Thursday, 22 August 2013

Ambush journalism

A journalist ambushes Russia Today for their concentration on the (deplorable) Bradley Manning/Edward Snowden stories and near-silence on much-worse domestic abuses, enjoy:

His criticism goes right to the heart of the problem of working for dictatorship-funded media, be it Russia Today, Press TV, CCTV 9, CRI, Global Times, or any of the media outlets set up by dictatorial states for the explicit purpose of getting their message across to the wider world. Essentially, they are a kind of faux-media that many of the foreigners working within seem to sleep-walk into without fully realising what they are doing. Many seem to believe (or at least, want to believe) that somehow working for a propaganda outlet will be no different to working for any other media outlet, that the assurances they receive that they will be free to cover whatever they like can ever be kept to, and that the experience they gain will be counted in their favour rather than being taken as a black mark on their record. The truth is quite different.

(H/T The Dish)

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Echoes of '89 . . .

. . . Beijing on June the 4th, specifically. Right now I'm listening to Jim Naughtie of BBC Radio 4's The Today Programme questioning the Egyptian ambassador's about the apparent mass killings in Cairo yesterday, and expressing disbelief of the Egyptian government's claims about what happened. The figures for the numbers who died being bandied around, the claims of self-defence by the government forces being made, sound very similar to those that came from the Chinese Communist Party leadership after the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Unfortunately the example of what happened after the Tiananmen Square massacre shows that governments can carry out a massacre of their largely peacefully-protesting rivals and not only survive, but flourish. Regardless of this, sanctions against the Egyptian government at least the equal of those brought against the People's Republic of China should be implemented to display disapproval of these acts - it may well be that the Egyptian military government, which depends to a large extent on military aid from the United States and other countries, may be easier to influence through a cutting off of such aid.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Your iPad did not kill anyone.

A friend of mine shared this article, about the conditions at Foxconn's 400,000 worker factory in Longhua where I used to work, via Facebook. I couldn't read past the title "The woman who nearly died making your iPad" without getting a sick feeling in my stomach - not because of the conditions it described at the firm, which I have been far from un-critical of, but because of the, frankly, irresponsible nature of the piece. The article takes a serious issue - high levels of suicide in China - and simultaneously trivialises it whilst placing the blame at the wrong door. Take the opening section:
"At around 8am on 17 March 2010, Tian Yu threw herself from the fourth floor of her factory dormitory in Shenzhen, southern China. For the past month, the teenager had worked on an assembly line churning out parts for Apple iPhones and iPads. At Foxconn's Longhua facility, that is what the 400,000 employees do: produce the smartphones and tablets that are sold by Samsung or Sony or Dell and end up in British and American homes. But most famously of all, China's biggest factory makes gadgets for Apple. Without its No 1 supplier, the Cupertino giant's current riches would be unimaginable: in 2010, Longhua employees made 137,000 iPhones a day, or around 90 a minute. That same year, 18 workers – none older than 25 – attempted suicide at Foxconn facilities. Fourteen died. Tian Yu was one of the lucky ones: emerging from a 12-day coma, she was left with fractures to her spine and hips and paralysed from the waist down. She was 17."
The article describes a tragedy, and attempts to connect it to special conditions at the factory. It fails to explain, however, how this is tragedy is specifically connected to Foxconn rather than simply work conditions everywhere in China (and in many firms outside China, even some in the west). One might just as easily take an example of a suicide at any workplace and seek to blame it on the employers.

It tries to dismiss the fact that the rate it describes (18 people at a factory housing ~400,000 worker) is roughly 1/5th of the national average (22.23 per 100,000) by saying that this "[Overlooks] how those who take their own lives are often elderly or women in villages, rather than youngsters who have just moved to cities to seek their fortunes" when this is in fact appears to go against what the source it links to says (i.e., "The disease control centre said suicide is the biggest killer among Chinese aged 15 to 34.").

In fact, even a casual inspection of the available sources shows that pay and conditions at Foxconn's Longhua plant are much better than those of the typical Shenzhen firm. The fact that the suicide rate at Foxconn's Longhua plant are so much lower than the national average reinforces this.

This is no surprise to anyone who has simply walked out of the Longhua factory gates and looked at the conditions at workplaces in the same neighbourhood. I remember seeing one family processing e-waste in their front room which opened onto the street. A young child played by a wok filled with molten solder.

But do newspapers cover the story of how the cheap products that fill our super-market shelves are made in dangerous conditions, and what happens to them after we're done with them? No, they focus on a factory which is much better than the vast majority simply because a big-name product is made there.

The situation described as leading to Tian Yu's decision to kill herself (over-work, adminstration problems leading to late/non-payment of salary) happen in many, many firms in China (and elsewhere, for that matter). Laying the blame for the generally poor working conditions that the average Chinese worker faces at the feet of either Apple or Foxconn is quite simply absurd given that they are far better than the average.

If blame should be placed anywhere, perhaps the people with the most power to decide the minimal level of conditions that employers have to offer their employees - the Chinese government - are the most deserving of blame for their failure to do anything, and their repression of independent trade unions that might negotiate better conditions. It is far easier, however, to simply castigate the greed of large companies who, in final analysis, only do what they are required to do by law.