Posts tagged ‘press freedoms’


An expatriate’s view of Occupy Central and what Hong Kong wants

29.09.2014

Equal access: an audio recording of this blog post can be found here.

I know I’m not alone among expats watching the Occupy Central movements in Hong Kong. More than the handover in 1997, it’s been making very compelling live television, because this isn’t about politicians and royalty, but about everyday Hong Kong people.
   I Tweeted tonight that if I were a student there, I’d be joining in. While the idea of direct elections is a recent development—they started in 1985 for the Legislative Council, it’s important to remember that all UN member nations should permit its subjects the right of self-determination. It doesn’t matter when they started, the fact is they did. The latest protests aren’t about Legco, but the election of the Chief Executive—the successor to the role of Governor—which Beijing says can only be for candidates it approves.
   Legal arguments aside, protesters are probably wondering why they could enjoy free and fair elections under colonial rule from London, and not by their own country from their own people.
   I cannot speak for Beijing, but their perspective is probably more long-term: in the colonial days, the Legislative Council was appointed by London, not voted by Hong Kong subjects, for most of its existence. The Governor was always appointed by London. Surely what it is proposing for 2017 is far better?
   And given that the Chief Executive currently is selected by an election committee of Beijing loyalists, then 2017 presents something far more open and akin to universal suffrage.
   Those are the issues on the surface as I understand them, but they ignore some of the history of Hong Kong.
   Hong Kong was a backwater until 1949, when the Communists revolted, and refugees poured in. My father was one of them, having made the trek from Taishan with his mother and sister. Other members of the family had got there on other journeys. The stories can happily fill chapters in a novel.
   He recalls in his first days in Hong Kong, police officers had three digits on their shoulder. ‘I don’t know how many policemen there were,’ he recalls, ‘but there couldn’t have been more than 999.’
   Hong Kong’s population swelled, and the colonial authorities found a way to accommodate the new arrivals.
   I don’t have the exact figures but at the dawn of the 1940s, the population of Hong Kong was 1·6 million, and it was close to 2½ million in the mid-1950s. When I left in 1976, it was 3 million.
   The reason most people went there and risked their lives to escape the Communists: freedom. Most were skilled workers and farmers fearing prosecution.
   Dad recalls that in the lead-up to the family home and farm being seized things were getting tough at school, with false accusations made against him by teachers and students. The vilification of land-owning families had begun.
   The day he left, he saw a notice on the front door and the family departed for Hong Kong, where my paternal grandfather already had contacts from his military days.
   Assuming a million people came across from the People’s Republic of China, then it’s not hard to imagine a sizeable part of the modern population of Hong Kong to have grown up with negative impressions of Beijing.
   Those same impressions saw to the mass exodus of Hong Kongers in the lead-up to the handover, with most expecting doom and gloom despite assurances under the Basic Law—though of course many have since returned to Hong Kong since things hadn’t changed as badly as they feared.
   They were the reasons my parents left in 1976. My mother simply thought a generation ahead and figured that by the 1990s, it would be hard to leave Hong Kong since some western countries would start going on about yellow peril again. (She was right, incidentally.)
   While in the post-colonial days, there is more contact between Hong Kong and the rest of China, it will take a while for those impressions to subside.
   It would be fair to say that culturally, we are predisposed to taking a long view of history, and the Cultural Revolution and the mismanagement of the economy in the earlier days of the People’s Republic stick in our minds.
   Even if the PRC proved to be a benevolent nation and made no wrong moves since 1997, the suspicion would remain.
   It hasn’t been helped by June 4, 1989 and its aftermath, continued censorship within China, and, more recently, some Hong Kongers feeling that they’re a second class in their own city when mainland tourists pop over for a holiday.
   Then you get people like me who cannot understand a word of Mandarin, which these days tends to be the second language many people learn. When the language of the colonials is easier to grasp, then that doesn’t bode well for our northern friends. There’s a sense of separation.
   This may explain a natural resistance to Beijing, because the way of life that the Chinese Communist Party envisages is so very different to what Hong Kongers believe they should enjoy.
   Scholarism, meanwhile, from which Occupy Central has spawned, has come from this culture: a group protesting the introduction of ‘moral and national education’ as a compulsory subject in Hong Kong. The subject was seen by opponents to be pro-communist, with the teaching manual calling the Communist Party an ‘advanced, selfless and united ruling group’.
   It’s hard, therefore, for Hong Kongers who grew up in this environment not to be suspicious of Beijing.
   That explains the solidarity, the sort of thing that would have inspired me if I was a young uni student today in Hong Kong.
   Now we are looking at two sides, neither of which is famous for backing down.
   One possible resolution would be for Beijing to accede yet bankroll a pro-Beijing candidate come 2017, which could, in the long term, save face, but provide the protesters with a short-term victory. It’s not what they are fighting for—they want everyone to be able to stand for the post of CE—but it may be one way events will play out.
   Hong Kong isn’t prepared to risk its economic freedom and progress, and it remains proud of its stance against corruption which has helped the city prosper. Citizens also place faith in the rule of law there, and the right to a fair trial.
   Beijing, meanwhile, isn’t prepared to risk the danger of an anti-communist CE being elected and having that trip up the development of the rest of the nation.
   I have to say that such a fear is very remote, given the overriding desire of Hong Kongers to get ahead. If Hong Kongers are anything, they are pragmatic and ambitious, and a Chief Executive who is imbalanced to such a degree would never get elected. With the rise of the orient and the sputtering of the occident, the “competing” ideas aren’t so competing anyway. The United States and Australia have laws either enacted or at the bill stage in the name of national security that they can hardly serve as an ideal model for democracy. After all, Edward Snowden went to Hong Kong first.
   The Cold War is over, and what is emerging, and what has been emerging, in Hong Kong and the rest of China since the 1990s has been a distinct, unique, Chinese model, one that has its roots in Confucianism and which takes pride in the progress of the city.
   The ideal Chief Executive would more likely be a uniter, not a divider, balancing all sides, and ensuring those they represent a fair go. They would be a connecter who can work with both citizens and with Beijing.
   Under my reading, there shouldn’t be any concerns in Beijing, because pragmatic Hong Kongers would never elect someone who would risk their livelihoods or their freedoms.
   And when Beijing sees that such a development can work in Hong Kong, it could be a model to the rest of China.
   Taiwan, too, will be watching.

