Archive for August, 2010

A Rights Agenda for Vietnam

19th July 2010

By Duy Hoang

When U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives in Hanoi on July 22 for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ Regional Forum, she will step into a dynamic country where the vast majority of people want a forward-looking political and economic relationship with America. With diplomatic ties fully normalized after 15 years of bilateral effort, Mrs. Clinton now needs to focus on next steps. It will be helpful if U.S. policy toward Vietnam is mindful of what’s in the long-term interest of both countries—a free and modern Vietnam.

Tran Khai Thanh Thuy is escorted from a court room in Hanoi, Vietnam Friday, April 16, 2010

Hoang

Hoang

On the economic front, Vietnam is gradually ditching a failed centrally planned economic model. But the Communist Party remains insistent on monopolizing political power. The inherent contradictions between an open economy and closed politics play out in many ways, some of which affect American business interests. Corruption remains a serious problem, for instance, which an unfree press struggles to police and for which an unfree public can’t hold officials accountable. By pushing for greater openness, Mrs. Clinton can help both Vietnamese and Americans.

One way would be for Mrs. Clinton to bring to Vietnam a message she has carried elsewhere: the importance of Internet freedom. Internet use in Vietnam has grown exponentially in the last decade, with some 25 million people now online. But Vietnam’s netizens, many of whom are young and restless, are facing increasing censorship. A directive by the People’s Committee of Hanoi issued in April requires all retail establishments providing Internet services, such as hotels and cafes, to install monitoring software and report user violations to authorities. These broadly defined violations include “abusing the Internet” to oppose the government, disclosing national secrets or providing so-called distorted information. Meanwhile, those who want to use Facebook and other social-networking sites must circumvent censorship attempts because the Ministry of Public Security has ordered local Internet service providers to block access.

These Internet restrictions, which Vietnamese face everyday, run counter to the Hanoi government’s stated objective of developing a knowledge-based economy. They also interfere with U.S. programs to support higher education in Vietnam. One oft discussed project, creating American-style universities in Vietnam, would be meaningless without unfettered access to information.

Besides calling on her hosts to repeal Internet censorship, Mrs. Clinton could also advance human rights in Vietnam byjoin members of the U.S. Congress in calling for the release of Vietnamese rights activists, including three prominent women: novelist Tran Khai Thanh Thuy, lawyer Le Thi Cong Nhan and cyber-activist Pham Thanh Nghien. The case of Ms. Thuy is of particular concern to anyone who has a stake in an open and fair Vietnam legal system. According to eyewitnesses, she was beaten by police at her home in October 2009, apparently in retaliation for attending the trials of fellow activists. She was then charged with assault. State media published a picture of a bloodied man that the 5-foot-tall Ms. Thuy supposedly assaulted. Vietnamese bloggers proved, however, that the picture was taken in 2005 and photoshopped to appear to have happened at the time of the incident. Ms. Thuy was sentenced to three and a half years in jail on the phony charge.

Ms. Nhan is a human rights lawyer currently under house arrest for advocating multiparty democracy. Prior to her arrest, she analyzed how a decree granting security police the power to detain citizens for years without trial violated Vietnam’s Constitution. Ms. Nghien got in trouble with police for attempting to organize a peaceful demonstration against the Beijing Olympic Torch Relay in 2008 and later for publicizing the plight of Vietnamese fishermen attacked by Chinese navy vessels in a disputed area of the South China Sea that historically belonged to Vietnam. She was imprisoned for her public opposition to government policies toward China.

Mrs. Clinton’s visit is an opportunity to raise these specific cases. While some observers view the current crackdown by Hanoi as a precursor to next January’s Communist Party Congress and therefore something that just has to be tolerated, the Vietnamese authorities are not immune to outside pressure. Hanoi craves a visit by President Obama later this year along with the granting of economic carrots like the Trans Pacific Partnership. The regime has made some improvements in the past on issues like religious freedom in response to criticism from the U.S., although those have often proven fleeting as soon as the pressure eases. This suggests that iIf Mrs. Clinton makes an issue of Hanoi’s rights record—and then Washington keeps up the pressure—she can do some good for Vietnam.

