Monday, January 26, 2009

Gaza aid appeal divides broadcasters

ITV aired the DEC aid appeal on Monday

Two major news organisations have refused to broadcast an appeal intended to raise money for victims of the recent conflict in Gaza. Both the BBC and Sky News have decided not to air the appeal saying that it could compromise impartiality as news broadcasters. Jon Ryley, Sky’s head of news, released a statement in which he said, “"The absolute impartiality of our output is fundamental to Sky News and its journalism. That is why, after very careful consideration, we have concluded that broadcasting an appeal for Gaza at this time is incompatible with our role in providing balanced and objective reporting of this continuing situation to our audiences in the UK and around the world"[Sky News].

The decision has brought widespread criticism, both from members of the public and from British members of parliament. Former parliamentarian Tony Benn has been one of the outspoken critics and insisted that the BBC had a responsibility of informing viewers of the humanitarian appeal. He told CNN’s Jim Clancy that people were suffering in the region and that aid was desperately needed before more people died. “After all we’re all human”, he said, “and this is a humanitarian appeal”. But he evaded the question put to him over reservations that some might have suggesting the money may fall into the hands of Hamas. Jim Clancy said that “Hamas have the guns” and that there was a risk the money could be diverted to rebuild their military infrastructure. Tony Benn refused to be drawn into such a possibility and instead pointed out that Hamas had been elected.

While ITV, Channel Four, Channel 5 and al Jazeera have all said they will air the Gaza appeal, it is not yet clear whether other international broadcasters will air the appeal. The Disasters Emergency Committee [DEC] say they have not approached all broadcasters however. Amongst them was CNN who say they had not been asked to show the 3 minute film [BBC / Sky News / CNN].

Meanwhile, EU Commissioner Louis Michel has described the destruction in Gaza as “abominable” but blamed Hamas for bringing Israel’s onslaught. However there is increased criticism that Israel may have broken rules concerning the use of certain weapons. Sagah abu Halim is one victim highlighted in a CNN report. She received appalling injuries suspected to be the result of being struck by white phosphorus. Ben Wedeman said the use of white phosphorus in densely populated areas would “inevitably” result in civilian casualties. But Israeli spokesman Mark Regev is adamant that Israel was careful not to target the innocent. “We do not target civilians” he told CNN, adding that Israel had deployed weapons surgically against enemy target. But says CNN’s Ben Wedeman, “Not surgical enough for victims like Sagah”.

It is these victims that the DEC wants to help and some fear that not airing their appeal will stop the flow of donations. The irony is that more people will now have heard about the call for donations because of the decision made by the BBC and Sky.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Europe storms leave 15 dead

Massive storms have left more than a dozen dead and millions of people without power in southern France and Spain. Winds packing speeds in excess of 180 km/h brought down power lines, trees and infrastructure across a wide area of southern France.

In Spain four children died after the roof of a sports hall collapsed. Around 20 to 30 had sought shelter in the centre in the small town of Sant Boi de Llobregat in Catalonia. Following the collapse local people and fire-fighters helped free the survivors from the rubble but three children aged between nine and 12 died at the scene. A fourth child died later in hospital. At least a dozen others received treatment for injures.

The storms which are said to be the worst in ten years brought widespread power outages. Transport links have also been disrupted with uprooted trees blocking many roads and rail links. Airports in the region were also closed.

Although at least 15 people have so far died in this year’s storms, the death toll is still well below the 88 that died in the December 1999 storms [BBC / Sky News / CNN / France 24].

Britain has also suffered from extreme weather with heavy rain causing localised flooding in many areas. And in Scotland three people were killed after being caught in an avalanche [BBC]

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Repossessions rise as recession deepens

In another sign of a deepening recession it was announced today that home repossessions have risen a massive 92% in the third quarter of 2008 compared to the same period the previous year. A total of 13,161 properties were repossessed in the three month period up to September 2008 and some analysts believe the outlook is extremely bleak as more and more people fall behind with their repayments. The number of homeowners who were behind with their mortgage repayments jumped to 340,000, a rise of 24% during the year and 10% higher than in the previous quarter. Sky’s business editor said there may be upward of 75,000 repossessions in the coming year according to the Council of Mortgage Lenders, on a par with the 1991 recession [Sky News].

Whether because of people overstretching their budgets or because of sudden redundancy, the news is not encouraging. House prices are falling and many are finding themselves in negative equity. Those that are attempting to sell their home are also finding things difficult as banks and building societies become less reluctant to lend money despite government bailouts.
There was also more bad news in the manufacturing sector today. Car production in December was down by half that of 2007 and with car sales down over the year by 11.7% on the previous year’s figure the prospect of more job losses seems likely [BBC].

Today there were further job losses after the sportswear manufacturer Reebok announced it was shedding 160 staff from its Bolton factory. UK manufacturing has slowed as orders have dried up. This in turn has forced companies to make cut backs in order to stay afloat. The vicious circle is pushing the numbers of unemployed close to 2 million [BBC].

But the shedding of jobs is not only confined to the UK. In the US, technology giant Microsoft has announced it is putting 5,000 people out of work over the next 18 months [BBC]. And as technology stocks fall chip maker Intel announced it too was laying off over 6,000 staff [BBC].

Official figures due to be released tomorrow are expected to show Britain has entered recession. Most people do not need any public announcement to see that the UK economy is in dire straits.
And with top economists warning companies not to invest in Britain and saying that the pound was “finished”, the future is far from rosy. Jim Rogers, a well-known investor, speaking on Bloomberg [video / video], said "I would urge you to sell any sterling you might have...It's finished. I hate to say it, but I would not put any money in the UK." The investment guru, like many others is looking to the east. Rogers has himself moved to Singapore, and his daughters, Happy and Baby B, are learning Mandarin Chinese which he sees as the “best skill one can pass on”. But although he sees both China and India as fast emerging economies he says even they must solve some of the more physical problems of air and water pollution.