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Posted in business, China, culture, Hong Kong, politics | 1 Comment »


The shame of Russia (courtesy of Facebook)

17.03.2014

At the weekend, 40,000 to 50,000 took to the streets of Moskva—Moscow—to protest their government’s actions in the Ukraine, at the Peace and Freedom March. I understand that media called the country’s actions ‘the shame of Russia’.
   A friend provided me with photos of the protest that he and his friends took, which I uploaded to my personal Facebook profile this morning.
   Within minutes, they vanished from my wall. Facebook has replaced them with a message to say my page cannot be loaded properly, and to try again. Seven hours later, the problem persists.
   They are still on the mobile edition but I’ve noticed that, for a public post, very few people have seen them.
   What is curious is whether Facebook has some mechanism to remove content. I remember some years ago, video content vanished, too, with Facebook making false accusations that I had uploaded copyrighted material—despite my having express authorization. I had to fight Facebook, which had adopted a guilty-till-proved-innocent approach, to keep up content I was legally entitled to upload and share. Facebook presented me, for months, with a massive notice on my home page each time I logged in, where I had to fill in a counter-notification daily to their false accusations.
   I had understood that generally copyright owners had to complain first under US law, unless, of course, your name is Kim Dotcom and US lobbyists want to make an example of you.
   So we know that Facebook does have mechanisms to take things off without any complaint being filed. And we also know there are algorithms limiting sharing.
   Given the speed with which this vanished today, I doubt anyone would have complained—and I’m hardly a target for those interested in Russian politics.
   I have since uploaded the album to my Facebook fan page—where it has not been deleted, but stats for it do not show up. Thanks to Facebook’s actions, I’ve uploaded the five images to my Tumblr as well—and here they are again, for your interest.
   We can credit Facebook for ensuring that these images were more widely shared.

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Posted in internet, media, politics, publishing, USA | 3 Comments »


Frack away, IGas Energy: the Metropolitan Police has your back

06.02.2014

The spirit of Gene Hunt is alive and well in the Greater Manchester Police, in the form of Sgt David Kehoe.

