Maurizio – Omnologos

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Archive for the ‘Journalism’ Category

Evidence of Anti-China Reporting Bias in the IHT/NYT

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In “Chinese students shed restraint in America” (IHT, Apr 30, published as “Chinese students in U.S. fight image of their home” on the NYT on Apr 29) Chou Wu, a Chinese doctorate student in the USA, is quoted by Shaila Dewan (in co-operation with Michael Anti) as saying that “Western media is even more biased than Chinese media“.

Ironically, in order to find evidence for his claim, Mr Wu should look no further than Ms Dewan’s article!

In fact, after reporting that Chinese students in America believe to be “still neglected or misunderstood (by Western news media) as either brainwashed or manipulated by the (Chinese) government“, Ms Dewan dutifully proceeds to portray those same students as…brainwashed and/or manipulated.

They are described as authoritarian, zealot nationalist prone to threats against Tibetans, also because “demonstrators couldintend to return home (too)”.

Ms Dewan even leaves the last word to Lionel Jensen, of the University of Notre Dame, IN, stating that Chinese students “dont’ ask” if Tibetans wanted the “aggressive modernization” brought by China to Tibet.

That doesn’t bode well for the impartiality of the article: a feeling that is confirmed when we are told that Chinese students’ “handouts on Tibet and Chinacontained a jumble of abbreviated history, slogans and maps with little context“.

Is “jumble” the appropriate word for a reporting piece? Methinks there is too much contempt for the report’s subject showing there.

We have to take Ms Dewan’s word for her judgements, as the only detail provided concerns “a chart showing infant mortality in Tibet had plummeted since 1951” (a positive thing if there ever was any). Alas, we are told, the students “did not provide any means for comparison with mortality rates in China or other countries“.

Too bad one is left none the wiser, as Ms Dewan herself provides no such a comparison either.

Once upon a time newspapers clearly separated news from news analysis. And journalists tried to report impartially. I know, that may be the stuff of Utopia nowadays, but is nobody trying anymore?

Written by omnologos

2008/Apr/30 at 19:41:44

A Case of the UK Police Steadily Improving Their Methods?

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Let’s celebrate the fact that the police in the UK are getting better at their job.

It’s either that, or time to cry.

Having killed Jean-Charles de Menezes, they “only” shot Mohammed Abdulkahar in the Forrest Gate fiasco.

This time around, at the end of media-staged dawn raids on homes in Slough, they “simply” “accompanied” 24 people to the nearest Police Station (too bad for those broken doors).

Phew!

There is one thing in common though: dead, shot or arrested, all of the above were and still are completely innocent of the accusations that spurred British police into action in the first place.

In the nine days since the raid all but one child has been returned to the Roma community in Slough, according to a Romanian diplomat, and none of the 24 adults arrested at the scene has been charged with child trafficking offences.

In other news: despite strong evidence from British courts, the BBC, Channel 4, This is London/Evening Standard etc etc have decided not to correct their reporting about the Slough story. Just in case anybody were still left with the fantasy about “truthful” journalism

Written by omnologos

2008/Feb/14 at 23:14:03

Posted in BBC, Ethics, Journalism

Skeptics Society: How Broadcast Journalism Is Flawed

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I have already exposed in the recent past the obvious bias in global warming reporting by publicly-funded BBC.

Around very similar notes, but with a much much wider outlook, the Skeptics Society has now published a very interesting essay by investigative and feature journalist Steve Salerno, titled

Journalist-Bites-Reality!
How broadcast journalism is flawed
in such a fundamental way that its utility as a tool for informing viewers is almost nil.
.

It exposes broadcast journalism as reporter-of-nothing, when not creating panic out of that same nothingness. And it is especially critical of “campaign journalism”.

A couple of quotes:

In truth, today’s system of news delivery is an enterprise whose procedures, protocols, and underlying assumptions all but guarantee that it cannot succeed at its self described mission. Broadcast journalism in particular is flawed in such a fundamental way that its utility as a tool for illuminating life, let alone interpreting it, is almost nil.

