Archive for the ‘Global connections’ Category


The 2016 US Election and Global Journalism

American journalists and journalism prof Dan Gillmor gave the keynote address to the Congress of Journalists of Catalonia (Spain) last week. He chose as his theme free speech, the Donald Trump victory and the need for journalists to be activists.

And please note, this is a speech about a basic American value: Freedom of Speech/Press, presented by an American to a Spanish group of journalists. This is a discussion that is not limited to the States.

You can read the whole speech at Gillmor’s website.

Here are some key points:

I have three goals this morning.

First, to give you my impressions of how journalism performed during this election campaign. The short answer is that journalism failed, with some exceptions.

My second goal is to help you understand why I believe the Trump presidency could well be a turning point – a negative one – for free speech and other fundamental liberties in my country. That would have impact far beyond our shores.

Finally, I want to ask journalists – here and in America and everywhere – to be activists.

Activists for freedom of expression, among the liberties that are at the core of societies where freedom is an institution, not just a word.

Activists for media literacy, the foundation of which is critical thinking.


Our media organizations helped create the climate for someone like Trump to succeed. They’ve been selling fear for decades. For example, in America, at a time the lowest crime rates in many decades, our media have persuaded the public that the risk of being a victim is higher than ever. The risk of any individual person in America becoming a victim is terrorism is exceedingly low, but our media have persuaded the public that the opposite is true.


Trump drew audiences, which boosted ratings, and advertisers sent money. The head of CBS, one of the US media companies that profited wildly from Trump, will be infamous forever for what he said at a business conference early this year: “The money’s rolling in and this is fun. I’ve never seen anything like this, and this going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going.”

This leader of business said, most infamously, “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”

If American journalism dies in the next few years, those words should be carved on the tombstone marking the grave.


I emphasize that there was some great work. In fact, if you compiled all the excellent campaign journalism, you’d have a long list–including some work from newer online outlets–that would make you proud as a journalist. But the good stuff was swamped by the flood of mediocrity and awfulness that dominated.

I want to praise one journalist in particular. David Fahrenthold of the Washington Post gave a one-man demonstration of how journalism should work. He deserves and will win a 2017 Pulitzer Prize, unless the Pulitzer judges are sound asleep when they look at his work.


Many liberties are in jeopardy, but I will focus mostly here on ones that involve freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

It is clear that Trump actually loves media – when it’s helping to promote him or his business interests. But he plainly hates actual journalism about him, and has promised to do things – and has already done some of them — that would directly and indirectly threaten what journalists do. He has sued at least one journalist not because of inaccuracies but because he wanted to punish the writer financially by forcing him and his publisher to spend money on lawyers. He’s been clear that he’ll appoint judges who might sharply restrict journalistic freedom. There is much more, but I believe it is accurate to call Trump an enemy of journalism, and now he’s in a position where he can do extraordinary damage.


Journalists have to recognize that on some issues, they have to become activists. There is no alternative.

I recognize that in many parts of this world, journalists are activists by definition—because truth telling in repressive societies is an act designed to bring about change. I’m humbled by the people who risk their freedom, and sometimes their lives, to tell their fellow citizens and the rest of the world what is happening where they live.

In the western democracies with a more robust tradition of free speech and a free press, the idea of journalists as activists is often seen as taking sides, and violating journalistic norms. But there’s a long and honorable history of what we call “advocacy journalism” exposing injustices with the goal of of bringing about change.


Free speech starts at the edges of the networks, and ultimately that is where it is heard.

And – this is so important – we need to be spreading the concept of media literacy to everyone who will listen. This is, above all, about developing skills for critical thinking – being skeptical, using judgment, asking questions, ranging widely for information; and more. People need a refuge from the misinformation, and context to understand what is really going on.

Journalists should the leading teachers of media literacy. The ones who do journalism with integrity will be among the biggest beneficiaries, because they’ll foster much more trust in their own work – and one of the things people pay for in this world is products and services they trust.


