Jul 1 1989

Amnesty International’s Annual Bad News

In September 1987, when Amnesty International issued its annual (1986) re­port on human rights abuses in 129 na­tions, it received scant and oversimplified coverage reflecting the anti-Sovietism of the day. Amnesty’s world-spanning report was typically cast in a superpower frame­work, as US journalists focused on human rights violations in the USSR or in coun­tries out of favor with the Reagan admini­stration. The New York Times (9/30/87), pegging the story on a “don’t trust glasnost” news hook, contrasted persisting problems in the Soviet Union with Gorbachev’s avowals of reform. But a lot changed during the next year, as superpower tensions eased […]

Jul 1 1989

Holocaust: Back-Page News

A wall exhibit, “A people in Print: Jewish Journalism in America,” held in 1987 at the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, featured enlarged photocopies of articles from the New York Times about the Holocaust–the most terrible stories–but given short shrift, relegated to the back pages of the paper. Included were items like the October 30, 1941 article on the back page of the times: “More Berlin Jews shipped to Poland; Sent Away in Freight Cars–48,000 Uprooted in Prague.” Dr. Kenneth Libo, curator of the historical exhibits at the museum and organizer of the journalism exhibit, sought to […]

Jul 1 1989

Double Standard on Press Freedom

Few topics are of greater concern to the US media than freedom of the press. Their treatment of this topic thus provides a useful test of factors that shape the media product. Specifically, by comparing the reaction to abuses by US friends and US enemies, we can determine the relative weight of journalists’ professed values of independence versus their subservience to US foreign policy interests. I will keep largely to the two “papers of record,” but the conclusions are far more general. Discussion of freedom of the press in the past decade has been dominated by one issue: the treatment […]

Jul 1 1989

Labor Abuses in El Salvador and Nicaragua

A Study of New York Times Coverage

Press coverage of human rights in El Salvador and Nicaragua provides an excel­lent test of journalistic integrity. This is because the US government has staked clear positions: supporting the Salvadoran regime and playing down its less savory qualities; opposing and denigrating the Nicaraguan government while trying to portray the US-organized contras as “free­dom fighters.” The test is strengthened by the fact that human rights abuses by the Nicaraguan government are modest when compared with those of the government of El Salvador or the contras, as has been regularly documented by organizations like Amnesty International and Americas Watch. After the Central […]

Jul 1 1989

Invisible Victims

Most mainstream human rights organi­zations place a de facto priority on ques­tions of physical integrity and violations of political and civil rights. Social and eco­nomic rights are addressed only insofar as they have a direct bearing on the political and civil issues; labor organizing, for ex­ample, is a form of free association, and restraints on culture often involve restraints on conscience and expression. The empha­sis on civil-political rights reinforces the dominant US media tendency to define human rights far more narrowly than the UN Universal Declaration. Social, economic and cultural rights are treated as distinctly lesser categories of rights, if […]

Jul 1 1989

Human Rights and the Media

An Overview

A wave of exhilaration surged through the crowd when the first contingent of Chinese workers joined student hunger strikers in Tiananmen Square. Three thou­sand students started their protest in May, two days before Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev arrived for historic talks with China’s rulers. By the time Gorbachev left Beijing, mass demonstrations had spread to 20 Chinese cities. They kept coming in droves, young and old, farmers, teachers, more workers, journalists, even the police, singing “The Internationale” and “We Shall Overcome.” Millions of people were in the streets, celebrating, marching for human rights, empowered by their wildest hopes and dreams […]

Jul 1 1989

China News Blackout

Deng Xiaoping, Time's 1979 person of the year

‘The enthusiasm for free-market initiatives and other reforms became the new rationale for turning a blind eye to the continuing repression in China.’