Posts Tagged ‘Censorship’


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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Belarus Fines Freelancer For Working With Foreign Media

There is so much happening in the world and news organizations have limited resources. The smarter news groups reach out to freelancers to fill the gaps in reporting around the world.

Belarus — one of the last hard-core holder overs of Stalinist rule after the collapse of the Soviet Union — enacted a law that forbids Belarus journalists from working for foreign media.

Now the government has fined freelance journalist, Larysa Shchyrakova about US$245 for breaking that stupid law.

The European Federation of Journalists is calling on the Belarus government to withdraw the fine and repeal the law.

Belarus ranks right at the bottom of press freedom according to Freedom House, with a score of 93 out of 100 for media repression and control. It also has a political freedom rating of 6.5, with 7 representing an absolute lack of any freedoms.

From the Freedom House 2015 Press Freedom report on Belarus

Despite constitutional provisions for freedom of the press, criticism of the president and the government is considered a criminal offense, and libel convictions can result in prison sentences or high fines. There are no effective legal guarantees of public access to government records. Judges, prosecutors, police officers, tax officials, and bureaucrats from the Information Ministry regularly use politicized court rulings and obscure regulations to harass independent newspapers and websites.

That puts Belarus in the same neighborhood as Chad, China and Cuba.

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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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2016 Not Looking Good For Journalists In China

French journalist Ursula Gauthier faced the wrath of Beijing censors when she wrote about China’s policy toward the Muslim Uighur minority in China.

First, Beijing accused her of being sympathetic to the Uyghurs and promoting the violent actions taken by a few radicals. Then, to make sure she could not follow up on her stories, the foreign ministry refused to renew her visa to work in China. That meant she had to leave by December 31, 2015.

Denying visa renewals or sitting on the applications for a long time has become a standard move by the central government.

In 2014 the reporters from The New York Times and Bloomberg did not know until the last minute if they would be allowed to stay. Seems their articles about how family members of the ruling elite use their connections to get incredibly wealthy ticked off a few folks in Beijing.

The ruling Communist Party has always been hostile to Western media. Even though more reporters are being licensed to work in China, the harassment they face from national to local government officials is daunting.

The Foreign Correspondents Club of China regularly assembles stories and complaints about how the government is hindering journalists. The reports used to be posted on the FCCC website. Now, however, one has to specifically request the reports or sign in as a member.

The reason is pretty clear, the club is afraid if they are too public, the government will shut them down:

To ensure the continued operation of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China we are not currently making such material openly accessible on the website.

And it is not like anyone could blame them. At least the reports are available in one form or another.

And lest anyone think this is aimed at just the media, remember that the Canadian contestant for the Miss World competition was blocked from entering China because she spoke out about human rights violations in China.

What made it worse for Beijing, of course, was that the woman is Chinese-Canadian. It is one thing for a round-eyed foreign devil to be critical of China’s policies, but a whole other thing when the critic looks like any other Chinese person.

Beijing passed a new anti-terrorism law, in part to allow them to get Western nations on their side against the Uyghurs, but also to have a legal basis for their actions inside the country.

Under the new law, “terrorism” is now defined as any idea or activity that generates “social panic, undermines public security, infringes on personal and property rights, and menaces government organs and international organizations, with the aim to realize certain political and ideological purposes.”

And for Beijing, anything that challenges the supreme authority of the ruling Communist Party has the potential to generate social panic. And, it goes without saying, has “certain political and ideological purposes.”

Things are not likely to get better in China for reporters — foreign or domestic. The rhetoric against free press is clearly not letting up and the hostility aimed at foreign media representatives from doing their job of fairly and accurately reporting events in China is expected to continue unabated

This item was originally posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.
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Threats to Mexican Media Continue Unabated

Washington Post reporter Dana Priest has an excellent piece on the threats Mexican journalists face everyday: Censor or die: The death of Mexican news in the age of drug cartels

For anyone who has paid attention to what is going on in Mexico, this is not news, but confirmation that the war against the cartels is not going so well in Mexico.

The Mexican media was just getting out from under the thumb of the oddly named Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI)  that ran Mexico for most of its 100+ years. A breakdown in the control PRI had meant journalists could start actually being journalists instead of stenographers for the government.

Then the cartels started gaining strength — with the help of corrupt national and local officials.

Suddenly the threats to free and independent journalism was no longer the loss of a job, but death.

As Priest notes:

Submitting to cartel demands is the only way to survive, said Hildebrando “Brando” Deandar Ayala, 39, editor in chief of El Mañana, one of the oldest and largest newspapers in the region with a print circulation of 30,000. “You do it or you die, and nobody wants to die,” he said. “Auto censura — self-censorship — that’s our shield.”