Journalists, and journalism, are under attack around the world. I wasn’t happy with President Obama’s harsh attitude toward leaks that assisted essential national security journalism. But we’ll probably look back on his tenure as a time of overt support for journalism compared to the Trump regime.

Core freedoms – of expression, association, and more – should be everyone’s right. Media literacy is everyone’s duty. Journalists, and journalism educators like me, have a duty to be their active defenders, and explainers.

Otherwise we’ll live in a world of choke points and control by others – and Donald Trump surely craves control. Otherwise we’ll live in a world where lies are as plausible as truth because the public that doesn’t know how to tell the difference – and based on this campaign that’s the world Trump prefers, too.

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Why economic growth needs free media

This posting first appeared in Journalism, Journalists and the World.

Despite all the complaints about how poorly “the media” covered the Wall Street shenanigans that led to the 2008 Great Recession, people still turn to the unfettered and independent media outlets for news about stocks, bonds and the general state of the economy. In fact, the whole system of savings and investment would not work without a free press.wall_street_after_dark

The media — and this includes knowledgable bloggers — provide the public with loads of information about what is going on in the marketplace. They look at government regulations, company news and the overall status of the market.

One of the reasons there is global support for the U.S. stock markets is because there is such a strong tradition of free and unfettered media. (And perhaps, part of the trauma of the 2008 collapse was because how poorly the market was covered at the time.)

In fact, one of the most important part of any successful stock market is a free press that is allowed to dig into company records and government actions. Look at London, Paris, Tokyo and even Hong Kong.87502278_shanghai12

So is it any wonder there are uprisings and complaints about how things are going in the Chinese stock markets?

China Digital Times summarized a series of articles of how people across China are complaining about their losses in Chinese investment instruments.

According to the [Wall Street] Journal, some 1.6 million investors lost a total of at least $24.3 billion to collapsing wealth-management products over the past year. Many say they invested because of the perceived endorsement of government officials and state media, and are now demanding reimbursement from authorities.

Rather than move to make sure people got the best and most accurate information about where and how to invest their money, the Chinese government, instead, has decided to restrict even more information.

A series of leaked media directives published by CDT further illustrates efforts to manage discontent. Trying to steer a course between inciting panic and stoking further exuberance in June, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Film, Radio and Television told broadcasters not to “join the chorus of the bull or bear market. Rationally lead market expectations to prevent inappropriate reports from causing the market to spike or crash. […] Do not conduct in-depth analysis, and do not speculate on or assess the direction of the market. Do not exaggerate panic or sadness. Do not use emotionally charged words such as ‘slump,’ ‘spike,’ or ‘collapse.’”

Additional directives instruct editors to focus on “illustrative examples of steady growth,” while downplaying or holding back on anything negative about the property and stock markets.

Wall Street Journal reporter Laurie Burkitt retweeted one of the best reactions to the Chinese government actions:

And yet, the government continues to see it self as the main actor.

Why does this matter to journalists or even the people in the United States?
A great misunderstanding of how the Chinese markets work led to a global run on markets. And yet, only after the Western markets started falling because of what was happening in China, did people start figuring out the fall was an overreaction.

There is not enough foreign investment in the Chinese market for it to be a major problem. The London consultancy Capital Economics has said foreigners own just 2% of shares. — BBC  1/7/16

The smoke and mirrors situation in China built up by the ruling elite created a situation where otherwise strong Western investment instruments collapsed in just a matter of days. To be true, the collapse of the Chinese stock markets did indicate the Chinese economy was slowing. But again, had there been better reporting in China — that is had the government NOT restricted what reporters can cover — then the news about the slowing Chinese economy would not have come as such a shock.

The anti-free press fixation of the Chinese government is not just morally wrong, but it clearly also has a direct impact on U.S. investors, including a lot of retirement funds.4aa104a2bd6e75a39c9db8dad7319dbb

By the way, this has all happened before.

