Tags: Burma, Claire Berlinski, Daily Telegraph, Emma Larkin, George Orwell, Los Angeles Times, New York Times
“Truth is true only within a certain period of time,” observed a spokesman for the Burma’s military junta in the aftermath of that country’s 1988 pro-democracy uprising, reported Emma Larkin in her 2004 political travelogue-cum-biography “Finding George Orwell in Burma”. “What was truth once may no longer be truth after many months or years.”
My mind turned to Burma and these musings on the nature of truth after reading Thomas Fuller’s solid story in the New York Times on the end of press censorship in Burma. Reading this piece also brought home the importance of having a correspondent in place that knows the territory, the players, the culture – a reporter who not only is in place, but who “gets it”. Compare the coverage in the New York Times with its story datelined Bangkok with that of the Los Angeles Times article written from California and you can see what I mean.
The LA Times opened its article with:
Journalists in Myanmar will no longer have to send their articles to state censors before publication, a landmark step announced Monday toward lifting restrictions on the press.
But reporters in the changing country still fear being punished for what they write. Free speech activists say other rules that clamp down on government criticism or touchy topics are still in place, inhibiting journalists from writing freely.
It followed with analysis, drawing quotes from scholars and Burmese activists outside of the country. On its face a nice, but thin story.
Compare it to the New York Times piece which opened with:
BANGKOK — The government of Myanmar said on Monday that it would no longer censor private publications, a move that journalists described as a major step toward media freedom in a country where military governments have tried for decades to control the flow of information.
The announcement was made to editors on Monday and posted on a government Web site. “All publications in Myanmar are exempt from the scrutiny of Press Scrutiny and Registration Department,” the government said in a terse statement.
It then moves to an analysis of the event, quoting Burmese journalists in Burma before moving to the close with context and further detail.
Like the democratization process itself in Myanmar, the government has scaled back censorship gradually. In June 2011, articles dealing with entertainment, health, children and sports were taken off the list of subjects requiring prior censorship. In December, economics, crime and legal affairs were removed. Education topics were taken off the list in March. The only two topics remaining on the list — religion and politics — were freed from censorship on Monday.
Like the New York Times, the Telegraph’s South Asia editor took an upbeat tone, but what the Times put in its last sentence the Telegraph put in its first:
Until yesterday all political and religious news had to be submitted to the government’s Press Scrutiny and Registration Department for prior approval, but the requirement was dropped in what was hailed as another significant step in Burma’s fast-moving democratic reform process.
In the past twelve months, since democracy movement leader Aung San Suu Kyi met former military leader President Thein Sein, the government has relaxed censorship and controls on trade unions, freed hundreds of political prisoners, and held a series of by-elections which were almost all won by the Nobel Laureate’s National League for Democracy and hailed as ‘free and fair.
Given that there has been a gradual relaxation of press restrictions over the past year, it makes sense that politics would be one of the last taboos. But why would religion reporting be banned?
The LA Times article does not mention the topic of religion at all, while the New York Times does not explain why religion reporting and not economics, for example, was banned. Why would a report on Burma’s parlous economic state be less of a threat to the regime than a report on a religious topic?
My assumption is that as Buddhist monks have been at the forefront of the pro-Democracy movement news about religion would be controlled by the state – but I have no knowledge on this point, and none of the articles address this. Nor is this likely to be something that falls within the catch-all of conventional wisdom about Burma – for until recently foreign reporters were banned from the country and its citizens were threatened with jail if they spoke with foreign reporters.
Why was religion so dangerous to the military junta? I can guess, but after reading these articles I do not know.
The New York Times however did a good job in capturing the excitement resident Burmese journalists felt. A joke current in Myanmar during the year Emma Larkin researched her book about George Orwell, who served as a colonial policeman in Burma during the 1920’s, was that “Orwell wrote not just one novel about the country, but three: a trilogy comprised of ‘Burmese Days,’ ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’.”
