Archive for January, 2011

Glued to Al Jazeera English

I’m sure that I am among thousands of people who have turned to Al Jazeera English to keep up with the unrest in Egypt.

My friends and colleagues have been corresponding through Facebook and Twitter about our thoughts on AJE’s coverage. We all agree that it has been outstanding and has outpaced the U.S.-based networks.

As I was writing this, CNN’s Howard Kurtz posted a link on his Twitter account (@HowardKurtz) to an interview with Abderrahim Foukara, Washington bureau chief for Al Jazeera. Foukara speaks about Al Jazeera’s coverage and discusses how other organizations (including the U.S. government) are sometimes critical of his network.

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Local-Global: China investments in the States. Where are the U.S. media?

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

Why is it that it takes the BBC to do a story about how Chinese investments in the United States create jobs?

China President Hu Jintao set to visit Barack Obama in US

We have President Hu coming to the United States to visit President Obama and the U.S. Congress but on the day before Hu’s arrival, there are no scene setters or even a look at the political or economic relationship between the two countries. (Maybe those stories will be run on the day Hu arrives. One can only hope.)

But the China-US story is not just an aggressive Chinese military or massive violations of human rights or of U.S. jobs lost to Chinese factories. As the BBC report points out, it is also about Chinese investment in U.S. jobs.

I like the fact that the BBC reporter went to Indiana to profile a factory that went from 15 people to more than 400 employees. That is job creation thanks to free trade and open borders.

If the anti-trade, pro-isolationists get their way, all those U.S. dollars that are being sent to China for goods or for debt will go to some other country. Whenever a country makes itself unfriendly to foreign investment or foreign products, it always hurts itself much more than it hurts it erstwhile trading partners.

It would be nice if we could see more reporting in the U.S. about the complex nature of trade instead of the too often one-sided “they are taking jobs from us” reports.

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Where is the reporting on international links to job creation?

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

The Gallup Organization just released new numbers about what the American people are most concerned about. To no one’s surprise the economy and unemployment top the list.

Americans Want Congress, Obama to Tackle Economic Issues

The numbers are stark:

And yet I seem to see little reporting on the impact trade has on the economy and unemployment.

Well, that is not completely accurate.

We constantly hear how U.S. jobs are lost to cheap-labor countries such as China and Vietnam.

What does not seem to be talked about, however, are the jobs that are created with international trade.

The U.S. Treasury Department estimates there are about 50 million Americans whose jobs are tied to exports of goods and services.

That can be anything from poultry farmers sending chicken feet to China to architects designing new buildings in Qatar.

But there is more to the trade issue than just jobs related to exports.

Think about the jobs created because of direct investment in the United States.

In a study Honda did in 2009 about the economic impact its investments in the United States had on jobs, the company reported that its direct investments in the United States resulted in 368,000 jobs providing $17 billion in annual wages and salaries.

Remember, that number is ONLY the DIRECT effect of Honda’s investment. That number includes employees at the Honda assembly plants in the States and the dealerships that sell the Honda products.

Look deeper and you might see a larger effect.

Because these 368,000 people have jobs and income, they have an impact on their local economies.

Let’s say Honda lays off half of the 152,000 people who work in its Ohio facilities. Think about how that will hurt the local grocery stores, the local tax base, the local beauty shops, bars, etc.

Take my hometown of Detroit. Yep it is a basket case. And imports played a role in hammering the city. Yet, today the Motor City is also the site of massive changes.

Recently I saw a report that at least one call center was opening in Detroit instead of India or China. The manager said the infrastructure is in place and the workforce is educated. And the people need and want work.

Add to that a recent report that showed that one in three new start-ups in Michigan were created by immigrants.

So immigrants are helping rebuild the American economy.

Foreign investors are helping rebuild the American economy.

But where are the stories in the mainstream media?

What we see instead are stories about uniformed members of Congress and the general public who say we need tighter rules against immigrants and foreign investment. Or that imposing tariffs against imported goods is the way to protect American jobs. The promoters of such views, of course are forgetting (or not realizing) that other economies will counter-impose tariffs against our goods and services.

In the end, the isolationist views of blocking immigration, imports and investments will put more people out of work and damage the U.S. economy even more.