Back in the early 1990’s — when I lived in Shanghai — the government opened stock markets in Shanghai and Shenzhen. The party and government leaders encouraged people to invest. The people, figuring that the government has always taken care of them in the past will guarantee they will be taken care of in the future.

When the market collapsed in early 1992, millions of people lost their life savings. Men and women in their 60s discovered they had to now work many more years and save a lot more of their earnings to prevent starvation in their old age.

At that time the government did not step in to make good the losses. Deng Xiaoping was effectively in charge and forbade any bailouts. (Except for key companies, of course.) He made it clear the people will have to learn about the ups and downs of a marketplace economy with Chinese characteristics. He even allowed for and encourages small private companies to be set up.

The new leadership, however, has seem hell-bent to restore the all-pervasive nature of the Communist Party in Chinese society. They have apparently become nervous about the growing middle class. Seems once people get a taste of economic freedom, they tend to want political and social freedom as well. And that is not allowed.il_570xn-628619991_jc8m

So the government stepped up it campaign to crush freedom of speech and expression — including reminding the media their job is to represent the party — and stepped up its campaign of the government being mother and father.

The Chinese leadership claims they are concerned with preserving stability and avoiding social unrest. Yet the keep taking steps that lead to more social unrest.

By restricting the media to being only mouthpieces of the government, people will turn to rumors and whispering campaigns for information. And, as anyone who has played the “telephone game” will know, what goes in at the start is not necessarily what comes out the other end.

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Gallup: Americans Upbeat About Trade

A February poll by Gallup showed that Americans continue their view of trade as an opportunity for the American economy (58%) as opposed to it being a threat (34%).

This is significant because not too many people think about the impact trade has on local economies.

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Beijing makes it clear: All news must speak for the party

Despite all the public relations efforts aimed at the rest of the world to show how tolerant the Chinese government is, the current leadership is absolutely dedicated to preventing any views not in line with official policy from reaching the Chinese people.

One of the latest items is a new rule that only allows Chinese-owned media companies to operate behind the Great Firewall.

The latest came as President Xi Jinping visited People’s Daily, Xinhua and CCTV.

The Xinhua report on the visit was very clear:

All news media run by the Party must work to speak for the Party’s will and its propositions and protect the Party’s authority and unity, Xi said.

They should enhance their awareness to align their ideology, political thinking and deeds to those of the CPC Central Committee and help fashion the Party’s theories and policies into conscious action by the general public while providing spiritual enrichment to the people, he said.

Marxist journalistic education must be promoted among journalists, Xi added, to make them “disseminators of the Party’s policies and propositions, recorders of the time, promoters of social advancement and watchers of equality and justice.”

While most Westerners understand that the Chinese government tries to maintain a firm control of society and especially the media, few really grasp how severe the control is. Likewise, too many in the West are seduced by phrases designed to hide the true meaning of the words. (See The Real Meaning of “Hurt Feelings of The Chinese People” for one example.)

It is important to remember that people in the West make decisions based on the selected information allowed to be released by the Chinese government. There are no independent agencies or organizations that are allowed to monitor and confirm the data. There is no Freedom of Information Act. And the media (as made clear just this week) are not allowed to report anything that would make life difficult for the party leadership.

For a fuller discussion of Xi’s visit and the role the party sees for news media outlets, read the report at China Digital Times.

Xi’s State Media Tour: “News Must Speak for the Party”

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How China’s Corruption Issue Affects U.S. Economy

When the Shanghai stock market fell at the beginning of the year, markets in London and New York shook.

When China showed official numbers that its economic growth rate might falter, economists around the globe talked of dire financial consequences around the world.

And yet, anyone who has spent any time dealing with the China and its government would know — or should know — that the numbers released by the Chinese government are always suspect and the Chinese stock markets are about as transparent as a block of onyx.

Rule one in dealing with the Chinese government is that all things must be bent to serve the official line. If the official position is that China will have a 7 percent growth in GDP, then the appropriate government agencies must ensure the numbers they put out show at least that level. (A 6.9 percent growth is not acceptable, because it is not at least seven.)

