and colourful protests, to warn other activists not to target and embarrass even low-level officials.

Yan Xin, Wu’s lawyer, said prosecution authorities in Xiamen told him on Friday that they had granted police permission to arrest his client on two criminal charges – “inciting the subversion of state power” and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”.

Remember that the Chinese government considers any discussion of a controversial issue or any questioning of government action to be “provoking trouble” and subverting state power.

The bottom line is that the administration of President Xi Jinping will not allow any dissent during his term. And he is going after not only the mainstream media but anyone who has an opinion not cleared by the central committee of the Communist Party.

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Filed under Censorship, China, Freedom of Information, Harassment