Press Lords Bow to a Torturer

Time Warner and Human Rights

The Committee To Protect Journalists is the most valuable of all press organizations because it goes beyond First Amendment rights here at home to safeguard the right of all journalists in the world to be protected from governments that imprison, torture, and sometimes murder reporters who tell the awful truth. On November 23, in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria, the Committee To Protect Journalists will hold its Ninth Annual International Press Freedom Awards Dinner-for the benefit of the committee.

Chairman of the event is Norman Pearlstine, editor in chief of Time Inc.

The same Mr. Pearlstine figured prominently in Cynthia Cotts's Press Clips in the October 12 Voice ("Chasing the Dragon: Time Warner Goes to China and Gets Shanghaied by Its Hosts").

Time Inc. editor in chief Norman Pearlstine: Business trumps human rights.
photo: Marina Garnier
Time Inc. editor in chief Norman Pearlstine: Business trumps human rights.

In describing the grand scope of Time Warner's recent tribute to the Chinese government, which was held in Shanghai and later Beijing, Human Rights in China-a New York?based organization that monitors how that totalitarian government crushes free speech and free press-reported:

"Entitled 'China: The Next 50 Years,' the Time Warner conference from September 27 to 29 gathered more than 500 CEOs, academics, economists, and government officials, including Chinese president Jiang Zemin, who gave the keynote address.

"Among the U.S. executives on the conference roster were those who control a vast share of the American media, including Jack Welch of General Electric, which owns NBC; Gerald Levin of Time Warner; and Sumner Redstone of Viacom [which recently swallowed CBS]."

Norman Pearlstine was a principal participant in the conference.

Also present for this celebratory occasion, as Cynthia Cotts noted, were top executives of Bertelsmann (owners of the Random House compound), America Online, and Yahoo!.

Lest these powerful lords of the media feel at all embarrassed at being the guests of a government that continues to imprison people simply for advocating democracy, Henry Kissinger, of course, appeared on CNN to assure us and the world that China has made "considerable progress" on human rights and that, God forbid, any confrontation on that subject during the conference might jeopardize "the American national interest."

This is the same statesman who, during the state terrorism in Chile, praised Pinochet in the name of our national interest.

A.M. Rosenthal in The New York Timesfuriously and admirably protested the American conferees' obeisance to state terrorism in China. And in an attempt to alert those media giants about the gulags they were condoning, a meeting was held on September 16 with Norman Pearlstine. As editor in chief of Time Inc., he also oversees Fortune magazine.

Fortunewas the convener of these congratulations to China for 50 years of contempt for human rights.

At the meeting with Pearlstine were Xiao Qiang, executive director of Human Rights in China, and Robert Bernstein, who should get the Nobel Peace Prize for his pioneering work in advancing human rights around the world. They urged Pearlstine to make human rights in China a primary focus of the Shanghai conference.

As Cynthia Cotts reported, Pearlstine said he understood the human rights issue, but for business reasons, the decision had already been made to exclude it from the agenda.

In a September 20 letter, Xiao Qiang and Robert Bernstein told Pearlstine that excluding human rights as a major topic of discussion was "an unconscionable omission" because "Beijing and the rest of the world must not believe that major American media and the international business communities have declared human rights a nonissue now or in the future. . . .

"Your decision will greatly increase the peril of those who are imprisoned in China just because of what they write and say. As the chairman of the annual dinner for the Committee To Protect Journalists this year, you clearly have your own strong concerns for the principle of free expression that Timeand Fortunehave long represented. [Emphasis added.]

"Therefore we urge you again to place human rights on the public agenda. We strongly believe this could make a difference."

Pearlstine, despite his admitted concerns for free expression, was not persuaded. Business is business.

At the Shanghai conference, there was a reference to human rights in China in a panel on China's legal system (an obvious oxymoron). But this issue, so excruciatingly pressing for those in work camps for very long sentences, was not at the center of the conference. Instead, the CEOs feted president Jiang Zemin.

A spokesman for Time Inc., explained that human rights were not addressed by the full conference because "it was a business meeting, not to say that people were not aware of the situation." Evil persists when American media barons censor themselves at the very site of governmental brutality and torture of dissenters.

Norman Pearlstine tells me that since I have not been in China, I am not aware that "China is demonstrably more free today than it was 25 years ago." I told him that a Catholic priest who refuses to renounce the Vatican had his legs broken by police last December in Hebei just after being released from a labor camp. How does Pearlstine define "freedom"?

The Committee To Protect Journalists informs me that it "is extremely concerned about China's abysmal record on press freedoms . . . and wishes that any group meeting in China would address head on" that issue.

In its statement, the committee did not mention its choice of Norman Pearlstine to be chairman of its November 23 Freedom Awards dinner.

 
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