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Bloomberg Abandons “Politically Risky Reporting on China”

Protestors in Paris (Pic. courtesy RSF)

Even as French citizens and international press freedom monitor Reporters without Borders (RSF/RWB) mounted protests against visiting Chinese president, Xi Jinping in Paris, US financial news giant Bloomberg decided the “company was abandoning politically risky reporting on China.”

Freedom House reported that Peter Grauer, chairman of Bloomberg LP speaking in Hong Kong, Thursday, said, “[t]hat the sheer size of the Chinese economy meant that ‘we have to be there.'”

The move follows reporting by Bloomberg journalists in 2012 of massive wealth accumulated by the relatives of then president designate Xi. China retaliated by blocking the site, which was a huge financial loss to Bloomberg. Bloomberg’s biggest source of income is its financial data service, which was now barred from customers in the world’s second largest economy.
Before Thursday’s announcement, Bloomberg unexpectedly pulled out an investigation in late 2013 on Wang Jianlin, China’s richest man, and Communist Party leaders. Matthew Winkler, Bloomberg’s editor-in-chief reportedly told in a conference call “Bloomberg could be ‘kicked out of China’ if it ran the piece.”
In a hard-hitting critique of Bloomberg’s course of action Freedom House said, “Elite corruption, the topic that Bloomberg seems to have specifically shied away from, is perhaps the most volatile and important factor of all, affecting company performance, government functions, and social stability. Businesspeople and other readers will want to know if a company must buy influence and protection from officials, navigate a market warped by corruption-driven spending priorities, or weather eruptions of public anger at official graft.”
Meanwhile in the high-visibility protest in Paris on Thursday, five trucks with photomontages of Xi giving the finger were to be driven near the city’s iconic landmarks to emblemise the Chinese president’s contempt for freedom of information in his country.
“The disconnect between the official discourse about the Chinese dream and the ruthless persecution of independent journalists shows the degree to which Xi Jinping is making fun of the world,” RSF’s secretary general, Christophe Deloire said.
“Article 35 of China’s constitution says that its citizens enjoy ‘freedom of speech [and] of the press,’ but more than 100 Chinese citizens – professional journalists and netizens – are currently in prison simply for trying to report the country’s reality,” he said.
However of the five trucks, four were stopped before entering the city, although one passed in front of the Eiffel Tower. Activists on bicycles weaving the smaller versions of the banner were also in the procession, RSF said.  

Another Honduran Journalist Killed As Defeated Castro Disputes Polls

As Honduras’ unsuccessful candidate at the November 24 presidential election Xiomara Castro continued to dispute the polls result, the ensuing political turmoil has claimed another journalist’s life. What is unfortunate is that he is the third journalist killed this year in Honduras and more tragically also the third from Globo Media Group which is known to support Castro.

