Sign up for PM Award Updates!

China Represses Media at Home and Manipulates it Overseas

Tibetan Activist protesting in Front of the UN, Geneva (Pic Reuters)

Western governments, Tuesday, criticised China at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for the suppressing freedom of information and speech, including those of netizens, and the Tibetan and Uyghur minorities. Meanwhile, on the same day a Washington think-tank released two reports on China’s bid improve its international profile by manipulating and coercing institutions and individuals overseas.    

Speaking during the UNHRC sessions in Geneva, during China’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), Uzra Zeya, acting assistant secretary in the U.S. State Department’s bureau of democracy, human rights and labour said, “We’re concerned that Chinasuppresses freedoms of assembly, association, religion and expression…, harasses, detains and punishes activists…, targets rights defenders’ family members and friends and implements policies that undermine the human rights of ethnic minorities,” reported Reuters.
Meanwhile, protesting the crackdown on Tibet, Tibetan activists in Geneva displayed on top of a building a banner that read, “China fails human rights in Tibet – U.N. stand up for Tibet.”
Among the victims of the Chinese authorities’ cracked down in recent weeks are three Tibetan writers detained for “political activities aimed at destroying social stability and dividing the Chinese homeland.” These writers were sources of information to the outside world on what was happening within Tibet, which is subjected to surveillance and harsh travel restrictions – especially for foreign non-Chinese.
“Instead of trying to turn Tibet into an information black hole, the Chinese authorities must put an immediate stop to these arbitrary arrests and release those detained without delay. We urge the international community to forcefully condemn their detention,” the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF) said.
RSF released the names and brief description of the three detainees: Kalsang Choedhar, a monk from Palyul monastery, arrested in eastern Tibet, on October 12 for circulating information about a two-week-old crackdown by the Chinese authorities in Driru county; Tsultrim Gyaltsen (27), a Tibetan writer and former monk, who has written two books about Tibet and used to edit a Tibetan-language magazine called The New Generation,arrested in Driru province on October 11; Yulgal (25), a former Security Bureau officer who resigned because of the “political” nature of his work, arrested on October 12.
In another recent incident, this time in Guangzhou, Chinese authorities charged Liu Hu, an investigative journalist working for the daily Xin Kuai Bao with defamation on September 30. Hu was arrested on August 24, for posting on his Sina Weibo account about Ma Zhengqi, a senior official of the Chinese bureaucracy and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) of negligence of duty and implication in corruption.
“We condemn the way investigative reporters are being hounded, seen again in this decision to charge Liu. This is being done to deter journalists and netizens from investigating embezzlement and other illegal practices by officials protected by the party. We call for Liu’s immediate release,” said RSF.
While this onslaught against the independent media goes on in China with its repercussions in the UNHRC, the Centre for Media Assistance (CIMA), a part of the Washington DC-based National Endowment for Democracy (NED) launched two studies on Tuesday that examine the working of the Chinese media overseas. They are, ‘CCTV’s International Expansion: China’s Grand Strategy for Media‘ by Ann Nelson, who teaches at New York’s Columbia University’s International and Public Affairs and ‘The Long Shadow of Chinese Censorship: How the Communist Party’s Media Restrictions Affect News Outlets around the World‘ by Sarah Cook, senior research analyst at Freedom House, also in New York.
 â€˜CCTV’s International Expansion: China’s Grand Strategy for Media,’ makes the case that “On one hand, CCTV (China Central Television) produces sophisticated long form reports on complex international issues such as climate change; at the same time, its reporting on the Chinese Communist Party echoes the party line.
“In an era when Voice of America and BBC World Service budgets are battered by funding cutbacks and partisan politics, China is playing the long game. CCTV’s content is defined by the same ideological directives and limitations that govern the country’s university debates, feature films, and microblogs. The limitations have been exercised for decades; what’s new is their implication for global media markets.”
‘The Long Shadow of Chinese Censorship: How the Communist Party’s Media Restrictions Affect News Outlets around the World’ points out that “In many cases, Chinese officials directly impede independent reporting by media based abroad … (But) the interviews and incidents analyzed in this study suggest a systematic effort to signal to commercial partners and media owners that their operations in China and access to Chinese citizens will be jeopardized if they assist, do business with, or refrain from censoring voices the CCP has designated as politically undesirable.”

Study Explores How Different Cultures Deal With Hate Speech

A recent study sponsored by the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA), of the Washington DC-based think tank the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), explores how different cultures define and interpret freedom of expression. ‘A Clash of Cultures: Hate Speech, Taboos, Blasphemy, and the Role of News Media’ examines the fine line between what speech is proscribed and what is accepted in the digital media of different cultures.
“Among the questions being raised: When virtually anyone, anywhere-often anonymously-can create digital content that exacerbates tensions or is potentially insulting to racial, ethnic, religious, or sexual groups, should such content be banned? Does the right to free speech outweigh a group’s right to freedom from insult, defamation, or religious blasphemy? If not, where does the line get drawn-and by whom? Local governments?  The aggrieved parties? The United Nations or some other international governing body? Or will tech giants such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook essentially become the arbiters of permissible speech around the globe?” asks author of the study Jane Sasseen.
Jane Sasseen is a freelance editorial consultant who has worked with a number of major non-profit and media organizations in recent years. She has written extensively on the media being  editor and co-author of several chapters of  The State of the News Media 2012, the annual report on American journalism produced by The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. She previously worked for Yahoo! News and the Business Week.
You can read the contents here

Donor Assistance to South Africa’s Media: Does it Really Help?