Larkin saw some truth in this joke noting that Orwell’s 1934 novel “Burmese Days” savaged British colonial rule; “Animal Farm” (1946) prophesied Burma’s “miserable experiment with socialism,” which transformed the country from one of the richest in Asia at the time of the left-wing military coup in 1962 to the one of the poorest today; while “Nineteen Eighty-Four” (1949) foresaw the transformation of the country into a society dominated by informers, doublespeak, political repression, torture and censorship.
In “Nineteen Eighty-Four” the protagonist Winston Smith works as a clerk in the Records Department of the Ministry of Truth, redacting history to conform to the party line of the present. Just as Winston Smith would “vaporize” dissidents from memory, until last year it was a crime in Burma to write the name of someone held to be an unperson, like pro-Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The tone of the New York Times piece better states, to my mind, the freedom felt by the Burmese, as does the Telegraph story. While skill in the craft of journalism plays its part, I also credit the high quality of these stories to the presence of Western reporters in the region.
This is now to often the exception rather than the rule. In an article entitled “How to Read Today’s Unbelievably Bad News” published by the Gatestone Institute, the Istanbul-based American journalist Claire Berlinski argues:
In-depth international news coverage in most of America’s mainstream news organs has nearly vanished. What is published is not nearly sufficient to permit the reader to grasp what is really happening overseas or to form a wise opinion about it. The phenomenon is non-partisan; it is as true for Fox News as it is for CNN.
Do look at this great piece by Ms. Berlinski — whose work I long have admired. It speaks to the reasons and consequences of the collapse of overseas reporting. Focusing on overseas religion reporting for GetReligion, I feel at times that I am working under a double disadvantage. The quantity and quality of international news coverage in U.S. and British newspapers has declined — and on top of that the few remaining foreign correspondents sometimes do not “get religion”.
First published in GetReligion.
Tags: Cherie Blair, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, Fortune, Guardian
Women who put their children before their careers are selfish and are setting a bad example, the wife of former prime minister Tony Blair told Fortune magazine’s “Most Powerful Women” luncheon held at Claridge’s Hotel in London this week.
Cherie Blair, a “QC and mother of four”, the Daily Telegraph reported had:
criticised women who “put all their effort into their children” instead of working. Mothers who go out to work are setting a better example for their children, she said.
Addressing a gathering of “powerful” women at one of London’s most expensive hotels, Mrs Blair said she was worried that today’s young women are turning their backs on the feminism of their mothers’ generation.
Some women now regard motherhood as an acceptable alternative to a career, Mrs Blair said. Instead, women should strive for both.
“Every woman needs to be self-sufficient and in that way you really don’t have a choice – for your own satisfaction; you hear these yummy mummies talk about being the best possible mother and they put all their effort into their children. I also want to be the best possible mother, but I know that my job as a mother includes bringing my children up so actually they can live without me.”
Tell us what you really think — don’t hold back!
The coverage of this speech has been favorable so far to Mrs. Blair. In structuring its article the Telegraph moved from the quotes from the conference to statistical data showing the number of mothers with children in the work force has risen in recent years. Comments about the struggles Mrs. Blair had as a child after her father abandoned her mother and the family are followed by an appreciation of her charitable work. Nothing is offered in response from those women who do not think as Mrs. Blair does.
Cherie Blair sympathises with the children of ‘yummy mummies,’ saying those with ‘working mothers’ are more independent. Into which category falls working lawyer Cherie? Eldest son Euan, 28, lives in a £1.3m central London property. So do his brother Nicky, 27, and sister Kathryn, 24. All thanks to Cherie. Perhaps she should be thankful for her family’s good fortune and resist lecturing others.
The second day news analyses and commentaries took a different turn. In an extraordinary
press hand-out news article Fortune magazine (host of the powerful women luncheon) attacked the first day stories. It began with an apologetic:
Taken out of context, just about any quote can spark outrage. Queen’s Counsel Cherie Blair learned that lesson the hard way this week, in the aftermath of comments she made about stay-at-home moms.