It may seem inconvenient to raise such sensitive issues. But it would be short-sighted to take a narrow view of America’s interests in the region and the best way forward for U.S.-Vietnam ties, but that’s a short-sighted view. With 86 million people and so much economic promise, Vietnam has the potential for anchoring a more prosperous and liberal region. But this requires the participation and empowerment of the entire country, not just a privileged elite. Mrs. Clinton’s visit is a chance to work toward that goal.

Source taken from: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703720504575377984024082128.html

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IFJ Press Freedom in China

9th August 2010

1. Assaults on Journalists Prompt Encouraging Response From Authorities

The General Administrative of Press and Publication of China (GAPP) issued a rare statement on July 30 noting the rights of media workers following three recent incidents. A Shenzhen-based journalist, Chen Xiaoying, of the China Times, was punched in the head by an unidentified man on July 29 when she arrived for an appointment with an anonymous source. Chen believes the assault was connected to her report on a listed company, Shenzhen International Enterprise Co., published on July 18, which alleged that its managing director may have been involved in inappropriate activities. In Shanghai on July 30, four people broke into the office of National Business Daily and harassed staff after the newspaper reported allegations that products of shampoo manufacturer Bawang Group might contain excessive levels of chemicals. A separate incident in Lishui City Suichang County also contributed to the GAPP response. The Economic Observer’s Qiu Ziming discovered his name on an online “wanted persons” list of the local security bureau on July 23, after he published three articles on Zhejiang Kan Specialties Material Corporation’s suspected involvement in stock exchange breaches. The security bureau deleted Qiu’s name and apologised on July 30 but gave no firm commitment to investigate Qiu’s allegations of harassment and attempted bribery from those who sought to cover up his reports. The IFJ is encouraged by the GAPP statement and urges media organisations to report all cases of assault and intimidation.
2. IFJ Condemns Jailing of Uyghur Media Workers, Writer

The IFJ condemned the sentencing of four Uyghur media workers and a writer for three to 15 years’ jail. Writer Gheyret Niyaz, 51, a former journalist and a frequent writer at Uighurbiz.net, was convicted of divulging state secrets and sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment on July 23. Radio Free Asia reported that Gheyret was convicted for accepting an interview with a Hong Kong magazine, Asia Week, where he revealed he had twice warned the Government of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region ahead of the outburst of ethnic unrest in July 2009. On July 30, more than 20 of China’s scholars requested the local government release Gheyret unconditionally. Dilshat Perhat,Nureli, Nijat Azat and one unnamed person, employees of Uyghur language website Diyarim.com, were convicted of endangering state security and sentenced to between three and 10 years’ jail each. The IFJ urged the Xinjiang Government to swiftly and unconditionally release the four prisoners.
3. Death Threat on Journalist Reporting on Floods

A journalist with the China Economic Times, Liu Jianfeng, received a life-threatening note on July 9, a day after he reported on his blog that people had drowned during floods in Jiangxi. His original report, published in the print and online editions of the paper, had been edited by senior management, who reclassified three deaths caused by the floods as “disappearances”. According to a Radio Free Asia report, Liu found a note at his home which said, “Watch out when you go out!” Liu believes the note was sent by agents of the Jiangxi Government, who had also allegedly offered him a bribe of 3000 yuan (about USD 443) on June 29. The IFJ urged China’s Central Government and Security Bureau to promptly investigate the threats and bribery allegations, and called on the All-China Journalists’ Association to discourage self-censorship.
4. Report Details Hong Kong Media Rights Infringements

