Fred Korematsu Day, Two Ways

Yesterday was Fred Korematsu Day in California.

Korematsu, a Japanese-American who resisted placement in a World War II-era internment camp, and later fought in courts to have a Supreme Court conviction of “defiance” overturned, was remembered on January 30 in the state of California. In September, California declared this day, Korematsu’s birthday, to be the Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution.

I wrote about the day and what it means for Asian American civil rights advocates for Mother Jones online and about bloggers’ initial reactions for GlobalVoices.

Not a reader? Here’s the trailer for 2007 documentary Of Civil Wrongs and Rights: The Fred Korematsu Story.

Of Civil Wrongs and Rights – trailer from Asian Law Caucus on Vimeo.

A journalist’s role in reporting on conflict

Two Sri Lankan bloggers who I read regularly have recently had interesting things to say about the reporters who write about the long conflict on their island. They raise fundamental questions about the role of journalism in society, a debate that is heightened in conflict zones.

Blogger-turned-columnist Indrajit Samarajiva gave this quick bit in a recent post:

“I don’t get why the international media wants to come in and gawk when Sri Lankans are suffering and the pictures are bad, but doesn’t want to see or help actual improvement. Wait, I do get it.”

Is journalism a civic engagement? James Fallows of Atlantic Monthly has argued for “civic journalism” since his book Breaking the News came out in 1997. Here’s how he sums up his argument in Slate:

“The main argument of the public journalism advocates was that reporters and editors should think of themselves as being inside society, affecting through their coverage the way other people thought and behaved, rather than being wholly detached observers from outside. When viewing a society somewhere else in the world, members of the American press accept this point immediately. They know that the existence and quality of information flow will have a huge impact on other aspects of that society—whether people can hold their government accountable, how realistic a picture they have of other cultures, how unified or divided they seem.”

Journalist-turned-blogger Nalaka Gunawardene has a different take on journalists’ roles:

“What we lack – and urgently need – is plain good journalism that covers development, conflict and other issues as an integral part of human affairs. Noble intentions of saving the planet, or making world peace, sound good at beauty pageants. But these catch-all lines don’t give anyone the license to engage in shoddy journalism that lacks accuracy, balance and credibility – the core tenets of the profession.”

Gunawardene cites remarks by Javier Solana, EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy:

“The reporter is there to report. We should be careful not to weigh down the media with additional responsibilities over and above their primary task of providing information. A healthy media environment is diverse and plural; it is there to explain but not take sides. The profession of journalism needs no justification and no sophisticated qualification.”

I’ve written about access to information in Sri Lanka for the Far Eastern Economic Review and continue to delve into the issues surrounding journalism in wars. I’ll be participating in a panel about reporting from hot spots in July at the South Asian Journalists Association’s annual convention, so I am culling ideas for framing the conversation. Are the main questions practical — how can journalists access information and stay safe? — or is it important to focus the discussion on the role of journalism in violent conflicts? Send me your thoughts, especially if you plan to be at the convention.

the China bloggers post

I’ve been a loyal reader of Tim Johnson’s McClatchy Newspapers blog, China Rises, since it started three years ago. It’s only today that I thought about it, though, because Johnson is leaving the blog behind. He writes:

All good things come to an end, and that is true today for myself and China Rises. This blog is taking a rest. At some point in the near future, a new McClatchy correspondent will arrive in China and likely take over this blog – certainly with a different perspective than my own.

It’s been nearly three years since I started the China Rises blog, and my family is on its sixth year in China. English-language blogs on the Middle Kingdom have exploded in that time, and there’s a huge variety to read.

Indeed, China blogs have come to dominate my reading from Asia, mostly because there are so many good quality blogs out there. It began with my daily look at EastSouthWestNorth. The most recent addition to my China reading list is a Hindustan Times blog, Middle Order. I wrote a quick piece and Q&A with the author for The China Beat:

In the land of news-meets-the-Internet, China has been fertile soil for very interesting blogs by journalists…Perhaps what is most interesting about these blogs is the opportunity to get a greater picture of reporters’ perspectives as foreigners living in a new country. But if the recession — and the seating arrangements at a G-20 summit dinner — tells us anything, it is that the West’s perception of the East is not all that counts. How emerging powerhouse economies see each other is of great importance, and lucky for us is incredibly interesting. An excellent entree into Asian takes on Asia is a Hindustan Times blog, Middle Order, written by the newspaper’s first China correspondent, Reshma Patil.

