Posts Tagged ‘Iran’

VOA adds some humor to Iranian airwaves

Yes, I know, the VOA is a tool of the great Satan. If that is true, then Satan has a hell of a good sense of humor.

As we have learned from Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, sometimes the best way to get at some major stories (or to get some people to pay attention to major stories) is with humor.

The Voice of America broadcasts a “Daily Show” style program each week on its Farsi network. And it is wildly popular.

The PBS NewsHour did an interview with the guys behind the show: For Iranian TV Viewers, ‘Parazit’ Offers Reprieve From Static

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.

RSF Internet Enemies List: Few Surprises

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World

Reporters Without Borders has a great list of governments that are “Enemies of the Internet.”

And there are no real surprises. The hostility governments in places such as Burma, China, Cuba exhibit toward freedom of speech, press and expression is well documented. What I like about the RSF Internet list is the detail it provides about those governments.

For example in China we learn more than just the Great Firewall is functioning but also that the number of Internet users in the country exceeds the population of the United States (384 million Chinese Internet users v. 308 million people in the United States.)

We also learn that the average cost of one hour of Internet cafe time is US$2/hour. To me this is interesting because the average MONTHLY wage in China is US$219-274.

And we learn that 72 “netizens” are in Chinese jails, among them Nobel Peace Prize winner Lio Xaiobo who is serving an 11-year jail term for writing his opinions on the Internet and helping launch Charter 08.

We also see more details about the censoring of information in China and its impact on a generation of Chinese:

On the eve of the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square events, a dozen websites such as Twitter, YouTube, Bing, Flickr, Opera, Live, WordPress and Blogger were blocked. The information blackout has been so well-enforced for the last 20 years that the vast majority of young Chinese citizens are not even aware that the events of June 1989 ever happened.

Other countries listed as enemies of the Internet are:

  • Burma: Two high-ranking government officials sentenced to death for having e-mailed documents abroad: Net censorship is a serious matter in Burma. Massive filtering of websites and extensive slowdowns during times of unrest are daily occurrences for the country’s Internet users.
  • Cuba: Despite a few improvements, Internet access actually remains beyond the reach of most of the population because of its high cost and low connection speeds. The regime, which maintains two parallel network, is now taking aim at a small blogger community that is becoming increasingly active.
  • Egypt: Since early 2007, the government has been reinforcing Web surveillance in the name of the fight against terrorism, under the iron fist of a special department of Egypt’s Ministry of Interior. Facebook is monitored, rather than blocked, so that activists can be observed or arrested. Authorities are monitoring their people’s emails and telephone calls without any court order, by virtue of the Telecommunications Law, which requires Internet service providers to supply them with the necessary surveillance services and equipment.
  • Iran: Censorship is a core part of Iran’s state apparatus. Internet surveillance has been centralized, thereby facilitating implementation of censorship.
  • North Korea: Let’s start with an average charge for one hour’s connection at a cybercafé at US$8.19 with an average monthly salary of US$17.74. The large majority of the population is not even aware that the Internet exists. An extremely limited Intranet has been created, but few can access it.
  • Saudi Arabia: Websites that broach the subject of religion, human rights or positions taken by the opposition are rendered inaccessible. Far from denying it, the authorities maintain that their censorship decisions are justified and claim to have blocked some 400,000 websites.
  • Syria: The country is reinforcing its censorship of troublesome topics on the Web and tracking netizens who dare to express themselves freely on it. As a result, social networks have been particularly targeted by omnipresent surveillance.
  • Tunisia: The Internet is seen as a potential threat to the country’s stability and image and is thus the target of pernicious censorship. Very strict filtering, opponent harassment and Big Brother-like surveillance enable the authorities to keep tight control over the news media.
  • Turkmenistan: Very strict filtering is now focused on critical publications likely to target local users and potential dissidents. Opposition websites and regional news sites covering Central Asia are also blocked. YouTube and LiveJournal are rendered inaccessible.
  • Uzbekistan: This country is deprived of independent media outlets. The authorities impose a very strict Internet censorship, while refusing to admit it publicly. Website filtering, sanctions and intimidation are used against potential critics of the regime. Netizens have learned to practice self-censorship.
  • Vietnam: The government claims to filter only content that is obscene or endangers national security, but censorship also affects opposition websites or those that are in any way critical of the regime. Censorship primarily involves blocking website addresses, and particularly concerns sites in Vietnamese.

Then there are countries the RSF is keeping an eye on, such as Australia:

Under the guise of fighting child pornography, the government wants to set up a filtering system never before seen in a democracy. The State of South Australia has passed a law prohibiting online anonymity in an electoral context.