You’re in Pulitzer territory for writing about something that — essentially — never happens.

In upcoming blogs I will return to parts of this essay that may be used to explain pretty much all the Climate Change scares that have ever (not) happened.

For now I strongly recommend reading it in full.

Written by omnologos

2008/Feb/13 at 23:06:44

Twenty Missing, Three Dead, No Space on the Front Page

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Letter To the Editors of the International Herald Tribune

As a long-time subscriber of the IHT I write to complain about your absurd choice of playing down both the death of 3 sailors during the recent storms in the Black Sea, and the fact that 20 more are missing and likely dead themselves due to the cold.

In the front page of the IHT’s paper edition of Nov 13, there is a short unsigned article titled “Counting losses in Black Sea storm“. In 59 words there is not a single mention of the human losses, and the reader is left with the impression that the ships’ captains and owners will be sued only for “environmental damage“. Has human life become as cheap as to be free to be taken?

True, there is a larger article at page 2, by Andrew E Kramer, where finally we learn of the human tragedy in the title “Black Sea toll: 3 dead and 20 lost“. This appears to be similar to an article on the IHT web site, again by Mr Kramer, although over there it is titled “Environmental disaster unfolding in Russia“.

The paper version starts “Three dead sailor and dozen of birds slicked with oil…“. Just a few words later “Another 20 sailors were missing“. Roughly a little less than half of the piece is dedicated to environmental issues (but again, there is no mention of any ongoing prosecution for the loss of human life).

The online version starts with “An environmental disaster began to unfold” and only talks about humans in the second paragraph. But then, dead and missing people are literally forgotten about, and roughly more than three quarters of the article is about environmental problems. For the third time, the only mentioned prosecution is about “environmental damage“.

Interestingly, in the paper article a Greenpeace Russia campaigner, Vladimir Chuprov, is said to have “called the spill a catastrophe of local rather than international scale“. No such a thing is mentioned online.

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All in all the above indicates a very poor choice by front-page and online Editors to find an excuse to push the “right buttons” about the environment, for some unfathomable reason deciding to play down the human cost of the Black Sea storm.

Shall we worship the Environment to the point of forgetting the people? That is a false dichotomy. We can take care of the environment and take care of humans too.

Please try.

Written by omnologos

2007/Nov/13 at 08:47:56

Newsmedia, not History Books

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Somebody has posted a great list of all that is wrong with newsmedia:

1. Great emphasis on the dramatic
2. Failure to distinguish between opinion and fact
3. Repetitive dissemination of original reports from a few limited sources without checking or questioning information
4. A catering to what the media perceives as the popular belief or their belief over reporting the facts
5. Reporters that have disturbingly low levels of knowledge in the areas they report on
6. Sometimes blatant misrepresentation of the facts by reporters in major news organizations
7. A tendency to run with the “latest story” to the point of boredom at the expense of broader, more informative reporting
8. Information becoming “truth” based on degree of repetition

Those points truly are the way contemporary newsmedia work, and especially those dealing with day-to-day stuff.

We should never forget that newspapers, newsmagazines, TV/radio news programs are meant to be sold and capture the widest possible audience.

They are built to re-inforce the prejudice and convictions of the people that are going to buy them. Sometimes, they could challenge their readers, but bankruptcy is in order if they do that too boldly.

You simply can’t do that by being 100% honest, informative, opinion-free…articles based on that would bore to death most of the readership.

That’s why history books are written by scholars, instead of being reprints of old newspapers.

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The above is not meant to be taken as an insult. Hey, I am a part-time journalist myself!!

I see it more as the way things “are”, just as new models of cars are always presented with scantily-clad girls and watches invariably point to 10 past 10 in photo ads.

People have tried to act differently but few if any of those businesses have survived.