The IFJ was concerned by information in a new report that documents increasing media rights infringements in Hong Kong in the past 12 months. The annual report of the Hong Kong Journalists’ Association (HKJA), an IFJ affiliate, reports several threats to media freedom, including increased restrictions on journalists and incidents of harassment and assault. Many of the media rights violations reported by the HKJA are in stark contrast to the Basic Law of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, which grants its people freedom of the press, freedom of expression and freedom of publication. The IFJ urged Hong Kong’s Government to uphold the Basic Law, which is a responsibility that comes with being a signatory of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The IFJ’s 2009 press freedom report, China Clings to Control, noted a number of cases where Hong Kong journalists were assaulted or detained while working in China. Find the IFJ’s report here.
5. Journalist Beaten While Reporting Building Collapse

Lin Feng, a journalist of Southeast Express, controlled by the Fujian branch of China’s Council for the Promotion of International Trade, which is in turn under the direction of the Fujian Provincial Government, was assaulted by a group of unidentified people on July 8 when he was reporting on the collapse of a building in a village of Cangshan District, Fuzhou, Fujian province. During the scuffle, his camera was snatched and all images were deleted. Lin said some local villagers alleged that the group was instructed by a village representative who was related to local officials involved in breaching the building’s construction regulations. Journalists from other media outlets were forbidden to get closer to the vicinity.
6. Interview Request Answered with Assault

Chen Wenguang, of Zhejiang TV, suffered stomach injuries and his camera was damaged in an assault by an official of Lu Bu village, in Liandu District, on July 16, following his request to interview village vice-officer Zeng Guofeng regarding construction of a resort without official approval. No promise has been made by authorities to investigate the case.
7. Hong Kong and Foreign Journalists Detained for Reporting Rally

The IFJ was concerned by an attempt by police to block Hong Kong and foreign media access and reporting of an August 1 rally in Guangdong to protect the city’s colloquial language. Journalists in China were banned from covering the event, and were instructed by authorities to use government news agency reports instead. Journalist Lam Kin-seng, of Hong Kong-based Cable TV, reported that police surrounded the group of Hong Kong and foreign media workers before taking them to a temporary office where they were detained for almost six hours, interrogated and accused of being involved in “attempting to disrupt social order”. The IFJ urged the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) of China and the All China Journalists’ Association to work to ensure officials at all levels understand the rights of the media that are enshrined in China’s Constitution.
8. Ban on Report of Killings at Kindergarten

A non-publication order was made by the Shandong propaganda department about the killing of three toddlers at a kindergarten in Boshan District, Zibo City, Shandong Province, on August 3. An IFJ source said a number of toddlers and teachers were also injured before the attacker absconded. The source said the local government’s prohibition on media reports may be because many local government officials’ children attend the kindergarten.
9. Negative Newspaper Reports from Outside Home Province Banned

In July, the Central Propaganda Department tightened regulations to prevent provincial city newspapers from publishing negative articles written by newspapers located in other provinces. City newspapers must now source state-owned media when reporting on spontaneous news, unless an event is viewed specifically by a staff reporter on the scene. “The aim of the order is to strengthen the local government’s ability to control the dissemination of negative reports about their own cities,” a journalist who is working in a city newspaper said. “We’d heard that some of the local governments had complained to the Central Propaganda Government of negative stories being published about their province. The order affects the watch-dog power of media.” The IFJ urged China’s authorities to revoke the order as it is a clear violation of the principles of press freedom which are enshrined in article 35 of China’s Constitution.
10. Reporting on CEO Allegations and Rules for Party Leaders Restricted

The Central Propaganda Department issued an order on July 12 that all media not report an allegation that a former CEO of Microsoft (China), Tang Jun, was involved in a fake doctoral degree incident. Tang’s case became a hot topic online in China, which prompted some of the media to investigate whether any celebrities in China were involved in the unethical obtaining of academic results. On July 5 the department ordered controls on reporting about a new regulation requiring Party leaders to register personal data about themselves and their family members. The order directs all media to use government-run Xinhua News Agency reports about the regulation.
11. Internet Monitoring Raises Concerns

