Mexican students protest 'biased' election coverage

Mexican students protest campaign coverage
  MEXICO CITY -- Thousands of university students poured into the streets of Mexico City on Wednesday for the second time in a week to protest the way the upcoming presidential election is being run and, more specifically, covered in the Mexican media.

They are especially incensed that victory by Enrique Peña Nieto on July 1 is often portrayed as a fait accompli. About 15,000 (by city officials' count) people gathered at the controversial Pillar of Light monument (seen by many here as a government boondoggle) and marched down the iconic Reforma Boulevard.

They stopped outside the headquarters of the giant Televisa broadcasting network to demand fairer and more pluralistic TV news. "We are not one, we are not 100. Televisa, count us!" some chanted.

The protesters came from a wide range of universities: public, private, leftist, rightist, Catholic. And while many were decidedly anti-Peña Nieto -- made clear in their banners and signs -- the protest appears to go beyond pure partisan politics and represent a broader questioning of Mexico's status quo.

Television and newspaper media are concentrated in a few hands in Mexico, and many of the demonstrators believe they are skewed in favor of Peña Nieto and the return to presidential power of his Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. The PRI ruled single-handedly for seven decades until being ousted in 2000. 

A feeling of being left out and a general disillusionment with a system long plagued by corruption had led many of Mexico's young voters to sit out this campaign. Wednesday's protest, and another one over the weekend, may not be enough to turn the tide, but the movement is attracting attention.

“The real miracle is that a complete generation that was condemned to apathy, to only observe, and to individualism is once again making the nation's destiny their own," said Mexican writer Paco Ignacio Taibo II, who attended Wednesday's march.

“I came here to ask for transparency in the media," said Chloe Nava, a student from  Panamerican University. "It seems we need to rescue that instinct as citizens."

The protests were galvanized by a visit Peña Nieto made this month to the elite Ibero-American University in Mexico City. Students there heckled him and he had to cut the visit short -- unusual because his campaign appearances are typically highly choreographed. Media coverage, however, gave the incident short shrift, at least in the view of the youths, and Peña Nieto's campaign dismissed it, claiming the protesters were political plants and not students at all.

In reaction, 131 Ibero students went on YouTube to prove they were in fact students and had participated in attempting to shout down the candidate. Now the protest movement is calling itself "I am 132," meaning everyone joins the group of 131.

Plans are in the works for additional demonstrations, members say.


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-- Claudia Ocaranza and Tracy Wilkinson

Photo: Students in Mexico City protest both the possible return of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) to presidential power and what they perceive as slanted coverage of the election campaign. Credit: Eduardo Verdugo / Associated Press



Twitter vs. secret diplomacy in the Chen Guangcheng saga


The celebrated deal that would have ensured that blind dissident Chen Guangcheng would stay in China began to dissolve publicly with a tweet: “GUANGCHENG TALKED TO ME. WHAT MEDIA REPORTED IS WRONG.” 

The unsettling Twitter message from Beijing activist Zeng Jinyan began a firestorm of debate over whether Chen had been coerced into the deal with threats to his family, an alarming idea that gutted the most important promise behind the agreement -- that Chen would be kept safe.

Zeng also said Chen really said he wanted to “see” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, not “kiss” her, upending a widely reported remark that had seemed to show the dramatic story coming to a happy ending. Other Chinese activists soon followed, sharing their own accounts of what Chen had said.

Foreign reporters contacted Chen via telephone and found him frightened and wanting to leave China. Two days later, plans were in the works for Chen to come study at an American university, as U.S. officials scrambled to rework the initial deal, which was excoriated by human rights groups and Republican critics.

The uproar put Clinton, who has been lauded by staffers as the “godmother of 21st century statecraft” for embracing Twitter and other digital tools, on the flip side of social media. Thanks to Twitter, the "air of privileged secrecy" around diplomacy is becoming harder than ever to maintain, New America Foundation senior fellow Emily Parker argued in the New Republic.

"In the 'Arab Spring' there was this idea that Twitter was a revolutionary force primarily for toppling a dictator," Parker said in a phone interview. "But social media is challenging democracies too."

The Chen deal might well have unraveled without Twitter, through phone calls and the news media. But the rapid-fire pace of social media helped to quickly undercut the official line on what had happened just hours after the agreement was announced, spurring journalists worldwide to follow up. Experts said it was the first time that the digital world has had such a strong sway.

In the past, "it might have taken days or months. It wouldn't have taken minutes," said Nicholas Cull, a USC professor of public diplomacy.

