Index speaks to New York Times journalist about when he was forced to leave China

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”112409″ img_size=”large”][vc_column_text]China has just revoked the press credentials of three journalists from the Wall Street Journal after the newspaper refused to apologise for a column called China Is the Real Sick Man of Asia. The journalists – Josh Chin, Philip Wen and Chao Deng – have each established a strong reputation for their reporting from China. The column that angered Chinese officials, here, is an opinion piece written by the academic Walter Russell Mead. Chin, Wen and Deng have been given just five days to leave.

This is not the first time China has expelled journalists working for newspapers that publish the “wrong” kind of news story, though to expel three at once is a serious act of aggression (the first time in the post-Mao Zedong era the government has expelled multiple journalists from one international news organisation at the same time). It’s another example of the lengths China will go to to stifle criticism at home and abroad. Back in 2014, New York Times reporter Austin Ramzy was the victim of similar treatment, following a story about the family wealth of a former high level official, Wen Jiabao. We interview Ramzy about what it was like having to leave China.

Index: When your visa was not renewed back in 2014, do you remember how you felt at the time?

Ramzy: When I was forced out in 2014 I was sad to leave the place where I had lived and worked the previous seven years, frustrated at the circumstances it was happening under and a bit overwhelmed at being at the centre of a news story.

Index: How logistically easy was it to leave? You had more time than five days, but was it still rushed and hard?

I had been working at TIME, but after I moved to the New York Times I was not given a new journalist visa. At the end of 2013 I was given a one-month humanitarian visa, basically to give me time to pack up. I sent my dog home to live with my sister, stored most of my stuff in a friend’s basement and went to Taiwan with a couple suitcases.

I had a month to prepare. Five days to leave would be very difficult. I do know the journalists being forced out and wish them the best during a very difficult time.

Index: What was it like working immediately after?

Ramzy: Returning to work was a strange feeling but it was also a welcome sort of normalcy.

Index: It’s another huge blow and sign of how much less room there is for free expression under Xi Jinping compared to Hu Jintao.

Ramzy: The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China said this was the first expulsion, rather than a visa non-renewal, that it knew of since 1998. And I can’t think of a time when so many journalists were forced out at once. So yes, it seems clear the environment is getting worse.

Index: Have you been back to China (mainland) since?

Ramzy: I have been back to the mainland a few times to see friends, but not for work as a journalist.

Index: Does it make you sad that you can’t report from China?

Ramzy: I’m in Hong Kong now, so I still help cover China and there’s plenty to keep me busy.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Turkish censors vs Netflix, series 1 episode 1

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”100332″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]All that is solid in the Turkish media melted into air over the past year, and much of the entertainment content has migrated from traditional platforms to streaming services like YouTube and Netflix.

Turkey’s watchdogs took notice. In March parliament passed a law that expands the powers of Turkey’s Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), including blocking internet broadcasts. With the new law the state hopes to have some degree of control over online content that it considers dangerous.

This spring, many bulwarks of Turkish media have shape-shifted. In April, Turkey’s biggest media conglomerate, Doğan, changed hands. Foreign media titles with Turkish editions, including the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek and Al Jazeera, have already pulled out of the Turkish market. Newspaper circulations saw sharp decline.

Meanwhile online streaming services have thrived. Spotify entered Turkey in 2013 and pushed its premium service with a Vodafone deal two years later. On Twitter, BBC’s Turkish service has just short of three million followers. Netflix introduced its Turkish service in 2016. Last year it too signed a deal with Vodafone, and Netflix Turkey pushed its products aggressively, with posters of House of Cards plastered in Istanbul’s subway stations.

Statista, an online statistics website, predicts there will be approximately 397.4 thousand active streaming subscribers to Netflix in Turkey in 2019.

Turkish-owned streaming services also came to the fore. In 2012 Doğuş Media Group launched its video on demand service, puhutv, and there was excitement last year when the channel showed its first series, Fi, based on a best-selling trilogy by Turkish author Azra Kohen. The series quickly became a sensation, largely thanks to scenes featuring nudity and racy sexual encounters.

Puhutv is a free, ad-supported service and watching Fi on Puhutv meant seeing many ads of condoms, dark chocolates and other products linked with pleasure. In just three days, the pilot episode of Fi was viewed more than four and a half million times.

For content producers the Turkish love for the internet means new opportunities for profit. In February a report by Interpress found that the number of internet users increased by 13 percent to 51 million from the past year. Turkey is one of the largest markets for social media networks and it ranks among the top five countries with largest Facebook country populations.

The RTÜK watchdog, which now has great control over streaming services, normally chases television broadcasters. It famously went after popular TV dating shows last year, and producers faced heavy fines accused of violating ‘public morals’. Marriage with Zuhal Topal, Esra Erol and other shows were pulled off the air. A famous dating show duo, Seda Sayan and Uğur Arslan, considered releasing their show Come Here if You’ll Get Married on the internet.

