Posts Tagged ‘Human Rights’


Worst year for press freedom in LatAm; US media ignores issues

Despite repeated warnings that the press freedom situation in Latin America is getting worse, little reporting on it seems to be the norm with U.S. media.

The latest report from the InterAmerican Press Association attention from AFP and El Universal in Caracas. That’s it.

Read fuller account here: Bad year for LatAm journalists, not that the US media cares

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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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Hungarian cartoonists face threat from new media law

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World

Many thanks to editorial cartoonist Matt Bors for his interview with three Hungarian editorial cartoonists and illustrators–Gábor Pápai, Joe Békési, and Péter Zsoldos–about how the media law will affect them.

(For background on the new Hungarian media law see Hungary’s media law: Back to the bad old days)

Hungarian Cartoonists Under Fire from Repressive New Law

Gábor Pápai: The consequences of the law are scary indeed.

Joe Békési: This law is not dangerous to specific individuals, but editorial offices, publishing houses, and television channels that can be ruined or forced to continually self-censor. It will kill investigative journalism.

Péter Zsoldos: Until now, theoretically we had total freedom. And seldom did any official retribution happen.

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Women and journalism: A look at the gap on International Women’s Day

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World

Let’s face it despite the positive image of Brenda Starr, women still make up a minority in the newsrooms of the world.

So on International Women’s Day, I thought I would post a few items from around the world on the current status of women in journalism.

BTW, Reuters is holding a day-long live blog on Women’s Day. To participate, go to International Women’s Day 2011 LIVE

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Nervous China blocks term associated with “tea” and “revolution”

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

After the “Jasmine Revolution” in Egypt, the party leadership in China has been getting nervous.

During the uprising in Egypt, “Mubarak” and “Egypt” were blocked by the censors running the Great Chinese Firewall. The latest term to be blocked could hurt people who want to talk about a particular kind of very popular tea.

Searches for the word “jasmine” were blocked Saturday on China’s largest Twitter-like microblog, and the website where the request first appeared said it was hit by an attack.

According to the Associated Press, activists circulated a call for people to gather in more than a dozen cities Sunday for a “Jasmine Revolution.” (China blocks web calls for “Jasmine Revolution)

According to the report, those receiving the message did not know who started the call but they seemed more than willing to pass it on. The message reportedly called on people to show up in town squares in 13 cities and shout ”We want food, we want work, we want housing, we want fairness.”

The authorities are taking the chain-letter seriously. They started rounding up  dissidents and their lawyers all day Saturday.

A U.S.-based Chinese-language website — Boxun.com — was the first to post the call. Within hours it was hit with a denial of service attack.

The site operators told the AP it was the most serious denial of service attack they ever received. They added the company believes the attack is related to the Jasmine Revolution proposed on Feb. 20 in China.

I really do wonder what will happen if people want to discuss the qualities of different jasmine teas.

UPDATE:

You can go to the Boxun site to get an update of what happened. (Use Google Translate if you don’t read simplified Chinese characters.)

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A lesson for China from Egypt

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World

Ever since the demonstrations in Egypt started, the Great Firewall of China has been working overtime to block searches and articles about what was going on. And now that the revolutionaries have won, the censors in China are even more nervous.

The AP pushed a story today that looks at the how and why of Beijing’s concerns: Wary China warns of Egypt ‘chaos’ after uprising.

Even a cursory look at the Egyptian situation makes it clear that the uprising is a major concern of the leaders sequestered in Zhongnanhai.

The massive use of texting and social media to organize the demonstrations. The calls for Mubarak to step down. And the protestors’ unwillingness to kowtow to the authorities.

These are all dangerous acts and ideas to the Chinese.

To counter the calls for democracy or more openness, the Chinese leadership falls back on that old chestnut of maintaining social stability as the most important thing.

“Social stability should be of overriding importance. Any political changes will be meaningless if the country falls prey to chaos in the end,” said the editorial in the China Daily, an English-language paper that is geared toward foreign readers.

Granted, from a Chinese perspective the horrors of the Warlord period and the Civil War make the idea of social instability a serious concern.

The problem — as I have argued before Chinese journalism students and to anyone who will listen — is that without free and open media, people distrust what is published/aired in the official media and depend on rumors and word of mouth.

We have all played the game of “Telephone” and we all know how reliable the end result is. Having to depend on rumors instead of independent media reports is clearly more destabilizing to a society than controlling the news. People end up reacting to the rumors instead of facts.

And to be fair to Chinese government, they are not alone. Iran started blocking most news about Egypt as are the Arab countries. In fact, where ever possible, dictators around the world tried to suppress news of the popular uprising.

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Expect more “surprises” unless reporting picks up

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World

Observers are shocked about how young lawyers in Pakistan are rallying behind the accused murderer of the governor of Punjab province Salman Taseer, who was an outspoken proponent of liberalism.

