Tag Archives: media

China and press freedom

Credit: Ingmar Zahorsky

LAST WEEK IN part #1 of this blog I recounted the methods of restricting internet access and the pitched battle over freedom online.

This week I want to try and give some idea of press freedom more broadly. It was good to explore beyond the general and undetailed assumption that there just must be massive restrictions. There are some lively details and interesting ripostes.

Skewing

I’ll be clear from the start that Chinese media outlets do not publish anything that the Party isn’t okay with. There is a lot of blanket copy-paste of whatever comes out of the state news agency (Xinhua) and the state television station (CCTV – no laughing, you British) – and that should tell you about the room for manoeuvre.

Foreign media have more latitude – but they face a whole different set of challenges, something I explore in depth in a later episode of this blog. But the skewing of the home coverage is obviously a lot more subtle and less blatant than stereotypical and outdated caricatures might lead you to think.

There is only so many times you can ask Chinese news organisations about censorship. You get a couple of tension-raising “no comment”s if you’re lucky, but mostly you’ll get an affable reply about it not really affecting the day-to-day work of reporters.

Verification

More than once you hear the argument that what one might regard as flagrant censorship is not so different from the process in western media outlets – where it would be editorially unethical to rush through publication of a report without verification. But there is verification of facts, and then there is verification of select facts.

Credit: Ignacio GarciaAgain here, though, some Chinese would argue that given the respectively different editorial lines of various western media outlets, the process is not too dissimilar.

If you are a Daily Mail reporter, your report has to be something that the people in charge of the Daily Mail are happy to publish. But that same report might well be unacceptable to editors at different paper – say, the Guardian – who have a different editorial outlook.

Behind

Talking through journalistic method with journalists of Chinese media outlets, however, you realise that there is a definite boundary and a definite difference in approach.

To minimise the danger of crossing the party line, you stick to attributable quotes – steer clear of inference or speculation, and make sure that your investigative journalism – insomuch as it exists in China – remains a step behind, never ahead of, investigation by the state. Then you’ll be fine.

I really am only skimming the surface here, and in the next blog entry – part #3 –  I’ll go into more detail about the landscape of the Chinese media – how those state networks operate, as well as the evolution in the business of media outlets as China has begun to open up in recent years.

Words: Sean Gibson

Top photo: Ingmar Zahorsky

Inset photo: Ignacio Garcia

Restricted internet in China

Credit: Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

President Xi Jinping of China in 2012 with then-Secretary of Defense for the US, Leon Panetta

I recently visited China – Beijing and Shanghai – and I listened to what a great many people in the media, both native and foreign, had to say on the media landscape in China right now. I’m serialising this blog to deal with several key features in digestible chunks – there’s a lot to get our heads around.

One of the reasons this blog is retrospective is because it was so difficult to roam the internet in China – at least along the usual routes. There were still ways I could have filed copy without going too out of my way, but I quickly realised I needed to try and appreciate the whole thing first, not just jot down my impressions as I went along.

It’s good to start this blog with the topic of internet access, or potential lack thereof. It provides a window into how the media and communications systems work, in the broader sense, in China. I should be clear – it is now much harder to roam the internet freely in China than it used to be.

Proxies and virtual private networks (VPNs) don’t work. At least, not many of the free ones do (I’m told you can pay for VPNs that will still get you around in China – not me though).

‘Recalled’

My friend – who I might say ‘knows about these things’ – was swiftly blocked from the internet on his phone after he made preliminary research into VPNs. Then the phone went caput altogether. Curious, he took it in to a local phone shop where he was informed that the SIM card would not work because his number ‘had been recalled’. Not a bad day’s work.

One working journalist told us that several years ago they were able to conduct their work with minimal use of VPNs. Now, they need to use their paid-for VPN service every day.

China isn’t finished there either; this is only the beginning. The Chinese government’s approach to internet security is a little more stringent than, say, the UK’s occasional dalliance. China is after a little more than the laughably limited yet significantly expensive attempt in the UK to ban the popular sports streaming website First Row.