Cull compared the Chen saga with what happened after the U.S. negotiated the 1997 release of Wei Jingsheng, a Chinese democracy activist who had spent more than 17 years in prison. U.S. officials tried to persuade Voice of America not to air an interview with Wei, fearing it would offend China.

Chen and his friends, however, were able to talk directly to the world. Zeng took to Twitter; Chen recorded a video to Premier Wen Jiabao last week that ended up on YouTube.

"It's not just Twitter," said Heather Hurlburt, executive director of the National Security Network. "It's the idea that [on Thursday] the U.S. Embassy could not be permitted to see Chen -- but he could use his cellphone to talk to the U.S. Congress."

Social media may also have coaxed people to speak out more readily than they would have otherwise. Zeng, whose information threw the official story into question, was reluctant to talk to the media at first, Parker said. Twitter let her test the waters and gauge the response.

Twitter and its Chinese equivalent, Sina Weibo, have also fueled false rumors about Chen. Some reporters flocked to the Washington airport to meet Chen upon his reported arrival from China, only to find that they'd been misled, the Epoch Times reported.

But for good or ill, it's here to stay, Cull noted. The question is how governments will adapt the sensitive business of diplomacy to the new pressures and pace of a digital world.

"Every new form of media has made it harder and harder to conduct secret diplomacy. TV made it harder. Social media made it harder," said Courtney Radsch, senior program manager of the Global Freedom of Expression campaign at Freedom House.

Referring to the 1994 agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, she added, "If you're not going to have another Oslo because you can't meet secretly anymore, you have to come up with new ways of doing things.

"Which I don't think is such a bad idea," she said.


Damage control in the Chen Guangcheng affair

Chinese media deride Chen Guangcheng as tool of the West

U.S. seeks quick action on possible Chen Guangcheng breakthrough

-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Protesters hold placards with images of blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng during a protest in front of the Chinese central government's liaison office in Hong Kong on Friday. Credit: Vincent Yu / Associated Press

Mexico City residents to mega-quakes: We can handle it

Mexico city residents earthquake

This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

REPORTING FROM MEXICO CITY -- It's true that sometimes Mexico City can look and feel like the Hollywood set for a movie about the apocalypse. On Tuesday, riding through another big quake, it proved that it's a city that can take a punch.

And what a punch it was.

Tuesday's big earthquake was reported as the largest recorded in Mexico since the devastating 1985 earthquake, which left more than 10,000 people dead. It was a one-minute temblor that made the iconic Angel of Independence monument sway as if drunk and sent crisply dressed office workers rushing into the streets.

Yet remarkably, not a life was lost in the event.

There were only 11 recorded injuries nationwide, authorities said Tuesday night. Some structural damage was reported in the city and in the southern states of Oaxaca and Guerrero, nearer the epicenter. But otherwise, there were no major collapses.

The most dramatic images came from the northern Mexico City borough of Azcapotzalco, where a  concrete footbridge fell on a microbus and crushed its midsection.

In a stroke of what some here call "chilango good luck," referring to a common nickname for Mexico City residents, the bus was empty of passengers. The driver, Raul Hernandez, escaped with only a bloody cut across his nose.

Continue reading »

When thieves struck, this Kenyan chief turned to Twitter


When Francis Kariuki got a 4 a.m. call that thieves were breaking into a home in his Kenyan village, he turned to a technological tool  for help -- Twitter. He put the word out in less than 140 characters.

Minutes later villagers gathered and the thieves fled, the Associated Press reports. Shooing thieves isn't the only way that Kariuki, an administrative chief in the west Kenyan village of Lanet Umoja, has deployed Twitter. His tweets range from philosophical ruminations to alerts about missing sheep:

What Kariuki is doing is part of a wider trend that challenges stereotypes about who uses social media and where.

 Though Twitter is often associated with the Arab Spring uprisings,  countries like South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria each send out more tweets than Egypt, according to a recent study by Portland Communications and the trend-analysis group Tweetminster called "How Africa Tweets."

Kenya, the second most prolific country for tweets on the continent, sent out nearly 2.5 million tweets in three months. Most of the African Twitter users surveyed in the study said they used it to communicate with friends. But 68% said they also used it to get news, especially international news.

Want to see which countries tweet the most? Here's a map created by Portland Communications:



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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Chief Francis Kariuki, left, is shown a gap in a fence that thieves escaped through by village elder Peter Ndungu in the Kenyan village of Lanet Umoja on Monday. Credit: Khalil Senosi / Associated Press


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