And after summarizing her remarks, Fortune attacked the other reports of the event, denouncing the Telegraph, Guardian, and Daily Mail for sensationalist scandal-mongering — and for not understanding the subtly of the message.
Blair’s “yummy mummies” comment has gained quite a bit of traction in the British press. “Cherie Blair attacks ‘yummy mummies’ who choose children over careers,” “Cherie Blair criticises career-shunning ‘yummy mummies’” and “Cherie Blair takes a swipe at stay-at-home yummy mummies” read headlines from the Telegraph, Guardian, and Daily Mail, respectively.
More than anything, the harsh words simply reveal a media culture that craves a catfight. Yet a Mommy War is not what the panelists — particularly Blair — were hoping to provoke. Instead, they were searching for a solution to a pervasive, complex social challenge: How can women pursue their careers and embrace motherhood in an economic world (for many) that all but mandates dual-income households but a culture that still retains skepticism about its effects?
There is an air of unreality in this. I find it extraordinary that there is no sense that the great mass of working mothers are not on a career ladder, but are working to make ends meet. Nor is the question asked whether the great mass of working women desire what Mrs. Blair believes to be good for them. It also begs the question, is/was Cherie Blair a good mother? How did her choices impact those around her? What criteria is she using to say that her personal achievement is the greatest good?
One of the best stories I have seen so far is a commentary in the Telegraph written by Cristina Odone entitled “Cherie Blair should leave yummy mummies alone”. Ms. Odone makes the point that the hallmark of a liberal progressive society is the freedom to choose — even if the choice is not to Mrs. Blair’s liking.
… the highly educated stay-at-home is an international phenomenon. A recent survey of Harvard Business School graduates found that 31 per cent of the women from the classes of 1981, 1985 and 1991 who answered the survey worked only part time or on contract and another 31 per cent did not work at all. These findings were comparable to a survey of Yale women graduates.
That makes no sense to Cherie. Alpha feminists like her are vocal, high-profile women whose excellent education has been followed by a dazzling career. They value their families and even in some instances their husbands, but they strive for autonomy: their mantra is “I can live without them/him.”
Life, if you belong to this elite, is one long succession of networking opportunities at Claridge’s. The problems begin when you don’t fit into this tiny privileged minority. Alpha feminists want to be free to do as they please – shine professionally, stick two fingers up at marriage, whatever; but they quash other women’s freedom of choice – there is one way, and it’s their way.
Do read Cristina Odone’s piece. The time will be well rewarded.
Yet, I do feel there is another hole in this story that I have yet to see covered (it is early days though) and that is the religion angle. Women and men make decisions about how they live their lives that are influenced by more than their immediate appetites. The world view espoused by Mrs. Blair and the ladies who lunch at Claridge’s is a worldly one — with no time, nor need for the transcendent. There appears to be no religious or ethical core to Cherie Blair’s world.
How then should a journalist cover events such as these? Space and the need to go to print immediately often prevent a story from receiving a full hearing on the first day. But should a story that is not seeking to be first out of the box devote time to the voices of contrary world views — including the voices of religious women as well as non-religious women who reject the materialism espoused by Cherie Blair?
What say you Get Religion readers? How would you craft such a story?
First published in GetReligion.
Tags: Copenhagen Post, Daily Telegraph, gay marriage, Kristeligt Dagblad, Politiken
The Telegraph reports that the Danish parliament has passed a law requiring all churches in the Nordic country to perform gay marriages. Clergy may opt not to perform the ceremonies, but church authorities must find a substitute minister to solemnize the marriage.
Strong stuff, if true. Lutherans, Catholics, Anglicans, Reformed, Orthodox and Pentecostal churches will now be compelled to perform gay marriages, the Telegraph reports, even if it is forbidden by their theological views on marriage.
Here is the lede:
The country’s parliament voted through the new law on same-sex marriage by a large majority, making it mandatory for all churches to conduct gay marriages.