Just some items from the past 10 years:

In Mexico, as in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, the issue is not government censorship but death threats from criminal cartels. The inability of the governments to address the issue speaks volumes about the corruption and weak legal systems in these countries.

To be clear though, it does not mean the governments have a policy of media repression. Too many observers of Latin America see any attacks on journalists — or civic society activists — as being ordered by the local or national government. Unfortunately the threats are essentially from the “private sector” — the cartels. The law enforcement systems in these countries are so weak that the threats against journalists — and civic society activists — either are not investigated or such a weak case is built against the murderers that they go free.

This impunity cartels enjoy can only be stopped if the governments are provided enough support and help to fight back. That is why cutting support to programs that seek to build stronger legal systems is not the way to go.

This item first appeared in Journalism, Journalists and The World.

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Visas used to harass journalists

Visas are basically applications to enter a country.

The most common visa is for tourism. Brazilians coming to Florida to visit Disney World. Americans going to Xian to see the Terra Cotta Soldiers. And so on…

And then there are specialty visas.

If a person is coming to the States for just a few days for business — to attend a conference, attend company meetings, participate in corporate training — the visa is straight forward and is included in the same category as a tourism visa.

Different visas are needed if a person is going to live and work in the US. And within that group there are different categories.

Most countries have a special category for journalists.

The United States has the I visa for journalists visiting the US for a short period. (Living and working in the US as a journalists — as in other countries — is a whole other issue and category.)

While deportations of journalists arriving on a tourism visa and then doing journalism in the States are rare (and often involve issues other than journalism), other less open countries use the journalism visa to limit access to the world’s media or to punish news organizations for what they perceive as unfriendly coverage.

China has long been known as a real stickler for enforcing its various journalism visas.

The Chinese government has withheld visas from New York Times staffers assigned to its Beijing bureau to punish the paper for printing stories about corruption and favoritism in the government and ruling party. (New York Times journalist forced to leave China after visa row)

And for journalists wanting to go to China, the process is long, tedious and often ends in frustration.

For example, I applied for a journalism visa to cover a conference in Beijing. I was living in Brasilia at the time. The embassy held onto my passport for more than a month. Calls to the embassy about the status of my visa went unanswered, other than “It is in process.”

In the end, I got the visa, but on the day the conference started. Given that it takes more than 30 hours to get from Brasilia to Beijing, that meant I would not be going to cover the conference. (This was something I realized a few weeks earlier. I had to inform my publisher I most likely would not be going to Beijing.)

When I lived in Hong Kong, I often got e-mails from friends in the business asking if they should lie about their profession to avoid any drama with the Chinese government. I always advised people to tell the full truth. Beijing is notorious for using any discrepancy in a visa application to either deny a person a visa or to deport the person for “activity not in compliance with visa status” if the discrepancy is discovered later.

Unfortunately for journalists the “activity not in compliance” excuse is what is most often used to expel alleged spies. (Then again, the thinking in Beijing is that journalists are nothing but spies anyway.)

No one really expects anything less from the control freaks in Beijing.

And then there are governments such as the one in Indonesia that are officially open and democratic but that also freak out if journalists start asking too many questions.

The latest example is of a British journalist being held in Indonesia for filming while doing a documentary on piracy. Usually journalists are just expelled from the country for visa violations, this time, however, the journalists face five months in prison and a $3,700 fine. (Jail British journalists for five months, says Indonesian prosecutor)

There are examples of people who get away with coming in on a tourist visa, doing some journalism and getting out. However, once discovered, these same journalists can kiss goodbye the chance to get another visa. (India: Let us in!)

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

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The UN General Assembly Is Meeting: Put Press Freedom on the Agenda?

Joel Simon from the Committee to Protect Journalists has a featured piece in Columbia Journalism Review on how the United Nations should — but really can’t — do something about press freedom.

What can the UN do for press freedom?

Bottom line: Not much, but it can make some nice statements.

Responding to an upsurge in media killings, particularly of journalists working in conflict zones, the UN has prioritized the issue of journalists’ safety in recent years. In 2012, UNESCO, the UN agency charged with defending press freedom, launched a Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity. The following year, the General Assembly passed a resolution to create an International Day to End Impunity for crimes against journalists, marked each year on November 2.

In July 2013, Kathleen Carroll, executive editor of the Associated Press, become the first ever journalist to address the Security Council. She noted, “Most journalists who die today are not caught in some wartime crossfire, they are murdered just because of what they do. And those murders are rarely ever solved; the killers rarely ever punished.” Last May, the Security Council passed a historic resolution reaffirming the international legal protections for journalists covering armed conflict. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon regularly condemns the killing of journalists, and calls on member states to take action.

