Tag Archives: China

Google’s head of public policy: ‘We live or die by the trust our users have in our services’

Google’s head of public policy and government relations pushed the ‘don’t be evil’ line at last night’s Amnesty International social media event, with emphasis on user power and responsible company behaviour.

“We live or die by the trust our users have in our services,” Susan Pointer told the audience of human rights, technology and media workers gathered to discuss the positive and negative uses of technology for democracy.

Also speaking were the Guardian’s digital media research editor, Kevin Anderson; Annabelle Sreberny, professor of global media and communication at SOAS; and author and blogger Andrew Keen: who spoke from the US via an iPhone held up to the mic by the event chair, BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones.

“[A] very important thing to understand about the way our business operates is that our users choose to use it,”  Pointer later told Journalism.co.uk.

“We don’t have a contract with our users that ties them into our services. They haven’t invested a lot of money in our software packages.

“The way we keep our users is by continuing to provide good, leading edge innovative services: they’re free at the click of a mouse to choose an alternative to Google.”

Providing valuable services for users keeps the search giant – which owns YouTube as well as running a host of other products – on its toes, she said.

Improving the transparency of the recently launched social media application Google Buzz was one such reaction to user complaints, she added.

When the company realised improvements could be made, they were implemented, she said: “that’s something we did within hours and not days.”

While Pointer argued that no user information was ever revealed before an individual went through the Buzz set-up process, she said it had been necessary to make changes to the visibility of the user controls.

The addition of Buzz to the Google Dashboard allowed even greater user control over settings, she argued.

On Google’s approach to China she would not be drawn beyond the company’s most recent blog post, which explained its decision to stop censoring the Chinese language Google search service: “We no longer felt comfortable self-censoring results on Google.cn.”

The company is currently “discussing the possibility of continuing the Google.cn service without such censorship”.

“We’re not going to give a running commentary on where discussions are, but we want those discussions to be in good faith.”

Listen to Pointer talking to the Amnesty UK audience via AudioBoo:

On China:


On privacy, Google Buzz and customising advertising:

FT Chinese staff threatened with redundancies

A group of journalists working for FT Chinese, a Chinese language website, are facing redundancy if they do not return to China, on half their salaries, the National Union of Journalists has reported.

Two of the four Chinese journalists are British citizens, and they already have “inferior” terms and conditions to other journalists at the Financial Times, it was claimed by the NUJ today.

The National Union of Journalists Financial Times chapel is threatening to ballot for action, if plans are not reversed.

The NUJ chapel at the Financial Times voted unanimously – at a meeting attended by over 80 members – to demand that the threat of the redundancies be lifted.

“We condemn the outrageous treatment of journalists on FT Chinese. We demand no redundancies on FT Chinese and that the journalists be placed on the same terms and conditions as the rest of FT editorial. It is unconscionable that the FT is sending FT Chinese journalists into harm’s way. We will ballot for industrial action if these demands are not met,” said a spokesperson from the NUJ office branch.

One of the FT Chinese staff wrote to colleagues: “It was a tremendous shock to the entire team. This reminded us of a very old Chinese saying: ‘kill the donkey after it has done its job at the mill’. The best equivalent in English I can think of is ‘kick down the ladder’.”

A email sent to FT staff on behalf of the NUJ chapel, said it “was shocked but not surprised to hear about the Chinese journalist situation”.

“This is no longer the FT that we all joined. The FT used to be a place of compassion, where people were looked after and, in return, gave the job their all.

“Now there are job cuts while new hires are ongoing, constant pressure from bosses to get more in a shrinking paper, filing for the web for ft.com and blogging, and yet no personal support in return. This new FT is not the great place to work of the past. The end result will be lack of commitment to the paper, which will, eventually, show up in the quality of the end product.

The Financial Times told Journalism.co.uk it did not have a comment to make at this point.

China Media Project/Singapore Straits Times: The state of investigative journalism in China

“It may not quite be the Fourth Estate as in the Western press but a form of ‘watchdog journalism’ exists in China,” says this interesting piece looking at the growth of and challenges to investigative journalism in China.

The article takes a look at those organisations carrying out investigations, the help/hindrance of the internet, whether investigative journalists are chasing the right stories and what price they might pay for their work.

