Posts Tagged ‘Censorship’


Lessons China Needs To Learn From Hong Kong

As usual, journalist Frank Ching is spot on in his analysis.

When Hong Kong was handed over to China, people were saying Beijing could learn from Hong Kong how to enter the modern world of finance and politics. But there are lessons Beijing just does not seem to want to learn.

For example, when a major issue dominates the public’s concern, the Hong Kong government sets up commissions to investigate and report back to the people.

Such commissions are part of Hong Kong’s tradition. The British colonial government, between 1966 and the handover to China in 1997, set up commissions of inquiry 12 times to look into such issues as the cause of riots, a fire on a floating restaurant that claimed 34 lives, and the flight from Hong Kong of a police chief superintendent wanted on corruption charges. The strength of such inquiries is that they are conducted by individuals of standing in the community who, while appointed by the government, act independently. Often, such inquiries are headed by judges.

The latest issue is the discovery of lead in the Hong Kong drinking water. The pro-Beijing government in Hong Kong reacted in a way that does credit to the recent history of Hong Kong. They set up a commission.

[T]he commission is headed by Justice Andrew Chan, a high court judge. The commission’s terms of reference are to ascertain the causes of excess lead found in drinking water in public rental-housing developments; to review and evaluate the adequacy of the present regulatory and monitory system in respect of drinking-water supply in Hong Kong; and to make recommendations with regard to the safety of drinking water in Hong Kong.

Frank also points out that the people of Hong Kong know what the local standard is and how it compares to the World Health Organization standard. BTW, 10 micrograms per liter for both.

Now take the explosion at Tianjin — as Frank did — as an example of how not to investigate a major incident that have people concerned for their health and safety.

Premier Li Keqiang promised to “release information to society in an open and transparent manner.” But the Communist Party’s propaganda apparatus has moved in as usual and demanded: “Use only copy from Xinhua and authoritative departments and media…. Do not make live broadcasts.”

Cyanide has been detected in the soil near the blast sites, but a Chinese official, Tian Weiyong, director of the environmental emergency centre of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, was quoted as saying that the level does not exceed the national standard. However, we are not told what the Chinese standard is and how it compares with WHO guidelines.

And just as a side note, Frank points out that even if China revealed the “Chinese standard,” it would probably not be of much comfort to the people. In the case of the Hong Kong lead-in-the-water situation, it would never come up as an issue in China. While the readings in Hong Kong exceeded WHO standards by four times, they would have been within Chinese standards of 50 micrograms of lead per liter of water, or five times that of the WHO.

Frank’s bottom line is something a lot of us have argued for years. When the Chinese people know the information they are getting has been carefully sifted and purified, they reject the official statements and turn to rumors for information. Rumors cause panic. And yet, the Chinese leadership says controlling information is necessary to preserve social stability. They really don’t seem to see how their actions are actually adding to instability. (Or at least they are acting as if they don’t see the connection between media control and social instability.)

Independent commissions to investigate disasters and access to the commission reports have provided stability to Hong Kong society. People may not like the results of the studies, but at least the process is public and the public knows how and why the conclusions were reached.

Frank points out

China can learn from the outside world is the creation of an independent body, such as a commission of inquiry, to show its determination to uncover the truth, regardless of where it leads. Such commissions are used around the world, including by the United Nations.

Setting up such a commission lifts a huge burden from the government’s shoulders. The trouble is that, in China, the Communist Party won’t let anyone else investigate.

He adds another problem finding individuals trusted by the people to serve on the commission. “After all, there is no independent judiciary,” he wrote, “no Independent Commission Against Corruption and no Office of the Ombudsman where people of integrity may flourish.”

This item originally appeared in Journalism, Journalists and the World.

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Summary of how Chinese authorities hinder Tianjin reporting

China Digital Times put together an excellent summary of how authorities are preventing Chinese and foreign media from covering the Tianjin explosions.

Tianjin: Journalism Stands as Official Line Stumbles

 

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Confronting shadows and corruption-media freedom linked

Kudos to an Australian news team that decided to confront members of the Chinese security forces who where shadowing the journalists.

Chinese “minders” filmed by news crew

Russia signs anti-bribery accord, but still shackles best method to fight corruption: free and independent media.

Russia, corruption and press freedom

 

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U.S. to fund anti-censorship programs

The U.S. government announced it will set aside US$30 million to fight Internet censorship.

Michael Posner, assistant Secretary of State for human rights, is quoted in the Guardian that the projects will include “slingshot” technology that will identify censored material and throw it back on to the web for users to find.

“We’re responding with new tools. This is a cat-and-mouse game. We’re trying to stay one step ahead of the cat,” Posner said. Censored information would be redirected to email, blogs and other online sources, he said. He would not identify the recipients of funding for “reasons of security”.