The IFJ was worried that a number of moves by China’s authorities to justify increased monitoring of online activity will adversely impact journalists. The Government of Tibet demanded all internet cafes install a distance monitoring online system by the end of August after instruction from the Ministry of Culture of China. The system records all websites that internet users access, as well as messages in chat rooms or Skype, which are often used by journalists. A Tibetan news website reported on July 30 that the ministry said it was trying to protect minors. However some scholars queried this as all internet users are already required to use their personal identity registration number to play online games, which prevents minors from using the cafes for this purpose. Meanwhile, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences reported on July 1 that some social networking websites are being used by western intelligence agencies to collect political information. According to the China Daily, the research report “China New Media Development 2010” said that social networking websites had fast become a platform for people who attempt to upset the social order. Since early July many bloggers have complained that their blogs at sina and sohu were suddenly blocked.

Source taken from: http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO1008/S00138/ifj-press-freedom-in-china.htm

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Asian Perspective: Why networking sites can be addictive

1st August 2010
HUNDREDS of online social networking sites (SNS) are available these days catering to various interests — friendship, dating, business networking, among others.Sites like Facebook, MySpace, Urkut, hi5, Bebo and Friendster are very popular.

Almost 85 per cent of Malaysia’s online population belongs to one or more of these sites. Of the many SNS, Malaysians have taken a liking to Facebook which has a 77.5 per cent reach of the web population.
This phenomenon, states a report on social networking activities by comScore Inc, is common in most Asia Pacific countries such as the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia and Singapore.

What drives online users to Facebook?

The ability to establish and maintain relationships is the primary drive, says Dr Adrian M. Budiman, a senior lecturer at Universiti Utara Malaysia. It could be real contacts (established in real life), virtual contacts (established online), or old relationships.
Adrian, who conducts research in new media and culture, says there are several interesting reasons why Facebook appeals to the online population.

“It is a tool for members to boost their self-esteem. The more friends they have, the more popular they feel. They receive feedback for the content they publish though the site.

“There is a sense of constantly being surrounded by a circle of friends.”
Another reason, he says, is the voyeuristic tendency to view other people’s information in private.

“People want to explore other people’s personal lives without suffering negative social consequences. It also provides a platform to rekindle old relationships.

“The ability to search for old friends and colleagues, former romantic partners, and discover their current status is quite appealing for some members.”

He says the majority of the younger generation (21 years and below) embrace social networks more comfortably than the older generation, and tend to be more liberal in revealing personal information through the site.

While younger people are interested in making new friends, the older generation is more interested in maintaining existing friendships through this medium.

“For younger people, it is their primary method of communication in some cases. In my study, I have discovered that the older generation still has a tendency to value human communication as superior and have greater respect for traditional values and morality,” says Adrian.

He believes it is not all bad.

“It may enhance social interaction. The ability to communicate through interactive media allows more options and more frequent interactions with our contacts. I have found that existing relationships formed in real-life may be strengthened through Facebook.”

Nonetheless, he agrees that some relationships initiated through Facebook may be superficial.

“Before the popularity of interactive media, a ‘friend’ was associated with a person with whom he had a positive relationship with. This is no longer true with the advent of new media.

“The idea of ‘friend’ itself degrades the value of friendship since a Facebook ‘friend’ can be as distant as a friend of a friend of a friend whom we know nothing about.”

Julian Hopkins, a doctoral student at Monash University Sunway Campus who researches social media, says for some people, retreating into the virtual world to make friends can be a means to overcome social awkwardness or loneliness.

“I think that is in the minority, and is not the main reason for people using SNS.”

The fascination with self-display as seen on SNS is not unusual says Hopkins. It only seems more obvious because it’s online and archived.

“We all self-display all the time. With technological advances, especially digital photography, a lot more of that is happening now.

“Doing something such as posting photos of a party online is a way of reinforcing ties with other people who went to the party.”

