On the Hong Kong protest cover-up

While the Western World are bombarded with the images of democracy protests in Hong Kong, many Chinese have no idea anything is afoot. And this is not just the fault of a cowed domestic media. Even international publications, who are trusted by the Chinese audience to be impartial, and are gleefully reaping the ratings bonanza in their home markets, aren’t passing on the news to their Chinese consumers.

Of course, we have known for a long time that companies like Bing and Bloomberg have been censoring their content. But it was all made a bit more obvious in an article by the Chinese dissident group Great Fire. In side by side comparisons of the Wall Street Journal and Reuters websites, Great Fire pointed out the complete absence of any coverage of the Hong Kong protests in the Chinese editions. They claim the sole reason is business – that these companies are placing Chinese revenue over their journalistic values. In a piece for The Wire this week I talked to Great Fire contributor who goes by the pseudonym of Percy Alpha. Here is an extended cut:



Can’t see the audio player? You can take a listen at Soundcloud.


Weekly Exchange #14 – News or Propaganda?


So, this week the British Parliament finally provided the world with the ISIS debate we needed to have. Meanwhile, the US Congress has decided to shirk their responsibility and stick to heckling from the sidelines and the Australian Opposition have decided to forgo doing even that (satirical). But while our leaders prove so dismal in this debate, where are our trusty journalists? On the cusp of another ill-defined war in the middle east, what about our eyes and ears?


As the risks have risen in Syria and Iraq, news organisations have slowly withdrawn their personnel. Initially, that worked was outsourced, but as the situation has deteriorated further, even freelancers are being discouraged.  This is from the Agence France Presse Correspondent blog (emphasis added):


“In Syria we are currently the only international news agency with a bureau in Damascus, manned by a team of Syrian journalists. We still regularly send reporters from Beirut into areas controlled by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. We also continue to cover the rebel side of the conflict thanks to local stringers, who live in the area and who supply us with accounts, photos and videos of what is happening there…

Since August 2013, we have stopped sending any journalists into rebel-held parts of Syria…

…Journalists are no longer welcome in rebel-held Syria, as independent witnesses to the suffering of local populations. They have become targets, or commodities to be traded for ransom….

That is also why we no longer accept work from freelance journalists who travel to places where we ourselves would not venture. It is a strong decision, and one that may not have been made clear enough, so I will repeat it here: if someone travels to Syria and offers us images or information when they return, we will not use it. Freelancers have paid a high price in the Syrian conflict. High enough. We will not encourage people to take that kind of risk.”


But what about those beautiful images and videos you have been seeing? What about all the updates on strikes and missions? Well, the gap in “real reporting” has largely been filled by the Governments involved, particularly their military wings. Take a look at the next few videos and tell me if you recognise anything:






All of these videos are from the US Central Command Youtube channel. You might recognise them from the rolling news coverage on many news channels. Where the news orgs fail to tread, and where freelancers are being disallowed, the army has stepped in. And if you want to know where the number and locations of bombings are coming from, it’s press releases like this one from the US Department of Defence:


“U.S. and partner nation military forces continued to attack ISIL terrorists in Syria Friday and today, using fighter and remotely piloted aircraft to conduct seven airstrikes. Separately, U.S. military forces used attack aircraft to conduct three airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq.”

Further, and in a departure from recent wars, the Obama administration is not allowing journalists to “embed” with the military. Sally Buzbee, the Associated Press’ Washington Bureau Chief, recently came up with a list of eight ways Obama is blocking information. And guess what was number one:


“As the United States ramps up its fight against Islamic militants, the public can’t see any of it. News organisations can’t shoot photos or video of bombers as they take off — there are no embeds. In fact, the administration won’t even say what country the S. bombers fly from.”


Whether you agree with the campaign against ISIS or not; if you are skeptical of how it is being handled or as uncritical as Graham Richardson, the lack of debate is worrying. And as visible as they are, it is not only our politicians to blame. The media have taken the appropriate action by withdrawing their personnel. But they have not taken the next step, admitting where all this information is coming from. Much of it is coming from those in power, the very people our journalists are meant to be keeping an eye on. So the next time you see another clip of a perfect bombing on TV, ask yourself, is this news or is this propaganda?


The Weekly Exchange was first published on Joshnicholas.com. Sign up to receive the Weekly Exchange.

A bit more on #HeForShe

If you are even an occasional user of the interwebs, you probably came across the UN’s new HeForShe campaign this week. Launched by the likes of Emma Watson, the goal is to get one billion males to agree that gender equality is a Human Rights issue, not just a a Women’s issue.

In an extended interview for The Wire this week, I spoke with Janelle Weissman, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women Australia, to find out more about the campaign:



As before, I am unable to embed audio in the email blast. You can take a listen at Soundcloud.

Has Australia picked the right fight?

With little debate, Australia has gone all-in on the war against Islamic State. Hundreds (if not thousands) of troops, hundreds of millions of dollars, and an indefinite time frame. At the same time, Australia has committed less than five million dollars to fight West Africa’s Ebola outbreak, and is actively discouraging it’s citizens from volunteering to help.

As the World Bank, the United States, the United Kingdom, China, and even Cuba send resources to West Africa, should Australia be doing more? For The Wire this week, I spoke to Dr Adam Kamradt-Scott from the University of Sydney. Both in an article for The Conversation as well as our conversation, Dr Kamradt-Scott argued that it’s in Australia’s National Interest to fight Ebola. Both, after all, are just a plane ride away.