Around the country in small and large towns there are similar stories. It just takes a reporter and editor/producer with a bit of imagination to see past the LOCAL! LOCAL! LOCAL! mantra of the bean counters.

If the American people are concerned about jobs and the economy, why aren’t news organizations looking at the immigrant communities and foreign investors. And asking, why are these people willing to risk their lives and money in the United States instead of some other country.

And these are LOCAL stories. They just have an international angle.

There is a whole world out there and every side street in the United States is tied to it. Unfortunately, the reporting too often does not accurately reflect that reality.

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Missing a large part of the story on diplomats and banking

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

The Washington Post is following up on an earlier story about how U.S. banks are looking to end servicing diplomats and diplomatic missions in the United States. (J.P. Morgan Chase to end services for diplomats; other banks ready to follow)

To bad the writer missed the impact the move could have on U.S. businesses and — as a result — the U.S. economy and Main Street America. (But I am not surprised.)

As the story noted, the J.P. Morgan move comes after Bank of America closed out the accounts of the Angolan diplomatic mission to the United States in November.

Back in November I noted that this was a major story that has serious repercussions for media outlets and U.S. companies:

So why is this an important story? Why is it important to journalists and journalism organizations?

One simple word: Retaliation!

Already the Angolan government is showing its displeasure with the bank action by refusing to accept the credentials of the U.S. ambassador-designate to Angola. (The Angolan government says the U.S. government needs to do more to force the banks to accept their accounts.)

On the horizon, the governments could cancel permission of U.S. banks to operate in their countries. They could also freeze or cancel the local banking accounts of companies such as Exxon Mobil and Chevron. This latter option is already being discussed in Angola.

The few U.S. news outlets that have international correspondents and bureaus, could find their overseas accounts frozen. This would lead to an inability to pay stringers, local staff, interpreters and — in general — local expenses.

Add to the inability of news organizations to operate overseas the impact banking retaliation could have on the overall U.S. economy. How much trade do you think will get done if U.S. companies are not allowed to have accounts in overseas’ banks? Not a lot is the correct answer.

And the U.S. economy depends on trade.

There is little that can be done about forcing banks to handle diplomats’ accounts. But the media could at least begin explaining the potential consequences of the banks’ actions on the American economy. It would have been nice if the post had looked at this issue as well as showing off its “knowledge” of diplomatic finances.

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Expect more “surprises” unless reporting picks up

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World

Observers are shocked about how young lawyers in Pakistan are rallying behind the accused murderer of the governor of Punjab province Salman Taseer, who was an outspoken proponent of liberalism.

The lawyers were once held up as the potential leaders of a liberal democratic Pakistan when they stood up to the dictatorship a couple of years ago. And now they are supporting a man who objected to political liberalism and who was a conservative Islamic fundamentalist.

What happened and why does it matter?

The New York Times has a great article discussing this issue: Pakistan Faces a Divide of Age on Muslim Law.

One paragraph summed up the problem for the United States:

Washington has poured billions of dollars into the Pakistani military to combat terrorism, but has long neglected a civilian effort to counter the inexorable pull of conservative Islam. By now the conservatives have entered nearly every part of Pakistani society, even the rank-and-file security forces, as the assassination showed.

For all the foreign aid the United States has handed out since the days of the Marshall Plan 65 years ago, very little thought has been given to “civilian” efforts of building democratic institutions — including free and independent media.

There was always money — granted, a limited amount — available through the U.S. Information Agency to sponsor study tours and international leadership exchanges. But within government circles few saw the value in spending money on working at a grassroots level to build democratic institutions such as independent media, community groups or trade unions. But even when USIA financed these types of programs, most in the agency didn’t understand the purpose.

Then things started to change in the 1980s. Say what you will about Ronald Reagan and his foreign policy, it was under his administration that the National Endowment for Democracy was founded.

The NED was the first U.S. financed but private organization dedicated to working to develop democratic institutions in the developing world.

The core groups that receive grants from the NED are the international arms of the Democratic and Republican Parties, the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Other smaller groups also get one-time grants for specific programs.

In the 1990s the U.S. Agency for International Development also finally got the message that all the development work in the world will not do much to help unless the people are part of the program. And for the people to be part of any national development means the promotion of local groups independent of the national power structure.

