Thursday, August 21, 2014

Good Samaritans hard to find in China

Five people have appeared in a Chinese court charged in connection with the beating to death of a woman in a McDonald's restaurant earlier this year.

The woman, 37-year-old Wu Shuoyan, is alleged to have been killed last May simply for refusing to hand over her phone number to cult members [Sky News / BBC / Telegraph / Guardian / Straits Times / Tomo News - YouTubeYouTube - viewer discretion advised]. But just as shocking as the woman's murder was that people in the restaurant stood watching rather than stepping in to help. In fact some even attempted to fim the incident on their mobile phones.

Outrage

The murder, filmed on CCTV and on mobile phones, sparked outrage across China. The incident also triggered much soul searching as many Chinese netizens questioned why no-one stepped in to help the woman as she was repeatedly hit with a broom handle [Shanghaiist / D Mail]. 

The fact that nobody stepped in to help is not unusual. Indeed there are countless examples where people have ignored people in distress or need of help.

Child left for dead

In October 2011 Chinese media and internet users voiced shock at a hit-and-run incident involving a two-year-old child who was left injured in the road as passers-by ignored her [BBC ]/ D Mail / YoutTube - viewer discretion advised / Wikipedia].

The girl was hit by a van in the city of Foshan in central Guangdong province. But instead of stopping to help the child, the driver sped off. For minutes the girl laid on the road as several pedestrians and vehicles passed the girl without stopping. Then another vehicle drove over her before a rubbish collector finally helped came to her aid. Sadly the girl died a few days later [BBC].

Those that passed by were described as shameful by one local shop keeper [BBC].   

Ignoring sex assaults

The same month a man sexual assaulted a woman in full view of passers-by. But instead of helping the woman members of the public in Tianlin Road in the Xuhui District of Shanghai stood and watched with some filming the spectacle on their mobile phones [Ministry of Tofu].

As regards such incidents described above there is a fear by some people of getting involved. In seeing a violent incident many people perhaps understandably fear for their own safety. But when it comes to seeing injured toddlers on the street, the psychology is a little more difficult to explain. Some might fear litigation and culpability. Indeed in road accidents few people are willing to come forward as a witness. There are also cases where good Samaritans have found themselves in trouble. In fact China is notorious for its poor treatment of good Samaritans. There have been incidents in China, such as the Peng Yu incident in 2006, where those who helped people injured were accused of having injured the victim themselves [China Daily / Bloomberg / Alvinology].

Hysteria

The fear of becoming involved has grown to almost hysterical levels. In early August Shanghai commuters fled in panic after a foreigner feinted on a subway train. As they did so there was a near stampede and several people were knocked over in the rush [WSJ / YouTube].

There have been similar occurrences in other cities too. In June, six passengers were injured when a passenger who had fallen ill and fainted created a panicked rush to vacate Meihuayuan Station in Guangzhou [Xinhua].

The same month, a fight Guomao station in Beijing resulted in another mass stampede causing some people to fall to the ground in the commotion.

Such panic and hysteria has prompted the state news agency to call for an emergency response [Xinhua]. However, it needs more than "crisis management education" and an understanding of what to do in an emergency. Some of the scenes reported at subway stations and shopping malls are a direct result of the heightened concern over a spate of terror attacks across the country.

Indeed a rumour that someone was "slashing people with a knife" at a shopping mall in Shenzhen City in May caused a panic resulting in 12 injuries.

Possible causes

There is an inbuilt psychology amongst many Chinese not to get involved in another person's business, be it a road accident, fight or injury. Some Chinese say that it could partly be explained by years of communism where people were expected to be subservient to the state. In order to avoid trouble, especially during the Cultural Revolution, people would keep themselves to themselves and keep their noses clean.

The younger generation is less affected by the past, but the big focus on money and success has created a society where people avoid any interaction with others unless it is required of them. Even in work, few question what is asked of them even if they have grievances in order to avoid trouble.

It has to be said that there are cases in the West where similar incidents happen [China Daily / NBC / China Smack]. However, in China it is becoming more commonplace, and good Samaritans are harder to find.