Control

A ‘central internet security and informatisation leading group’ was formed by the Chinese government this February just gone – with the president Xi Jinping sitting as chairman, supported by his number two, the government’s premier Li Keqiang. Long have we watched the evidence mount that the internet might well be an untameable beast – but nevertheless China is making a concerted effort to wield control.

There is much more to discuss here in terms of social media. But that’ll have to wait until after part #2 of this blog, where I’ll recount what we experienced in terms of broader freedom of the press in China.

Stick with us!

Words: Sean Gibson

Photo: Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

Boris Johnson, Lord Rennard and Scandal: UK Fast News

The most surprising nomination for a university Rector in history, increased measures against protesters, drops in violent crime, and a debate on the merits and pitfalls of a private education are hot topics in recent UK mainstream and student news, as Jamie Timson and Rachel Barr contextualise in this week’s ‘The Bottom Line’. 

WATER CANNONS have been at the forefront of the political debate this week as both the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson and the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) called for discussion on their use in riots.  This news came on the back of the Mayor’s earlier plea for the Home Secretary to fund the purchase of cannons for the Metropolitan Police service (MPS). Boris cited the riots of 2011 that started in London as the catalyst for his decision claiming “I am broadly convinced of the value of having water cannon available to the MPS for those circumstances where its absence would lead to greater disorder or the use of more extreme force.” 8952451409_9469307ff8_b

The prospect of water cannons, however, has brought uproar in some quarters with Joanne McCartney — Labour’s police and crime spokesperson — describing Mayor Johnson’s actions as “deeply worrying” and going on to question the necessity and speed of the implementation. “This is being rushed through, and Londoners are being given virtually no chance to express their views. Such a monumental shift in policing needs a proper public debate”. Others have questioned the supposed implicit meaning behind Acpo’s briefing and the danger to public protest it could result in:

 

DESPITE INCREASED MEASURES against “great disorder”, crime figures in England and Wales have actually fallen by 10% – the lowest estimate made since 1981, when the Crime Survey of England and Wales (CSEW) began. Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted his congratulations to the police, posting:

However, while crimes such as violent crime have decreased, there have been ‘worrying’ increases in other areas of deviance. Fraud offences recorded by police have increased by 34% , and sexual offences have increased by 17%. This increase has been attributed in BBC reports “Yewtree Effect“, where a greater number of victims have come forward to the police to report historical sex crimes, as seen in cases against Rolf Harris and other ‘household’ names.

HIGH PROFILE SEX ALLEGATIONS have featured heavily again in the news this week as Disgraced Lib Dem Peer  Lord Rennard’s lack of apology has resulted in opprobrium from all sides. Rennard had been the subject of a criminal investigation and a Liberal Democrat disciplinary process after at least 10 women came forward alleging that he had behaved inappropriately towards them during his time as chief executive. The 53-year-old campaign mastermind was cleared by both the Crown Prosecution Service and the Lib Dem’s own investigation as the “burden of proof would be too high” but these findings have seen the party come under fire. 5983388671_50ed5e75c0_b

Alison Goldsworthy one of the alleged victims spoke out against her former party claiming  “Faced with the opportunity to take strong action, the Liberal Democrats have once more opted for cowardice.They have failed to say Lord Rennard’s behaviour is unacceptable, they have failed to discipline him and therefore failed to give victims the justice they deserve.”

Lord Rennard was not the only Lib Dem to be embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal as Mike Hancock MP was also suspended this week following reports of “prima facie evidence” that Hancock had made inappropriate sexual advances on a constituent.

THE BIG STUDENT NEWS of the week in the UK was the nomination of US fugitive and whistleblower Edward Snowden for the position of Rector of Glasgow University. The decision had come late on in the nomination process and as such took many at the University by surprise. Snowden — who currently resides in Moscow in temporary Asylum — was contacted by an “informal group of Glasgow University students” via interlocutors, however it is claimed he accepted the nomination personally. The position of Rector is currently held by Charles Kennedy the former Lib Dem leader and his duties include meeting with students and sitting in on disciplinary hearings in the University Court. It remains to be seen how Mr Snowden intends to carry out these responsibilities should he be elected, considering his appearance on the Obama administration’s most wanted list and the UK’s extradition policy with the US.