Denmark’s church minister, Manu Sareen, called the vote “historic”.
“I think it’s very important to give all members of the church the possibility to get married. Today, it’s only heterosexual couples.”
Under the law, individual priests can refuse to carry out the ceremony, but the local bishop must arrange a replacement for their church.
The article recounts the political battle that led up to the vote, which passed 85 to 26 and offers quotes from supporters of both sides of the debate.
A conservative politician is cited as saying:
“Marriage is as old as man himself, and you can’t change something as fundamental,” the party’s church spokesperson Christian Langballe said during the debate. “Marriage is supposed to be between a man and a woman.”
While the Bishop of Viborg is reported as saying the new law risks “splitting the church”. The government’s religion minister, who is identified as an agnostic, had sharp words for those who disagree with the new law.
“The minority among Danish people, politicians and priests who are against, they’ve really shouted out loud throughout the process.”
While a prominent gay politician offers the obligatory medieval quote:
“We have felt a little like we were living in the Middle Ages,” he told Denmark’s TV2 station. “I think it is positive that there is now a majority for it, and that there are so many priests and bishops who are in favour of it, and that the Danish population supports up about it. We have moved forward. It’s 2012.”
All in all, this is a nicely balanced piece. Views from both sides are offered and the casual reader gets a sense of where the debate lies. However, there is a hole in this story that needs to be filled — which churches will be compelled to perform gay weddings?
The article states that “all churches” will be compelled to perform gay marriages? Is that true? No.
According to the Copenhagen Post this law applies only to the state Lutheran Church. It reported:
The ban on marrying same-sex couples in the Church of Denmark will be overturned in parliament today, as a majority of parties have announced their intention to support a law to make marriage gender neutral.
The law does permit vicars to decline to marry same-sex couples in their church, however. In such cases, couples would need to find another minister to perform the ceremony for them.
Same-sex ceremonies may occur as soon as June 15 should the nation’s bishops, as expected, come up with a ceremony by Monday that can be used to wed same-sex couples in church.
The new ceremony was needed after bishops ruled that the current one can only be used to wed heterosexual couples. But while same-sex and heterosexual couples will be wed using different rituals, their marriage status will be equal.
As Denmark has a state church an informed reader would come to this story with the knowledge that the government would only be able to compel the state church, the Lutheran Church, to perform gay marriages. But knowledge of Danish ecclesial affairs is not something one acquires in the normal course of life — the Telegraph should have been more specific.
It would also have helped to recount the heavy newspaper campaigning by supporters of gay marriage in Denmark. The Danish press has been far from neutral in its coverage of this issue.
A leder in the conservative daily Kristeligt Dagblad had argued that politicians should refrain from obliging the Danish National Church to perform marriage rites between homosexual partners:
Politicians shouldn’t play at being theologians. The Danish National Church should decide for itself what rituals take place within the church. For obvious reasons such a decision will revolve around other factors than equal treatment. … There’s much at stake here, including the historical understanding of wedlock as the foundation of the family, which remains the smallest and most important social unit. The politicians who are making the Church a battleground for party politics should not simply ignore this.
The left wing daily Politiken applauded the vote in a 8 June 2012 leder.
This resolution is not only a victory for homosexuals, but also for Denmark’s progressive, multifaceted image, which has been keeping a low profile in recent years. At the same time the resolution marks a defeat for the alliance of narrow-minded conservatives and religious sourpusses that held sway under the conservative government.
The European press may be able to offer a balanced analysis of the political forces that produced the parliamentary victory for the liberal government. But it largely incapable of relating, even understanding, the religious issues at play.
There is a story here that has yet to be told. The Telegraph reports that one bishop believes this law will split the Danish National Church. The Copenhagen Post reports that only 3 of the 10 Danish bishops back the new law. Something is going to happen — hopefully the press will pick up on this story — and not approach it in the way Politiken has approached the story in parliament.
Images courtesy of Shutterstock.