Posts Tagged ‘China’


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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International Jobs and Fellowships for Journalists

A few interesting things came across the IJC desk this morning, thanks to GlobalJobs.org:

Senior Correspondent, IFR
Thomson Reuters

Location: Hong Kong

Position Overview:

The International Financing Review Asia, a Thomson Reuters publication, is seeking an experienced journalist to lead its People & Markets coverage, focusing on trends and regulatory developments across the Asian capital markets.

The successful candidate will need to generate exclusive story ideas ranging from individual hires to global investment banking strategy, and be able to maintain a network of senior contacts across the region.

He or she will need to be able to work quickly and accurately under pressure, and be able to understand and explain complex financial instruments. This position would suit an established financial journalist with a keen eye for the big picture and a flair for writing.

The successful candidate will also work closely with the Reuters newsroom and can expect their byline to appear on multiple platforms, including Eikon, the IFR magazines and IFR websites.

At least five years of relevant experience is required. Knowledge of Asian languages preferred, but not essential.

Bureau Chief, Singapore
Thomson Reuters

Location: Singapore

Position description

Reuters is looking for a highly experienced and dynamic Bureau Chief for Singapore to drive a multimedia news file from the city state with fast spot stories, exclusives and strong enterprise coverage. The successful candidate will be one of two deputies to the Southeast Asia bureau chief, getting involved regularly in stories across a region that stretches from Indonesia to Indochina.

As Asia’s biggest foreign exchange trading hub and a major wealth management centre, Singapore enjoys a pivotal role for Reuters’ financial clients. The bureau chief will work closely with a small team of seasoned correspondents on the big currency market and financial services issues, including how tighter global regulations are changing the competitive landscape for Singapore’s private banking business, and the pressure on Singapore’s sovereign wealth funds to sustain decent returns amid volatile global markets. The bureau chief will also play a key role in covering Singapore’s economy and economic policies, the real estate market, heavyweight companies such as Singapore Airlines and MNCs. She/He will also lead our coverage of political and general news.

The Bureau Chief should be an adept communicator, both within the bureau and across the regional editorial network, ensuring collaboration between enterprise, Reuters TV, RVN, Pictures and Graphics. The role requires a candidate who has a passion for breaking news, can focus clearly to set an agenda, and develop best coverage strategies. He/she must be an excellent writer and sub-editor, have a sharp analytical mind, see the big picture and make connections between politics, economics and financial markets.

2015 Jefferson Fellowships Program
East–West Center

Location: Honolulu, Hawaii; Beijing & Guiyang, China; Tokyo & Fukuoka-Kitakyushu, Japan

Dates: April 30-May 22, 2016

Who Can Apply

Working print, broadcast, and on-line journalists in the United States, Asia* and the Pacific Islands. Five years of experience preferred. English fluency required.

Background

The 2016 Jefferson Fellowships will focus on Asia’s search for new, more sustainable growth models through sessions with experts and one another in Honolulu and by exploring economic challenges and restructuring in Japan and China. As the world’s 2nd and 3rdlargest economies, the success of China and Japan in finding new models will have wide reaching impacts.

Deadline: January 29, 2016

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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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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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Lessons from the Wright Brothers’ First Flight

Steve Buttry has a great piece: Media lessons from ‘The Wright Brothers’: What historic stories are we missing today?

The lesson here is to be open minded and look for the unusual.

Today this can also be applied to looking for connections between international and local events.

Maybe local reporters may not be missing out on history, but they could be missing out on excellent stories by not digging deeper into local immigrant communities or economic connections with the rest of the world. (And again, I am not talking about Chinese-made products in the local Wal-Mart or the local Hyundi dealership sales.)

Many American companies are owned by foreign companies. Here is an excellent list: Ten Classic American Brands That Are Foreign-Owned

What they did not mention was how IBM sold off their computer operations to the Chinese company Lenovo. Or how Ben & Jerry’s is really owned by Unilever out of the UK or how a Chinese company now owns the AMC movie theater chain.

Yep, there are a lot of local-global connections, all that is needed is some imagination and willingness to look beyond the surface.

First published at Journalism, Journalists and the World

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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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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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