Posts Tagged ‘China’


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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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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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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Beijing police out in force/FCCC criticizes attack on journalists

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China said today it is “appalled by the attack on one of our members by men who appeared to be plain clothes security officers in Beijing.”

Other journalists who went to the same part of Beijing to do their jobs had problems with the police, including being manhandled, pushed, detained and delayed.

Full Statement.

The actions against the journalists came as they tried to cover planned demonstrations organized under the “Jasmine Revolution” banner. The government was so worried about the demonstrations that the police put on a major show of force.

In addition to the heavy police presence, street cleaning vehicles and men with brooms swept back and forth along the designated streets in Beijing and Shanghai, preventing pedestrians from slowing down. A construction site appeared on Wangfujing earlier this week, blocking off a stretch outside the hamburger bar.

Associated Press reported that Shanghai police used whistles to disperse a crowd of around 200, although it was unclear if the people were anything more than onlookers. It said officers detained at least four Chinese citizens in the city and two others in Beijing. It was not clear, however, if those detained had tried to protest.

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Journalists in Beijing district face unlisted barrier

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World

The calls for weekly “Jasmine Revolutions” in China have the security forces on edge. And it makes life difficult for journalists trying to cover the events.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China issued a statement giving the journalists some tips.

Many correspondents in Beijing have gotten calls with warnings about reporting in the vicinity of Wangfujing this weekend, ranging from friendly reminders about reporting regulations to specific warnings. The FCCC strongly urges everyone to carry all necessary press credentials and passports, to avoid being provoked into confrontations, and to avoid in any way endangering Chinese assistants.

And then it gets interesting:

Some correspondents have been told to register at a Wangfujing district office for permission to report there. This office does not appear to have a listed number and the PSB  [Public Security Bureau] was unable to provide one to correspondents who asked.

The public office where  reporters need to register to report in the area has an unlisted number.

The FCCC is concerned about and monitoring arbitrary interpretation of the reporting regulations. Please inform us if you are blocked from reporting in public space. China’s reporting regulations, which took effect in Oct. 2008, state: “To interview organizations or individuals in China, foreign journalists need only to obtain their prior consent.”

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Beijing’s marching orders to the media

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World

Thanks to China Digital News for the latest update on directives about what media are and are not allowed to run.

Here are some samples. And you will notice, that with each of these items, there is nothing that says the information is false. The central authorities just don’t want the information to get out.

You sure don’t want anyone to know that maybe a party picked candidate is not qualified.

Candidates for Representative at People’s Congress

February 21, 2011

From the State Council Information Office: Please delete all posts related to the item “Candidates for Representative at the People’s Congress Have No Legal Standing” found on any website or interactive space, including micro-blogs, blogs, online forums, breaking news services, and text messages.

The last thing a central government concerned with “stability” wants is any discussion of higher fuel costs.

Fuel Price Increases

February 19, 2011

From the State Council Information Office: For news on the fuel price increases issued by the National Development and Reform Commission, all websites are requested to close commentaries and news postings. Delete all related discussions on platforms such as micro-blogs, blogs, online forums, instant message services, and text messages.

I’m not sure what “leather milk” is but it sure upsets the central censors.

“Leather Milk”

February 18, 2011

From the State Council Information Office: Please immediately remove all news related to “leather milk” from the front pages of websites. Interactive spaces such as online forums, blogs, micro-blogs, and text messages are forbidden from hyping and discussing this incident.

And my favorite that many in the U.S. would like to see implemented in the States. (But that pesky First Amendment keeps getting in the way.)

WikiLeaks

February 17, 2011

From the State Council Information Office: It is not permitted in any form to repost or report information related to the distorted reports and malicious hype found on WikiLeaks that implicate the diplomacy, exchange reserves and investments, and other sensitive problems. All on-line interactive spaces are to thoroughly search out this type of information and immediately delete it.

Again, note that there is nothing in the “orders” that imply or state flat out that any of the information is false or misleading. The only thing the government wants is for no one in China to hear about these things.

Oh, and “jasmine” continues to be blocked by the Internet censors.

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China nervous over microblogging

Posted first at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

To no one’s surprise, the Chinese leadership sees microblogging as a tool to destroy China. And events in Egypt and Libya are just more “evidence” of that belief.

China Digital Times has a series of articles about how Beijing is reacting to the use of microblogging sites such as Twitter in the uprisings in Egypt and Libya. They are well worth a read.

Microblogging in China and Egypt: Two Views

From China Media Project director Ying Chan:

Despite all attempts by the leadership to stifle the discussion and “guide” public opinion, however, popular voices demanding the truth and pushing for greater openness have only increased. On the virtual public square of the Internet, Chinese explore sensitive issues through the constant invention and re-invention of memes, so that keyword blocking becomes largely irrelevant; they use proxy servers to get around censorship and post what they wish.

The gap between the people and the government is deepening as well, a divide compounding the gaps between rich and poor, and between the city and countryside.

From People’s Daily columnist Li Hongmei:

Just give another thought to the case of Egypt, the Western media again never hesitate to cash in on the idea that the Egyptian uprising was Internet Revolution, and it was Twitter and Face book that helped spur on international coverage of the events unfolding, which ultimately led to the downfall of Hosni Mubarak. However, the West pays no heed to the true feeling of the ordinary Egyptians who actually have no access to computers, and pushed to streets by the few elites with some idea of reform enlightened by the Western-style democracy, and motivated to follow suit by the slogans and symbols which sound all alien to their knowledge.

Kinda sounds as if the official Chinese line is that democracy is alien to Arabs and therefore they (the Arabs) shouldn’t have it.

In another article (China Official Warns Of Domestic Unrest And “Hostile” West) the party leadership pulls out all the stops:

Chen Jiping, deputy secretary general of the Communist Party’s Political and Legal Affairs Committee:

“The schemes of some hostile Western forces attempting to Western and split us are intensifying, and they are waving the banner of defending rights to meddle in domestic conflicts and maliciously create all kinds of incidents.”

And, of course, those “schemes” are all being carried out by the use of unfettered Tweets.

There are a whole series of updates and commentaries at the CDN site about China’s reaction to blogs and microblogs:

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