Juan Carlos Argeñal who was a local correspondent for the ‘Radio y TV Globo’ was shot dead on December 7 outside his home in the southeastern province Danli, said the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF)
“‘Globo’is one of the few national broadcasters to criticize the June 2009 coup d’état,” RSF said. “Its staff and reporters in the field have paid a high price for this for the past four years. It has included military occupation of their premises, confiscation of their equipment and targeted murders. The mere fact of working for ‘Globo‘ exposed Argeñal to danger.
“A total of 38 journalists have been killed in the past decade in Honduras, two thirds of them since the 2009 coup. Given the almost complete collapse of the rule of law, will this latest murder remain unpunished like nearly all the others? Does it signal the start of a new crackdown at a time when the country’s future seems more uncertain than ever?”
The earlier murders of Globo journalists were Annibal Barrow, kidnapped on June 24 and killed, and Manuel Murrillo Varela killed on October 24. Please see details of both killings here.
RSF goes on to say: “[Argeñal’s] murder could also be linked to his well-known support for Liberty and Re-foundation, the party led by Xiomara Castro, a candidate in the 24 November presidential election and wife of Manuel Zelaya, the president ousted by the 2009 coup.”
Manuel Zelaya was deposed in a 2009 coup by Porforio Lobo Sosa, who became Honduras’ president till elections in November.
Although Castro has challenged the poll results, election observers stated clearly that the other candidate – the leader of the conservative National Party, Juan Hernandez – was the winner with 36% of the vote. Castro from the Liberty Party received 28.8% and complained of “fraud” and “irregularities.”
“Observers from the European Union and Organisation of American States have vouched for the elections despite some imperfections. A group of Honduran computer programmers who with the help of crowd-sourcing took on the job of verifying the results have largely confirmed Hernandez’s victory,” commented Raul Gallegos in Bloomberg’sWorld View blog.
The Liberty party that is said to advance populist policies has support among the poorer sections of the population and the students. Student riots following the elections led to police crackdown and injuries to journalists, which included another ‘Globo’ journalist Victoria Aguilar.
This blog has a special interest in developments in media and politics in Honduras because the winner of the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism in 2011 was Honduras’ Karla Rivas, news editor of ‘Radio Progresso.’
The events taking place today were in a way foreseen by Rivas who said in her interviewto RSF before the presidential election, “As things stand, there won’t be much change in the country and it won’t matter who wins the election, given that its structures have collapsed and its institutions have been corrupted. In the world of communications, we are committed to diversity but remain true to our principles, which mean giving a voice to the sectors that have historically been marginalised.”
Gallegos laconically agrees the election has changed little: “Politicians in Honduras have been cementing the Central American country’s reputation for dysfunction.”

New York Times, Bloomberg To Be Expelled From China

US VP Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping  (Washington Post)  

Two US-based media organisations – the New York Times and Bloomberg News – could be expelled from China with Beijing refusing to renew work visas of their journalists. Recent articles by both highlighted issues of corruption and nepotism among China’s elite.

Although in the past China has delayed or denied individual journalists visas this is the first time entire staff of the two institutions have been asked to leave.
“Twenty four foreign journalists working for the New York Times and Bloomberg could be forced to leave China in the coming weeks after officials stalled over renewing their visas,” said Malcolm Moore, in the UK Guardianwriting from Beijing.
This was confirmed by David Nakamura in the Washington Post. He said “Ian Johnson, a New York Times writer based in China, wrote on Twitter: ‘China is about to expel all NYT and Bloomberg correspondents from China – unprecedented. Biden raised issue with Xi.'”
The reference is to US Vice President Joe Biden who is in Beijing at the moment as part of an East Asian tour. He was expected to raise controversial issues such as China’s designation of a Air Defence Identification Zone over the disputed islands in the South China Sea, before the issue of the journalists’ expulsion surfaced.
The Post reported that Biden who met a group of mostly American journalists privately where he said he had brought up the matter with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Biden also registered his displeasure about Chinese intimidation of journalists at a bilateral meeting a day earlier: “‘Innovation thrives where people breathe freely, speak freely, are able to challenge orthodoxy, where newspapers can report the truth without fear of consequences,’ Biden said during his remarks. ‘We have many disagreements, and some profound disagreements, on some of those issues right now, in the treatment of U.S. journalists. But I believe China will be stronger and more stable and more innovative if it respects universal human rights,” reported the Post.     
The move to deny journalists visas, appears to be in retaliation for articles published earlier by The Times and Bloomberg on financial corruption. Said Moore, “[a]n article last October exposing the secret £1.65 billion fortune of the family of the then prime minister, Wen Jiabao, enraged the Chinese government, which has since censored both the English and Chinese websites and denied journalist visas for two incoming staff.”
On November 17, the New York Times carried an article on Bloomberg’s chief editor, Matthew Winkler, killing a story by one of the organisation’s Hong Kong-based staffers Michael Forsythe who was also suspended for working on an investigative story on a Chinese billionaire. The Times said, “Winkler had decided to kill “an investigative article because of fears that Bloomberg would be expelled from China.” Please see this blog’s post here.
Meanwhile, this blogin a posting on November 13 titled ‘US Media Moghuls Helping China Export Repression?’ highlighted an article in The Atlantic titled ‘Legitimising the ‘Civilized Internet’: China’s Seduction of U.S. Media’ highlighted the journal discussing a meeting of the Presidium of the World Media Summit in October. The WMS is the brainchild of the Chinese Communist Party but has among the members of its top decision-making body a number of US media companies including The New York Times, Google, Associated Press, as well as the BBC, Al Jazeera and others.
The Atlantic suggests that one of the reasons these organisations are in the presidium is to improve the penetration of their media businesses into China. The New York Times, BBC, Google and CNN websites have been blocked on and off in China in the past and reporters from The Times and Al Jazeera not granted visas to enter the Chinese mainland.