Here is the extended interview with Dr Adam Kamradt-Scott:



(Image:Pedro Szekely/Flickr)

As before, I am unable to embed audio in the email blast. You can take a listen at Soundcloud.


Weekly Exchange #13 – Scottish Referendum

I know, I know, this weekly feature is meant to concern itself with underserved stories. But there really is no getting away from the Scottish Referendum this week. Even the Australian press – whose writers and readers are some of the most solipsistic around (unless, of course, there’s a scandal afoot) - have jumped on the band wagon. So, I might as well join them.

First off; how did we get this far? Felix Salmon, one of my favourite financial journalists of recent times, has a brilliant run down. He gives five broad reasons; the European Union, Thatcher and Thatcherites, the GFC, and the perceived elitism/incompetence of Westminster. Despite there being only one poll giving an edge to a Yes victory (although admittedly, the trend is in their favour), Salmon thinks there is enough to get them over the line.  He threw the towel in a couple of days ago. Now, to explain it all to those Americans:

“…the Yes campaign is going to win, just because, given the choice, nations tend to want independence. Especially when they’re voting for a peaceful divorce from a country (more realistically, a city) which doesn’t care about them and doesn’t share their values. Would Scotland be worse off as an independent country? Yes. Is that sufficient reason to vote no? No.”

But if the Yes campaign do take the day, what then? The Economist’s Explainer blog has come through for us again with a brilliant article titled “How to create a country”, handily covering everything from currencies to heads of state:

“Nationalism, it seems, is an easier political sell than the minutiae of public utilities. But the importance of such seemingly small things could be felt for many years after the rousing independence speeches have finished.”

A lot has been made of the No campaign’s rather technocratic and heartless efforts to encourage the Scots to stay. And it has all culminated in a rather bizarre goal line push – large financial institutions paintings pictures of armageddon. Rachel Holmes, a Lecturer at Edinburgh Napier University, has other ideas, pointing out several flaws in the hype:

“There’s a lot of noise surrounding this highly political issue. A look beyond superficial reporting on the idea of banks leaving Scotland shows a different view – not least from what the banks say themselves, but also from what other small countries manage to achieve in terms of their financial services.”

Moving beyond analysis and into argument, a recent editorial in the Financial Times caught my eye. Instead of resorting to pictures of armageddon, the FT has made the case that the Better Together campaign should have been making all along:

“Great Britain stands for an expansive and inclusive view of the world. The union is something precious, not a bauble to be cast aside. In a week’s time, the Scots can vote with a sense of ambition to build on those successes. Rather than retreat into tribalism, they can continue to be part of a nation rooted not just in history and culture but a common destiny which over three centuries has served all so well.”

But the editorial in today’s Observer paints a different picture. According to the Observer,  regardless of which way the vote actually goes, the union will never be the same again. The fact that a referendum is being held, not to mention the machinations of the past two weeks, is going to change everything:

“When Gordon Brown – backed by the three Westminster party leaders – last week promised Scotland “nothing less than a modern form of home rule” if the vote is no, it signalled that the constitutional make-up of these islands is about to change irrevocably.

Ed Miliband goes further: writing for this paper today, he suggests that were he to become prime minister the union would undergo fundamental change. “Scotland’s example will lead the way in changing the way we are governed in England too, with the devolution we need to local government from Cornwall to Cumbria.” Few, if any, people were talking about devolved powers to Cumbria or Cornwall two weeks ago. It is a sign that, regardless of the outcome on Thursday, the first minister, Alex Salmond, has already won a significant victory.”

One of the most infuriating things that has come out of this whole ordeal are the people refusing to take a stand. “It’s for the Scots to decide” they say. Admittedly, the ball is in their court, but this is a vote that will have a profound impact on the entire world. A Yes win will spark more minorities to demand autonomy and secession. One of the largest financial centres will be rocked, as will the global supply of oil. The political makeup of Westminster will be forever altered, as will the memberships of the United Nations, the European Union and NATO (to mention but a few). Every nation whose flag bears the Union Jack will be hoisting a lie. The power may be in the hands of a few million Scots, but this decision will have profound impacts on us all. Not only do we all deserve an opinion, it’s bordering on obscene not to have one.

Having said that, I should probably share my own opinion. Well, as an Australian citizen I completely understand the desire not only for political autonomy, but symbolic autonomy. But as a British Citizen, let alone a citizen of this beautiful world, I am against Scottish Independence. This is a Union that has lasted for centuries, and Westminster has already promised a confounding array of sweeteners. And there are just too many unknowns. How long can Scotland last as a Petro-state (prices fluctuate and projections aren’t bankable)? How can they hope to operate with a co-opted currency and zero control over Monetary policy? How much of the UK’s debt will be taken on? How will the control of the North Sea oil be divvied up (and what precedents will it set for other countries)? And on and on. While the No campaign has focused on technicalities and and forgot the heart, the Yes campaign has focused on the heart and forgot the technicalities. Add the bitter resentment that will force the UK to fight hard on all these negotiations, and we don’t have a pretty picture.

That’s all for this week. Catch you again next week. Same bat channel.


The Weekly Exchange was first published on Joshnicholas.com. Sign up to receive the Weekly Exchange.

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