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Hungry For News

As if by instinct, human beings seek to satisfy a basic need to know. And just as persistently, the power-hungry hoard the news or connive to control its flow. The particulars of this tug-of-war change, but the dynamic doesn’t.

In a series of reports from around the world, WPR correspondents weigh in on the remarkable tenacity of our species to get the stories of our time.


Israel: News, the National Obsession



Pulling the Plug on Independent TV

“From a luxury villa on the Costa del Sol to the vast, cold expanse of Prague’s Wenceslas Square, a vital battle is being joined for control of television and freedom of expression across the ex-communist bloc. In scenes reminiscent of the 1989 Velvet Revolution that toppled the communists, tens of thousands of Czechs have been marching and protesting for a month to save national television from the politicians they say have betrayed the hopes and the legacy of 1989. By contrast, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has spent much of his first year in office trying to secure as much television power and influence as he can. He has just scored a coup with the submission of Boris Berezovsky, the exiled media magnate, to his will. In a typically Russian insider deal, Berezovsky says he is to surrender his 49-percent stake in Russia’s first television channel, ORT, to the Kremlin.”

Ian Traynor, The Guardian (liberal),
London, England, Jan. 22, 2001.


From Slogans to Satisfaction
“More than 11 years ago, the societies of Europe’s socialist countries reached the conclusion that their desires could not be achieved within the system in which they lived. Millions of people rattled their keys in a call for change. Since then, these countries have sought an equilibrium in new circumstances. Again, however, citizens find that their wants have not been fulfilled in the way they expected, and again the time for change has come—though clearly not of the revolutionary kind witnessed in 1989.”

Pavol Minarik, Pravda (leftist),
Bratislava, Slovaka, Jan. 19, 2001.

Cutting Off One's Nose
“NTV [Russia’s independent television station] is probably doomed. Although in the war against Vladimir Gusinsky and his team, our Supreme Commander-in-Chief has not demonstrated any great feats of bravery, he remains as methodical and persistent as ever. And he is not lacking in energy. This is due not just to the power of the Prosecutor’s Office or the Federal Security Service. Vladimir Putin’s main source of power lies in the readiness of our people to adjust their opinions and values to those of their superiors—that is, to their own advantage.”

Dmitri Furman, Moskovskiye Novosti (liberal weekly),
Moscow, Russia, Feb. 13-19, 2001.


Broadcasters Look Out for No. 1

“We don’t know what the Czechs know. I am very sorry that this is the case. I am very sorry that we are unable to stand up, as journalists and as a whole society, for freedom of the press. I would like to focus now on the question of why we lack this ability. Why did journalists watch nonchalantly as Laszlo Csucs, a member of parliament from the Independent Smallholders’ Party, ousted the top journalists at Hungarian Radio’s political reporting teams? Why is there still no powerful movement—apart from a few meaningless statements—when the government continues to dismiss qualified professionals from public media, replacing them with incompetent people, children of politicians’ girlfriends, and so on?”

Kasza László, Népszabadság (independent),
Budapest, Hungary, Feb. 5, 2001.


Cracks in the Great Firewall
“After years of sporadic control of the Internet, the Chinese government laid down some concrete rules in October and November 2000 governing ownership, content, and other aspects of Internet use.

The first set of rules, issued on Oct. 1, limits direct foreign investment in Chinese Internet companies, requiring companies to register with the Ministry of Information Industry and apply for permission before issuing stock or signing any agreement with a foreign investor. Another provision bans the dissemination of any information that might harm unification of the country, endanger national security, or subvert the government. Promoting ‘evil cults’ (an unsubtle reference to Beijing’s campaign against the Falun Gong spiritual movement) is similarly banned, along with material that ‘disturbs social order or undermines social stability.’ Other articles prohibit the distribution of pornography or ‘salacious material,’ along with anything that harms ‘the honor and interests of the state.’ ”

A. Lin Neumann, Jan. 18, 2001. Neumannis currently a consultant to the Committee to Protect Journalists based in Thailand. This passage is excerpted from a report in Attacks on the Press 2000, which can be found at www.cpj.org.

Out of Bounds in a Straitlaced State
“The Malaysian Internet newspaper Malaysiakini has courted controversy from the day it went on-line over a year ago. But last week, Malaysiakini.com, whose staple is hard-hitting political coverage, ran into its stormiest experience yet. Its chief editor, Steven Gan, found himself the subject of prime-time news on the government television channel for five straight nights. “One night, the item about me even preceded news about Dr. Mahathir,” said the boyish-looking Gan, who sports a scruffy Beatles hairdo.”

Joceline Tan, The Straits Times (independent),
Singapore, Feb. 23, 2001.

 



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