The lawyers were once held up as the potential leaders of a liberal democratic Pakistan when they stood up to the dictatorship a couple of years ago. And now they are supporting a man who objected to political liberalism and who was a conservative Islamic fundamentalist.

What happened and why does it matter?

The New York Times has a great article discussing this issue: Pakistan Faces a Divide of Age on Muslim Law.

One paragraph summed up the problem for the United States:

Washington has poured billions of dollars into the Pakistani military to combat terrorism, but has long neglected a civilian effort to counter the inexorable pull of conservative Islam. By now the conservatives have entered nearly every part of Pakistani society, even the rank-and-file security forces, as the assassination showed.

For all the foreign aid the United States has handed out since the days of the Marshall Plan 65 years ago, very little thought has been given to “civilian” efforts of building democratic institutions — including free and independent media.

There was always money — granted, a limited amount — available through the U.S. Information Agency to sponsor study tours and international leadership exchanges. But within government circles few saw the value in spending money on working at a grassroots level to build democratic institutions such as independent media, community groups or trade unions. But even when USIA financed these types of programs, most in the agency didn’t understand the purpose.

Then things started to change in the 1980s. Say what you will about Ronald Reagan and his foreign policy, it was under his administration that the National Endowment for Democracy was founded.

The NED was the first U.S. financed but private organization dedicated to working to develop democratic institutions in the developing world.

The core groups that receive grants from the NED are the international arms of the Democratic and Republican Parties, the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Other smaller groups also get one-time grants for specific programs.

In the 1990s the U.S. Agency for International Development also finally got the message that all the development work in the world will not do much to help unless the people are part of the program. And for the people to be part of any national development means the promotion of local groups independent of the national power structure.

By the end of the 20th century, the USAID Democracy & Governance program was running programs that supported community groups and independent media.

The USAID programs paid for U.S. journalists to teach classes around the world in interviewing techniques and production skills. And in the process, the U.S. journalists transmitted their deep-seated belief that media are supposed to be separate and independent from the government.

The U.S. is late to the game of democracy development. And with the budget crisis in the U.S. and no real constituency for international programs (other than the Pentagon), we should expect to see cuts in already limited programs that promote free and independent media.

And the worst part, as I see it, is that even if there were loads more stories about how the U.S. missed opportunities to promote our values of democracy and pluralism, I don’t think it will matter. Too many in Congress have their minds made up that any foreign aid is a waste of time — unless it promotes their particular agenda — and too many Americans just don’t care.

We will continue to be “surprised” by events around the world until we start putting some value in understanding what is going on in the world.

(I still recall when the Solidarity movement erupted in Poland 30 years ago. When a U.S. diplomat was asked why the State Department did not see it coming, he responded: “You expect us to talk to workers?” Fortunately the State Dept. has learned its lesson. Diplomats now reach out to the widest range of sources within a country as possible — the WikiLeaks cables prove that.)

To avoid more “surprises,” the U.S. media need to see that events in the rest of the world affect us. The few news organizations that still have international correspondents should be giving those reporters more time/space to explain how events in far-away lands affect American society, politics or economy.

Even more can be done without foreign correspondents.

  • The U.S. is a nation of immigrants. Every city and town has a community with connections to “the old country.” Maybe more attention needs to be paid to those immigrant communities.
  • I also defy anyone to show me one community in the U.S. that does not have some sort of economic link to another country. (And I don’t mean the local Honda dealership or the Chinese-made products at Wal-Mart.)
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The real top stories in China and not what the government says they are

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

It’s that time of year again when journalists assemble their best stories of the past year and enter them in local and national competitions. (Enter plug here for the national SDX awards and the Washington, D.C. SPJ Dateline Awards.)

And journalists around the world assemble the Top 10 or Top 100 stories of the previous year.

China is no different. But getting the government media masters to agree with the journalists and the people about what constitutes the top stories is something else.

One of the great things about Hong Kong is that it is the only place under the rule of Beijing that has a free press and all the civil rights that go with it.

As a result, journalists and academics in Hong Kong can honestly assess the media situation in mainland China.

Thanks to the China Media Project at Hong Kong University we get to see how Chinese journalists in China are pushing the envelope every day.

If it were up to the guys in Beijing who try to control all the news, the top stories would be about the glorious growth in the Chinese economy and all the great speeches made at the party congress.

Fortunately we have the CMP and its director Ying Chan to talk about the real top stories in China.

Big 2010 stories hushed, but not forgotten

An already tight atmosphere for the press in China has continued to tighten in recent weeks. Most recently, the news retrospectives Chinese media have typically compiled at year’s end in recent years have come under pressure. Guangdong’s Southern Weekend, a newspaper with a reputation for bolder news coverage, had published its annual list of distinguished journalists and media, “Salute to the Media,” every year since 2001. But authorities put a stop to the list last month, the latest in a series of unfortunate warning signs.