Unknown

Chris Cassells, PHD Student at the University and one of the leaders of the ‘Edward Snowden for Rector’ campaign claimed “Edward Snowden’s candidacy is a unique opportunity to show our gratitude to a brace whistleblower and thus to all other whistleblowers who take risks to reveal criminality and corruption of powerful groups in society.” While some have claimed the campaign is nothing more than a publicity stunt, most students and former students have welcomed the opportunity for protest. One former student added “The role of Rector is above all often a ceremonial one, and as such it makes sense to nominate a figure who represents the sentiments of many within the student body.”

HEAD TO HEAD: Student Newspapers on Private Education 

“Some things only money can buy – and a good education is one of them”, claims Becca Atkinson, who goes on to equate “posh prejudice” as being ‘just as bad’ as racism or homophobia. Writing for the Bristol branch of The Tab, she argues that while some parents ‘choose’ to spend on “flashy holidays and expensive cars”, others invest their money on school fees and their child’s education.

8270736498_93c3c0881a_bThough admitting that paying over £12,000 or upwards per year in fees may be unfair, she claims that “that’s life – you don’t get something for nothing.”

“From my perspective”, Atkinson continues, “my parents paid two sets of school fees; mine at a price I won’t disclose, and yours, through their taxes”. Quoting the superior resources available to private school students and the better life prospects awaiting them in future as advantages, Atkinson concludes that – all in all – private schools get better results.

“This may be because the students who go there are more clever: you have to pass stringent tests to get in…Regardless, better results mean better prospects, and that is worth paying for”.

On the contrary, retorts fellow Bristol University journalist Jessica McKay, encouraging your children to work hard and be proud of what they have achieved displays far more love and commitment to their future than splashing a few thousand pounds a term. Yes, she agrees, private schools do have better resources – a ‘valid point’. 5168061145_3bc4cbd7fb_b

However, McKay continues, the ‘splendour’ of which state school children are deprived is instead replaced with something which money cannot buy: an ‘enriching school community’:

“Non fee-paying schools mean that children of all economic backgrounds and academic abilities interact and learn together. Some private school advocates argue that they do not want another child to ‘hold’ their own back. Yet, what of the ways children ‘spur‘ each other forward?”

McKay asks a central question of private school advocates: “Why do we segregate our children by monetary worth through ages four to eighteen when, one would hope, they certainly won’t be penned into such divisions in later life?”.

She concludes that, “in trying to ‘protect’ a child from others you, arguably, preclude entire worlds of experience.”

 

 

 

Does Greece need a revolution?

As 2013 drew to a close, and the protest movement across Europe took stock of its accomplishments, demonstrators in Greece turned their attention to the recent heavy handed nature of the country’s policing. As Chloe Thanopoulou investigates, the events of the 6th of December could irrecoverably change the nation’s future. 

The 6th of December has a special meaning for Greeks. It marks the death of Pavlos Sidiropoulos: the Prince of Greek Rock as well as being the day Alexis Grigoropoulos – the 15-year old boy who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time – was murdered by a police-officer.

It is also the day a revolution started – one that marks the country’s consciousness. In a certain way, the events are interconnected. Although Pavlos lived in a entirely different time, the circumstances were in many ways similar to those today. Through his songs, he reprobated the corrupt state and the philistines and showed the anger of the people towards the system. Alexis was another victim of the power of the authorities. He, as well as many others, have been victims of the political situation often talked about in Pavlos’ songs.

Protesters or Terrorists?

A social “explosion” of dissatisfaction and unrest followed Alexis’ death. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back; a full-scale collision with authoritarianism. Yet this was not reflected in the media, whose reaction to the protests – and the protesters – was largely a negative one. Activists were often characterised as terrorists; meaninglessly trying to burn cities down. This viewpoint quickly became widespread, distorting the image most people had about what was going on. Though the chance for change had been born, many people preferred long discussions at the local café’s – based on misleading information provided by the big news agencies – over the action a revolution requires. It kept many people away from demonstrations.