Full story at this link…

EnvironmentGuardian.co.uk’s makeover

A new look for  Guardian.co.uk’s environment pages was unveiled today, with the promise of more editorial content from its six correspondents.

“The Guardian has built this unrivalled team in the belief that environmental issues, and in particular global warming, is the defining issue of our age, combining politics, economics and social justice,” said James Randerson, editor of EnvironmentGuardian.co.uk, in a release from Guardian News & Media.

“We hope that all of the new features on the site – together with the enthusiastic participation of our visitors – will serve as an invaluable resource for anyone wanting to understand the context behind the headlines.”

Expert correspondents now include one in Washington DC, one in China and one dedicated to green technology, the release said.

Also announced:

  • A new video series featuring the Observer columnist Lucy Siegle
  • To mark the UN climate talks in Copenhagen in December, the foreign secretary David Miliband will answer users’ questions in a live online Q&A at lunchtime on Tuesday (September 8, 2009) – time to be confirmed.

Randerson is asking for user feedback at this link.

Politico: Bill Clinton will try to secure release of US journalists held in North Korea

The former president Bill Clinton has gone to to North Korea to try and win the release of two women journalists who have been detained since March 17, Politico learned from a Washington source.

“North Korean officials told one family that they would release the women to Clinton, the source said. The family then approached the former president.”

Laura Ling, 32, and Euna Lee, 36 are reporters for Current TV, and were  arrested in March near the China-North Korea border while reporting on the trafficking of women. They were sentenced to 12 years hard labour in June.

Full Politico story at this link…

A campaign to release the journalists can be found at http://www.lauraandeuna.com/ and on Twitter: @LiberateLauraSF.

AppAfrica: Africa’s first Chinese newspaper – Botswana’s Oriental Post

“It’s no secret that China’s mild-infatuation with Africa has only been increasing over the last decade,” writes Jonathan Gosier at AppAfrica.

“If it’s any indicator, the first all Chinese publication in Botswana suggests that things show no sign of slowing. The paper, called The Oriental Post will feature largely Chinese content with a handful of pages written in English. Botswana has between 5,000 and 6,000 Chinese residents living among the total population of 1.8 million.”

Full story at this link…

Originally reported at France24.com.

Beatblogging.org: Globe and Mail/Reuters using Twitter photos of China riots

According to Beatblogging.org, the Globe and Mail featured five photos that all originally appeared on Twitter as part of its main story yesterday on riots in China.

The images were posted by Chinese citizens using the service and picked up by Reuters – the Globe and Mail took them from the agency’s service and attributed both Twitter and Reuters.

An example of, writes Beatblogging.org, news worthiness overriding photographic quality (the pictures are taken on mobile phones); and the importance of curation as a skill for journalists and editors (Reuters will have had to go through many photos before finding these images).

What’s more it shows the ability of social media and online communities to break through the great Chinese firewall:

“Rather than fear social media and other emerging Web technologies, news organizations should embrace these new technologies. In this case, the Globe and Mail was able to print five incredible photos that illustrate the upheaval and deadly violence in China. These photos would not be possible without social media, and the world would be poorer without these photos.”

Full post at this link…

FT scoops six prizes at SOPA awards

The Financial Times’ Chinese-language website, FTChinese.com, took the prize for best feature writing at the Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA) awards last night.

The site was one of six winners for the FT, which also took home gongs for newspaper design, digital journalism (for reporting on China and the Olympics) and scoop of the year.

FTChinese.com’s winning effort was an article on 30 years of reforms in China.

The title’s Mumbai correspondent, Joe Leahy, was also named journalist of the year at the event.

A full list of the award winners, which also saw the International Herald Tribune and Newsweek recognised, can be downloaded at this link.

It’s old-fashioned journalism from the bunker and there’s more to come, says Telegraph

So who wants the films rights to MPs’ expenses? It’s on a far less grave subject, but maybe it will be like the 9/11 films; the aftermath still permeating society, when the scripts are sold and production started. The next general election may not even have happened. Gordon Brown could still be Prime Minister. Just.