On the other hand I do agree there is no internal, contemporary  “media trend” toward alarmism. Readers’ titillation has always been the order of the day, so any change is likely to have been as a result of a change in what the readers wanted.

As an example, compare the opening pages of London’s The Independent from 20-30 years ago with the screaming trendy single-issue front page of today. And don’t forget the failure of the “good news” newspaper put out a few years ago, again in London (by the Guardian, I believe)?

I don’t think I need to mention any self-proclaimed “Fair and Balanced” news network here.

Perhaps the newspapers of 1907 were scary, exciting and dramatic for their readers, but they don’t appear as such to us simply because (by definition) we are not the people those were meant to be sold to.

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There is only one challenge for all the readers: and that is to provide ourselves with the tools for critically managing the streams of news we are bombarded with.

And by that I mean being able first of all to look for cause-and-effect, so that if event A should cause event B, don’t believe A has happened until B has showed up too.

Written by omnologos

2007/Jun/12 at 22:45:56

The Average Brit Flying to Work at 18,000mph

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So what is my local car rental manager doing, parading in NASA coveralls in London’s Queen Mary University Theatre in late November 2006?

No, wait: it must be Gary Lineker, guest speaker of the British Interplanetary Society, with a 8’-by-5’ poster of Saturn and the secret aim of taking chips and sweets from the noisy local student contingent.

Or…is that a bird? Is that a plane? No, it’s Piers J. Sellers, Ph.D., former Global Warming researcher and now Space Shuttle crew member and quasi-UK Astronaut Extraordinaire (“quasi” as UK persons need opt for a different citizenship to work in Earth orbit).

Sellers, born in Sussex in 1955 but now an American citizen, is following up his July STS-121 mission with a UK trip that has generated good-natured interest in the press, and even some air time on BBC Radio4’s Today.

Luckily (for Sellers) and blissfully (for all of us), Sellers’ Shuttle trip companion astronaut Lisa M. Nowak hasn’t yet destroyed her career by wearing nappies for a 1,000-mile drive to pepper-spray a love rival in February 2007.

And so instead of a sex scandal, the talk is about the less risky enterprise called space travel, as told by a bloke so average in appearance and so relaxed about himself to make taciturn Neil Armstrong a veritable space alien.

Aliens won’t invade us, because [on streets like Mile End Road] they can’t find where to park”: Sellers is definitely no warplane pilot turned moonwalker spiritualist. He’s “simply” a space walker, slightly “disoriented” only by the first sight of the white-and-blue jewel called Earth.

His description of the piling up of task upon task may sound familiar to office workers the world over. Still, very few of those usually validate if their cubicles will destroy during atmospheric re-entry, as Sellers and the rest of the STS-121 crew did after the Columbia tragedy of February 2003 and the half-botched first “return-to-flight” mission of STS-114 in July 2005.

A NASA video hints at the peculiarities of working in space. First of all there is nobody within a 3-mile radius of a ready-to-start Space Shuttle: and for good reason, as the bunch of aviation and navy pilots, space commanders and Ph.D’s collectively called “astronauts” are literally sitting on top of a giant bomb hoping it will explode in a controlled manner, pushing them upwards and forwards rather than into smithereens..

There is lots of sound and bouncing at lift-off. Somebody touches a control button, but Sellers reassures “We were just pretending to work. The launch [really] blew me away.” Orbital life is a piece of cake in comparison, with a couple of days of procedures to proceed and checklists to check, before approaching the International Space Station at the snail-like pace of 1m/sec (a little more than 2 miles an hour).

The video recording moves on to Lisa Nowak working with a large boom, at the time not to threaten a love rival but to move cargo to the Station with fellow astronaut-ess Stephanie Wilson, and then finally on mission day five maneuvering Sellers and colleague Michael Fossum locked on top of a 100-foot pole.

