Posts Tagged ‘Censorship’


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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Prejudice: One of the outcomes of censorship

This article was first posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

China Digital Times pulled a great item from an interview with Chinese publisher Bao Pu and writers Guo Xiaolu and Hao Qun (who goes by the pen name Murong Xuecun) from the June 3 issue of Foreign Policy.

The blockage of the Internet by the Chinese government means, said the authors and publisher, that people are not getting enough information to make rational decisions.

[R]elatively few people actually bypass censored information on the Internet. But why? Censorship in the long run breeds prejudice. Once you have this prejudice, you think you know everything, but you don’t. That’s why they’re not actively seeking — because they think there’s nothing out there. It’s a vicious cycle.

I have long argued that censorship means the people of a country will begin to rely more on rumors and prejudices than on cold hard facts. China’s rulers, however, say too much unregulated (censored) information leads to social instability.

What they really mean is that once people start thinking critically, the iron-heel rule of the Communist Party in China will be weakened.

And what goes for China goes for other dictatorships. Think Iran, Saudi Arabia or Zimbabwe. Even the leaders in proto-dictatorships such as Singapore and Malaysia want to control all forms of media to protect their hold on power.

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China’s Foreign Minister Berates Canadian Reporter For Legitimate Question

This was first posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi decided that any questions about China’s human rights record is not something he likes being asked. Likewise, he figures no one else should be asked about it either.

An old friend, Frank Ching in Hong Kong reported about a little dust up during a joint press conference Yi had with Canada’s foreign affairs minister, Stephane Dion.

Seems a reporter asked Dion aobut China’s human right’s record. Yi jumped in, preventing Dion from answering the question. Yi then proceeded to give the usual lies about how people in China enjoy all sorts of human rights, he then added no one but the Chinese people have a right to talk about the situation in the Middle Kingdom.

Yi then began berating the Canadian reporter for daring to ask a question about human rights in China.

  • “Do you understand China?
  • “Have you been to China?
  • “Do you know that China is now the world’s second-biggest economy, with US$8,000 per capita?”

Frank hits the nail on the head: “If that is the way China behaves when it is the world’s second-biggest economy, what is one to expect when it becomes No. 1?”

He is also right when he wrote:

The media’s response should be to keep peppering him with questions everywhere he travels about China’s treatment of human rights advocates, the Hong Kong booksellers, the imprisonment of the Canadian missionary Kevin Garratt and the South China Sea.

Since these are the questions Wang doesn’t like to hear, these are the questions that should be asked.

Over and over again until they get a proper airing.

The problem is that only reporters who never hope to get to China are the ones who can ask those questions.

Journalists already in China who push as Frank urges will find out their visas are suddenly “out of order” or will not be renewed when they expire. Journalists outside China who ask these kinds of questions will find they will not be able to get a visa to visit China, even as a tourist. And forget about being on any agreed-to list of journalists to cover any event that involves the Chinese government any where in the world.

Frank looks into the big picture of the Chinese attitude that it has the right to impose its form of press repression around the world. (Think China’s application for the 2022 Olympics.)

What minister’s outburst over human rights in China tells us

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Getting around the Great Firewall of China as June 4 approaches

June 4 is remembered as the day the Chinese government brutally shut down a peaceful demonstration in Tiananmen Square in Beijing that was calling for reforms in the ruling Communist Party and in the government.

One of the most famous scenes is the lone man with shopping bags standing up to a column of tanks.

While no official death toll has been released by the Chinese government, estimates are that hundreds died in the army attack on the demonstrators. An additional 10,000 or so were arrested.

Each year in Hong Kong there is a major commemoration ceremony — the only place in China that has such a thing, thanks to the protection of civil rights enshrined in the handover treaty of 1997.

Also each year the Chinese government tries to censor any reference to June 4 or the demonstration. And each year it fails, because the Netizens of China stay one step ahead of censors.

One of the earliest work arounds was a call to honor the dead of May 35. Or Remember the Square of 8. (For the math-phobic, 8×8=64 and 64=June 4)

The good people at China Digital Times have been keeping track of the code words and phrases the Chinese censors have banned on the Internet. One of the more humorous items is how the ban on “64” caused reporting on the Shanghai stock market fell 64.89 points. (Yes, that looks like 6/4/89) Rather than risk anyone thinking it was a Tiananmen remembrance, the government doctored the stock report for public consumption.