Some countries legally oblige people to help others in need of help, though there are cases where such laws are ignored [Wikipedia - Good Samaritan Law]. China has discussed the possible introduction of such a law but legislation has yet to be passed [China Daily]. However in August last year Shenzhen became the first region to introduce such laws on a local level [SCMP]. It remains to be seen whether legislation can change the deeply ingrained mindset of many Chinese people.


tvnewswatch, London, UK

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Man arrested over Tilbury Docks container death

A man has been arrested on suspicion of manslaughter in connection with the death of a man found inside a shipping container in Essex on Saturday.

The 34-year-old man, from Limavady in County Londonderry, was arrested just after midday today [Monday 19th August] on the A1 at Banbridge on suspicion of manslaughter and facilitating illegal entry.

He is currently in the custody of the Police Service of Northern Ireland [PSNI] ahead of being returned to England for questioning by Essex Police.

Essex Police have now named the dead man as 40-years-old Meet Singh Kapoor. Initial post-mortem tests have proved so far been inconclusive. Thirty four survivors include 10 men, nine women and 15 children were also found in the container on Saturday. Their ages ranged from one to 72 years of age and are of Afghan Sikh origin.

They are all in the care of the Home Office after being questioned by police and are reported to be seeking asylum in the UK.

The group had arrived in the UK on Saturday on a ship from Belgium and were said by police to be victims of people trafficking. They were discovered after dock workers heard banging and screaming coming from one of the containers [Sky News / BBC].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Murder probe after illegal immigrants found in Tilbury docks

A dead man was among 35 immigrants found in a container at Tilbury Docks early this morning [Saturday 16/08/2014] after "banging and screaming" alerted the crew.

"homicide" investigation

And now Essex police have launched a "homicide" investigation following the discovery.

The man was discovered with 34 sick children and adults hiding in a container on a P&O ferry. The Norstream, a Dutch registered cargo vessel, had departed Zeebrugge in Belgium at 21:44 on Friday [15th August] and arrived at Tilbury shortly after 05:00 on Saturday.

Dehydrated

Some of the immigrants, believed to be of Indian origin, were suffering from severe dehydration and hypothermia. Amongst the group were 7 children. Seven ambulances were sent to the scene and removed them to various local hospitals. Eighteen patients were taken to Basildon Hospital, nine to London Whitechapel Hospital and seven to Southend Hospital.

The roll-on roll-off ferry was carrying 64 containers, 72 trailers and five lorries and drivers and police spent much of the day checking that other containers did not harbour any other illegal immigrants.

Police were called to the scene after the people were discovered as the containers were being unloaded at 07:35 by Port of Tilbury authorities.

"People trafficking"

At a press conference on Saturday afternoon Superintendent Roe described those discovered in the container as victims of "people trafficking". He said they had been in the container a "significant amount of time" and that now police were working with international agencies to establish their movements prior to arriving in the UK.

South Basildon and East Thurrock MP Stephen Metcalfe described the incident as "tragic". Speaking to the BBC he said, "The fact that so many people appear to have travelled so far and are so desperate to get into the UK - either on their own or being trafficked is really very sad."

The Conservative MP said it was important "to get to the root causes of what is motivating people to go to such extreme lengths to travel from other parts of the world to get into the UK" and tackle people-trafficking.

[Sky News / BBC / Daily Mail / Mirror / Express / Telegraph / Guardian / Independent]

tvnewswatch, Tilbury, Essex

Saturday, August 09, 2014

On demand TV opens up a brave new world

There is a revolution happening in the way that television content is consumed and commissioned.

No longer are viewers obliged to watch what broadcasters schedule. With more and more on demand services, and the facility to stream other content to the TV screen, viewing habits are rapidly changing.

But there may be a price to pay for this convenience and accessibility.

On demand

Companies like Amazon and Netflix now offer TV on demand services. Subscribers can choose from a wide range of films and given their broadband speed can cope, the content is streamed to their 42" TV in their living room.

Sky, in Britain, also offers similar services to its subscribers, enabling people to view programmes and films outside the normal schedule.

In the last year there's also been an upsurge in devices such as Chromecast, Roku and Apple TV which allow users to pull in content to less Smart televisions or those which don't have an Internet connection.

Users of Google's Chromecast can, for example, stream Netflix subscriber content, YouTube videos, programmes via BBC iPlayer or films purchased in Google Play.

Roku offers slightly more content, with Netflix, NOW TV, Sky Sports, ITV, Demand 4, BBC iPlayer and BBC Sport being just a few of its available services. Apple TV offers a similar service to both the above with iTunes video content replacing that of Google Play.

