Archive for July, 2010


Fostering “Public Media” and Banning Pseudo News in China

A couple of notes from China caught my attention this afternoon.

The China Post (Taiwan) published a commentary recently on the difficulty China is having moving toward a “public media” model. That’s the term Qian Gang, director of the China Media Project at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre of the University of Hong Kong, uses for a media system that serves the people. He contrasts that with China’s “political media,” which he says serve political interests, and the “commercial media,” which primarily seek profits.

The Taipei Times reports today (Sunday, Aug. 1 in Taiwan) that the government’s Organic Laws and Statutes Bureau has “recommended a statutory ban on government agencies promoting policies and government performance under the guise of news coverage, saying the practice had a negative influence on the role and objectivity of the media in a democracy.” According to the group’s report, this practice allows “governmental agencies … to revise and sensor news coverage. As a result, the media lose their function of advancing and maintaining the public interest.”

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Vision for a Cambodian Newspaper

The Phnom Penh Post published an interesting interview earlier this month with the new chairman of the paper’s parent company.

David Armstrong talked about his vision for the English-language daily and for the relatively new Post Khmer (Khmer is one of Cambodia’s major languages).

Here’s Armstrong’s response to a question about the newspaper’s position in Cambodia’s media market:

“We have to stand for old-fashioned virtues like accuracy and fairness and balance, so that readers can see that the news is reliable and that they can trust what they read in the papers.”

Armstrong also believes the newspaper industry is much more stable throughout Asia than it is in the United States.

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Getting from spices to local-global story

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

NPR had a fun piece today about how the United States is now a spicier nation.

U.S. Is A Spicier Nation (Literally) Since 1970s

I am glad to see that seasoning other than salt is making its way into the US kitchen. (Much healthier.) And I am glad to see the internationalization of cooking. (I still remember 25+ years ago when pita was introduced into Air Force One and the uproar it caused.)

But let’s look at why different spices are now selling so well in the States.

When I taught a feature writing class at George Mason University I gave my students an assignment to find connections in everyday student life and the world. (Use of the Internet and interviewing foreign/exchange students did not count.) In a brainstorming session about what those possible links might be I suggested the food court.

The impact of foreign students on the school meant the restaurants had to adjust. So there was Arabic food and Hispanic food. There were places that offered food under the rules of halal and kashrut.

And now NPR tells us

The consumption of spices in the United States has grown almost three times as fast as the population over the past several decades. Much of that growth is attributed to the changing demographics of America.

So here is the entry to a whole series of LOCAL LOCAL LOCAL articles that include an international perspective.

A local reporter could look at the sales of spices in his/her area. Then figure out what ethnic group is most closely tied to those spices. Then he/she could look at the local growth of that ethnic group in the area.

Finding out the how and why these immigrants came to the United States and to that local area could provide the fodder for a whole series of local profile stories.

Getting the basic information is easy. Just go to the Census Bureau.

For example, in just 30 seconds I found that 10.4 percent of the Southern United States is foreign-born.

Digging a little deeper — another 30 seconds — I found that 10 percent of Virginia’s population is foreign-born.

And just a little deeper I learn that 27.7 percent of the Fairfax County population is foreign-born, with 50.7 percent of that group from Asia and 30 percent from Latin America. (Could that be why there are so many Asian grocery stores in Fairfax County?)

And the foreign-born population in Arlington County comes to 24 percent, with 30 percent from Asia and 44 percent from Latin America. (Could that be why there are more Latin American restaurants and stores in Arlington than in Fairfax?)

And let’s not forget how those differences also play out in issues other than spices and restaurants. Think about taxes, education and other social and political issues.

The mantra of LOCAL LOCAL LOCAL these days should include more stories that involve international aspects. It just takes an enterprising reporter to dig out the stories.

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Why is Pakistan media quiet about the Kabul Diaries

A look at the deafening silence in Pakistan over the Kabul War Diary WikiLeak issue.

Madiha Sattar, senior assistant editor for The Herald in Karachi, talks about how and why it took so long for ANYTHING to be said in Pakistan about the 90,000 page leak of U.S. government documents about the Afghan war.

Bottom line:

Pakistan simply has too much at home to worry about. Perceptions of the country in the West take a back seat when severe electricity shortages, spiraling food prices and devastating terrorist attacks confront us every day.

Read the full blog entry here: Pakistan’s non-reaction to Wikileaks

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

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Here we go again: US military paid Afghan journalists

This really should not be a surprise to anyone. And I was expecting this. I just read documents more slowly than others.

Leaked files indicate U.S. pays Afghan media to run friendly stories

Buried among the 92,000 classified documents released Sunday by WikiLeaks is some intriguing evidence that the U.S. military in Afghanistan has adopted a PR strategy that got it into trouble in Iraq: paying local media outlets to run friendly stories.

Several reports from Army psychological operations units and provincial reconstruction teams (also known as PRTs, civilian-military hybrids tasked with rebuilding Afghanistan) show that local Afghan radio stations were under contract to air content produced by the United States. Other reports show U.S. military personnel apparently referring to Afghan reporters as “our journalists” and directing them in how to do their jobs.

Rest of Story

When will these guys learn? And just how much did AID know about the military PSYOP?

I know of good and solid journalism programs in Africa, Central Europe and the Caribbean that could not exist without financial help from AID. These are programs that seriously train independent journalists. (One recipient even asked for copies of the SPJ Code of Ethics to use as a blueprint for their own code.)

Then these PR people move in and muck up the whole thing. How are the Afghans supposed to learn what it means to have a media independent of government control or to be free from corruption when the U.S. government is in there paying off “journalists?”

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US Reverses Position, Colombian journalist allowed in

Hollman Morris got the visa he needed to accept his Nieman Fellowship at Harvard.