   Arresting someone over drink driving when he has neither drunk nor driven reminds me of The Professionals episode, ‘In the Public Interest’, about a corrupt police force in an unnamed English city outside London.
   The only thing is: that was fiction. This was fact.
   So, IGas Energy plc, you may frack away. The British Government and the Met have your back.
   Dr Steven Peers was the cameraman and citizen journalist who was arrested. CPS did not have sufficient evidence to proceed with a prosecution. I wonder why.
   He is now planning to bring a civil claim against the GMP for ‘wrongful arrest, false imprisonment and assault,’ according to the Manchester Evening News, which appears to be the only mainstream media outlet I could find that covered this incident.
   Another report claimed that the GMP never received a complaint from Dr Peers, though how are we supposed to believe any statement from this force? The video has gone viral, and global—and if Operation Weeting and the inquiry into police standards were insufficient to give the Met a bad name, then this surely will.
   What next? Legislation to make protests against oil companies illegal?
   No, that would be daft. It would totally be against the ideas of free speech, human rights and international law. No democracy would be that stupid.

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Posted in business, globalization, media, New Zealand, politics, UK | No Comments »


The UK doesn’t look good as it pursues Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy

21.08.2012

I missed Julian Assange’s statement on the day (catching up on work after being out) but who would have thought we would see a situation where Ecuador would be seen to be upholding a foreign national’s press freedoms (never mind what it does at home) and the Vienna Convention, while Britain would be making diplomatic threats?
   I realize the UK has sent Ecuador a letter citing its own law, giving it authority to ‘take action’ against the embassy. Here is some of that letter:

   As we have previously set out, we must meet our legal obligations under the European Arrest Warrant Framework Decision and the Extradition Act 2003, to arrest Mr Assange and extradite him to Sweden. We remain committed to working with you amicably to resolve this matter. But we must be absolutely clear this means that should we receive a request for safe passage for Mr Assange, after granting asylum, this would be refused, in line with our legal obligations …
   We have to reiterate that we consider continued use of diplomatic premises in this way, to be incompatible with the VCDR (Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations) and not sustainable, and that we have already made clear to you the serious implications for our diplomatic relations.
   You should be aware that there is a legal basis in the UK—the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act—which would allow us to take action to arrest Mr Assange in the current premises of the Embassy.
   We very much hope not to get this point, but if you cannot resolve the issue of Mr Assange’s presence on your premises, this route is open to us.

   My memory of the conventions, which the UK has ratified, is that the embassy remains foreign soil. There are provisions under various criminal acts which allow prosecution of diplomatic and consular staff. The Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987 could see the embassy’s consular status revoked, something which the letter hints at.
   This is where the UK has to think twice. If the UK is willing to do revoke the status of the mission, then its desire to be seen as a sovereign nation that respects public international law will be damaged. The DCPA was created for very different purposes: it was developed in the wake of the murder of a police officer, Yvonne Fletcher, during the Libyan Embassy siege, on April 17, 1984, and the attempted abduction of Umaru Dikko on July 5, 1984. The Act was subject to huge scrunity, but it was developed to give the UK the right to go in to the Embassy in extraordinary circumstances, such as the pursuit of suspected murderers if the Fletcher situation recurred, or, as Baroness Young told the House of Lords in 1987, in cases of terrorism.
   This time, the UK wishes to invoke the Act over the breaching of bail conditions—a very different matter altogether.
   In the world of diplomacy, usually veiled with political-speak and niceties, such strongly worded correspondence is rightly construed as a threat, never mind what William Hague says in denying that the letter hints at the UK storming the mission. It also gives the state greater powers in determining how to remove inviolability before it takes action against the premises—but it could also be quickly challenged by Ecuador and it would be up to the courts to decide.
   Where things get muddied is that Assange is an Australian, and he doesn’t fear prosecution from his own country—usually the way through which someone claims asylum. He fears it from another country altogether, and most likely argues that his own country has failed to protect him. Assange has good grounds to believe that, since it has come from the Prime Minister herself:

   It’s within living memory for a lot of people how the international community frowned on Iran during the 1979 revolution and the storming of the US Embassy in Tehran. While one could argue there was no host nation at that point—the Shah had left town, so to speak—it sealed in many people’s memories just how sacrosanct diplomatic missions’ soil is. In Britain, Fletcher’s murder in 1984 again pointed to the inviolability of foreign missions’ soil—and just how extraordinary the circumstances have to be for DCPA provisions over revocation to come into force.
   It’s not hard to see why—if you look at my Facebook feed—the UK is getting criticized on its handling of the affair. It appears to be doing others’ bidding, using an extraordinary piece of legislation to pursue someone who had breached the bail conditions of another European country. It’s not the first time one law has been bent to suit unrelated purposes, and it won’t be the last—but in this case, a lot more people are watching the UK’s conduct.