Demonstrations

Demonstrating is even less appealing when police reactions are taken into account. In an attempt to appear effective demonstrators are arrested so the police are able to announce the numbers of arrests the next day. It is considered a way of proving its capabilities, but in reality denies citizens the right to demonstrate peacefully.

An example of the attitude shown by police towards the politically active is an event that took place last year year when a local Greek group Laiki SynelefsI Papagou-Holargou (the people’s assembly of Papagou-Holargos) saw a series of arrests made against their members. For no apparent reason, two of their members were firstly accused of theft and  – when these charges could no longer be justified – the charge of arson of two ATM’s appeared. In a statement released by the group, they describe: “The autocratic behavior of the state and the “terrorism” against everybody who is fighting is obvious”.

Arresting people without a clear reason – especially in demonstrations – is a common tactic of the police: highlighting their unwillingness to find the real wrongdoers. Not only have politically and socially active people become a target of the authorities while facing continuous mistreatment, but they also appear to be the scapegoats of everything the police cannot cope with. The need to show the public that justice is being served by targeting people who fight and have strong political views, serves the need to control potential reactions which could lead to a revolution . So far, this tactic seems to be successful: the consequences of demonstrating seem severe, which in turn deters people from standing up for their rights.

Yet, the yearly demonstrations in the memory of Alexis  have had some impact. This is primarily because people believe that, 5 years on from the murder, ‘nothing has changed’. A revolution does not play by the rules and cannot calculate the costs. It may come only when there is no other choice – it knocks existing structures down to subsequently rebuild them. Yet, this does not have to be led by violence. It must start by changing minds, by changing perceptions of what is ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’ and what is not. It may happen when someone sees his or her fathers’ store closing or his or her uncles’ house being taken away because of an unpaid debt. It could happen if allegations that as many as half of the police force vote for the far-right party Golden Dawn turn out to be true. Or it could be when someone’s desperate neighbour commits suicide, as occurred at the beginning of the Arab Spring. It may happen in the heads of the many people that work continuously for 300 euro a month, with no hope for a better future. We cannot forget the symbols of Pavlos and Alexis, because they have foreseen what the country is going through now. Silence, distortion and fear are not the way to change it.

Original article by Costas Papantoniou

 

Traditions reinforced: Italian media’s problem with the role of women

Protest against repression and oppression frizzetta_Flickr

Sofia Lotto Persio analyses how the Italian media has fortified gender inequality through decades-old stereotypes, and assesses the nature of the challenge facing female journalists today.

One woman dies every three days in Italy at the hand of either her partner or her former partner. This shocking statistic reveals a deep problem regarding gender inequalities in Italy.

Italy is still a patriarchal country in many respects. It is below the European average for gender equality. Women occupy only 30.8 per cent of the parliament’s seats and the number of working women is significantly inferior to that of men, despite women representing more than 50 per cent of the graduated population for the past 20 years.

There are significant cultural reasons for the underdevelopment of women in Italian society. The representation of women in media is perhaps one of the most powerful, yet disconcerting, examples of why Italian women are not as emancipated as those in other European countries, and why they so often die at the hands of their men.

Italian media – through advertisements, entertainment, information programmes and print material – portrays two stereotypical images of women: the good family woman, and the sexy mistress. Though different in many respects, both female stereotypes have in common a submissive character.

Women are expected to fit in either category. “Many studies show that woman are still discriminated in their family and at work,” says Olga, the pen-name of a journalist who started writing about her own experiences of mobbing in her blog The Pig at Work. “Women are victims of different kinds of violence, and yet there is a lack of adequate legislative and welfare measures.”

While this is not a phenomenon exclusively pertaining to Italy, it is a particularly severe problem in Italy. What else can you expect from a country governed for almost 20 years by Berlusconi, a man who is defending himself against accusations of consorting with underage prostitutes and organising sex parties in his mansion. This same man once replied to a young woman’s concern of never being able to find a job: “Marry a millionaire – with a smile like yours, I’m sure it won’t be too difficult.”

While the Catholic Church’s millennial representation of women as temptresses made the soil fertile for gender inequality, a further damage was done by more than 25 years of Berlusconi’s media empire. Berlusconi’s three television channels were pioneers in the exploitation and sexualisation of female bodies, from the 1980s to the present day.