See rest of story at: New Efforts Announced To Fight Internet Censorship

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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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Brazilian journo qualification law raised again

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World

The International Federation of Journalists supports the Brazilian National Federation of Journalists (FENAJ) in their efforts to restore a requirement of a journalism college degree for anyone wishing to be a journalist.

And what a misguided position that is.

The campaign started up in 2009 when the Brazilian supreme court ruled that the requirement, which was imposed by the dictatorship, restricted free speech and was therefore unconstitutional.

The FENAJ argues that only properly trained journalists — with the proper degrees — can ensure fair and objective reporting.

“Journalists have to be truthful, impartial and accountable for their reporting,” said Elisabeth Costa, IFJ General Secretary and former President of FENAJ. “The public look to professional journalists for credible and objective information. We would fail them if we deny training to journalists.”

No one can dispute the need for training for journalists nor for the need to ensure journalists remain impartial and accountable for their reporting. But allowing a government to determine who can be a journalists gives the government way too much power over the news media.

A couple of quick points:

  1. No degree from any establishment of higher education guarantees skills, honesty, integrity or objectivity. (We have a Brazilian cook with all the proper certificates from university but all she can only prepare one or two dishes and is seems incapable of thinking through a recipe. But she has passed all the courses and has a degree. Do you really think this is the exception?)
  2. If the government can determine who can be a journalist, then it can also silence voices in the media that raise questions about government policy.

The more the government gets involved in reporting the news the more it can control the agenda and silence its critics. There is nothing to stop a local, state or national government official to have a journalist’s credentials revoked. Other journalists who want to keep their jobs learn the lesson quickly and stop pursuing stories that could cost them their jobs.

Brazilians should have learned from the days of the dictatorship that government control of the news is a bad thing for democracy. Most of the journalists understand that. And that is why I am surprised that their organization supports a means for government control of journalism.

If the concern is that a reporter is being biased and plays loose with the facts, then that reporter needs to be taken to task and fired. Pretty soon no one will hire that person into a media organization again. (When was the last time you saw a Jason Blair or Janet Cooke byline?)

As far as independent bloggers go, they are journalists just as much as the top reporter at the New York Times is. They share  the same constitutional protections. There is not one constitution for paid journalists at a major metropolitan newspaper and another for a blogger.

And before you say that the previous comments are U.S.-centric, remember that the Brazilian supreme court ruled the restriction on who can be a journalist can be seen as a violation of freedom of expression. The highest Brazilian legal authorities said the law imposed on the people by the dictators was in violation of a basic right of the Brazilian people.

Unlike the IFJ and FENAJ I don’t see how limiting expression and giving the government the power to control who can be a journalist helps protect and preserve democracy.

Look, maybe it all comes down to the FENAJ wants to limit the number of journalists available in the market. If that is so, then they are not really in the business of protecting journalists’ rights and democracy. They are then just proposing a restrictive labor law.

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NewsHour/Frontline look at the Chinese censorship machine

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World

These reports on PBS NewsHour are some of the best stories I have seen about how the Chinese censorship machine work.

Chinese Artist, Activist Ai Weiwei Arrested

China’s Tolerance for Dissent Tested Amid Arab World Uprisings

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Through the looking glass: Chavez get “press freedom” award

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

At first I thought this was a April Fool’s gag. Giving Hugo Chavez the Rodolfo Walsh Press Freedom Award for “defending human rights, truth and democratic values” only added to the idea that this was someone’s idea of a very bad joke.

(Rodolfo Walsh was a journalist who was “disappeared” during the time of the Argentina military rule.)

But then the date — March 30 — knocked that idea out.

When I saw the award came from a university in Argentina, it still did not make any sense.

But I guess it does to someone. Someone who has either a twisted sense of humor or no understanding what “press freedom” really means.

Seeing Chavez get this award reminds me of the comment made after Henry Kissinger got the Nobel Peace Prize: “Political satire is now redundant.”

With the exception of the Castro brothers in Cuba I cannot think of any other government leader in the Western Hemisphere who has done more to restrict freedom of the press or who has jailed or harassed more journalists than Chavez  in the past 20 years

Reports on this odd event

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China steps up censorship

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World

The Olympics are over. The World Fair has closed. Therefore, no more reasons to allow for relaxing the rules on speech and press in China.

In recent weeks the Chinese government has taken off the velvet glove to reveal the iron fist of censorship.

  • First all mention of Egypt and Mubarak were blocked from microblogs and other web sites.
  • Then the term “Jasmine” caught the censors’ eyes.
  • Directives were sent out about what was and wasn’t allowed in the Chinese media.
  • And now the hordes of Chinese censors are hard at work making sure no one talks about protests or other things that could destabilize Chinese society.

The New York Times reported yesterday that censors are apparently listening in on more mobile phone conversations. (China Tightens Censorship of Electronic Communications). The censors use their authority to cut off the connections when “improper” terms are spoken or typed.