The West has long been the destination of those from Asia seeking to better their financial prospects. The tide now appears to be turning.

Obama retakes oath of office

It was perhaps an effort to dispel the conspiracy theories, but Barack Obama has retaken the oath of office. The move to take the oath again came after he fluffed his lines after Chief Justice John Roberts delivered it incorrectly to him. During Tuesday’s inauguration Roberts mixed-up the words to the second clause (“That I will faithfully execute the Office of the President of the United States”), missing out the word “faithfully” and putting it at the end. This confused Obama, who once taught Constitutional Law at Chicago Law School.

Obama technically became president a few minutes before he took his oath because the proceedings overran. Under Amendment 20 of the US Constitution, ratified in 1933, the term of the outgoing president ends at precisely noon on January 20. However, section 2 of the US Constitution states the oath must be read out as written. Thus came the dilemma.

Following the inauguration Barack Obama had also signed the declaration. But in an attempt to quash any criticism or conspiracy theories, the White House quickly organised another ceremony in the map room. Some conspiracy nuts may not be entirely placated as a picture showed the President taking the oath without the bible. However, Sky’s Tim Marshall described the whole affair as a bit “frothish” and said, “I don’t think it actually matters”. Greg Craig, the White House counsel, called the retaking of the oath an “abundance of caution” while another White House spokesman said it was a “precaution”. The President was a little more jovial about the whole affair. "We decided that because it was so much fun ...," Obama said jokingly to reporters. Earlier, Vice-President Joe Biden had made light of Chief Justice Robert’s misreading of the oath. “My memory is not as good as Justice Roberts, Chief Justice Roberts," Biden said as he asked for a copy of the oath to swear in senior members of the White House staff on Wednesday. The comment was met with laughs and groans from journalists present and President Obama seemed less than happy with the comment [CNN].

It is not the first time an incoming president has fluffed his lines at the inauguration ceremony. Herbert Hoover said “preserve, maintain and defend the Constitution of the United States” instead of “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States”. However, Hoover did not take the oath again. Both Calvin Coolidge and Chester Arthur retook their oaths. Arthur, who served from 1881 to 1885, was sworn in by the Chief Justice of the New York Supreme Court at his home in a private ceremony following the assassination of former president James Garfield. Arthur was sworn in a second time by the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court two days later at the Capitol.
In Coolidge's case, he took the oath of office at his father's Vermont home following the death of former president Warren Harding. Coolidge's father was a justice of the peace and administered the oath. Concerns about the jurisdiction of Coolidge's father led to Coolidge taking a second oath later in Washington.

Thus Obama stands as the third president to retake the oath of office [Sky News / BBC / CNN].

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama sworn in as 44th US President

Barack Obama has been sworn in as the 44th President of the United of the United States of America. After introductions and an opening address by Sen Dianne Feinstein, the Chair of Joint Congressional Committee of Inaugural Ceremonies, there followed a preliminary prayers and musical interludes. Rick Warren, author and pastor of the Saddleback Church, Orange County, Calif., said prayers for the forthcoming administration and ended with the Lord's Prayer.
Aretha Franklin sang "My Country 'Tis of Thee" before the crowds of enthusiastic Obama supporters. Obama say alongside his wife with his eyes closed listening to the music before Joe Biden stood to take the oath of office. As the bible was handed to him he was heard to say "that's one hell of a book". Another musical interlude followed. Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Anthony McGill and Gabriella Montero performed 'Air & Simple Gifts' written by John Williams.
Finally, Barack Obama stood up to take the oath that would make him the 44th President. He stumbled over the words slightly with a smile, but he could be forgiven for being just a little nervous as millions around the world watched.
He spoke not only of making America strong but also bringing the world together in peace. But he said that those who wished to harm America would regret their actions. "
To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist," President Obama said.
He spoke too about the economy. "Without a watchful eye the market can spin out of control" he said and promised to put the country back on track. But he said now was not a time for recriminations. "Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America" Obama told the huge crowds.
"All are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness" President Obama said. But he said all should work together to make that dream possible.
"With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations" [Full Text].

Obama heads to inauguaration ceremony

President-Elect Barack Obama has left the White House and is making his way to his inauguration to be the 44th President of the United States. The television coverage has reached saturation point with most news channels broadcasting non-stop. CNN and Sky News have paused for commercial breaks while al-Jazeera has paused to give updates to the Gaza crisis and other news headlines. Even Press-TV has dipped into proceedings as have France-24 and RT. However, the BBC have not stopped even for the headlines and have been broadcast Live uninterrupted coverage since 14:00 GMT [09:00 local].

There are record breaking crowds who have turned out to experience the spectacle. And with such large crowds comes a security risk. At least two assassination plots have been foiled by US police, and the authorities are taking no chances with the new president. Huge numbers of secret service, FBI and law enforcement officers have been deployed to make sure nothing goes wrong.

Gaza begins to count the cost of war

UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon arrived in the Gaza strip today to assess the damage inflicted upon the region in 22 days of war. During his tour he visited United Nations buildings, several of which were struck during the conflict. After visiting a UN compound which was struck last week, the UN Secretary General said he was appalled at the damage. “This in an outrageous totally unacceptable attack against the United Nations. I have protested a number of times and am protesting again today in the strongest terms and condemning it. I have asked for a full investigation and make those responsible people accountable” [BBC / CNN]

Meanwhile troops have continued to pull out their troops from Gaza. The move started after Hamas agreed to observe the ceasefire if the IDF withdrew.