Morris was initially denied a visa under a provision of the PATRIOT ACT.

U.S. reverses decision and grants visa to Colombian journalist Hollman Morris

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Honduras fails to move on journalists’ killings

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

There is probably no Central American country that has held so much attention in the past year than Honduras.

A group of center-right forces depose the leftist government. The country is cut off from the rest of the world because of the coup. A new government is elected without the leftist president ever reinstated to power.

During the rule of the coup leaders, journalists were under fire for reporting on the illegal nature of the coup. (This is not to defend the previous president and government, which was also not too friendly to a free press. But what would you expect from someone who looks to Hugo Chavez for advice.)

Since the new government took power in elections recognized by most governments in the world and by the NGOs that observed the elections, the safety of journalists remains precarious.

A new report by the Committee to Protect Journalists shows that the problem of impunity continues.

Journalist murders spotlight Honduran government failures

From the first of March to the middle of June, seven Honduran broadcast journalists were shot to death, an astonishing number of murders in such a short time in a country of 7.5 million. Six of the murders occurred in the span of just seven weeks, and most were clearly assassinations carried out by hit men. Adding to fear among journalists—and to their questions about who would be next—was the national government’s response: Its initial silence was followed by a period in which a top official dismissed the murders as routine street crimes.

Even though the United States recognized the elections as legitimate and has restored diplomatic relations with Honduras, it has not spared the country from criticism.

Since the election in November 2009, the State Department reports:

The following human rights problems were reported: unlawful killings by members of the police and government agents; arbitrary and summary killings committed by vigilantes and former members of the security forces; harsh prison conditions; violence against detainees, and corruption and impunity within the security forces; lengthy pretrial detention and failure to provide due process of law; arbitrary detention and disproportionate use of force by security forces after the June coup; politicization, corruption, and institutional weakness of the judiciary; erosion of press freedom; corruption in the legislative and executive branches; limitations on freedom of movement and association; government restrictions on recognition of some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); violence and discrimination against women; child prostitution and abuse; trafficking in persons; discrimination against indigenous communities; violence and discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation; ineffective enforcement of labor laws; and child labor.

Note that “erosion of press freedom” is part of the concerns in Honduras.

The lack of arrest and punishment of the killers of journalists remains a major problem in Latin America. It is obviously a growing concern in Honduras as well.

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Chinese censors move on language debate

For the uninitiated, the spoken Chinese language is divided into a number of dialects that are as distinctive as the differences between Cockney English and Deep South USA English.

Mandarin is the “official” language because it is the Chinese of Beijing.

Cantonese is the Chinese of southern China and the version more familiar to many Americans. (Bok Choy is Cantonese for white cabbage. The Mandarin version is Bai Cai.)

And I can speak from personal experience that the two dialects are so different as to be incomprehensible to each other. My Mandarin barely worked in Hong Kong.

Other dialects in Western China are as distinct but, because of limited exposure to the rest of the world, are not as well-known.

For a number of years now Beijing has been trying to force all parts of the country use Mandarin. And for just as long, the Cantonese speakers have been fighting those efforts.

Cantonese is the Chinese dialect of Guangzhou province and Hong Kong — the economic powerhouses of China.

People in those areas looking to do serious business in China learn Mandarin but as a second language. (Actually, more often as a third language. English is often the second language.)

So when a Guangzhou politician made an official proposal to force a major local television network to stop using Cantonese and switch to Mandarin, more than 1,000 people demonstrated against it.

Move to Limit Cantonese on Chinese TV Is Assailed

Police broke up the unauthorized demonstration peacefully.

And, in true Communist, control all information style, all mention any mention of the demonstration was removed from Chinese Internet forums on Monday. Only one national newspaper — one aimed at the foreign community — carried a report. The report did not so much cover the popular uprising as it indicated the discussion of language is a politically delicate matter.

And, as we know, anything that is a “politically delicate matter” will come under the direct control of the propaganda ministry. And that means in the hands of the “hardliners” who want more control over information and means of communication.

This is going to be another interesting issue to follow.

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Singapore arrests journalist for investigative report on judiciary

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

The Asian Human Rights Commission sent out a letter from the International Federation for Human Rights in support of journalist Alan Shadrake.

An Open Letter from the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)

Seems Shadrake wrote a book that questioned the impartiality and independence of the Singapore judicial system and got arrested for it.

The FIDH said Shadrake was reportedly kept awake for interrogation for extended period of time and he asked to explain each of the chapters in his book, his research and the reasons behind authoring the book. Shadrake was critical of the use of the death penalty in his book.

The FIDH said the action by the Singapore judiciary creates a climate of fear and restricts the openness of public discussion on sensitive issues. The organization adds that investigative journalism is not a crime in Singapore. Therefore, the arrest of Shadrake brings into question the independence and integrity of the very institution it is accusing Mr. Shadrake of impugning, namely its judiciary.

For all its official pronouncements of allowing free and open discussion, the Singapore government more often acts like a petty dictatorship than a liberal democracy.

But of course, we have known for a long time the true nature of Singapore’s government. Remember this is the government that banned gum chewing because too many people would toss their gum on the street instead of using a trash bin.

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Celebrating Press Freedoms in Turkey

Turkey celebrated the ideals of a free press over the weekend.

The Daily News and Economic Review reported the celebration traces its roots to July 24, 1908. Turkey had just reinstated its constitution, and Turkish journalists banded together on this day and refused to allow government censors to continue reviewing their newspapers.

“The papers of July 25, 1908, were thus the first editions in the history of the Turkish press that did not comply with forced editing by the government,” the Daily News reported.

July 24th has since been celebrated annually as a “Press Holiday.”

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