The first hints of trouble for news retrospectives and similar lists came in early December, as Time Weekly, published by the Guangdong Provincial Publishing Group, invited a group of scholars to select a list of “100 Most Influential People of Our Time.” The list included the recently jailed food safety activist Zhao Lianhai and several signers of the Charter 08 political manifesto, including Beijing Film Academy professor Cui Weiping and renowned scholar Xu Youyu.

Time Weekly‘s list of 100 influential people included artists, grassroots activists, educators, lawyers, officials, public intellectuals, scientists, entrepreneurs and journalists, all seen as having, as the newspaper wrote, “an irreplaceable influence on public life this year and on the development of our times.” The list was received well in China and drew attention from international media as well, all surprised at the publication’s boldness. But an order quickly came down for the recall of copies of the newspaper in circulation, and the list and related coverage was deleted from the Time Weekly website. Peng Xiaoyun, the chief editor of Time Weekly‘s opinion section, who had been in charge of the list, was placed on involuntary leave.

Note that the list was “received well in China and drew attention from international media” but was quickly shut down by the central authorities. That’s about par for the course.

It is exciting to see reporters and editors push against the confines the political masters try to create. I like to think that improved technology — the Internet and mobile phones — and exposure to the West and those “dangerous” ideas of press freedom and real reporting are helping move Chinese journalists away from Communist party note takers to real journalists.

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Belarus now sees 3-year old son of journalist and opposition leader as dangerous

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

In a move that better fits the great purges of the Soviet Union in the 1930s and 1940s, the government of Belarus after arresting most of the candidates who ran against President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko decided that the 3-year-old son of one of those candidates is a possible security threat.

The arrests of the candidates came after a demonstration against alleged election fraud. Among those detained were Andrei Sannikov, a leading opposition presidential candidate, and Irina Khalip, an investigative journalist. Both were dragged from their car and placed in jail.

And just like Stalin — obviously a hero to Lukashenko — the state issued a warning they were considering arresting the 3-year-old son of Sannikov and Khalip.

Belarus Signals It Could Seize Opponent’s Son

Lukashenko is seen by many to be the last dictator left in Europe. He has argued that Belarus should reform a union with Russia. Lukashenko went as far as signing a cooperative agreement with Russia and stated openly he would like to see Belarus once again be part of a greater Russia — ala Soviet Union.

He is also pretty much shunned by the rest of Europe. The EU is restoring a ban on issuing visas to Belarus officials — including Lukashenko — because of the crackdown.

Last month, the Belarus government was accused of launching a denial of service attack against the opposition party and media outlets. At the same time the government also launched attacks against media outlets not under its control.

The crackdown on dissidents includes the arrest and detention of dozens of journalists who were covering the demonstrations. Journalism groups around the world have called on the Belarus government to release those journalists.

The arrests of journalists in Belarus are said to be based on the law. Even though the constitution has provisions for freedom of the press, the law says criticism of the president and government is a criminal offense.

But then again, Stalin ran his purges under the umbrella of the Soviet Union’s law as well.

Belarus is ranked 154 of 178 in the Reporters Without Borders list of press freedom. That makes them worse than Russia, Singapore and Venezuela.

And — sorry I couldn’t resist — speaking of Venezuela, just to show that birds of a feather do indeed flock together (or at least have each others back: Venezuela announced it would ensure shipment of crude oil to Belarus even if it has to buy it from other sources. I guess anything to help a fellow national leader who likes repressing the media.

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Protecting sources — update on Wikileaks fallout

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

No real need to expand too much here.

U.S. Cautions People Named in Cable Leaks

As any journalist knows, protection of ones sources is important. Too bad that so many people do not see that it is also important for the US government to protect its sources, especially those who give vital information to understanding what is going on in the world. (Kind of like a reporter getting a confidential source inside a government agency or corporation.)

At least the US government is now doing something to protect many of their outed sources.

The issue here is not the release o the cables — most of them would have been made public in a few years anyway — rather it is protection of sources.

Once the cables were released, there is no reason NOT to publish them. But how hard would it have been for Wikileaks to redact the names of people cited in the cables? Especially the sources in places such as China and Libya.

I don’t see how it would have hurt the public’s understanding of the issues discussed. Hell, we journalists use confidential sources all the time. And we keep those sources confidential to protect them from reprisal.

As the Times story points out, there does not seem to have been any major fallout over the cables released so far. But there is fallout:

An American diplomat in Central Asia said recently that one Iranian contact, who met him on periodic trips outside Iran, told him he would no longer speak to him. Sarah Holewinski, executive director of the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, said people in Afghanistan and Pakistan had become more reluctant to speak to human rights investigators for fear that what they said might be made public.

The fallout is that people will not even speak with NGOs about their situation. And that really can’t be helpful.

So I ask again: Why put people in danger?

Let’s face it, there are a lot of very bad people and governments out there who would love to have more excuses to persecute and remove “trouble makers.” (At least the Times and some others have redacted some names.)

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