But the damage left behind has concerned aid agencies who say that a humanitarian crisis is looming. Over 100,000 people have been displaced and over 20,000 homes have been destroyed. The cost of rebuilding the region could run into billions of dollars and is likely to be paid for by the international community though millions of dollars have already been pledged by the Saudis and other members of the Arab League [al-Jazeera].

But there were heated exchanges during an Arab League session and there was no agreement as to how the money might be distributed. There were also strong condemnations of Israel’s operation. Amr Moussa, the Arab League’s Secretary General, called for investigations into any war crimes committed and called the Israeli incursion a “barbarian war”.
It is a war that seems not to have left Hamas in the tatters hoped by Israel. As the tanks rolled out, armed members of Hamas could be seen on the streets standing defiantly in the rubble. In that rubble there may be yet more bodies waiting to be found adding to a death toll already exceeding 1,300. Over 5,000 other are injured, many horribly mutilated or burned. It remains to be seen whether the population will blame Hamas for Israel’s onslaught or stand in defiance with the group labelled by Israel, the US and others as being a terrorist organisation. But most media reports are focusing on Israel’s perceived disproportionate response to Hamas rockets and the possible war crimes committed.
While the BBC, Sky and CNN are measured in their descriptions, some Arabic station are far less reserved. Press TV’s Akram el-Sattari described the damage in Gaza as like Stalingrad after the assault in 1942 by Nazi Germany in WWII. But it wasn’t just Press TV that liked the destruction to that of Stalingrad. Douglas Hamilton, writing for Reuters, also makes a comparison with the Russian battle. “Drive up into the suburb that once sat proudly on the ridge, and it's as if one had turned a corner of Stalingrad, a dark scene from some World War Two battle of annihilation” he says. The scenes may be reminiscent of those seen following the Battle of Stalingrad but the losses do not compare. In the Russian battle more than a million died and the comparison seems only to make an attempt to liken the actions of the IDF to that of the Nazis.

The question as to whether Israel was guilty of perpetrating war crimes is an issue that is weighing heavily upon the UN Secretary General. The conditions set out in Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention are specific [ICRC]. But with few observers and press on the ground during the conflict, any alleged crimes will be difficult to prosecute. Israel’s use of white phosphorus has been of particular concern [BBC]. However, any breach of the Geneva Convention would need to be proved as being a deliberate act enacted upon the civilian population. Even if all the criteria were met to prove such a breach, it would be extremely unlikely that any prosecution could follow since Israel has not signed up to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Israel voted against the adoption of the Rome Statute but later signed it. But in 2002 Israel submitted a letter to the United Nations declaring that it did not intend to ratify the treaty, using the same wording as a similar letter from the United States. The US also objects to ratification of the treaty saying it violates international law. The US claim it is a political court without appeal, which would deny fundamental American human rights, denies the authority of the United Nations, and would violate US national sovereignty.

The International Criminal Court was established in order to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, but it ios seen by many as being as impotent as the United Nations.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Media run risks to report from Gaza

Reporters Sans Frontières have hailed the release of two Palestinian journalists employed by the Iranian Arabic-language TV station Al-Alam. The two had been held by the Israeli authorities for 10 days on spying charges. But they are not the only journalists who have had difficulties in recent weeks attempting to cover the Gaza conflict.

On Friday CNN’s Ben Wedeman reported that a journalist working for Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera was shot at by Israeli troops as he attempted to make his way north from Khan Yunis to Gaza city. At least 15 rounds were fired into his vehicle and according to Reporters Sans Frontières he sustained a minor injury to his hand as his car clearly displaying ‘TV’ was fired upon at an Israeli checkpoint. It was not the only incident to occur this week. On Thursday a television centre was struck causing outrage amongst journalists working in Gaza [AP]. At a press conference one journalist called the Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni a terrorist and some likened Israel’s bar on foreign correspondents from crossing into Gaza to that of Robert Mugabe who has consistently refused access by western media into Zimbabwe [Haaretz].

But even before last week’s incidents several other journalists have been killed or injured. According to the International Federation of Journalists at least five journalists have been killed during Operation Cast Lead. Alwan Radio broadcaster Alaa Murtaja died after being seriously injured in a bomb attack on his house in Gaza City on 9th January. Israeli warplanes also bombed the home of Palestinian public TV cameraman Ihab al-Wahidi the previous day and there are reports that journalist Omar Silawi was killed by an IDF attack on 3rd January.

Basel Faraj, who worked as an assistant cameraman for the Algerian TV network ENTV and the Palestine Media and Communications Company, was wounded as a result of an Israeli air strike on his crew on the first day of the military offensive, 27th December. He died on 6th January. Two other journalists were also injured in the strike.

Even before the latest operation media workers were being injured. Hamza Shahin, a photographer with the Shehab News Agency, died on 26th December from wounds sustained in an Israeli air attack on 7th December.

Even Friday’s apparent targeting of a television centre was not the first. Israeli aircraft also bombed Al-Johara Tower in Gaza City, on 9th January despite being clearly marked as housing media staff [IFEX]. More than 20 news organisations work in Al-Johara, including Iran's English-language Press TV and the Arabic language network Al-Alam. Satellite transmission equipment on the roof of the building was destroyed and at least one journalist was reported injured.