And now Wang Bao’an, director of the National Bureau of Statistics is under investigation for  “serious violations of party discipline.” That phrase is veiled code for corruption.

As Charles Riley at CNN noted, this calls into question the data presented by Wang:

The…announcement, which is bound to raise new questions about the accuracy of Beijing’s economic statistics, came just hours after Wang briefed reporters on the state of China’s economy.

China Digital Times notes economist Xu Dianqing, of Beijing Normal University and the University of West Ontario, has raised doubts about China’s official growth rate for some time. According to Xu’s calculations, the real rate is between 4.3 percent 5.2 percent, not the official growth rate of 6.9 percent for 2015.

Granted, the investigation against Wang may not be related to his current job but may involve other activities during his 24 years in the finance ministry.

Yes, the Chinese government and ruling party (one in the same) are moving on corrupt officials. It would be nice to say that they are doing this because it is the right thing and that corruption is bad. Instead, the move seems more motivated to prevent a popular uprising against the ruling party.

China ranks 83 out of 168 on the perceived corruption index of Transparency International. (The higher the number, the more corrupt.) And we all know that China ranks near the bottom for political, social and media freedom.

The Communist Party holds onto its power largely because it promises the people of China a better life. If that better life is stalled or blocked by corrupt officials, the people see fewer reasons to support the party. If people are hurt or damaged by shoddy workmanship in infrastructure projects or public buildings because of corruption, there is less support for the government.

By moving against corrupt officials, the government wants to show that it is “doing the people’s will” by rooting out the (few) bad influences in power. The problem is that an anti-democratic, free-press bashing government by its very nature is a breading ground for corruption. There are no independent checks on abusive government officials. The Chinese government only tends to move against corrupt officials after the corruption is so blatant as to cause social unrest.

So China is corrupt. What does that mean for the average American.

For starters, look at the first two paragraphs of this entry. The world’s economy went into a tailspin because of activities in a country that regularly cooks the books and that has no resources to independently check the factual nature of its economic numbers.

Jobs in the United States are put at risk when China falters.

Yes, the U.S. buys more from China than it sells, but in the past few years the exports to China have been growing. Until the Chinese economy started to hesitate.

Exports to China were on a steady growth pattern for the past decade. January-November exports to China rose from $37 billion in 2005 to $109 billion in 2014. Then, last year, that number slipped to $106 billion. In fact, 2015 showed a marked decline month-on-month in exports to China.

Unlike what we import from China, what we sell is high-end aircraft parts, machinery and electronic equipment. These are products made with high-wage labor. A reduction in sales of these types of products overseas could mean more people forced to take lower-paid jobs and, therefore, contributing less to the American economy.

So, a handful of experts were keeping an eye on the situation in China. And occasionally there would be a story about the status of the Chinese economy. There would also be stories about how the changes in the Chinese economy affect trade with the United States. But where were the stories that showed how the Chinese economic changes impacted individual Americans?

How difficult would it be for a local reporter in Seattle or South Carolina to ask the local Boeing factory how sales to China were going? Along with the expected follow-up of, “What does it mean to local production and employment?”Washington2China

Or maybe for a local reporter in Galveston, Tex., to ask about how chemical sales are doing with China. (Yes, they are also down.)

Or even a reporter from Louisiana to call the New Orleans Port Authority to make inquiries about how shipments to and from China are doing.

Or how about a reporter along the Mississippi River asking how grain sales are doing to the rest of the world — and China in particular?

Had any of these inquiries been made and followed through, perhaps there would have been less shock about the slow down in China. People would not have been happy about the slow down, but at least they would have understood what was happening and why.

And the last time I looked, explaining what happened and why is part of the job description of being a jorunalist.

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Summary of 2015 censorship efforts from China

China Digital News has a good summary of reports looking at censorship in China.