Or perhaps (Sir? ‘Lord’ is less likely given the target) Will Lewis’ memoirs will have been on sale for a while first, before the 21st century’s equivalent of ‘All the President’s Men’ is released, to allow the dust to settle.

Whichever way, this archetypal British plot is the stuff of a (Working Title, maybe) director’s dream; even if the journalism itself is markedly not Watergate, as most hardened investigative hacks and other journalists at rival titles are quick to point out. The gate of significance in this story is the one at the end of the second home’s garden path. No Deep Throat, just Deep Pockets.

A small group of privileged Telegraph journalists has been embedded from early till late in what’s apparently known as ‘the bunker’ – a room separate from the main newsroom, away from the ‘hub and spokes’, away from the Twitterfall graphic projected on the wall – sifting through the details of thousands upon thousands of supermarket, DIY store and restaurant receipts and other documents.

It’s got all the ingredients for the heroic hack flick: the furtive deal with the middle man and the original whistleblower, for an undisclosed sum (no doubt to be revealed in Lewis’ or possibly Ben Brogan’s memoirs), at one point rumoured to be £300,000.

While this whole expose – the ‘Expenses Files’ as the Telegraph first called it – is most definitely built on a film-like fantasy, it is grounded in career-breaking political change, and last night’s audience at the Frontline Club for a debate on the paper’s handling of the stories, got a little insight into the process; a rare chance, as the paper has mainly been very quiet on just how it’s done it.

The ‘consequences were massively in the public interest,’ argued the Telegraph’s assistant editor, Andrew Pierce, who popped up on BBC Breakfast news this morning as well. “It was brilliant, brilliant old fashioned journalism (…) at its finest.

“It’s so exciting – you were aware you had stuff, it was going to change things, and boy it has…

“Of course it’s been terrific for the circulation – we’re a newspaper and we’re there to make sales.”

According to Pierce, 240 broadsheet pages covering the story have been published so far.

“So far we’ve published one correction: we got a house mixed up. I’d say in terms of journalism that ain’t a bad ratio.”

That was disputed by one member of last night’s panel, Stephen Tall, editor-at-large for the Liberal Democrat Voice website; he’s unlikely to get a cameo as it would rather spoil the plot.

Tall’s complaint was that three stories on Liberal Democrats have been misrepresented in separate stories and received insufficient apology; something Journalism.co.uk will follow up on elsewhere, once we’ve moved on from this romanticised big screen analogy.

Back to the glory: Pierce described how journalists from around the world had been to peek at the unfolding scene of action – they’ve had camera crews from Turkey, Thailand and China, in for visits, he said.

There’s a ‘sense of astonishment’, he added. ‘They thought quaint old Britain’, the mother of all democracies, ‘was squeaky clean.’

The story, Pierce claimed, ‘has reverberated all the way around the world’. “We actually are going to get this sorted out. Were MPs really able to set their own pay levels? Their own expenses levels? And it was all tax free.”

‘Old-fashioned journalism lives on’ has become the war cry of the Telegraph and its champions, in defence of the manner in which it acquired and dealt with the data.

For raw blogging it is not. Any CAR is kept secret in-house. Sharing the process? Pah! This is as far away from a Jarvian vision of journalism built-in-beta as you can imagine. While other news operations – the Telegraph’s own included – increasingly open up the inner workings (former Telegraph editor Martin Newland’s team at The National in Abu Dhabi tweeted live from a significant meeting yesterday morning) not a social media peep comes from the bunker till the paper arrives back from the printers.

There might be little teasers on the site with which to taunt their rivals, but for the full meaty, pictorial evidence it’s paper first, online second. Rivals, Pierce said, have to ‘wait for the second edition before they rip it off’.

Nobody has it confirmed how much they officially coughed up for the story – ‘we don’t use the words bought or paid,’ said Pierce. Though last night’s host, Guardian blogger and journalism professor Roy Greenslade, twice slipped in a speculative reference to £75,000, Pierce refused to be drawn.

“Fleet Street has existed for years on leaks,” said Pierce, as justification. “We will stick to our guns (…) and not discuss whether money changed hands.”