One of the biggest mistakes in the public debate on SNS, says Hopkins, is that it is assumed the generation of “digital natives” are not concerned about privacy.

While these platforms offer users the ability to disclose a wide variety of personal information it also differentiates between public and private, where public means that a profile is available to anyone and private means that it is only for selected friends.

“Facebook is popular because users think that they are only sharing with people they want to share with.

“Teenagers, for example, may want only people like them to see their profile but they do not want the same attention from an adult.

“One noticeable trend in this regard is that, as more and more parents go into Facebook, young people are creating multiple profiles — one for the ‘parent public’ which includes their school, potential employers and one for their own public.”

Generally, he says, people are ignorant about the risk factors when using these platforms. Many don’t understand that their indiscretions will be online indefinitely.

“Users must realise that anything that goes online may be seen by their parents, their teachers, their future partners, their future employers and even their children.

“I don’t think social networks are damaging. It only becomes a problem when people reveal things that come back to haunt them or they become addicted to it.”

Read more: Why networking sites can be addictive http://www.nst.com.my/nst/articles/02cdsns1a/Article/#ixzz0w6g4l6rV

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Indonesia Finds Banning Pornography Is Difficult

By AUBREY BELFORD
Published: August 1, 2010

GILI MENO, INDONESIA — As one of the heads of the Indonesian Internet Service Provider Association, Valens Riyadi knows he has his work cut out for him.

Irwin Ferdiansyah/Associated Press
Indonesia Muslims displayed posters during an anti-pornography rally in Jakarta in June.

Last month, the country’s information minister, Tifatul Sembiring, said that local service providers would have to start blocking online pornography by the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which starts Aug. 11. That deadline is fast approaching, and Mr. Riyadi says he still has no idea how he is going to put a filter in place.

“It’s really a hard thing to do in technical terms,” he said. “For me, it’s almost an impossible task.”

Mr. Sembiring has won plaudits for pledging to curb online pornography in this Muslim-majority democracy of 240 million people, and for following regional peers like China, Thailand and Singapore into the fraught world of Internet screening. But the problem, Mr. Riyadi says, is that the minister’s plan is really no plan at all.

No official decree has been issued, no list of banned sites has been published and no details have surfaced on who will pay for monitoring and screening of Web sites. The minister has, however, threatened the roughly 230 Internet service providers in Indonesia with closure if they fail to block pornographic sites for the country’s 40 million Internet users.

Mr. Riyadi, laughing with exasperation, said service providers might be able to scrape together a block of “famous pornographic Web sites” in the coming weeks — roughly 10 percent of such content. Service providers might be able to block 50 percent of online pornography in the months ahead, he said, if they were lucky.

The debate over Internet screening here has been intense. Early this year, Mr. Sembiring proposed a decree that would impose screening of sites with illegal content, including pornography, gambling and blasphemy. He based his proposal in part on two laws concerning information technology and pornography that were passed in 2008, but the announcement led to howls of opposition from secularists and free-speech advocates.

The uproar from civil society groups and in the rambunctious Indonesian media, one of the freest in Asia, prompted Indonesia’s president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, to rebuff the plan.

But in June, a series of videos emerged online that allegedly showed the popular rock singer Nazril Irham, known as Ariel, having sex with two female celebrities.

Amid the wild popularity of the videos and blanket media coverage of the scandal, in which the celebrities and a number of other people were declared suspects accused of breaking laws on criminal pornography and indecency, Mr. Sembiring revived the screening plan — this time with backing from the president.

Mr. Sembiring says the plan will work, and in time for the fasting month. During an interview, he said that service providers would adopt a government keyword filtering system known as Trust Positif, which is already in use in many of the government’s computer networks.

“Not all of the sites, all of the pornographic content, will be gone from the Internet,” said Mr. Sembiring, a politician from the Prosperous Justice Party, a conservative Islamic group that is a member of the president’s governing coalition. “But step by step, we’re trying to filter pornographic content.”