All of these measures are important, and have tremendous symbolic value. But it is difficult to point to concrete advances in response to UN action. In fact, the level of violence against journalists has increased in recent years, and imprisonment of journalists around the world has reached record levels. Recent high-profile cases—including the conviction of three Al Jazeera reporters in Egypt; the ongoing imprisonment of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian in Iran; and the seven-and-a-half-year sentence handed down to renowned investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova in Azerbaijan—demonstrate that when it comes to imprisoning journalists, repressive governments are increasingly unresponsive to international pressure.

Simon argues journalists, diplomats and other human rights defenders need to use the occasion of the annual opening of the UN General Assembly, when leaders from around the world come to New York to argue for more action to protect journalists in their home countries.

Over the years, the Committee to Protect Journalists, which I head, has used the General Assembly to secure commitments from a number of heads of state, including former President Vicente Fox of Mexico, who agreed to appoint a special prosecutor for crimes against journalists, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, who committed during a meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations to receive a CPJ delegation in Ankara.

Simon says this one-on-one approach should not let the United Nations, itself, off the hook, but it appears to the only way — for now — to get things done.

He argues journalists should demand accountability from the leaders who speak a the UNGA for their violations of press freedom. By just reporting the speeches and not looking at the records of the speakers, journalists become accomplices in efforts to whitewash media repression.

 

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Thailand: Where Exporting Free Press Is An Issue

The Thai printer of the International New York Times refused to publish the Tuesday, September 22, edition because of a front page story about the health of the Thai king. Seems the printer thought the story insulted the king, and such insults are forbidden by law.

Thai printers refuse to publish New York Times edition over article about king

Roy Greenslade at The Guardian has a wonderful piece on how this episode shows the difficulties in promoting press freedom around the world.

Thai ban on New York Times shows difficulty of exporting press freedom

Strict lèse-majesté laws in Thailand crimimalise those who are adjudged to have defamed or insulted members of the royal family.

So a factual front-page NY Times article reporting that 87-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej is in declining health and that the succession is in doubt was deemed too sensitive to allow to appear in print.

Thailand’s ministry of information has form in terms of censorship. It has blocked blogs and news websites, including Mail Online, for articles that refer to the colourful private life of Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, who has been divorced and/or separated (no-one is sure which) from three wives.

Over the past year, there has been a significant increase in lèse-majesté convictions. But they are hardly new. In 2002, a local distributor of the The Economist withheld its publication because it made an “inappropriate” reference to the monarchy.

The  Times made it clear the decision not to publish came from the local printer and was not endorsed by the Times.

Basic information about the leadership of a country is considered standard fare in countries with free press, but not so much in other places.

We already know how news about the health of Chinese government leaders is treated like a state secret. (The Soviet Union was the same way, in the bad old days of the Cold War.)

Now a printer in Thailand is taking its reverence for its king to an extreme illogical point by not publishing a newspaper that has factual information about the health of the monarch. And, let us not even go into the whole restrictions on free speech that lèse-majesté imposes on the Thai people and visitors to Thailand.

 

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Journalism and Human Rights Groups Call on Obama to Pressure China

Chinese president Xi Jinping will be in Washington later this month. A group of human rights groups, including free press organizations, sent President Barack Obama a letter asking him to raise the issue of China’s violations of basic human rights, including freedom of the press.

One of the primary targets of the Chinese government’s hostility is also one of the country’s greatest human rights success stories in recent years: an independent and increasingly vocal civil society. In the face of risks ranging from arbitrary detention, torture, harassment of family members, and being disappeared, members of these groups have pushed for urgently needed transparency at national and local levels. It is these individuals who have reported courageously on official wrongdoing. It is this community that has provided legal counsel, and public health services, and spearheaded campaigns against discrimination and for the rights of diverse groups, ranging from ethnic or religious minorities to persons with disabilities.

The letter continued:

A number of non-governmental organizations have been forced to shut their doors as a result of legally baseless official harassment; writers and journalists are being silenced through spurious charges and prosecutions…

The history of the Chinese government’s animosity to free press and independent journalism is well documented.

The China Media Project in Hong Kong is a great source for more information. Likewise, the China Media Bulletin at Freedom House is another excellent way to keep up to date with China.

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Newest Posts

War Against Journalists Continues in Mexico February 9, 2016, 2:01 pm
State legislatures veer toward secrecy January 28, 2016, 11:59 am
How China’s Corruption Issue Affects U.S. Economy January 27, 2016, 1:31 pm
How China’s Corruption Issue Affects U.S. Economy January 27, 2016, 1:31 pm
News app: The Apple of journalism’s eye? January 27, 2016, 4:08 am
Turkey orders media to conform to “family values” January 26, 2016, 10:37 pm
Rack ’em! January 26, 2016, 11:57 am

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