Whatever service or platform one opts for there are several things viewers will be tied to. With regards the Apple TV and Chromecast routes, users will be tying themselves into an ecosystem if they decide to 'buy' movies.

Growing content

There is a drawback with all such services and that is a feeling of information overload or an overwhelming choice.

Once upon a time British television consisted of only a single BBC channel, expanding later to two BBC channels and one commercial channel. By the 1980s Channel Four joined the list with Channel Five arriving by the late 1990s. For those prepared to pay extra, satellite and cable brought hundreds of channels to the small screen.

However, viewers might still find themselves missing their favourite programme or find that broadcast times did not fit into their schedule. Thus, with the advent of fast Internet connections, on demand services were born.

Targeting audiences

In the past, broadcasters could only guess the popularity of a certain programme through surveys and by providing a select group of people a box which would log a family's television habits.

Such information is useful to advertisers and those selling commercial slots. Advertisers are interested in targeting as many people as possible, and broadcasters are in the business of making as much money back from their programmes as possible in order to fund new productions.

With the advent of on demand TV there are big advantages for the consumer, advertiser and programme maker.

With every click, online services can log how users consume content. They can see what is watched, how much and when. Just as Google and other search companies target Internet users with tailored advertising, so too can the likes of Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, Apple iTunes.

Privacy concerns

Within a few years it is likely that such companies will have a massive database of family viewing habits and interests.

This may be useful to the average individual as they are offered films and programmes which closely resemble their interests. Indeed such profiling already exists with Google Play, Amazon and other online trading stores offering suggestions and recommendations based on previous purchases or browsing habits.

These offerings sometimes fall wide off the mark, but this profiling will get better in time as companies refine their techniques in collecting and analysing user information. In fact in the future these companies may know you better than you know yourself!

There is a downside to all this tailored content, other than giving up our privacy. There was once a sense of community when there was only a choice of three of four channels. Conversations at work or down the pub might often revolve around a recently broadcast television programme.

Now, with hundreds of channels, DVDs, and on demand streaming television, the chances of a person having seen the same programme as you is dwindling fast.

In many households the news does not have the same importance it once did. In fact families will often only pick up a newspaper for the television schedule.

Television has long been blamed for killing the art of conversation as families sit in stoney silence watching the box for hours without saying anything to each other. The children's charity I CAN, in a 2007 survey, said the TV is affecting young children's ability to string a sentence together as parents increasingly spend more time watching TV and cleaning around the house than they do talking to their children [Daily Mail]. Of course it's not just the TV. The whole online, interconnected world we now live in - with Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Google+ and others, is actually making people less social rather than socially connected.

Even if one can muster up the strength to drag oneself away from the TV, the topics of conversation down the local pub are dwindling fast. However, with nothing to discuss concerning a recent TV show or major news story, at least we British can fall back on our usual topic of discussion - the weather [BBC / Globe & Mail].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Truth also a casualty as Gaza conflict continues

No single article can explain the complexities of the continuing Middle East conflict between Israel and Hamas, as well as other Palestinian groups in the region. Israel has been labelled as a child-killing monster and likened by some to the Nazi regime. Meanwhile Hamas and other extremist groups have been declared terrorist organisations.

Territorial claims

Both Palestinian and Israeli territorial claims stretch back many hundreds of years. Many look back only to the last 100 years to the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the Balfour Declaration which help establish and draw up the borders between Israel, Palestine, Gaza and other Middle Eastern states [BBC / Guardian].

However the history of the region is far more complex. What is now Gaza, the West Bank and Israel have been continually swallowed up by various empires for the last 3,000 years [Video - YouTube]. The Kingdom of Israel existed briefly after being a part of the Kingdom of Egypt but was later swallowed up by Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian and Macedonian empires. The territories were later consumed by the Roman, Byzantine and Sassanid Empires before becoming part of the Caliphate and later the Seljuk Empire.

Around 1,000 years ago parts of the region were invaded and occupied during the Christian Crusades. Then came the Saladin's Empire and the Ottoman Empire before European Colonialism begun to shape the nation states that currently exist.

Thus depending upon which part of history one points to Israel and Palestinian territories have different claims to legitimacy.