By the end of the 20th century, the USAID Democracy & Governance program was running programs that supported community groups and independent media.

The USAID programs paid for U.S. journalists to teach classes around the world in interviewing techniques and production skills. And in the process, the U.S. journalists transmitted their deep-seated belief that media are supposed to be separate and independent from the government.

The U.S. is late to the game of democracy development. And with the budget crisis in the U.S. and no real constituency for international programs (other than the Pentagon), we should expect to see cuts in already limited programs that promote free and independent media.

And the worst part, as I see it, is that even if there were loads more stories about how the U.S. missed opportunities to promote our values of democracy and pluralism, I don’t think it will matter. Too many in Congress have their minds made up that any foreign aid is a waste of time — unless it promotes their particular agenda — and too many Americans just don’t care.

We will continue to be “surprised” by events around the world until we start putting some value in understanding what is going on in the world.

(I still recall when the Solidarity movement erupted in Poland 30 years ago. When a U.S. diplomat was asked why the State Department did not see it coming, he responded: “You expect us to talk to workers?” Fortunately the State Dept. has learned its lesson. Diplomats now reach out to the widest range of sources within a country as possible — the WikiLeaks cables prove that.)

To avoid more “surprises,” the U.S. media need to see that events in the rest of the world affect us. The few news organizations that still have international correspondents should be giving those reporters more time/space to explain how events in far-away lands affect American society, politics or economy.

Even more can be done without foreign correspondents.

  • The U.S. is a nation of immigrants. Every city and town has a community with connections to “the old country.” Maybe more attention needs to be paid to those immigrant communities.
  • I also defy anyone to show me one community in the U.S. that does not have some sort of economic link to another country. (And I don’t mean the local Honda dealership or the Chinese-made products at Wal-Mart.)
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The real top stories in China and not what the government says they are

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

It’s that time of year again when journalists assemble their best stories of the past year and enter them in local and national competitions. (Enter plug here for the national SDX awards and the Washington, D.C. SPJ Dateline Awards.)

And journalists around the world assemble the Top 10 or Top 100 stories of the previous year.

China is no different. But getting the government media masters to agree with the journalists and the people about what constitutes the top stories is something else.

One of the great things about Hong Kong is that it is the only place under the rule of Beijing that has a free press and all the civil rights that go with it.

As a result, journalists and academics in Hong Kong can honestly assess the media situation in mainland China.

Thanks to the China Media Project at Hong Kong University we get to see how Chinese journalists in China are pushing the envelope every day.

If it were up to the guys in Beijing who try to control all the news, the top stories would be about the glorious growth in the Chinese economy and all the great speeches made at the party congress.

Fortunately we have the CMP and its director Ying Chan to talk about the real top stories in China.

Big 2010 stories hushed, but not forgotten

An already tight atmosphere for the press in China has continued to tighten in recent weeks. Most recently, the news retrospectives Chinese media have typically compiled at year’s end in recent years have come under pressure. Guangdong’s Southern Weekend, a newspaper with a reputation for bolder news coverage, had published its annual list of distinguished journalists and media, “Salute to the Media,” every year since 2001. But authorities put a stop to the list last month, the latest in a series of unfortunate warning signs.

The first hints of trouble for news retrospectives and similar lists came in early December, as Time Weekly, published by the Guangdong Provincial Publishing Group, invited a group of scholars to select a list of “100 Most Influential People of Our Time.” The list included the recently jailed food safety activist Zhao Lianhai and several signers of the Charter 08 political manifesto, including Beijing Film Academy professor Cui Weiping and renowned scholar Xu Youyu.

Time Weekly‘s list of 100 influential people included artists, grassroots activists, educators, lawyers, officials, public intellectuals, scientists, entrepreneurs and journalists, all seen as having, as the newspaper wrote, “an irreplaceable influence on public life this year and on the development of our times.” The list was received well in China and drew attention from international media as well, all surprised at the publication’s boldness. But an order quickly came down for the recall of copies of the newspaper in circulation, and the list and related coverage was deleted from the Time Weekly website. Peng Xiaoyun, the chief editor of Time Weekly‘s opinion section, who had been in charge of the list, was placed on involuntary leave.

Note that the list was “received well in China and drew attention from international media” but was quickly shut down by the central authorities. That’s about par for the course.