Censoring the Media at Home and Abroad

The part American reporters should pay attention to is the part on Beijing’s efforts to control media outside China.

 

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Journalism codes of ethics from around the world

Many thanks to the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute and The Ethical Journalism Network for putting together Accountable Journalism a database of journalism codes of ethics from around the world. (See note below.)

The group admits it is not yet a full directory of codes and asks for contributions from other journalists and journalism organizations.

This database is very much still a work in process and far from comprehensive! Through our crowd-sourcing initiative we are asking media professionals to send us their respective code of ethics or an update to contact@accountablejournalism.org.

And why is it good to know about other codes?

There is a greater need to know and understand ethics in an increasingly global world and the nuances between different cultures. While media policies may differ between news organizations and certain ethical topics are colored in shades of grey, the core concepts of accuracy, independence, impartiality, accountability, and showing humanity are international baselines for journalistic work.

It is important to recognise the value of media codes not just for traditional reporters, but for anyone using the mass social media tools and who are regularly committing acts of journalism.

NOTE: This posting was corrected to note the name of the database is Accountable Journalism and to identify the organizations that put it together.

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ProPublica report: Terror in Little Saigon

Many thanks to ProPublica for this story that makes it clear there was connections between events in the United States and other countries. (Terror in Little Saigon)

All together, five Vietnamese-American journalists were killed between 1981 and 1990. All worked for small publications serving the refugee population that sought shelter in the U.S. after the fall of Saigon in 1975. At least two other people were murdered as well.

FBI agents came to believe that the journalists’ killings, along with an array of fire-bombings and beatings, were terrorist acts ordered by an organization called the National United Front for the Liberation of Vietnam, a prominent group led by former military commanders from South Vietnam. Agents theorized that the Front was intimidating or executing those who defied it, FBI documents show, and even sometimes those simply sympathetic to the victorious Communists in Vietnam. But the FBI never made a single arrest for the killings or terror crimes, and the case was formally closed two decades ago.

We are all aware that in too many countries journalists are killed for doing journalism. Over and over the phrase “violence against journalists is the ultimate act of censorship.” And yet, so few Americans think this can happen in the States.

ProPublica notes how after the murder of Arizona reporter Don Bolles 1976, a group of 40 or so reporters from around the country continued his reporting on organized crime. The idea was to make a clear statement that freedom of press/expression must be defended. The reporting lead to the conviction of Bolles murder.

The ProPublica report notes the killings of Vietnamese-American journalists in Texas, California and Virginia, arsons stretching from Montreal to Orange County, Calif. and death threats to individuals, families and businesses across the country have yet to be solved. After 30 years the FBI still has not arrested anyone for the violence or terrorism, much less charged and convicted them.

The FBI quietly closed its inquiry in the late 1990s, making it one of the most significant unsolved domestic terror cases in the country.

Forces operate to intimidate journalists around the world. There is no reason to believe the United States is immune from such actions.

Journalists who are part of immigrant communities and who cover those communities especially face dangers US-born journalists may not comprehend. Reporters cannot only be threatened while in the States, but their families in their home country can be threatened. These types of threats are typical of gang operations. Organized crime operations such as MS-13 and the 18th Street Gang have been known to use these tactics against Salvadorans and Hondurans in the United States.

These are stories that are not often told in the United States. Part of the lack of reporting comes from reduced news staffs. But also, part comes from not paying attention to the local immigrant communities.

If local news organizations were more aggressive in reporting about the dynamics within the local immigrant communities, they might see more than quaint festivals from other countries. And along the way, the readers/viewers/listeners to those news organizations would learn more about conditions in other countries and the daily connections to local issues.

Terror in Little Saigon aired on Frontline on PBS Nov. 3

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Transparency and military sales

Transparency International just issued a report on military sales into the Middle East. (Transparency International: Mideast and North African Military Corruption “Critical”)

The report notes the massive sales by Western countries is worsening many of the region’s conflicts.