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Posted in media, politics, publishing, Sweden, TV, UK | No Comments »


Even as Liu Xiaobo gets a Nobel prize, Beijing can be smug

12.12.2010

As I watched actress Liv Ullmann read Liu Xiaobo’s address, ‘I Have No Enemies’, on BBC World, I was quite moved.
   The address is what the Nobel Prize-winning author and intellectual delivered prior to his sentencing by a Red Chinese court for subversion.
   What is fascinating is the dignity with which the words are written, showing respect even to his prosecutors.
   Liu even discusses how the human rights in the prison at which he is held have greatly improved since the first time he was locked up there, saying that the ‘enemy mentality’ that Red China once held is disappearing in favour of a more humanist approach.
   Given that he knew he would be found guilty just before Christmas 2009, the address is remarkable for the hints of optimism he holds for his country.
   Liu Xiaobo will not, by himself, see through a wholesale change in the way the Communist Party is running mainland China, but he is representative of many forces which will, some day, make the country freer and more open.
   He is also representative of the area with occident and orient disagree: human rights. While those campaigning for Liu’s release should not stop, his address puts a lot of things into context.
   Mainland China, as it opens up, has tried to find a balance between governmental intervention and the market-place. Even Confucius has been partially recognized by the Politburo as a way to reinforce the state’s position, somehow reinterpreted along the lines of: we bring you prosperity, you give us your loyalty.
   As much as the internet is patrolled, there is a tendency for people to wish to be more free, and blacking out TV screens behind the Bamboo Curtain or resorting to censorship simply makes people wonder what they are missing.
   Where the country might yet succeed, however, is keeping a firm hand on change. Instead of the rush that saw to the collapse of the Soviet Union, Beijing is being pragmatic. As unbridled globalization and a corrupt, conspiratorial financial system has seen to two economic downturns in the last decade, and as the US’s politics move to extremes, the occident is giving fuel to Beijing’s methods. That’s not something that we should feel happy about, nor should we tolerate our commerce being run to further class structures in our societies.
   Liu has been likened to Nelson Mandela by Nobel committee chairman Thorbjørn Jagland. Mandela made a similar speech on the eve of being sentenced to treason in 1964. While Liu has his supporters, and I do not proclaim to be any expert on South African history, my feeling is that the former president was known to far more of his own people. There are also other differences to the other Nobel winners who have not been able to attend, be they Carl von Ossietzky, Andrei Sakharov, Lech Walesa and Aung San Suu Kyi.
   The chief difference is that fewer of us living in the occident in 2010 can be as smug or as preachy. While I support calls for Liu Xiaobo to be released—the jailing of a man exercising the same rights you and I do in criticizing our governments shows, in my mind, the weakness and insecurity of the critiqued régime—there is a real lesson for the rest of us.
   We cannot be in a position to insist on change if we keep supporting governments that weaken our own approaches to human rights. If we vote in a government that widens the distance between rich and poor—and history has more than often shown us which do—then we are letting down our most downtrodden citizens. If we fail to tidy up the mess our business sectors have left in their wake, then we are simply allowing their mistakes to recur.
   For every failure we chalk up because we let things remain the way they are, the more Beijing’s politicians can sit back and accuse us of hypocrisy.

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Posted in China, culture, internet, media, politics | 17 Comments »