A day before the ceasefire was announced several journalists managed to gain access to Gaza via the border with Egypt. Many organisations took the decision to cross via Egypt after continued calls on Israel to allow them to cross into Gaza were ignored [RSF / CNN]. But crossing over from Egypt did not come without its hurdles and much negotiation. The first British journalist to arrive in the war torn region was the BBC correspondent Christian Fraser. CNN’s Ben Wedeman had also crossed into southern Gaza and later filed a report by telephone. Although some journalists are arriving as a tenuous ceasefire begins, they may at least be able to report on the humanitarian disaster that is beginning to take hold in the devastated region.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Israel calls a ceasefire to hostilities

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has announced that a unilateral ceasefire will begin at 02:00 on Sunday morning [00:00 GMT] but said that the country retained its right to defend itself. In his opening remarks he said, “Three weeks ago we started an operation in the Gaza strip and today I can tell you that the aims we set down have been completely achieved.” The Prime Minister insisted “Hamas have been dealt a very serious blow.”

“We are very close to achieving our goals” he said, and talked about what would soon follow. He said that plans had been put in place to stop the flow of arms into Gaza and that Israel would provide help to the civilian population.

He said Israel intended to help Gaza’s citizens and insisted that Israel had tried to avoid harming the civilian population. Olmert said he wished to express “great regret to the innocents of Gaza” affected during the conflict. But with more than 1,200 Palestinians lying dead and over 5,000 injured, Israel has made few friends during the three week operation.

Hamas has said it will not stop fighting until Israel leaves Gaza and with Ehud Olmert saying Israel will retain its right to respond to any rocket attacks, the ceasefire may be very short indeed. Troops will also remain on the ground which won’t please Hamas. Saeb Erakat, Palestinian chief negotiator, told CNN that while Israeli troops remains in Gaza “the ceasefire will not stand, it will break”. He said that the chance of reconciliation was slight and that it remained a “very fragile moment”.

Osama Hamdan, a Hamas spokesman speaking on al-Jazeera said the ceasefire was a ploy to allow Barack Obama to enter the White House with a low level of tension in the Middle East. Hamas have in effect rejected the ceasefire saying they would not accept any Israeli troops to remain in the Gaza strip. Israeli spokesman Mark Regev said he could not give a timeline as to when troops would pull out and said, “The challenge will come after two a.m.” Bit he warned Hamas, saying, “One rocket and we have the right to respond”

Any respite to the bombs may well be short lived. However, Ben Wedeman, CNN’s Senior International Correspondent, and the first western journalist to get into Gaza, said that there would be relief amongst the population if the bombardment stopped.

Operation Cast Lead, which started on 27th December, has not only left hundreds of Palestinians dead or injured, it has torn the infrastructure of the region apart. The conflict has won Israel few friends and many enemies. Israel continues to defend its actions. But while Israel’s Prime Minister has expressed regret and even apologised over some incidents, there have been mixed messages. Talking on CNN Israeli spokesman Mark Regev said it was “unfair to point to Israel for all those casualties” and blamed Hamas ordinance and their activities [BBC / Sky News / CNN / al-Jazeera].

Friday, January 16, 2009

Gaza - Media in the firing line

The media have become the latest victim in the continuing conflict

After 20 days of violence more than 1,000 have died and over 5,000 have been injured in what some have called war crimes by Israel. But Tzipi Livni, Israel’s Foreign Minister, has defended the operation and was evasive when questioned if the bombardment would end soon.

Three Israeli civilians have died in the last three weeks and 10 army personnel have been killed. Rockets fired by Hamas continue to be fired into Israeli territory despite the military onslaught aimed at degrading the militant organisation’s weaponry. But the retaliation wrought by Israel has been called “disproportionate”. The damage to Gaza is widespread and not confined to military targets. Whether intentionally or otherwise, dozens of civilian buildings have been destroyed. A television centre has been hit and at least three hospitals have been severely damaged. Several United Nations buildings have been directly and indirectly struck by Israeli bombs and there are accusations of Israel using white phosphorus and depleted uranium [al-Jazeera / CNN / CNN].

There have been predictable condemnations from countries like Iran. However the apparent deliberate targeting of a UN compound, where Israel says three Hamas militants were hiding, has created widespread concern. Although Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert apologised to UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon, the air strike sparked anger from UN officials on the ground. The strike destroyed food, fuel and medical supplies, much needed humanitarian aid as the crisis continues. Judy Clark UNRWA told the few reporters that are on the ground that the damage was severe and called on Israel to stop the bombing. “We have lost all our food and medicine from this fire” she said.
International media have been barred from entering Gaza and those that are on the ground run the risk of being caught up in the violence themselves. New York Times reporter Taghreed El Khodary said at least three journalists were injured when the TV centre was struck including one employed by Sky News. Four journalists have so far died according to al-Jazeera’s Sherine Tadros who broadcast a report from the stricken media centre belonging to Ramattan TV. An Abu Dhabi TV journalist and a Reuters cameraman were injured in the blast that shook the Al-Shurouq Tower shortly after an Israeli army spokesman had contacted the Reuters news agency’s Jerusalem bureau to verify the location of its Gaza bureau. Reporters Sans Frontières have called on the Israeli military to explain how the 16 storey media centre was struck by the IDF.

Despite the risks CNN’s Ben Wedeman has managed to get into the Gaza strip through the Egyptian border. Reporting via telephone from a region shrouded in darkness he said that there was no running water and that electricity had also been cut. But most western reporters remain stuck on the Israeli-Gaza border, though Sky have managed to secure two trips into Gaza with the IDF. Their reports are however censored by the Israeli Defence Force and certain scenes such as the filming of destroyed houses were prevented by their military guides.

Last week the UN Security Council passed a resolution calling for an immediate end to hostilities. But both sides have ignored the call and there is no end in sight despite calls from the international community. At the UN several nations directly criticised Israel. But Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Gabriela Shalev described the statements as “deceitful”. She asked why there was no condemnation of the Katusha rockets being fired into Israel and the funding of Hamas by countries like Iran.