And South Korea:

The authorities are using the criminalization of defamation against their critics and do not hesitate to make examples of them. Since June 2008, a dozen Web surfers have been briefly arrested and interrogated for having posted online comments critical of the government within the context of these demonstrations.

CPJ issues awards

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

Last week the Committee to Protect Journalists held its annual awards dinner in New York City.

Honored for their work in defending free press were Dawit Kebede of Ethiopia, Nadira Isayeva of Russia, Laureano Márquez of Venezuela and Mohammad Davari of Iran.

The organization also released its annual report.

While the CPJ looks at the whole world, its 201o report selected Somalia, Cuba, Iran, Venezuela, Pakistan, Mexico and Azerbaijan for special attention because of the threats to journalism and journalists in those countries.

New international press freedom index out and why it’s important

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

Reporters Without Borders came out with their annual Press Freedom Index this week.

Press Freedom Index 2010

Unfortunately, things don’t look all that great for press freedom around the world. And that could also mean more economic and human rights problems.

First let’s look at the RSF report and what it has to say about press freedom in the world.

According to RSF, Europe was a major disappointment.

Reporters Without Borders has repeatedly expressed its concern about the deteriorating press freedom situation in the European Union and the 2010 index confirms this trend. Thirteen of the EU’s 27 members are in the top 20 but some of the other 14 are very low in the ranking. Italy is 49th, Romania is 52nd and Greece and Bulgaria are tied at 70th. The European Union is not a homogenous whole as regards media freedom. On the contrary, the gap between good and bad performers continues to widen.

It is worth noting that, for the first time since the start of the index in 2002, Cuba is not one of the 10 worst countries. (It is #13 from the bottom.)

This is due above all to the release of 14 journalists and 22 activists in the course of the past summer. But the situation on the ground has not changed significantly. Political dissidents and independent journalists still have to deal with censorship and repression on a daily basis.

So we are not really looking at anew opening in Cuba, just the political leadership looking for a few global brownie points.

Brazil moved up 12 points in its freedom ranking largely due to real progress in media law and free press practices. It leads the way for freedom among the so-called BRIC countries as well.

Economic growth does not mean press freedom

The BRICs – Brazil, Russia, India and China – may all be at a roughly similar stage of economic development but the 2010 index highlights major differences in the press freedom situation in these countries. Thanks to favourable legislative changes, Brazil (58th) has risen 12 places in the past year, while India has fallen 17 places to 122nd. Russia, which had a particularly deadly preceding year, is still poorly placed at 140th. Despite an astonishingly vibrant and active blogosphere, China still censors and jails dissidents and continues to languish in 171st place. These four countries now shoulder the responsibilities of the emerging powers and must fulfil their obligations as regards fundamental rights.

Brazilian journalists are rightfully proud of the efforts they have made in the past couple of years to remove the last vestiges of the dictatorship years.

Yes, there is still a long way to go, but the progress has been impressive.

The bottom 10 countries on the RSF list should not surprise anyone:

169 Rwanda
170 Yemen
171 China
172 Sudan
173 Syria
174 Burma
175 Iran
176 Turkmenistan
177 North Korea
178 Eritrea

Sometimes it is interesting to compare the rankings of one group with another. In this case, I will take the bottom 10 from the RSF and compare their rankings with the Freedom House Press Freedom Index and the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index.

Freedom House takes other issues into consideration when making its evaluation. (In my opinion, it is a more thorough reading of press and media freedom because it does take into consideration political freedoms and human rights violations as well.)

The Transparency International corruption index has been a great source of information about corruption around the world. In general, you see more corruption where the media are more constrained.

RSF Ranking Country Freedom House Transparency Intl.
Worst=178 RSF Bottom 10 Worst=196 Worst=180
169 Rwanda 178 89
170 Yemen 173 154
171 China 181 79
172 Sudan 165 176
173 Syria 178 126
174 Burma 194 178
175 Iran 187 168
176 Turkmenistan 194 168
177 North Korea 196 No Data
178 Eritrea 192 126

The countries with numbers in red indicate “membership” in the bottom 10 of their respective indexes.

So there is a clear consensus of who the bad guys are when it comes to press freedom.

There is also a pretty clear correlation between the lack of press freedom and corruption.

Just in case anyone asks why Americans should be concerned about press freedom in other countries, besides the usual “if one person is not free no one is free” philosophical answer, you can also point out that without a free press corruption and all its evils is allowed to flourish.

No Reporting for 30 years!!

Here’s a new twist on how to limit press freedom in Iran — jail AND a three-decade ban on journalistic writing. Agence France Presse reports that Iran journalist Jila Baniyaghoob has gotten a one-year jail sentence for her reports tied to last year’s election unrest. Her punishment also prohibits her from writing for the next 30 years.