Growing militancy

With regards to border agreements and UN declarations applied in the last century Israel may well be on occupied land. Their blockades of Gaza have certainly kept the people of Gaza in an almost stateless limbo. The inhabitants of the Gaza strip are unable to trade like a normal country nor can they easily travel.

But as Palestinians claims have intensified, so have their methods become more extreme. Hamas and Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades have continued to launch terror attacks against Israel. While the Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade seeks to drive the Israeli military and settlers from the West Bank and other Palestinian territories, Hamas's goal is the complete destruction of Israel.

Israel maintains the blockade which it says is necessary to limit Palestinian rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip on its cities and to prevent Hamas from obtaining weapons. But the consequence is that the population has problems obtaining food, medical supplies and other commodities.

Kidnappings and retaliation

Israel has found it galling to negotiate with a named terror group whose stated aim is the destruction of Israel. The continued stand-off has precipitated attacks on Israel and the kidnapping and murder of Israeli civilians [Wikipedia].

Hamas denied involvement in the kidnappings, but Israel angered at renewed attacks begun an assault in order to degrade the terror organisation's military capabilities.

The operations by the Israeli Defense Force has resulted in many deaths. But as in any war, truth has also become a casualty.

Propaganda War

Israel's propaganda machine has certainly been in overdrive, pointing to the fact that thousand of rockets that Hamas has fired towards Israel. Israel asserts that without its defensive infrastructure known as the Iron Dome these rockets could have killed many hundreds of civilians.

On the other side it is claimed that hundreds of women and children have been killed by indiscriminate missile attacks by Israeli forces on schools and hospitals. However the truth on the ground is very different from what is shown on television screens.

Writing in Monday's Times Melanie Phillips says that the outside world is not getting the full picture. While she concedes that civilian population in Gaza is suffering, the pictures shown on television give a distorted image of what is really happening

Viewers' "emotions are being manipulated," Phillips writes. "They are not being shown how Hamas is using its own people as human shields and sacrifices."

According to the British journalist Hamas has failed to build shelters and forces civilians to use UN schools, whilst at the same time ordering Gazans to ignore Israeli warnings to flee their houses and stay put under bombardment.

Meanwhile declassified Israeli aerial pictures clearly show Hamas rocket launchers situated and being fired near mosques, schools and playgrounds [YouTube]. Furthermore Hamas rockets have been found stashed in three UN-run schools.

Shifa hospital has reportedly been used as a Hamas command centre, but such details are often excluded from news reports. Indeed journalists reporting from Gaza work under an implicit threat.

One Spanish journalist described the difficulties of reporting and why there are no pictures of Hamas firing from hospitals. "It's very simple, we did see Hamas people there launching rockets, they were close to our hotel, but if ever we dared pointing our camera on them they would simply shoot at us and kill us." [elderofziyon / Facebook / CBN / The Blaze]

Death toll

More than 1,300 Gazans have died in the conflict. However, Al Jazeera reports that most of those killed in Gaza are young men of fighting age, not women, children or old people. However Hamas dictates anyone talking to the media must describe all Gaza casualties as "innocent civilians" and ensure "there is no evidence of rockets being fired from Gaza population centres" [Algemeiner / Al Jazeera - list of deadAl Jazeera].

There is also virtually no reporting of Gazan casualties caused by Hamas's own rockets falling short, Phillips observes.

It may well be that Israel is guilty of war crimes of which it is accused. But Hamas too could could be just as complicit of creating the conditions which result in civilian deaths.

Never ending cycle

The latest war between Israel and Hamas will likely come to an end. Gazans will pick up the pieces and rebuild their homes. Israel will relax a little following the degrading of the Hamas war machine. But in time Hamas will regroup, weapons will be smuggled in and new tunnels will be dug.

For another conflict to be averted there all sides need to sit down. Hamas need to moderate in their stance against Israel. Israel too needs to offer concessions to the people of Gaza in return for a halt of hostilities. When neither side is willing to negotiate there is little chance for a lasting peace [Guardian].


tvnewswatch, London, UK

Monday, August 04, 2014

China tightens policies over use of foreign tech

Beijing is going to war with Western tech giants, tightening regulations, imposing bans and openly criticising companies for spying on Chinese citizens and the state. The moves could have serious repercussions as China attempts to create a self sufficient market, less reliant on foreign technology.