Enter the hard done by heroine of the piece: Heather Brooke. Much lauded and widely respected freedom of information campaigner, she and other journalists – one from the Sunday Telegraph (Ben Leapman); one from the Times (Jonathan Ungoed-Thomas) – did the mind-numbingly boring hours of Freedom of Information requests and tedious legal battles over several years, only to lose the scoop to a chequebook.

Will she get a part in the government-destroyed-by-dodgy-expenses film? If Independent editor, Roger Alton, was casting she certainly would. In fact, she deserves a damehood, he declared last night.

A member of the audience asked whether Alton would have paid for the information himself if he had had the chance. Unlike his last foray to the Frontline, the Independent editor knew he was being filmed this time. A pause for ethical reflection before he answered, then:

“We’ve barely got enough money to cover a football match for Queens Park Rangers. Take a wild guess! Any journalist would cut off their left arm and pickle it in balsamic vinegar!”

That’s a yes then, we presume.

Apparently, Sun editor Rebekah Wade turned it down after being told there wasn’t much chance of a Jacqui Smith style porn revelation or a cabinet resignation. “She asked ‘would this bring down a cabinet minster?’ And she was told it wouldn’t,” claimed Pierce. How wrong the data tout(s) were about their own stuff.

More embarrassing for the Telegraph, though Pierce said he knew nothing of it, was Brooke’s revelation that the Sunday Telegraph had refused to back their man financially, a case which Brooke, Leapman and Ungoed-Thomas finally won in the High Court – the judge ordered disclosure of all receipts and claims of the 14 MPs in original requests, along with the addresses of their second homes.

Update: Ben Leapman responds on Jon Slattery’s blog here: “I never asked my employer to pay for a lawyer because I took the view that journalists ought, in principle, be able to go to FoI tribunals themselves without the barrier of having to pay. I also took the view, probably rather arrogantly, that in this emerging field of law I was perfectly capable of putting the arguments directly without a lawyer.” Leapman was represented by solicitor advocate Simon McKay ‘very ably for no fee’ in the High Court, he writes.

Publication of all MPs’ expense claims are now forthcoming, after redaction (‘a posh word for tippexing out,’ said Pierce.) In July 2008, ‘parliament went against the court by exempting some information – MPs’ addresses – from disclosure,’ the Guardian reported.

Now, for a name for our blockbuster. ‘The Month Before Redaction‘? ‘Bunker on Buckingham Palace Road‘? ‘646 Expense Forms and a Re-shuffle‘? I can predict a more likely tag line at least, the now all too familiar: ‘They said they acted within the rules’.

The ending to this expenses epic is not yet known, but there won’t be many happy endings in Parliament. Pierce promises more stories, with no firm end date, but unsurprisingly, didn’t give any hint of what lies ahead. Could an even bigger scoop be on its way? Who’s left?

Kate Adie on 20 years since Tiananmen Square

Journalists, photographers and filmmakers came together at the Frontline Club last night for a special screening of Kate Adie’s latest documentary.

Shot entirely on tapeless cameras, the film retraces Kate’s footsteps of reporting from the protests at Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Returning to China with what she describes as ‘an open mind’, Adie found herself ‘at the mercy of relentless surveillence by the secret police’.

Adie found fame back in 1989 when she was one of the few journalists reporting from the middle of the action, amongst gunfire and dead bodies. She told the audience that she made a pact with her cameraman to stay for the sake of the story, despite the odds of them surviving being stacked against them.

This time round Kate and her crew were denied journalist visas, forcing them to effectively go undercover, under the false pretence of being tourists.

Despite being followed by numerous secret police cars throughout the filming process, she said people were ‘desperate to talk and tell their story of the events of 1989’.

At the Q&A session people were quick to ask Adie her thoughts on the state of journalism:

One journalist asked: “Do you think the quality of journalism has declined over the past 20 years, with regard to the reporting on Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka?”

Adie replied:

“Journalists have a duty to report and inform the world, the fact that people come to meetings like these here and care about global issues, tells me journalism is alive and well.”

I spoke to Kate after the screening, and asked for her reaction to the news that China has blocked a number of internet services this week:

In the UK, you can watch ‘Kate Revisits Tianamen Square’ on BBC2, tonight (June 3) at 9pm.

Alex Wood is a multimedia journalist based in London.