Beijing Handtwists US Media To Suppress China News

Paramilitary officers at Tiannamen Square (Pic. courtesy WP)

China’s moves to control opinion overseas appears to have taken a step forward with the pliant chief editor at one of United States’ most prestigious news agencies killing a story that probed a Chinese billionaire followed by the suspension of the journalist who wrote it.

The New York Times said in its Sunday edition (Nov.17) that Michael Forsythe, a Hong Kong-based journalist for Bloomberg had been suspended after the organisation’s editor-in-chief Matthew Winkler had decided to kill “an investigative article because of fears that Bloomberg would be expelled from China.”
“Last week, after the allegations of self-censorship were published, reporters and editors in the Bloomberg bureau in Hong Kong who had worked on the unpublished article were called into a series of meetings, Bloomberg employees said,” reported The Times.
Norman Pearlstein who worked for Bloomberg News’ parent company Bloomberg LP had said he had “spoken Mr. Winkler and had heard that ‘the story was just not ready for publication and they’re still working on it,'” The Times continued.
The Times story went on to point out that following an expose by Bloomberg News last year about the present Chinese President Xi Jinping, subscriptions to the outlet’s terminals in China had fallen when government institutions had been ordered not to subscribe. Further, the Bloomberg website was blocked and its correspondents found it difficult to get residency visas in China.
Meanwhile, also on Sunday, Fred Hiatt of the Washington Post used the Forsythe saga and other incidents to point out Beijing’s systematic plan of controlling opinion abroad by using its power, wealth and prestige. Hiatt writes “Paul Mooney, a veteran Asia journalist for Reuters, recently was denied a visa, with no reason given, according to the agency. Knowledgeable China hands for Bloomberg News, the New York Times and The Washington Post have met similar fates.”
But journalists are not the only ones. Academics are too. Hiatt describes Beijing’s refusal of a visa to Princeton academic Perry Link because he had contributed a chapter on the Muslim Uyghur minority in China’s Xianjing. “[b]ecause China never explains its refusals or spells out what kind of scholarship is disqualifying, the result is a kind of self-censorship and narrowing of research topics that is damaging even if impossible to quantify,” said Hiatt.
Hiatt however says China only hurts itself by doing this because, among other reasons, its leaders who wish to see China as a self-confident nation has the country’s prestige undermined “by their apparent fear of honest scrutiny.”
This blogin a posting on November 13 titled ‘US Media Moghuls Helping China Export Repression?’ highlighted an article in The Atlantic titled ‘Legitimising the ‘Civilized Internet’: China’s Seduction of U.S. Media’ where the journal discusses a meeting of the Presidium of the World Media Summit in October. The WMS is the brainchild of the Chinese Communist Party but has among the members of its top decision-making body a number of US media companies including The New York Times, Google, Associated Press, as well as the BBC, Al Jazeera and others.
The Atlantic suggests that one of the reasons these organisations are in the presidium is to improve the penetration of their media businesses into China. The New York Times, BBC, Google and CNN websites have been blocked on and off in China in the past and reporters from The Times and Al Jazeera not granted visas to enter the Chinese mainland.

No Distiction Between Big and Small as China Cracksdown on Internet Dissent

Charles Xue (Courtesy The Economist)

The Bo Xilai trial in China has not only exposed the Beijing government’s desperate attempts to obfuscate deep-seated fissures within the ruling elite, but that the internet has become as decisive a battleground in the contest between the regime and pro-democracy activists as physical space.

