Three stories on Global Voices will help you catch up on some interesting stories around the world if you, like me, have been distracted by #amazonfail, Susan Boyle and
teabagging tea parties. Collectively, they’re an interesting reminder for me of just how much is taking place at the intersection of new media and political change, a field I try to follow closely, and frequently miss important developments in.
Supporters of exiled former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, called “the red shirts” managed to shut down the ASEAN summit, embarrasing the army-supported Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. But the red shirt movement has appeared confused and disorganized after that succesful protest, and now faces accusations that the movement is being paid to protest by Thaksin.
The evidence for those charges? Thaksin has been communicating with supporters via videophone, and a recent speech transmitted by videophone included the phrase, “And you don’t need to go to queue up for 500 baht” (roughly $14). Based on the translation offered by Jonathan of Jot ASEAN, it seems like it could have been a reference to pensioners lining up for government assistance. But critics of Thaksin are jumping on the statement as an admission of guilt by Thaksin that he’s been paying protesters. The Thai version of the video has nearly half a million YouTube views, and an English-subtitled version is circulating as well.
Mong Palatino’s got lots of context for the controversial video, including bloggers who’ve sought advice from their personal astrologers in understanding the situation in Thailand. As for me – the sight of an exiled prime minister giving marching orders via videophone and being ridiculed on YouTube is sufficient proof that we’re living in the future.
Jen Brea is watching the reactions of Congolese bloggers to an interview DRCongo president Joseph Kabila gave with Jeffrey Gettleman of the New York Times. It’s a weird interview – Kabila seems to forget that the interview is going to be read widely, at home as well as in the US. And bloggers rip him apart, critiquing his statements about DRC’s strife with Rwanda, his tendency to blame problems on Mobutu, and his provocative statement that there aren’t enough people in his government who can help him transform the country:
You don’t need a thousand people to transform a country. No, you need 3,4, 10, 15 people with the necessary convictions, determined and resolute. Do I have those 15 people? Probably 5, 6, 7, not yet 15.
Bloggers like Congoliberte wonder why, if in a government with dozens of ministers and thousands of officials, has only seven worthwhile people in it, why doesn’t Kabila clean house? Brea’s post is an excellent overview of insightful and pointed media criticism coming from Congolese bloggers, who aim their barbs not just at the president’s strange statements, but the New York Times’s apparent ignorance of the controversy behind these statements and a willingness to let them go unchallenged.
Finally, in news I wish I’d been following more closely – John Liebhart looks at the situation in Fiji, where a military coup leader basically ignored a supreme court decision which ordered him to step down. The mechanics are pretty complicated – told to step down by the court, the Prime Minister (the head of the army) had the president fire the judiciary, abrogate the constitution and swear him in again as Prime Minister. Elections aren’t likely to be held before 2014, and Fiji is coming under increasing pressure from the community of nations, who threaten to isolate it if it continues down the path of military rule.
The climate of military government is extremely hostile to free expression, Liebhart reports. The government has instructed media outlets to report “pro-Fiji” news and instructed that news shouldn’t contain “negativity”. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s man in Fiji has been deported, and a Fijian journalist was arrested for reporting on his deportation. However, the military government has reassured the global community that foreign journalists are always welcome – they just need to apply to the ministry of information, who will review their past coverage and ensure they’re sufficiently pro-Fiji before issuing a permit.
In this sort of media environment, it’s not surprising that some blogs are going dark. What’s impressive, Liebhart argues, is how many blogs continue to report news, and how essential this reporting is:
Getting reliable news from inside Fiji – even for those living in the country – has been difficult. By most accounts, all foreign journalists have left the country. With the local media mostly quiet regarding political issues, Fiji’s political bloggers have been publishing nearly non-stop.
He goes on to offer a selection of coverage from local bloggers. People hungry for news are looking to the online newspaper Fiji Times (whose photographer was recently detained and questioned) and blogs like Coup Four and a Half and Raw Fiji News. Soli Vakasama is hosting lively political discussions, and Loyal Fijian has published a passionate post about the importance of an open and free media.
It’s worth watching Fiji very, very closely to see how these independent voices will fare in the wake of a government which appears to be consolidating control, and appears insensitive to international pressure. New Zealand-based journalists are already offering to publish news from Fiji based on email reports from Fijians… a situation very familiar to those of us who follow Zimbabwe closely via reports from South Africa.
All of which is my way of saying, I should read Global Voices more often and more closely. It’s a good reminder that the hot stories about the internet and politics aren’t always the only ones out there.