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Posts Tagged ‘Reporters Without Borders’

The assault on CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan in Egypt stunned the news community, but it also drew attention to a growing problem: the world is becoming a far more dangerous place for reporters.

Uh … HELLLLLLO!

The quote is from the BBC and one of the more simplistic bits of “news” I’ve read in a while … and that’s saying something.

Yes, folks in Britain and America might be forgiven for thinking covering the news is all about straight, white teeth and proper enunciation, since, after all, that is pretty much what it IS about since Fox and Sky took over the world, but the point needs to be made that there is a difference between the infotainment served up tidily by pretty peeps and NEWS.

There’s so little journalism happening these days that consumers have taken to preferring the predigested pap they’re being fed daily. Tasty little tidbits served up by the attractive and well-dressed are so much easier to swallow than the rough grit of real-world happenings that require thorough chewing.

Given the popularity of reality TV, is it any wonder viewers have trouble spotting the difference between Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise and mass rapes along the Congo? With that being the case, it makes perfect sense that pretty girls with microphones should be sent into unpredictable masses of angry, armed people with the expectation they deliver the story through perfectly glossed lips.

Much of the rest of the world understands the dangers of reporting news, a comprehension that tends to garner respect for those who actually do that … who put their asses on the line to gather information, distribute it, and get the word out so those not in-the-know know something.

It’s not simply a case of Anderson Cooper being punched up, either, as made clear by Reporters Without Borders on a regular basis. For example, according to that organization (and reliable it is), so far this year … and we’re not even done with February yet … there have been five journalists killed, one media assistant killed, 152 journalists imprisoned along with 9 media assistants and 116 netzens.

This list of journalists killed in Russia since the 1990s gives a taste of how dangerous reporting the news can be in that country.

Those in power know the power of the press … they always have:

I fear three newspapers more than a hundred thousand bayonets.
~Napoleon

The Middle East is no New Orleans Square these days, and although the pretty blonde is getting a lot of coverage by those shocked at her treatment, not so much has been said about the dead journalist in Iraq, but it should be a very hot topic.

Iraq ranked first on CPJ’s [Committee to Protect Journalists] 2010 Impunity Index, which lists countries where journalists are murdered on a recurring basis and governments are unable or unwilling to prosecute the killers. Not a single journalist murder since 2003 has been seriously investigated by authorities, and not a single perpetrator has been brought to justice, CPJ research shows.

But back to Lara Logan for a mo …

For all I know, she may be the toughest news hound since Margaret Bourke-White, in which case she knew the risks and went for the story regardless. Maybe she even studied at Columbia under a Ms Matloff, who teaches a war reporting course at Columbia University’s prestigious school of journalism who gives this list of “precautions to minimise the risk and gravity of sexual assault in danger zones”:

* Wear a sturdy belt
* Don’t wear a ponytail or necklace that can be grabbed
* Buy a door alarm for use in hotels
* Don’t take hotel rooms with balconies or easily accessible windows
* Keep a can of deodorant by the bed
* Move furniture in front of hotel room doors
* Don’t drink alcohol alone with men, particularly in the Middle East
* Carry a rape whistle
* Take male colleagues with you in volatile situations
* Tell an assailant that you are pregnant, HIV positive or menstruating
* Urinate, vomit or defecate on yourself

Sounds like good advice for someone exiting Main Street after dark and parked all the way out in Goofy, but the world isn’t Disneyland. Really. It isn’t.

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Confession: I was a junkie.

No, I’m not talking drugs here … although given the decades I was misspending my youth I was far from circumspect, but that’s not what this post is about.

This is about news. I was hooked on it.

Starting in high school, I have written for newspapers, worked in TV newsrooms, yapped away on radio and made money keeping track of media coverage for companies, lawyers and folks whose babies won beauty contests. I’ve followed murder cases and exploding Fords, sticking 45-second clips onto reels that run for days … in the process stamping permanent images of mayhem to the inside of my eyelids.

For much of my adult life, mornings didn’t begin until the radio clicked on at about the same time the newspaper hit the doorstep, and my coffee always came with opinions.

Rehab for me was a small island in a big ocean a long way from everywhere else where there was one TV station that aired 5 minutes of news in English … didn’t matter, since I had no TV … and a newspaper that consisted of 8 pages. And … there’s no news on Sunday.

Cold turkey is ugly, and I suffered, right up to the time I shook the yoke of the constant flow of information on world happenings and it dawned on me that horrible shit can happen without me having to know about it.

I have learned to be a social imbiber of news, taking in what interests, educates or elucidates and allows me to participate in dialog with others likewise motivated to keep up with some of what is going on beyond the inside of our own front doors.

This being the case, this year’s Reporters Without Borders report listing “Forty predators of press freedom” has me tipsy enough to actually put a blog post together.

It’s a disturbing read:

There are 40 names on this year’s list of Predators of Press Freedom – 40 politicians, government officials, religious leaders, militias and criminal organisations that cannot stand the press, treat it as an enemy and directly attack journalists. They are powerful, dangerous, violent and above the law.

There are few surprises, as it doesn’t take an article addict to have the dope on regimes like those in North Korea and Burma and know that journalistic freedom doesn’t even blip on the radar of rights denied. Zimbabwe, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Cuba … ditto. Spain was a bit of a surprise, but that’s an ETA thing, apparently, like Italy’s issues with organized crime taking a toll on truth-telling in print or broadcast.

Personally, I’m not at all happy to see Mexico named as among the most dangerous countries for journalists, having had 62 killed in the last decade, and I’m happy Ernesto is a musician, not a reporter.

But back to my recovering news junkie status and how I’m dealing with this infusion of inclusion in the goings-on.

