Archive for the ‘Global connections’ Category


Status of press freedom and top press predators

Last week was a busy one for identifying press freedom issues. Freedom House came out with its Map of Press Freedom and Reporters Without Borders released a list of top predators against free media.

Status of world press freedom

Freedom House released its annual Press Freedom survey this week as part of World Press Freedom Day.

And the news is not good. By the Freedom House figures, about 85 percent of the people in the world live in countries where the media are either “Partly Free” or “Not Free” from government interference.

Click here to see the rest of the story.

The top predators against free media

Reporters Without Borders has a great page that identifies the top predators in the world against free and independent media.

Thirty-eight heads of state and warlords sow terror among journalists

The list is the usual group of anti-freedom government types: Hu Jintao, Raul Castro and Kim Jong-il.

There are also the Arab country leaders who are fighting against the Arab Spring uprisings such as Muammar Gaddafi and King Hamad Ben Aissa Al Khalifa in Bahrain.

Iran is so dedicated to controlling the press that it has two identified predators: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ali Khamenei.

Click here for rest of story.


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The cost of foreign affairs, it’s not as much as you think

Despite what most Americans think — and obviously some members of Congress as well —  non-military foreign affairs does not take up a quarter of the federal budget.

The core State Department budget for 2012– that part that pays for embassies and the salaries of diplomats WORLDWIDE — is $14.2 billion. That works out to about $46 per year for each person in the United States.

Once you add in non-military foreign aid — you know the stuff that allows other countries to grow enough so they can buy U.S. products and services — the entire non-military foreign affairs budget is $47 billion — $152 per person per year.

And yet what Americans think about the foreign affairs budget is way off.

According to a survey by Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland late last year the American people think the U.S. spends 25 percent on foreign affairs.

The public thinks 5 percent is the about the right amount.

The real number is ABOUT 1 PERCENT.

But it seems that even this small amount is too much for some.

It seems that those who want to cut the civilian foreign affairs budget look at just the cash and not the human cost. (Think about the men and women in the military who would have to go into harms way once the diplomatic corps is gutted.)

There are damn few talking about how the small foreign affairs budget provides a large positive impact both for U.S. security and for U.S. jobs.

There is a disconnect between the day-to-day diplomatic and development work and the American people. The folks on Main Street get the idea of a strong military defending freedom and all, but they don’t see how diplomacy fits in.

And part of the blame for this disconnect is the inability of local news organizations to see how global issues affect local events.

The mantra of “Local! Local! Local!” has led the accountants at news organizations around the country to think that anything that touches on international news should be avoided. Such a view denies the every increasing connection between Main Street and the rest of the world.

A local paper or radio station can always find a church group that sends a mission to some country. The trick is to find economic and political connections.

For example, the state of Florida is highly dependent on tourism from Brazil. For every 82 visas issued in Brazil to visit the United States 1 job in Florida is created. The U.S. mission in Brazil (3 consulates and the embassy) issued 620,000 visas last year. (For the math impaired that is 7,500 jobs created in Florida as a DIRECT result of visas issued to Brazilians by U.S. diplomats. No diplomats. No visas.)

Miami NBC got the connection a while back with its story about how Brazil was the #1 trading partner with Florida.

It is not difficult to make the connections between the world and Main Street. Stories that make these links put international events into a local context. And with context comes a better understanding of the world.

The stories might also help dispel myths about  the U.S. foreign policy apparatus. If nothing else, the public would be educated as to the real cost and value of the civilian foreign service.

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Vienna Convention: 50 Years Old and a Local Story

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World

Too often we read or hear about some diplomat “getting off” from a crime because of diplomatic immunity. (Really bad example in “Lethal Weapon 2.” More common example in New York City with unpaid parking tickets.)

For some reason I always thought that the international agreement that provides for diplomatic immunity — The Vienna Convention — went way back in time, like right after the Napoleonic Wars. Actually, the Vienna Convention is only 50 years old.

Many thanks to Paul Behrens at the Guardian for his article about the Convention.

The curious world of diplomatic relations

It would have been nice if at least one U.S. newspaper did a similar story. Especially when the latest and most public case involved an American in Pakistan.

Think about it. There are hundreds of consulates scattered around the United States. The foreign employees of those consulates (and their families) have some form of diplomatic immunity.

The governments of Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York City regularly complain that they cannot get the diplomats in their towns to stop parking illegally and to pay their parking tickets.

There are loads other cities much smaller than the ones mentioned above that have some sort of foreign diplomatic presence.

