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Asia’s media comes under the gun

Authoritiess interfering with press coverage

Terror strikes in downtown Mumbai and a double airport blockade that helped bring the Thai government to its knees made last week a terrible one for the rule of law in Asia. And it’s been a pretty bad week for the media there as well.

Consider the following:

  • TV news outlets were taken off the air in India when a court ruled they created an “atmosphere of fear and panic” that impeded police efforts.

  • A TV station in Bangkok and other reporters covering the Suvarnabhumi airport siege came under gun fire.

  • The Wall Street Journal was fined by Singapore for an editorial that questioned the impartiality of the country’s judiciary.

  • A Belgian TV crew covering the prevalence of AIDS was beaten up in China.

  • Chinese politicos are rethinking the release of “Cape No. 7,” a Taiwanese hit movie featuring Japanese as musicians and lovers.

  • Retailers were told not to bother stocking Guns ‘n Roses’ new album “Chinese Democracy.”

In most cases, journos are simply doing their job. But the truth is never simple to establish in a part of the world where authority is rarely questioned, journalists routinely receive “lunch money” from the companies whose press conferences they attend and plausible deniability is the concept behind directives that are deliberately vaguely worded or imperfectly transmitted to the grass roots.

But like most things in China, media policy also moves forward:

The central government now permits local authorities to cover negative news, such as civil unrest or strikes. But they are discouraged from reporting the causes.

Though the reforms may not be worth as much as once thought, Olympic-year reporting freedoms for foreign journalists have been indefinitely extended.

And “Cape” may still get a release in the new year — though after video pirates have eroded its inflammatory potential at theaters.

Bosses at Next Media, a Hong Kong group that publishes the most cutting-edge tabloids in Hong Kong and Taiwan, may have the right frame of mind: Fined for approximately the umpteenth time — last week for running paparazzi-style photos of starlet Gillian Chung in her bra — the group’s annual report said simply, “Such proceedings are an occupational hazard in the publishing business.”

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