The results are predictable:

A Beijing entrepreneur, discussing restaurant choices with his fiancée over their cellphones last week, quoted Queen Gertrude’s response to Hamlet: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” The second time he said the word “protest,” her phone cut off.

He spoke English, but another caller, repeating the same phrase on Monday in Chinese over a different phone, was also cut off in midsentence.

Then there is the episode feminist, sociologist and sexologist Li Yinhe had with the nanny state.

Yesterday, I found myself suddenly unable to send emails, but had no problem receiving emails. After looking through my email settings multiple times, I could find absolutely nothing wrong and as a last resort, I decided to call up the 263.com customer service. On the other end of the call was a polite male voice, who requested that I give him the error number, which I did. The troubleshooting took no time. He asked, “Can you see if your email has the following three English letters — ‘s’, ‘e’ and ‘x’?” I was flabbergasted beyond words. This was a business email discussing the publishing of the works of renowned German sexologist Erwin J. Haeberle in China — of course there was the word “sex” in it. Be that as it may, we finally spotted the reason, and I was able to send the email as soon as the word “sex” was deleted from the email.

And let us not forget that the battle between Google and the Chinese government is still going on. The most recent example came this week in an attack against Gmail users. (Google Says China Is Hindering Gmail)

Google says that Gmail users in China have been reporting difficulties using Gmail and that it has checked its systems and found no problems. “There is no technical issue on our side; we have checked extensively,” a company spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “This is a government blockage carefully designed to look like the problem is with Gmail.”

And so the battle continues.

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Free media provide stability; rumors lead to chaos

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World

I will repeat it again for those who have not heard it the first several hundred times: When the media are controlled by the government the people trust rumors more than the official reports. This leads to instability in society.

The latest example of how China’s policy of controlled media leads to social instability comes from a report by the L.A. Times on salt sales in China.

Japan radiation fears spark panic salt-buying in China

Because the media are controlled in China and limited about what it can say (all in the name of ensuring stability), people tend to not believe what is aired/printed. They, instead, prefer to believe whatever fanciful rumor gets passed around by SMS or word of mouth.

Let’s look at the latest round:

  1. Rumors a radioactive cloud from Japan’s quake-damaged nuclear plant will reach China. (FACT: The prevailing winds are taking whatever small radioactive clouds AWAY from China.)
  2. Iodized salt will protect against radiation poisoning. (FACT: False.)
  3. China’s sea salt supplies will be contaminated because of the damaged power plants. (FACT: No way.)

The salt issue took on major proportions. Besides the concerns about the Japanese power plants causing the problem, rumors circulated that an earthquake in Taiwan was going to disrupt the salt supply.

  1. There was no earthquake in Taiwan, and
  2. No one could explain how an earthquake in Taiwan would affect China’s salt supplies.

According to the L.A. Times story

In a scene repeated across the country, online video from the eastern city of Wenzhou showed panicked shoppers filling their baskets with tubs of salt and street vendors complaining about being cleaned out.

To restore “stability,” the Chinese government had to go into information overdrive. The problem is that no one believed the government’s statements.

Chinese authorities have tried to quash the rumors, explaining that the country has massive reserves and that 80% of its salt sources were on land.

Thousands of television screens on Beijing’s subway cars displayed a public service announcement Thursday that said: “The local salt bureau has stated that there’s an adequate supply of salt. Salt is a special product that is controlled by the government. Supply is greater than demand.”

Think about how much money and time was wasted explaining something that could have been prevented if the people had a reliable source of information. Such as independent and free news organizations.

The ruling Communist Party in China says it must control the media to ensure stability. That the people cannot properly deal with information that is not carefully vetted and cleared for “the public good.”

Without independent media poking and probing the public has nothing to rely on but rumors. This latest episode shows once again that the policy of controlling the news is more destabilizing than allowing for competing news organizations to freely and openly investigate and issue and expose the truth.

(BTW, I understand that even with competing and free news media, there will always be a group of people who believe the fantastic over facts. Just look at all the Americans who still question the birth location and religious beliefs of Pres. Obama despite all the facts that have been presented. But at least the facts are available and confirmed for anyone who wants to know.)

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Newest Posts

Memorial Funds for WDBJ’s Alison Parker and Adam Ward August 28, 2015, 7:50 pm
Thank You, WDBJ-7 August 26, 2015, 10:58 pm
Lessons China Needs To Learn From Hong Kong August 25, 2015, 12:00 pm
Journalists Can Responsibly Use Hacked Data August 21, 2015, 8:45 pm
Summary of how Chinese authorities hinder Tianjin reporting August 21, 2015, 10:28 am
Making the Best Use of Your Time at EIJ (Which Isn’t Easy to Do!) August 19, 2015, 2:00 pm
Congratulations to Bob Roberts, SPJ volunteer of the month August 18, 2015, 8:22 pm

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