Wouldn’t it be nice if a news organization used the anniversary of the Vienna Convention to write a few stories that

  1. Explained why a particular country located a consulate where it did,
  2. Explained how international law has reached into a local community,
  3. Discussed the economic impact of the foreign community in the area that prompted the country to set up a consulate.

And lastly, maybe explain how the Vienna Convention, while it lets diplomats in the US to get away without paying their parking tickets, also protects American diplomats abroad.

But maybe I am asking too much of local publishers and editors to see the importance of explaining the global connections to their local communities.

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Business and charity link U.S. cities and the world

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World

Just about any community paper can do a story about a church or civic group going to Honduras or the Dominican Republic to run a dental clinic or build houses for the poor. (About half of the stories in the US media about the DR are just these type. The other half are about baseball players.)

But what really makes a connection between local news and global events is good old business. Bottom line: Does the global connection mean jobs in a U.S. town?

Mlive.com has a great little story about how a medium-sized company in a medium-sized Michigan city has a business deal with other countries. The deals are worked out through a local charity (another angle for the story) but most important to the global-local connection, the deal means jobs in Michigan.

Add to this the fact that the company, HydrAid, exports all of its products overseas.

Without saying so directly, the Mlive.com story points out the link between Grand Rapids, Mich., and a dozen or so countries AND the importance of international trade to a small-medium sized company.

Now there are links that work and won’t get lost in “compassion fatigue.”

West Michigan company lands major deal to provide water filters to Honduras

I would bet that similar examples of small-town business connections to the rest of the world can be found just as easily. If people would just open their eyes.

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World Bank posts global FOI information

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World

Many thanks to the World Bank for building and posting a database of the freedom of information laws for many (not all) countries.

The database is part of the World Banks’ Public Accountability Mechanisms to keep government operations honest and transparent.

Freedominfo.org points out:

The Bank does not rate or rank the countries, but the database is expected to be a trove of information for comparative research. The Bank now is moving into research on FOI implementation issues.

The database collects information about FOI laws in seven broad categories with 30 subcategories.

Furthermore, the Bank does not score countries on their openness laws. But at least there is a list to work from.

After going to the Public Accountability page, click on the country you are interested in. Then scroll down to the FOI link.

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The Marshall Plan: What it meant 63 years ago and what it means today

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

Here it is the 63rd anniversary of the signing into law the Foreign Assistance Act of 1948. Better known as the Marshall Plan.

Seems whenever there is talk of helping a country rebuild — think Haiti — inevitably someone mentions the Marshall Plan. What people tend to forget is that the Marshall Plan was designed to rebuild societies that already had stable political and industrial infrastructures.

What Haiti and many other countries need is development help.

The Marshall Plan was not so much a “development” plan but a rebuilding plan.

The Marshall Plan, by providing goods to a war-ravaged Europe also provided support to democratic forces — from democratic socialists to conservatives. Without the Marshall Plan the Soviet Union would have grabbed more influence in Western Europe by playing on the deprivation of post-war Europe.

The marching orders from Moscow were clear to their satellite parties in Western Europe: Stop the Marshall Plan. For example, while the French Communist unions refused to unload Marshall Plan goods at the ports, the French Socialist unions were anxious to do so.

Oh, by the way, the aid was offered to Eastern Europe as well. The Soviets made sure their puppet governments rejected the help.

Again, the Marshall Plan was designed to assist societies that already had a history and culture of industrial life and democratic rule. All they needed was a little help to get back on their feet.

With the help of the Marshall Plan Europe got back on its feet. In the process the U.S. gained new trading partners instead of clients. And we got political and military allies instead of adversaries.

All in all we got a good return for our minimal investment.

The problems countries such as Haiti and many in Africa face are a lack of democratic institutions and stable and safe infrastructure. What these countries need is not so much a Marshall Plan, but rather development support on a broad front.

The development of democratic institutions is vital to economic development. People have to see they have a stake in the growth and development of their country.

When only the political elite get the benefits of industrialization and when the workers are denied their basic rights, the embers of revolts and violence start to glow. Add unchecked corrupt government practices — because of no free press or independent watchdog — can only help the embers burst into an inferno.

Fortunately, the U.S. Agency for International Development figured out some time ago that along with building roads and power grids, development programs had to include the building a pluralistic culture.

In the past 15 or so years, AID has run programs that help local journalists understand what it means to have independent media. Sessions are run on how to either get the government to enact freedom of information laws or how to improve and use existing laws.

Adding to the development issue is the work of the National Endowment for Democracy. This private, government-funded group provides funds to the international arms of the Chamber of Commerce, AFL-CIO and the Democratic and Republican Parties. The programs these groups run help build business and labor groups and  the political parties run programs to improve the stability of political forces independent of government control.

