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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.  

How Governments Misuse Advertising To Censor Media


The Centre for International Media Assistance (CIMA) in partnership with the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) has published a study on the misuse of government advertising to censor freedom of expression and information. Titled, Buying Compliance: Governmental Advertising and Soft Censorship in Mexico, the research “demonstrates how Mexico’s federal and state governments deploy financial power to pressure media outlets and penalise critical reporting.”
The report is the third by CIMA in a series of studies on soft censorship or “indirect government censorship, includes a variety of actions intended to influence media – short of closures, imprisonments, direct censorship of specific content, or physical attacks on journalists or media facilities.” The earlier reports were Soft Censorship: Strangling Serbia’s Media and Capturing Them Softly: Soft Censorship and State Capture in the Hungarian Media.

“This report focuses primarily on financial aspects of official soft censorship: pressures to influence news coverage and shape the broad media landscape or the output of specific media outlets or individual journalists through biased, and/or non-transparent allocation or withholding of state/government media subsidies, advertising, and similar financial instruments,” says the publication’s executive summary.
Key findings are:
1. Allocation of massive governmental advertising in Mexico on partisan and political bases powerfully shapes media content. Federal and local officials take advantage of weak regulation to influence editorial content. Despite laws and recommendations that demand or encourage regulation, scant progress has been made to establish clear allocation criteria.
2. Many media outlets slant their coverage to obtain more advantageous advertising contracts. Some media owners are active partners in a corrupt symbiosis that rewards propaganda rather than ac curate news reporting.
3. Allocation of broadcast spectrum is a distinct soft censorship mechanism, used particularly to restrict community broadcasting.
4. A profound lack of transparency hinders understanding and reform of government advertising. Efforts to make federal advertising spending public have failed. Opacity also prevails at the state level; more than half of the states withhold details of their advertising allocations. And the majority of Mexican media outlets refuse to release fundamental data on audience or circulation.
5. Regulation of government advertising exists only regarding electoral campaigns, despite constitutional obligations and presidential promises. Article 134 (2007) of Mexico’s constitution barring propaganda in government advertising is often unenforced. President Enrique Peña Nieto’s July 2012 pledge to reform government advertising remains unfulfilled.
6. Arbitrary use of government advertising further concentrates media ownership and creates a false appearance of pluralism. It sustains so-called “pasquines”—multiple media outlets, especially among print media and on the Internet, that survive solely on government funds and have minimal actual audience.
7. The billions of pesos in government advertising that promote individual politicians or political party agendas with no proven positive impact on public debate are effectively subsidies for favoured media outlets. About 12 billion pesos (905 million USD) is spent by the federal and state governments on advertising each year absent any clear indication that the advertising reaches target groups or is effective.
8. Directly corrupt practices persist in most of Mexico, including offering typically poorly-paid journalists bribes—known colloquially as “chayote”—to influence their reporting, as well as other payments allegedly made to editors, owners, and publicists.
Click hereto read the full report in English.

Stifling Media Could Affect Turkey’s European Integration, Alliance With US – Freedom House

Turkish Police fire water cannon at protests against internet bill (CPJ)


As Turkey continues the crackdown on free speech by targeting journalists and media organisations, as well as stifling internet freedom through legislative amendments, the New York-based Freedom House published, Monday, a report on curbs on media freedom over the past year, but especially following the corruption scandal involving Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s government.

Democracy in Crisis: Corruption, Media and Power in Turkey says controlling free debate within the country is not only “further alienating citizens and could potentially threaten the country’s stability,” but “could also put at risk Turkey’s integration with Europe and its strong alliance with the United States.”
“The crisis in Turkey’s democracy is not a future problem,” said David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House and a co-author of the report. “The media face tremendous pressure from the government, and the government now has widened its attacks to other institutions.”
The corruption scandal unleashed a new wave of protests in which media organisations and journalists were targeted. “New anti-government demonstrations in connect with a major corruption scandal in late December saw more police violence. A dozen journalists were injured by police while covering the protests. The Turkish Journalists’ Union (TGS), which said journalists’ equipment was also destroyed, has demanded a judicial investigation,” said the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF).
On January 17, eight TV stations were issued a warning by the government that they were violating “presumption of innocence” because of their disclosures about the corruption scandal that allegedly involves senior government politicians. “Shortly after the first arrests of high-level suspects on 17 December, the eight TV stations broadcast images of bundles of foreign currency and the shoeboxes allegedly used to store bribes – details that were widely reported in the rest of the Turkish media,” said RSF.
Meanwhile, triggered by the same embarrassment, the Turkish parliament was scheduled to vote on a new Bill on February 3 that would censor further already restrictive internet freedom in the country. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said the amendments to Law 5651, “would allow the government to block individual URLs without prior judicial review, mandate Internet data retention for periods of up to two years, and consolidate Internet Service Providers (ISPs) into a single association, among other changes.”
Describing the alarming web of censorship contemplated in the amendments Geoffrey King, CPJ’s internet advocacy coordinator said, “[a]s Turkey’s Alternative Informatics Association member Ahmet Sabancı told Index on Censorship, URL blocking would require the government to rely on deep packet inspection, a particularly intrusive form of online surveillance, to help ensure the effectiveness of its new approach.”
The Freedom House report, cataloguing the ever-growing restriction on the media, including wiretapping journalists covering national security stories, referred to “The government is also threatening the separation of powers by putting the judiciary, including criminal investigations, under direct control of the Ministry of Justice. The crisis of democracy in Turkey is not a future problem—it is right here, right now.”
Click hereto read the Freedom House Report

Cameroonian Editor Dies in Prison


The BBC have reported that a Cameroonian journalist died in prison last Friday after allegedly being denied proper medical treatment during his incarceration. The 38 year old was known to have prior health problems, MSF had described him as having “high blood pressure and asthma.”

Germain C. Ngota Ngota, editor of the Cameroon Express bi-monthly private newspaper, was arrested along with two colleagues, on March 10th and charged with “imitating the signature of a member of government,” an offense carrying a sentence of up to 15 years.

“We hold them (Cameroonian authorities) responsible for his death,” said CPJ Africa Program Co-ordinator Tom Rhodes. The press freedom organization had previously sent an open letter that asserted that Ngota was held in response to his discovery of possible corruption surrounding a purchase made by a state-run oil company. Ngota’s investigation cast a shadow of doubt over the progress of Operation Sparrowhawk, an ongoing drive by the Cameroonian government to stamp out corruption.

In February, Cameroon’s Minister of Communications, Issa Tchiroma Bakary, defended Operation Sparrowhawk from accusations in the French press that indicated that the anti corruption initiative was selective. In an interview on Cameroon Radio and Television(CRTV), the minister told reporters that the measures taken by government were not selective and urged journalists not to allow “destabilization forces” within their ranks.

According to Pana, the Senegal based African news agency, Bakary also denied that Ngota did not receive adequate medical attention in a press conference held after news of his death broke out. While he recognized that Ngota’s medical file confirmed that he was ill, he was treated by prison doctors and did not display symptoms that suggested that he required emergency attention. However, Bakary did concede that the conditions at the prison needed to be improved and called for an investigation into Ngota’s death.

The Cameroon Journalists Trade Union has urged the government to set up an independent commission to investigate Ngota’s death. RSF have also called for an investigation “so that the dead man’s colleagues, who are extremely fragile, physically and psychologically, do not end up succumbing to the same dreadful prison conditions.”

Photo Credit: Le Jour