Death Watch, CCTV Style

    The People’s Republic of China executes about 4,000 convicts a year, more than all other countries combined, the Los Angeles Times reports, but there was a new low on March 1st, when China’s state television (CCTV) showed the last moments of some of those to be executed, the cameras panning away only moments before the lethal injections. While many countries require witnesses to an execution, no other nation makes it a public spectacle.

    Human rights activists around the world complained not just about the execution but about the TV broadcasting.  Some Chinese lawyers pointed out that such coverage violates China’s criminal code against “parading” convicts before their execution. This comes a year after a regional show in Henan province titled “Interviews Before Execution,” was canceled as being too exploitive.

In its news coverage, CCTV reported at length about the “humane treatment” of the prisoners and how healthy they looked at the time of their execution.

    Which makes plenty of sense, because who wants to be executing unhealthy-looking prisoners, especially when there are TV cameras around?


Nearly a Scoop

    Spain’s highest-circulation newspaper, El Pais, had to recall early editions of its January 23rd issue and Web site after it ran, in error, a front-page photograph allegedly of an intubated Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, in a Cuban operating room. The paper apologized and said it got the suspect photo from Gtres Online, an agency with which it had worked before. The Associated Press said that it and another Spanish newspaper, El Mundo, had been offered the photo but had turned it down.

    Venezuela’s government called the photo grotesque and part of an “evil” right-wing conspiracy against Chavez, who died a few weeks later in early March.

    El Pais said it would revise its “verification procedures in view of the errors committed,” CNN reports. The paper said the image was thought to be “relevant at the time when the health of the Venezuelan president is a source of great controversy and heated political debate…and in light of lack of transparency of the authorities.”

    One wonders at which point lack of transparency becomes a license to make things up.


The Joke’s on the Post

    Clearly there are not enough warnings out there about online information reliability, when journalists of major news organizations fall for the basic, Onion-like, satire.

    Washington Post blogger Suzi Parker (She the People) fell for a hoax when she reported in February that Sarah Palin was joining Al Jazeera, Politico reported. Parker justified her blog by quoting The Daily Currant, to which Palin allegedly said that she didn’t trust “the liberal media” in America, but Al Jazeera offered a good alternative because it reaches “millions of devoutly religious people who don’t watch CBS and CNN….and don’t have a liberal bias.” 

   Except that The Daily Currant identifies itself as an “online satirical newspaper” that covers the world, “now including South Sudan.” Its stories “are purely fictional,” it says.

    The Post recognized its mistake in a matter of hours and promised to “look into the matter.”

    What’s this world coming to if even the Post can’t take a joke any more?


Seeing the Unseen

    Portugal’s state broadcaster (RTP) news director had to resign late last year, after it became known he allowed police to view raw, unaired footage of anti-austerity protesters marching in front of the Parliament building.

    The revelation raised concerns about public TV’s independence in Portugal as well as the safety of journalists covering such events, The Washington Post said.

    RTP News Director Nuno Santos said the footage never left the premises of the RTP, which would have been a violation of editorial policy, but he said he resigned because he thought he no longer enjoyed the support of his governing body.

   Journalism 101: It’s almost never a good idea for journalists to do the job of the police.


Something Fishy in South Africa

    South Africa’s President Zuma is 70, has four wives and 21 children, but when a fish-and-chips company prepared an animated ad depicting a Zuma-like family trying to eat on a budget, South African public television (SABC) refused to run it, the French News Agency reports.

    The food company complained of censorship and said there was nothing offensive about it. “It’s satirical…. [B]ut in good taste,” they said.

    SABC refused comment, but earlier in the year they had asked media to stop referring to Zuma’ s newly renovated rural residence as “Zumaville.” An SABC spokesperson said he was not aware that it was an official decision to cancel the ad.

    Fat chance.

Advertorials Run Amok

    The Atlantic recently ran a sponsor-generated story that looked very similar to regular editorial content. Except that it was not a staff-generated story but instead had been written by the Church of Scientology, The Washington Post reports. The “story” praised the direction, leadership and success of the church. But it was not the thin separation of the article from editorial material that infuriated people—it was the “mediation” by The Atlantic’s marketing department….

    “We screwed up,” a senior Atlantic official told The Washington Post and admitted that editors had not given enough thought to the online sponsored-content placement, mechanism and rules. The Atlantic promised to add better identifiers and separators of sponsor content from staff content. The magazine also said the sponsor will have nothing to do with comment “mediation.”

    As news media try to reinvent and rebuild their financial foundations, advertorials appear to be here to stay. The Washington Post just started a program called “BrandConnect” to link “marketers with The Washington Post audience in “a trusted environment.” They promised clear, unmistakable identification of such content as being sponsor generated.

    The Atlantic case might have been a teaching moment. But should any of this be celebrated as progress?

  • Manny Paraschos is a professor of Journalism in Emerson College. This column is a regular offering of Media Ethics magazine. Prof. Paraschos may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..