Here is the China Digital Times list. It is well worth the read.: Five Years of Sensitive Words on June Fourth

Be sure to pay close attention the ASCII cartoon of tanks rolling over a person.

 

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Editor latest victim in Chinese censorship crackdown

This was first posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

When things start going bad the first thing dictators do is limit information about just how bad things are. And China is acting according to the same script.

As the global economic slowdown started to hit China, President Xi Jinping stepped up pressure on the media. Then more cases of corruption started popping up all over the country, including in the upper echelons of the party. To stop people seeing party leaders living well while many are losing their jobs, Xi figured the only thing to do was to prevent the people from seeing or hearing about such things.

The crackdown has been building. In 2013 Xi started clamping down on traditional media as well as online services. In January 2014 he put himself in charge of a new committee to keep an eye on the Internet.

The South China Morning Post reported:

News that Chinese President Xi Jinping will take charge of a new panel overseeing internet security and information technology development has sent a shiver down the spines of Chinese media practitioners and net users.

Many have expressed fears that the launch of such a high-level task force would deal another blow to press freedom which had already been suffering after Xi’s administration tightened controls on the internet in recent months.

Along the way Xi also said it is the responsibility of journalists to follow the Communist Party line and to promote government policies. He also launched a campaign against any dissent by not only going after dissidents in China but also those who have been driven into exile because of their views. The government has also started rounding up family members of Chinese living abroad who have expressed critical views of the government. The event that seemed to cause an increase in the repression was a letter that circulated just as the rubber-stamp People’s Congress started its sessions calling for Xi’s resignation. (China Digital Times has a good summary.)

The latest victim is an editor from Southern Metropolis Daily.88979198_5375e79ajw1f2cqbuhc0tj20zk0n47az

Yu Shaolei posted a resignation note online, saying he could no longer follow the Communist Party line. His message wished those responsible for censoring his social media account well.

Yu posted a photo of his resignation form on his Sina Weibo microblog account Monday evening. It was quickly taken down, but a few resourceful people saved a screen capture of the note.

From the BBC:

Under the “reason for resignation” section, he wrote: “Unable to bear your surname”.

This was a reference to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s tour of state media outlets in February, when he said journalists must give absolute loyalty to the Communist Party, and “bear the surname of the Party”.

Instructions to the media and Internet censors have included not only hyping good news about the Chinese economy and leadership, but also what stories not to allow out.

Again, China Digital Times does a great job of keeping track of the censorship directives under their “Ministry of Truth” section. Here are a few examples:

All in all, despite China’s efforts to become a major global player, the leadership is still acting like a group of 19th century petty dictators who think they can control all aspects of the lives of the people inside their borders.

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Turkey moves against free press

Originally posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World as Turkey Takes Dark Turn.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has always had a thin skin and low tolerance for anyone criticizing him. He has now taken the dramatic step of not only attacking a newspaper that has regularly opposed his actions, but Erdogan ordered the paper seized by the government. (See list of articles below.)

The take over is just another in a series of actions by Erdogan and his government that has earned Turkey a status not having free media from Freedom House.

According to the Freedom House report, news organizations that criticized the Erdogan government were harassed and often individual journalists were targeted with death threats.

In its report on Turkey, Freedom House laid out the steady decline of press freedom in Turkey ever since Erdogan became a national leader — prime minister and now president:

The government enacted new laws that expanded both the state’s power to block websites and the surveillance capability of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT). Journalists faced unprecedented legal obstacles as the courts restricted reporting on corruption and national security issues. The authorities also continued to aggressively use the penal code, criminal defamation laws, and the antiterrorism law to crack down on journalists and media outlets.

turkey_5years_capture_updated-445x480All this happens while the Turkish constitution claims free press is a guarantee. Unfortunately for the Turkish media, the government has pushed through a number of laws that get supported by the courts, all in the name of fighting terrorism.

Press freedom in Turkey has been in a steady decline for the past five years. The latest move by Erdogan is perhaps the most blatant attack on free press.

The highly popular Zaman was taken over by the government when police raided the offices late Friday, March 4. The paper was only barely able to get its last indpendent edition out before the takeover.