There is a consolidated belief that in order to write about ‘women issues’ being a woman is enough!”

– Stefania Prandi, freelance journalist

Most Italian families dine while watching television. The channels at that time will feature either news programmes or entertainment quizzes. On the news programmes, the family will hear about violence against women. On the entertainment programme, the family can witness for themselves the objectification and sexualisation of the female bodies.

Dressed in often no more than a bra and underwear, girls participate in the programme by doing short, ever-sexier dances to please the audience and the presenter, invariably a man who is past his forties, and is fully-dressed.

But how does the step from objectification to violence happen? The author Jean Kilbourne stated that objectification is a way to dehumanise the other. If, in a relation, one party is dehumanised, there is a shift in power and the “dehumaniser” will count violence as one of the means to exercise its power and dominance over the other.

Sexual assault and rape is, in fact, an issue of power. The Italian media’s perception of it, however, is different. There is a widespread understanding and representation of sexual assault, rape, and female’s murder as “crimes of passion”. This is a standard phrasing used in almost every account of such crimes, used in both television and print, by female and male journalists alike.

Remembering victims of gender violee- Names, age, who killed her, date and place of death_ FlaVia_FlickrThis phrasing achieves two misconceptions: first, that the male perpetrator is the victim of forces beyond his will: he is never in control of his action. He is “depressed”, “jealous”, moved by a “rapture of insanity”; secondly, that the woman is somehow responsible in “inflaming” the passion, by either being too beautiful, or too mischievous, or simply too annoying.

“The media are mostly run by men,” says Stefania Prandi, a freelance journalist who is studying for a Masters in Gender Studies in Sweden. “They are an organic part of the sexist, patriarchal, misogynist, discriminatory, backward system.”

The images accompanying the articles reiterate this message. There are often stock images representing young girls wearing short skirts, passive victims needing protection. To illustrate the story of a 14-year-old girl who was brutally raped by 10 men, the HuffingtonPost.it initially used this picture, which was later changed after readers expressed outrage in the comment section. Another, minor, online newspaper ran the story of the rape along with this stock image, the caption crudely reading: “raped girl”.

“Very few female journalists – and no male journalists – have the sensitivity and understanding necessary to describe the seriousness and complexity of gender violence,” says Stefania, adding: “It seems only a few really study the issue. There is a consolidated belief that in order to write about ‘women issues’ being a woman is enough!”

Both Stefania and Olga agree that it is difficult for women to be working journalists in Italy. Olga has described these situations in detail in her blog: “It is extremely difficult for a woman, without any powerful connections to sustain herself with journalism, let alone have a career.” Stefania concurs: “There is widespread sexism and discrimination.” She continues: “This can be easily seen from the kinds of contracts stipulated and their compensations. We get penalised because we suffer sexual harassment, because we get pregnant and get fired, and because, ultimately, we are considered less worthy than men.”

– – –

Photo credit (top): frizzetta [Flickr]

Photo credit (inset): flaVia [Flickr]

Closing the Gender gap in Iceland

According to the Global Gender Gap Report of 2013, Iceland came in first place in the gender gap index, meaning that Iceland is the country with the smallest gap between men and women. Pandeia’s Svanlaug Arnadottir speaks to an Icelandic student about being a woman in the world’s most gender-equal country.

Recent research has shown that Iceland is a role-model in terms of gender equality. In research for the Global Gender Gap Report of 2013, 136 nations were investigated, and measured on gender equality in economics, education, health and politics.

Despite the financial crisis with heavy cut-backs in Iceland’s healthcare and educational system, the results show that Iceland is doing well on gender issues. It is the fifth year in a row that Iceland has come in first place. But how is it to live in a country ranked with the highest equality in the world?  How does it affect students?

Pandeia had a talk with Hrefna Jónsdóttir, a second year student in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Iceland, with a Bachelor in Physical Geography.

Do you experience inequality in your education?

No, not at all, I didn’t in my geography education and neither in engineering. Right now we are the first year in a long time in Environmental Engineering with more girls than boys, it’s great!