Currently China represents about 10% of the global technology market, and accounts for 15% to 20% of global hardware demand, according to the CLSA. The bank says Chinese companies control about 70% of the domestic market for telecommunications gear, but Western companies account for roughly 70% of sales of computer servers.

But things may change rapidly as the Chinese government pushes Western technology companies to the sidelines.

Targeting

In the last few years China has increased its criticism of mainly US technology companies, accusing them of espionage, bad business practices and of being a security risk.

This week it targeted firms Symantec and Kaspersky saying they posed a security risk.

According to the People's Daily, software from these leading companies was now banned from government computers. As a result Beijing's approved list of anti-virus software providers were all Chinese; Qihoo 360 Tech Co, Venustech, CAJinchen, Beijing Jiangmin & Rising.

The People's Daily emphasised that the latest decision to exclude Symantec and Kaspersky was not related to allegations by former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden of snooping by the US National Security Agency, though that is unlikely to wash with most commentators [Reuters / Business Week / Business Spectator].

Microsoft criticised

Symantec and Kaspersky are just the latest in a long line of companies hit by Chinese bans and regulations. In late July, China's anti-monopoly agency announced an investigation into US tech giant Microsoft for allegedly operating a monopoly.

That followed an announcement in May this year that Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system would be banned from all new government computers.

Uncomfortable relationships

For years China has been criticised for its believed involvement in large scale hacking enterprises, something it has continually denied.

It has not reacted kindly to such criticism either. When Google essentially accused the Chinese government of launching concerted hacking attacks on its systems, China reacted angrily.

As well as statements of denial there were many manoeuvres behind the scenes. Within news organisations internal memos were distributed informing reporters that any articles about the US tech giant must be vetted, and that only government approved articles would be published.

Google eventually uprooted its China operations, moving its search engine to Hong Kong and all but closing its Beijing offices.

Google made a stand about censorship and the hacking of itself and other US companies. But others kept quiet about such concerns, not wishing to affect business opportunities in the Middle Kingdom.

Growing rift

However, the writing was clearly on the wall. And as more criticism of Beijing mounted up and the Snowden revelations became public, China began to exert its muscle and strike against Western tech companies [V3 / WSJ].

Microsoft, Apple and other tech companies now became a target.

In 2013 Apple was openly criticised over its warranty policy which China said flouted Chinese law. Apple CEO Tim Cook responded by apologizing to Chinese consumers and changed the policy, a move seen as unprecedented by a company not recognised for admitting mistakes easily [NYT]. Criticism of the company did not end however. Only last month the iPhone was branded a security risk which could expose state secrets [WSJ / ZDNet].

A month later Microsoft too was targeted with the Chinese government issuing a ban on the Windows 8 operating system being installed on government computers [BBC / Fox News].

China's state news agency Xinhua said security concerns related to foreign operating systems had led to the move and that Beijing had felt "compelled" to make the decision after Microsoft ended security support for its Windows XP operating system, which is still widely used in China.

Weeks later, critical reports suggested the new operating system could threaten the security and privacy of ordinary Chinese citizens [BBC].

Just in the last few days an anti-monopoly investigation into US technology giant Microsoft was launched [BBC / FT].

Growing list

And it wasn't just the well known names being targeted.  China's anti-trust regulator said that Qualcomm, one of the world's biggest mobile chipmakers, had also used monopoly power in setting its licensing fees.

Other companies are also in the gun sights of Chinese regulators and authorities. Last year, a Chinese magazine with ties to the Communist party suggested some of the biggest US tech companies doing business in China were spying on China [WSJ]. The cover of the June 2013 issue of China Economic Weekly declared that US a number of US companies had "seamlessly infiltrated China" [WSJ].

"He's Watching You," declared the cover of the China Economic Weekly, under an image borrowed from a World War II propaganda poster [Archives.gov].

Companies named in the article included Cisco Systems, IBM, Google, Qualcomm, Intel, Apple, Oracle and Microsoft.

Tit for tat

China may be justifiably concerned. Snowden's revelations have certainly raised worries that ordinary civilians, businesses and nation states could be under continual surveillance by the NSA.

Evidence published by the Guardian and other news outlets claims the NSA had access to many hi-tech companies' computer infrastructure.