The filter would begin with pornography and would later be expanded to other undesirable sites. Since the keyword list has already been in use for government departments, he said, “I think after one month, our frequency of updating will be low.”

But for Mr. Riyadi, of the I.S.P. association, the plan is simply unworkable. Blocking sites by keywords might be feasible for small networks, but it is a tricky task for larger ones, he said.

Service providers would have to collectively spend as much as 500 billion rupiah, or $56 million, to install proxy, or intermediate, servers to house the filters, he said.

Mr. Riyadi added that the proxy servers might not even work, and that if they did, it could slow the access to overseas Web sites by 20 percent to 30 percent, he said.

Mr. Riyadi said the way forward would be for the government to put together a list of blocked addresses, a laborious process that would involve tens of millions of restricted pages.

But such a list has not been made public, despite requests. “I guess he’s gotten the wrong technical data from his staff,” he said.

For Hasan Yahya, a business consultant and blogger, the screening plan threatens both free speech and Indonesia’s Internet industry.

Although there are hundreds of service providers in the country, the majority of people are clients of Telkom, the state-linked giant, and a handful of other, private operators.

Making service providers assume the burden of screening will squeeze smaller operators hard, Mr. Yahya said.

Mr. Sembiring “is a Taliban copying what he thinks he knows from China,” Mr. Yahya said. “It’s hardly the example that we want to copy for this young and fragile democracy.”

Besides, Mr. Yahya said, the plan is so vague and technically unfeasible that it will probably not even work. Unlike China or Singapore, Indonesia, with its roughly 17,000 islands, has no centralized Web infrastructure and has several links to networks overseas.

“I’d bet you my little finger nobody could make it happen,” Mr. Yahya said. “Not in the next few months, not in the time frame the minister wants, before Ramadan.”

Source taken from: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/02/technology/02iht-indoporn02.html?_r=1&src=busln

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CNN anchor muses about legal crackdown on bloggers’ free speech

By: Mark Hemingway
Commentary Staff Writer
07/24/10 1:16 PM EDT

In the wake of the Shirley Sherrod firing, CNN anchor Krya Phillips muses about a rather draconian solution to the problem of misinformation:

“There’s going to have be a point in time where these people have to be held accountable,” Phillips said. “How about all these bloggers that blog anonymously? They say rotten things about people and they’re actually given credibility, which is crazy. They’re a bunch of cowards, they’re just people seeking attention.”

Phillips demanded to know what Andrew Keen thought needed to be done. Keen, author of “The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture,” who suggested that there needs to be an internet “gatekeeper,” had been interviewed by Roberts and quoted in the segment.

“Well what Andrew talked about with me was this idea of a gatekeeper but there are huge first amendment rights that come into play here – freedom of speech and all that. And he said the people who need to be the gatekeepers are the media to check into these stories,” said Roberts.

Phillips wanted to go even further, asking if “there’s going to come a point where something’s going to have to be done legally” about anonymous bloggers.

“There has to be some point where there’s some accountability. And companies, especially in the media have to stop giving these anonymous bloggers credit,” she said.

Libel and slander laws apply to bloggers the same as profesional journalists. There already is a legal remedy. This browbeating of bloggers by the MSM — which repeatedly gets things wrong and has a much bigger megaphone to begin with — is a bit much, as Kevin Williamson at NRO observes:

By way of comparison: NBC did not blow up a pick-up truck by accident for their infamous GM hit piece; they rigged the thing in advance. Dan Rather, to this day, has not owned up to basing a story on forged documents. So far as I can tell, Andrew Breitbart is still operating at a higher editorial standard than the producers of Dateline or the CBS Evening News 60 Minutes II did on those occasions. I do not see a lot of opportunity for self-congratulation in this episode for the mainstream media. Breitbart’s 37-word correction is 37 words more than Dan Rather has offered in honest assessment of his story’s shortcomings. May the mainstream media aspire to live up to Breitbart’s standards.

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