Next up on the cross-culture China blog list: Double Handshake, written by Tom Pellman in Peru.

news and blogs in Phnom Penh

I feel a lot of pressure to make this an excellent post, because I talked so much about the importance of strong writing at Barcamp Phnom Phen on Saturday. Now I look back and I want to recast my presentation a bit: the most important thing, make no mistake, for bloggers in Cambodia is the content they produce.

And that’s something they don’t need a presentation to understand.

Wikitravel today says this about Phom Penh:

For western visitors, even those who have visited other Asian cities, Phnom Penh can be a bit of a shock. It can be very hot and (in the dry season) dusty, its infrastructure is lacking, and it is very poor – much poorer than, for example, Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Visitors who cannot adjust to rubbish filled streets, constant harassment from tuk tuk drivers and touts, and large numbers of beggars, may not enjoy the city (though by no means will you experience all of these things.)

My experience there was completely different. We saw live music, ate great food along the Mekong, and bargained with tuk tuk drivers, who were generally good natured. I did not feel harassed in the least. The streets of Phnom Penh (which are relatively clean, I might add) are peppered with Internet cafes advertising email, VOIP and hi5 social networking access. There are computer shops and small web design and tech businesses. It’s a youthful, friendly city where people are interested in learning and curious about the world.

It was important to me that I put what I was seeing into context. I visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, otherwise known as S-21, where 17,000 passed through the high school-turned-jail on their way to the Killing Fields from 1975-1979. Only seven survived. It was a sobering explanation for Phnom Penh’s youthful feeling; a generation of educated people was eliminated by the Khmer Rouge.

So I appreciated greatly the bloggers and journalists and techies who I met at Barcamp Phnom Penh. I see them as a very important generation who work very hard to revive a professional and literate culture not just for themselves but for people all over the world who want to understand Cambodia. (In English, try the comprehensive writing of Tharum Bun on Global Voices, news tidbits from Soponrith, nice vignettes on vrkhmer.com, or Seanheng’s sweet photoblog with occasional essays.)

The organizers nudged everyone to suggest topics or lead sessions. I couldn’t hope to repay our gracious hosts – I certainly learned more at Barcamp than any of the campers learned from me – but I talked a bit about the importance of good writing. The campers estimated that there are between 500 and 1,000 English-language blogs in Cambodies – not very many in the grand scheme of things. So I wanted to help those bloggers (or “cloggers” for Cambodian bloggers) reflect on their own writing, since they are helping people all over the world to learn about their country.

(See Dengue Fever for some ambiance music.)

the other self-censorship story

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The front page of the Sunday Times (the Sunday edition of the Straits Times) on July 20 had a big graphic about a really sensational story of two “warring” bloggers. One is suing the other for defamation.

Here’s a follow-up that’s free on the Straits Times website.

No, I have not fallen into the black hole of tabloids news from the trenches of online celebrities. I just wanted to give you a bit of background to the opinion piece the Straits Times ran yesterday:

Ignorance may not always be bliss

By Ang Peng Hwa

The lawsuit between two of Singapore’s top bloggers is alarming. It
may spill over into the larger blogging community and could even
backfire on the two involved.

Given that no writer or editor can be free of errors all the time,
defamation suits can and do crop up. But, often, those between a media
organisation and an individual can be settled quietly.

It is, however, quite another matter altogether when one content
producer sues another. This may set a precedent with far-reaching
consequences.

The law is a two-edged sword: It can cut the wielder too. To avoid
being sued, would Singapore blogs have to be sanitised by lawyers? If
so, how edgy can they be? And what appeal would they have if they
aren’t edgy?

This particular libel suit may lead to self-censorship. In which case, the biggest losers would be the biggest bloggers.


(via AsiaMedia)

Reading this opinion piece, I wonder if such a frank critique of the use of defamation suits has been made about Singapore’s most famous defamation suits. Do politicians have the same rights to lose in suing each other?

If there are some locally published articles or opinion pieces on the topic of how defamation works (or doesn’t work) in Singapore, please do comment and leave links.