Back to the main point:

Under the Marshall Plan, no one had to worry about building democratic institutions or building and industrial culture. The people were anxious and ready to do that. The Marshal Plan gave the people the material support they needed.

What is needed in the developing world are programs to get to that first step of development: the building of a pluralistic society with independent organizations to serve as a check and balance against government excesses.

So, please, let’s get our terms right in the future. Please let’s not see any more stories that say “Haiti needs a Marshall Plan.” It’s just bad history.

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Mexican FOI law improves with new provisions

Freedom of information laws are a growing phenomenon in the world and more needs to be done to help the forces of FOI win their battles.

In Mexico, the forces of transparency won a major victory in a key congressional committee as damaging proposals were cast aside and proposals to strengthen the law passed.

And Twitter played a role.

Improvements to Mexican Transparency Law Passed

1 APRIL 2011

A handful of potentially harmful proposals to change the Mexican freedom of information law were defeated March 30 as a key congressional committee approved a package of more positive reforms.

Although approval by several other committees and the full lower body of Congress still lies ahead, and activists are concerned about the possible opposition from some in the current government, the deletion of certain parts of the Senate-passed bill was considered a major success by Mexican supporters of freedom of information. Their effort was bolstered by a targeted barrage of Twitter messages.

Rest of story at Freedominfo.org

The Carter Center and the Knight Foundation have been running a series of seminars and conferences around the world to promote the concept that citizens have a right to know what information their governments have.

 

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What’s ‘the Middle East’? Depends on the style guide or textbook

By Scott Leadingham

You’d be forgiven for admitting confusion upon hearing or reading the term “Middle East.” And lately, that’s an almost impossible term to avoid seeing or hearing in news media.

What started as a backlash against policies in Tunisia has spread across North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and north to Syria. At the moment, the United States finds itself assisting in a United Nations-backed air defense mission in Libya.

With all of this has come near constant news coverage, which has only taken a backseat at times to news of the Japan tsunami and corresponding nuclear issues.

Each country in question is unique, and the circumstances surrounding protests and uprisings differ drastically from one to the next.

But it’s not uncommon to lump all these countries together under one simple descriptor: the Middle East. With U.S. involvement in Libya, news outlets have featured reporters, analysts, pundits and everyone in between wondering if military resources are being stretched. To encapsulate a topic of discussion: The U.S. is, after all, involved in two other Middle East conflicts – in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Therein is the question. Are Afghanistan and Libya (and any number of other countries – Tunisia, too) technically “the Middle East”? Does it matter?

It absolutely matters. Accuracy in news reporting is a fundamental underpinning of credible journalism. For example, if the BBC consistently referred to Mexico as part of South America, they’d be expected to correct this misnomer.

When hearing references to Libya or Afghanistan being in the Middle East, I had flashbacks to my undergraduate geography courses. I seemed to recall that Afghanistan was decidedly not in the Middle East by geographic standards. Aren’t these universally accepted standards in academic disciplines and in journalism?

Actually, I found, they’re not. While Mexico is certainly a part of the North American continent and not a part of South America, it’s not that simple with the Middle East.

The Middle East “is not an exact term,” according to Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma.

Depending on the situation and who you ask, “Pakistan or Afghanistan can be either in or out,” Landis wrote in an email.

The Associated Press Stylebook – which, depending on your news outlet, is either the “Bible” or a nice spiritual guide in trying times – is in the “out” camp for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

From the 2010 Stylebook entry on Middle East:

“The term applies to southwest Asia west of Pakistan and Afghanistan (Iran, Iraq, Israel, Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the eastern part of Turkey known also as Asia Minor, United Arab Eremites and Yemen), and northeastern Africa (Egypt and Sudan).”

By that standard, Afghanistan is not in the Middle East, and neither are Libya or Tunisia. The latter two would, in theory, be in North Africa. It would help if the Stylebook included a North Africa entry, but it does not.

[Update: 3/30/11 1:09 p.m. ET] New York Times Standards Editor Phil Corbett got back to me after this post was originally published.

The New York Times’ style guide says:

“The Middle East comprises Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen and the Persian Gulf emirates.”

That definition includes Libya, but not Afghanistan or Turkey. (Note the differences with AP.)

Corbett wrote in an email that he agrees what constitutes the Middle East is debatable, and “there may occasionally be some contexts in which we would mention other countries in a general ‘Middle East’ connection.”

Note: I inquired of GlobalPost about its definitions of “Middle East,” but haven’t heard back.