Although there was brief optimism that permitting selected journalists to cover court proceedings in the trial of the disgraced former party boss of the Chongqin city-province demonstrated a new openness of recently-elected President Xi’s drive to fight corruption, such views are amazingly naïve.
The Economistin a recent article quoted the Legal Evening News saying that the police “consider the online world as much a public space as the real one.” The crackdown has targeted two types of internet activists The Economist said – those it describes as “small fry” and the really important ones – “the Big Vs.”

“‘Big Vs,’ (are) popular microbloggers … who have been verified not to be writing under a pseudonym (and so have a V beside their name). Many Big Vs have millions of followers and some write provocatively about sensitive social and political issues. On August 23rdBeijing police detained one Big V, Charles Xue, and later accused him of holding group sex parties with prostitutes. Mr Xue, who is a naturalised American, is a wealthy businessman with 12m followers,” The Economist said.
The Economist said that Chinese authorities have been both courting and intimidating the Big Vs in an effort to control information. However, the detention of Xue is interpreted by as Beijing’s message that not even foreign passport holders and wealthy businessmen like him are safe. Another Big V with a big fan club (50 million followers on Sina Weibo) is Taiwanese Kai-Fu Lee who was also arrested, said The Economist.
But interestingly, examining the way the Big Vs operate is a window into many issues deemed important as the social media takes over as the formal media in politically repressive societies remain shackled by the government. The Economist says that the Big Vs have “business interests to protect.” The question of how to navigate the thin line between running a media organisation as commercial enterprise while at the same time providing news, which is a public service, offers a challenge even in liberal democracies. It can be only more daunting in one-party dominated plutocracy like present-day China.
Beijing‘s has also put into operation the other method of silencing dissent – by co-opting dissidents. The Eonomis says the Big V were part of a “forum to promote social responsibility among microbloggers. Lu Wei, chief of the State Internet Information Office, declared that microbloggers with large followings had a particular responsibility to tell the truth, protect state interests and social order, and uphold the law and ‘socialist’ ideals and morals.”
The Big V had apparently agreed to the strictures, which some among them had endorsed as reasonable. These strictures are known as the “seven bottom lines” the red line that should not be crossed.
Meanwhile, the “small fry” referred to with derision by The Economist who were arrested in police swoops between the August 20th and 23rd remain a cause for concern. Among them is Liu Hu, a journalist with the daily Xin Kuai Bao, who was arrested on August 23, for “spreading false rumours.” Apparently he had asked that an official of the Chongquin chamber of commerce be investigated for negligence.
The Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF) said his house was searched, seized his laptop and computer and closed his Weibo account.
RSF says the charge of spreading false rumours is frequently used by Chinese authorities to arrest internet activists and netizens citing that Yang Xiuyu and Qin Zhihui (Qin Huohuo), were also arrested on this charge in Beijing on August 22.
“The charge of spreading false rumours brought against Liu Hu is very disturbing,” RSF said in a statement on August 26. “It shows that, although the Bo Xilai trial is supposed to send a message that the party is waging an all-out fight against internal corruption, in fact the authorities continue to persecute news providers who cover corruption cases.”
Meanwhile, actions of Chinese authorities go to show they had turned the Bo Xilai trial into a corruption case to prevent it exposing the fissures within the CCP. They refused to allow Bo’s final statement referring to those issues from appearing in court transcripts. “The discussion appeared to have been kept from public view because officials overseeing the trial and party leaders wanted to prevent any mention of infighting among party elites, said a person briefed on the court proceedings,” wrote Edward Wong in the New York Times on August 29.
Ai Weiwei, the famous Chinese dissident wrote on the larger implications of releasing censored versions of the trial in a commentary to Bloombergon August 27. “[b]y presenting a censored account, officials raised more questions than they answered. The public knew they weren’t seeing the whole picture, and could only speculate on what major pieces of the story remained hidden. Even their reactions were censored: Within a day, the Jinan court received more than 4,000 comments on Weibo, a Chinese version of Twitter, but only 22 were allowed to be shown,” said Ai Weiwei.