Those dating shows outraged not only conservatives but many other swaths of Turkish society. Feminists considered them an affront to women’s struggle and they signed a petition to ban dating shows en masse. RTUK announced there were around 120 thousand complaints from viewers about the shows.

With the new bill, producers of shows streamed online will need to obtain licenses. “The broadcasts will be supervised the same way RTÜK supervises landline, satellite and cable broadcasts,” reads the new law which gives RTÜK the power to ban shows that don’t get the approval of Turkish Intelligence Agency and the General Directorate of Security.

Family Ties, a recent episode of the US series Designated Survivor angered many viewers when it was broadcast last November. One of the characters in the episode was a thinly veiled representation of Fethullah Gülen, an imam who leads a global Islamist network named Hizmet (‘The Service’).

The Turkish state accuses Hizmet, its US-based leaders and followers in the Turkish Army of masterminding 2016’s failed coup attempt, during which 250 people were killed. Turkey has requested Gülen’s extradition.

But in Family Ties, the Gülen-like character was described as an “activist”, and this led to protests on Twitter in Turkey. Some Turks wanted the show banned. In Turkey Designated Survivor is streamed by Netflix.

In September Netflix will release The Protector, its first Turkish television series by up and coming film director Can Evrenol. “The series follows the epic adventure of Hakan, a young shopkeeper whose modern world gets turned upside down when he learns he’s connected to a secret, ancient order, tasked with protecting Istanbul,” according to a Netflix press release.

“Streaming services give freedom and enthusiasm to directors who are normally reluctant to work for television,” Selin Gürel, a film critic for Milliyet Sanat magazine said.

“Content regulations are unwelcome, but I don’t think anyone would give up telling stories because of them. Directors like Can Evrenol are capable of finding some other way for protecting their style and vision.”

In Gürel’s view, the new regulations will not lead to dramatic changes for Turkish films.

“It is annoying that RTÜK now spreads its control to interactive platforms like Netflix,” said Kerem Akça, a film critic for Posta newspaper. “RTÜK should keep its hands away from paid platforms.”

Akça has high expectations from Evrenol’s new film, but he fears the effects of new regulations on The Protector and future Turkish shows for Netflix can be harmful.

“The real problem is whether RTÜK’s control on content shape-shifts into self-censorship,” Akça said. “Before it does, someone needs to take the necessary steps to avoid content censorship on Netflix.”

But Turkish artists have long found ways of avoiding the censors, and new regulations can even lead to more original thinking.

“This is a new zone for RTÜK,” Gürel, the critic, said. “I am sure that vagueness will be useful for creators, at least for a while.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Press freedom violations in Turkey reported to Mapping Media Freedom since 24 May 2014

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WSJ blames News Corp critics, confuses phone hacking with WikiLeaks revelations

The Rupert Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal has published a bitter editorial methodically swiping at News Corps’ critics (in this order: “our competitors,” “British politicians now bemoaning media influence over politics”,  the BBC, the Guardian, British and American publications that don’t defend defamation claims in Singapore, the news non-profit ProPublica, the Bancroft family that formerly owned Dow Jones, US Attorney General Eric Holder, US officials prosecuting Haitian and Polish foreign bribery cases, “the liberal press” and, more specifically, the New York Times). And then there is this:

“We also trust that readers can see through the commercial and ideological motives of our competitor-critics. The Schadenfreude is so thick you can’t cut it with a chainsaw. Especially redolent are lectures about journalistic standards from publications that give Julian Assange and WikiLeaks their moral imprimatur. They want their readers to believe, based on no evidence, that the tabloid excesses of one publication somehow tarnish thousands of other News Corp journalists across the world.”

In casually trying to draw a moral equivalency (or, rather, an immoral equivalency) between illegally hacking a murdered girl’s phone for newspaper scoops — and allegedly bribing public officials to keep the tactic under wraps — and working with WikiLeaks to vet leaked government documents for context relevant to the public’s understanding of the execution of two wars and US foreign diplomacy, the Journal stretches credulity one non sequitur too far.

Never mind that the Journal editorial page has for months been calling for the prosecution of Julian Assange even as its news pages have been covering the stories WikiLeaks helped make possible. Or that this implication suggests the Journal has never knowingly published journalism originating from leaked classified government information. The Journal’s plea to the sensibilities of its readers must also leave them to assume this: If the paper is willing to lash out at News Corp critics in ways that even Rupert Murdoch himself has not, perhaps the Wall Street Journal is not so far removed from the culture of its imploding parent company as the editorial’s subhed — “A tabloid’s excesses don’t tarnish thousands of other journalists” — suggests.