Many of the 17 countries listed in the report are already notoriously corrupt, and increasing military spending without adequate oversight, the report states, means defense budgets are not being spent to meet countries’ strategic needs, weapons are increasingly trafficked over porous borders and the governments’ domestic legitimacy — already battered by 2011’s revolts — are further undermined.

Remember that TI looks at how transparent government operations are. Only two of the 17 countries covered in the 2-year report — Jordan and Tunisia — publish their defense numbers. The rest keep the numbers as secret as possible.

Another thing to look at in this situation is not only the corruption index of these countries — all “High” to “Critical” — but also at how these governments look at press freedom.

None of these countries, with the exception of Kuwait, breaks into the “Partly Free” category of press freedom by Freedom House.

Previous reports from Freedom House show a steady decline in press freedom in the area.

There is a real connection between freedom of the press and reduced corruption. Just look at the bottom 20 of press freedom and the worst 20 on the TI corruption scale. (More political freedom=More press freedom=Less corruption)

Or look at how just the general issue of transparency and free press interact: Transparency and Free Press.

Free and independent media are vital to democratic and transparent government. And remember that this is not exclusively an international issue. This idea filters all the way down to the most local of local governments. The freedom of information laws we have at all levels of government are there for a reason.

And if anyone is wondering, there is a major effort on the international level to expand FOI laws in countries where they exist and to introduce such laws where they don’t. The problem is the real need for FOI laws is also in those countries that don’t recognize press freedom.

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Human Trafficking: It’s Not Just An Overseas Thing

Local reporters looking for a story that links the rest of the world with Main Street should pay attention to the growing atrocity of human trafficking.

“You say human trafficking, and people think…international cabal, organized crime, kids coming from Southeast Asia in cages. That’s not what it is,” says Montgomery County (MD) Assistant State’s Attorney Patrick Mays, who has prosecuted numerous sex trafficking cases in recent years. “Most of it is homegrown guys who are exploiting vulnerable women and children in their own communities, or traveling them around, up and down the East Coast.” — Human Trafficking in Montgomery County, Bethesda Magazine

According to the Polaris Project, a group that helps victims of trafficking, sex trafficking accounts for 71 percent of the calls to their hotline. Labor trafficking takes up another 16 percent. of the 5,000 cases opened during 2014. The cases are active investigations that came from more than 24,000 calls to the Polaris hotline, seeking help.

The International Labor Organization estimates 14.2 million people are in forced labor circumstances.

The Bethesda Magazine article says more reports come in each day as more people become aware that human trafficking is not something far away, but rather something much closer.

 “The numbers seem low, and I think what in reality is happening is we’re seeing human trafficking kind of emerge like domestic violence did 30 years ago,” says Amanda Rodriguez, who until recently oversaw human trafficking policy at the [Maryland’s] Office of Crime Control and Prevention. “The more people are becoming aware, the more these numbers are going to go up, because it is absolutely happening next door and in the community.”

The issue involves Americans and foreign nationals caught up in one of the most dangerous and demeaning  crimes in the world. And it does not just involve — as the primary case in the Bethesda Magazine article — household employees of diplomats.

“Common types of labor trafficking in the United States include people forced to work in homes as domestic servants, farm workers coerced through violence as they harvest crops, or factory workers held in inhumane conditions,” says the Polaris Project. “Labor trafficking has also been reported in door-to-door sales crews, carnivals, and health and beauty services.”

Just about every news outlet in the United States has an audience that includes the people mentioned above. Therefore, there is no reason to not look into local labor and working conditions.

This is perhaps one of the darkest and most gruesome links between Main Street and the rest of the world. And, unfortunately, it is not limited to international trafficking.

Increasingly sex trafficking…sex trafficking is taking place in well-appointed hotels that do not fit into the red-light district stereotype of eras past. In August, Armand Theinkue Donfack, a Germantown (MD) soccer coach, was charged with prostitution and human trafficking after an undercover sting at a hotel off I-270.

 

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