Landis of the University of Oklahoma notes that North Africa is part of the Middle East, “according to most traditions.”

But the tradition of Bernard Haykel is less broad. Haykel is a professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University and directs its Institute for Transregional Study of the Contemporary Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia.

“When I think of the Middle East, I think of lands that include Egypt to the borders of Iraq,” Haykel says. “And Iran, too.”

He says he would correct a student who places Afghanistan in the Middle East, while recognizing there is ambiguity in the description. And, he notes, such regional descriptions are relative. In India, for example, what people in the U.S. and Europe label the Middle East is called West Asia.

Perhaps some of the ambiguity comes from textbooks.

Since I was channeling college geography courses in thinking about this issue, I asked a good source: my undergraduate geography professor.

Elaine Glenn is a senior lecturer at Central Washington University focusing on political geography and the Middle East. She says Afghanistan gets placed in different regions depending on the text you read. One text she uses, “Globalization and Diversity: Geography of a Changing World,” refers to everything from Western Sahara (in northwest Africa) to Iran as “South West Asia and North Africa.” Another text, “World Regional Geography,” calls the same region “the Middle East and North Africa,” and it includes Afghanistan in that description.

“You could technically describe anything from Western Sahara to at least Iran as the Middle East,” Glenn says, but notes that it’s subjective and “each text is different.”

Glenn says she personally tells students that everything from Western Sahara to Afghanistan could be included. But, she qualifies an important point.

“(I) try to help them understand the more subtle connections and linkages in these countries. Generally it is OK to put them all together, but a deeper study of the region reveals the similarities and differences in culture, language and history.”

Good advice. That’s not just a job for geography professors. Aside from striving for accuracy, providing such context and explanation should be a primary mission for all news outlets – regardless of the region from which news disseminates.

Scott Leadingham is editor of Quill magazine. On Twitter: @scottleadingham

 

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Miami NBC station understands local and global events have a connection

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

Congrats to NBC Miami. They see a world beyond their local beat.

The station ran a story today about how Brazil is now the No. 1 trading partner with Florida. (Brazilian Businesses Booming in South Florida) (And that doesn’t count all the Brazilian tourists that are flooding into Florida creating jobs in Florida.)

Here is another example of how a local news organization uses local information to build on an international story.

FYI: According to the U.S. International Trade Administration, while Brazil is the #1 international trader with Florida, Florida is the #2 exporter of U.S. goods and services to Brazil. (Texas is the #1 exporter.)

It is a pity that so few local news organizations have taken the time to use the occasion of Pres. Obama’s trip to South and Central America to look at how the politics and economies of that area directly affects their own local areas.

BTW, Besides being the #2 exporter from the United States to Brazil (value $7.2 billion), Florida is also the #2 U.S. exporter to Chile (value $2.8 billion) and ranks as #1 to El Salvador (value $2.4 billion). And it took me less than five minutes to get that information. Now think about how much those export sales add to the income of the state and how much the state budget would be hurt if those exports were cut or ended.

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FOI: It’s not just a local thing

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World

Welcome El Salvador to the ranks of governments that  have accepted the idea that its citizens have a right to know (most) of what the government knows.

El Salvador Joins the List of FOI Countries

The latest action by El Salvador also proves that no matter how parochial many may think the freedom of information movement is, it is really global in its reach. In fact, there is even an International Right to Know Day. (It’s Sept. 28, in case you did not know.)

The Carter Center is especially active in the global right to know/information movement.

Last year it held a major conference in Africa. (Report) The year before it sponsored a conference in Latin America. (Report) And it kicked off the regional sessions with a global conference in 2008.

The important point here is that while journalists and journalism groups are some of the most vocal in support and defense of freedom of/right to information laws, they are not the biggest users of those laws. The vast majority of FOI requests come from individuals, civic groups or private organizations.

A good example of how one person used the Virginia FOI laws is recorded in the Fairfax City Patch:

And it is clear that FOI laws are never as strong as we would like. But once the laws are on the books, it is up to the citizenry to use what is available and push for better laws. (This was the basic argument former SPJ president gave to journalists and civic groups in the Dominican Republic in 2005 on the first anniversary of that country’s FOI law.)

If nothing else, promotion and strengthening of FOI laws is a link that journalists and civil society activists share around the globe. Unfortunately, too few in the United States see that connection.

Corporations have globalized. It strikes me that the only way to keep track of what they are doing is to make sure that there are strong FOI laws around the globe as well. It further occurs to me that citizens who are used to having strong FOI laws should be reaching out to those in countries with no or weak FOI laws.

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