Do you think you have the same opportunities as your fellow male students after graduation?

Yes, if not even better because many engineering firms want as much gender equality as possible and at this point, there are more men working in engineering firms than women.

Were you surprised to find out that Iceland has the greatest gender equality in the world?

No, not at all. Gender equality is a very important discussion topic here, and therefore we are very aware of it.

More male media coverage

Jónsdóttir says she does not notice much difference in media coverage on men and women but has noticed that media coverage in general is more about men than women.

Despite being a leading nation in gender equality, media coverage about women is only 28 per cent according to the Global Media Monitoring Project, which is lower than in other Nordic countries where the ratio is between 30-33 per cent.

40 per cent of Icelandic news is considered to strengthen gender stereotypes and only 13 per cent is considered to challenge stereotypes. In Internet coverage women rank a little higher; producing 36 per cent of the news while they are the topic of 23 per cent. Only four per cent of the online news seems to challenge gender stereotypes and 42 per cent strengthens them.

Despite Iceland’s leading position, gender gaps have not been erased in the media. After the financial crisis different voices are being heard throughout society on the effect on gender issues. Some say women are worse off in society facing unemployment as cut-backs seem to affect professions that have more female workers than men  – such as teachers and nurses. Other voices say that the crisis finally gave women a way ‘in’ – especially within the business sector where female voices are finally being heard.  Values such as caution became more appreciated than risk-taking behavior and many women have gained higher positions and more responsibility through those changes.

 

Gender equality in Spanish journalism must originate with the professionals

Credit:  Irene Muñoz

Gender equality is gradually progressing in Spanish journalism with the formation of several key groups and initiatives.  But this article, edited by Aida Peláez and first written by Patricia Chico Gonzalez for La Huella Digital, outlines how journalists themselves must lead the way to more complete eradication of gender inequality.

Gender equality in the journalism profession is a concern shared by the professionals of the media, their representatives and society in general. The situation of women journalists both inside and outside of the newsrooms, and the pursuit of equal treatment of them, has become one of the goals for achieving gender equality; Spain is one of the countries committed to this purpose. Beyond the national media companies who are focused on the crisis in the sector and forgetting their workers, professionals and their representatives seek a way to bring gender equality to the media.

The Spanish Federation of Journalists (FAPE) has joined the International Federation of Journalists showing their concern about the increase in violence against women journalists. As reported by the student newspaper La Huella Digital, FAPE has joined a global protest to stop these criminals and sexist attitudes against woman journalists that only want censorship and seek to silence the professionals.

Both, the Spanish and International Journalism associations has defined this campaign that they have started as “a response to the unprecedented number of women journalists threatened, attacked, harassed, raped or killed in the exercise of their profession.” The two organizations have also stressed the importance of maintaining constant attention of the situation of women journalists, as well as the need to unite all journalists and their organizations demanding an end to the impunity with which these attacks are committed.

Following this same purpose – to seek equality in the journalistic profession – some Spanish cities have taken the initiative and created their own associations of women journalists, such as Seville. Since 2008, as part of the press association of that city, nine women are working on this organization to represent all women journalists and promote equality in the profession.

The association has received different awards at national and regional level in recognition of their work in defence of women’s rights and equality. One of its initiatives that got better acceptance and recognition has been the Census of Woman Experts. That tool was born as an answer to the absence of equal representation of male and female experts in the media – men representing 80% in this field.

The census is a database that contains the details of almost 300 women and it can be consulted by any journalist, who can then contact whichever specialists they need. The Sevilla Woman Journalist association has created this tool to facilitate access to specialized women journalists, to give greater visibility to the minority of women specialists working in the media.

Looking at the examples of the National Press Association and the woman journalist group in Sevilla it seems appropriate to accept that, at least in the case of Spain, beyond the support of society and government agencies, it is necessary that journalism professionals themsevles demand gender equality.

It is the duty of communication professionals to look for gender equality in society and start this equality in our own work.

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Translated and edited for Pandeia by Aida Peláez

Article written by Patricia Chico Gonzalez and first published by La Huella Digital

Photo credit: Irene Muñoz