Wikileaks’ brand of transparency is the enemy of the establishment

10.12.2010

There are probably two things, chiefly, that fuel support for Julian Assange.
   First, the idea that the mainstream media are not independent, but merely mouthpieces for the establishment. There’s some truth to this.
   Secondly, the fact that Wikileaks is revealing, this time, things that we already knew: that governments are two-faced.
   While I have posted my reservations about Wikileaks elsewhere, the latest news—that the US and Red China collaborated on ensuring that COP15 would fail—shows that governments are quite happy to follow the money, and be complicit with corporations who wish to continue polluting.
   Creating transparency—something I harped on about since joining the Medinge Group and writing in Beyond Branding with my colleagues—is something I believe in, so knocking down a few walls and having certain suspicions confirmed are good things.
   In the 2000s, the processes in our systems revealed that the Emperor had no clothes over at Enron—which prompted, in some respects, Beyond Branding—and, more recently, that the sub-prime mortgage market was a crock.
   Maybe it is about time that the processes revealed a few truths about government, and the very reasons so many of us mistrust them, or give politicians such a low rating in surveys.
   The fact that despite the democratic ideal, many are not working for us.
   On the 8th, Stefan Engeseth cheekily suggested on his blog that Wikileaks should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Yesterday, Russia suggested that Julian Assange could receive its nomination.
   Although Russia itself has come under fire, it rather likes having the two-faced nature of NATO confirmed by Wikileaks: on the one hand, saying that Russia is a strategic partner, while on the other, planning to defend the Baltic states and Poland from a Russian attack.
   A Peace Prize for a website or a founder who put certain anti-Taliban informants at risk would not get my vote, but the underlying sentiment of no more secrets does.
   The sad thing is that it might not, single-handedly, usher in an era where governments level with us more—but it is one of many moves that might.
   I say this as the establishment, including financial institutions, closes in on the website. As pointed out to me by Daniel Spector, PayPal and Mastercard are quite happy to accept your donations to the Ku Klux Klan, but will decline those to Wikileaks.

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Posted in business, culture, leadership, media, politics, social responsibility, technology, USA | 3 Comments »


The Julian Assange affair looks like a Smith and Jones gag

08.12.2010

In the news: Julian Assange.
   While the prosecutor in Sweden is denying it, the lesson here seems to be: publish a Wikileak naming anti-Taliban Afghan sources and risk getting them killed, and nothing happens to you. Publish a Wikileak embarrassing the United States, and get the whole media talking, while you’re charged with rape.
   I’m not happy about the earlier leak because it shows gross irresponsibility on the part of a website that is, effectively, a media outlet. I reckon they should be held accountable for that. But this time, I’m sorry: red diplomatic and corporate faces are far less serious.
   Without undermining what the two Swedish women allegedly went through, which is either connected to the leaks through political pressure or sheer bad timing, this whole affair reminds me of one gag in the old Alas Smith and Jones sketch show.
   In it, Mel Smith, as the newsreader, briefly reads an item about a terrible tragedy in México where thousands had died, but ‘it didn’t matter because they didn’t speak English,’ and emphasizes another where an Englishman was assaulted over an argument about the cut of his suit.
   Put some Afghans’ lives at risk, ‘it doesn’t matter because they don’t speak English,’ but embarrass some diplomats and rich guys, and it’s a big deal, sexual assault charges or not.
   All because some English speakers have red faces. Oh, how we love flexing our muscles.
   I’m not much of a fan of these wiki-style sites, even if I run one, but Assange might become a bigger name than the diplomats realize, a cause célèbre for free speech. Already the first hearing in England suggests as much.
   The establishment may be closing in on him, with Visa rejecting payments, and a Swiss bank saying no to Assange opening a bank account. Anyone who has loved the “young loner on a crusade”-type stories (you can tell I watched Knight Rider) might find an unlikely hero in Assange—Jemima Khan, Ken Loach, and John Pilger (who himself is no stranger to fighting on the little guy’s behalf) have.

PS.: The credit card company was not Visa, but Mastercard.—JY

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Posted in humour, internet, media, politics, Sweden, UK | 3 Comments »


Surprises on the press freedoms’ map

09.02.2010

This map (via pedroelrey on Tumblr) is food for thought, about international press freedoms:

   Those of us who enjoy a free press need to use it and not take it for granted. We might not always like what’s being said, but we should embrace the fact that we can say it at all.
   I was surprised to see that the US did not have a fully free press, according to this map from Reporters sans Frontières, which classes it with Chile, Argentina, France, South Africa and Japan.
   In fact, there are few of us that seem to be in the white—especially when you factor in the small populations of Australia, New Zealand and Scandinavia.
   The fact there are still countries in the black—the colour used here to represent a grave situation for press freedom—is also disturbing. Some communist nations, parts of the Middle East and Africa and several former Soviet states have very little press freedom.
   Anyone want to come up with some theories on why the US, France and Japan—developed countries I would have thought would come up in the white on such a map—are in second place when it comes to press freedoms?

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Posted in culture, France, media, politics | 1 Comment »