The conflict has not only brought criticism from politicians. Around the world there have been growing numbers of protests and calls for a boycott of Israeli products. Even bin Laden returned with a new tape release calling for a jihad [al-Jazeera]. Israel may have a right to defend itself but it will have a new war to fight in the months to come as it attempts to defend its image abroad.

Departing Bush defends War on Terror

President Bush has made his last speech as Commander in Chief. In his 17 minute address he said he had helped keep America safe. “There has not been a terror attack on US soil in seven years” he said. The outgoing leader made a tribute to the men and women in the US military and their fight in the War on Terror. He said America was leading the world “towards a new age where freedom belongs to all nations”.

The toll would be far worse if we had not acted and he insisted America would return to a position of strong economic growth. The decades ahead will bring more hard choices.
With regards the war on terror, Bush said America did nothing to seek a war and added that it was important to “reject isolationism” and to defend the United States from those that wanted to harm the country.

“We will never tire, never falter, never fail” he said.

In departing, he thanked the American people and paid tribute to President-Elect Barak Obama. “Goodnight, God bless this house and our next president” he said before leaving the stage [BBC / CNN / White House].

Thursday, January 15, 2009

FAA: crashed plane hit geese

Eyewitnesses say the flight 1549 appeared to glide into the river after hitting birds. Adam Weiner told CNN that the under carriage hit the water first. He said ferry boats arrived very quickly while other spoke of difficulties in getting through to emergency services. The incident occurred at around 15:30 local time after being in the air for only 6 minutes. The departure time was logged at 15:26. Bird strikes are said to be a huge problem in the New York area and according to the FAA preliminary investigations point to a strike by geese. Only minor injuries have been reported with four people said to be suffering from hypothermia after falling into the water measuring around 32 degrees Fahrenheit, 0 degrees Celsius. Flights are meanwhile continuing to leave from La Guardia airport.

All safe after A320 crashes in NYC river

A US Airways plane has crashed into the Hudson River in New York City. The Airbus 320 came down shortly after taking off from La Guardi Airport. According to reports the aircraft ran into trouble after hitting birds. There were 148 passengers and 5 crew on board the stricken plane, flight 1549 which was heading to North Carolina. Live pictures broadcast on television news showed passenger standing on the wings prior to being rescued. Dozens of boats could be seen surrounding the aircraft. All the passengers are said to be safe and there are no reported injuries.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Bush waves goodbye to the press

In his last press conference George W Bush stepped down with a certain grace and wished Barack Obama luck. He also thanked the journalists that have followed him on his 8 years in office. “It only seemed like yesterday I was on the campaign trail” he said in his opening remarks, “but through it all I have respected you. Sometimes I didn’t like the stories you wrote, and sometimes you missunderestimated me.”

Moving on to Obama, the outgoing president said, “I wish him all the very best and I find him a smart and engaging person”. But then the more serious questions came.

With violence continuing in the Middle East, Bush was asked why he hadn’t managed to broker a much hoped for peace before he left office. “There will not be a sustainable ceasefire if they [Hamas] keep firing rockets”, Bush insisted. And he said if peace were to be achieved, “Countries that supply Hamas have got to stop providing them with weapons”. He said that Israel had a right to defend themselves but asked that their response be measured. “We worked hard to advance a two state solution”, Bush told reporters, “The challenge has been to lay out the conditions so that a two state solution could emerge”. But he said the plan had been “Complicated by people that are willing to use violence that stop free states from emerging”. In this he pointed a particular finger at Hamas and al-Qaeda.

Returning to Obama, he said the new leader would face many challenges. He “should be guarded on any possible attack on the United States, an attack on our homeland,” George Bush said, and insisted there was “Still an enemy out there”.
“North Korea is still a problem”, Bush said. But while he hoped the six party talks would lead to a solution, a threat was still evident. “They’re still dangerous and Iran is still dangerous” he added.
As regards how people might look back on his presidency he gave a strong indication that he thought he would be shown to be right. “When the history of Iraq is written, historians will look at the decision of the surge” Bush told the assembled reporters. “The situation did change. But will democracy survive? That’s a challenge for future presidents.”

He talked briefly about the economic downturn and insisted he had made the right decision to put forward his bail-out plan. “These are difficult economic times and I readily concede the economic position we are facing could be worse than the great depression” he said, saying this was why he pushed through his plan. He said he would help the new administration by releasing the remaining funds. Later in the afternoon it was confirmed that President Bush has agreed to President-Elect Barack Obama’s request to release the final $350 billion in economic bailout plans. But his successor would need a lot of luck in the coming months, President Bush said.
“When I get out of here I’m getting off the stage” and once again offered his successor good luck. “I wish him all the best” President Bush said, “The stakes are high, there’s an enemy out there, there’s an enemy that wants to attack America and Americans, there just is and I wish him all the best.”

He was then asked what single mistake stood out in his mind. The last time he was asked the question he stumbled and said he wished he‘d come better prepared adding that something would eventually “pop into his head.” This time he had a short list of what he called disappointments. However, he said that “putting mission accomplished on an aircraft carrier was a mistake” claiming that it had sent the “wrong message”. He also conceded that he had made mistakes in the way he said things. “Some of my rhetoric was not good”, he told reporters. But as regards the more critical issues he was more reserved. Prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib he said were a “huge disappointment”. And he said Iraq not having “weapons of mass destruction was a significant disappointment, I don’t know if you want to call those mistakes or not but things didn‘t go according to plan, let’s put it that way”.