The Snowden leaks were welcome news for China. It enabled China to point a finger at the US, who had, in the past, readily criticised China for launching concerted cyberattacks and engaging in cyberespionage.

With Chinese players like Huawei Technologies and ZTE largely shut out of the US over security concerns, China is now repaying in kind by impeding US companies' operations in the country.

Response

Google was clear as to its position, something which has cost the company its place in the Chinese market. Google search is almost unusable inside mainland China, due to censorship and web blocks, and many other services are restricted. Even Google's mobile operating system Android has brought little revenue for the tech giant despite its meteoric rise. While many phones in China use Android, all traces of Google, including its app store, are stripped out meaning Google is unable to make money from Chinese mobile phone users.

Other companies have been more reticent in airing their opinions. Many worry about angering Beijing and affecting Chinese business operations. But many of the responses could be described as kowtowing.

Criticism of Apple brought apologies whilst Microsoft has said it will cooperate with investigations. In an emailed statement to Reuters the company said, "Our business practices in China are designed to be compliant with Chinese law" and that Microsoft "will address any concerns the government may have."

Symantec have also been measured in their response to the latest bans and restrictions. "We are investigating and engaging in conversations with Chinese authorities about this matter. It is too premature to go into any additional details at this time," the company said in a statement. "Symantec does not put hidden functionality or back doors into any of its technologies -- not for the NSA or any other government entities." [ZDNet]

Meanwhile, Kaspersky spokesman Alejandro Arango said, "We are investigating and engaging in conversations with Chinese authorities about this matter," adding that it was "too premature to go into any additional details at this time." [Guardian]

Fighting back

China has sustained a continual barrage of criticism by the US from accusations of hacking attacks to indictments of five PLA members for conducting cyber espionage against US firms and utilities.

Revelations about NSA surveillance has not helped Washington, and indeed China has accused the US of double standards and hypocrisy.

Following the indictments in May this year, a spokesman for the Chinese government told the People's Daily, the official newspaper of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, that if the US presses the charges "China will take measures to resolutely fight back" [Business Insider].

It is clear that China's "fight back" has well and truly begun.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Friday, August 01, 2014

Future motorists face diesel bans, hybrids & driverless cars

Drivers in the UK face a very different experience if new government plans come into being. This week London's mayor Boris Johnson put forward proposals that could see all diesel cars banned from city centres or be forced to pay extra charges.

Meanwhile plans have been unveiled that will make driverless cars legal on British roads, something that might leave many drivers cold.

Restrictions on diesel vehicles

In January 2012 thousands of motorists were forced off the road after the so-called Low Emission Zone was extended to include transit vans, mini buses and a range of other vehicles powered by diesel [tvnewswatch: Low emission zone forces thousands off the road].

The move was widely criticised since many people affected by the change could least afford to replace their vehicle or convert it to conform to the new emissions standards. Whilst some bought brand new vehicles, others had little choice than to buy second hand vehicles that complied with the new restrictions.

However, many of these individuals and businesses may once again find themselves with a financial dilemma if Boris Johnson's proposals take effect.

Ultra Low Emission Zone

The London Mayor wants the new Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) to be introduced by 2020 with diesel vehicles that don't comply being charged £10 a day on top of the current £11.50 congestion charge. In addition he says he will lobby the government to increase vehicle excise duty on diesel cars to encourage motorists to move to cleaner vehicles.

While some environmental groups have called on a total ban on diesel vehicles, the mayor has dismissed such suggestions as unfair.

"It would not be reasonable to say, 'I'm sorry, you have just bought that car but it's now banned,' Boris Johnson said. "People bought them in good faith and it's not fair to clobber them. We think a five-year notice gives enough warning. People who drive in once a month might not buy a newer car whereas somebody who drives in every day probably would do."

It is unclear which diesel vehicles would be affected, though current suggestions point to diesel vehicles that meet the Euro 6 emissions standard would be exempt while petrol cars registered before 2006 would also have to pay and increased levy [BBC / Daily Mail / Telegraph].

Betrayed by previous governments

While there has been a gradual targeting of owners of diesel powered vehicles, at the same time motorists have in the past been encouraged to buy them.

Legislation over the past 15 years, intended to lower carbon emissions, has pushed people towards diesel cars. Government tax incentives, not to mention huge improvements in the driveability of diesel cars, has also led to an explosion of sales [Guardian / Telegraph].