Zaman was tied to Erdogan former ally and now political foe Fethullah Gulen. The two had a falling out as Erdogan moved toward a more militant Islamic style government. Gulen — who lives in the United States in self-imposed exile — preaches a tolerant Islam and promotes dialogue among Christianity, Judaism and Islam, the so-called Faiths of the Book.

The latest Freedom House report of political freedom puts Turkey in the PARTLY FREE category, but with a downward trend. It is nestled in with other PARTLY FREE societies such as Zambia, Tanzania and Nicaragua.

Now, why should we, in the United States, care about what goes on in Turkey.

There is the basic humanitarian issue, that people should have political freedom and with it, press freedom. But on a larger issue, Turkey controls the Bosporus Strait. Through this narrow strip of water millions of dollars of goods flow in an out of the Black Sea. If turkey were to take a dislike to a country, it could prevent vessels bound to/from that from passing through.

Then there is the refugee issue. Thousands of Middle East refugees pass through Turkey on their way to Greece and western Europe. The European Union needs help in dealing with this complicated humanitarian issue.

And, Turkey is a member of NATO. It is bound to North America and western Europe by treaty. What Turkey does inside its own borders has a direct impact on U.S. foreign policy — diplomatic and military. It is a vital partner in the fight against ISIS and in dealing with the Syrian civil war.

If the Turkish government shuts down the independent media, then the only way the rest of the world will know what is going on in that country will be what the government wants the world to know. Given the volatility of the region and important role Turkey plays in the area, we need to know as much as possible about not only what the government is thinking but also the reactions of the country’s citizenry.

Articles about the take over of Zaman:

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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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New Beijing Rules Block Foreign Media Online

It has long been known that China uses the Great Firewall to block Internet sites it can’t control. (To experience what Chinese Internet users face, go to Blocked In China to see if your website can be seen on the Internet in China.)

So far, there have been “rules” about what is allowed and what is not. Now, however, the Chinese government has issued new rules that — if enforced — would knock all non-Chinese owned media outlets off the Chinese Internet.

From Quartz:

In the latest sign that China’s long-touted “opening up” is reversing into a “closing down,” a Chinese ministry has issued new rules that ban any foreign-invested company from publishing anything online in China, effective next month.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology’s new rules (link in Chinese) could, if they were enforced as written, essentially shut down China as a market for foreign news outlets, publishers, gaming companies, information providers, and entertainment companies starting on March 10. Issued in conjunction with the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), they set strict new guidelines for what can be published online, and how that publisher should conduct business in China.

Rest of article, click here.

Many Western media outlets and discussion sites are already blocked in China

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Google+ (yes, it still exists)
  • Google Hangouts
  • WordPress.com
  • selected Tumblr sites
  • Soundcloud
  • Hootsuite
  • Ustream
  • Instagram
  • New York Times
  • New York Times Chinese
  • Bloomberg
  • BBC Chinese
  • Wall Street Journal (including Chinese language version)
  • YouTube
  • selected Chinese Wikipedia pages

The media censors also don’t like search engines they can’t control, such as

  • Google
  • Baidu Japan
  • Yahoo Hong Kong
  • Yahoo Taiwan

And forget about using Dropbox, Microsoft One Drive, Google Docs, Google calendar, etc.

 

So now the leadership in Beijing has made it clear: Nothing is allowed to reach the Chinese people unless we control it.

So much for openings to the West.

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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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Corruption in China’s media

As usual David Bandurski does a great job breaking down the media situation in China.

The Roots of Media Corruption in China

Excerpt:

Periodically, China’s leaders declare a war of attrition against the spectre of media corruption. They nibble at the monster’s heels, arresting a handful of regional bureau chiefs, or “fake reporters” operating without formal press credentials. They announce a new round of moral training for journalists in the “Marxist View of Journalism.”

The core causes go unaddressed. Chief among these is the inescapable fact that media and information are defined as tools of power. Look no further than the “Marxist View of Journalism,” which states that all news must serve the interests of the Chinese Communist Party.

When political power is given precedence — as opposed to accuracy, relevance and the public interest — the upshot is that all media are in a sense morally bankrupted. Those who possess sufficient power can exploit the media. Conversely, media, as extensions of power, can apply that power for economic gain in a competitive, commercialised media environment.

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