Asked whether America‘s image abroad he was adamant that the US was highly respected. “I strongly disagree that our moral standing has been damaged”, Bush said. “I understand Gitmo has created controversies” he continued. He recognised that in the minds of some the rejection of Kyoto protocol, the backing of Israel and the war in Iraq hadn’t been popular. “I wouldn’t worry about popularity,” Bush said. It was more important to protect American interests. But he insisted the US was still held in high esteem. “Most people around the world respect America. They see us as strong, compassionate and of upholding the universality of freedom”.
But Sky’s International correspondent, said that while certain African states and a few eastern European countries look to the US in a good light, their moral standing has been dented as shown by many opinion polls.

He also has the lowest popularity ratings of any president since polls started. But while many voters will be glad to see the back of him, others will miss his jovial wit and malapropisms. In fact Bushisms as they have come to be known, became not only a hallmark of the President but also the subject of jokes, cartoons and a small industry in books and other media. While the satirists will no doubt be able to make fun out of Obama, many will miss the humour and satire of George ‘dubbya’ Bush [BBC / Sky News / CNN].

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Prince Harry filmed using racist language

Sunday's News of the World has broken with a story accusing Prince Harry of using racist language. In a home video obtained by the tabloid newspaper, Prince Harry is heard to refer to a colleague as "our little Paki friend Ahmed". Robert Jobson, Royal Editor at NOTW, talking on Sky News has described the language as "clearly a bad choice of words" by the Prince. The language will shock many people as the word 'Paki' is clearly a racist term. Clarence House has said Prince Harry has apologized for the language heard on the tape and said that no offence was intended. In another part of the tape Harry is also heard to say another colleague looked like a "raghead", a coloquial term for the Taleban.

Inayat Bungawala, from the Muslim Council of Great Britain, said he was disappointed by the language used. "There's no way one can just airbrush these remarks out" and called on the Prince to make a public apology. He added that the story would have an effect on the armed forces. "The army's image will affected" he told Sky News.
Asked if the Muslim Council could forgive and forget such comments, Mr Bungawala said, "It's not a hanging offence, but we hope we can move on". Ingrid Seward of Majesty Magazine believed the paper was rather over-egging the story. "There are far worse things said in the armed forces and the story has been blown out of all proportion", she said. "I really just think Harry was just mucking in with his friends". However Geoff Meade, Sky News defence correspondent said, "The third in line for the throne should know better, and it now presents the British army with a problem since he's their poster boy".

It is not the first time Prince Harry has courted controversy. In 2005 he was photographed at a fancy-dress party wearing a Nazi uniform and a swastika. Following that incident the Prince was forced to make a public apology. Ingrid Seward said that an apology may well be needed in order to put the story to rest.

Speaking on Sky News, Steven McLaughlin, author of Squaddie: A Soldiers Story, described the whole issue as a “storm in a teacup”. He dismissed the issue as one of ‘institutionalised racism’ calling it a “bit of silliness”. However the MoD have released a statement in which they say, “This sort of language is not acceptable in the modern armed forces” [Sky News / BBC / News of the World]. The story pushed the story about the continuing conflict in Gaza off the main headlines on the BBC as well as Sky News and is likely to dominate news bulletins in the coming days.

Friday, January 09, 2009

UN call for peace is ignored

US abstains from UN vote to stop ongoing conflict in Gaza

The United Nations Security Council has passed a resolution calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities in the Gaza strip [BBC]. But despite the resolution, Israel continues to bombard the region. Hamas still continue to fire rockets into Israel though the number of daily shells is considerably lower than a week ago.

The French-Egyptian proposal was not given the full support by the United States who abstained from the vote. Although the US agreed with “the text of the resolution”, Condoleezza Rice said that they had wanted to “give Israel more time”.

Despite the passing of the resolution, the US abstention was seen by some commentators as giving a green light to Israel to continue its war against Hamas. The resolution not only called on both sides to stop fighting but sought to end the flow of weapons into the Gaza region, something that would not only be difficult to enforce, but would likely be ignored by Hamas militants.

Israeli forces have found vast stockpiles of weapons as ground forces sweep through some of the towns. But along with the apparent progress of disarming the militants, Israel is running the risk of becoming embroiled in a guerrilla war. It is also running into a barrage of criticism as the civilian death toll mounts. At least 781 people have been killed, and 3,330 injured in the conflict, many of them ordinary Gazans. At least a third are said to be children and gruesome pictures of young bullet ridden victims have been aired on some television news channels such as al-Jazeera and Press TV.

CNN, the BBC and Sky News have tended to leave the horror to the viewers imagination, describing the scenes on the ground rather than displaying the carnage. Most media organisations remain on the sidelines, still unable to report from within Gaza itself despite constant requests to be allowed in. The Israeli relented slightly on Wednesday and allowed a television crew from the BBC to travel with them into the strip. However their movements were strictly controlled and the video footage had to pass military censors before being aired.
Israel faces an ever growing public relations war as the death toll in Gaza mounts and more grim pictures are disseminated in the media. The situation has prompted widespread demonstrations. Some of the protests have also turned violent with clashes seen between demonstrators and police. Members of the media have also become embroiled in the violence. On Friday an al-Jazeera cameraman was beaten and arrested by police in Amman, Jordan while covering a large protest there.

Despite the protests and UN resolution, Israel seems resolute in continuing its fight with Hamas. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has described the UN resolution as “unworkable” and said the IDF would continue to root out the enemy. Hamas has also rejected the proposals.