The latest proposal could come into force as early as 2020 and some other cities across the country are already discussing similar measures.

Rather than let older cars die a natural death and ban the manufacturing of new diesel vehicles, the increased charges and taxes are seen as merely a money making scheme rather than a way of curbing pollution.

Whilst motorists might well struggle with financing a deal on another vehicle, the proposed schemes could also be seen as an attempt to boost car manufacturing and vehicle sales.

But with much of the environmental cost wrapped up in the manufacturing of a vehicle, people's ditching of a perfectly good - albeit slightly polluting - vehicle, could be worse for the environment.

Greening

The writing is certainly on the wall for anyone using a method of transport that burns fuel. The mayor has even talked of making all newly registered taxis 'emission free' by 2018 [Telegraph].

Hybrid vehicles may well be the way of the future. Purely electric vehicles may also have a place. But infrastructure needs to be rolled out enabling motorists to travel more than a few hundred kilometres before running out of power.

Using an electric car in London might be convenient, and even save money. But try shoving a family of four, plus a tonne of camping gear, into a Renault Twizy and embarking on a European tour. Even a jaunt to Cornwall and back might prove just a little tricky.

Such vehicles are still not cheap. A brand new Twizy costs around £7,000 and that excludes the battery which is leased. And while it may be relatively cheap to run it can carry only two people and has about as much boot space as a small briefcase.

Of course not all electric vehicles are as impractical or dinky as the Twizy. Renault's Zoe and Volvo's V60 are bold attempts to bring a 'zero emission' family car to the road.

Across the EU 50,000 plug-in vehicles were sold in 2013, up from 22,000 in 2012, but electric models are still a tiny fraction of all new cars sold [Guardian].

And while there is no local pollution from such vehicles it must be remembered these are not exactly 'zero emission'. Since they are powered from the national grid there will still be fuel used to generate the electricity, unless of course it is wind, solar or nuclear.

A future without driving

The future may also see us not only possessing an electric vehicle but one that drives itself. the autonomous vehicle once existed only in the imagination of science fiction writers. But today the driverless vehicle is already a reality and may become the norm in less than twenty years. And now the UK government has announced that driverless cars will be allowed on public roads from January 2015.

It has also invited cities to compete to host one of three trials of the technology. In addition, ministers have ordered a review of the UK's road regulations to provide appropriate guidelines.

The Internet company Google has invested heavily in the technology and run extensive trials in California. In fact Google's driverless cars have clocked up more than 500,000 km on the open road without incident. Meanwhile other states including Nevada and Florida have approved tests of the vehicles [BBCTelegraph].

There are concerns about the new technology with some worried about the risks should the onboard computers fail. Earlier this month, the FBI warned that driverless cars could be used as lethal weapons, predicting that the vehicles "will have a high impact on transforming what both law enforcement and its adversaries can operationally do with a car" [BBC].

Even if the tech proves itself to be safe, motorists may be less than happy. According to a new study from Churchill Car Insurance around 56% of UK adults say they would not purchase a driverless car and one in four believed that autonomous vehicles would not be safe.

Malfunction is the biggest fear, with 60% of people fearing that the computer may be unreliable in an autonomous vehicle. Insurance companies have also expressed fears with some talking of an "existential threat" [FT].  

Around a third also had concerns that the technology could be open to cyber attacks [FleetNews] .

Freedom of choice may eventually disappear however. The pleasure of driving may be a thing of the past. Indeed, should politicians have their way we will all be automatically conveyed from one location to another in an electric driverless car at speeds and on routes regulated and controlled by government departments.

This week Boris Johnson tried to distance himself from suggestions of making London a testing ground for driverless buses, trains and subway trains. A document released by the Mayor's office had hinted that dramatic changes might be on the horizon. The papers said that driverless technology of the type being developed by Google would provide "large cost savings for buses while delivering a faster more efficient service," and added that it would become possible to provide what it called "taxi like" services "at reduced costs" [Guardian].

Such proposals would not be out of place in London where the fully automated Docklands Light Railway has been running for more than 20 years. 
 
In the future, the choice concerning the type of vehicle, the route and other motoring decisions may well be dictated by central government. Such a vision may be a few decades away, but the road is already being paved.

tvnewswatch, London, UK