Munkácsy Times

A quick update for everyone out there. We at Munkácsy Mihály Gimnázium started an English language newspaper at our school last December. We published one issue in print and now it will continue, mostly, online. Check it out at http://munkacsytimes.wordpress.com. All the articles from our first issue are already available there, and new articles will be published all this week.

Perspectives on the News: Juan Williams

Much has been made of Juan William’s recent firing from NPR, but was it the right thing to do? Did NPR censor Williams? No, NPR’s decision was made with respect to their own code of ethics, and in keeping with their standards for journalistic excellence.

Earlier this week NPR fired news analyst Juan Williams in part for comments he made on Fox News’ O’Rilley Factor. The comment was not well worded, but on a 24-hour, ratings-driven, news network, and especially on The O’Rilley Factor, it’s almost impossible to choose your words carefully. O’Rilley has a way of goading his guests and full-on ignoring them when they say things with which he disagrees. He is notorious for this, and Williams and NPR surely knew that before he went on the program. After the firing, the public, politicians, and media communities erupted in criticism against NPR. Republican leaders including South Carolina Representative Jim DeMint called for NPR’s federal funding to be revoked, long-time NPR listeners threatened to stop donating forever, and affiliate stations also distanced themselves from the network while demanding an answer from it.

Some have called NPR’s action censorship, and to be sure it is not; at least not the kind that violates the US Constitution. NPR is a private, non-profit organization that receives a portion of it’s funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a government-run corporation. To call NPR a state agency that must protect and observe the Constitution is laughable. With that said, there is something to the notion that American organizations should honor the freedom of speech guaranteed by the constitution regardless of whether they are part of the government. They may not be constitutionally obligated to, but they merely should out of respect for American liberty. That reasoning, however, ultimately suggests that any individual has the liberty to slander their employer and have ultimate job security. Surely Rep. DeMint wouldn’t want a senior campaign staffer going on Meet the Press and opining to the nation that the Representative is a bigoted numb-skull with no grasp on reality; he certainly has a right to say it, but not while working for Representative DeMint’s campaign. Similarly, NPR does not want its employees going on national television and behaving in a manner that violates their code of ethics which expressly states that “NPR journalists should not express views they would not air in their role as an NPR journalist. They should not participate in shows . . . that encourage punditry and speculation rather than fact-based analysis.” Williams’ comments were what MPR’s Bob Collins called “a run-in with reality.”

Juan Williams had absolutely every right to say what he said on The Factor. He had every right to appear on Bill O’Rilley’s show, every right to express his anxieties, and had that right every time he appeared on the show. He still has that right, and has actively demonstrated it by accepting a new $2 million contract with Fox News. What is important for Williams, Fox News, and NPR listeners to understand is that a liberty as great as those protected by the First Amendment comes with responsibilities, and that while you have a right to say something, that does not mean there are not consequences for your speech. For Williams, that consequence was losing his job at NPR.

As Vivian Schiller and the Alicia Shepard, NPR Ombudsman, said in separate remarks, this was not the first time Williams’ Fox News commentaries went against the grain. “Williams’ appearances on Fox News, especially O’Reilly’s show, have caused heartburn repeatedly for NPR over the last few years.” Shepard continued to detail the Stokely Carmichael-in-a-designer-dress incident from 2009, and the 2008 change of his role as “correspondent (a reporting job) to news analyst.” While Shepard admits that NPR handled the incident poorly, “this latest incident with Williams centers around a collision of values: NPR’s values emphasizing fact-based, objective journalism versus the tendency in some parts of the news media, notably Fox News, to promote only one side of the ideological spectrum.”

Juan Williams on Fox News was an entirely different voice than the one we heard on NPR. On NPR he fit the model for reasoned discourse on issues of public importance, on Fox News, he fit their model. On PBS’s Newshour this week Callie Crossley, host of the Callie Crossley Show, noted, that there are two different cultures between NPR and Fox News, and it becomes impossible to reconcile Williams the Fox News pundit and Williams the NPR analyst when those two roles appear radically different. “There is one person, Mara Liasson, who is operating in both the cultures,” said Crossley, “the difference there is that she is consistent in her tone, temperament and opinion wherever she is.”

In the end NPR did what it had to do. Some have gotten hung up on what constitutes fact-based analysis, and that is an important discussion to have, but as Kelly McBride at the Pointer Institute noted on Newshour, “NPR has a completely different set of standards for what type of opinion it will tolerate… than Fox News has.” (Emphasis added) Williams’ firing was caused by his speech and decorum on the Fox News network, not prior restraint against his right to freely express himself.

According to NPR, when Williams appeared on The Factor, he spoke not as just an individual, but as an employee of NPR. Perhaps it is too high a standard to expect journalists to represent their organization regardless of where they open their mouth. But if all organizations held their employees to this standard, perhaps it would make for better news across the industry; perhaps it would foster a healthier, more intelligent, democracy.

Read More:

Less Bang For North Korean Bucks

Much ado was made this week about North Korea revaluing its currency. The story first caught my eye as a headline on Twitter and, given the near lack of an economy up north I didn’t think much of it, but my curiosity heightened when I saw the Korea Times and the New York Times pick it up. Our stalinist neighbor announced this week that it would drop two zeros from its currency, issue new bills, and limit the amount of the old bills that could be exchanged.

Unsurprisingly, the change was met with harsh criticism. The Wall Street Journal’s Marcus Noland called Pyongyang’s bluff saying it was a decision made not out of sound economic policy, but “yet another stratagem by the central authorities to short-circuit the development of an entrepreneurial class independent of the state.” Other news agencies cited a widespread, chaotic reaction from within the secretive state’s borders.