The rejection by both sides now leaves the diplomatic efforts in tatters and little hope for any lasting peace [BBC / Sky News / CNN / al-Jazeera / Press TV]

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Army of journalists build on Gaza border

Most reporters have been prevented from entering Gaza

After 12 days of shelling, at least 700 Palestinians have died in the Gaza strip. Israel has suffered its own casualties, but the numbers barely make double figures. Seven Israeli soldiers have been killed and three civilians have died at the hands of Hamas.

There are diplomatic efforts to end the violence but with both Hamas and the Israeli Defence Force blaming each other for the renewed conflict it will be difficult to pull the two sides apart. Last night the United Nations gathered to discuss the deteriorating situation in the region and call for a ceasefire such that humanitarian aid could flow. Israel agreed to a three hour cessation of hostilities and some aid has made its way into Gaza city. However several convoys came perilously close to being hit by Israeli shells as they travelled along a road towards the city just prior to the ceasefire coming into effect [BBC / Sky News_ / CNN / al-Jazeera].

Missiles have also landed close to journalists attempting to cover the story. Yesterday a Sky News crew were just metres away from where a Hamas rocket landed. Most media organisations have only been able to report on the border between Israel and Gaza as Israel have prevented journalists entering the Palestinian territory. A growing army of journalists and television crews have gathered in a small spot allocated by the Israeli military. As such there are few pictures coming from Gaza itself. Iran’s Press TV and al-Jazeera both have crews in the city and the Ramattan News Agency has been providing an almost constant video feed overlooking the city which Western media has occasionally dipped into. Israeli military and Hamas have also made pictures available to the media but the view they represent is far from impartial.

Impartiality is not the only victim of the conflict. Several journalists and cameramen have reportedly been injured in the ongoing violence. According to Ramattan News Agency one cameraman had died and at least three others had sustained injuries during the bombardment. Basel Faraj a cameraman working for the Algerian TV died in an Egyptian hospital after being transferred from Gaza to Egypt last week. He had been injured on the 27th of December. Three other journalists were also injured at the same location that day. They were named as Mohammad At-tannani, a cameraman, Mohammad Madhi, a camera assistant, and Khaled Abu Shammalah, another cameraman who works for the Moroccan TV. The news agency said that several Palestinian journalists were also injured over the last two weeks, one of which was a Ramattan News Agency camera assistant Ihab Al shawwa.

On the other side of the border some journalists were also experiencing various problems. While some where becoming frustrated at trying to report from the border and being constantly moved around by the Israeli military, others were being arrested and detained. Reporters sans frontières has said that two journalists have been taken into detention by Israeli police. According to the Ramallah-based Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, soldiers arrested Khodr Shahine, a correspondent of the Iranian TV station Al-Alam, and his assistant, Mohammed Sarhan. Both were arrested on Tuesday in Jerusalem where they are residents. They were taken to Petah Tiqva, near Tel Aviv, for interrogation and were brought before a military judge who ordered them held for another six days. According to RSF their lawyer was not able to visit them. The arrest of Shahine has only been reported by Press TV thus far. The Israeli army accused Shahine, named by Press TV as Khezir Shahin, of breaking a martial order about limited media coverage regarding the beginning of the Israel Ground Operation in Gaza.

But it is the civilian casualties that has been the focus of most western news organisations. Of the 700 Palestinians killed thus far, a third are said to be children. Three schools have been targeted in the last 24 hours, but Israel has dismissed allegations they deliberately targeted civilians saying they had information that Hamas were using the schools as bases. But John Ging, director of operations in Gaza for the UN Refugee and Works Agency, has denied any military activity at the UN run school which was struck on Tuesday leaving at least 40 dead and over 100 injured [BBC].

The targeting of the schools and the killing of so many civilians has prompted accusations that Israel has broken the rules of war. In particular some have said the 4th Geneva convention has been ignored. There have even been claims that the IDF have used weapons containing depleted uranium. The reports came from the Iranian news channel Press TV which said that fragments of the radioactive metal had been found in some of the victims treated at Gaza’s hospitals.

Speaking on al-Jazeera, Clare Short, Labour MP for Birmingham, dismissed Israeli suggestions that civilians should flee from Gaza and accused Israel of ignoring international law and of engaging in war crimes.

But most politicians have aired a far more moderate voice in the wake of all the killing. George Bush has blamed Hamas for the current crisis, but while the British have also criticised Hamas, they have called on both sides to stop the violence. David Miliband, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, who was attending a meeting at the UN last night said today, “Frankly the situation in Gaza is a crisis” and called for both sides to get around the negotiating table. But with Hamas not recognised by the United States and not being represented at the United Nations it was up to others to mediate a peace deal. French President Nicholas Sarkozy has helped draft a possible deal with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. And last night there were attempts at the UN to broker a resolution for peace. But both Hamas and Israel are unlikely to accept the current proposals. In fact the issue became even more complex as al Qaeda’s number two, Ayman al Zawahiri entered the frame calling Mubarak and US president elect Barack Obama traitors to Islam [ABC]. There is little affiliation in Gaza to al Qaeda, but the perceived injustice and disproportionate violence inflicted upon the Palestinians has become an issue which is beginning to group Islamic extremists together. Demonstrations have been seen across the world especially in Arab countries and the same rhetoric can be heard and seen. Shouts of “death to America” and even criticisms of their own Arab leaders are becoming louder and there are fears the anger may spawn terror attacks across the West. Even Britain‘s MI5 Director General Jonathan Evans has warned that the situation in the Middle East will do little to stamp out the terror threat saying “Gaza provides ideological ammunition” to terrorists. The threat may be even more deadly if Hamas obtain rockets with an even greater range than they currently possess.