It is exciting to see reporters and editors push against the confines the political masters try to create. I like to think that improved technology — the Internet and mobile phones — and exposure to the West and those “dangerous” ideas of press freedom and real reporting are helping move Chinese journalists away from Communist party note takers to real journalists.

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Belarus now sees 3-year old son of journalist and opposition leader as dangerous

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

In a move that better fits the great purges of the Soviet Union in the 1930s and 1940s, the government of Belarus after arresting most of the candidates who ran against President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko decided that the 3-year-old son of one of those candidates is a possible security threat.

The arrests of the candidates came after a demonstration against alleged election fraud. Among those detained were Andrei Sannikov, a leading opposition presidential candidate, and Irina Khalip, an investigative journalist. Both were dragged from their car and placed in jail.

And just like Stalin — obviously a hero to Lukashenko — the state issued a warning they were considering arresting the 3-year-old son of Sannikov and Khalip.

Belarus Signals It Could Seize Opponent’s Son

Lukashenko is seen by many to be the last dictator left in Europe. He has argued that Belarus should reform a union with Russia. Lukashenko went as far as signing a cooperative agreement with Russia and stated openly he would like to see Belarus once again be part of a greater Russia — ala Soviet Union.

He is also pretty much shunned by the rest of Europe. The EU is restoring a ban on issuing visas to Belarus officials — including Lukashenko — because of the crackdown.

Last month, the Belarus government was accused of launching a denial of service attack against the opposition party and media outlets. At the same time the government also launched attacks against media outlets not under its control.

The crackdown on dissidents includes the arrest and detention of dozens of journalists who were covering the demonstrations. Journalism groups around the world have called on the Belarus government to release those journalists.

The arrests of journalists in Belarus are said to be based on the law. Even though the constitution has provisions for freedom of the press, the law says criticism of the president and government is a criminal offense.

But then again, Stalin ran his purges under the umbrella of the Soviet Union’s law as well.

Belarus is ranked 154 of 178 in the Reporters Without Borders list of press freedom. That makes them worse than Russia, Singapore and Venezuela.

And — sorry I couldn’t resist — speaking of Venezuela, just to show that birds of a feather do indeed flock together (or at least have each others back: Venezuela announced it would ensure shipment of crude oil to Belarus even if it has to buy it from other sources. I guess anything to help a fellow national leader who likes repressing the media.

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View from Hong Kong: Norm Pearlstine speaks to Foreign Correspondents’ Club

Thanks to Matt Driskill for posting this speech by Norman Pearlstine, chief content officer for Bloomberg at the FCC in Hong Kong January 3, 2011 on the U.S. political scene and its implications for Asia.

Norman Pearlstine in Hong Kong.

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Update on Honduras: RSF speaks out on killings

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

Last week the Honduran deputy security minister Armando Calidonio said that none of the ten murders of journalists in Honduras last year were connected to the victim’s work.

International journalism rights groups disagreed.

The Committee to Protect Journalists claim three deaths were because of the journalists’ work.

Reporters Without Borders have now added their comments: Minister insists no journalist was murdered in connection with their work.

Bottom line: No one really believes that NONE of the deaths were related to journalism.

One of the three journalists killed in 2010 in an apparent connection with his work, Nahum Palacios Arteaga, was gunned down after repeated harassment and threats from military personnel in the Aguán region, where there is a great deal of repression.

In the meantime, the Honduran Committee for Free Expression reports that Esdras López, of Canal 36-Cholusat. was threatened in Tegucigalpa by an army lieutenant-colonel. The station was critical of the coup last year.

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Understanding the local-global connection

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

A while back the New York Times did a story based on some of the leaked cables on how the U.S. government helps U.S. companies sell their products. (I wrote about this and noted how many U.S. jobs depend on exports and trade.)

I just got a press release from the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority about a seminar on how to export.

The workshop is designed to assist businesses that are considering export opportunities, in the process of expanding into foreign markets or currently exporting.

Now why is this important?

The partners in this seminar include the private sector, Fairfax County, the state of Virginia and the U.S. government. There is clearly a connection between the local economy and exports.

These groups see it.

Too bad too many in the media and in Congress don’t. (Or if they do, they are keeping that knowledge pretty well hidden.)

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