The Listening Post

High crimes and media misdemeanours

We look at Turkey’s and Russia’s battle in the air and over the airwaves; plus, China’s anti-corruption drive.

On November 24, a Russian fighter jet was shot down by Turkish forces. This much we know. But beyond that, the facts are slippery, the coverage compromised and the narratives politically loaded.

Ankara says the jet violated Turkish airspace, whereas Moscow insists that Turkey shot down its plane over Syrian territory. The messages, which present very different versions of the facts, have since been amplified in the media of both countries.

For both Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Syrian conflict is a geopolitical minefield, which is why both nations are determined to control what is being said over the airwaves.

Strong on propaganda, less so on independent journalism, this is a story in which challenging the official line is a risky business.

Talking us through the story are: Behlul Ozkan, a columnist at BirGun newspaper; Olga Khvostunova, a political analyst at the Institute of Modern Russia; Nina Ognianova from the Committee to Protect Journalists; and Ekaterina Chulkovskaya, a reporter at Russia Beyond The Headlines.

Other media stories on our radar this week: Another freelance journalist critical of the government is detained in Egypt, charged with spreading false news; Britain’s The Sun newspaper is refusing to apologise for a story that its sister paper The Times has backed down on; and for the second time in three months the front page of The International New York Times printed in Thailand has been left blank for political reasons.

Hunting ‘tigers and flies’

Three years ago, China’s President Xi Jinping launched an aggressive anti-graft campaign, vowing to crack down on what his government called “tigers and flies”.

Thousands of people, both high and low-level officials, have been arrested and convicted on corruption charges.

While some have welcomed the campaign, there have been growing concerns over how it is being carried out.  

Journalists have also been subject to arrest. Reporters from the state-run CCTV channels along with those from well-known business news websites have been detained under the orders of the Communist Party.

The Listening Post’s Meenakshi Ravi reports on the anti-corruption drive that critics say lacks its own transparency.

To close the show this week – in China, internet users with a political bent can find themselves in a constant game of cat and mouse with the authorities. To get around the censors, they have adopted all kinds of code words, pictures and homonyms – words that sound the same but are spelt differently – so they don’t show up in searches.

When discussing a taboo topic such as the anniversary of Tiananmen Square – June 4, 1989 – they will use coded references to try to stay one step ahead of the censors.

We look at the work of an animator, Beini Huang, who has put together a collection of some of the more imaginative examples of the way Chinese web users mask their political work online.