Tag Archives: journalism

Asia’s human rights offenders: A look at Reporter Without Borders’ annual press freedom index

I promise, I am not becoming a China-hater. Despite what these last two posts may read, I have visited the country and think the people, cities and countryside of China are amazing. However, after joining Reporters Without Borders yesterday, I took a gander through their annual Press Freedom Index from 2008. I was shocked to see some of the more developed, thriving nations rock bottom on the list.

Which brings me back, of course, to China. How can a country so fraught with humanitarian issues be constantly congratulated by the U.S. government? How could they have been chosen to host the most important, influential and unifying sporting event in the world – the Olympics? They were given this honor even though Tibetans are continually enslaved in their own country, Falun Gong practitioners are tortured and imprisoned, and Reporters Without Borders ranked the country 167th out of 173 in terms of the rights journalists have in China.

North Korea Premier Kim Yong II Visits China

Human rights offenders Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (R) and North Korean Premier Kim Yong II

“Being a journalist in Beijing or Shanghai… is a high risk exercise involving endless frustration and constant police and judicial harassment,” reads a passage from the report. Although liberal media outlets are beginning to form, China has a long way to go if it wants to compete with its nearby neighbors such as Japan (29th), Taiwan (36th) or South Korea (47th). Even war-torn Sri Lanka beat them by two places.

Of course not all of Asia is booming with press freedom. Not surprisingly, North Korea was listed second from the bottom, where government propaganda rules and the population is largely cut-off from world happenings. Burma and Vietnam came in as the fourth and sixth worst rated countries, respectively. Eritrea, in Northeast Africa, came in at number one.

Still, China must reconcile what it wants to become and what it still inevitably is. While the country has made huge strides economically, pulling millions out of poverty, their successes have not come without a price. Human rights activists are imprisoned regularly, religious freedom is highly restricted (the constitution forbids any practice that may cause “disruption”to society) and the media struggles to produce independent journalism.

Human Rights Watch announced just today that on February 13 China placed new restrictions on Chinese news assistants to foreign correspondents, who risk being dismissed or losing their accreditation for engaging in “independent reporting.” The government also announced that it would create a blacklist for Chinese journalists who participate in “illegal reporting.”

Great nations are not only formed by swift economic growth and a reduction in poverty but by an open society where all citizens are free to express themselves and to strive for what they want to achieve. Great nations are those which respect the environment, engage in constructive dialogue with their allies and their foes, educate their children, and provide services to the poor and underprivileged.

I would never presume to list any of today’s countries as “great nations,” and certainly not my own. And I’m not saying that we shouldn’t give China a chance to improve themselves. After all, they haven’t been at this whole “developed country” thing for very long.

But still, certain issues just can’t wait to be dealt with. How many people will have to die before China’s human rights records improve?

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Is it me or the media who is missing out?

What aspiring journalist hasn’t sat transfixed by a BBC news broadcast, as a senior reporter jumps at the sound of a bomb exploding behind her or a nearing hurricane wave? These are the moments when young editors push back from their desks and exclaim, “I am sick of re-writing press releases and correcting other people’s horrible English grammar! I’m becoming a reporter!”

It is with this sentiment that I find myself disgusted with my current situation. Somehow, in the midst of making my major life decision to jump ship and pack my bags for France, I have landed myself in a town called, “the wrong place at the wrong time.” I’ve missed everything.

After spending years impassioned by the Tibetan freedom cause, working as a reporter within the Tibetan communities in India and Minneapolis, I end up missing the biggest protests by the Tibetan community since perhaps the Uprising in 1959 in Lhasa. Those moments preceding the Beijing Olympics were priceless, of epic importance, and I was stuck in a town of 40,000 mostly white, French, close-minded people who couldn’t care less. I do remember voicing my opinions about the subject to some of my co-workers, but I don’t remember any of them giving a damn. When I think about all those articles that could have been written, those communities who could have been given a voice, the power of having my words in print on a subject I am deeply passionate about, it truly makes me ill.

Then, this past week, I was confronted once again with this wrong-place-wrong-time syndrome. What are the odds that within the same year that I am off galavanting in France, the Republican National Convention just so happens to be held in my hometown? Everyday, I watch as protesters, journalists, friends get locked up for speaking their minds about John McCain, a man whose importance in the world is, as of yet, only imagined. 

I am missing out. And while I do appreciate all those press releases I’ve gotten lately from around the Dordogne (the region of France where I live) about river flood watches, vaccinations of local cows and the recent visit by the Ukrainian delegation, I have to stop myself from tearing up. Rationally, I know that satisfaction comes from within, that a person is a person and, just like CNN says in their commercial, everyone has a story. But at what point does one story outshine another in its level of importance in the world? Shouldn’t all stories, all peoples’ plights, be created equal?

Perhaps my reaction is the media’s own fault. Maybe I, too, have been brainwashed to believe that certain events in the world lack significance. Why else would stories I read and consider important get lost amongst those regarding war, famine and trauma? Are the only good stories the ones that shock, humiliate and shake us from our safe little worlds?

Journalists face these questions on a daily basis and are paid to make decisions based on their answers. In the end, the majority wins. Gotta please the people. And money is what gets the job done in many instances. Is there any hope for rational, objective, fair and equal journalism? Until humans are able to acquire such great qualities within themselves, I am not so sure…