The problem is not so much the revaluation itself, it is a strategy used by many stable governments to halt bad economic policies of the past and fight runaway inflation. By revaluing the currency “at approximate parity to major currencies such as the dollar or the euro,” the strategy is often used as a tool for citizens to hold their government accountable for their country’s economic performance. That is clearly not what is happening in North Korea. Holding the government accountable for anything is the last thing the North wants its people doing, and instead this was intended to snuff out small, underground entrepreneurs, and preventing people from holding any savings. Noland writes:

Unlike a Turkish or Ghanaian-style reform [two countries who recently revalued their currencies], in which all citizens are encouraged to convert all their holdings of the old currency, the North Korean regime limits the amount of currency that can be converted. This renders excess holdings worthless, and has set off the frenzy this week to get out of old won and into anything else—dollars, Chinese yuan, physical goods—that will maintain value. Any economic “reform” also creates opportunities to parcel out benefits, as with a 2002 price and wage reform that favored the military.

Other sources like the New York Times also commented on the conversion limit as a fault of the program. The government initially only allowed 100,000 ($690, officially, $35 on the black market) to 150,000 won to be exchanged into the new bills, a rule that would “effectively decimate private stores of cash wealth in local currency.” Following this decree several news outlets reported protests in the streets of Pyongyang, and chaos in the public transportation systems as people flocked home and then to their banks in attempt to redeem their new bills, and sell off the rest into something else.

In response to the protests, the North made a reluctant and disingenuous compromise. All citizens are now allowed to exchange all of their savings for the new notes, but the exchange rate will change after the first 100,000 won. According to Daily NK:

“The maximum amount per household which could be exchanged in cash was initially set at 100,000 won, but overnight it increased to 150,000 won, then subsequently a new decree was handed down.”

“According to the new decree, the exchange rate is still 100:1 for 100,000 won, but now the authorities will only permit people to exchange the rest of the money at 1,000:1.”

As a result, if you take 200,000 won in cash to a bank, you get 1,100 won in new denomination bills. This emergency formula will do nothing other than destroy the fortunes of the people. [Quotations taken from NK Daily’s source.]

The overwhelming verdict among news agencies across the world is that the North’s currency valuation scheme is targeted at two things: obliterating any kind of personal wealth, no matter how small, and shutting down any kind of entrepreneurial activity, black market or otherwise. In addition, the South Korean Unification Ministry has yet to issue an official statement on the subject because it is waiting for Pyongyang to first officially announce the unexpected economic activity.

The blog North Korean Economy Watch has a great collection of quotations from and links to international publications covering the revaluation scheme.

Shots Fired in Contested Waters

As Barack Obama’s scheduled visit to Seoul approaches, and bilateral talks between North Korea and the U.S. are in the works, it would seem the winds are shifting towards increased diplomacy. An incident today between North and South Korean naval bodies suggests otherwise, as the two countries exchanged gunfire for the first time in seven years.

“North and South Korean naval vessels exchanged fire in disputed waters off the western coast of the Korean Peninsula on Tuesday, leaving one North Korean vessel engulfed in flames, South Korean officials said.”

Considering the magnitude a few shots could have between these two countries, especially when North Korean vessels cross borders they contest, but the majority of the international community respects, the day unfolded normally. The attack occurred before school began, and not one student or co-worker brought it up. Civil defense sirens did not ring in the streets, pausing cars at the curb (something that actually has happened in the time I’ve been here as a drill) as aircraft fly overhead. As volatile as our newly assumed neighbors to the north are, the South’s steadiness is comforting. When the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff issues the statement that, “We are fully prepared for further provocations from the North Korean military,” there’s little doubt that South Korea does not train every able male countrywide solely in the name of male bonding. I suspect the calm of the streets will continue. We shall see just how “conciliatory” North Korea is feeling.

Korean Navies Trade Fire in First Incident in Seven Years – NYTimes.com.

An Update on Swine Flu

We were told this week by our Academic Coordinator that in the event we do close, all teachers are expected to come in on Saturdays and Sundays to make up for lost time. Rumors about a government edict closing all the schools abound but we have not heard anything official from the Government.

According to the Korea Times, the government raised its alert status this week, and is stepping up flu prevention strategies:

The country had maintained its “orange” alert status since July 21 but decided to raise it as an average of 8,857 people caught the new flu per day last week, up from 4,420 tallied for the week before. A total of 42 people have died in South Korea from the flu since mid-August.

Government efforts will be focused on coping with serious flu cases and vaccinating about 35 percent of the population as soon as possible to safeguard public health, the ministry said.

I’m just glad I’m part of the public option health plan.

Read: S. Korea Raises Flu Alert to Highest ‘Red’ Level.

Korean Family’s Tale of Emotional Reunion

Lee Kyong-hee, 62, tells the story about being reunited, if briefly, with a sister she hasn’t seen since being separated at the end of the Korean War nearly 60 years ago. Lee, her mother (now 100 years old), and other siblings met with their long lost sister at Mount Kumgang in North Korea over the Chuseok holiday.

We had five reunion sessions in total, spending two hours with my sister each time, in addition to a one-hour farewell meeting.

The moment Hye-gyong entered the reunion hall I recognised her immediately even though she looks very different from what I remember about her appearance.

She was 16 years old when I last saw her; she is now 75.

The BBC has her story, and her reflections on the intra-peninsular relationship between the two Koreas and what will need to happen in order for a peaceful reunion to occur:

In helping North Korea I believe the South Korean government shouldn’t expect the situation to change overnight.