Experts discussed the role development aid plays in fostering a vibrant and independent media in South Africa 20 years after apartheid, and in other countries in southern Africa as they grapple with repressive and violent governments.
Titled ‘The Role of Media Development in Democratic Transitions: the Case of Southern Africa,’ the discussion on July 25 was sponsored by Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy’s (NED) Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA).
The core of the discussion was a review of the study ‘South Africa’s Media 20 years after Apartheid’ by Libby Lloyd, a radio and print journalist who is now a consultant on media policy in South Africa. (Please see the July 18 posting on this blog). The discussants included Dave Peterson senior director of the Africa Programme at NED, Amadou Mahtar Ba (CEO, Africa Media Initiative) and Jerri Eddings (programme director, International Center for Journalists). The moderator was Reed Kramer CEO of the AllAfrica Global Media. 
Presenting her study via Skype Lloyd said that freedom of the media and freedom of expression in South Africa did not emerge only by signing a new constitution in 1994. Media freedom had evolved in the post-apartheid era in the face of many challenges.  One such challenge was distrust of the media from the apartheid days when it was a preserve of the urban, white minority. Today, constitutional freedoms allowed journalists to work without fear and the media facilitated citizens engage in noisy debates. Although that was a hallmark of democracy, the question was whether the media helped promoting other rights of citizens enshrined in the South African constitution.
Lloyd said threats to journalists remained. Politicians taken to task by the media were known to turn against journalists. However, freedom of expression and access to information was protected by the constitution and also by a number of landmark judgements by South African courts. There were impediments to exercising these freedoms such as the proposed Bill to restrict access to State information which has been sent up to President Zuma for his signature.
Another danger confronting South African media Lloyd said was the “over-concentration” of media organisations in the hands of few owners. The problem, present mostly in the print media, was similar to the situation during the days of apartheid. This was the result of budget cuts and drive for profits, which had led to “conformity of opinion and benigness” in editorial policy.
Speaking of the role development agencies played in funding media organisations, Lloyd said that due to the withdrawal of foreign funding the media was less diverse today than it was 20 years ago under apartheid. At that time foreign funding helped to promote a range of anti-establishment, independent newspapers, she said. Of them only one remained in publication today. 
However, the few instances of dedicated, targeted media support had contributed to “islands of excellence” in investigative journalism in the on-going struggle for social justice, Lloyd said. She also drew attention to stories written about South Africa by international news agencies like Reuters and AFP, which catered to audiences other than South Africa’s. She emphasised the importance of South African media writing stories for its own audience with a pithy phrase: “Until lions learn to write, the story of the hunt will come from the hunter.”
She concluded by stating the importance of developing models of donor funding where the output was not only independent of the development agencies but were perceived as such too. This would dispel suggestions that the media was serving foreign agendas and contribute to make the products more credible.
Dave Peterson of the NED responding to Lloyd’s statement that development agencies preferred to fund programmes where the impact was more easily measurable than it was in media projects, replied that measuring impact was a problem in all programmes promoting democracy. He said, in certain ways measuring the impact of funding the media was easier because it could be done by analysing circulation, size of the publication, reader responses and the content and quality of the product.
Peterson’s presentation, which was largely an overview of NED’s assistance to media organisations in southern Africa, also served as a commentary of the state of media freedom in those countries. Speaking of Zimbabwe he said it reminded him of South Africa under apartheid. He said the public was afforded a degree of access to information and permitted limited criticism of the government. However, ZANU-PF dominated the media space, he said.
Peterson said a challenge facing the media in southern African countries was colonial era press laws, financially sustaining media institutions and restrictions of access to information. However, the internet, including Ushahidi had emerged as an important alternative media platform by expanding the access of the public to information.
In conclusion Peterson said that media was not only a vehicle that promoted accountability and the delivery of civil services but had intrinsic value in furthering the values of democracy.      
Amadou Mahtar Ba of the Africa Media Initiative said that while it was true that colonial era laws that circumscribed media freedom, African countries were trying to change their constitutions to “open up” by including laws for media freedom.
Mahtar was however sceptical of the benefits of foreign donor funding in improving the domestic media in African countries. He said funding to assist African media was not really helpful because many of the media organisations in Africa were not professional. It was important these organisations operate professionally from governance and disclosure perspectives. Disclosure by the media organisations was important for the public to identify the owners of these organisations, so they could interpret  the slant of the news that was being disseminated.
Jerri Eddings of ICFJ said that the financial viability of news organisations was important. If the media organisations were unable to generate sufficient revenue journalists working for them would be corrupt and underpaid. She said it was important to take advantage of modern technology to cut costs and thereby generate revenue to help organisations function more professionally.
The presentations were followed by Q&A.