Strong arm tactics, murder, intimidation … yeah, yeah, yeah. Reporters will balls have dealt with this since Grag covered Yurk’s attempt to take over the cave by hiding the mammoth meat.

Quite frankly, all the predators described by RWB don’t scare me half as much as Fox News.

It’s not vicious attacks on reporters that will crumble the fourth estate to dust, but pretty people passing palatable pap to the people … the vapid to the vacuous.

Far more insidious and likely to put an end to journalism as we once knew it … Sarah Palin clothed as credible.

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I’ve been writing about international adoption for a few years now and have to admit that I have never quite managed to get a handle on prevailing attitudes toward adoption from China. Some might suggest that this is a result of obstinacy on my part arising from the fact that I adopted from Cambodia and therefore lug around some crate of sour grapes that flavor my perceptions of programs in countries that are touted to be “clean”, and a bit of that is, perhaps, applicable.

(There is no doubt that I feel Cambodia was singled out for reasons that have nothing to do with suffering by comparison to any imagined purity or transparency in other corrupt nations, and without my understanding that some do seek the domino effect in putting an end to international adoptions forever and everywhere I would be very confused about the specific treatment one crooked little Southeast Asian country continues to receive. That being said, however, I would insist that the real world predominance of corruption should not be a reason to sentence children to short and miserable lives in the countries they happened to have been born in, but rather continue to offer the option of adoption to some while working to eliminate corrupt government practices on a much wider level through effective use of global organizations that should be addressing these issues directly. The UN, for instance, could be using its multi-billion dollar budget and the clout it buys to exert real pressure, rather than continue to pussyfoot around dictators, conflicts, blatant human rights violations, dirty politics and ruling-for-personal gain, and rather than simply pulling the rug out from under children in the name of easy expediency and cheap press.)

It does seem, however, that adoptions from China tend to be bathed in some rarefied light structured to convey a sense that, because the country has imposed hoops it chooses to jump through, all is kosher in the adoption process there. Adoptive parents with Chinese-born kids have been accused of carrying a tinge of “my adoption was cleaner than yours was”, and of sticking up for China’s system even when faced with strong evidence that the country is every bit as crooked, or more so, than others.

There is, at the moment, a fight going on in the UK between Channel 4 broadcasting and the Chinese embassy in London over a documentary that is scheduled to air in early October. The program (or “programme”, as it is to Brits who are quite fond of extra letters for the sake of tradition) is about child trafficking within China and is reported to quote a UN consultant saying that “at least 70,000 young children a year are sold or stolen in China.”

The trafficking is, apparently, not international adoption-related, but about internal problems caused by the one-child policy.

The programme makers filmed undercover in China, speaking to parents who had had a child stolen or had sold a child, and to traffickers. More boys are taken than girls because they will grow up to earn more money. Most are taken for childless couples, although some are sold into prostitution.

The Times carried what appears to be a fair piece on the situation, saying that the “Chinese are angry that they are not being given an advance screening of the documentary, which claims that the trade in stolen children is widespread.”

I had come across the story, so was surprised to see it referred to in a very different color on one of the adoption groups I read, posted by a parent that had adopted from China, that suggested the story was “fed” to the press by Amnesty International, hinting at some sort of plot to sling the mud of child trafficking in the direction of the Chinese government.

The theme was picked up by a few other readers who apparently got the story only from the provided link that led to the “tabloid Sunday Mirror”, indicating also that there was some concealing of sources going on, as if a suggestion that 70,000 children “kidnapped there every year and traded on the black market” was an outrageous claim, and only made to discredit China in its run up to the Olympics.

(Others pointed out that this sort information was valid and should not be dismissed out of hand and voiced concern over such issues in China.)

If we could for a moment include adoption in the bigger picture instead of giving into the temptation to remove it from the shelf that contains all the issues that stem from the system of government in China and stand it alone in the middle of the room as if it exists in a vacuum, it seems a very good time now to shine a bright light into many corners in that vast and complex nation.

The run-up to the Olympics has created an opportunity for many organizations to focus on China in the hope that some changes might be inspired by the extra attention, but unfortunately it seems that so far nothing much has been sticky enough to overcome the propaganda machines’ Teflon from both China and the IOC.

A year ago, Reporters Without Borders officially opposed holding the Olympic Games in Beijing, saying, in part:

The world sports movement must now speak out and call for the Chinese people to be allowed to enjoy the freedoms it has been demanding for years. The Olympic Charter says sport must be “at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.” Athletes and sports lovers have the right and the duty to defend this charter. The IOC should show some courage and should do everything possible to ensure that Olympism’s values are not freely flouted by the Chinese organisers.

Just this week there has been press coverage of an Olympic torch-style relay through all the countries that have seen genocide in an attempt to draw attention to China’s support of Sudan.

Unsurprisingly, the Cambodian government wasn’t one bit happy about Mia Farrow showing up at Toul Sleng (now the Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, but formerly a torture center that saw thousands suffer and die) to gain international attention for this effort to “push Beijing to pressure Sudan into ending the violence in Darfur”. Cambodia gets a lot of money from China and has no intention of jeopardizing future funding for the sake of a waste of time like human rights violations.

(I had to chuckle at the interior ministry spokesman’s take quoted in AFP: “The Olympic Games are not a political issue. Therefore, we won’t allow any rally to light a torch.)

That China is now a powerhouse is not a question, but what sort of power it wields most certainly is. And whether or not anyone cares is another.

Not rocking the adoption boat, on one hand, or jumping up and down hoping it sinks under the weight that comes with tossing every bit of dirt in the country into it no matter how unrelated in reality on the other, are both unhelpful, as is going all rah-rah because the Olympics are coming to town.

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