Sellers recounts a few funny details. For example, even in the most comfortable spacesuit one better gets used to spending up to ten hours without luxuries such as toilet breaks and nose scratching. And so a big deal of one’s resting time is spent cleaning up bodily odours and outpours from the spacesuit (no mention of any solution to the nose itching problem).

Furthermore, gloves for orbital work are more apt for a The Thing impersonation from the Fantastic Four, and so one handles multi-million-dollar wrenches knowing some will drop on their own sidereal orbit. Last but not least, one gets occasionally stuck in a phone-boot-like airlock for more than one hour.

Back inside the spaceship, in-between risky zero-g adventures with M&M’s of all things, one can look forward to a “shower” of damp cloths, a dinner of bland food and a night chained to a bed (kinky orbital fun, anybody?). Ah, and the toilet has a noisy fan and too thin a door really.

After some four days of that, it’s time to pull the jet brakes on the Shuttle (“feeling like on a truck slowing down”, Sellers remembers) to start the “unforgiving landing sequence”, after gulping in a disgusting salty drink designed to help the body readjust to Earthly life.

Outside the vehicle, “cherry-red windows” show the same tongues of fire that consumed the unfortunate Columbia astronauts a mere three-and-a-half years earlier. Falling almost helplessly, the Space Shuttle is somehow guided without engines to a hard touchdown, at the end of which gravity is felt like having “brick on the shoulders”.

Still Sellers opines, “The real dangerous bit is the lift-off.” No need to remind anybody of the crew of six that died on the 1986 Challenger accident, during the ascent phase.

Has Sellers got any chance of going back to the Space Station? “Sure. There is plenty of work available,” he answers. “Perhaps there will be 15 missions with 7 astronauts each between now and 2010.” Such chances are presumably slightly larger now than Ms. Nowak has been removed from NASA’s roster.

Before a strange, nostalgically catchy set of photographs of Seller’s mission is shown to the tune of Coldplay’s “Speed of Sound”, the evening fades away in a torrent of questions about medical facilities (“We can’t do heart transplants in space as yet”); rubbish management (“Thrown overboard”); launch delays (“Frustrating”); the justification for space budgets (“The money is spent on Earth”); and Orion, the Space Shuttle replacement (“Safer and cheaper and brings us back to the Moon”).

There! Has anybody else caught the tiny sparkle in Sellers’ voice when mentioning future manned Lunar exploration? Who knows, by 2025 the UK government may have found the negligible additional resources to fund a trip to the Moon for a couple of lucky British passport holders.

For the time being, I better check if my local car rental manager has moved to Houston.

Written by omnologos

2007/Mar/28 at 21:58:54

Iraq: American, British, Italian TV/Radio Coverage Compared

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(originally posted on March 21, 2003)

Thanks to the wonders of satellite and cable one is able to compare the attitude and approach to the war in Iraq by American (CNN, Fox News), British (BBC) and Italian (RAI) tv and radio channels.

Very briefly and perhaps not surprisingly:

1) The Americans are very positive about the actions, and can’t wait to tell you their excitement in having been “embedded” in fighting units. Problems are unheard of, and likely to be inaudible anyway. Could we get some truth please.

2) The British are obsessed to find out what is going wrong, and what scandals can be uncovered. Problems are the only thing that matters. Furthermore, any idiot with a microphone and a tv press pass will jump to the opportunity to show himself or herself as the “XXI Century Bard”. Can’t you stick to the news please.

3) The Italians concentrate their reporting on two fronts. From the beginning, all rumors are considered true, and analysed viscerally by hordes of tv experts, before being invariably forgotten when demonstrated false. On the other hand, the news are full of sad, unlikely personal stories, from the journalist that couldn’t sleep in Baghdad during a night of bombing, up, up, up to the awful youth of some Saddam Hussein. Listeners are encouraged to weep along. May we talk about the real victims please…

Written by omnologos

2007/Mar/03 at 21:33:34

Posted in Iraq War, Journalism, Radio, TV