This week The Times reported that Israel’s secretive nuclear facility at Dimona could be at risk if Hamas obtained long range missiles. Until recently, Hamas only possessed Qassam rockets with a range of around 10 km. But Hamas have now equipped themselves with Grad or Katusha rockets with a range of up to 40 km. Israeli towns such as Ashdod, Beer-Sheva and Yavneh that were once out of reach are now under continued attack. While Dimona remains well out of reach of such rockets if launched from Gaza, some parts of the West Bank are only 38 km from where it‘s believed Israel keeps its nuclear arsenal. Of course, the West Bank remains outside Hamas’s control, but there is the fear that even if Fatah does not ally itself with Hamas, the militants in Gaza may soon have Fajr-3 missiles in their arsenal increasing their strike range to 45 km. Not quite the 80 km needed to hit the Dimona reactor, but many Israelis believe it is only a matter of time before Hamas become equipped with something more deadly. “Maybe Hamas will get a big present from Iran or Hezbollah, a few good long-range missiles and they’ll use it,” says Limor Brina, 40, an Israeli who is in constant fear of rockets landing on her town. It is this fear that fuels the war against what many see as a terrorist organisation that wants to see Israel destroyed.

Hamas claim they are merely defending themselves from Israeli aggression and punishment. They say that Israel had not honoured the ceasefire agreement and blocked aid and supplies flowing into Gaza. Israel has said the blockades were put in place to stop the flow of weapons. But the blockade along with attacks on militants in Gaza throughout November strained tensions eventually leading Hamas to announce it would not renew the ceasefire which had been in place since July [BBC]. Although Hamas have claimed Israel began attacks on its militants, the BBC reported on the 30th October that a little known group calling itself Hezbollah Palestine had fired a rocket into Israel effectively ending the four month truce. The tit for tat that continued finally led to the full scale assault which began after Christmas.

Robert Fisk who was one of several guests speaking on the BBC World Service on Wednesday says that journalists should be able to report from inside Gaza freely. Questioning the reasons why Israel is preventing journalists from entering Gaza, the veteran Middle East correspondent who writes for the Independent asks what Israel is trying to hide. He points out in today’s paper that the war will do nothing to quell the increasing hatred of the West [Independent].

It is this hatred that is part of the reason why many Western media organisations do not have a permanent office in Gaza. The BBC pulled out of the region after one of their own correspondents, Alan Johnston, was kidnapped in 2007. Although it was Hamas who helped secure his safe release, the incident scared away most news organisations and effectively denied Gazans a voice when it mattered most. The story is now starting to drift away from the top headlines on some news bulletins. Sky News was tonight leading with a story about Britain’s cricket captain quitting the team. Europe is now more concerned over domestic issues such as the increasingly cold weather and concern over its gas supply after pipelines were shut off between the Ukraine and the rest of Europe this week [BBC]. Even those news stations which led with the story, most devoted only a few minutes of airtime compared to the saturation coverage of a few days ago. After all, a correspondent standing in a field imparting second hand reports does not make for good television.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Gaza - The propaganda war intensifies

Eight days of violence has left 455 dead in Gaza. Four Israelis have so far died.

As the Israeli assault on Gaza enters a second week a propaganda war has also increased as both sides attempt to air their respective points of view. On Saturday tens of thousands took to the streets in protest of Israel’s action. Singer Annie Lennox joined up to ten thousand demonstrators in London demanding and end to hostilities. Speaking at an earlier press conference she said she was “shocked to the core“ by the violence and questioned the logic of the attacks. “How is this going to be a solution to peace” she added. Some of the protesters gathered in Whitehall and threw shoes towards Downing Street, while politicians gave speeches in Trafalgar Square. Tony Ben an outspoken critic of Israel’s action in the Middle East appeared on both the BBC and Iran’s Press TV calling the bombardment disproportionate [BBC / Sky News / CNN] .

While the story remains at the top of the news agenda for all news broadcasters, Press TV is providing saturation coverage which at times verges on blatant anti-Israeli propaganda. Many of the pictures coming out of the Gaza strip are extremely disturbing. But while many broadcasters are shielding viewers from the worst of the images, Press TV has shown graphic images of mutilated and wounded civilians caught up in the violence. As dozens of injured arrived at a hospital following an Israeli air strike on a mosque, cameras captured the horrific sight of people with missing limbs. Pictures were also aired showing children lying dead on hospital floors. According to reports at least 16 were killed as they attended prayers and dozens more were injured [Sky News / CNN / Press TV].

The images of dead has angered many people around the world, but demonstrations are mostly confined to Arab countries and Europe. While the demonstrations have been covered by Sky, the BBC and CNN, the events have been given greater prominence on al-Jazeera and Press TV.

Israel has also launched its own propaganda machine by way of a dedicated You Tube channel [CNN]. On the site videos attempt to dispel the “lies and rhetoric” of its enemies. But the site has already served to increase criticism of Israel [BBC].

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year - 2009

tvnewswatch wishes everyone a happy and prosperous new year

Bonne Année ~ 新年快乐 ~ Frohes Neues Jahr ~ Gelukkig Nieuwjaar ~ ευτυχισμένο το νέο έτος ~ あけましておめでとう ~ šťastný nový rok ~ godt nytår ~ manigong bagong taon ~ hyvää uuttavuotta ~ नया साल मुबारक हो ~ buon anno ~ с новым годом ~ сретна нова година ~ šťastný nový rok ~ srečno novo leto ~ feliz año nuevo ~ gott nytt år ~ з новим роком ~ chúc mừng năm mới ~ laimingų Naujųjų metų ~ szczęśliwego nowego roku ~ an nou fericit ~ שנה טובה ~ كل عام وأنتم بخير ~ Happy New Year