Both Baniyaghoob and her husband, economic journalist Bahman Ahmadi Amooi, were arrested last June for their reporting work. He got a five-year prison sentence for the articles that he wrote for now shuttered reformist newspapers.

The court considered Baniyaghoob’s reports on last year’s disputed presidential elections in iran to be anti-government.

Baniyaghoob is the recipient of the 2009 courage in journalism award from the International Women’s Media Foundation.

Step up against Internet censorship

Reporters Without Borders is stepping up the pressure on countries that censor or otherwise restrict access to the Internet in their countries. The RSF is kicking off its campaign with World Day Against Cyber Censorship March 12.

Places such as Iran and China pop into mind right away. Some democracies are also jumping on the censorship bandwagon.

A couple of years ago the Australian government proposed mandatory Internet filters be installed in all computers. At the time the Labor government did not have the votes to enforce the idea. But late last year the government announced new legislation to get the mandatory filters in place.

The so-called “Measures to improve safety of the internet for families” act is expected to be introduced in the Fall 2010 session of parliament. The measure is undergoing public comment at this time.

The proposed legislation has raised the hackles among many in Australia.

In January The Great Australian Internet Blackout urged Aussies to write to their members of parliament AND  blackout their profile pictures for a day. The cyber-demonstrations were planned for Australia Day, Jan. 26.

The problem with any filtering software — besides the anti-democratic nature of FORCING people to use it — is that the programs are easily circumvented and too often block important information. For example, most filters will block “breast cancer” but not sexual explicit web sites related to “Little Women.”

Iran closes reformist publications

Proving once again that dictators don’t like anyone looking over their shoulders.

The BBC reports on the closing of Iran’s largest circulation reformists newspaper and a weekly magazine run by the son of opposition leader Mehdi Karrubi.

Reformist newspapers banned in Iran

In an interview with BBC Persian television, Hossein Karroubi said that a few days ago, an Iranian government official had spoken to his mother, the proprietor of Iran Dokht.

The official had criticised the political stance of the opposition leader.

Hossein Karroubi said that three months ago there had been an attack on the offices of the journal and the attackers had taken “five or six” computer drives with them.

The actions fit in with the general absence of respect for civil rights exhibited by the Iranian government.

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

If Google leaves, a generation of Chinese may follow

Nice piece over the weekend in the New York Times about the potential impact of a Google departure from China and the kind of debate the announcement made in China.

China at Odds With Future in Internet Fight

The following graf reminded me of debates and discussions I had with Chinese journalists, journalism students and businessmen while I lived in Shanghai and Hong Kong:

By publicly challenging China’s censorship, Google has stirred up the debate over the government’s claim that constraints on free speech are crucial to political stability and the prosperity that has accompanied it. Even if it is unlikely to pose any immediate threat to the Communist Party, Google’s move has clearly discomfited the government, Chinese analysts say.

One of the greatest fears many in China have is instability. Considering the history of the country, that fear is understandable.

The problem is that stability is threatened more by the lack of trusted information than by the control of information. Once the government — or any gateway for information — is proved to have lied or withheld vital information, gossip and rumors take on a more trusted place in society.

During the SARS outbreak almost 10 years ago, the Chinese government not only banned any discussion of this new and unknown disease, they actually jailed people for talking about it. So in the several months that SARS was running wild in southern China, visitors to that area did not know they were being infected with a new and deadly stain of flu. It was only after the free press of Hong Kong looked at what was happening that the rest of the world learned about SARS.

Thanks to the lies and repression of information from the Chinese government, Hong Kong was effectively closed for more than a month. That does not even take into consideration all the people who got sick and died as a result of the disease.

Rumors about this strange disease included one that the disease was the result of a joint experiment between the CIA and the Chinese secret police. And people in southern China believed that. After all, there was no other news about the disease from anyone. So why not have SARS be a lab experiment that got out of control.

What the Chinese government, and any force that seeks to restrict accurate reporting, fails to understand is that people will share information one way or another. Isn’t it more stabilizing to have a trusted impartial way to disseminate news? A system like a free and independent media?

The big issue is making sure we in the media maintain the trust of our readers, viewers and listeners. As I have told my students many times, “Trust is like virginity. Once you lose it, you can’t get it back.”

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

Reporters without Borders — Iran biggest prison for Journalists

The Islamic Republic of Iran has more journalists in prison than any other country in the world — a dubious distinctin for a country already known for its close-minded ways, to say the least.

Reporters without Borders reports that Iran has recovered its status as the world’s biggest prison for the media, with a total of 42 journalists detained. If that wasn’t enough, a group of legislators who support President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad presented a bill under which detained government opponents would be regarded as “mohareb” (enemies of God) who should be executed “within a maximum of five days” of their arrest.

See the full Reporters without Borders press release : Iran Biggest Prison for Journalists.


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